Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 8

When the walking party returned home they found a crowd of idle servants assembled opposite the house, round a group of equipages, consisting of two enormous crimson carriages, a britzska, and a large caravan, on all which vehicles the same coat of arms was ostentatiously blazoned.

“Some new guests!” said Miss Fane.

“It must be the singular party that we watched this morning in the bazaar,” said Lady Madeleine. “Violet! I have such a curious character to introduce you to, a particular friend of Mr. Grey, who wishes very much to have the honour of your acquaintance, MR. ESSPER GEORGE.”

“These carriages, then, belong to him?”

“Not exactly,” said Vivian.

In an hour’s time, the party again met at dinner in the saloon. By the joint exertions of Ernstorff and Mr. St. George’s servants, the Baron, Vivian, and the Chevalier de Boeffleurs were now seated next to the party of Lady Madeleine Trevor.

“My horses fortunately arrived from Frankfort this morning,” said the Baron. “Mr. St. George and myself have been taking a ride very far up the valley. Has your Ladyship yet been to the Castle of Nassau?”

“We have not. The expedition has been one of those plans often arranged and never executed.”

“You should go. The ruin is one of the finest in Germany. An expedition to Nassau Castle would be a capital foundation for a pic-nic. Conceive a beautiful valley, discovered by a knight, in the middle ages, following the track of a stag. How romantic! The very incident vouches for its sweet seclusion. Cannot you imagine the wooded mountains, the old grey ruin, the sound of the unseen river? What more should we want, except agreeable company, fine music, and the best provisions, to fancy ourselves in Paradise?”

“I wish the plan were practicable,” said Mr. St. George.

“I take the whole arrangement upon myself; there is not a difficulty. The ladies shall go on donkeys, or we might make a water excursion of it part of the way, and the donkeys can meet us at the pass near Stein, and then the gentlemen may walk; and if you fear the water at night, why then the carriages may come round: and if your own be too heavy for mountain roads, my britzska is always at your command. You see there is not a difficulty.”

“Not a difficulty,” said Mr. St. George. “Madeleine, we only wait your consent.”

“I think we had better put off the execution of our plan till June is a little more advanced. We must have a fine summer night for Violet.”

“Well, then, I hold the whole party present engaged to follow my standard, whenever I have permission from authority to unfold it,” said the Baron, bowing to Lady Madeleine: “and lest, on cool reflection, I shall not possess influence enough to procure the appointment, I shall, like a skilful orator, take advantage of your feelings, which gratitude for this excellent plan must have already enlisted in my favour, and propose myself as Master of the Ceremonies.” The Baron’s eye caught Lady Madeleine’s as he uttered this, and something like a smile, rather of pity than derision, lighted up her face.

Here Vivian turned round to give some directions to an attendant, and to his annoyance found Essper George standing behind his chair.

“Is there anything you want, sir?”

“Who ordered you here?”

“My duty.”

“In what capacity do you attend?”

“As your servant, sir.”

“I insist upon your leaving the room directly.”

“Ah! my friend, Essper George,” said Lady Madeleine, “are you there? What is the matter?”

“This, then, is Essper George!” said Violet Fane. “What kind of being can he possibly be? What indeed is the matter?”

“I am merely discharging a servant at a moment’s warning, Miss Fane; and if you wish to engage his constant attendance upon yourself, I have no objection to give him a character for the occasion.”

“What do you want, Essper?” said Miss Fane.

“Merely to see whether your walk this morning had done your appetites any good,” answered Essper, looking disconsolate; “and so I thought I might make myself useful at the same time. And though I do not bring on the soup in a cocked hat, and carve the venison with a couteau-de-chasse,” continued he, bowing very low to Ernstorff, who, standing stiff behind his master’s chair, seemed utterly unaware that any other person in the room could experience a necessity; “still I can change a plate or hand the wine without cracking the first, or drinking the second.”

“And very good qualities, too!” said Miss Fane. “Come, Essper, you shall put your accomplishments into practice immediately; change my plate.”

This Essper did with dexterity and quiet, displaying at the same time a small white hand, on the back of which was marked a comet and three daggers. As he had the discretion not to open his mouth, and performed all his duties with skill, his intrusion in a few minutes was not only pardoned but forgotten.

“There has been a great addition to the visitors to-day, I see,” said Mr. St. George. “Who are the new comers?”

“I will tell you all about them,” said the Baron. “This family is one of those whose existence astounds the Continent much more than any of your mighty dukes and earls, whose fortunes, though colossal, can be conceived, and whose rank is understood. Mr. Fitzloom is a very different personage, for thirty years ago he was a journeyman cotton spinner. Some miraculous invention in machinery entitled him to a patent, which has made him one of the great proprietors of England. He has lately been returned a member for a manufacturing town, and he intends to get over the first two years of his parliamentary career by successively monopolising the accommodation of all the principal cities of France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and by raising the price of provisions and post-horses through a track of five thousand miles. My information is authentic, for I had a casual acquaintance with him in England. There was some talk of a contract for supplying our army from England, and I saw Fitzloom often on the subject. I have spoken to him to-day. This is by no means the first of the species that we have had in Germany. I can assure you that the plain traveller feels seriously the inconvenience of following such a caravan; their money flows with such unwise prodigality that real liberality ceases to be valued; and many of your nobility have complained to me that in their travels they are now often expostulated with on account of their parsimony, and taunted with the mistaken extravagance of a stocking-maker or a porter-brewer.”

“What pleasure can such people find in travelling?” wondered Mr. St. George.

“As much pleasure and more profit than half the young men of the present day,” replied a middle-aged English gentleman, who was a kinsman of the St. Georges, and called them cousins. “In my time travelling was undertaken on a very different system to what it is now. The English youth then travelled to frequent, what Lord Bacon says are ‘especially to be seen and observed, the Courts of Princes.’ You all travel now, it appears, to look at mountains and catch cold in spouting trash on lakes by moonlight.”

“But, my dear sir!” said the Baron, “although I grant you that the principal advantages of travel must be the opportunity which it affords us of becoming acquainted with human nature, knowledge, of course, chiefly gained where human beings most congregate, great cities, and, as you say, the Courts of Princes; still, one of its great benefits is, that it enlarges a man’s experiences, not only of his fellow-creatures in particular, but of nature in general. Many men pass through life without seeing a sunrise: a traveller cannot. If human experience be gained by seeing men in their undress, not only when they are conscious of the presence of others, natural experience is only to be acquired by studying nature at all periods, not merely when man is busy and the beasts asleep.”

“But what is the use of this deep experience of nature? Men are born to converse with men, not with stocks and stones. He who has studied Le Sage will be more happy and more successful in this world than the man who muses over Rousseau.”

“I agree with you. I have no wish to make man an anchorite. But as to the benefit of a thorough experience of nature, it appears to me to be evident. It increases our stock of ideas.”

“So does everything.”

“But it does more than this. It calls into being new emotions, it gives rise to new and beautiful associations; it creates that salutary state of mental excitement which renders our ideas more lucid and our conclusions more sound. Can we too much esteem a study which at the same time stimulates imagination and corrects the judgment?”

“Do not you think that a communion with nature is calculated to elevate the soul,” said Lady Madeleine, “to —?”

“So is reading your Bible. A man’s soul should always be elevated. If not, he might look at mountains for ever, but I should not trust him a jot more.”

“But, sir,” continued the Baron, with unusual warmth, “I am clear that there are cases in which the influence of nature has worked what you profess to treat as an impossibility or a miracle. I am myself acquainted with an instance of a peculiar character. A few years ago, a gentleman of high rank found himself exposed to the unhappy suspicion of being connected with some dishonourable transactions which took place in the highest circles of England. Unable to find any specific charge which he could meet, he added one to the numerous catalogue of those unfortunate beings who have sunk in society, the victims of a surmise. He quitted England, and, disgusted with the world, became the profligate which he had been falsely believed to be. At the house of Cardinal —— at Naples, celebrated for its revels, this gentleman became a constant guest. He entered with a mad eagerness into every species of dissipation, although none gave him pleasure, and his fortune, his health, and the powers of his mind were all fast vanishing. One night of frantic dissipation a mock election of Master of the Sports was proposed, and the hero of my tale had the splendid gratification of being chosen by unanimous consent to this new office. About two o’clock of the same night he left the palace of the Cardinal, with an intention of returning; his way on his return led by the Chiaja. It was one of those nights which we witness only in the south. The blue and brilliant sea was sleeping beneath a cloudless sky; and the moon not only shed her light over the orange and lemon trees, which, springing from their green banks of myrtle, hung over the water, but added fresh lustre to the white domes and glittering towers of the city, and flooded Vesuvius and the distant coast with light as far even as Capua. The individual of whom I am speaking had passed this spot on many nights when the moon was not less bright, the waves not less silent, and the orange trees not less sweet; but to-night something irresistible impelled him to stop. What a contrast to the artificial light and heat and splendour of the palace to which he was returning! He mused in silence. Would it not be wiser to forget the world’s injustice in gazing on a moonlit ocean than in discovering in the illumined halls of Naples the baseness of the crowd which forms the world’s power? To enjoy the refreshing luxury of a fanning breeze which now arose he turned and gazed on the other side of the bay; upon his right stretched out the promontory of Pausilippo; there were the shores of Baiae. But it was not only the loveliness of the land which now overcame his spirit; he thought of those whose fame had made us forget even the beauty of these shores in associations of a higher character and a more exalted nature. He remembered the time when it was his only wish to be numbered among them. How had his early hopes been fulfilled! What just account had he rendered to himself and to his country; that country that had expected so much, that self that had aspired even to more!

“Day broke over the city and found him still pacing the Chiaja; he did not return to the Cardinal’s palace, and in two days he had left Naples. I can myself, from personal experience, aver that this individual is now a useful and honourable member of society. The world speaks of him in more flattering terms.”

The Baron spoke with energy and animation. Miss Fane, who had been silent, and who certainly had not encouraged by any apparent interest the previous conversation of the Baron, listened to this anecdote with eager attention; but the effect it produced upon Lady Madeleine Trevor was remarkable.

Soon after this the party broke up. The promenade followed; the Grand Duke, his compliments, and courtiers; then came the Redoute. Mr. Hermann bowed low as the gentlemen walked up to the table. The Baron whispered Vivian that it was “expected” that they should play, and give the tables a chance of winning back their money. Vivian staked with the carelessness of one who wishes to lose; as is often the case under such circumstances, he again left the Redoute a considerable winner. He parted with the Baron at his Excellency’s door and proceeded to the next, which was his own. Here he stumbled over something at the doorway which appeared like a large bundle; he bent down with his light to examine it, and found Essper George lying on his back with his eyes half-open. It was some moments before Vivian perceived he was asleep; stepping gently over him, he entered his apartment.

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