Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 10

The first few days of an acquaintance with a new scene of life and with new characters generally appear to pass very slowly; not certainly from the weariness which they induce, but rather from the keen attention which every little circumstance commands. When the novelty has worn off, when we have discovered that the new characters differ little from all others we have met before, and that the scene they inhabit is only another variety of the great order we have so often observed, we relapse into our ancient habits of inattention; we think more of ourselves, and less of those we meet; and musing our moments away in reverie, or in a vain attempt to cheat the coming day of the monotony of the present one, we begin to find that the various-vested hours have bounded and are bounding away in a course at once imperceptible, uninteresting, and unprofitable. Then it is that, terrified at our nearer approach to the great river whose dark windings it seems the business of all to forget, we start from our stupor to mourn over the rapidity of that collective sum of past-time, every individual hour of which we have in turn execrated for its sluggishness.

Vivian had now been three weeks at Ems, and the presence of Lady Madeleine Trevor and her cousin alone induced him to remain. Whatever the mystery existing between Lady Madeleine and the Baron, his efforts to attach himself to her party had been successful. The great intimacy subsisting between the Baron and her brother materially assisted in bringing about this result. For the first fortnight the Baron was Lady Madeleine’s constant attendant in the evening promenade, and sometimes in the morning walk; and though there were few persons whose companionship could be preferred to that of Baron von Konigstein, still Vivian sometimes regretted that his friend and Mr. St. George had not continued their rides. The presence of the Baron seemed always to have an unfavourable influence upon the spirits of Miss Fane, and the absurd and evident jealousy of Mr. St. George prevented Vivian from finding in her agreeable conversation some consolation for the loss of the sole enjoyment of Lady Madeleine’s exhilarating presence. Mr. St. George had never met Vivian’s advances with cordiality, and he now treated him with studied coldness.

The visits of the gentlemen to the New House had been frequent. The saloon of the Grand Duke was open every evening, and in spite of his great distaste for the fatal amusement which was there invariably pursued, Vivian found it impossible to decline frequently attending without subjecting his motives to painful misconception. His extraordinary fortune did not desert him, and rendered his attendance still more a duty. The Baron was not so successful as on his first evening’s venture at the Redoute; but Mr. St. George’s star remained favourable. Of Essper Vivian had seen little. In passing through the bazaar one morning, which he seldom did, he found, to his surprise, that the former conjuror had doffed his quaint costume, and was now attired in the usual garb of men of his condition of life. As Essper was busily employed at the moment, Vivian did not stop to speak to him; but he received a respectful bow. Once or twice, also, he had met Essper in the Baron’s apartments; and he seemed to have become a very great favourite with the servants of his Excellency and the Chevalier de Boeffleurs, particularly with his former butt, Ernstorff, to whom he now behaved with great deference.

For the first fortnight the Baron’s attendance on Lady Madeleine was constant. After this time he began to slacken in his attentions. He first disappeared from the morning walks, and yet he did not ride; he then ceased from joining the party at Lady Madeleine’s apartments in the evening, and never omitted increasing the circle at the New House for a single night. The whole of the fourth week the Baron dined with his Imperial Highness. Although the invitation had been extended to all the gentlemen from the first, it had been agreed that it was not to be accepted, in order that the ladies should not find their party in the saloon less numerous or less agreeable. The Baron was the first to break through a rule which he had himself proposed, and Mr. St. George and the Chevalier de Boeffleurs soon followed his example.

“Mr. Grey,” said Lady Madeleine one evening, as she was about to leave the gardens, “we shall be happy to see you to-night, if you are not engaged.”

“I fear that I am engaged,” said Vivian; for the receipt of some letters from England made him little inclined to enter into society.

“Oh, no! you cannot be,” said Miss Fane: “pray come! I know you only want to go to that terrible New House. I wonder what Albert can find to amuse him there; I fear no good. Men never congregate together for any beneficial purpose. I am sure, with all his gastronomical affectations, he would not, if all were right, prefer the most exquisite dinner in the world to our society. As it is, we scarcely see him a moment. I think that, you are the only one who has not deserted the saloon. For once, give up the New House.”

Vivian smiled at Miss Fane’s warmth, and could not persist in his refusal, although she did dilate most provokingly on the absence of her cousin. He therefore soon joined them.

“Lady Madeleine is assisting me in a most important work, Mr. Grey. I am making drawings of the Valley of the Rhine. I know that you are acquainted with the scenery; you can, perhaps, assist me with your advice about this view of old Hatto’s Castle.”

Vivian was so completely master of every spot in the Rhineland that he had no difficulty in suggesting the necessary alterations. The drawings were vivid representations of the scenery which they professed to depict, and Vivian forgot his melancholy as he attracted the attention of the fair artist to points of interest unknown or unnoticed by the guide-books and the diaries.

“You must look forward to Italy with great interest, Miss Fane?”

“The greatest! I shall not, however, forget the Rhine, even among the Apennines.”

“Our intended fellow-travellers, Lord Mounteney and his family, are already at Milan,” said Lady Madeleine to Vivian; “we were to have joined their party. Lady Mounteney is a Trevor.”

“I have had the pleasure of meeting Lord Mounteney in England, at Sir Berdmore Scrope’s: do you know him?”

“Slightly. The Mounteneys pass the winter at Rome, where I hope we shall join them. Do you know the family intimately?”

“Mr. Ernest Clay, a nephew of his Lordship’s, I have seen a great deal of; I suppose, according to the adopted phraseology, I ought to describe him as my friend, although I am ignorant where he is at present; and although, unless he is himself extremely altered, there scarcely can be two persons who now more differ in their pursuits and tempers than ourselves.”

“Ernest Clay! is he a friend of yours? He is at Munich, attached to the Legation. I see you smile at the idea of Ernest Clay drawing up a protocol!”

“Madeleine, you have never read me Caroline Mounteney’s letter, as you promised,” said Miss Fane; “I suppose full of raptures; ‘the Alps and Apennines, the Pyrenaean and the River Po?’”

“By no means; the whole letter is filled with an account of the ballet at La Scala, which, according to Caroline, is a thousand times more interesting than Mont Blanc or the Simplon.”

“One of the immortal works of Vigano, I suppose,” said Vivian; “he has raised the ballet of action to an equality with tragedy. I have heard my father mention the splendid effect of his Vestale and his Otello.”

“And yet,” said Violet, “I do not like Othello to be profaned. It is not for operas and ballets. We require the thrilling words.”

“It is very true; yet Pasta’s acting in the opera was a grand performance; and I have myself seldom witnessed a more masterly effect produced by any actor in the world than I did a fortnight ago, at the Opera at Darmstadt, by Wild in Othello.”

“I think the history of Desdemona is the most affecting of all tales,” said Miss Fane.

“The violent death of a woman, young, lovely, and innocent, is assuredly the most terrible of tragedies,” observed Vivian.

“I have often asked myself,” said Miss Fane, “which is the most terrible destiny for the young to endure: to meet death after a life of anxiety and suffering, or suddenly to be cut off in the enjoyment of all things that make life delightful.”

“For my part,” said Vivian, “in the last instance, I think that death can scarcely be considered an evil. How infinitely is such a destiny to be preferred to that long apprenticeship of sorrow, at the end of which we are generally as unwilling to die as at the commencement!”

“And yet,” said Miss Fane, “there is something fearful in the idea of sudden death.”

“Very fearful,” muttered Vivian, “in some cases;” for he thought of one whom he had sent to his great account before his time.

“Violet, my dear!” said Lady Madeleine, “have you finished your drawing of the Bingenloch?” But Miss Fane would not leave the subject.

“Very fearful in all cases, Mr. Grey. How few of us are prepared to leave this world without warning! And if from youth, or sex, or natural disposition, a few may chance to be better fitted for the great change than their companions, still I always think that in those cases in which we view our fellow-creatures suddenly departing from this world, apparently without a bodily or mental pang, there must be a moment of suffering which none of us can understand; a terrible consciousness of meeting death in the very flush of life; a moment of suffering which, from its intense and novel character, may appear an eternity of anguish. I have always looked upon such an end as the most fearful of dispensations.”

“Violet, my dear.” said her Ladyship, “let us talk no more of death. You have been silent a fortnight. I think to-night you may sing.” Miss Fane rose and sat down to the instrument.

It was a lively air, calculated to drive away all melancholy feelings, and cherishing sunny views of human life. But Rossini’s Muse did not smile to-night upon her who invoked its gay spirit; and ere Lady Madeleine could interfere Violet Fane had found more congenial emotions in one of Weber’s prophetic symphonies.

O Music! miraculous art, that makes a poet’s skill a jest, revealing to the soul inexpressible feelings by the aid of inexplicable sounds! A blast of thy trumpet, and millions rush forward to die; a peal of thy organ, and uncounted nations sink down to pray. Mighty is thy threefold power!

First, thou canst call up all elemental sounds, and scenes, and subjects, with the definiteness of reality. Strike the lyre! Lo! the voice of the winds, the flash of the lightning, the swell of the wave, the solitude of the valley!

Then thou canst speak to the secrets of a man’s heart as if by inspiration. Strike the lyre! Lo! our early love, our treasured hate, our withered joy, our flattering hope!

And, lastly, by thy mysterious melodies thou canst recall man from all thought of this world and of himself, bringing back to his soul’s memory dark but delightful recollections of the glorious heritage which he has lost, but which he may win again. Strike the lyre! Lo! Paradise, with its palaces of inconceivable splendour and its gates of unimaginable glory!

When Vivian left the apartment of Lady Madeleine he felt no inclination to sleep, and, instead of retiring to rest, he bent his steps towards the gardens. It was a rich summer night; the air, recovered from the sun’s scorching rays, was cool, not chilling. The moon was still behind the mountains; but the dark blue heavens were studded with innumerable stars, whose tremulous light quivered on the face of the river. All human sounds had ceased to agitate; and the note of the nightingale and the rush of the waters banished monotony without disturbing reflection. But not for reflection had Vivian Grey deserted his chamber: his heart was full, but of indefinable sensations, and, forgetting the world in the intenseness of his emotions, he felt too much to think.

How long he had been pacing by the side of the river he knew not, when he was awakened from his reverie by the sound of voices. He looked up, and saw lights moving at a distance. The party at the New House had just broke up. He stopped beneath a branching elm-tree for a moment, that the sound of his steps might not attract their attention, and at this very instant the garden gate opened and closed with great violence. The figure of a man approached. As he passed Vivian the moon rose up from above the brow of the mountain, and lit up the countenance of the Baron. Despair was stamped on his distracted features.

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