On the evening of the next day there was to be a grand fête given at the New House by his Imperial Highness. The ladies would treasure their energies for the impending ball, and the morning was to pass without an excursion. Only Lady Madeleine, whom Vivian met taking her usual early promenade in the gardens, seemed inclined to prolong it, and even invited him to be her companion. She talked of the fête, and she expressed a hope that Vivian would accompany their party; but her air was not festive, she seemed abstracted and disturbed, and her voice more than once broke off abruptly at the commencement of a sentence which it seemed she had not courage to finish.
At length she said suddenly, “Mr. Grey, I cannot conceal any longer that I am thinking of a very different subject from the ball. As you form part of my thoughts, I shall not hesitate to disburthen my mind to you. I wish not to keep you in suspense. It is of the mode of life which I see my brother, which I see you, pursuing here that I wish to speak,” she added with a tremulous voice. “May I speak with freedom?”
“With the most perfect unreserve and confidence.”
“You are aware that Ems is not the first place at which I have met Baron von Konigstein.”
“I am not ignorant that he has been in England.”
“It cannot have escaped you that I acknowledged his acquaintance with reluctance.”
“I should judge, with the greatest.”
“And yet it was with still more reluctance that I prevailed upon myself to believe you were his friend. I experienced great relief when you told me how short and accidental had been your acquaintance. I have experienced great pain in witnessing to what that acquaintance has led; and it is with extreme sorrow for my own weakness, in not having had courage to speak to you before, and with a hope of yet benefiting you, that I have been induced to speak to you now.”
“I trust there is no cause either for your sorrow or your fear; but much, much cause for my gratitude.”
“I have observed the constant attendance of yourself and my brother at the New House with the utmost anxiety. I have seen too much not to be aware of the danger which young men, and young men of honour, must always experience at such places. Alas! I have seen too much of Baron von Konigstein not to know that at such places especially his acquaintance is fatal. The evident depression of your spirits yesterday determined me on a step which I have for the last few days been considering. I can learn nothing from my brother. I fear that I am even now too late; but I trust that, whatever may be your situation, you will remember, Mr. Grey, that you have friends; that you will decide on nothing rash.”
“Lady Madeleine,” said Vivian, “I will not presume to express the gratitude which your generous conduct allows me to feel. This moment repays me for a year of agony. I affect not to misunderstand your meaning. My opinion, my detestation of the gaming table, has always been, and must always be, the same. I do assure you this, and all things, upon my honour. Far from being involved, my cheek burns while I confess that I am master of a considerable sum acquired by this unhallowed practice. You are aware of the singular fortune which awaited my first evening at Ems; that fortune was continued at the New House the very first day I dined there, and when, unexpectedly, I was forced to play. That fatal fortune has rendered my attendance at the New House necessary. I found it impossible to keep away without subjecting myself to painful observations. My depression of yesterday was occasioned by the receipt of letters from England. I am ashamed of having spoken so much about myself, and so little about those for whom you are more interested. So far as I can judge, you have no cause, at present, for any uneasiness with regard to Mr. St. George. You may, perhaps, have observed that we are not very intimate, and therefore I cannot speak with any precision as to the state of his fortunes; but I have reason to believe that they are by no means unfavourable. And as for the Baron — ”
“I hardly know what I am to infer from your observations respecting him. I certainly should infer something extremely bad, were not I conscious that, after the experience of five weeks, I, for one, have nothing to complain of him. The Baron, certainly, is fond of play; plays high, indeed. He has not had equal fortune at the New House as at the Redoute; at least I imagine so, for he has given me no cause to believe, in any way, that he is a loser.”
“If you could only understand the relief I feel at this moment, I am sure you would not wonder that I prevailed upon myself to speak to you. It may still be in my power, however, to prevent evil.”
“Yes, certainly! I think the best course now would be to speak to me frankly respecting Von Konigstein; and, if you are aware of anything which has passed in England of a nature — ”
“Stop!” said Lady Madeleine, agitated. Vivian was silent, and some moments elapsed before his companion again spoke. When she did her eyes were fixed on the ground, and her tones were low; but her voice was calm and steady.
“I am going to accept, Mr. Grey, the confidence which you have proffered me; but I do not affect to conceal that I speak, even now, with reluctance; an effort, and it will soon be over. It is for the best.” Lady Madeleine paused one moment, and then resumed with a firm voice:
“Upwards of six years have now passed since Baron von Konigstein was appointed Minister to London from the Court of —— . Although apparently young for such an important mission, he had already distinguished himself as a diplomatist; and with all the advantages of brilliant talents, various accomplishments, rank, reputation, person, and a fascinating address, I need not tell you that he immediately became of consideration, even in the highest circles. Mr. Trevor, I was then just married, was at this period in office, and was constantly in personal communication with the Baron. They became intimate, and he was our constant guest. He had the reputation of being a man of pleasure. He was one for whose indiscretions there might be some excuse; nor had anything ever transpired which could induce us to believe that Baron von Konigstein could be guilty of anything but an indiscretion. At this period a relation and former ward of Mr. Trevor’s, a young man of considerable fortune, and one whom we all fondly loved, resided in our family. We considered him as our brother. With this individual Baron von Konigstein formed a strong friendship; they were seldom apart. Our relation was not exempted from the failings of young men. He led a dissipated life; but he was very young; and as, unlike most relations, we never allowed any conduct on his part to banish him from our society, we trusted that the contrast which his own family afforded to his usual companions would in time render his habits less irregular. We had now known Baron von Konigstein for upwards of a year and a half, intimately. Nothing had transpired during this period to induce Mr. Trevor to alter the opinion which he had entertained of him from the first; he believed him to be a man of honour, and, in spite of a few imprudences, of principle. Whatever might have been my own opinion of him at this period, I had no reason to doubt the natural goodness of his disposition; and though I could not hope that he was one who would assist us in our plans for the reformation of Augustus, I still was not sorry to believe, that in the Baron he would at least find a companion very different from the unprincipled and selfish beings by whom he was too often surrounded. Something occurred at this time which placed Baron von Konigstein, according to his own declaration, under lasting obligations to myself. In the warmth of his heart he asked if there was any real and important service which he could do me. I took advantage of the moment to speak to him about our young friend; I detailed to him all our anxieties; he anticipated all my wishes, and promised to watch over him, to be his guardian, his friend, his real friend. Mr. Grey,” continued her Ladyship, “I struggle to restrain my feelings; but the recollections of this period of my life are so painful that for a moment I must stop to recover myself.”
For a few minutes they walked on in silence. Vivian did not speak; and when his companion resumed her tale, he, unconsciously, pressed her arm.
“I try to be brief. About three months after the Baron had given me the pledge which I mentioned, Mr. Trevor was called up at an early hour one morning with the intelligence that his late ward was supposed to be at the point of death at a neighbouring hotel. He instantly repaired to him, and on the way the fatal truth was broken to him: our friend had committed suicide! He had been playing all night with one whom I cannot now name.” Here Lady Madeleine’s voice died away, but with a struggle she again spoke firmly.
“I mean with the Baron, some foreigners also, and an Englishman, all intimate friends of Von Konigstein, and scarcely known to the deceased. Our friend had been the only sufferer; he had lost his whole fortune, and more than his fortune: and, with a heart full of despair and remorse, had, with his own hand, terminated his life. The whole circumstances were so suspicious that they attracted public attention, and Mr. Trevor spared no exertion to bring the offenders to justice. The Baron had the hardihood to call upon us the next day; of course, in vain. He wrote violent letters, protesting his innocence; that he was asleep during most of the night, and accusing the others who were present of a conspiracy. The unhappy business now attracted very general interest. Its consequence on me was an alarming illness of a most unfortunate kind; I was therefore prevented from interfering, or, indeed, knowing anything that took place; but my husband informed me that the Baron was involved in a public correspondence; that the accused parties recriminated, and that finally he was convinced that Von Konigstein, if there were any difference, was, if possible, the most guilty. However this might be, he soon obtained his recall from his own Government. He wrote to us both before he left England; but I was too ill to hear of his letters, until Mr. Trevor informed me that he had returned them unopened. And now, I must give utterance to that which as yet has always died upon my lips, the unhappy victim was the brother of Miss Fane!”
“And Mr. St. George,” said Vivian, “knowing all this, which surely he must have done; how came he to tolerate, for an instant, the advances of such a man?”
“My brother,” said Lady Madeleine, “is a very good young man, with a kind heart and warm feelings; but my brother has not much knowledge of the world, and he is too honourable himself ever to believe that what he calls a gentleman can be dishonest. My brother was not in England when the unhappy event took place, and of course the various circumstances have not made the same impression upon him as upon us. He has heard of the affair only from me; and young men too often imagine that women are apt to exaggerate in matters of this nature, which, of course, few of us can understand. The Baron had not the good feeling, or perhaps had not the power, connected as he was with the Grand Duke, to affect ignorance of our former acquaintance, or to avoid a second one. I was obliged formally to present him to my brother. I was quite perplexed how to act. I thought of writing to him the next morning, impressing upon him the utter impossibility of our acquaintance being renewed: but this proceeding involved a thousand difficulties. How was a man of his distinction, a man, who not only from his rank, but from his disposition, is always a remarkable and a remarked character, wherever he may be; how could he account to the Grand Duke, and to his numerous friends, for his not associating with a party with whom he was perpetually in contact. Explanations, and worse, must have been the consequence. I could hardly expect him to leave Ems; it was, perhaps, out of his power: and for Miss Fane to leave Ems at this moment was most strenuously prohibited by her physician. While I was doubtful and deliberating, the conduct of Baron von Konigstein himself prevented me from taking any step whatever. Feeling all the awkwardness of his situation, he seized, with eagerness, the opportunity of becoming intimate with a member of the family whom he had not before known. His amusing conversation, and insinuating address, immediately enlisted the feelings of my brother in his favour. You know yourself that the very morning after their introduction they were riding together. As they became more intimate, the Baron boldly spoke to Albert, in confidence, of his acquaintance with us in England, and of the unhappy circumstances which led to its termination. Albert was deceived by this seeming courage and candour. He has become the Baron’s friend, and has adopted his version of the unhappy story; and as the Baron has had too much delicacy to allude to the affair in a defence of himself to me, he calculated that the representations of Albert, who, he was conscious, would not preserve the confidence which he has always intended him to betray, would assist in producing in my mind an impression in his favour. The Neapolitan story which he told the other day at dinner was of himself. I confess to you, that though I have not for a moment doubted his guilt, still I was weak enough to consider that his desire to become reconciled to me was at least an evidence of a repentant heart; and the Neapolitan story deceived me. Actuated by these feelings, and acting as I thought wisest under existing circumstances, I ceased to discourage his advances. Your acquaintance, which we all desired to cultivate, was perhaps another reason for enduring his presence. His subsequent conduct has undeceived me: I am convinced now, not only of his former guilt, but also that he is not changed; and that, with his accustomed talent, he has been acting a part which for some reason or other he has no longer any object in maintaining.”
“And Miss Fane,” said Vivian, “she must know all?”
“She knows nothing in detail; she was so young at the time that we had no difficulty in keeping the particular circumstances of her brother’s death, and the sensation which it excited, a secret from her. As she grew up, I have thought it proper that the mode of his death should no longer be concealed from her; and she has learnt from some incautious observations of Albert, enough to make her look upon the Baron with terror. It is for Violet,” continued Lady Madeleine, “that I have the severest apprehensions. For the last fortnight her anxiety for her cousin has produced an excitement, which I look upon with more dread than anything that can happen to her. She has entreated me to speak to Albert, and also to you. The last few days she has become more easy and serene. She accompanies us to-night; the weather is so beautiful that the night air is scarcely to be feared; and a gay scene will have a favourable influence upon her spirits. Your depression last night did not, however, escape her notice. Once more let me say how I rejoice at hearing what you have told me. I unhesitatingly believe all that you have said. Watch Albert. I have no fear for yourself.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07