Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 10

Henry of England led the Polonaise with Louise of Savoy; Margaret of Austria would not join in it: waltzing quickly followed. The Emperor seldom left the side of the Queen of Navarre, and often conversed with her Majesty’s poet. The Prince of Asturias hovered for a moment round his father’s daughter, as if he were summoning resolution to ask her to waltz. Once, indeed, he opened his mouth; could it have been to speak? But the young Margaret gave no encouragement to this unusual exertion; and Philip of Asturias, looking, if possible, more sad and sombre than before, skulked away. The Crown Prince left the gardens, and now a smile lit up every face, except that of the young Baroness. The gracious Grand Duke, unwilling to see a gloomy countenance anywhere to-night, turned to Vivian, who was speaking to Madame Carolina, and said, “Gentle poet, would that thou hadst some chanson or courtly compliment to chase the cloud which hovers on the brow of our much-loved daughter of Austria! Your popularity, sir,” continued the Grand Duke, dropping his mock heroic vein and speaking in a much lower tone, “your popularity, sir, among the ladies of the Court, cannot be increased by any panegyric of mine; nor am I insensible, believe me, to the assiduity and skill with which you have complied with my wishes in making our Court agreeable to the relative of a man to whom we owe so much as Mr. Beckendorff. I am informed, Mr. Grey,” continued his Royal Highness, “that you have no intention of very speedily returning to your country; I wish that I could count you among my peculiar attendants. If you have an objection to live in the palace without performing your quota of duty to the State, we shall have no difficulty in finding you an office, and clothing you in our official costume. Think of this!” So saying, with a gracious smile, his Royal Highness, leading Madame Carolina, commenced a walk round the gardens.

The young Baroness did not follow them. Solyman the Magnificent, and Bayard the irreproachable, and Barbarossa the pirate, and Bourbon the rebel, immediately surrounded her. Few persons were higher ton than the Turkish Emperor and his Admiral; few persons talked more agreeable nonsense than the Knight sans peur et sans reproche; no person was more important than the warlike Constable; but their attention, their amusement, and their homage were to-night thrown away on the object of their observance. The Baroness listened to them without interest, and answered them with brevity. She did not even condescend, as she had done before, to enter into a war of words, to mortify their vanity or exercise their wit. She treated them neither with contempt nor courtesy. If no smile welcomed their remarks, at least her silence was not scornful, and the most shallow-headed prater that fluttered around her felt that he was received with dignity and not with disdain. Awed by her conduct, not one of them dared to be flippant, and every one of them soon became dull. The ornaments of the Court of Reisenburg, the arbiters of ton and the lords of taste, stared with astonishment at each other when they found, to their mutual surprise, that at one moment, in such a select party, universal silence pervaded. In this state of affairs, every one felt that his dignity required his speedy disappearance from the lady’s presence. The Orientals, taking advantage of Bourbon’s returning once more to the charge with an often unanswered remark, coolly walked away: the Chevalier made an adroit and honourable retreat by joining a passing party; and the Constable was the only one who, being left in solitude and silence, was finally obliged to make a formal bow and retire discomforted from the side of the only woman with whom he had ever condescended to fall in love. Leaning against the trunk of a tree at some little distance, Vivian Grey watched the formation and dissolution of the young Baroness’ levée with lively interest. His eyes met the lady’s as she raised them from the ground on von Sohnspeer quitting her. She immediately beckoned to Vivian, but without her usual smile. He was directly at her side, but she did not speak. At last he said, “This is a most brilliant scene!”

“You think so, do you?” answered the lady, in a tone and manner which almost made Vivian believe, for a moment, that his friend Mr. Beckendorff was at his side.

“Decidedly his daughter!” thought he.

“You are not gay to-night?” said Vivian.

“Why should I be?” said the lady, in a manner which would have made Vivian imagine that his presence was as disagreeable to her as that of Count von Sohnspeer, had not the lady herself invited his company.

“I suppose the scene is very brilliant,” continued the Baroness, after a few moments’ silence. “At least all here seem to think so, except two persons.”

“And who are they?” asked Vivian.

“Myself and — the Crown Prince. I am almost sorry that I did not dance with him. There seems a wonderful similarity in our dispositions.”

“You are pleased to be severe to-night.”

“And who shall complain when the first person that I satirize is myself?”

“It is most considerate in you,” said Vivian, “to undertake such an office; for it is one which you yourself are alone capable of fulfilling. The only person that can ever satirize your Excellency is yourself; and I think even then that, in spite of your candour, your self-examination must please us with a self-panegyric.”

“Nay, a truce to compliments: at least let me hear better things from you. I cannot any longer endure the glare of these lamps and dresses! your arm! Let us walk for a few minutes in the more retired and cooler parts of the gardens.”

The Baroness and Vivian left the amphitheatre by a different path to that by which the Grand Duke and Madame Carolina had quitted it. They found the walks quite solitary; for the royal party, which was small, contained the only persons who had yet left the stage.

Vivian and his companions strolled about for some time, conversing on subjects of casual interest. The Baroness, though no longer absent, either in her manner or her conversation, seemed depressed; and Vivian, while he flattered himself that he was more entertaining than usual, felt, to his mortification, that the lady was not entertained.

“I am afraid you find it dull here,” said he; “shall we return?”

“Oh, no; do not let us return! We have so short a time to be together that we must not allow even one hour to be dull.”

As Vivian was about to reply, he heard the joyous voice of young Maximilian; it sounded very near. The royal party was approaching. The Baronet expressed her earnest desire to avoid it; and as to advance or to retreat, in these labyrinthine walks, was almost equally hazardous, they retired into one of those green recesses which we have before mentioned; indeed it was the very evergreen grove in the centre of which the Nymph of the Fountain watched for her loved Carian youth. A shower of moonlight fell on the marble statue, and showed the Nymph in an attitude of consummate skill: her modesty struggling with her desire, and herself crouching in her hitherto pure waters, while her anxious ear listens for the bounding step of the regardless huntsman.

“The air is cooler here,” said the Baroness, “or the sound of the falling water is peculiarly refreshing to my senses. They have passed. I rejoice that we did not return; I do not think that I could have remained among those lamps another moment. How singular, actually to view with aversion a scene which appears to enchant all!”

“A scene which I should have thought would have been particularly charming to you,” said Vivian; “you are dispirited tonight!”

“Am I?” said the Baroness. “I ought not to be; not to be more dispirited than I ever am. To-night I expected pleasure; nothing has happened which I did not expect, and everything which I did. And yet I am sad! Do you think that happiness can ever be sad? I think it must be so. But whether I am sorrowful or happy I can hardly tell; for it is only within these few days that I have known either grief or joy.”

“It must be counted an eventful period in your existence which reckons in its brief hours a first acquaintance with such passions!” said Vivian, with a searching eye and an inquiring voice.

“Yes; an eventful period, certainly an eventful period,” answered the Baroness, with a thoughtful air and in measured words.

“I cannot bear to see a cloud upon that brow!” said Vivian. “Have you forgotten how much was to be done to-night? How eagerly you looked forward to its arrival? How bitterly we were to regret the termination of the mimic empire?”

“I have forgotten nothing; would that I had! I will not look grave. I will be gay; and yet, when I remember how soon other mockery besides this splendid pageant must be terminated, why should I look gay? Why may I not weep?”

“Nay, if we are to moralise on worldly felicity, I fear that instead of inspiriting you, which is my wish, I shall prove but a too congenial companion. But such a theme is not for you.”

“And why should it be for one who, though he lecture me with such gravity and gracefulness, can scarcely be entitled to play the part of Mentor by the weight of years?” said the Baroness, with a smile: “for one who, I trust, who I should think, as little deserved, and was as little inured to, sorrow as myself!”

“To find that you have cause to grieve,” said Vivian, “and to learn from you, at the same time, your opinion of my own lot, prove what I have too often had the sad opportunity of observing, that the face of man is scarcely more genuine and less deceitful than these masquerade dresses which we now wear.”

“But you are not unhappy?” asked the Baroness with a quick voice.

“Not now,” said Vivian.

His companion seated herself on the marble balustrade which surrounded the fountain: she did not immediately speak again, and Vivian was silent, for he was watching her motionless countenance as her large brilliant eyes gazed with earnestness on the falling water sparkling in the moonlight. Surely it was not the mysterious portrait at Beckendorff’s that he beheld!

She turned. She exclaimed in an agitated voice, “O friend! too lately found, why have we met to part?”

“To part, dearest!” said he, in a low and rapid voice, and he gently took her hand; “to part! and why should we part? why — ”

“Ask not; your question is agony!” She tried to withdraw her hand, he pressed it with renewed energy, it remained in his, she turned away her head, and both were silent.

“O! lady,” said Vivian, as he knelt at her side, “why are we not happy?”

His arm is round her waist, gently he bends his head, their speaking eyes meet, and their trembling lips cling into a kiss!

A seal of love and purity and faith I and the chaste moon need not have blushed as she lit up the countenances of the lovers.

“O! lady, why are we not happy?”

“We are, we are: is not this happiness, is not this joy, is not this bliss? Bliss,” she continued, in a low broken voice, “to which I have no right, no title. Oh! quit, quit my hand! Happiness is not for me!” She extricated herself from his arm, and sprang upon her feet. Alarm, rather than affection, was visible on her agitated features. It seemed to cost her a great effort to collect her scattered senses; the effort was made with pain, but with success.

“Forgive me,” she said, in a hurried and indistinct tone; “forgive me! I would speak, but cannot, not now at least; we have been long away, too long; our absence will be remarked to-night; to-night we must give up to the gratification of others, but I will speak. For yours, for my own sake, let us, let us go. You know that we are to be very gay to-night, and gay we will be. Who shall prevent us? At least the present hour is our own; and when the future ones must be so sad, why, why, trifle with this?”

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