Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 14

The sudden departure of Baron von Konigstein from the Baths excited great surprise and sorrow; all wondered at the cause, and all regretted the effect. The Grand Duke missed his good stories, the rouge-et-noir table his constant presence, and Monsieur le Restaurateur gave up, in consequence, an embryo idea of a fête and fireworks for his own benefit, which agreeable plan he had trusted that, with his Excellency’s generous co-operation as patron, he should have had no difficulty in carrying into execution. But no one was more surprised, and more regretted the absence of his Excellency, than his friend Mr. Fitzloom. What could be the reason? Public business, of course; indeed he had learnt as much, confidentially, from Cracowsky. He tried Mr. Grey, but could elicit nothing satisfactory; he pumped Mr. St. George, but produced only the waters of oblivion: Mr. St. George was gifted, when it suited his purpose, with a most convenient want of memory. There must be something in the wind, perhaps a war. Was the independence of Greece about to be acknowledged, or the dependence of Spain about to be terminated? What first-rate Power had marched a million of soldiers into the land of a weak neighbour, on the mere pretence of exercising the military? What patriots had had the proud satisfaction of establishing a constitutional government without bloodshed, to be set aside in the course of the next month in the same manner? Had a conspiracy for establishing a republic in Russia been frustrated by the timely information of the intended first Consuls? Were the Janissaries learning mathematics, or had Lord Cochrane taken Constantinople in the James Watt steampacket? One of these many events must have happened; but which? At length Fitzloom decided on a general war. England must interfere either to defeat the ambition of France, or to curb the rapacity of Russia, or to check the arrogance of Austria, or to regenerate Spain, or to redeem Greece, or to protect Portugal, or to shield the Brazils, or to uphold the Bible Societies, or to consolidate the Greek Church, or to monopolise the commerce of Mexico, or to disseminate the principles of free trade, or to keep up her high character, or to keep up the price of corn. England must interfere. In spite of his conviction, however, Fitzloom did not alter the arrangements of his tour; he still intended to travel for two years. All he did was to send immediate orders to his broker in England to sell two millions of consols. The sale was of course effected, the example followed, stocks fell ten per cent., the exchange turned, money became scarce. The public funds of all Europe experienced a great decline, smash went the country banks, consequent runs on the London, a dozen Baronets failed in one morning, Portland Place deserted, the cause of infant Liberty at a terrific discount, the Greek loan disappeared like a vapour in a storm, all the new American States refused to pay their dividends, manufactories deserted, the revenue in a decline, the country in despair, Orders in Council, meetings of Parliament, change of Ministry, and new loan! Such were the terrific consequences of a diplomatist turning blackleg! The secret history of the late distress is a lesson to all modern statesmen. Rest assured that in politics, however tremendous the effects, the causes are often as trifling.

Vivian found his reception by the Trevor party, the morning after the memorable night, a sufficient reward for all his anxiety and exertion. St. George, a generous, open-hearted young man, full of gratitude to Vivian, and regretting his previous want of cordiality towards him, now delighted in doing full justice to his coolness, courage, and ability. Lady Madeleine said a great deal in the most graceful and impressive manner; but Miss Fane scarcely spoke. Vivian, however, read in her eyes her approbation and her gratitude.

“And now, how came you to discover the whole plot, Mr. Grey?” asked Lady Madeleine, “for we have not yet heard. Was it at the table?”

“They would hardly have had recourse to such clumsy instruments as would have given us the chance of detecting the conspiracy by casual observation. No, no; we owe our preservation and our gratitude to one whom we must hereafter count among our friends. I was prepared, as I told you, for everything; and though I had seen similar cards to those with which they played only a few hours before, it was with difficulty that I satisfied myself at the table that the cards we lost by were prepared, so wonderful is the contrivance!”

“But who is the unknown friend?” said Miss Fane, with great eagerness.

“I must have the pleasure of keeping you all in suspense,” said Vivian: “cannot any of you guess?”

“None, none, none!”

“What say you, then, to — Essper George?”

“Is it possible?”

“It is the fact that he, and he alone, is our preserver. Soon after my arrival at this place this singular being was seized with the unaccountable fancy of becoming my servant. You all remember his unexpected appearance one day in the saloon. In the evening of the same day, I found him sleeping at the door of my room; and, thinking it high time that he should be taught more discretion, I spoke to him very seriously the next morning respecting his troublesome and eccentric conduct. It was then that I learnt his wish. I objected, of course, to engaging a servant of whose previous character I was ignorant, and of which I could not be informed, and one whose peculiar habits would render both himself and his master notorious. While I declined his services, I also advised him most warmly to give up all idea of deserting his present mode of life, for which I thought him extremely well suited. The consequence of my lecture was, what you all perceived with surprise, a great change in Essper’s character. He became serious, reserved, and retiring, and commenced his career as a respectable character by throwing off his quaint costume. In a short time, by dint of making a few bad bargains, he ingratiated himself with Ernstorff, Von Konigstein’s pompous chasseur. His object in forming this connection was to gain an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the duties of a gentleman’s servant, and in this he has succeeded. About a week since, he purchased from Ernstorff a large quantity of cast-off apparel of the Baron’s, and other perquisites of a great man’s valet; among these were some playing cards which had been borrowed one evening in great haste from the servant of that rascal De Boeffleurs, and never returned. On accidentally examining these cards, Essper detected they were marked. The system on which the marks are formed and understood is so simple and novel, that it was long before I could bring myself to believe that his suspicions were founded even on a probability. At length, however, he convinced me. It is at Vienna, he tells me, that he has met with these cards before. The marks are all on the rim of the cards; and an experienced dealer, that is to say, a blackleg, can with these marks produce any results and combinations which may suit his purpose. Essper tells me that De Boeffleurs is even more skilled in sleight-of-hand than himself. From Ernstorff, Essper learnt on the day of the fête that Mr. St. George was to dine with the Chevalier at the Baron’s apartments on the morrow, and that there was a chance that I should join them. He suspected that villany was in the wind, and when I retired to my room at a late hour on the night of the fête, I there met him, and it was then that he revealed to me everything which I have told you. Am I not right, then, in calling him our preserver?”

“What can be done for him?” said Lady Madeleine.

“His only wish is already granted; he is my servant. That he will serve me diligently and faithfully I have no doubt. I only wish that he would accept or could appreciate a more worthy reward.”

“Can man be more amply rewarded,” said Miss Fane, “than by choosing his own remuneration? I think he has shown in his request his accustomed talent. I must go and see him this moment.”

“Say nothing of what has passed; he is prepared for silence from all parties.”

A week, a happy week, passed over, and few minutes of the day found Vivian absent from the side of Violet Fane; and now he thought again of England, of his return to that country under very different circumstances to what he had ever contemplated. Soon, very soon, he trusted to write to his father, to announce to him the revolution in his wishes, the consummation of his hopes. Soon, very soon, he trusted that he should hail his native cliffs, a reclaimed wanderer, with a matured mind and a contented spirit, his sorrows forgotten, his misanthropy laid aside.

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