Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 2

They stopped for an hour at the next post, according to Essper’s suggestion. Indeed, he proposed resting there for the night, for both men and beasts much required repose; but Vivian panted to reach Vienna, to which city two days’ travelling would now carry him. His passions were so roused, and his powers of reflection so annihilated, that while he had determined to act desperately, he was unable to resolve upon anything desperate. Whether, on his arrival at the Austrian capital, he should plunge into dissipation or into the Danube was equally uncertain. He had some thought of joining the Greeks or Turks, no matter which, probably the latter, or perhaps of serving in the Americas. The idea of returning to England never once entered his mind: he expected to find letters from his father at Vienna, and he almost regretted it; for, in his excessive misery, it was painful to be conscious that a being still breathed who was his friend.

It was a fine moonlight night, but the road was mountainous; and in spite of all the encouragement of Vivian, and all the consequent exertions of the postilion, they were upwards of two hours and a half going these eight miles. To get on any farther to-night was quite impossible. Essper’s horse was fairly knocked up, and even Max visibly distressed. The post-house was fortunately an inn. It was not at a village, and, as far as the travellers could learn, not near one, and its appearance did not promise very pleasing accommodation. Essper, who had scarcely tasted food for nearly eighteen hours, was not highly delighted with the prospect before them. His anxiety, however, was not merely selfish: he was as desirous that his young master should be refreshed by a good night’s rest as himself, and anticipating that he should have to exercise his skill in making a couch for Vivian in the carriage, he proceeded to cross-examine the postmaster on the possibility of his accommodating them. The host was a pious-looking personage, in a black velvet cap, with a singularly meek and charitable expression of countenance. His long black hair was exquisitely braided, and he wore round his neck a collar of pewter medals, all of which had been recently sprinkled with holy water and blessed under the petticoat of the saintly Virgin; for the postmaster had only just returned from a pilgrimage to the celebrated shrine of the Black Lady of Altoting.

“Good friend!” said Essper, looking him cunningly in the face, “I fear that we must order horses on: you can hardly accommodate two?”

“Good friend!” answered the innkeeper, and he crossed himself very reverently at the same time, “it is not for man to fear, but to hope.”

“If your beds were as good as your adages,” said Essper George, laughing, “in good truth, as a friend of mine would say, I would sleep here to-night.”

“Prithee, friend,” continued the innkeeper, kissing a medal of his collar very devoutly, “what accommodation dost thou lack?”

“Why” said Essper, “in the way of accommodation, little, for two excellent beds will content us; but in the way of refreshment, by St. Hubert! as another friend of mine would swear, he would be a bold man who would engage to be as hungry before his dinner as I shall be after my supper.”

“Friend!” said the innkeeper, “Our Lady forbid that thou shouldst leave our walls to-night: for the accommodation, we have more than sufficient; and as for the refreshment, by Holy Mass! we had a priest tarry here last night, and he left his rosary behind. I will comfort my soul, by telling my beads over the kitchen-fire, and for every Paternoster my wife shall give thee a rasher of kid, and for every Ave a tumbler of Augsburg, which Our Lady forget me if I did not myself purchase but yesterday se’nnight from the pious fathers of the Convent of St. Florian!”

“I take thee at thy word, honest sir,” said Essper. “By the Creed! I liked thy appearance from the first; nor wilt thou find me unwilling, when my voice has taken its supper, to join thee in some pious hymn or holy canticle. And now for the beds!”

“There is the green room, the best bedroom in my house,” said the Innkeeper. “Holy Mary forget me if in that same bed have not stretched their legs more valorous generals, more holy prelates, and more distinguished councillors of our Lord the Emperor, than in any bed in all Austria.”

“That, then, for my master, and for myself — ”

“H-u-m!” said the host, looking very earnestly in Essper’s face; “I should have thought that thou wert one more anxious after dish and flagon than curtain and eider-down!”

“By my Mother! I love good cheer,” said Essper, earnestly, “and want it more at this moment than any knave that ever yet starved: but if thou hast not a bed to let me stretch my legs on after four-and-twenty hours’ hard riding, by holy Virgin! I will have horses on to Vienna.”

“Our Black Lady forbid!” said the innkeeper, with a quick voice, and with rather a dismayed look; “said I that thou shouldst not have a bed? St. Florian desert me if I and my wife would not sooner sleep in the chimney-corner than thou shouldst miss one wink of thy slumbers!”

“In one word, have you a bed?”

“Have I a bed? Where slept, I should like to know, the Vice–Principal of the Convent of Molk on the day before the last holy Ascension? The waters were out in the morning; and when will my wife forget what his reverence was pleased to say when he took his leave; ‘Good woman!’ said he, ‘my duty calls me; but the weather is cold; and between ourselves, I am used to great feasts, and I should have no objection, if I were privileged, to stay and to eat again of thy red cabbage and cream!’ What say you to that? Do you think we have got beds now? You shall sleep to-night, sir, like an Aulic Councillor!”

This adroit introduction of the red cabbage and cream settled everything; when men are wearied and famished they have no inclination to be incredulous, and in a few moments Vivian was informed by his servant that the promised accommodation was satisfactory; and having locked up the carriage, and wheeled it into a small outhouse, he and Essper were ushered by their host into a room which, as is usual in small German inns in the South, served at the same time both for kitchen and saloon. The fire was lit in a platform of brick, raised in the centre of the floor: the sky was visible through the chimney, which, although of a great breadth below, gradually narrowed to the top. A family of wandering Bohemians, consisting of the father and mother and three children, were seated on the platform when Vivian entered; the man was playing on a coarse wooden harp, without which the Bohemians seldom travel. The music ceased as the new guests came into the room, and the Bohemian courteously offered his place at the fire to our hero, who, however, declined disturbing the family group. A small table and a couple of chairs were placed in a corner of the room by the innkeeper’s wife, a bustling active dame, who apparently found no difficulty in laying the cloth, dusting the furniture, and cooking the supper at the same time. At this table Vivian and his servant seated themselves; nor, indeed, did the cookery discredit the panegyric of the Reverend Vice–Principal of the Convent of Molk.

Alike wearied in mind and body, Vivian soon asked for his bed, which, though not exactly fitted for an Aulic Councillor, as the good host perpetually avowed it to be, nevertheless afforded decent accommodation.

The Bohemian family retired to the hayloft, and Essper George would have followed his master’s example, had not the kind mistress of the house tempted him to stay behind by the production of a new platter of rashers: indeed, he never remembered meeting with such hospitable people as the postmaster and his wife. They had evidently taken a fancy to him, and, though extremely wearied, the lively little Essper endeavoured, between his quick mouthfuls and long draughts, to reward and encourage their kindness by many a good story and sharp joke. With all these both mine host and his wife were exceedingly amused, seldom containing their laughter, and frequently protesting, by the sanctity of various saints, that this was the pleasantest night and Essper the pleasantest fellow that they had ever met with.

“Eat, eat, my friend!” said his host; “by the Mass! thou hast travelled far; and fill thy glass, and pledge with me Our Black Lady of Altoting. By Holy Cross! I have hung up this week in her chapel a garland of silk roses, and have ordered to be burnt before her shrine three pounds of perfumed was tapers! Fill again, fill again! and thou too, good mistress; a bard day’s work hast thou had; a glass of wine will do thee no harm! join me with our new friend! Pledge we together the Holy Fathers of St. Florian, my worldly patrons and my spiritual pastors: let us pray that his reverence the Sub–Prior may not have his Christmas attack of gout in the stomach, and a better health to poor Father Felix! Fill again, fill again! this Augsburg is somewhat acid; we will have a bottle of Hungary. Mistress, fetch us the bell-glasses, and here to the Reverend Vice–Principal of Molk! our good friend: when will my wife forget what he said to her on the morning of last holy Ascension! Fill again, fill again!”

Inspired by the convivial spirit of the pious and jolly postmaster, Essper George soon forgot his threatened visit to his bedroom, and ate and drank, laughed and joked, as if he were again with his friend, Master Rodolph but wearied Nature at length avenged herself for this unnatural exertion, and leaning back in his chair, he was, in the course of an hour, overcome by one of those dead and heavy slumbers the effect of the united influence of fatigue and intemperance; in short, it was like the midnight sleep of a fox-hunter.

No sooner had our pious votary of the Black Lady of Altoting observed the effect of his Hungary wine than, making a well-understood sign to his wife, be took up the chair of Essper in his brawny arms, and, preceded by Mrs. Postmistress with a lantern, he left the room with his guest. Essper’s hostess led and lighted the way to an outhouse, which occasionally served as a coach-house, a stable, and a lumber-room. It had no window, and the lantern afforded the only light which exhibited its present contents. In one corner was a donkey tied up, belonging to the Bohemian. Under a hayrack was a large child’s cradle: it was of a remarkable size, having been made for twins. Near it was a low wooden sheep-tank, half filled with water, and which had been placed there for the refreshment of the dog and his feathered friends, who were roosting in the rack.

The pious innkeeper very gently lowered to the ground the chair on which Essper was soundly sleeping; and then, having crossed himself, he took up our friend with great tenderness and solicitude, and dexterously fitted him in the huge cradle.

About an hour past midnight Essper George awoke. He was lying on his back, and very unwell; and on trying to move, found that he was rocking. His late adventure was obliterated from his memory; and the strange movement, united with his peculiar indisposition, left him no doubt that he was on board ship! As is often the case when we are tipsy or nervous, Essper had been woke by the fright of falling from some immense height; and finding that his legs had no sensation, for they were quite benumbed, he concluded that he had fallen down the hatchway, that his legs were broken, and himself jammed in between some logs of wood in the hold, and so he began to cry lustily to those above to come down to his rescue.

“O, Essper George!” thought he, “how came you to set foot on salt timber again! Had not you had enough of it in the Mediterranean and the Turkish seas, that you must be getting aboard this lubberly Dutch galliot! for I am sure she’s Dutch by being so low in the water. Well, they may talk of a sea-life, but for my part, I never saw the use of the Sea. Many a sad heart it has caused, and many a sick stomach has it occasioned! The boldest sailor climbs on board with a heavy soul, and leaps on land with a light spirit. O! thou indifferent ape of Earth! thy houses are of wood and thy horses of canvas; thy roads have no landmarks and thy highways no inns; thy hills are green without grass and wet without showers! and as for food, what art thou, O, bully Ocean! but the stable of horse-fishes, the stall of cow-fishes, the sty of hog-fishes, and the kennel of dog-fishes! Commend me to a fresh-water dish for meagre days! Sea-weeds stewed with chalk may be savoury stuff for a merman; but, for my part, give me red cabbage and cream: and as for drink, a man may live in the midst of thee his whole life and die for thirst at the end of it! Besides, thou blasphemous salt lake, where is thy religion? Where are thy churches, thou heretic?” So saying Essper made a desperate effort to crawl up the hold. His exertion set the cradle rocking with renewed violence; and at lust dashing against the sheep-tank, that pastoral piece of furniture was overset, and part of its contents poured upon the inmate of the cradle.

“Sprung a leak in the hold, by St. Nicholas!” bawled out Essper George. “Caulkers ahoy!”

At this moment three or four fowls, roused by the fall of the tank and the consequent shouts of Essper, began fluttering about the rack, and at last perched upon the cradle. “The live stock got loose’” shouted Essper. “and the breeze getting stiffer every instant! Where is the captain? I will see him. I am not one of the crew: I belong to the Court! I must have cracked my skull when I fell like a lubber down that confounded hatchway! Egad! I feel as if I had been asleep, and been dreaming I was at Court.”

The sound of heavy footsteps was now over his head. These noises were at once an additional proof that he was in the hold, and an additional stimulus to his calls to those on deck. In fact, these sounds were occasioned by the Bohemians, who always rose before break of day; and consequently, in a few minutes, the door of the stable opened, and the Bohemian, with a lantern in his hand, entered.

“What do you want?” cried Essper.

“I want my donkey”

“You do?” said Essper. “You’re the Purser, I suppose, detected keeping a jackass among the poultry! eating all the food of our live stock, and we having kid every day. Though both my legs are off, I’ll have a fling at you!” and so saying, Essper, aided by the light of the lantern, scrambled out of the cradle, and taking up the sheep-tank, sent it straight at the astonished Bohemian’s head. The aim was good, and the man fell; more, however, from fright than injury. Seizing his lantern, which had fallen out of his hand, Essper escaped through the stable door and rushed into the house. He found himself in the kitchen. The noise of his entrance roused the landlord and his wife, who had been sleeping by the fire; since, not having a single bed beside their own, they had given that up to Vivian. The countenance of the innkeeper effectually dispelled the clouds which had been fast clearing off from Essper’s intellect. Giving one wide stare, and then rubbing his eyes, the truth lighted upon him, and so he sent the Bohemian’s lantern at his landlord’s head. The postmaster seized the poker and the postmistress a faggot, and as the Bohemian, who had now recovered himself, had entered in the rear, Essper George stood a fair chance of receiving a thorough drubbing, had not his master, roused by the suspicious noises and angry sounds which had reached his room, entered the kitchen with his pistols.

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