Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 2

It is the hour before the labouring bee has left his golden hive; not yet the blooming day buds in the blushing East; not yet has the victorious Lucifer chased from the early sky the fainting splendour of the stars of night. All is silent, save the light breath of morn waking the slumbering leaves. Even now a golden streak breaks over the grey mountains. Hark to shrill chanticleer! As the cock crows the owl ceases. Hark to shrill chanticleer’s feathered rival! The mountain lark springs from the sullen earth, and welcomes with his hymn the coming day. The golden streak has expanded into a crimson crescent, and rays of living fire flame over the rose-enamelled East. Man rises sooner than the sun, and already sound the whistle of the ploughman, the song of the mower, and the forge of the smith; and hark to the bugle of the hunter, and the baying of his deep-mouthed hound. The sun is up, the generating sun! and temple, and tower, and tree, the massy wood, and the broad field, and the distant hill, burst into sudden light; quickly upcurled is the dusky mist from the shining river; quickly is the cold dew drunk from the raised heads of the drooping flowers!

A canter by a somewhat clearer light than the one which had so unfortunately guided himself and his companion to the Palace of the Wines soon carried them again to the skirts of the forest, and at this minute they are emerging on the plain from yonder dark wood.

“By heavens! Essper, I cannot reach the town this morning. Was ever anything more unfortunate. A curse on those drunken fools. What with no rest and no solid refreshment, and the rivers of hock that are flowing within me, and the infernal exertion of running round that vile hall, I feel fairly exhausted, and could at this moment fall from my saddle. See you no habitation, my good fellow, where there might be a chance of a breakfast and a few hours’ rest? We are now well out of the forest. Oh! surely there is smoke from behind those pines; some good wife, I trust, is by her chimney corner.”

“If my sense be not destroyed by the fumes of that mulled Geisenheim, which still haunts me, I could swear that the smoke is the soul of a burning weed.”

“A truce to your jokes, good Essper; I really am very ill. A year ago I could have laughed at our misfortunes, but now it is very different; and, by heavens, I must have breakfast! so stir, exert yourself, and, although I die for it, let us canter up to the smoke.”

“No, dear master, I will ride on before. Do you follow gently, and if there be a pigeon in the pot in all Germany. I swear by the patron saint of every village for fifty miles round, provided they be not heretics, that you shall taste of its breast-bone this morning.”

The smoke did issue from a chimney, but the door of the cottage was shut.

“Hilloa, within!” shouted Essper; “who shuts the sun out on a September morning?”

The door was at length slowly opened, and a most ill-favoured and inhospitable-looking dame demanded, in a sullen voice, “What’s your will?”

“You pretty creature!” said Essper, who was still a little tipsy.

The door would have been shut in his face had not he darted into the house before the woman was aware.

“Truly, a neat and pleasant dwelling! and you would have no objection, I guess, to give a handsome young gentleman some little sop of something just to remind him, you know, that it isn’t dinner-time.”

“We give no sops here: what do you take us for? and so, my handsome young gentleman, be off, or I shall call the good man.”

“Why, I am not the handsome young gentleman; that is my master! who, if he were not half-starved to death, would fall in love with you at first sight.”

“Your master; is he in the carriage?”

“Carriage! no; on horseback.”

“Travellers?”

“To be sure, dear dame; travellers true.”

“Travellers true, without luggage, and at this time of morn! Methinks, by your looks, queer fellows, that you are travellers whom it may be wise for an honest woman not to meet.”

“What! some people have an objection, then, to a forty kreüzer piece on a sunny morning?”

So saying, Essper, in a careless manner, tossed a broad piece in the air, and made it ring on a fellow coin, as he caught it in the palm of his hand when it descended.

“Is that your master?” asked the woman.

“Ay, is it! and the prettiest piece of flesh I have seen this month, except yourself.”

“Well! if the gentleman likes bread he can sit down here,” said the woman, pointing to a bench, and throwing a sour black loaf upon the table.

“Now, sir!” said Essper, wiping the bench with great care, “lie you here and rest yourself. I have known a marshal sleep upon a harder sofa. Breakfast will be ready immediately.”

“If you cannot eat what you have, you may ride where you can find better cheer.”

“What is bread for a traveller’s breakfast? But I daresay my lord will be contented; young men are so easily pleased when there is a pretty girl in the case; you know that, you wench I you do, you little hussy; you are taking advantage of it.”

Something like a smile lit up the face of the sullen woman when she said. “There may be an egg in the house, but I don’t know.”

“But you will soon, you dear creature! What a pretty foot!” bawled Essper after her, as she left the room. “Now confound this hag; if there be not meat about this house may I keep my mouth shut at our next dinner. What’s that in the corner? a boar’s tusk! Ay, ay! a huntsman’s cottage; and when lived a huntsman on black bread before! Oh! bless your bright eyes for these eggs, and this basin of new milk.”

So saying, Essper took them out of her hand and placed them before Vivian.

“I was saying to myself, my pretty girl, when you were out of the room, ‘Essper George, good cheer, say thy prayers, and never despair; come what may, you will fall among friends at last, and how do you know that your dream mayn’t come true after all? Didn’t you dream that you breakfasted in the month of September with a genteel young woman with gold ear-rings? and is not she standing before you now? and did not she do everything in the world to make you comfortable? Did not she give you milk and eggs, and when you complained that you and meat had been but slack friends of late, did not she open her own closet, and give you as fine a piece of hunting beef as was ever set before a Jagd Junker?’”

“I think you will turn me into an innkeeper’s wife at last,” said the dame, her stern features relaxing into a smile; and while she spoke she advanced to the great closet, Essper George following her, walking on his toes, lolling out his enormous tongue, and stroking his mock paunch. As she opened it he jumped upon a chair and had examined every shelf in less time than a pistol could flush. “White bread! fit for a countess; salt! worthy of Poland; boar’s head!! no better at Troyes; and hunting beef!!! my dream is true!” and he bore in triumph to Vivian, who was nearly asleep, the ample round of salt and pickled beef well stuffed with all kinds of savoury herbs.

It was nearly an hour before noon ere the travellers had remounted. Their road again entered the forest which they had been skirting for the last two days. The huntsmen were abroad; and the fine weather, his good meal and seasonable rest, and the inspiriting sounds of the bugle made Vivian feel recovered from his late fatigues.

“That must be a true-hearted huntsman, Essper, by the sound of his bugle. I never heard one played with more spirit. Hark! how fine it dies away hi the wood; fainter and fainter, yet how clear! It must be now half a mile distant.”

“I hear nothing so wonderful,” said Essper, putting the two middle fingers of his right hand before his mouth and sounding a note so clear and beautiful, so exactly imitative of the fall which Vivian had noticed and admired, that for a moment he imagined that the huntsman was at his elbow.

“Thou art a cunning knave! do it again.” This time Essper made the very wood echo. In a few minutes a horseman galloped up; he was as spruce a cavalier as ever pricked gay steed on the pliant grass. He was dressed in a green military uniform, and a gilt bugle hung by his side; his spear told them that he was hunting the wild boar. When he saw Vivian and Essper he suddenly pulled up his horse and seemed astonished.

“I thought that his Highness had been here,” said the huntsman.

“No one has passed us, sir,” said Vivian.

“I could have sworn that his bugle sounded from this very spot,” said the huntsman. “My ear seldom deceives me.”

“We heard a bugle to the right, sir,” said Essper.

“Thanks, my friend,” and the huntsman was about to gallop off.

“May I ask the name of his Highness?” said Vivian. “We are strangers in this country.”

“That may certainly account for your ignorance,” said the huntsman; “but no one who lives in this land can be unacquainted with his Serene Highness the Prince of Little Lilliput, my illustrious master. I have the honour,” continued the huntsman, “of being Jagd Junker, or Gentilhomme de la Chasse to his Serene Highness.”

“’Tis an office of great dignity,” said Vivian, “and one that I have no doubt you admirably perform; I will not stop you, sir, to admire your horse.”

The huntsman bowed courteously and galloped off.

“You see, sir,” said Essper George, “that my bugle has deceived even the Jagd Junker, or Gentilhomme de la Chasse of his Serene Highness the Prince of Little Lilliput himself;” so saying, Essper again sounded his instrument.

“A joke may be carried too far, my good fellow,” said Vivian. “A true huntsman like myself must not spoil a brother’s sport, so silence your bugle.”

Now again galloped up the Jagd Junker, or Gentilhomme de la Chasse of his Serene Highness the Prince of Little Lilliput. He pulled up his horse again apparently as much astounded as ever.

“I thought that his Highness had been here.” said the huntsman.

“No one has passed us,” said Vivian.

“We heard a bugle to the right,” said Essper George.

“I am afraid his Serene Highness must be in distress. The whole suite are off the scent. It must have been his bugle, for the regulations of this forest are so strict that no one dare sound a blast but his Serene Highness.” Away galloped the huntsman.

“Next time I must give you up, Essper,” said Vivian.

“One more blast, good master!” begged Essper, in a supplicating voice. “This time to the left; the confusion will be then complete.”

“I command you not,” and so they rode on in silence. But it was one of those days when Essper could neither be silent nor subdued. Greatly annoyed at not being permitted to play his bugle, he amused himself imitating the peculiar sound of every animal that he met; a young fawn and various birds already followed him, and even a squirrel had perched on his horse’s neck. And now they came to a small farmhouse, which was situated in the forest: the yard here offered great amusement to Essper. He neighed, and half a dozen horses’ heads immediately appeared over the hedge; another neigh, and they were following him in the road. A dog rushed out to seize the dangerous stranger and recover his charge, but Essper gave an amicable bark, and in a second the dog was jumping by his side and engaged in earnest and friendly conversation. A loud and continued grunt soon brought out the pigs, and meeting three or four cows returning home, a few lowing sounds soon seduced them from keeping their appointment with the dairymaid. A stupid jackass, who stared with astonishment at the procession, was saluted with a lusty bray, which immediately induced him to swell the ranks; and, as Essper passed the poultry-yard, he so deceitfully informed its inhabitants that they were about to be fed, that broods of ducks and chickens were immediately after him. The careful hens were terribly alarmed at the danger which their offspring incurred from the heels and hoofs of the quadrupeds; but while they were in doubt and despair a whole flock of stately geese issued in solemn pomp from another gate of the farmyard, and commenced a cackling conversation with the delighted Essper. So contagious is the force of example, and so great was the confidence which the hens placed in these pompous geese, who were not the first fools whose solemn air has deceived a few old females, that as soon as they perceived them in the train of the horseman they also trotted up to pay their respects at his levée.

But it was not a moment for mirth; for rushing down the road with awful strides appeared two sturdy and enraged husbandmen, one armed with a pike and the other with a pitchfork, and accompanied by a frantic female, who never for a moment ceased hallooing “Murder, rape, and fire!” everything but “theft.”

“Now, Essper, here’s a pretty scrape!”

“Stop, you rascals!” hallooed Adolph, the herdsman.

“Stop, you gang of thieves!” hallooed Wilhelm, the ploughman.

“Stop, you bloody murderers!” shrieked Phillippa, the indignant mistress of the dairy and the poultry-yard.

“Stop, you villains!” hallooed all three. The villains certainly made no attempt to escape, and in half a second the enraged household of the forest farmer would have seized on Essper George; but just at this crisis he uttered loud sounds in the respective language of every bird and beast about him, and suddenly they all turned round and counter-marched. Away rushed the terrified Adolph, the herdsman, while one of his own cows was on his back. Still quicker scampered off the scared Wilhelm, the ploughman, while one of his own steeds kicked him in his rear. Quicker than all these, shouting, screaming, shrieking, dashed back the unhappy mistress of the hen-roost, with all her subjects crowding about her; some on her elbow, some on her head, her lace cap destroyed, her whole dress disordered. The movements of the crowd were so quick that they were soon out of sight.

“A trophy!” called out Essper, as he jumped off his horse and picked up the pike of Adolph, the herdsman.

“A boar-spear, or I am no huntsman,” said Vivian: “give it me a moment!” He threw it up into the air, caught it with ease, poised it with the practiced skill of one well used to handle the weapon, and with the same delight imprinted on his countenance as greets the sight of an old friend.

“This forest, Essper, and this spear, make me remember days when I was vain enough to think that I had been sufficiently visited with sorrow. Ah! little did I then know of human misery, although I imagined I had suffered so much!”

As he spoke, the sounds of a man in distress were heard from the right side of the road.

“Who calls?” cried Essper. A shout was the only answer. There was no path, but the underwood was low, and Vivian took his horse, an old forester, across it with ease. Essper’s jibbed; Vivian found himself in a small green glade of about thirty feet square. It was thickly surrounded with lofty trees, save at the point where he had entered; and at the farthest corner of it, near some grey rocks, a huntsman was engaged in a desperate contest with a wild boar.

The huntsman was on his right knee, and held his spear with both hands at the furious beast. It was an animal of extraordinary size and power. Its eyes glittered like fire. On the turf to its right a small grey mastiff, of powerful make, lay on its back, bleeding profusely, with its body ripped open. Another dog, a fawn-coloured bitch, had seized on the left ear of the beast; but the under tusk of the boar, which was nearly a foot long, had penetrated the courageous dog, and the poor creature writhed in agony, even while it attempted to wreak its revenge upon its enemy. The huntsman was nearly exhausted. Had it not been for the courage of the fawn-coloured dog, which, clinging to the boar, prevented it making a full dash at the man, he must have been gored. Vivian was off his horse in a minute, which, frightened at the sight of the wild boar, dashed again over the hedge.

“Keep firm, sir!” said he; “do not move. I will amuse him behind, and make him turn.”

A graze of Vivian’s spear on its back, though it did not materially injure the beast, for there the boar is nearly in vulnerable, annoyed it; and dashing off the fawn-coloured dog with great force, it turned on its new assailant. Now there are only two places in which the wild boar can be assailed with any effect; and these are just between the eyes and between the shoulders. Great caution, however, is necessary in aiming these blows, for the boar is very adroit in transfixing the weapon on his snout or his tusks; and if once you miss, particularly if you are not assisted by dogs, which Vivian was not, ’tis all over with you; for the enraged animal rushes in like lightning, and gored you must be.

But Vivian was fresh and cool. The animal suddenly stood still and eyed its new enemy. Vivian was quiet, for he had no objection to give the beast an opportunity of retreating to its den. But retreat was not its object; it suddenly darted at the huntsman, who, however, was not off his guard, though unable, from a slight wound in his knee, to rise. Vivian again annoyed the boar at the rear, and the animal soon returned to him. He made a feint, as if he were about to strike his pike between its eyes. The boar, not feeling a wound which had not been inflicted, and very irritated, rushed at him, and he buried his spear a foot deep between its shoulders. The beast made one fearful struggle, and then fell down quite dead. The fawn-coloured bitch, though terribly wounded, gave a loud bark; and even the other dog, which Vivian thought had been long dead, testified its triumphant joy by an almost inarticulate groan. As soon as he was convinced that the boar was really dead, Vivian hastened to the huntsman, and expressed his hope that he was not seriously hurt.

“A trifle, which our surgeon, who is used to these affairs, will quickly cure. Sir! we owe you our life!” said the huntsman, with great dignity, as Vivian assisted him in rising from the ground. He was a tall man, of distinguished appearance; but his dress, which was the usual hunting costume of a German nobleman, did not indicate his quality.

“Sir, we owe you our life!” repeated the stranger; “five minutes more, and our son must have reigned in Little Lilliput.”

“I have the honour, then, of addressing your Serene Highness. Far from being indebted to me, I feel that I ought to apologise for having so unceremoniously joined your sport.”

“Nonsense, man! We have killed in our time too many of these gentry to be ashamed of owning that, had it not been for you, one of them would at last have revenged the species. But many as are the boars that we have killed or eaten, we never saw a more furious or powerful animal than the present. Why, sir, you must be one of the best hands at the spear in all Christendom!”

“Indifferently good, your Highness: your Highness forgets that the animal was already exhausted by your assault.”

“Why, there is something in that; but it was neatly done, man; it was neatly done. You are fond of the sport, we think?”

“I have had some practice, but illness has so weakened me that I have given up the forest.”

“Pity! and on a second examination we observe that you are no hunter. This coat is not for the free forest; but how came you by the pike?”

“I am travelling to the next post town, to which I have sent on my luggage. I am getting fast to the south; and as for this pike, my servant got it this morning from some peasant in a brawl, and was showing it to me when I heard your Highness call. I really think now that Providence must have sent it. I certainly could not have done you much service with my riding whip. Hilloa! Essper, where are you?”

“Here, noble sir! here, here. Why, what have you got there? The horses have jibbed, and will not stir. I can stay no longer: they may go to the devil!” So saying, Vivian’s valet dashed over the underwood, and leaped al the foot of the Prince.

“In God’s name, is this thy servant?” asked his Highness.

“In good faith am I,” said Essper; “his valet, his cook, and his secretary, all in one; and also his Jagd Junker, or Gentilhomme de la Chasse, as a puppy with a bugle horn told me this morning.”

“A merry knave!” said the Prince; “and talking of a puppy with a bugle horn reminds us how unaccountably we have been deserted to-day by a suite that never yet were wanting. We are indeed astonished. Our bugle, we fear, has turned traitor.” So saying, the Prince executed a blast with great skill, which Vivian immediately recognised as the one which Essper George had imitated.

“And now, my good friend,” said the Prince, “we cannot hear of your passing through our land without visiting our good castle. We would that we could better testify the obligation that we feel under to you in any other way than by the offer of an hospitality which all gentlemen, by right, can command. But your presence would, indeed, give us sincere pleasure. You must not refuse us. Your looks, as well as your prowess, prove your blood; and we are quite sure no cloth-merchant’s order will suffer by your not hurrying to your proposed point of destination. We are not wrong, we think, though your accent is good, in supposing that we are conversing with an English gentleman. But here they come.”

As he spoke, three or four horsemen, at the head of whom was the young huntsman whom the travellers had met in the morning, sprang into the glade.

“Why, Arnelm!” said the Prince, “when before was the Jagd Junker’s ear so bad that he could not discover his master’s bugle, even though the wind were against him?”

“In truth, your Highness, we have heard bugles enough this morning. Who is violating the forests laws we know not; but that another bugle is sounding, and played; St. Hubert forgive me for saying so; with as great skill as your Highness’, is certain. Myself, Von Neuwied, and Lintz have been galloping over the whole forest. The rest, I doubt not, will be up directly.” The Jagd Junker blew his own bugle.

In the course of five minutes, about twenty other horsemen, all dressed in the same uniform, had arrived; all complaining of their wild chases after the Prince in every other part of the forest.

“It must be the Wild Huntsman himself!” swore an old hand. This solution of the mystery satisfied all.

“Well, well!” said the Prince; “whoever it may be, had it not been for the timely presence of this gentleman, you must have changed your green jackets for mourning coats, and our bugle would have sounded no more in the forest of our fathers. Here, Arnelm! cut up the beast, and remember that the left shoulder is the quarter of honour, and belongs to this stranger, not less honoured because unknown.”

All present took off their caps and bowed to Vivian, who took this opportunity of informing the Prince who he was.

“And now,” continued his Highness, “Mr. Grey will accompany us to our castle; nay, sir, we can take no refusal. We will send on to the town for your luggage. Arnelm, do you look to this! And, honest friend,” said the Prince, turning to Essper George, “we commend you to the special care of our friend Von Neuwied; and so, gentlemen, with stout hearts and spurs to your steeds, to the castle.”

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