Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 2

Vivian pulled up his horse as he ascended through the fine beechwood which leads immediately to the city of Frankfort from the Darmstadt road. The crowd seemed to increase every moment, but as they were all hastening the same way, his progress was not much impeded. It was Frankfort fair; and all countenances were expressive of that excitement which we always experience at great meetings of our fellow-creatures; whether the assemblies be for slaughter, pleasure, or profit, and whether or not we ourselves join in the banquet, the battle, or the fair. At the top of the hill is an old Roman tower, and from this point the flourishing city of Frankfort, with its picturesque Cathedral, its numerous villas, and beautiful gardens in the middle of the fertile valley of the Maine, burst upon Vivian’s sight. On crossing the bridge over the river, the crowd became almost impassable, and it was with the greatest difficulty that Vivian steered his way through the old narrow winding streets, full of tall ancient houses, with heavy casements and notched gable ends. These structures did not, however, at the present moment, greet the traveller with their usual sombre and antique appearance: their outside walls were, in most instances, covered with pieces of broad cloth of the most showy colours, red, blue, and yellow predominating. These standards of trade were not merely used for the purpose of exhibiting the quality of the article sold in the interior, but also of informing the curious traveller the name and nation of their adventurous owners. Inscriptions in German, French, Russian, English, Italian, and even Hebrew, appeared in striking characters on each woollen specimen; and, as if these were not sufficient to attract the attention of the passenger, an active apprentice, or assistant, commented in eloquent terms on the peculiar fairness and honesty of his master. The public squares and other open spaces, and indeed every spot which was secure from the hurrying wheels of the heavy old-fashioned coaches of the Frankfort aristocracy and the spirited pawings of their sleek and long-tailed coach-horses, were covered with large and showy booths, which groaned under the accumulated treasures of all countries. French silks and French clocks rivalled Manchester cottons and Sheffield cutlery, and assisted to attract or entrap the gazer, in company with Venetian chains, Neapolitan coral, and Vienna pipe-heads: here was the booth of a great book-seller, who looked to the approaching Leipsic fair for some consolation for his slow sale and the bad taste of the people of Frankfort; and there was a dealer in Bologna sausages, who felt quite convinced that in some things the taste of the Frankfort public was by no means to be lightly spoken of. All was bustle, bargaining, and business: there were quarrels and conversation in all languages; and Vivian Grey, although he had no chance either of winning or losing money, was amused.

At last Vivian gained the High Street; and here, though the crowd was not less, the space was greater; and so in time he arrived at the grand hotel of “the Roman Emperor,” where he stopped. It was a long time before he could be informed whether Baron Julius von Konigstein at present honoured that respectable establishment with his presence; for, although Vivian did sometimes succeed in obtaining an audience of a hurrying waiter, that personage, when in a hurry, has a peculiar habit of never attending to a question which a traveller addresses to him. In this dilemma Vivian was saluted by a stately-looking personage above the common height. He was dressed in a very splendid uniform of green and gold, covered with embroidery, and glittering with frogs. He wore a cocked hat adorned with a flowing parti-coloured plume, and from his broad golden belt was suspended a weapon of singular shape and costly workmanship. This personage was as stiff and stately as he was magnificent. His eyes were studiously preserved from the profanation of meeting the ground, and his well-supported neck seldom condescended to move from its perpendicular position. His coat was buttoned to the chin and over the breast, with the exception of one small aperture, which was elegantly filled up by a delicate white cambric handkerchief, very redolent of rich perfumes. This gorgeous gentleman, who might have been mistaken for an elector of the German Empire, had the German Empire been in existence, or the governor of the city at the least, turned out to be the chasseur of the Baron von Konigstein; and with his courtly assistance Vivian soon found himself ascending the staircase of the Roman Emperor.

Vivian was ushered into an apartment, in which he found three or four individuals at breakfast. A middle-aged man of distinguished appearance, in a splendid chamber robe, sprung up from a many-cushioned easy-chair, and seized his hand as he was announced.

“My dear Mr. Grey! I have left notes for you at the principal hotels. And how is Eugene? wild blood for a student, but an excellent heart, and you have been so kind to him! He feels under such particular obligations to you. Will you breakfast? Ah! I see you smile at my supposing a horseman unbreakfasted. And have you ridden here from Heidelberg this morning? Impossible! Only from Darmstadt! I thought so! You were at the Opera then last night. And how is the little Signora? We are to gain her though! trust the good people of Frankfort for that! Pray be seated, but really I am forgetting the commonest rules of breeding. Next to the pleasure of having friends is that of introducing them to each other. Prince, you will have great pleasure in being introduced to my friend, Mr. Grey: Mr. Grey! Prince Salvinski! my particular friend, Prince Salvinski. The Count von Altenburgh! Mr. Grey! my very particular friend, the Count von Altenburgh. And the Chevalier de Boeffleurs! Mr. Grey! my most particular friend, the Chevalier de Boeffleurs.”

Baron Julius von Konigstein was minister to the Diet of Frankfort from a first-rate German power. In person he was short, but delicately formed; his head a little bald, but as he was only five-and-thirty, this could scarcely be from age; and his remaining hair, black, glossy, and curling, proved that their companion ringlets had not been long lost. His features were small, but not otherwise remarkable, except a pair of liquid black eyes, of great size, which would have hardly become a Stoic, and which gleamed with great meaning and perpetual animation.

“I understand, Mr. Grey, that you are a regular philosopher. Pray who is the favourite master? Kant or Fichte? or is there any other new star who has discovered the origin of our essence, and proved the non-necessity of eating? Count, let me help you to a little more of these saucisses aux choux. I am afraid, from Eugene’s account, that you are almost past redemption; and I am sorry to say that, although I am very desirous of being your physician and effecting your cure, Frankfort will supply me with very few means to work your recovery. If you could but get me an appointment once again to your delightful London, I might indeed produce some effect; or were I even at Berlin, or at your delicious Vienna, Count Altenburgh! (the Count bowed); or at that Paradise of women, Warsaw, Prince Salvinski!! (the Prince bowed); or at Paris, Chevalier!!! (the Chevalier bowed); why, then, indeed, you should have some difficulty in finding an excuse for being in low spirits with Julius von Konigstein! But Frankfort, eh! de Boeffleurs?”

“Oh! Frankfort!” sighed the French Chevalier, who was also attached to a mission in this very city, and who was thinking of his own gay Boulevards and his brilliant Tuileries.

“We are mere citizens here!” continued the Baron, taking a long pinch of snuff, “mere citizens! Do you snuff?” and here he extended to Vivian a gold box, covered with the portrait of a crowned head, surrounded with diamonds. “A present from the King of Sardinia, when I negotiated the marriage of the Duke of —— and his niece, and settled the long-agitated controversy about the right of anchovy fishing on the left shore of the Mediterranean.

“But the women,” continued the Baron, “the women; that is a different thing. There is some amusement among the little bourgeoises, who are glad enough to get rid of their commercial beaus; whose small talk, after a waltz, is about bills of exchange, mixed up with a little patriotism about their free city, and some chatter about what they call ‘the fine arts;’ their awful collections of ‘the Dutch school:’ school forsooth! a cabbage, by Gerard Dowl and a candlestick, by Mieris! And now will you take a basin of soup, and warm yourself, while his Highness continues his account of being frozen to death this spring at the top of Mont–Blanc: how was it, Prince?”

“Your Highness has been a great traveller?” said Vivian.

“I have seen a little of most countries. These things are interesting enough when we are young; but when we get a little more advanced in life, the novelty wears off, and the excitement ceases. I have been in all quarters of the globe. In Europe I have seen everything except the miracles of Prince Hohenlohe. In Asia, everything except the ruins of Babylon. In Africa, I have seen every thing but Timbuctoo; and, in America, everything except Croker’s Mountains.”

Next to eating, music is the business in which an Austrian is most interested, and Count von Altenburgh, having had the misfortune of destroying, for the present, one great source of his enjoyment, became now very anxious to know what chance there existed of his receiving some consolation from the other. Pushing his plate briskly from him, he demanded with an anxious air, “Can any gentleman inform me what chance there is of the Signora coming?”

“No news to-day,” said the Baron, with a mournful look; “I am almost in despair. What do you think of the last notes that have been interchanged?”

“Very little chance,” said the Chevalier de Boeffleurs, shaking his head. “Really these burghers, with all their affected enthusiasm, have managed the business exceedingly bad. No opera can possibly succeed that is not conducted by a committee of noblemen.”

“Certainly!” said the Baron; “we are sure then to have the best singers, and be in the Gazette the same season.”

“Which is much better, I think, Von Konigstein, than paying our bills and receiving no pleasure.”

“But,” continued the Baron, “these clumsy burghers, with their affected enthusiasm, as you well observe; who could have contemplated such novices in diplomacy! Whatever may be the issue, I can at least lay my head upon my pillow and feel that I have done my duty. Did not I, de Boeffleurs, first place the negotiation on a basis of acknowledged feasibility and mutual benefit? Who drew the protocol, I should like to know? Who baffled the intrigues of the English Minister, the Lord Amelius Fitzfudge Boroughby? Who sat up one whole night with the Signora’s friend, the Russian Envoy, Baron Squallonoff, and who was it that first arranged about the extra chariot?” and here the representative of a first-rate German Power looked very much like a resigned patriot, who feels that he deserves a ribbon.

“No doubt of it, my dear Von Konigstein,” echoed the French Chargé d’Affaires, “and I think, whatever may be the result, that I, too, may look back to this negotiation with no ungratified feelings. Had the arrangement been left as I had wished, merely to the Ministers of the Great Powers, I am confident that the Signora would have been singing this night in our Opera House.”

“What is the grand point of difference at present?” asked the Austrian.

“A terrific one,” said the Baron; “the lady demanded twenty covers, two tables, two carriages, one of which I arranged should be a chariot; that at least the town owes to me; and, what else? merely a town mansion and establishment. Exerting myself day and night, these terms were at length agreed to by the municipality, and the lady was to ride over from Darmstadt to sign and seal. In the course of her ride she took a cursed fancy to the country villa of a great Jew banker, and since that moment the arrangement has gone off. We have offered her everything; the commandant’s country castle; his lady’s country farm; the villa of the director of the Opera; the retreat of our present prima donna; all in vain. We have even hinted at a temporary repose in a neighbouring royal residence; but all useless. The banker and the Signora are equally intractable, and Frankfort is in despair.”

“She ought to have signed and sealed at Darmstadt,” said the Count, very indignantly.

“To be sure! they should have closed upon her caprice, and taken her when she was in the fancy.”

“Talking of Opera girls,” commenced the Polish Prince, “I remember the Countess Katszinski — ”

“Your Highness has nothing upon your plate,” quickly retorted the Baron, who was in no humour for a story.

“Nothing more, I thank you,” continued the Prince: “as I was saying, I remember the Countess Katszinski — ” but just at this moment the door opened, and Ernstorff entered and handed a despatch to the Baron, recommending it to his Excellency’s particular attention.

“Business, I suppose,” said the Plenipotentiary; “it may wait till to-morrow.”

“From M. Clarionet, your Excellency.”

“From M. Clarionet!” eagerly exclaimed the Baron, and tore open the epistle. “Gentlemen! congratulate me, congratulate yourselves, congratulate Frankfort;” and the diplomatist, overcome, leant back in his chair. “She is ours, Salvinski! she is ours, Von Altenburgh! she is ours, my dear de Boeffleurs! Mr. Grey, you are most fortunate; the Signora has signed and sealed; all is arranged; she sings to-night! What a fine-spirited body is this Frankfort municipality! what elevation of soul! what genuine enthusiasm! eh! de Boeffleurs?”

“Most genuine!” exclaimed the Chevalier, who hated German music with all his heart, and was now humming an air from La Dame Blanche.

“But mind, my dear friend, this is a secret, a cabinet secret; the municipality are to have the gratification of announcing the event to the city in a public decree; it is but fair. I feel that I have only to hint to secure your silence.”

At this moment, with a thousand protestations of secresy, the party broke up, each hastening to have the credit of first spreading the joyful intelligence through the circles, and of depriving the Frankfort senate of their hard-earned gratification. The Baron, who was in high spirits, ordered the carriage to drive Vivian round the ramparts, where he was to be introduced to some of the most fashionable beauties, previous to the evening triumph.

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