Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 5

The Prince returned home at a late hour, and immediately enquired for Vivian. During dinner, which he hastily despatched, it did not escape our hero’s attention that his Highness was unusually silent, and, indeed, agitated.

“When we have finished our meal, my good friend,” at length said the Prince, “I very much wish to consult with you on a most important business.” Since the explanation of last night, the Prince, in private conversation, had dropped his regal plural.

“I am ready at once,” said Vivian.

“You will think it strange, Mr. Grey, when you become acquainted with the nature of my communication; you will justly consider it most strange, most singular, that I should choose for a confidant and a counsellor in an important business a gentleman with whom I have been acquainted so short a time as yourself. But, sir, I have well weighed, at least I have endeavoured well to weigh, all the circumstances and contingencies which such a confidence would involve; and the result of my reflection is, that I will look to you as a friend and adviser, feeling assured that, both from your situation and your disposition, no temptation exists which can induce you to betray or to deceive me.” Though the Prince said this with an appearance of perfect sincerity, he stopped and looked earnest in his guest’s face, as if he would read his secret thoughts, or were desirous of now giving him an opportunity of answering.

“So far as the certainty of your confidence being respected,” answered Vivian, “I trust your Highness may communicate to me with the most assured spirit. But while my ignorance of men and affairs in this country will ensure you from any treachery on my part, I very much fear that it will also preclude me from affording you any advantageous advice or assistance.”

“On that head,” replied the Prince, “I am, of course, the best judge. The friend whom I need is a man not ignorant of the world, with a cool head and an impartial mind. Though young, you have said and told me enough to prove that you are not unacquainted with mankind. Of your courage I have already had a convincing proof. In the business in which I require your assistance freedom from national prejudices will materially increase the value of your advice; and, therefore, I am far from being unwilling to consult a person ignorant, according to your own phrase, of men and affairs in this country. Moreover, your education as an Englishman has early led you to exercise your mind on political subjects; and it is in a political business that I require your aid.”

“Am I fated always to be the dry nurse of an embryo faction!” thought Vivian; and he watched earnestly the countenance of the Prince. In a moment he expected to be invited to become a counsellor of the leagued Princes. Either the lamp was burning dim, or the blazing wood fire had suddenly died away, or a mist was over Vivian’s eyes; but for a moment he almost imagined that he was sitting opposite his old friend the Marquis of Carabas. The Prince’s phrase had given rise to a thousand agonising associations: in an instant Vivian had worked up his mind to a pitch of nervous excitement.

“Political business?” said Vivian, in an agitated voice. “You could not address a more unfortunate person. I have seen, Prince, too much of politics ever to wish to meddle with them again.”

“You are too quick, my good friend,” continued his Highness. “I may wish to consult you on political business, and yet have no intention of engaging you in politics, which, indeed, is quite a ridiculous idea. But I see that I was right in supposing that these subjects have engaged your attention.”

“I have seen, in a short time, something of the political world,” answered Vivian, who was almost ashamed of his previous emotion; “and I thank Heaven daily that I have no chance of again having any connection with it.”

“Well, well! that as it may be. Nevertheless, your experience is only another inducement to me to request your assistance. Do not fear that I wish to embroil you in politics; but I hope you will not refuse, although almost a stranger, to add to the great obligations which I am already under to you, and give me the benefit of your opinion.”

“Your Highness may speak with perfect unreserve, and reckon upon my delivering my genuine sentiments.”

“You have not forgotten, I venture to believe,” said the Prince, “our short conversation of last night!”

“It was of too interesting a nature easily to escape my memory.”

“Before I can consult you on the subject which at present interests me, it is necessary that I should make you a little acquainted with the present state of public affairs here, and the characters of the principal individuals who control them.”

“So far as an account of the present state of political parties, the history of the Grand Duke’s career, and that of his Minister, Mr. Beckendorff, and their reputed characters, will form part of your Highness’s narrative, by so much may its length be curtailed and your trouble lessened; for I have at different times picked up, in casual conversation, a great deal of information on these topics. Indeed, you may address me, in this respect, as you would any German gentleman who, not being himself personally interested in public life, is, of course, not acquainted with its most secret details.”

“I did not reckon on this,” said the Prince, in a cheerful voice. “This is a great advantage, and another reason that I should no longer hesitate to develop to you a certain affair which now occupies my mind. To be short,” continued the Prince, “it is of the letter which I so mysteriously received last night, and which, as you must have remarked, very much agitated me; it is on this letter that I wish to consult you. Bearing in mind the exact position, the avowed and public position, in which I stand, as connected with the Court, and having a due acquaintance, which you state you have, with the character of Mr. Beckendorff, what think you of this letter?”

So saying, the Prince leant over the table, and handed to Vivian the following epistle:

“TO HIS HIGHNESS THE PRINCE OF LITTLE LILLIPUT.

“I am commanded by his Royal Highness to inform your Highness that his Royal Highness has considered the request which was signed by your Highness and other noblemen, and presented by you to his Royal Highness in a private interview. His Royal Highness commands me to state that that request will receive his most attentive consideration. At the same time, his Royal Highness also commands me to observe that, in bringing about the completion of a result desired by all parties, it is difficult to carry on the necessary communications merely by written documents; and his Royal Highness has therefore commanded me to submit to your Highness the advisability of taking some steps in order to further the possibility of the occurrence of an oral interchange of the sentiments of the respective parties. Being aware, from the position which your Highness has thought proper at present to maintain, and from other causes which are of too delicate a nature to be noticed in any other way except by allusion, that your Highness may feel difficulty in personally communicating with his Royal Highness without consulting the wishes and opinions of the other Princes; a process to which, it must be evident to your Highness, his Royal Highness feels it impossible to submit; and, at the same time, desirous of forwarding the progress of those views which his Royal Highness and your Highness may conjunctively consider calculated to advance the well-being of the State, I have to submit to your Highness the propriety of considering the propositions contained in the enclosed paper; which, if your Highness keep unconnected with this communication, the purport of this letter will be confined to your Highness.

PROPOSITIONS.

‘1st. That an interview shall take place between your Highness and myself, the object of which shall be the consideration of measures by which, when adopted, the various interests now in agitation shall respectively be regarded.

‘2nd. That this interview shall be secret; your Highness be incognito.’

“If your Highness be disposed to accede to the first proposition, I beg to submit to you that, from the nature of my residence, its situation, and other causes, there will be no fear that any suspicion of the fact of Mr. von Philipson acceding to the two propositions will gain notoriety. This letter will be delivered into your own hands. If Mr. von Philipson determine on acceding to these propositions, he is most probably aware of the general locality in which my residence is situated; and proper measures will be taken that, if Mr. von Philipson honour me with a visit, he shall not be under the necessity of attracting attention by inquiring the way to my house. It is wished that the fact of the second proposition being acceded to should only be known to Mr. von Philipson and myself, but if to be perfectly unattended be considered as an insuperable objection, I consent to his being accompanied by a single friend. I shall be alone.

“BECKENDORFF.”

“Well!” said the Prince, as Vivian finished the letter.

“The best person,” said Vivian, “to decide upon your Highness consenting to this interview is yourself.”

“That is not the point on which I wish to have the benefit of your opinion; for I have already consented. I rode over this morning to my cousin, the Duke of Micromegas, and despatched from his residence a trusty messenger to Beckendorff. I have agreed to meet him, and to-morrow; but on the express terms that I should not be unattended. Now then,” continued the Prince, with great energy; “now then, will you be my companion?”

“I!” said Vivian.

“Yes; you, my good friend! you. I should consider myself as safe if I were sleeping in a burning house as I should be were I with Beckendorff alone. Although this is not the first time that we have communicated, I have never yet seen him; and I am fully aware that, if the approaching interview were known to my friends, they would consider it high time that my son reigned in my stead. But I am resolved to be firm, to be inflexible. My course is plain. I am not to be again duped by him, which,” continued the Prince, much confused, “I will not conceal that I have been once.”

“But I!” said Vivian; “I; what good can I possibly do? It appears to me that, if Beckendorff is to be dreaded as you describe, the presence or the attendance of no friend can possibly save you from his crafty plans. But surely, if any one attend you, why not be accompanied by a person whom you have known long, and who knows you well; on whom you can confidently rely, and who may be aware, from a thousand signs and circumstances which will never attract my attention, at what particular and pressing moments you may require prompt and energetic assistance. Such is the companion you want; and surely such an one you may find in Arnelm, Von Neuwied — ”

“Arnelm! Von Neuwied!” said the Prince; “the best, hands at sounding a bugle or spearing a boar in all Reisenburg! Excellent men, forsooth! to guard their master from the diplomatic deceits of the wily Beckendorff! Moreover, were they to have even the slightest suspicion of my intended movement, they would commit rank treason out of pure loyalty, and lock me up in my own cabinet! No, no! they will never do: I want a companion of experience and knowledge of the world, with whom I may converse with some prospect of finding my wavering firmness strengthened, or my misled judgment rightly guided, or my puzzled brain cleared; modes of assistance to which the worthy Jagd Junker is but little accustomed, however quickly he might hasten to my side in a combat or the chase.”

“If these, then, will not do, surely there is one man in this castle who, although he may not be a match for Beckendorff, can be foiled by few others. Mr. Sievers?” said Vivian, with an inquiring eye.

“Sievers!” exclaimed the Prince, with great eagerness; “the very man! firm, experienced, and sharp-witted; well schooled in political learning, in case I required his assistance in arranging the terms of the intended Charter or the plan of the intended Chambers; for these, of course, are the points on which Beckendorff wishes to consult. But one thing I am determined on: I positively pledge myself to nothing while under Beckendorff’s roof. He doubtless anticipates, by my visit, to grant the liberties of the people on his own terms: perhaps Mr. Beckendorff, for once in his life, may be mistaken. I am not to be deceived twice; and I am determined not to yield the point of the Treasury being under the control of the Senate. That is the part of the harness which galls; and to preserve themselves from this rather inconvenient regulation, without question, my good friend Beckendorff has hit upon this plan.”

“Then Mr. Sievers will accompany you?” asked Vivian, calling the Prince’s attention to the point of consultation.

“The very man for it, my dear friend! but although Beckendorff, most probably respecting my presence, and taking into consideration the circumstances under which we meet, would refrain from consigning Sievers to a dungeon; still, although the Minister invites this interview, and although I have no single inducement to conciliate him, yet it would scarcely be correct, scarcely dignified on my part, to prove, by the presence of my companion, that I had for a length of time harboured an individual who, by Beckendorff’s own exertions, was banished from the Grand Duchy. It would look too much like a bravado.”

“Oh!” said Vivian; “is it so? And pray of what was Mr. Sievers guilty?”

“Of high treason against one who was not his sovereign.”

“How is that?”

“Sievers, who is a man of considerable talents, was for a long time a professor in one of our great Universities. The publication of many able works procured him a reputation which induced Madame Carolina to use every exertion to gain his attendance at Court; and a courtier in time the professor became. At Reisenburg Mr. Sievers was the great authority on all subjects: philosophical, literary, and political. In fact, he was the fashion; and, at the head of the great literary journal which is there published, he terrified admiring Germany with his profound and piquant critiques. Unfortunately, like some men as good, he was unaware that Reisenburg was not an independent state; and so, on the occasion of Austria attacking Naples, Mr. Sievers took the opportunity of attacking Austria. His article, eloquent, luminous, profound, revealed the dark colours of the Austrian policy, as an artist’s lamp brings out the murky tints of a Spagnoletto. Every one admired Sievers’ bitter sarcasms, enlightened views, and indignant eloquence. Madame Carolina crowned him with laurel in the midst of her coterie, and it is said that the Grand Duke sent him a snuff-box. In a short time the article reached Vienna, and in a still shorter time Mr. Beckendorff reached the Residence, and insisted on the author being immediately given up to the Austrian Government. Madame Carolina was in despair, the Grand Duke in doubt, and Beckendorff threatened to resign if the order were not signed. A kind friend, perhaps his Royal Highness himself, gave Sievers timely notice, and by rapid flight he reached my castle, and demanded my hospitality. He has lived here ever since, and has done me a thousand services, not the least of which is the education which he has given my son, my glorious Maximilian.”

“And Beckendorff,” asked Vivian; “has he always been aware that Sievers was concealed here?”

“That I cannot answer: had he been, it is not improbable that he would have winked at it; since it never has been his policy unnecessarily to annoy a mediatised Prince, or without great occasion to let us feel that our independence is gone; I will not, with such a son as I have, say, for ever.”

“Mr. Sievers of course, then, cannot visit Beckendorff,” said Vivian.

“That is clear,” said the Prince; “and I therefore trust that now you will no longer refuse my first request.”

It was impossible for Vivian to deny the Prince any longer; and indeed he had no objection (as his Highness could not be better attended) to seize the singular and unexpected opportunity which now offered itself of becoming acquainted with an individual respecting whom his curiosity was much excited. It was a late hour ere the Prince and his friend retired, having arranged everything for the morrow’s journey, and conversed on the probable subjects of the approaching interview at great length.

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