Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 3

As it was now morning, Vivian did not again retire to rest, but took advantage of the disturbance in the inn to continue his route at an earlier hour than he had previously intended.

Essper, when he found himself safely mounted, lagged behind a few minutes to vent his spleen against the innkeeper’s wife.

“May St. Florian confound me, madam!” said Essper, addressing himself to the lady in the window, “if ever I beheld so ugly a witch as yourself! Pious friend! thy chaplet of roses was ill bestowed, and thou needest not have travelled so far to light thy wax tapers at the shrine of the Black Lady at Altoting; for by the beauty of holiness! an image of ebony is mother of pearl to that soot-face whom thou callest thy wife. Fare thee well! thou couple of saintly sinners! and may the next traveller who tarries in the den of thieves qualify thee for canonisation by thy wife’s admiring pastor, the cabbage-eating Vice–Principal of Molk.”

Before the end of an hour they had to ford a rivulet running between two high banks. The scenery just here was particularly lovely, and Vivian’s attention was so engrossed by it that he did not observe the danger which he was about to incur.

On the left of the road a high range of rocky mountains abruptly descended into an open but broken country, and the other side of the road was occasionally bounded by low undulating hills, partially covered with dwarf woods, not high enough to obstruct the view of the distant horizon. Rocky knolls jutted out near the base of the mountains; and on the top of one of them, overlooked by a gigantic grey peak, stood an ancient and still inhabited feudal castle. Round the base of this insulated rock a rustic village peeped above the encircling nutwoods, its rising smoke softening the hard features of the naked crag. On the side of the village nearest to Vivian a bold sheet of water discharged itself in three separate falls between the ravine of a wooded mountain, and flowing round the village as a fine broad river, expanded before it reached the foundation of the castled rock into a long and deep lake, which was also fed by numerous streams, the gulleys only of which were now visible down the steep sides of the mountains, their springs having been long dried up.

Vivian’s view was interrupted by his sudden descent into the bed of the rivulet, one of the numerous branches of the mountain torrent, and by a crash which as immediately ensued. The spring of his carriage was broken. The carriage fell over, but Vivian sustained no injury; and while Essper George rode forward to the village for assistance, his master helped the postilion to extricate the horses and secure them on the opposite bank. They had done all that was in their power some time before Essper returned; and Vivian, who had seated himself on some tangled beech-roots, was prevented growing impatient by contemplating the enchanting scenery. The postilion, on the contrary, who had travelled this road even day of his life, and who found no gratification in gazing upon rocks, woods, and waterfalls, lit his pipe, and occasionally talked to his horses. So essential an attribute of the beautiful is novelty! Essper at length made his appearance, attended by five or six peasants, dressed in holiday costume, with some fanciful decorations; their broad hats wreathed with wild flowers, their short brown jackets covered with buttons and fringe, and various coloured ribbons streaming from their knees.

“Well, sir! the grandson is born the day the grandfather dies! a cloudy morning has often a bright sunset’ and though we are now sticking in a ditch, by the aid of St. Florian we may be soon feasting in a castle! Come, my merry men, I did not bring you here to show your ribbons; the sooner you help us out of this scrape the sooner you will be again dancing with the pretty maidens on the green! Lend a hand!”

The calèche appeared to be so much shattered that they only ventured to put in one horse; and Vivian, leaving his carriage in charge of Essper and the postilion, mounted Max, and rode to the village, attended by the peasants. He learnt from them on the way that they were celebrating the marriage of the daughter of their lord, who, having been informed of the accident, had commanded them to go immediately to the gentleman’s assistance, and then conduct him to the castle.

They crossed the river over a light stone bridge of three arches, the key-stone of the centre one being decorated with a splendidly sculptured shield.

“This bridge appears to be very recently built?” said Vivian to one of his conductors.

“It was opened, sir, for the first time yesterday, to admit the bridegroom of my young lady, and the foundation stone was laid on the day she was born.”

“I see that your good lord was determined that it should be a solid structure.”

“Why, sir, it was necessary that the foundation should be strong, because three succeeding winters it was washed away by the rush of that mountain torrent. Turn this way, if you please, sir, through the village.”

Vivian was much struck by the appearance of the little settlement as he rode through it. It did not consist of more than fifty houses, but they were all detached, and each beautifully embowered in trees. The end of the village came upon a large rising green, leading up to the only accessible side of the castle. It presented a most animated scene, being covered with various groups, all intent upon different rustic amusements. An immense pole, the stem of a gigantic fir-tree, was fixed nearly in the centre of the green, and crowned with a chaplet, the reward of the most active young man of the village, whose agility might enable him to display his gallantry by presenting it to his mistress, she being allowed to wear it during the remainder of the sports. The middle-aged men were proving their strength by raising weights; while the elders of the village joined in the calmer and more scientific diversion of skittles, which in Austria are played with bowls and pins of very great size. Others were dancing; others sitting under tents, chattering or taking refreshments. Some were walking in pairs, anticipating the speedy celebration of a wedding day happier to them, if less gay to others. Even the tenderest infants on this festive day seemed conscious of some unusual cause of excitement, and many an urchin, throwing himself forward in a vain attempt to catch in elder brother or a laughing sister, tried the strength of his leading-strings, and rolled over, crowing in the soft grass.

At the end of the green a splendid tent was erected, with a large white bridal flag waving from its top, embroidered in gold, with a true lover’s knot. From this pavilion came forth, to welcome the strangers, the lord of the village. He was a tall but thin bending figure, with a florid benevolent countenance, and a quantity of long white hair. This venerable person cordially offered his hand to Vivian, regretted his accident, but expressed much pleasure that he had come to partake of their happiness. “Yesterday,” continued he, “was my daughter’s wedding day, and both myself and our humble friends are endeavouring to forget, in this festive scene, our approaching loss and separation. If you had come yesterday you would have assisted at the opening of my new bridge. Pray what do you think of it? But I will show it to you myself, which I assure you will give me great pleasure; at present let me introduce you to my family, who will be quite happy to see you. It is a pity that you have missed the Regatta; my daughter is just going to reward the successful candidate. You see the boats upon the lake; the one with the white and purple streamer was the conqueror. You will have the pleasure, too, of seeing my son-in-law; I am sure you will like him; he quite enjoys our sports. We shall have a fête champêtre to-morrow, and a dance on the green to-night.”

The old gentleman paused for want of breath, and having stood a moment to recover himself, he introduced his new guests to the inmates of the tent: first, his maiden sister, a softened facsimile of himself; behind her stood his beautiful and blushing daughter, the youthful bride, wearing on her head a coronal of white roses, and supported by three bridesmaids, the only relief to whose snowy dresses were large bouquets on their left side. The bridegroom was at first shaded by the curtain; but as he came forward Vivian started when he recognised his Heidelburg friend, Eugene von Konigstein!

Their mutual delight and astonishment were so great that for an instant neither of them could speak; but when the old man learnt from his son-in-law that the stranger was his most valued and intimate friend, and one to whom he was under great personal obligations, he absolutely declared that he would have the wedding, to witness which appeared to him the height of human felicity, solemnised over again. The bride blushed, the bridesmaids tittered, the joy was universal.

Vivian inquired after the Baron. He learnt from Eugene that he had quitted Europe about a month, having sailed as Minister to one of the New American States. “My uncle,” continued the young man, “was neither well nor in spirits before his departure. I cannot understand why he plagues himself so about politics; however, I trust he will like his new appointment. You found him, I am sure, a delightful companion.”

“Come! you two young gentlemen,” said the father-in-law, “put off your chat till the evening. The business of the day stops, for I see the procession coming forward to receive the Regatta prize. Now, my dear! where is the scarf? You know what to say? Remember, I particularly wish to do honour to the victor! The sight of all these happy faces makes me feel quite young again. I declare I think I shall live a hundred years!”

The procession advanced. First came a band of young children strewing flowers, then followed four stout boys carrying a large purple and white banner. The victor, proudly preceding the other candidates, strutted forward, with his hat on one side, a light scull decorated with purple and white ribbons in his right hand, and his left arm round his wife’s waist. The wife, a beautiful young woman, to whom were clinging two fat flaxen-headed children, was the most interesting figure in the procession. Her tight dark bodice set off her round full figure, and her short red petticoat displayed her springy foot and ancle. Her neatly braided and plaited hair was partly concealed by a silk cap, covered with gold spangled gauze, flattened rather at the top, and finished at the back of the head with a large bow. This costly head-gear, the highest fashion of her class, was presented to the wearer by the bride, and was destined to be kept for festivals. After the victor and his wife came six girls and six boys, at the side of whom walked a very bustling personage in black, who seemed extremely interested about the decorum of the procession. A long train of villagers succeeded.

“Well!” said the old Lord to Vivian, “this must be a very gratifying sight to you! How fortunate that your carriage broke down just at my castle! I think my dear girl is acquitting herself admirably. Ah! Eugene is a happy fellow, and I have no doubt that she will be happy too. The young sailor receives his honours very properly: they are as nice a family as I know. Observe, they are moving off now to make way for the pretty girls and boys. That person in black is our Abbé, as benevolent, worthy a creature as ever lived! and very clever too: you will see in a minute. Now they are going to give us a little bridal chorus, after the old fashion, and it is all the Abbé‘s doing. I understand that there is an elegant allusion to my new bridge in it, which I think will please you. Who ever thought that bridge would be opened for my girl’s wedding? Well! I am glad that it was not finished before. But we must be silent’ You will notice that part about the bridge; it is in the fifth verse, I am told, beginning with something about Hymen, and ending with something about roses.”

By this time the procession had formed a semicircle before the tent, the Abbé standing In the middle, with a paper in his hand, and dividing the two hands of choristers. He gave a signal with his cane, and the girls commenced:—

Chorus of Maidens

Hours fly! it is Morn; he has left the bed of love! She follows him with a strained eye when his figure is no longer seen; she leans her head upon her arm. She is faithful to him as the lake to the mountain!

Chorus of Youths

Hours fly! it is Noon; fierce is the restless sun! While he labours he thinks of her! while he controls others he will obey her! A strong man subdued by love is like a vineyard silvered by the moon!

Chorus of Youths and Maidens

Hours fly! it is Eve; the soft star lights him to his home; she meets him as his shadow falls on the threshold! she smiles, and their child, stretching forth its tender hands from its mother’s bosom, struggles to lisp “Father!”

Chorus of Maidens

Years glide! it is Youth; they sit within a secret bower. Purity is in her raptured eyes, Faith in his warm embrace. He must fly! He kisses his farewell: the fresh tears are on her cheek! He has gathered a lily with the dew upon its leaves!

Chorus of Youths

Years glide! it is Manhood. He is in the fierce Camp: he is in the deceitful Court. He must mingle sometimes with others, that he may be always with her! In the false world, she is to him like a green olive among rocks!

Chorus of Youths and Maidens

Years glide! it is Old Age. They sit beneath a branching elm. As the moon rises on the sunset green, their children dance before them! Her hand is in his; they look upon their children, and then upon each other!

“The fellow has some fancy,” said the old Lord, “but given, I think, to conceits. I did not exactly catch the passage about the bridge, but I have no doubt it was all right.”

Vivian was now invited to the pavilion, where refreshments were prepared. Here our hero was introduced to many other guests, relations of the family, who were on a visit at the castle, and who had been on the lake at the moment of his arrival.

“This gentleman,” said the old Lord, pointing to Vivian, “is my son’s friend, and I am quite sure that you are all delighted to see him. He arrived here accidentally, his carriage having fortunately broken down in passing one of the streams. All those rivulets should have bridges built over them! I could look at my new bridge for ever. I often ask myself, ‘Now, how can such a piece of masonry ever be destroyed?’ It seems quite impossible, does not it? We all know that everything has an end; and yet, whenever I look at that bridge, I often think that it can only end when all things end.”

In the evening they all waltzed upon the green. The large yellow moon had risen, and a more agreeable sight than to witness two or three hundred persons so gaily occupied, and in such a scene, is not easy to imagine. How beautiful was the stern old castle, softened by the moonlight, the illumined lake, the richly-silvered foliage of the woods, and the white brilliant cataract!

As the castle was quite full of visitors, its hospitable master had lodged Vivian for the night at the cottage of one of his favourite tenants. Nothing would give greater pleasure to Vivian than this circumstance, nor more annoyance to the worthy old gentleman.

The cottage belonged to the victor in the Regatta, who himself conducted the visitor to his dwelling. Vivian did not press Essper’s leaving the revellers, so great an acquisition did he seem to their sports! teaching them a thousand new games, and playing all manner of antics; but perhaps none of his powers surprised them more than the extraordinary facility and freedom with which he had acquired and used all their names. The cottager’s pretty wife had gone home an hour before her husband, to put her two fair-haired children to bed and prepare her guest’s accommodation for the night. Nothing could be more romantic and lovely than the situation of the cottage. It stood just on the gentle slope of the mountain’s base, not a hundred yards from the lower waterfall. It was in the middle of a patch of highly-cultivated ground, which bore creditable evidence to the industry of its proprietor. Fruit trees, Turkey corn, vines, and flax flourished in luxuriance. The dwelling itself was covered with myrtle and arbutus, and the tall lemon-plant perfumed the window of the sitting-room. The casement of Vivian’s chamber opened full on the foaming cataract. The distant murmur of the mighty waterfall, the gentle sighing of the trees, the soothing influence of the moonlight, and the faint sounds occasionally caught of dying revelry, the joyous exclamation of some successful candidate in the day’s games, the song of some returning lover, the plash of an oar in the lake: all combined to produce that pensive mood in which we find ourselves involuntarily reviewing the history of our life.

As Vivian was musing over the last harassing months of his burthensome existence he could not help feeling that there was only one person in the world on whom his memory could dwell with solace and satisfaction, and this person was Lady Madeleine Trevor!

It was true that with her he had passed some agonising hours; but he could not forget the angelic resignation with which her own affliction had been borne, and the soothing converse by which his had been alleviated. This train of thought was pursued till his aching mind sunk into indefiniteness. He sat for some little time almost unconscious of existence, till the crying of a child, waked by its father’s return, brought him back to the present scene. His thoughts naturally ran to his friend Eugene. Surely this youthful bridegroom might reckon upon happiness! Again Lady Madeleine recurred to him. Suddenly he observed a wonderful appearance in the sky. The moon was paled in the high heavens, and surrounded by luminous rings, almost as vividly tinted as the rainbow, spreading and growing fainter, till they covered nearly half the firmament. It was a glorious and almost unprecedented halo!

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