Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 13

In their passage to the Hall, the Marquess and Mrs. Million met Vivian Grey, booted and spurred, and covered with mud.

“Oh! Mrs. Million — Mr. Vivian Grey. How is this, my dear fellow? you will be too late.”

“Immense honour!” said Vivian, bowing to the ground to the lady. “Oh! my Lord I was late, and made a short cut over Fearnley Bog. It has proved a very Moscow expedition. However, I am keeping you. I shall be in time for the guava and liqueurs, and you know that is the only refreshment I ever take.”

“Who is that, Marquess?” asked Mrs. Million.

“That is Mr. Vivian Grey, the most monstrous clever young man, and nicest fellow I know.”

“He does, indeed, seem, a very nice young man,” said Mrs. Million.

Some steam process should be invented for arranging guests when they are above five hundred. In the present instance all went wrong when they entered the Hall; but, at last, the arrangements, which, of course, were of the simplest nature, were comprehended, and the guests were seated. There were three tables, each stretching down the Hall; the dais was occupied by a military band. The number of guests, the contrast between the antique chamber and their modern costumes, the music, the various liveried menials, all combined to produce a whole, which at the same time was very striking, and “in remarkable good taste.”

In process of time, Mr. Vivian Grey made his entrance. There were a few vacant seats at the bottom of the table, “luckily for him,” as kindly remarked Mr. Grumbleton. To the astonishment and indignation, however, of this worthy squire, the late comer passed by the unoccupied position, and proceeded onward with undaunted coolness, until he came to about the middle of the middle table, and which was nearly the best situation in the Hall.

“Beautiful Cynthia,” said Vivian Grey, softly and sweetly whispering in Miss Courtown’s ear, “I am sure you will give up your place to me; you have nerve enough, you know, for anything, and would no more care for standing out than I for sitting in.” There is nothing like giving a romp credit for a little boldness. To keep up her character she will out-herod Herod.

“Oh! Grey, is it you? certainly, you shall have my place immediately; but I am not sure that we cannot make room for you. Dormer Stanhope, room must be made for Grey, or I shall leave the table immediately. You men!” said the hoyden, turning round to a set of surrounding servants, “push this form down and put a chair between.”

The men obeyed. All who sat lower in the table on Miss Cynthia Courtown’s side than that lady, were suddenly propelled downwards about the distance of two feet. Dr. Sly, who was flourishing a carving-knife and fork, preparatory to dissecting a gorgeous haunch, had these fearful instruments suddenly precipitated into a trifle, from whose sugared trellis-work he found great difficulty in extricating them; while Miss Gusset, who was on the point of cooling herself with some exquisite iced jelly, found her frigid portion as suddenly transformed into a plate of peculiarly ardent curry, the property, but a moment before, of old Colonel Rangoon. Everything, however, receives a civil reception from a toad-eater, so Miss Gusset burnt herself to death by devouring a composition, which would have reduced anyone to ashes who had not fought against Bundoolah.

“Now that is what I call a sensible arrangement; what could go off better?” said Vivian.

“You may think so, sir,” said Mr. Boreall, a sharp-nosed and conceited-looking man, who, having got among a set whom he did not the least understand, was determined to take up Dr. Sly’s quarrel, merely for the sake of conversation. “You, I say, sir, may think it so, but I rather imagine that the ladies and gentlemen lower down can hardly think it a sensible arrangement;” and here Boreall looked as if he had done his duty, in giving a young man a proper reproof.

Vivian glanced a look of annihilation. “I had reckoned upon two deaths, sir, when I entered the Hall, and finding, as I do, that the whole business has apparently gone off without any fatal accident, why, I think the circumstances bear me out in my expression.”

Mr. Boreall was one of those unfortunate men who always take things to the letter: he consequently looked amazed, and exclaimed, “Two deaths, sir?”

“Yes, sir, two deaths; I reckoned, of course, on some corpulent parent being crushed to death in the scuffle, and then I should have had to shoot his son through the head for his filial satisfaction. Dormer Stanhope, I never thanked you for exerting yourself: send me that fricandeau you have just helped yourself to.”

Dormer, who was, as Vivian well knew, something of an epicure, looked rather annoyed, but by this time he was accustomed to Vivian Grey, and sent him the portion he had intended for himself. Could epicure do more?

“Whom are we among, bright Cynthia?” asked Vivian.

“Oh! an odd set,” said the lady, looking dignified; “but you know we can be exclusive.”

“Exclusive! pooh! trash! Talk to everybody; it looks as if you were going to stand for the county. Have we any of the millionaires near us?”

“The Doctor and Toady are lower down.”

“Where is Mrs. Felix Lorraine?”

“At the opposite table, with Ernest Clay.”

“Oh! there is Alhambra, next to Dormer Stanhope. Lord Alhambra, I am quite rejoiced to see you.”

“Ah! Mr. Grey, I am quite rejoiced to see you. How is your father?”

“Extremely well; he is at Paris; I heard from him yesterday. Do you ever see the Weimar Literary Gazette, my Lord?”

“No; why?”

“There is an admirable review of your poem in the last number I have received.”

The young nobleman looked agitated. “I think, by the style,” continued Vivian, “that it is by Goëthe. It is really delightful to see the oldest poet in Europe dilating on the brilliancy of a new star on the poetical horizon.”

This was uttered with a perfectly grave voice, and now the young nobleman blushed. “Who is Gewter?” asked Mr. Boreall, who possessed such a thirst for knowledge that he never allowed an opportunity to escape him of displaying his ignorance.

“A celebrated German writer,” lisped the modest Miss Macdonald.

“I never heard his name,” persevered the indefatigable Boreall; “how do you spell it?”

“GOETHE,” re-lisped modesty.

“Oh! Goty!” exclaimed the querist. “I know him well: he wrote the Sorrows of Werter.”

“Did he indeed, sir?” asked Vivian, with the most innocent and inquiring face.

“Oh! don’t you know that?” said Boreall, “and poor stuff it is!”

“Lord Alhambra! I will take a glass of Johannisberg with you, if the Marquess’ wines are in the state they should be:

The Crescent warriors sipped their sherbet spiced,

For Christian men the various wines were iced.

I always think that those are two of the best lines in your Lordship’s poem,” said Vivian.

His Lordship did not exactly remember them: it would have been a wonder if he had: but he thought Vivian Grey the most delightful fellow he ever met, and determined to ask him to Helicon Castle for the Christmas holidays.

“Flat! flat!” said Vivian, as he dwelt upon the flavour of the Rhine’s glory. “Not exactly from the favourite bin of Prince Metternich, I think. By-the-bye, Dormer Stanhope, you have a taste that way; I will tell you two secrets, which never forget: decant your Johannisberg, and ice your Maraschino. Ay, do not stare, my dear Gastronome, but do it.”

“O, Vivian! why did not you come and speak to me?” exclaimed a lady who was sitting at the side opposite Vivian, but higher in the table.

“Ah! adorable Lady Julia! and so you were done on the grey filly.”

“Done!” said the sporting beauty with pouting lips; “but it is a long story, and I will tell it you another time.”

“Ah! do. How is Sir Peter?”

“Oh! he has had a fit or two, since you saw him last.”

“Poor old gentleman! let us drink his health. Do you know Lady Julia Knighton?” asked Vivian of his neighbour. “This Hall is bearable to dine in; but I once breakfasted here, and I never shall forget the ludicrous effect produced by the sun through the oriel window. Such complexions! Every one looked like a prize-fighter ten days after a battle. After all, painted glass is a bore; I wish the Marquess would have it knocked out, and have it plated.”

“Knock out the painted glass!” said Mr. Boreall; “well, I must confess, I cannot agree with you.”

“I should have been extremely surprised if you could. If you do not insult that man, Miss Courtown, in ten minutes I shall be no more. I have already a nervous fever.”

“May I have the honour of taking a glass of champagne with you, Mr. Grey?” said Boreall.

“Mr. Grey, indeed!” muttered Vivian: “Sir, I never drink anything but brandy.”

“Allow me to give you some champagne, Miss,” resumed Boreall, as he attacked the modest Miss Macdonald: “champagne, you know,” continued he, with a smile of agonising courtesy, “is quite the lady’s wine.”

“Cynthia Courtown,” whispered Vivian with a sepulchral voice, “’tis all over with me: I have been thinking what would come next. This is too much: I am already dead. Have Boreall arrested; the chain of circumstantial evidence is very strong.”

“Baker!” said Vivian, turning to a servant, “go and inquire if Mr. Stapylton Toad dines at the Castle to-day.”

A flourish of trumpets announced the rise of the Marchioness of Carabas, and in a few minutes the most ornamental portion of the guests had disappeared. The gentlemen made a general “move up,” and Vivian found himself opposite his friend, Mr. Hargrave.

“Ah! Mr. Hargrave, how d’ye do? What do you think of the Secretary’s state paper?”

“A magnificent composition, and quite unanswerable. I was just speaking of it to my friend here, Mr. Metternich Scribe. Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Metternich Scribe.”

“Mr. Metternich Scribe, Mr. Vivian Grey!” and here Mr. Hargrave introduced Vivian to an effeminate-looking, perfumed young man, with a handsome, unmeaning face and very white hands; in short, as dapper a little diplomatist as ever tattled about the Congress of Verona, smirked at Lady Almack’s supper after the Opera, or vowed “that Richmond Terrace was a most convenient situation for official men.”

“We have had it with us some time before the public received it,” said the future under-secretary, with a look at once condescending and conceited.

“Have you?” said Vivian: “well, it does your office credit. It is a singular thing that Canning and Croker are the only official men who can write grammar.”

The dismayed young gentleman of the Foreign Office was about to mince a repartee, when Vivian left his seat, for he had a great deal of business to transact. “Mr. Leverton,” said he, accosting a flourishing grazier, “I have received a letter from my friend, M. De Noé. He is desirous of purchasing some Leicestershires for his estate in Burgundy. Pray, may I take the liberty of introducing his agent to you?”

Mr. Leverton was delighted.

“I also wanted to see you about some other little business. Let me see, what was it? Never mind, I will take my wine here, if you can make room for me; I shall remember it, I dare say, soon. Oh! by-the-bye: ah! that was it. Stapylton Toad; Mr. Stapylton Toad; I want to know all about Mr. Stapylton Toad. I dare say you can tell me. A friend of mine intends to consult him on some parliamentary business, and he wishes to know something about him before he calls.”

We will condense, for the benefit of the reader, the information of Mr. Leverton.

Stapylton Toad had not the honour of being acquainted with his father’s name; but as the son found himself, at an early age, apprenticed to a solicitor of eminence, he was of opinion that his parent must have been respectable. Respectable! mysterious word! Stapylton was a diligent and faithful clerk, but was not so fortunate in his apprenticeship as the celebrated Whittington, for his master had no daughter and many sons; in consequence of which, Stapylton, not being able to become his master’s partner, became his master’s rival.

On the door of one of the shabbiest houses in Jermyn Street the name of Mr. Stapylton Toad for a long time figured, magnificently engraved on a broad brass plate. There was nothing however, otherwise, in the appearance of the establishment, which indicated that Mr. Toad’s progress was very rapid, or his professional career extraordinarily prosperous. In an outward office one solitary clerk was seen, oftener stirring his office fire than wasting his master’s ink; and Mr. Toad was known by his brother attorneys as a gentleman who was not recorded in the courts as ever having conducted a single cause. In a few years, however, a story was added to the Jermyn Street abode, which, new pointed and new painted, began to assume a mansion-like appearance. The house-door was also thrown open, for the solitary clerk no longer found time to answer the often agitated bell; and the eyes of the entering client were now saluted by a gorgeous green baize office door; the imposing appearance of which was only equalled by Mr. Toad’s new private portal, splendid with a brass knocker and patent varnish. And now his brother attorneys began to wonder “how Toad got on! and who Toad’s clients were!”

A few more years rolled over, and Mr. Toad was seen riding in the Park at a classical hour, attended by a groom in a classical livery. And now “the profession” wondered still more, and significant looks were interchanged by “the respectable houses:” and flourishing practitioners in the City shrugged up their shoulders, and talked mysteriously of “money business,” and “some odd work in annuities.” In spite, however, of the charitable surmises of his brother lawyers, it must be confessed that nothing of even an equivocal nature ever transpired against the character of the flourishing Mr. Toad, who, to complete the mortification of his less successful rivals, married, and at the same time moved from Jermyn Street to Cavendish Square. The new residence of — Mr. Toad had previously been the mansion of a noble client, and one whom, as the world said, Mr. Toad “had got out of difficulties.” This significant phrase will probably throw some light upon the nature of the mysterious business of our prosperous practitioner. Noble Lords who have been in difficulties will not much wonder at the prosperity of those who get them out.

About this time Mr. Toad became acquainted with Lord Mounteney, a nobleman in great distress, with fifty thousand per annum. His Lordship “really did not know how he had got involved: he never gamed, he was not married, and his consequent expenses had never been unreasonable: he was not extraordinarily negligent; quite the reverse: was something of a man of business, remembered once looking over his accounts; and yet in spite of his regular and correct career, found himself quite involved, and must leave England.”

The arrangement of the Mounteney property was the crowning stroke of Mr. Stapylton Toad’s professional celebrity. His Lordship was not under the necessity of quitting England, and found himself in the course of five years in the receipt of a clear rental of five-and-twenty thousand per annum. His Lordship was in raptures; and Stapylton Toad purchased an elegant villa in Surrey, and became a Member of Parliament. Goodburn Park, for such was the name of Mr. Toad’s country residence, in spite of its double lodges and patent park paling, was not, to Mr. Toad, a very expensive purchase; for he “took it off the hands” of a distressed client who wanted an immediate supply, “merely to convenience him,” and, consequently, became the purchaser at about half its real value. “Attorneys,” as Bustle the auctioneer says, “have such opportunities!”

Mr. Toad’s career in the House was as correct as his conduct out of it. After ten years’ regular attendance, the boldest conjecturer would not have dared to define his political principles. It was a rule with Stapylton Toad never to commit himself. Once, indeed, he wrote an able pamphlet on the Corn Laws, which excited the dire indignation of the Political Economy Club. But Stapylton cared little for their subtle confutations and their loudly expressed contempt. He had obliged the country gentlemen of England, and ensured the return, at the next election, of Lord Mounteney’s brother for the county. At this general election, also, Stapylton Toad’s purpose in entering the House became rather more manifest; for it was found, to the surprise of the whole country, that there was scarcely a place in England; county, town, or borough; in which Mr. Stapylton Toad did not possess some influence. In short, it was discovered, that Mr. Stapylton Toad had “a first-rate parliamentary business;” that nothing could be done without his co-operation, and everything with it. In spite of his prosperity, Stapylton had the good sense never to retire from business, and even to refuse a baronetcy; on condition, however, that it should be offered to his son.

Stapylton, like the rest of mankind, had his weak points. The late Marquess of Almack’s was wont to manage him very happily, and Toad was always introducing that minister’s opinion of his importance. “‘My time is quite at your service, General,’ although the poor dear Marquess used to say, ‘Mr. Stapylton Toad, your time is mine.’ He knew the business I had to get through!” The family portraits also, in ostentatious frames, now adorned the dining-room of his London mansion; and it was amusing to hear the worthy M.P. dilate upon his likeness to his respected father.

“You see, my Lord,” Stapylton would say, pointing to a dark, dingy picture of a gentleman in a rich court dress, “you see, my Lord, it is not in a very good light, and it certainly is a very dark picture, by Hudson; all Hudson’s pictures were dark. But if I were six inches taller, and could hold the light just there, I think your Lordship would be astonished at the resemblance; but it’s a dark picture, certainly it is dark; all Hudson’s pictures were.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53