Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 5

Vivian met Emilius von Aslingen in his ride through the gardens. As that distinguished personage at present patronised the English nation, and astounded the Reisenburg natives by driving an English mail, riding English horses, and ruling English grooms, he deigned to be exceedingly courteous to our hero, whom he had publicly declared at the soirée of the preceding night to be “very good style.” Such a character from such a man raised Vivian even more in the estimation of the Reisenburg world than his flattering reception by the Grand Duke and his cordial greeting by Madame Carolina.

“Shall you be at the Grand Marshal’s to-night?” asked Vivian.

“Ah! that is the new man, the man who was mediatised, is not it?”

“The Prince of Little Lilliput.”

“Yes!” drawled out Mr. von Aslingen. “I shall go if I have courage enough; but they say his servants wear skins, and he has got a tail.”

The ball-room was splendidly illuminated. The whole of the Royal Family was present, and did honour to their new officer of state; his Royal Highness all smiles, and his Consort all diamonds. Stars and uniforms, ribbons and orders, abounded. The diplomatic body wore the dresses of their respective Courts. Emilius von Aslingen, having given out in the morning that he should appear as a captain in the Royal Guards, the young lords and fops of fashion were consequently ultra military. They were not a little annoyed when, late in the evening, their model lounged in, wearing the rich scarlet uniform of a Knight of Malta, of which newly-revived order von Aslingen, who had served half a campaign against the Turks, was a member.

The Royal Family had arrived only a few minutes: dancing had not yet commenced. Vivian was at the top of the room, honoured by the notice of Madame Carolina, who complained of his yesterday’s absence from the palace. Suddenly the universal hum and buzz which are always sounding in a crowded room were stilled; and all present, arrested in their conversation and pursuits, stood with their heads turned towards the great door. Thither also Vivian looked, and, wonderstruck, beheld — Mr. Beckendorff. His singular appearance, for, with the exception of his cavalry boots, he presented the same figure as when he first came forward to receive the Prince of Little Lilliput and Vivian on the lawn, immediately attracted universal attention; but in this crowded room there were few who, either from actual experience or accurate information, were not ignorant that this personage was the Prime Minister. The report spread like wildfire. Even the etiquette of a German ball-room, honoured as it was by the presence of the Court, was no restraint to the curiosity and wonder of all present. Yes! even Emilius von Aslingen raised his glass to his eye. But great as was Vivian’s astonishment, it was not only occasioned by this unexpected appearance of his former host. Mr. Beckendorff was not alone: a woman was leaning on his left arm. A quick glance in a moment convinced Vivian that she was not the original of the mysterious picture. The companion of Beckendorff was very young. Her full voluptuous growth gave you, for a moment, the impression that she was somewhat low in stature; but it was only for a moment, for the lady was by no means short. Her beauty it is impossible to describe. It was of a kind that baffles all phrases, nor have I a single simile at command to make it more clearer more confused. Her luxurious form, her blonde complexion, her silken hair, would have all become the languishing Sultana; but then her eyes, they banished all idea of the Seraglio, and were the most decidedly European, though the most brilliant that ever glanced; eagles might have proved their young at them. To a countenance which otherwise would have been calm, and perhaps pensive, they gave an expression of extreme vivacity and unusual animation, and perhaps of restlessness and arrogance: it might have been courage. The lady was dressed in the costume of a Chanoinesse??? of a Couvent des dames nobles; an institution to which Protestant and Catholic ladles are alike admitted. The orange-coloured cordon of her canonry was slung gracefully over her plain black silk dress, and a diamond cross hung below her waist.

Mr. Beckendorff and his fair companion were instantly welcomed by the Grand Marshal; and Arnelm and half-a-dozen Chamberlains, all in new uniforms, and extremely agitated, did their utmost, by their exertions in clearing the way, to prevent the Prime Minister of Reisenburg from paying his respects to his Sovereign. At length, however, Mr. Beckendorff reached the top of the room, and presented the young lady to his Royal Highness, and also to Madame Carolina. Vivian had retired on their approach, and now found himself among a set of young officers, idolators of von Aslingen, and of white hats lined with crimson. “Who can she be?” was the universal question. Though all by the query acknowledged their ignorance, yet it is singular that, at the same time, every one was prepared with a response to it. Such are the sources of accurate information!

“And that is Beckendorff, is it?” exclaimed the young Count of Eberstein; “and his daughter, of course! Well; there is nothing like being a plebeian and a Prime Minister! I suppose Beckendorff will bring an anonymous friend to Court next.”

“She cannot be his daughter,” said Bernstorff. “To be a Chanoinesse of that order, remember, she must be noble.”

“Then she must be his niece,” answered the young Count of Eberstein. “I think I do remember some confused story about a sister of Beckendorff who ran away with some Wirtemberg Baron. What was that story, Gernsbach?”

“No, it was not his sister,” said the Baron of Gernsbach; “it was his aunt, I think.”

“Beckendorff’s aunt; what an idea! As if he ever had an aunt! Men of his calibre make themselves out of mud. They have no relations. Well, never mind; there was some story, I am sure, about some woman or other. Depend upon it that this girl is the child of that woman, whether she be aunt, niece, or daughter. I shall go and tell every one that I know the whole business; this girl is the daughter of some woman or other.” So saying, away walked the young Count of Eberstein, to disseminate in all directions the important conclusion to which his logical head had allowed him to arrive.

“Von Weinbren,” said the Baron of Gernsbach, “how can you account for this mysterious appearance of the Premier?”

“Oh! when men are on the decline they do desperate things. I suppose it is to please the renegado.”

“Hush! there’s the Englishman behind you.”

“On dit, another child of Beckendorff.”

“Oh no! secret mission.”

“Ah! indeed.”

“Here comes von Aslingen! Well, great Emilius! how solve you this mystery?”

“What mystery? Is there one?”

“I allude to this wonderful appearance of Beckendorff.”

“Beckendorff! what a name! Who is he?”

“Nonsense! the Premier.”

“Well!”

“You have seen him, of course; he is here. Have you just come in?”

“Beckendorff here!” said von Aslingen, in a tone of affected horror; “I did not know that the fellow was to be visited. It is all over with Reisenburg. I shall go to Vienna to-morrow.”

But hark! the sprightly music calls to the dance; and first the stately Polonaise, in easy gradation between walking and dancing. To the surprise of the whole room and the indignation of main of the high nobles, the Crown Prince of Reisenburg led off the Polonaise with the unknown fair one. Such an attention to Beckendorff was a distressing proof of present power and favour. The Polonaise is a dignified promenade, with which German balls invariably commence. The cavaliers, with an air of studied grace, offer their right hands to their fair partners; and the whole party, in a long file, accurately follow the leading couple through all their scientific evolutions, as they wind through every part of the room. Waltzes in sets speedily followed the Polonaise; and the unknown, who was now an object of universal attention, danced with Count von Sohnspeer, another of Beckendorff’s numerous progeny, if the reader remember. How scurvily are poor single gentlemen who live alone treated by the candid tongues of their fellow-creatures! The commander-in-chief of the Reisenburg troops was certainly a partner of a different complexion from the young lady’s previous one. The crown Prince had undertaken his duty with reluctance, and had performed it without grace; not a single word had he exchanged with his partner during the promenade, and his genuine listlessness was even more offensive than affected apathy. Von Sohnspeer, on the contrary, danced in the true Vienna style, and whirled like a Dervish. All our good English prejudices against the soft, the swimming, the sentimental, melting, undulating, dangerous waltz would quickly disappear, if we only executed the dreaded manoeuvres in the true Austrian style. One might as soon expect our daughters to get sentimental in a swing.

Vivian did not choose to presume upon his late acquaintance with Mr. Beckendorff, as it had not been sought by that gentleman, and he consequently did not pay his respects to the Minister. Mr. Beckendorff continued at the top of the room, standing between the State chairs of his Royal Highness and Madame Carolina, and occasionally addressing an observation to his Sovereign and answering one of the lady’s. Had Mr. Beckendorff been in the habit of attending balls nightly he could not have exhibited more perfect nonchalance. There he stood, with his arms crossed behind him, his chin resting on his breast, and his raised eyes glancing!

“My dear Prince,” said Vivian to the Grand Marshal, “you are just the person I wanted to speak to. How came you to invite Beckendorff, and how came he to accept the invitation?”

“My dear friend,” said his Highness, shrugging his shoulders, “wonders will never cease. I never invited him; I should just as soon have thought of inviting old Johannisberger.”

“Were you not aware, then, of his intention?”

“Not in the least! you should rather say attention; for, I assure you, I consider it a most particular one. It is quite astonishing, my dear friend, how I mistook that man’s character. He really is one of the most gentlemanlike, polite, and excellent persons I know; no more mad than you are! And as for his power being on the decline, we know the nonsense of that!”

“Better than most persons, I suspect. Sievers, of course, is not here?”

“No! you have heard about him, I suppose?”

“Heard! heard what?”

“Not heard! well, he told me yesterday, and said he was going to call upon you directly to let you know.”

“Know what?”

“He is a very sensible man, Sievers; and I am very glad at last that he is likely to succeed in the world. All men have their little imprudences, and he was a little too hot once. What of that? He has come to his senses, so have I; and I hope you will never lose yours.”

“But, pray, my dear Prince, tell me what has happened to Sievers.”

“He is going to Vienna immediately, and will be very useful there, I have no doubt. He has got a good place, and I am sure he will do his duty. They cannot have an abler man.”

“Vienna! that is the last city in the world in which I should expect to find Mr. Sievers. What place can he have? and what services can he perform there?”

“Many! he is to be Editor of the Austrian Observer, and Censor of the Austrian Press. I thought he would do well at last. All men have their imprudent day. I had. I cannot stop now. I must go and speak to the Countess von S—— .”

As Vivian was doubting whether he should most grieve or laugh at this singular termination of Mr. Sievers’ career, his arm was suddenly touched, and on turning round he found it was by Mr. Beckendorff.

“There is another strong argument, sir,” said the Minister, without any of the usual phrases of recognition; “there is another strong argument against your doctrine of Destiny.” And then Mr. Beckendorff, taking Vivian by the arm, began walking up and down part of the saloon with him; and in a few minutes, quite forgetting the scene of the discussion, he was involved in metaphysics. This incident created another great sensation, and whispers of “secret mission, Secretary of State, decidedly a son,” &c. &c. &c. were in an instant afloat in all parts of the room.

The approach of his Royal Highness extricated Vivian from an argument which was as profound as it was interminable; and as Mr. Beckendorff retired with the Grand Duke into a recess in the ball-room, Vivian was requested by von Neuwied to attend his Excellency the Grand Marshal.

“My dear friend,” said the Prince, “I saw you talking with a certain person, I did not say anything to you when I passed you before; but, to tell you the truth now, I was a little annoyed that he had not spoken to you. I knew you were as proud as Lucifer, and would not salute him yourself; and between ourselves I had no great wish you should, for, not to conceal it, he did not even mention your name. But the reason of this is now quite evident, and you must confess he is remarkably courteous. You know, if you remember, we thought that incognito was a little affected; rather annoying, if you recollect. I remember in the green lane you gave him a gentle cut about it. It was spirited, and I dare say did good. Well! what I was going to say about that is this; I dare say now, after all,” continued his Excellency, with a knowing look, “a certain person had very good reasons for that; not that he ever told them to me, nor that I have the slightest idea of them; but when a person is really so exceedingly polite and attentive I always think he would never do anything disagreeable without a cause; and it was exceedingly disagreeable, if you remember, my dear friend. I never knew to whom he was speaking. Von Philipson indeed! Well! we did not think, the day we were floundering down that turf road, that it would end in this. Rather a more brilliant scene than the Giants’ Hall at Turriparva, I think, eh? But all men have their imprudent days; the best way is to forget them. There was poor Sievers; who ever did more imprudent things than he? and now it is likely he will do very well in the world, eh? What I want of you, my dear friend, is this. There is that girl who came with Beckendorff; who the deuce she is, I don’t know: let us hope the best! We must pay her every attention. I dare say she is his daughter. You have not forgotten the portrait. Well! we all were gay once. All men have their imprudent day; why should not Beckendorff? Speaks rather in his favour, I think. Well, this girl; his Royal Highness very kindly made the Crown Prince walk the Polonaise with her; very kind of him, and very proper. What attention can be too great for the daughter or friend of such a man! a man who, in two words, may be said to have made Reisenburg. For what was Reisenburg before Beckendorff? Ah! what? Perhaps we were happier then, after all; and then there was no Royal Highness to bow to; no person to be condescending, except ourselves. But never mind! we will forget. After all, this life has its charms. What a brilliant scene! but this girl, every attention should be paid her. The Crown Prince was so kind as to walk the Polonaise with her. And von Sohnspeer; he is a brute, to be sure; but then he is a Field Marshal. Now, I think, considering what has taken place between Beckendorff and yourself, and the very distinguished manner in which he recognised you; I think, that after all this, and considering everything, the etiquette is for you, particularly as you are a foreigner, and my personal friend; indeed, my most particular friend, for in fact I owe everything to you, my life, and more than my life; I think, I repeat, considering all this, that the least you can do is to ask her to dance with you; and I, as the host, will introduce you. I am sorry, my dear friend,” continued his Excellency, with a look of great regret, “to introduce you to —; but we will not speak about it. We have no right to complain of Mr. Beckendorff. No person could possibly behave to us in a manner more gentlemanlike.”

After an introductory speech in his Excellency’s happiest manner, and in which an eulogium of Vivian and a compliment to the fair unknown got almost as completely entangled as the origin of slavery and the history of the feudal system in his more celebrated harangue, Vivian found himself waltzing with the anonymous beauty. The Grand Marshal, during the process of introduction, had given the young lady every opportunity of declaring her name; but every opportunity was thrown away. “She must be incog.,” whispered his Excellency; “Miss von Philipson, I suppose?”

Vivian was not a little desirous of discovering the nature of the relationship or connection between Beckendorff and his partner. The rapid waltz allowed no pause for conversation; but after the dance Vivian seated himself at her side, with the determination of not quickly deserting it The lady did not even allow him the satisfaction of commencing the conversation; for no sooner was she seated than she begged to know who the person was with whom she had previously waltzed. The history of Count von Sohnspeer amused her; and no sooner had Vivian finished his anecdote than the lady said, “Ah! I so: you are an amusing person. Now tell me the history of everybody in the room.”

“Really,” said Vivian, “I fear I shall forfeit my reputation of being amusing very speedily, for I am almost as great a stranger at this Court as you appear to be yourself. Count von Sohnspeer is too celebrated a personage at Reisenburg to have allowed even me to be long ignorant of his history; and as for the rest, as far as I can judge, they are most of them as obscure as myself, and not nearly as interesting as you are!”

“Are you an Englishman?” asked the lady.

“I am.”

“I supposed so, both from your travelling and your appearance: I think the English countenance very peculiar.”

“Indeed! we do not flatter ourselves so at home.”

“Yes! it is peculiar.” said the lady, in a tone which seemed to imply that contradiction was unusual; “and I think that you are all handsome! I admire the English, which in this part of the world is singular: the South, you know, is generally francisé.”

“I am aware of that,” said Vivian. “There, for instance,” pointing to a pompous-looking personage who at that moment strutted by; “there, for instance, is the most francisé person in all Reisenburg! that is our Grand Chamberlain. He considers himself a felicitous copy of Louis the Fourteenth! He allows nothing in his opinions and phrases but what is orthodox. As it generally happens in such cases, his orthodoxy is rather obsolete.”

“Who is that Knight of Malta?” asked the lady.

“The most powerful individual in the room,” answered Vivian.

“Who can he be?” asked the lady, with eagerness.

“Behold him, and tremble!” rejoined Vivian: “for with him it rests to decide whether you are civilised or a savage; whether you are to be abhorred or admired: idolised or despised. Nay, do not be alarmed! there are a few heretics, even in Reisenburg, who, like myself, value from conviction, and not from fashion, and who will be ever ready, in spite of a von Aslingen anathema, to evince our admiration where it is due.”

The lady pleaded fatigue as an excuse for not again dancing; and Vivian did not quit her side. Her lively remarks, piquant observations, and singular questions highly amused him; and he was flattered by the evident gratification which his conversation afforded her. It was chiefly of the principal members of the Court that she spoke: she was delighted with Vivian’s glowing character of Madame Carolina, whom she said she had this evening seen for the first time. Who this unknown could be was a question which often occurred to him; and the singularity of a man like Beckendorff suddenly breaking through his habits and outraging the whole system of his existence, to please a daughter, or niece, or female cousin, did not fail to strike him.

“I have the honour of being acquainted with Mr. Beckendorff,” said Vivian. This was the first time that the Minister’s name had been mentioned.

“I perceived you talking with him,” was the answer.

“You are staying, I suppose, at Mr. Beckendorff’s?”

“Not at present.”

“You have, of course, been at his retreat; delightful place!”

“Yes!”

“Are you an ornithologist?” asked Vivian, smiling.

“Not at all scientific; but I, of course, can now tell a lory from a Java sparrow, and a bullfinch from a canary. The first day I was there, I never shall forget the surprise I experienced, when, after the noon meal being finished, the aviary door was opened. After that I always let the creatures out myself; and one day I opened all the cages at once. If you could but have witnessed the scene! I am sure you would have been quite delighted with it. As for poor Mr. Beckendorff, I thought even he would have gone out of his mind; and when I brought in the white peacock he actually left the room in despair. Pray how do you like Madame Clara and Owlface too? Which do you think the most beautiful? I am no great favourite with the old lady. Indeed, it was very kind of Mr. Beckendorff to bear with everything as he did: I am sure he is not much used to lady visitors.”

“I trust that your visit to him will not be very short?”

“My stay at Reisenburg will not be very long,” said the young lady, with rather a grave countenance, “Have you been here any time?”

“About a fortnight; it was a, mere chance my coming at all. I was going on straight to Vienna.”

“To Vienna, indeed! Well, I am glad you did not miss Reisenburg; you must not quit it now. You know that this is not the Vienna season?”

“I am aware of it; but I am such a restless person that I never regulate my movements by those of other people”

“But surely you find Reisenburg agreeable?”

“Very much so; but I am a confirmed wanderer.’

“Why are you?” asked the lady, with great naïveté.

Vivian looked grave; and the lady, as if she were sensible of having unintentionally occasioned him a painful recollection, again expressed her wish that he should not immediately quit the Court, and trusted that circumstances would not prevent him from acceding to her desire.

“It does not even depend upon circumstances,” said Vivian; “the whim of the moment is my only principle of action, and therefore I may be off to-night, or be here a month hence.”

“Oh! pray stay then,” said his companion eagerly; “I expect you to stay now. If you could only have an idea what a relief conversing with you is, after having been dragged by the Crown Prince and whirled by that von Sohnspeer! Heigho! I could almost sigh at the very remembrance of that doleful Polonaise.”

The lady ended with a faint laugh a sentence which apparently had been commenced in no light vein. She did not cease speaking, but continued to request Vivian to remain at Reisenburg at least as long as herself. Her frequent requests were perfectly unnecessary, for the promise had been pledged at the first: hint of her wish; but this was not the only time during the evening that Vivian had remarked that his interesting companion occasionally talked without apparently being sensible that she was conversing.

The young Count of Eberstein, who, to use his own phrase, was “sadly involved,” and consequently desirous of being appointed a forest Councillor, thought that he should secure his appointment by condescending to notice the person whom he delicately styled “the Minister’s female relative.” To his great mortification and surprise, the honour was declined; and “the female relative,” being unwilling to dance again, but perhaps feeling it necessary to break off her conversation with her late partner, it having already lasted an unusual time, highly gratified his Excellency the Grand Marshal by declaring that she would dance with Prince Maximilian. “This, to say the least, was very attentive of Miss von Philipson.”

Little Max, who had just tact enough to discover that to be the partner of the fair incognita was the place of honour of the evening, now considered himself by much the most important personage in the room. In fact, he was only second to Emilius von Aslingen. The evident contest which was ever taking place between his natural feelings as a boy and his acquired habits as a courtier made him an amusing companion. He talked of the Gardens and the Opera in a style not unworthy of the young Count of Eberstein. He thought that Madame Carolina was as charming as usual to-night; but, on the contrary, that the Countess von S—— was looking rather ill, and this put him in mind of her ladyship’s new equipage; and then, apropos to equipages, what did his companion think of the new fashion of the Hungarian harness? His lively and kind companion encouraged the boy’s tattle; and, emboldened by her good nature, he soon forgot his artificial speeches, and was quickly rattling on about Turriparva, and his horses, and his dogs, and his park, and his guns, and his grooms. Soon after the waltz, the lady, taking the arm of the young Prince, walked up to Mr. Beckendorff. He received her with great attention, and led her to Madame Carolina, who rose, seated Mr. Beckendorff’s “female relative” by her side, and evidently said something extremely agreeable.

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