Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 5

In a delightful valley of Nassau, formed by the picturesque windings of the Taunus Mountains, and on the banks of the noisy river Lahn, stands a vast brick pile, of irregular architecture, which nearly covers an acre of ground. This building was formerly a favourite palace of the ducal house of Nassau; but the present Prince has thought proper to let out the former residence of his family as an hotel for the accommodation of the company, who in the season frequent this, the most lovely spot in his lovely little duchy. This extensive building contains two hundred and thirty rooms and eighty baths; and these apartments, which are under the management of an official agent, who lives in the “Princely Bathing House,” for such is its present dignified title, are to be engaged at fixed prices, which are marked over the doors. All the rooms in the upper story of the Princely Bathing House open on, or are almost immediately connected with, a long corridor, which extends the whole length of the building. The ground-floor, besides the space occupied by the baths, also affords a spacious promenade, arched with stone, and surrounded with stalls, behind which are marshalled vendors of all the possible articles which can be required by the necessities of the frequenters of a watering-place. There you are greeted by the jeweller of the Palais Royal and the marchande de mode of the Rue de la Paix; the print-seller from Mannheim and the china-dealer from Dresden; and other small speculators in the various fancy articles which abound in Vienna, Berlin, Geneva, Basle, Strasburg, and Lausanne; such as pipes, costumes of Swiss peasantry, crosses of Mont Blanc crystal, and all varieties of national bijouterie. All things may here be sold, save those which administer to the nourishment of the body or the pleasure of the palate. Let not those of my readers who have already planned a trip to the sweet vales of the Taunus be frightened by this last sentence. At Ems “eatables and drinkables” are excellent and abounding; but they are solely supplied by the restaurateur, who farms the monopoly from the Duke. This gentleman, who is a pupil of Beauvillier’s, and who has conceived an exquisite cuisine, by adding to the lighter graces of French cookery something of the more solid virtues of the German, presides in a saloon of vast size and magnificent decoration, in which, during the season, upwards of three hundred persons frequent the table d’hôte. It is the etiquette at Ems that, however distinguished or however humble the rank of the visitors, their fare and their treatment must be alike. In one of the most aristocratic countries in the word the sovereign prince and his tradesman subject may be found seated in the morning at the same board, and eating from the same dish, as in the evening they may be seen staking on the same colour at the gaming-table, and sharing in the same interest at the Redoute.

The situation of Ems is delightful. The mountains which form the valley are not, as in Switzerland, so elevated that they confine the air or seem to impede the facility of breathing. In their fantastic forms the picturesque is not lost in the monotonous, and in the rich covering of their various woods the admiring eye finds at the same time beauty and repose. Opposite the ancient palace, on the banks of the Lahn, are the gardens. In these, in a pavilion, a band of musicians seldom cease from enchanting the visitors by their execution of the most favourite specimens of German and Italian music. Numberless acacia arbours and retired sylvan seats are here to be found, where the student or the contemplative may seek refuge from the noise of his more gay companions, and the tedium of eternal conversation. In these gardens, also, are the billiard-room, and another saloon, in which each night meet, not merely those who are interested in the mysteries of rouge et noir, and the chances of roulette, but, in general, the whole of the company, male and female, who are frequenting the baths. In quitting the gardens for a moment, we must not omit mentioning the interesting booth of our friend, the restaurateur, where coffee, clear and hot, and exquisite confectionery, are never wanting. Nor should we forget the glittering pennons of the gay boats which glide along the Lahn; nor the handsome donkeys, who, with their white saddles and red bridles, seem not unworthy of the princesses whom they sometimes bear. The gardens, with an alley of limetrees, which are farther on, near the banks of the river, afford easy promenades to the sick and debilitated; but the more robust and active need not fear monotony in the valley of the Lahn. If they sigh for the champaign country, they can climb the wild passes of the encircling mountains, and from their tops enjoy the most magnificent views of the Rhineland. There they may gaze on that mighty river, flowing through the prolific plain which at the same time it nourishes and adorns, bounded on each side by mountains of every form, clothed with wood or crowned with castles. Or, if they fear the fatigues of the ascent, they may wander farther up the valley, and in the wild dells, romantic forests, and grey ruins of Stein and Nassau, conjure up the old times of feudal tyranny when the forest was the only free land, and he who outraged the laws the only one who did not suffer from their authority.

Besides the Princely Bathing House, I must mention that there was another old and extensive building near it, which, in very full seasons, also accommodated visitors on the same system as the palace. At present, this adjoining building was solely occupied by a Russian Grand Duke, who had engaged it for the season.

Such is a slight description of Ems, a place almost of unique character; for it is a watering-place with every convenience, luxury, and accommodation; and yet without shops, streets, or houses.

The Baron and Vivian were fortunate in finding rooms, for the Baths were very full; the extraordinary beauty of the weather having occasioned a very early season. They found themselves at the baths early on the morning after their arrival at Coblentz, and at three o’clock in the same day had taken their places at the dinner table in the great saloon. At the long table upwards of two hundred and fifty guests were assembled, of different nations, and of very different characters. There was the cunning, intriguing Greek, who served well his imperial master the Russian. The order of the patron saint of Moscow, and the glittering stars of other nations which sparkled on his green uniform, told how well he had laboured for the interest of all other countries except his own; but his clear, pale complexion, his delicately trimmed mustachio, his lofty forehead, his arched eyebrow, and his Eastern eye, recalled to the traveller, in spite of his barbarian trappings, the fine countenances of the Aegean, and became a form which apparently might have struggled in Thermopylae. Next to him was the Austrian diplomatist, the Sosia of all cabinets, in whose gay address and rattling conversation you could hardly recognise the sophistical defender of unauthorised invasion, and the subtle inventor of Holy Alliances and Imperial Leagues. Then came the rich usurer from Frankfort or the prosperous merchant from Hamburgh, who, with his wife and daughters, were seeking some recreation from his flourishing counting-house in the sylvan gaieties of a German bathing-place. Flirting with these was an adventurous dancing-master from Paris, whose profession at present was kept in the background, and whose well-curled black hair, diamond pin, and frogged coat hinted at the magnifico incog, and also enabled him, if he did not choose in time to follow his own profession, to pursue another one, which he had also studied, in the profitable mystery of the Redoute. There were many other individuals, whose commonplace appearance did not reveal a character which perhaps they did not possess. There were officers in all uniforms, and there were some uniforms without officers. But all looked perfectly comme il faut, and on the whole very select; and if the great persons endeavoured for a moment to forget their dignity, still these slight improprieties were amply made up by the affected dignity of those little persons who had none to forget.

“And how like you the baths of Ems?” the Baron asked of Vivian, “We shall get better seats to-morrow, and perhaps be among those whom you shall know. I see many friends and some agreeable ones. In the meantime, you must make a good dinner to-day, and I will amuse you, and assist your digestion, by putting you up to some of the characters with whom you are dining.”

At this moment a party entered the room, who were rather late in their appearance, but who attracted the attention of Vivian. The group consisted of three persons; a very good-looking young man, who supported on each arm a female. The lady on his right arm was apparently of about five-and-twenty years of age. She was of majestic stature; her complexion of untinged purity. Her features were like those conceptions of Grecian sculptors which, in moments of despondency, we sometimes believe to be ideal. Her full eyes were of the same deep blue as the mountain lake, and gleamed from under their long lashes as that purest of waters beneath its fringing sedge. Her brown light hair was braided from her high forehead, and hung in long full curls over her neck; the mass gathered up into a Grecian knot, and confined by a bandeau of cameos. She wore a dress of black velvet, whose folding drapery was confined round a waist which was in exact symmetry with the proportions of her full bust and the polished roundness of her bending neck. The countenance of the lady was dignified, without any expression of pride, and reserved, without any of the harshness of austerity. In gazing on her the enraptured spectator for a moment believed that Minerva had forgotten her severity, and had entered into a delightful rivalry with Venus.

Her companion was much younger, not so tall, and of slender form. The long tresses of her chestnut hair shaded her oval face. Her small, aquiline nose, bright hazel eyes, delicate mouth, and the deep colour of her lips, were as remarkable as the transparency of her complexion. The flush of her cheek was singular; it was of a brilliant pink: you may find it in the lip of an Indian shell. The blue veins played beneath her arched forehead, like lightning beneath a rainbow. She was dressed in white, and a damask rose, half hid in her clustering hair, was her only ornament. This lovely creature glided by Vivian Grey almost unnoticed, so fixed was his gaze on her companion. Yet, magnificent as was the style of Lady Madeleine Trevor, there were few who preferred even her commanding graces to the softer beauties of Violet Fane.

This party, having passed Vivian, proceeded to the top of the room, where places had been kept for them. Vivian’s eye watched them till they were lost among surrounding visitors: their peculiar loveliness could not deceive him.

“English, no doubt,” observed he to the Baron; “who can they be?”

“I have not the least idea; that is, I do not exactly know. I think they are English,” answered the Baron, in so confused a manner that Vivian rather stared. After musing a moment, the Baron recovered himself.

“The unexpected sight of a face we feel that we know, and yet cannot immediately recognise, is extremely annoying; it is almost agitating. They are English. The lady in black is Lady Madeleine Trevor; I knew her in London.”

“And the gentleman?” asked Vivian: “is the gentleman Mr. Trevor?”

“No; Trevor, poor Trevor, is dead, I think; is, I am sure, dead. That, I am confident, is not he. He was of the —— family, and was in office when I was in England. It was in my diplomatic capacity that I first became acquainted with him. Lady Madeleine was, and, as you see, is, a charming woman; a very charming woman is Lady Madeleine Trevor.”

“And the young lady with her?”

“And the young lady with her, I cannot exactly say; I do not exactly know. Her face is familiar to me, and yet I cannot remember her name. She must have been very young, as you may see, when I was in England; she cannot now be above eighteen. Miss Fane must therefore have been very young when I was in England, Miss Fane; how singular I should have recalled her name! that is her name, Violet Fane, a cousin, or some relation, of Lady Madeleine: good family. Will you have some soup?”

Whether it were from not being among his friends, or some other cause, the Baron was certainly not in his usual spirits this day at dinner. Conversation, which with him was generally as easy as it was brilliant, like a fountain at the same time sparkling and fluent, was evidently constrained. For a few minutes he talked very fast, and was then uncommunicative, absent, and dull. He, moreover, drank a great deal of wine, which was not his custom; but the grape did not inspire him. Vivian found amusement in his next neighbour, a forward, bustling man, clever in his talk, very fine, but rather vulgar. He was the manager of a company of Austrian actors, and had come to Ems on the chance of forming an engagement for his troop, who generally performed at Vienna, He had been successful in his adventure, the Archduke having engaged the whole band at the New House, and in a few days the troop were to arrive; at which time the manager was to drop the character of a travelling gentleman, and cease to dine at the table d’hôte of Ems. From this man Vivian learnt that Lady Madeleine Trevor had been at the Baths for some time before the season commenced: that at present hers was the party which, from its long stay and eminent rank, gave the tone to the amusements of the place; the influential circle which those who have frequented watering-places have often observed, and which may be seen at Ems, Spa, or Pyrmont, equally as at Harrowgate, Tunbridge Wells, or Cheltenham.

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