Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6

When dinner was finished the party broke up, and most of them assembled in the gardens. The Baron, whose countenance had assumed its wonted cheerfulness, and who excused his previous dulness by the usual story of a sudden headache, proposed to Vivian to join the promenade. The gardens were very full, and the Baron recognised many of his acquaintance.

“My dear Colonel, who possibly expected to meet you here? Why! did you dine in the saloon? I only arrived this morning. This is my friend, Mr. Grey; Colonel von Trumpetson.”

“An Englishman, I believe?” said the Colonel, bowing. He was a starch militaire, with a blue frock coat buttoned up to his chin, a bald head with a few grey hairs, and long, thin mustachios like a mandarin’s. “An Englishman, I believe; pray, sir, will you inform me whether the household troops in England wear the Marboeuf cuirass?”

“Sir!” said Vivian.

“I esteem myself particularly fortunate in thus meeting with an English gentleman. It was only at dinner to-day that a controversy arose between Major von Musquetoon and the Prince of Buttonstein on this point. As I said to the Prince, you may argue for ever, for at present we cannot decide the fact. How little did I think when I parted from the Major that in a few minutes I should be able to settle the question beyond a doubt. I esteem myself particularly fortunate in meeting with an Englishman.”

“I regret to say, Colonel, that the question is one that I cannot decide.”

“Sir, I wish you good morning,” said the Colonel, very drily; and, staring keenly at Vivian, he walked away.

“He is good enough to fight, I suppose,” said the Baron, with a smile and shrug of the shoulders, which seemed to return thanks to Providence for having been educated in the civil service.

At this moment Lady Madeleine Trevor, leaning on the arm of the same gentleman, passed, and the Baron bowed. The bow was coldly returned.

“You know her Ladyship, then! well!”

“I did know her,” said the Baron; “but I see from her bow that I am at present in no very high favour. The truth is, she is a charming woman, but I never expected to see her in Germany, and there was some little commission of hers which I neglected, some little order for Eau de Cologne, or a message about a worked pocket-handkerchief, which I utterly forgot: and then, I never wrote! and you know. Grey, that these little sins of omission are never forgiven by women.”

“My dear friend, De Konigstein, one pinch! one pinch!” chirped out a little old odd-looking man, with a poudré head, and dressed in a costume in which the glories of the vieille cour seemed to retire with reluctance. A diamond ring twinkled on the snuffy hand, which was encircled by a rich ruffle of dirty lace. The brown coat was not modern, and yet not quite such an one as was worn by its master when he went to see the King dine in public at Versailles before the Revolution: large silver buckles still adorned the well-polished shoes; and silk stockings, whose hue was originally black, were picked out with clock-work of gold.

“My dear Marquis, I am most happy to see you; will you try the boulangero?”

“With pleasure! A-a-h! what a box! a Louis–Quatorze, I think?”

“Oh, no! by no means so old.”

“Pardon me, my dear De Konigstein; I think a Louis–Quatorze.”

“I bought it in Sicily.”

“A-a-h!” slowly exclaimed the little man, shaking his head.

“Well, good afternoon,” said the Baron, passing on.

“My dear De Konigstein, one pinch; you have often said you have a particular regard for me.”

“My dear Marquis!”

“A-a-h! I thought so; you have often said you would serve me, if possible.”

“My dear Marquis, be brief.”

“A-a-h! I will. There’s a cursed crusty old Prussian officer here; one Colonel de Trumpetson.”

“Well, what can I do? you are surely not going to fight him!”

“A-a-h! no, no; I wish you to speak to him.”

“Well, what?”

“He takes snuff.”

“What is that to me?”

“He has got a box.”

“Well!”

“It is a Louis–Quatorze; could not you get it for me?”

“Good morning to you,” said the Baron, pulling on Vivian.

“You have had the pleasure, Grey, of meeting this afternoon two men who have each only one idea. Colonel von Trumpetson and the Marquis de la Tabatière are equally tiresome. But are they more tiresome than any other man who always speaks on the same subject? We are more irritable, but not more wearied, with a man who is always thinking of the pattern of a button-hole, or the shape of a snuff-box, than with one who is always talking about pictures, or chemistry, or politics. The true bore is that man who thinks the world is only interested in one subject, because he himself can only comprehend one.”

Here Lady Madeleine passed again, and this time the Baron’s eyes were fixed on the ground.

A buzz and a bustle at the other end of the gardens, to which the Baron and Vivian were advancing, announced the entry of the Grand Duke. His Imperial Highness was a tall man, with a quick, piercing eye, which was prevented from giving to his countenance the expression of intellect, which it otherwise would have done, by the dull and almost brutal effect of his flat, Calmuck nose. He was dressed in a plain green uniform, adorned by a single star; but his tightened waist, his stiff stock, and the elaborate attention which had evidently been bestowed upon his mustachio, denoted the military fop. The Grand Duke was accompanied by three or four stiff and stately-looking personages, in whom the severity of the martinet seemed sunk in the servility of the aide-de-camp.

The Baron bowed very low to the Prince as he drew near, and his Highness, taking off his cocked-hat with an appearance of cordial condescension, made a full stop. The silent gentlemen in the rear, who had not anticipated this suspense in their promenade, almost foundered on the heels of their royal master; and, frightened at the imminency of the profanation, forgot their stiff pomp in a precipitate retreat of half a yard.

“Baron,” said his Highness, “why have I not seen you at the New House?”

“I have but this moment arrived, may it please your Imperial Highness.”

“Your companion,” continued the Grand Duke, pointing very graciously to Vivian.

“My intimate friend, my fellow-traveller, and an Englishman. May I have the honour of presenting Mr. Grey to your Imperial Highness?”

“Any friends of the Baron von Konigstein I shall always feel great pleasure in having presented to me. Sir, I feel great pleasure in having you presented to me. Sir, you ought to be proud of the name of Englishman; sir, the English are a noble nation; sir, I have the highest respect for the English nation!”

Vivian of course bowed very low; and of course made a very proper speech on the occasion, which, as all speeches of that kind should be, was very dutiful and quite inaudible.

“And what news from Berlin, Baron? let us move on,” and the Baron turned with the Grand Duke. The silent gentlemen, settling their mustachios, followed in the rear. For about half an hour, anecdote after anecdote, scene after scene, caricature after caricature, were poured out with prodigal expenditure for the amusement of the Prince, who did nothing during the exhibition but smile, stroke his whiskers, and at the end of the best stories fence with his forefinger at the Baron’s side, with a gentle laugh, and a mock shake of the head, and a “Eh! Von Konigstein, you’re too bad!” Here Lady Madeleine Trevor passed again, and the Grand Duke’s hat nearly touched the ground. He received a most gracious bow.

“Finish the story about Salvinski, Baron, and then I will present you for a reward to the most lovely creature in existence, a countrywoman of your friend, Lady Madeleine Trevor.”

“I have the honour of a slight acquaintance with her,” said the Baron; “I had the pleasure of knowing her in England.”

“Indeed! Fortunate mortal! I see she has stopped, talking to some stranger. Let us turn and join her.”

The Grand Duke and the two friends accordingly turned, and of course the silent gentlemen in the rear followed with due precision.

“Lady Madeleine!” said the Grand Duke, “I flattered myself for a moment that I might have had the honour of presenting to you a gentleman for whom I have a great esteem; but he has proved to me that he is more fortunate than myself, since he had the honour before me of an acquaintance with Lady Madeleine Trevor.”

“I have not forgotten Baron von Konigstein,” said her ladyship, with a serious air. “May I ask his Highness how he prospered in his negotiation with the Austrian troop?”

“Perfectly successful! Inspired by your Ladyship’s approbation, my steward has really done wonders. He almost deserves a diplomatic appointment for the talent which he has shown; but what should I do without Cracowsky? Lady Madeleine, can you conceive what I should do without Cracowsky?”

“Not in the least.”

“Cracowsky is everything to me. It is impossible to say what Cracowsky is to me. I owe everything to Cracowsky. To Cracowsky I owe being here.” The Grand Duke bowed very low, for this eulogium on his steward also conveyed a compliment to her Ladyship. The Grand Duke was certainly right in believing that he owed his summer excursion to Ems to his steward. That wily Pole regularly every year put his Imperial master’s summer excursion up to auction, and according to the biddings of the proprietors of the chief baths did he take care that his master regulated his visit. The restaurateur of Ems, in collusion with the official agent of the Duke of Nassau, were fortunate this season in having the Grand Duke knocked down to them.

“May I flatter myself that Miss Fane feels herself better?” asked the Grand Duke.

“She certainly does feel herself better, but my anxiety about her does not decrease. In her illness apparent convalescence is sometimes as alarming as suffering.”

The Grand Duke continued by the side of Lady Madeleine for about twenty minutes, seizing every opportunity of uttering, in the most courtly tone, inane compliments; and then trusting that he might soon have her Ladyship’s opinion respecting the Austrian troop at the New House, and that Von Konigstein and his English friend would not delay letting him see them there, his Imperial Highness, followed by his silent suite, left the gardens.

“I am afraid Lady Madeleine must have almost mistaken me for a taciturn lord chamberlain,” said the Baron, occupying immediately the Grand Duke’s vacated side.

“Baron von Konigstein must be very changed if silence be imputed to him as a fault,” said Lady Madeleine.

“Baron von Konigstein is very much changed since last he had the pleasure of conversing with Lady Madeleine Trevor; more changed than she will perhaps believe; more changed than he can sometimes himself believe. I hope that he will not be less acceptable to Lady Madeleine Trevor because he is no longer rash, passionate, and unthinking; because he has learnt to live more for others and less for himself.”

“Baron von Konigstein does indeed appear changed, since, by his own account, he has become, in a very few years, a being in whose existence philosophers scarcely believe, a perfect man.”

“My self-conceit has been so often reproved by you, that I will not apologise for a quality which I almost flattered myself I no longer possessed; but you will excuse, I am sure, one who, in zealous haste to prove himself amended, has, I fear, almost shown that he has deceived himself.”

Some strange thoughts occurred to Vivian while this conversation was taking place. “Is this a woman to resent the neglect of an order for Eau de Cologne? My dear Von Konigstein, you are a very pleasant fellow, but this is not the way men apologise for the non-purchase of a pocket-handkerchief!”

“Have you been long at Ems?” inquired the Baron, with an air of great deference.

“Nearly a month: we are travelling in consequence of the ill-health of a relation. It was our intention to have gone on to Pisa, but our physician, in consequence of the extreme heat of the summer, is afraid of the fatigue of travelling, and has recommended Ems. The air between these mountains is very soft and pure, and I have no reason to regret at present that we have not advanced farther on our journey.”

“The lady who was with your party at dinner is, I fear, your invalid. She certainly does not look like one. I think,” said the Baron, with an effort, “I think that her face is not unknown to me. It is difficult, even after so many years, to mistake Miss — ”

“Fane,” said Lady Madeleine, firmly; for it seemed that the Baron required a little assistance at the end of his sentence.

“Ems,” returned his Excellency, with great rapidity of utterance, “Ems is a charming place, at least to me. I have, within these few years, quite recurred to the feelings of my boyhood; nothing to me is more disgustingly wearisome than the gay bustle of a city. My present diplomatic appointment at Frankfort ensures a constant life among the most charming scenes of nature. Naples, which was offered to me, I refused. Eight years ago, I should have thought an appointment at Naples a Paradise on earth.”

“You must indeed be changed.”

“How beautiful is the vicinity of the Rhine! I have passed within these three days, for almost the twentieth time in my life, through the Rheingau; and yet how fresh, and lovely, and novel, seemed all its various beauties! My young travelling companion is enthusiastic about this gem of Germany. He is one of your Ladyship’s countrymen. Might I take the liberty of presenting to you Mr. Grey?”

Lady Madeleine, as if it could now no longer be postponed, introduced to the two gentlemen her brother, Mr. St. George. This gentleman, who, during the whole previous conversation, had kept his head in a horizontal position, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and apparently unconscious that any one was conversing with his sister, because, according to the English custom, he was not introduced, now suddenly turned around, and welcomed his acquaintance with cordiality.

“Mr. Grey,” asked her Ladyship, “are you of Dorsetshire?”

“My mother is a Dorsetshire woman; her family name is Vivian, which name I also bear.”

“Then I think we are longer acquainted than we have been introduced. I met your father at Sir Hargrave Vivian’s last Christmas. He spoke of you in those terms that make me glad that I have met his son. You have been long from England, I think?”

“Nearly a year and a half.”

“The Baron had resigned his place by Lady Madeleine, and was already in close conversation with Mr. St. George, from whose arm Lady Madeleine’s was disengaged. No one acted the part of Asmodeus with greater spirit than his Excellency; and the secret history of every person whose secret history could be amusing delighted Mr. St. George.

“There,” said the Baron, “goes the son of an unknown father; his mother followed the camp, and her offspring was early initiated in the mysteries of military petty larceny. As he grew up he became the most skilful plunderer that ever rifled the dying of both sides. Before he was twenty he followed the army as a petty chapman, and amassed an excellent fortune by re-acquiring after a battle the very goods and trinkets which he had sold at an immense price before it. Such a wretch could do nothing but prosper, and in due tune the sutler’s brat became a commissary-general. He made millions in a period of general starvation, and cleared at least a hundred thousand dollars by embezzling the shoe leather during a retreat. He is now a baron, covered with orders, and his daughters are married to some of our first nobles. There goes a Polish Count who is one of the greatest gamblers in Christendom. In the same season he lost to a Russian general, at one game of chess, his chief castle and sixteen thousand acres of woodland; and recovered himself on another game, on which he won of a Turkish Pasha one hundred and eighty thousand leopard skins. The Turk, who was a man of strict honour, paid the Count by embezzling the tribute in kind of the province he governed; and as on quarter-day he could not, of course, make up his accounts with the Divan, he joined the Greeks.”

While the Baron was entertaining Mr. St. George, the conversation between Lady Madeleine and Vivian proceeded.

“Your father expressed great disappointment to me at his being prevented paying you a visit. Do you not long to see him?”

“More than I can express. Did you think him in good spirits?”

“Generally so: as cheerful as all fathers can be without their only son.”

“Did he complain, then, of my absence?”

“He regretted it.”

“I linger in Germany with the hope of seeing him; otherwise I should have now been much further south. Do you find Sir Hargrave as amusing as ever?”

“When is he otherwise than the most delightful of old men? Sir Hargrave is one of my great favourites. I should like to persuade you to return and see them all. Cannot you fancy Chester Grange very beautiful now? Albert!” said her Ladyship, turning to her brother, “what is the number of our apartments? Mr. Grey, the sun has now disappeared, and I fear the night air among these mountains. We have hardly yet summer nights, though we certainly have summer days. We shall be happy to see you at our rooms.” So saying, bowing very cordially to Vivian and coldly to the Baron, Lady Madeleine left the gardens.

“There goes the most delightful woman in the world,” said the Baron; “how fortunate that you know her! for really, as you might have observed, I have no great claims on her indulgent notice. I was certainly very wild in England; but then young men, you know, Grey! and I did not leave a card, or call, before I went; and the English are very stiff and precise about those things; and the Trevors had been very kind to me. I think we had better take a little coffee now; and then, if you like, we will just stroll into the REDOUTE.”

In a brilliantly-illuminated saloon, adorned with Corinthian columns and casts from some of the most famous antique statues, assembled, between nine and ten o’clock in the evening, many of the visitors at Ems. On each side of the room was placed a long narrow table, one of which was covered with green baize, and unattended; while the variously-coloured leathern surface of the other was closely surrounded by an interested crowd. Behind this table stood two individuals of different appearance. The first was a short, thick man, whose only business was dealing certain portions of playing cards with quick succession one after the other: and as the fate of the table was decided by this process, did his companion, a very tall, thin man, throw various pieces of money upon certain stakes, which were deposited by the bystanders on different parts of the table; or, which was much oftener the case, with a silver rake with a long ebony handle, sweep into a large inclosure near him the scattered sums. This inclosure was called the Bank, and the mysterious ceremony in which these persons were assisting was the celebrated game of rouge-et-noir. A deep silence was strictly preserved by those who immediately surrounded the table; no voice was heard save that of the little, short, stout dealer, when, without an expression of the least interest, he seemed mechanically to announce the fate of the different colours. No other sound was heard, except the jingle of the dollars and Napoleons, and the ominous rake of the tall, thin banker. The countenances of those who were hazarding their money were grave and gloomy: their eyes were fixed, their brows contracted, and their lips projected; and yet there was an evident effort visible to show that they were both easy and unconcerned. Each player held in his hand a small piece of pasteboard, on which, with a steel pricker, he marked, the run of the cards, in order, from his observations, to regulate his own play. The rouge-et-noir player imagines that chance is not capricious. Those who were not interested in the game promenaded in two lines within the tables, or, seated in recesses between the pillars, formed small parties for conversation.

“I suppose we must throw away a dollar or two,” said the Baron, as he walked up to the table.

“My dear De Konigstein, one pinch!”

“Ah! Marquess, what fortune to-night?”

“Bad! I have lost my Napoleon: I never risk further. There is that cursed crusty old De Trumpet son, persisting, as usual, in his run of bad luck; because he never will give in. Trust me, my dear De Konigstein, it will end in his ruin; and then, if there be a sale of his effects, I shall, perhaps, get his snuff-box; a-a-h!”

“Come, shall I throw down a couple of Napoleons on joint account. I do not care much for play myself; but I suppose, at Ems, we must make up our minds to lose a few Louis. Here! now, for the red; joint account, mind!”

“Done.”

“There’s the Grand Duke! Let us go and make our bow; we need, not stick at the table as if our whole soul were staked with our crown-pieces,” So saying, the gentlemen walked up to the top of the room.

“Why, Grey! Surely no, it cannot be, and yet it is. De Boeffleurs, how d’ye do?” said the Baron, with a face beaming with joy and a hearty shake of the hand. “My dear fellow, how did you manage to get off so soon? I thought you were not to be here for a fortnight: we only arrived ourselves to-day.”

“Yes; but I have made an arrangement which I did not anticipate; and so I posted after you at once. Whom do you think I have brought with me?”

“Who?”

“Salvinski.”

“Ah! And the Count?”

“Follows immediately. I expect him to-morrow or next day. Salvinski is talking to the Grand Duke; and see, he beckons to me. I suppose I am going to be presented.”

The Chevalier moved forward, followed by the Baron and Vivian.

“Any friend of Prince Salvinski I shall always have great pleasure in having presented to me. Chevalier, I feel great pleasure in having you presented to me. Chevalier, you ought to be proud of the name of Frenchman. Chevalier, the French are a great nation. Chevalier, I have the highest respect for the French nation.”

“The most subtile diplomatist,” thought Vivian, as he recalled to mind his own introduction, “would be puzzled to decide to which interest his Imperial Highness leans.”

The Grand Duke now entered into conversation with the Prince, and most of the circle who surrounded him. As his Imperial Highness was addressing Vivian, the Baron let slip our hero’s arm, and, taking that of the Chevalier de Boeffleurs, began walking up and down the room with him, and was soon engaged in animated conversation. In a few minutes the Grand Duke, bowing to his circle, made a move, and regained the side of a Saxon lady, from whose interesting company he had been disturbed by the arrival of Prince Salvinski; an individual of whose long stories and dull romances the Grand Duke had, from experience, a particular dread: but his Highness was always very courteous to the Poles.

“Grey, I have despatched De Boeffleurs to the house, to instruct his servant and Ernstorff to do the impossible, in order that our rooms may be all together. You will be delighted with De Boeffleurs when you know him, and I expect you to be great friends. By-the-bye, his unexpected arrival has quite made us forget our venture at rouge-et-noir. Of course we are too late now for anything; even if we had been fortunate, our stake, remaining on the table, is, of course, lost: we may as well, however, walk up.” So saying, the Baron reached the table.

“That is your Excellency’s stake! that is your Excellency’s stake!” exclaimed many voices as he came up.

“What is the matter, my friends?” asked the Baron, calmly.

“There has been a run on the red! there has been a run on the red! and your Excellency’s stake has doubled each time. It has been 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and now it is 512!” quickly rattled a little thin man in spectacles, pointing at the same time to his unparalleled line of punctures. This was one of those officious, noisy little men who are always ready to give you unasked information, and who are never so happy as when they are watching over the interest of some stranger, who never thanks them for their unnecessary solicitude.

Vivian, in spite of his philosophy, felt the excitement of the moment. He looked at the Baron, whose countenance, however, was unmoved.

“It seems,” said he, coolly, “we are in luck.”

“The stake, then, is not all your own?” eagerly asked the little man in spectacles.

“No; part of it is yours, sir,” answered the Baron, drily.

“I am going; to deal,” said the short, thick man behind. “Is the board cleared?”

“Your Excellency, then, allows the stake to remain?” inquired the tall, thin banker, with affected nonchalance.

“Oh! certainly,” said the Baron, with real nonchalance.

“Three, eight, fourteen, twenty-four, thirty-four. Rouge 34 — ”

All crowded nearer; the table was surrounded five or six deep, for the wonderful run of luck had got wind, and nearly the whole room were round the table. Indeed, the Grand Duke and Saxon lady, and of course the silent suite, were left alone at the upper part of the room. The tall banker did not conceal his agitation. Even the short, stout dealer ceased to be a machine. All looked anxious except the Baron. Vivian looked at the table; his Excellency watched, with a keen eye, the little dealer. No one even breathed as the cards descended. “Ten, twenty (here the countenance of the banker brightened), twenty-two, twenty-five, twenty-eight, thirty-one; noir 31. The bank’s broke: no more play tonight. The roulette table opens immediately.”

In spite of the great interest which had been excited, nearly the whole crowd, without waiting to congratulate the Baron, rushed to the opposite side of the room, in order to secure places at the roulette fable.

“Put these five hundred and twelve Napoleons into a bag,” said the Baron, “Grey, this is your share. With regard to the other half, Mr. Hermann, what bills have you got?”

“Two on Gogel of Frankfort for two hundred and fifty each, and these twelve Napoleons will make it right,” said the tall banker, as he opened a large black pocket-book, from which he took out two small bits of paper. The Baron examined them, and after having seen them endorsed, put them into his pocket, not forgetting the twelve Napoleons; and then taking Vivian’s arm, and regretting extremely that he should have the trouble of carrying such a weight, he wished Mr. Hermann a very good night and success at his roulette, and walked with his companion quietly home. Thus passed a day at Ems!

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