Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 6

Vivian had promised Madame Carolina a second English lesson on the day after the Grand Marshal’s fete. The progress which the lady had made, and the talent which the gentleman had evinced during the first, had rendered Madame the most enthusiastic of pupils, and Vivian, in her estimation, the ablest of instructors. Madame Carolina’s passion was patronage: to discover concealed merit, to encourage neglected genius, to reveal the mysteries of the world to a novice in mankind, or, in short, to make herself very agreeable to any one whom she fancied to be very interesting, was the great business and the great delight of her existence. No sooner had her eyes lighted on Vivian Grey than she determined to patronise. His country, his appearance, the romantic manner in which he had become connected with the Court, all pleased her lively imagination. She was intuitively acquainted with his whole history, and in an instant he was the hero of a romance, of which the presence of the principal character compensated, we may suppose, for the somewhat indefinite details. His taste and literary acquirements completed the spell by which Madame Carolina was willingly enchanted. A low Dutch professor, whose luminous genius rendered unnecessary the ceremony of shaving; and a dumb dwarf, in whose interesting appearance was forgotten its perfect idiocy, prosy improvisatore, and a South American savage, were all superseded by the appearance of Vivian Grey.

As Madame Carolina was, in fact, a charming woman, our hero had no objection to humour her harmless foibles; and not contented with making notes in an interleaved copy of her Charlemagne, he even promised to read Haroun Al Raschid in manuscript. The consequence of his courtesy and the reward of his taste was unbounded favour. Apartments in the palace were offered him, and declined; and when Madame Carolina had Income acquainted with sufficient of his real history to know that, on his part, neither wish nor necessity existed to return immediately to his own country, she tempted him to remain at Reisenburg by an offer of a place at Court; and doubtless, had he been willing, Vivian might in time have become a Lord Chamberlain, or perhaps even a Field Marshal.

On entering the room the morning in question he found Madame Carolina writing. At the end of the apartment a lady ceased, on his appearance, humming an air to which she was dancing, and at the same time imitating castanets. Madame received Vivian with expressions of delight, saying also, in a peculiar and confidential manner, that she was just sealing up a packet for him, the preface of Haroun; and then she presented him to “the Baroness!” The lady who was lately dancing came forward. It was his unknown partner of the preceding night. “The Baroness” extended her hand to Vivian, and unaffectedly expressed her great pleasure at seeing him again. Vivian trusted that she was not fatigued by the fête, and asked after Mr. Beckendorff. Madame Carolina was busily engaged at the moment in duly securing the precious preface. The Baroness said that Mr. Beckendorff had returned home, but that Madame Carolina had kindly insisted upon her staying at the palace. She was not the least wearied. Last night had been one of the most agreeable she had ever spent; at least she supposed she ought to say so: for if she had experienced a tedious or mournful feeling for a moment, it was hardly for what was then passing so much as for — ”

“Pray, Mr. Grey,” said Madame Carolina, interrupting them, “have you heard about our new ballet?”

“No.”

“I do not think you have ever been to our Opera. To-morrow is Opera night, and you must not be again away. We pride ourselves here very much upon our Opera.”

“We estimate it even in England,” said Vivian, “as possessing perhaps the most perfect orchestra now organised.”

“The orchestra is perfect. His Royal Highness is such an excellent musician, and he has spared no trouble or expense in forming it: he has always superintended it himself. But I confess I admire our ballet department still more. I expect you to be delighted with it. You will perhaps be gratified to know that the subject of our new splendid ballet, which is to be produced to-morrow, is from a great work of your illustrious poet, my Lord Byron.”

“From which?”

“The Corsair. Ah! what a sublime work! what passion! what energy! what knowledge of feminine feeling! what contrast of character! what sentiments! what situations! I wish this were Opera night; Gulnare! my favourite character; beautiful! How do you think they will dress her?”

“Are you an admirer of our Byron?” asked Vivian, of the Baroness.

“I think he is a very handsome man. I once saw him at the carnival at Venice.”

“But his works; his grand works! ma chère petite,” said Madame Carolina, in her sweetest tone: “you have read his works?”

“Not a line,” answered the Baroness, with great naïveté; “I never saw them.”

“Pauvre enfant!” said Madame Carolina; “I will employ you, then, while you are here.”

“I never read,” said the Baroness; “I cannot bear it. I like poetry and romances, but I like somebody to read to me.”

“Very just,” said Madame Carolina; “we can judge with greater accuracy of the merit of a composition when it reaches our mind merely through the medium of the human voice. The soul is an essence, invisible and indivisible. In this respect the voice of man resembles the principle of his existence; since few will deny, though there are some materialists who will deny everything, that the human voice is both impalpable and audible only in one place at the same time. Hence, I ask, is it illogical to infer its indivisibility? The soul and the voice, then, are similar in two great attributes: there is a secret harmony in their spiritual construction. In the early ages of mankind a beautiful tradition was afloat that the soul and the voice were one and the same. We may perhaps recognise in this fanciful belief the effect of the fascinating and imaginative philosophy of the East; that mysterious portion of the globe,” continued Madame Carolina, “from which we should frankly confess that we derive everything; for the South is but the pupil of the East, through the mediation of Egypt. Of this opinion,” said Madame with fervour, “I have no doubt: of this opinion,” continued the lady with enthusiasm, “I have boldly avowed myself a votary in a dissertation appended to the second volume of Haroun: for this opinion I would die at the stake! Oh, lovely East! why was I not oriental! Land where the voice of the nightingale is never mute! Land of the cedar and the citron, the turtle and the myrtle, of ever-blooming flowers and ever-shining skies! Illustrious East! Cradle of Philosophy! My dearest Baroness, why do not you feel as I do? From the East we obtain everything!”

“Indeed!” said the Baroness, with simplicity; “I thought we only got shawls.”

This puzzling answer was only noticed by Vivian; for the truth is, Madame Carolina was one of those individuals who never attend to any person’s answers. Always thinking of herself, she only asked questions that she herself might supply the responses. And now having made, as she flattered herself, a splendid display to her favourite critic, she began to consider what had given rise to her oration. Lord Byron and the ballet again occurred to her; and as the Baroness, at least, was not unwilling to listen, and as she herself had no manuscript of her own which she particularly wished to be perused, she proposed that Vivian should read to them part of the Corsair, and in the original tongue. Madame Carolina opened the volume at the first prison scene between Gulnare and Conrad. It was her favourite. Vivian read with care and feeling. Madame was in raptures, and the Baroness, although she did not understand a single syllable, seemed almost equally delighted. At length Vivian came to this passage:

My love stern Seyd’s! Oh, no, no, not my love!

Yet much this heart, that strives no more, once strove

To meet his passion; but it would not be.

I felt, I feel, love dwells with, with the free.

I am a slave, a favour’d slave at best,

To share his splendour, and seem very blest!

Oft must my soul the question undergo,

Of, “Dost thou love?” and burn to answer, “No!”

Oh! hard it is that fondness to sustain,

And struggle not to feel averse in vain;

But harder still the heart’s recoil to bear,

And hide from one, perhaps another there;

He takes the hand I give not nor withhold,

Its pulse nor checked nor quickened, calmly cold:

And when resign’d, it drops a lifeless weight

From one I never loved enough to hate.

No warmth these lips return by his imprest,

And chill’d remembrance shudders o’er the rest.

Yes, had I ever prov’d that passion’s zeal,

The change to hatred were at least to feel:

But still, he goes unmourn’d, returns unsought,

And oft when present, absent from my thought.

Or when reflection comes, and come it must,

I fear that henceforth ’twill but bring disgust:

I am his slave; but, in despite of pride,

’Twere worse than bondage to become his bride.

“Superb!” said Madame, in a voice of enthusiasm; “how true! what passion! what energy! what sentiments! what knowledge of feminine feeling! Read it again, I pray: it is my favourite passage.”

“What is this passage about?” asked the Baroness, with some anxiety; “tell me.”

“I have a French translation, ma mignonne,” said Madame; “you shall have it afterwards.”

“No! I detest reading,” said the young lady, with an imperious air; “translate it to me at once.”

“You are rather a self-willed beauty!” thought Vivian; “but your eyes are so brilliant that nothing must be refused you!” and so he translated it.

On its conclusion Madame was again in raptures. The Baroness was not less affected, but she said nothing. She appeared agitated; she changed colour, raised her beautiful eyes with an expression of sorrow, looked at Vivian earnestly, and then walked to the other end of the room. In a few moments she returned to her seat.

“I wish you would tell me the story,” she said, with earnestness.

“I have a French translation, ma belle!” said Madame Carolina; “at present I wish to trouble Mr. Grey with a few questions.” Madame Carolina led Vivian into a recess.

“I am sorry we are troubled with this sweet little savage; but I think she has talent, though evidently quite uneducated. We must do what we can for her. Her ignorance of all breeding is amusing, but then I think she has a natural elegance. We shall soon polish her. His Royal Highness is so anxious that every attention should be paid to her. Beckendorff, you know, is a man of the greatest genius.” (Madame Carolina had lowered her tone about the Minister since the Prince of Little Lilliput’s apostasy.) “The country is greatly indebted to him. This, between ourselves, is his daughter. At least I have no doubt of it. Beckendorff was once married, to a lady of great rank, died early, beautiful woman, very interesting! His Royal Highness had a great regard for her. The Premier, in his bereavement, turned humorist, and has brought up this lovely girl in the oddest possible manner; nobody knows where. Now that he finds it necessary to bring her forward, he, of course, is quite at a loss. His Royal Highness has applied to me. There was a little coldness before between the Minister and myself. It is now quite removed. I must do what I can for her I think she must marry von Sohnspeer, who is no more Beckendorff’s son than you are: or young Eberstein, or young Bernstorff, or young Gernsbach. We must do something for her. I offered her last night to Emilius von Aslingen; but he said that, unfortunately, he was just importing a savage or two of his own from the Brazils, and consequently was not in want of her.”

A chamberlain now entered, to announce the speedy arrival of his Royal Highness. The Baroness, without ceremony, expressed her great regret that he was coming, as now she should not hear the wished-for story. Madame Carolina reproved her, and the reproof was endured rather than submitted to.

His Royal Highness entered, and was accompanied by the Crown Prince. He greeted the young lady with great kindness; and even the Crown Prince, inspired by his father’s unusual warmth, made a shuffling kind of bow and a stuttering kind of speech. Vivian was about to retire on the entrance of the Grand Duke, but Madame Carolina prevented him from going, and his Royal Highness, turning round, very graciously seconded her desire, and added that Mr. Grey was the very gentleman with whom he was desirous of meeting.

“I am anxious,” said he to Vivian, in rather a low tone, “to make Reisenburg agreeable to Mr. Beckendorff’s fair friend. As you are one of the few who are honoured by his intimacy, and are familiar with some of our state secrets,” added the Grand Duke with a smile, “I am sure it will give you pleasure to assist me in the execution of my wishes.”

His Royal Highness proposed that the ladies should ride; and he himself, with the Crown Prince and Mr. Grey, would attend them. Madame Carolina expressed her willingness; but the Baroness, like all forward girls unused to the world, suddenly grew at the same time both timid and disobliging. She looked sullen and discontented, and coolly said that she did not feel in the humour to ride for at least these two hours. To Vivian’s surprise, even the Grand Duke humoured her fancy, and declared that he should then be happy to attend them after the Court dinner. Until that time Vivian was amused by Madame, and the Grand Duke exclusively devoted himself to the Baroness. His Royal Highness was in his happiest mood, and his winning manners and elegant conversation soon chased away the cloud which, for a moment, had settled on the young lady’s fair brow.

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