Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 12

The company at the Grand Duke’s fête was most select; that is to say, it consisted of everybody who was then at the Baths: those who had been presented to his Highness having the privilege of introducing any number of their friends; and those who had no friend to introduce them purchasing tickets at an enormous price from Cracowsky, the wily Polish Intendant. The entertainment was imperial; no expense and no exertion were spared to make the hired lodging-house look like an hereditary palace; and for a week previous to the great evening the whole of the neighbouring town of Wiesbaden, the little capital of the duchy, had been put under contribution. What a harvest for Cracowsky! What a commission from the restaurateur for supplying the refreshments! What a percentage on hired mirrors and dingy hangings!

The Grand Duke, covered with orders, received every one with the greatest condescension, and made to each of his guests a most flattering speech. His suite, in new uniforms, simultaneously bowed directly the flattering speech was finished.

“Madame von Furstenburg, I feel the greatest pleasure in seeing you. My greatest pleasure is to be surrounded by my friends. Madame von Furstenburg, I trust that your amiable and delightful family are quite well. [The party passed on.] Cravatischeff!” continued his Highness, inclining his head round to one of his aides-de-camp, “Cravatischeff! a very fine woman is Madame von Furstenburg. There are few women whom I more admire than Madame von Furstenburg.

“Prince Salvinski, I feel the greatest pleasure in seeing you. My greatest pleasure is to be surrounded by my friends. Poland honours no one more than Prince Salvinski. Cravatischeff! a remarkable bore is Prince Salvinski. There are few men of whom I have a greater terror than Prince Salvinski.

“Baron von Konigstein, I feel the greatest pleasure in seeing you. My greatest pleasure is to be surrounded by my friends. Baron von Konigstein, I have not yet forgotten the story of the fair Venetian. Cravatischeff! an uncommonly pleasant fellow is Baron von Konigstein. There are few men whose company I more enjoy than Baron von Konigstein’s.

“Count von Altenburgh, I feel the greatest pleasure in seeing you. My greatest pleasure is to be surrounded by my friends. You will not forget to give me your opinion of my Austrian troop. Cravatischeff! a very good billiard player is Count von Altenburgh. There are few men whose play I would sooner bet upon than Count von Altenburgh’s.

“Lady Madeleine Trevor, I feel the greatest pleasure in seeing you. My greatest pleasure is to be surrounded by my friends. Miss Fane, your servant; Mr. St. George, Mr. Grey. Cravatischeff! a most splendid woman is Lady Madeleine Trevor. There is no woman whom I more admire than Lady Madeleine Trevor! and Cravatischeff! Miss Fane, too! a remarkably fine girl is Miss Fane.”

The great saloon of the New House afforded excellent accommodation for the dancers. It opened on the gardens, which, though not very large, were tastefully laid out, and were this evening brilliantly illuminated. In the smaller saloon the Austrian troop amused those who were not fascinated by waltz or quadrille with acting proverbs: the regular dramatic performance was thought too heavy a business for the evening. There was sufficient amusement for all; and those who did not dance, and to whom proverbs were no novelty, walked and talked, stared at others, and were themselves stared at; and this, perhaps, was the greatest amusement of all. Baron von Konigstein did certainly to-night look neither like an unsuccessful gamester nor a designing villain. Among many who were really amusing he was the most so, and, apparently without the least consciousness of it, attracted the admiration of all. To the Trevor party he had attached himself immediately, and was constantly at Lady Madeleine’s side, introducing to her, in the course of the evening, his own and Mr. St. George’s particular friends, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzloom. Among many smiling faces Vivian Grey’s was clouded; the presence of the Baron annoyed him. When they first met he was conscious that he was stiff and cool. One moment’s reflection convinced him of the folly of his conduct, and he made a struggle to be very civil. In five minutes’ time he had involuntarily insulted the Baron, who stared at his friend, and evidently did not comprehend him.

“Grey,” said his Excellency, very quietly, “you are not in a good humour tonight. What is the matter? This is not at all a temper to come to a fête in. What! won’t Miss Fane dance with you?’” asked the Baron, with an arched smile.

“I wonder wind can induce your Excellency to talk such nonsense!”

“Your Excellency! by Jove, that’s good! What the deuce is the matter with the man? It is Miss Fane, then, eh?”

“Baron von Konigstein, I wish you to understand — ”

“My dear fellow, I never could understand anything. I think you have insulted me in a most disgraceful manner, and I positively must call you out, unless you promise to dine at my rooms with me to-morrow, to meet De Boeffleurs.”

“I cannot.”

“Why not? You have no engagement with Lady Madeleine I know, for St. George has agreed to come.”

“Yes?”

“De Boeffleurs leaves Ems next week. It is sooner than he expected, and I wish to have a quiet evening together before he goes. I should be very vexed if you were not there. We have scarcely been enough together lately. What with the New House in the evening, and riding parties in the morning, and those Fitzloom girls, with whom St. George is playing a most foolish game, he will be taken in now, if he is not on his guard; we really never meet, at: least not in a quiet friendly way; and so now, will you come?”

“St. George is positively coming?”

“Oh yes’ positively; do not be afraid of his gaining ground on the little Violet in your absence.”

“Well, then, my dear Von Konigstein, I will come.”

“Well, that is yourself again. It made me quite unhappy to see you look so sour and melancholy; one would have thought that I was some bore, Salvinski at, least, by the way you spoke to me. Well, mind you come; it is a promise, good. I must go and say just one word to the lovely little Saxon girl; by-the-bye, Grey, one word before I am off. List to a friend; you are on the wrong scent about Miss Fane; St. George, I think, has no chance there, and now no wish to succeed. The game is your own, if you like; trust my word, she is an angel. The good powers prosper you!” So saying, the Baron glided off.

Mr. St. George had danced With Miss Fane the only quadrille in which Lady Madeleine allowed her to join. He was now waltzing with Aurelia Fitzloom, and was at the head of a band of adventurous votaries of Terpsichore; who, wearied with the commonplace convenience of a saloon, had ventured to invoke the Muse on the lawn.

“A most interesting sight, Lady Madeleine!” said Mr. Fitzloom, as he offered her his arm, and advised their instant presence as patrons of the “Fête du Village,” for such Baron von Konigstein had most happily termed it. “A delightful man, that Baron von Konigstein, and says such delightful things! Fête du Village! how very good!”

“That is Miss Fitzloom, then, whom my brother is waltzing with?” asked Lady Madeleine.

“Not exactly, my Lady,” said Mr. Fitzloom, “not exactly Miss Fitzloom, rather Miss Aurelia Fitzloom, my third daughter; our third eldest, as Mrs. Fitzloom sometimes says; for really it is necessary to distinguish, with such a family as ours, you know.”

“Let us walk,” said Miss Fane to Vivian, for she was now leaning upon his arm; “the evening is deliriously soft, but even with the protection of a cashmere I scarcely dare venture to stand still. Lady Madeleine seems very much engaged at present. What amusing people these Fitzlooms are!”

“Mrs. Fitzloom; I have not heard her voice yet.”

“No; Mrs. Fitzloom does not talk. Albert says she makes it a rule never to speak in the presence of a stranger. She deals plenteously, however, at home in domestic apophthegms. If you could but hear him imitating them all! Whenever she does speak, she finishes all her sentences by confessing that she is conscious of her own deficiencies, but that she has taken care to give her daughters the very best education. They are what Albert calls fine girls, and I am glad he has made friends with them; for, after all, he must find it rather dull here. By-the-bye, Mr. Grey, I am afraid that you cannot find this evening very amusing, the absence of a favourite pursuit always makes a sensible void, and these walls must remind you of more piquant pleasures than waltzing with fine London ladies, or promenading up a dull terrace with an invalid.”

“I assure you that you are quite misinformed as to the mode in which I generally pass my evenings.”

“I hope I am!” said Miss Fane, in rather a serious tone. “I wish I could also he mistaken in my suspicions of the mode in which Albert spends his time. He is sadly changed. For the first month that we were here he seemed to prefer nothing in the world to our society, and now — I was nearly saying that we had not seen him for one single evening these three weeks. I cannot understand what you find at this house of such absorbing interest. Although I know you think I am much mistaken in my suspicions, still I feel very anxious. I spoke to Albert to-day; but he scarcely answered me; or said that which it was a pleasure for me to forget.”

“Mr. St. George should feel highly gratified in having excited such an interest in the mind of Miss Fane.”

“He should not feel more gratified than all who are my friends; for all who are such I must ever experience the liveliest interest.”

“How happy must those be who feel that they have a right to count Miss Fane among their friends!”

“I have the pleasure then, I assure you, of making many happy, and among them, Mr. Grey.”

Vivian was surprised that he did not utter some complimentary answer; but he knew not why, the words would not come; and instead of speaking, he was thinking of what had been spoken.

“How brilliant are these gardens!” said Vivian, looking at the sky.

“Very brilliant!” said Miss Fane, looking on the ground. Conversation seemed nearly extinct, and yet neither offered to turn back.

“Good heavens! you are ill,” exclaimed Vivian, when, on accidentally turning to his companion, he found she was in tears. “Shall we go back, or will you wait here? Can I fetch anything? I fear you are very ill!”

“No, not very ill, but very foolish; let us walk on,” and, sighing, she seemed suddenly to recover.

“I am ashamed of this foolishness; what can you think? But I am so agitated, so nervous. I hope you will forget — I hope — ”

“Perhaps the air has suddenly affected you; shall we go in? Nothing has been said, nothing happened; no one has dared to say or do anything to annoy you? Speak, dear Miss Fane, the, the — ” the words died on Vivian’s lips, yet a power he could not withstand urged him to speak, “the, the, the Baron?”

“Ah!” almost shrieked Miss Fane. “Stop one second; an effort, and I must be well; nothing has happened, and no one has done or said anything; but it is of something that should be said, of something that should be done, that I was thinking, and it overcame me.”

“Miss Fane,” said Vivian, “if there be anything which I can do or devise, any possible way that I can exert myself in your service, speak with the most perfect confidence; do not fear that your motives will be misconceived, that your purpose will be misinterpreted, that your confidence will be misunderstood. You are addressing one who would lay down his life for you, who is willing to perform all your commands, and forget them when performed. I beseech you to trust me; believe me, that you shall not repent.”

She answered not, but holding down her head, covered her face with her small white hand; her lovely face which was crimsoned with her flashing blood. They were now at the end of the terrace; to return was impossible. If they remained stationary, they must be perceived and joined. What was to be done? He led her down a retired walk still farther from the house. As they proceeded in silence, the bursts of the music and the loud laughter of the joyous guests became fainter and fainter, till at last the sounds died away into echo, and echo into silence.

A thousand thoughts dashed through Vivian’s mind in rapid succession; but a painful one, a most painful one to him, to any man, always remained the last. His companion would not speak; yet to allow her to return home without freeing her mind of the fearful burden which evidently overwhelmed it, was impossible. At length he broke a silence which seemed to have lasted an age.

“Do not believe that I am taking advantage of an agitating moment to extract from you a confidence which you may repent. I feel assured that I am right in supposing that you have contemplated in a calmer moment the possibility of my being of service to you; that, in short, there is something in which you require my assistance, my co-operation; an assistance, a co-operation, which, if it produce any benefit to you, will make me at length feel that I have not lived in vain. No feeling of false delicacy shall prevent me from assisting you in giving utterance to thoughts which you have owned it is absolutely necessary should be expressed. Remember that you have allowed me to believe that we are friends; do not prove by your silence that we are friends only in name.”

“I am overwhelmed; I cannot speak. My face burns with shame; I have miscalculated my strength of mind, perhaps my physical strength; what, what must you think of me?” She spoke in a low and smothered voice.

“Think of you! everything which the most devoted respect dare think of an object which it reverences. Do not believe that I am one who would presume an instant on my position, because I have accidentally witnessed a young and lovely woman betrayed into a display of feeling which the artificial forms of cold society cannot contemplate, and dare to ridicule. You are speaking to one who also has felt; who, though a man, has wept; who can comprehend sorrow; who can understand the most secret sensations of an agitated spirit. Dare to trust me. Be convinced that hereafter, neither by word nor look, hint nor sign, on my part, shall you feel, save by your own wish, that you have appeared to Vivian Grey in any other light than in the saloons we have just quitted.”

“Generous man, I dare trust anything to you that I dare trust to human being; but — ” here her voice died away.

“It is a painful thing for me to attempt to guess your thoughts; but if it be of Mr. St. George that you are thinking, have no fear respecting him; have no fear about his present situation. Trust to me that there shall be no anxiety for his future one. I will be his unknown guardian, his unseen friend; the promoter of your wishes, the protector of your — ”

“No, no,” said Miss Fane, with firmness, and looking quickly up, as if her mind were relieved by discovering that all this time Vivian had never imagined she was thinking of him. “No, no, you are mistaken; it is not of Mr. St. George, of Mr. St. George only, that I am thinking. I am much better now; I shall be able in an instant to speak; be able, I trust, to forget how foolish, how very foolish I have been.

“Let us walk on,” continued Miss Fane, “let us walk on; we can easily account for our absence if it be remarked; and it is better that it should be all over. I feel quite well, and shall be able to speak quite firmly now.”

“Do not hurry; there is no fear of our absence being remarked, Lady Madeleine is so surrounded.”

“After what has passed, it seems ridiculous in me to apologise, as I had intended, for speaking to you on a graver subject than what has generally formed the point of conversation between us. I feared that you might misunderstand the motives which have dictated my conduct. I have attempted not to appear agitated, and I have been overcome. I trust that you will not be offended if I recur to the subject of the New House. Do not believe that I ever would have allowed my fears, my girlish fears, so to have overcome my discretion; so to have overcome, indeed, all propriety of conduct on my part; as to have induced me to have sought an interview with you, to moralise to you about your mode of life. No, no; it is not of this that I wish to speak, or rather that I will speak. I will hope, I will pray, that Albert and yourself have never found in that which you have followed as an amusement, the source, the origin, the cause of a single unhappy or even anxious moment; Mr. Grey, I will believe all this.”

“Dearest Miss Fane, believe it with confidence. Of St. George, I can with sincerity aver, that it is my firm opinion, that, far from being involved, his fortune is not in the slightest degree injured. Believe me, I will not attempt to quiet you now, as I would have done at any other time, by telling you that you magnify your fears, and allow your feelings to exaggerate the danger which exists. There has been danger. There is danger; play, high play, has been and is pursued at this New House, but Mr. St. George has never been a loser; and if the exertions of man can avail, never shall, at least unfairly. As to the other individual, whom you have honoured by the interest which you have professed in his welfare, no one can more thoroughly detest any practice which exists in this world than he does the gaming-table.”

“Oh! you have made me so happy! I feel so persuaded that you have not deceived me! the tones of your voice, your manner, your expression, convince me that you have been sincere, and that I am happy, at least for the present.”

“For ever, I trust, Miss Fane.”

“Let me now prevent future misery. Let me speak about that which has long dwelt on my mind like a nightmare, about that which I did fear it was almost too late to speak. Not of your pursuit, not even of that fatal pursuit, do I now think, but of your companion in this amusement, in all amusements! it is he, he whom I dread, whom I look upon with horror, even to him, I cannot say, with hatred!”

“The Baron?” said Vivian, calmly.

“I cannot name him. Dread him, fear him, avoid him! it is he that I mean, he of whom I thought that you were the victim. You must have been surprised, you must have wondered at our conduct towards him. Oh! when Lady Madeleine turned from him with coolness, when she answered him in tones which to you might have appeared harsh, she behaved to him, in comparison to what is his due, and what we sometimes feel to be our duty, with affection, actually with affection and regard. No human being can know what horror is, until he looks upon a fellow-creature with the eyes that I look upon that man.” She leant upon Vivian’s arm with her whole weight, and even then he thought she must have sunk; neither spoke. How solemn is the silence of sorrow!

“I am overcome,” continued Miss Fane; “the remembrance of what he has done overwhelms me. I cannot speak it; the recollection is death; yet you must know it. That you might know it, I have before attempted. I wished to have spared myself the torture which I now endure. You must know it. I will write; ay! that will do. I will write: I cannot speak now; it is impossible; but beware of him; you are so young’”

“I have no words now to thank you, dear Miss Fane, for this. Had I been the victim of Von Konigstein, I should have been repaid for all my misery by feeling that you regretted its infliction; but I trust that I am in no danger: though young, I fear that I am one who must not count his time by calendars. ‘An aged interpreter, though young in days.’ Would that I could be deceived! Fear not for your cousin. Trust to one whom you have made think better of this world, and of his fellow-creatures.”

The sound of approaching footsteps, and the light laugh of pleasure, told of some who were wandering like themselves.

“We had better return,” said Miss Fane; “I fear that Lady Madeleine will observe that I look unwell. Some one approaches! No, they pass only the top of the walk.” It was Mr. St. George and Aurelia Fitzloom.

Quick flew the brilliant hours; and soon the dance was over, and the music mute.

It was late when Vivian retired. As he opened his door he was surprised to find lights in his chamber. The figure of a man appeared seated at the table. It moved; it was Essper George.

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