Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Book VIII

Chapter 1

The landlord of the Grand Hotel of the Four Nations at Reisenburg was somewhat consoled for the sudden departure of his distinguished guest by selling the plenipotentiary a travelling carriage lately taken for a doubtful bill from a gambling Russian General at a large profit. In this convenient vehicle, in the course of a couple of hours after his arrival in the city, was Mr. Vivian Grey borne through the gate of the Allies. Essper George, who had reached the hotel about half an hour after his master, followed behind the carriage on his hack, leading Max. The Courier cleared the road before, and expedited the arrival of the special Envoy of the Grand Duke of Reisenburg at the point of his destination by ordering the horses, clearing the barriers, and paying the postilions in advance. Vivian had never travelled before with such style and speed.

Our hero covered himself up with his cloak and drew his travelling cap over his eyes, though it was one of the hottest days of this singularly hot autumn. Entranced in a reverie, the only figure that occurred to his mind was the young Archduchess, and the only sounds that dwelt on his ear were the words of Beckendorff: but neither to the person of the first nor to the voice of the second did he annex any definite idea.

After some hours’ travelling, which to Vivian seemed both an age and a minute, he was roused from his stupor by the door of his calèche being opened. He shook himself as a man does who has awakened from a benumbing and heavy sleep, although his eyes were the whole time wide open. The disturbing intruder was his courier, who, bowing, with his hat in hand, informed his Excellency that he was now on the frontier of Reisenburg; regretting that he was under the necessity of quitting his Excellency, he begged to present him with his passport. “It is made out for Vienna,” continued the messenger. “A private pass, sir, of the Prime Minister, and will entitle you to the greatest consideration.”

The carriage was soon again advancing rapidly to the next post-house, when, after they had proceeded about half a mile, Essper George calling loudly from behind, the drivers suddenly stopped. Just as Vivian, to whose tortured mind the rapid movement of the carriage was some relief, for it produced an excitement which prevented thought, was about to inquire the cause of this stoppage. Essper George rode up to the calèche.

“Kind sir!” said he, with a peculiar look, “I have a packet for you.”

“A packet! from whom? speak! give it me!”

“Hush! softly, good master. Here am I about to commit rank treason for your sake, and a hasty word is the only reward of my rashness.”

“Nay, nay, good Essper, try me not now!”

“I will not, kind sir! but the truth is, I could not give you the packet while that double-faced knave was with us, or even while he was in sight. ‘In good truth,’ as Master Rodolph was wont to say —!”

“But of this packet?”

“‘Fairly and softly,’ good sir! as Hunsdrich the porter said when I would have drunk the mulled wine, while he was on the cold staircase — ”

“Essper! do you mean to enrage me?”

“‘By St. Hubert!’ as that worthy gentleman the Grand Marshal was in the habit of swearing, I— ”

“This is too much; what are the idle sayings of these people to me?”

“Nay, nay, kind sir! they do but show that each of us has his own way of telling a story, and that he who would hear a tale must let the teller’s breath come out of his own nostrils.”

“Well, Essper, speak on! Stranger things have happened to me than to be reproved by my own servant.”

“Nay, kind master! say not a bitter word to me because you have slipped out of a scrape with your head on your shoulders. The packet is from Mr. Beckendorff’s daughter.”

“Ah! why did you not give it me before?”

“Why do I give it you now? Because I am a fool; that is why. What! you wanted it when that double-faced scoundrel was watching every eyelash of yours as it moved from the breath of a fly? a fellow who can see as well at the back of his head as from his face. I should like to poke out his front eyes, to put him on an equality with the rest of mankind. He it was who let the old gentleman know of your visit this morning, and I suspect that he has been nearer your limbs of late than you have imagined. Every dog has his day, and the oldest pig must look for the knife! The Devil was once cheated on Sunday, and I have been too sharp for Puss in boots and his mouse-trap! Prowling about the Forest Councillor’s house, I saw your new servant, sir, gallop in, and his old master soon gallop out. I was off as quick as they, but was obliged to leave my horse within two miles of the house, and then trust to my legs. I crept through the shrubs like a land tortoise; but, of course, too late to warn you. However, I was in for the death, and making signs to the young lady, who directly saw that I was a friend; bless her! she is as quick as a partridge; I left you to settle it with papa, and, after all, did that which I suppose you intended, sir, to do yourself; made my way into the young lady’s bedchamber.”

“Hold your tongue, sir! and give me the packet.”

“There it is, and now we will go on; but we must stay an hour at the next post, if your honour pleases not to sleep there; for both Max and my own hack have had a sharp day’s work.”

Vivian tore open the packet. It contained a long letter, written on the night of her return to Beckendorff’s; she had stayed up the whole night writing. It was to have been forwarded to Vivian, in case of their not being able to meet. In the enclosure were a few hurried lines, written since the catastrophe. They were these: “May this safely reach you! Can you ever forgive me? The enclosed, you will see, was intended for you, in case of our not meeting. It anticipated sorrow; yet what were its anticipations to our reality!”

The Archduchess’ letter was evidently written under the influence of agitated feelings. We omit it; because, as the mystery of her character is now explained, a great portion of her communication would be irrelevant to our tale. She spoke of her exalted station as a woman, that station which so many women envy, in a spirit of agonising bitterness. A royal princess is only the most flattered of state victims. She is a political sacrifice, by which enraged Governments are appeased, wavering allies conciliated and ancient amities confirmed. Debarred by her rank and her education from looking forward to that exchange of equal affection which is the great end and charm of female existence, no individual finds more fatally and feels more keenly that pomp is not felicity, and splendour not content.

Deprived of all those sources of happiness which seem inherent in woman, the wife of the Sovereign sometimes seeks in politics and in pleasure a means of excitement which may purchase oblivion. But the political queen is a rare character; she must possess an intellect of unusual power, and her lot must be considered as an exception in the fortunes of female royalty. Even the political queen generally closes an agitated career with a broken heart. And for the unhappy votary of pleasure, who owns her cold duty to a royal husband, we must not forget that even in the most dissipated courts the conduct of the queen is expected to be decorous, and that the instances are not rare where the wife of the monarch has died on the scaffold, or in a dungeon, or in exile, because she dared to be indiscreet where all were debauched. But for the great majority of royal wives, they exist without a passion; they have nothing to hope, nothing to fear, nothing to envy, nothing to want, nothing to confide, nothing to hate, and nothing to love. Even their duties, though multitudinous, are mechanical, and, while they require much attention, occasion no anxiety. Amusement is their moment of great emotion, and for them amusement is rare; for amusement is the result of equal companionship. Thus situated, they are doomed to become frivolous in their pursuits and formal in their manners, and the Court chaplain or the Court confessor is the only person who can prove they have a soul, by convincing them that it will be saved.

The young Archduchess had assented to the proposition of marriage with the Crown Prince of Reisenburg without opposition, as she was convinced that requesting her assent was only a courteous form of requiring her compliance. There was nothing outrageous to her feelings in marrying a man whom she had never seen, because her education, from her tenderest years, had daily prepared her for such an event. Moreover, she was aware that, if she succeeded in escaping from the offers of the Crown Prince of Reisenburg, she would soon be under the necessity of assenting to those of some other suitor; and if proximity to her own country, accordance with its sentiments and manners, and previous connection with her own house, were taken into consideration, an union with the family of Reisenburg was even desirable. It was to be preferred, at least, to one which brought with it a foreign husband and a foreign clime, a strange language and strange customs. The Archduchess, a girl of ardent feelings and lively mind, had not, however, agreed to become that all-commanding slave, a Queen, without a stipulation. She required that she might be allowed, previous to her marriage, to visit her future Court incognita. This singular and unparalleled proposition was not easily acceded to: but the opposition with which it was received only tended to make the young Princess more determined to be gratified in her caprice. Her Imperial Highness did not pretend that any end was to be obtained by this unusual procedure, and indeed she had no definite purpose in requesting it to be permitted. It was originally the mere whim of the moment, and had it not been strongly opposed it would not have been strenuously insisted upon. As it was, the young Archduchess persisted, threatened, and grew obstinate; and the grey-headed negotiators of the marriage, desirous of its speedy completion, and not having a more tractable tool ready to supply her place, at length yielded to her bold importunity. Great difficulty, however, was experienced in carrying her wishes into execution. By what means and in what character she was to appear at Court, so as not to excite suspicion or occasion discovery, were often discussed, without being resolved upon. At length it became necessary to consult Mr. Beckendorff. The upper lip of the Prime Minister of Reisenburg curled as the Imperial Minister detailed the caprice and contumacy of the Princess, and treating with the greatest contempt this girlish whim, Mr. Beckendorff ridiculed those by whom it had been humoured with no suppressed derision. The consequence of his conduct was an interview with the future Grand Duchess, and the consequence of his interview an unexpected undertaking on his part to arrange the visit according to her Highness’s desires.

The Archduchess had not yet seen the Crown Prince; but six miniatures and a whole length portrait had prepared her for not meeting an Adonis or a Baron Trenck, and that was all; for never had the Correggio of the age of Charles the Fifth better substantiated his claims to the office of Court painter than by these accurate semblances of his Royal Highness, in which his hump was subdued into a Grecian bend, and his lack-lustre eyes seemed beaming with tenderness and admiration. His betrothed bride stipulated with Mr. Beckendorff that the fact of her visit should be known only to himself and the Grand Duke; and before she appeared at Court she had received the personal pledge both of himself and his Royal Highness that the affair should be kept a complete secret from the Crown Prince.

Most probably, on her first introduction to her future husband, all the romantic plans of the young Archduchess to excite an involuntary interest in his heart vanished; but how this may be, it is needless for us to inquire, for that same night introduced another character into her romance for whom she was perfectly unprepared, and whose appearance totally disorganised its plot.

Her inconsiderate, her unjustifiable conduct, in tampering with that individual’s happiness and affection, was what the young and haughty Archduchess deplored in the most energetic, the most feeling, and the most humble spirit; and anticipating that after this painful disclosure they would never meet again, she declared that for his sake alone she regretted what had passed, and praying that he might be happier than herself, she supplicated to be forgiven and forgotten.

Vivian read the Archduchess’s letter over and over again, and then put it in his breast. At first he thought that he had lived to shed another tear; but he was mistaken. In a few minutes he found himself quite roused from his late overwhelming stupor. Remorse or regret for the past, care or caution for the future, seemed at the same moment to have fled from his mind. He looked up to Heaven with a wild smile, half of despair and half of defiance, it seemed to imply that Fate had now done her worst, and that he had at last the satisfaction of knowing himself to he the most unfortunate and unhappy being that ever existed. When a man at the same time believes in and sneers at his Destiny we may be sure that he considers his condition past redemption.

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