On the following morning, before sunrise, the Prince’s valet roused Vivian from his slumbers. According to the appointment of the preceding evening, Vivian repaired in due time to a certain spot in the park. The Prince reached it at the same moment. A mounted groom, leading two English horses of showy appearance, and each having a travelling case strapped on the back of its saddle, awaited them. His Highness mounted one of the steeds with skilful celerity, although Arnelm and Von Neuwied were not there to do honour to his bridle and his stirrup.
“You must give me an impartial opinion of your courser, my dear friend,” said the Prince to Vivian; “for if you deem it worthy of being bestridden by you, my son requests that you will do him the honour of accepting it. If so, call it Max; and provided it be as thoroughbred as the donor, you need not change it for Bucephalus.”
“Not unworthy of the son of Ammon!” said Vivian, as he touched the spirited animal with the spur, and proved its fiery action on the springing turf.
A man never feels so proud or so sanguine as when he is bounding on the back of a fine horse. Cares fly with the first curvet, and the very sight of a spur is enough to prevent one committing suicide.
When Vivian and his companion had proceeded about five miles, the Prince pulled up, and giving a sealed letter to the groom, he desired him to leave them. The Prince and Vivian amused themselves by endeavouring to form some conception of the person, manners, and habits of the remarkable man to whom they were on the point of paying so interesting a visit.
“I expect,” said Vivian, “to be received with folded arms, and a brow lowering with the overwhelming weight of a brain meditating for the control of millions. His letter has prepared us for the mysterious, but not very amusing, style of his conversation. He will be perpetually on his guard not to commit himself; and although public business, and the receipt of papers, by calling him away, will occasionally give us an opportunity of being alone, still I regret that I did not put up in my case some interesting volume, which would have allowed me to feel less tedious those hours during which you will necessarily be employed with him in private consultation.”
After a ride of five hours, the horsemen arrived at a small village.
“Thus far I think I have well piloted you,” said the Prince: “but I confess my knowledge here ceases; and though I shall disobey the diplomatic instructions of the great man, I must even ask some old woman the way to Mr. Beckendorff’s.”
While they were hesitating as to whom they should address, an equestrian, who had already passed them on the road, though at some distance, came up, and inquired, in a voice which Vivian recognised as that of the messenger who had brought Beckendorff’s letter to Turriparva, whether he had the honour of addressing Mr. von Philipson. Neither of the gentlemen answered, for Vivian of course expected the Prince to reply; and his Highness was, as yet, so unused to his incognito, that he had actually forgotten his own name. But it was evident that the demandant had questioned rather from system than by way of security, and he waited patiently until the Prince had collected his senses and assumed sufficient gravity of countenance to inform the horseman that he was the person in question. “What, sir, is your pleasure?”
“I am instructed to ride on before you, sir, that you may not mistake your way;” and without waiting for an answer the laconic messenger turned his steed’s head and trotted off.
The travellers soon left the high road and turned up a wild turf path, not only inaccessible to carriages, but even requiring great attention from horsemen. After much winding and some floundering, they arrived at a light gate, which apparently opened into a shrubbery.
“I will take your horses here, gentlemen,” said the guide; and getting off his horse, he opened the gate. “Follow this path, and you can meet with no difficulty.” The Prince and Vivian accordingly dismounted, and the guide immediately gave a loud shrill whistle.
The path ran, for a short way, through the shrubbery, which evidently was a belt encircling the grounds. From this the Prince and Vivian emerged upon a lawn, which formed on the farthest side a terrace, by gradually sloping down to the margin of the river. It was enclosed on the other side, and white pheasants were feeding in its centre. Following the path which skirted the lawn, they arrived at a second gate, which opened into a garden, in which no signs of the taste at present existing in Germany for the English system of picturesque pleasure-grounds were at all visible. The walk was bounded on both sides by tall borders, or rather hedges, of box, cut into the shape of battlements; the sameness of these turrets being occasionally varied by the immovable form of some trusty warder, carved out of yew or laurel. Raised terraces and arched walks, aloes and orange trees mounted on sculptured pedestals, columns of cypress and pyramids of bay, whose dark foliage strikingly contrasted with the marble statues, and the white vases shining in the sun, rose in all directions in methodical confusion. The sound of a fountain was not wanting, and large beds of beautiful flowers abounded. Proceeding through a lofty berçeau, occasional openings in whose curving walks allowed effective glimpses of a bust or a statue, the companions at length came in sight of the house. It was a long, uneven, low building, evidently of ancient architecture. Numerous stacks of tall and fantastically-shaped chimneys rose over three thick and heavy gables, which reached down farther than the middle of the elevation, forming three compartments, one of them including a large and modern bow window, over which clustered hi profusion the sweet and glowing blossoms of the clematis and the pomegranate. Indeed, the whole front of the house was so completely covered with a rich scarlet-creeper, that it was difficult to ascertain of what materials it was built. As Vivian was admiring a white peacock, which, attracted by their approach, had taken the opportunity of unfurling its wheeling train, a man came forward from the bow window.
In height he was about five feet eight, and of a spare but well-proportioned figure. He had little hair, which was powdered, and dressed in a manner to render more remarkable the elevation of his conical and polished forehead. His long piercing black eyes were almost closed, from the fullness of their upper lids. His cheek was sallow, his nose aquiline, his mouth compressed. His ears, which were uncovered, were so small that it would be wrong to pass them over unnoticed; as, indeed, were his hands and feet, in form quite feminine. He was dressed in a coat and waistcoat of black velvet, the latter part of his costume reaching to his thighs; and in a button-hole of his coat was a large bunch of tube-rose. The broad collar of his exquisitely plaited shirt, though tied round with a wide black ribbon, did not conceal a neck which agreed well with his beardless chin, and would not have misbecome a woman. In England we should have called his breeches buckskin. They were of a pale yellow leather, and suited his large and spur-armed cavalry boots, which fitted closely to the legs they covered, reaching over the knees of the wearer. A ribbon round his neck, tucked into his waistcoat pocket, was attached to a small French watch. He swung in his right hand the bow of a violin; and in the other, the little finger of which was nearly hid by a large antique ring, he held a white handkerchief strongly perfumed with violets. Notwithstanding the many feminine characteristics which I have noticed, either from the expression of the eyes or the formation of the mouth, the countenance of this individual generally conveyed an impression of firmness and energy. This description will not be considered ridiculously minute by those who have never had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the person of so celebrated a gentleman as MR. BECKENDORFF.
He advanced to the Prince with an air which seemed to proclaim that, as his person could not be mistaken, the ceremony of introduction was unnecessary. Bowing in a ceremonious and courtly manner to his Highness, Mr. Beckendorff, in a weak but not unpleasing voice, said that he was “honoured by the presence of Mr. von Philipson.” The Prince answered his salutation in a manner equally ceremonious and equally courtly; for having no mean opinion of his own diplomatic abilities, his Highness determined that neither by an excess of coldness nor cordiality on his part should the Minister gather the slightest indication of the temper in which he had attended the interview. You see that even the bow of a diplomatist is a serious business!
“Mr. Beckendorff,” said his Highness, “my letter doubtless informed you that I should avail myself of your permission to be accompanied. Let me have the honour of presenting to you my friend Mr. Grey, an English gentleman.”
As the Prince spoke, Beckendorff stood with his arms crossed behind him, and his chin resting upon his chest, but his eyes at the same time so raised as to look his Highness full in the face. Vivian was so struck by his posture and the expression of his countenance, that he nearly omitted to bow when he was presented. As his name was mentioned, the Minister gave him a sharp, sidelong glance, and moving his head slightly, invited his guests to enter the house. The gentlemen accordingly complied with his request. Passing through the bow window, they found themselves in a well-sized room, the sides of which were covered with shelves filled with richly-bound books. There was nothing in the room which gave the slightest indication that the master of the library was any other than a private gentleman. Not a book, not a chair was out of its place. A purple inkstand of Sèvre, and a highly-tooled morocco portfolio of the same colour, reposed on a marqueterie table, and that was all. No papers, no despatches, no red tape, and no red boxes. Over an ancient chimney, lined with china tiles, on which were represented grotesque figures, cows playing the harp, monkeys acting monarchs, and tall figures all legs, flying with rapidity from pursuers who were all head; over this chimney were suspended some curious pieces of antique armour, among which an Italian dagger, with a chased and jewelled hilt, was the most remarkable and the most precious.
“This,” said Mr. Beckendorff, “is my library.”
“What a splendid poignard!” said the Prince, who had no taste for books; and he immediately walked up to the chimney-piece. Beckendorff followed him, and taking down the admired weapon from its resting-place, proceeded to lecture on its virtues, its antiquity, and its beauty. Vivian seized this opportunity of taking a rapid glance at the contents of the library. He anticipated interleaved copies of Machiavel, Vattel, and Montesquieu; and the lightest works that he expected to meet with were the lying memoirs of some intriguing cardinal or the deluding apology of an exiled minister. To his surprise, he found that, without an exception, the collection consisted of poetry and romance. Somewhat surprised, Vivian looked with a curious eye on the unlettered backs of a row of mighty folios on a corner shelf. “These,” he thought, “at least must be royal ordinances, and collected state papers.” The sense of propriety struggled for a moment with the passion of curiosity; but nothing is more difficult for the man who loves books than to refrain from examining a volume which he fancies may be unknown to him. From the jewelled dagger Beckendorff had now got to an enamelled breast-plate. Two to one he should not be observed; and so, with a desperate pull, Vivian extracted a volume; it was a herbal! He tried another; it was a collection of dried insects!
“And now,” said Mr. Beckendorff, “I will show you my drawing-room.”
He opened a door at the farther end of the library, and introduced them to a room of a different character. The sun, which was shining brightly, lent additional brilliancy to the rainbow-tinted birds of paradise, the crimson maccaws, and the green parroquets that glistened on the Indian paper, which covered not only the walls, but also the ceiling of the room. Over the fireplace a black frame, projecting from the wall, and mournfully contrasting with the general brilliant appearance of the apartment, inclosed a picture of a beautiful female; and bending over its frame, and indeed partly shadowing the countenance, was the withered branch of a tree. A harpsichord and several cases of musical instruments were placed in different parts of the room; and suspended by broad black ribbons from the wall, on each side of the picture, were a guitar and a tambourine. On a sofa of unusual size lay a Cremona; and as Mr. Beckendorff passed the instrument he threw by its side the bow, which he had hitherto carried in his hand.
“We may as well now take something,” said Mr. Beckendorff, when his guests had sufficiently admired the room; “my pictures are in my dining-room; let us go there.”
So saying, and armed this time not only with his bow but also with his violin, he retraced his steps through the library, and crossing a small passage which divided the house into two compartments, he opened the door into his dining-room. The moment they entered the room their ears were saluted, and indeed their senses ravished, by what appeared to be a concert of a thousand birds; yet none of the winged choristers were to be seen, and not even a single cage was visible. The room, which was simply furnished, appeared at first rather gloomy; for, though lighted by three windows, the silk blinds were all drawn.
“And now,” said Mr. Beckendorff, raising the first blind, “you shall see my pictures. At what do you estimate this Breughel?”
The window, which was of stained green glass, gave to the landscape an effect similar to that generally produced by the artist mentioned. The Prince, who was already puzzled by finding one who at the same time was both his host and his enemy so different a character from what he had conceived, and who, being by temper superstitious, considered that this preliminary false opinion of his was rather a bad omen, did not express any great admiration of the gallery of Mr. Beckendorff; but Vivian, who had no ambitious hopes or fears to affect his temper, and who was amused by the character with whom he had become so unexpectedly acquainted, good-naturedly humoured the fantasies of the Minister, and said that he preferred his picture to any Breughel he had ever seen.
“I see you have a fine taste,” said Mr. Beckendorff, with a serious air, but in a courteous tone; “you shall see my Claude!”
The rich yellow tint of the second window gave to the fanciful garden all that was requisite to make it look Italian.
“Have you ever been in Italy, sir?” asked Beckendorff.
“I have not.”
“You have, Mr. von Philipson?”
“Never south of Germany,” answered the Prince, who was hungry, and eyed with a rapacious glance the capital luncheon which he saw prepared for him.
“Well, then, when either of you go, you will, of course, not miss the Lago Maggiore. Gaze on Isola Bella at sunset, and you will not view so fair a scene as this! And now, Mr. von Philipson,” said Beckendorff, “do me the favour of giving me your opinion of this Honthorst?”
His Highness would rather have given his opinion of the dish of game which still smoked upon the table, but which he was mournfully convinced would not smoke long. “But,” thought he, “this is the last!” and so he admired the effect produced by the flaming panes, to which Beckendorff swore that no piece ever painted by Gerard Honthorst, for brilliancy of colouring and boldness of outline, could be compared. “Besides,” continued Beckendorff, “mine are all animated pictures. See that cypress, waving from the breeze which is now stirring, and look! look at this crimson peacock! look! Mr. von Philipson.”
“I am looking, Mr. von — I beg pardon, Mr. Beckendorff,” said the Prince, with great dignity, making this slight mistake in the name, either from being unused to converse with such low people as had not the nominal mark of nobility, or to vent his spleen at being so unnecessarily kept from the refreshment which he so much required.
“Mr. von Philipson,” said Beckendorff, suddenly turning round, “all my fruits and all my vegetables are from my own garden. Let us sit down and help ourselves.”
The only substantial food at table was a great dish of game. The vegetables and the fruits were numerous and superb; and there really appeared to be a fair prospect of the Prince of Little Lilliput making as good a luncheon as if the whole had been conducted under the auspices of Master Rodolph himself, had it not been for the melody of the unseen vocalists, which, probably excited by the sounds of the knives and plates, too evidently increased every moment. But this inconvenience was soon removed by Mr. Beckendorff rising and giving three loud knocks on the door opposite to the one by which they had entered. Immediate silence ensued.
“Clara will change your plate, Mr. von Philipson,” said Beckendorff.
Vivian eagerly looked up, not with the slightest idea that the entrance of Clara would prove that the mysterious picture in the drawing-room was a portrait, but, it must be confessed, with a little curiosity to view the first specimen of the sex who lived under the roof of Mr. Beckendorff. Clara was a hale old woman, with rather an acid expression of countenance, prim in her appearance, and evidently precise in her manners. She placed a bottle and two wine-glasses with long, thin stems on the table; and having removed the game and changed the plates, she disappeared.
“Pray what wine is this, Mr. Beckendorff?” eagerly asked the Prince.
“I really don’t know. I never drink wine.”
“Not know! I never tasted such Tokay in my life!”
“Probably,” said Mr. Beckendorff; “I think it was a present from the Emperor. I have never tasted it.”
“My dear sir, take a glass!” said the Prince, his naturally jovial temper having made him completely forget whom he was addressing, and the business he had come upon.
“I never drink wine; I am glad you like it; I have no doubt Clara has more.”
“No, no, no! we must be moderate,” said the Prince, who, though a great admirer of a good luncheon, had also a due respect for a good dinner, and consequently had no idea, at this awkward hour in the day, of preventing himself from properly appreciating the future banquet. Moreover, his Highness, taking into consideration the manner in which the game had been dressed, and the marks of refinement and good taste which seemed to pervade every part of the establishment of Mr. Beckendorff, did not imagine that he was much presuming when he conjectured that there was a fair chance of his dinner being something superior.
The sudden arrival and appearance of some new and unexpected guests through the mysterious portal on which Mr. Beckendorff by his three knocks had previously produced such a tranquillising effect, and which he had now himself opened, explained the character of the apartment, which, from its unceasing melody, had so much excited the curiosity of his guests. These new visitors were a crowd of piping bullfinches, Virginia nightingales, trained canaries, Java sparrows, and Indian lorys; which, freed from their cages of golden wire by their fond master, had fled, as was their custom, from his superb aviary to pay their respects and compliments at his daily levée.
“I am glad to see that you like birds, sir,” said Beckendorff to Vivian; for our hero, good-naturedly humouring the tastes of his host, was impartially dividing the luxuries of a peach among a crowd of gaudy and greedy little sparrows. “You shall see my favourites,” continued Beckendorff; and tapping rather loudly on the table, he held out the forefinger of each hand. Two bullfinches recognised the signal, and immediately hastened to their perch.
“My dear!” trilled out one little songster, and it raised its speaking eyes to its delighted master.
“My love!” warbled the other, marking its affection by looks equally personal.
As these monosyllables were repeated, Beckendorff, with sparkling eyes, triumphantly looked round at Vivian, as if the frequent reiteration were a proof of the sincerity of the affection of these singular friends.
At length, to the Prince’s relief, Mr. Beckendorff’s feathered friends, having finished their dessert, were sent back to their cages, with a strict injunction not to trouble their master at present with their voices, an injunction which was obeyed to the letter; and when the door was closed few persons could have been persuaded that the next room was an aviary.
“I am proud of my peaches, Mr. von Philipson,” said Beckendorff, recommending the fruit to his guest’s attention, then rising from the table, he threw himself on the sofa, and began humming a tune in a low voice. Presently he took up his Cremona, and, using the violin as a guitar, accompanied himself in a beautiful air, but not in a more audible tone. While Mr. Beckendorff was singing he seemed unconscious that any person was in the room; and the Prince, who was not very fond of music, certainly gave him no hint, either by his approbation or his attention, that he was listened to. Vivian, however, like most unhappy men, loved music; and actuated by this feeling, and the interest which he began to take in the character of Mr. Beckendorff, he could not, when that gentleman had finished his air, refrain from very sincerely saying “encore!”
Beckendorff started and looked round, as if he were for the first moment aware that any being had heard him.
“Encore!” said he, with a kind sneer: “who ever could sing or play the same thing twice! Are you fond of music, sir?”
“Very much so, indeed. I fancied I recognised that air. You are an admirer I imagine, of Mozart?”
“I never heard of him; I know nothing of those gentry. But if you really like music, I will play you something worth listening to.”
Mr. Beckendorff began a beautiful air very adagio, gradually increasing the time in a kind of variation, till at last his execution became so rapid that Vivian, surprised at the mere mechanical action, rose from his chair in order better to examine the player’s management and motion of his bow. Exquisite as were the tones, enchanting as were the originality of his variations and the perfect harmony of his composition, it was nevertheless extremely difficult to resist smiling at the contortions of his face and figure. Now, his body bending to the strain, he was at one moment with his violin raised in the air, and the next instant with the lower nut almost resting upon his foot. At length, by well-proportioned degrees, the air died away into the original soft cadence; and the player, becoming completely entranced in his own performance, finished by sinking back on the sofa, with his bow and violin raised over his head. Vivian would not disturb him by his applause. An instant after, Mr. Beckendorff, throwing down the instrument, rushed through an open window into the garden.
As soon as Beckendorff was out of sight, Vivian looked at the Prince; and his Highness, elevating his eyebrows, screwing up his mouth, and shrugging his shoulders, altogether presented a comical picture of a puzzled man.
“Well, my dear friend,” said he, “this is rather different from what we expected.”
“Very different; but much more amusing.”
“Humph!” said the Prince, slowly; “I do not think it exactly requires a ghost to tell us that Mr. Beckendorff is not in the habit of going to court. I do not know how he is accustomed to conduct himself when he is honoured by a visit from the Grand Duke; but I am quite sure that, as regards his treatment of myself, to say the least, the incognito is well observed.”
“Mr. von Philipson,” said the gentleman of whom they were speaking, putting his head in at the window, “you shall see my blue passion-flower. We will take a walk round the garden.”
The Prince gave Vivian a look which seemed to suppose they must go, and accordingly they stepped into the garden.
“You do not see my garden in its glory,” said Mr. Beckendorff, stopping before the bow window of the library. “This spot is my strong point; had you been here earlier in the year, you might have admired with me my invaluable crescents of tulips; such colours! such brilliancy! so defined! And last year I had three king-tulips; their elegantly-formed, creamy cups I have never seen equalled. And then my double variegated ranunculuses; my hyacinths of fifty bells, in every tint, single and double; and my favourite stands of auriculas, so large and powdered that the colour of the velvet leaves was scarcely discoverable! The blue passion-flower is, however, now beautiful. You see that summer-house, sir,” continued he, turning to Vivian; “the top is my observatory. You will sleep in that pavilion to-night, so you had better take notice how the walk winds.”
The passion-flower was trained against the summer-house in question.
“There,” said Mr. Beckendorff; and he stood admiring with outstretched arms; “the latter days of its beauty, for the autumn frosts will soon stop its flower. Pray, Mr. von Philipson, are you a botanist?”
“Why,” said the Prince, “I am a great admirer of flowers, but I cannot exactly say that — ”
“Ah! no botanist. The flower of this beautiful plant continues only one day, but there is a constant succession from July to the end of the autumn; and if this fine weather continue — Pray, sir, how is the wind?”
“I really cannot say,” said the Prince; “but I think the wind is either — ”
“Do you know, sir?” continued Beckendorff to Vivian.
“I think, sir, that it is — ”
“Westerly. Well! If this weather continue, the succession may still last another month. You will be interested to know, Mr. von Philipson, that the flower comes out at the same joint with the leaf, on a peduncle nearly three inches long; round the centre of it are two radiating crowns; look, look, sir! the inner inclining towards the centre column; now examine this well, and I will be with you in a moment.” So saying, Mr. Beckendorff, running down the walk, jumped over the railing, and in a moment was coursing across the lawn, towards the river, in a chase after a dragon-fly.
Mr. Beckendorff was soon out of sight, and after lingering half-an-hour in the vicinity of the blue passion-flower, the Prince proposed to Vivian that they should quit the spot. “So far as I can observe,” continued his Highness, “we might as well quit the house. No wonder that Beckendorff’s power is on the wane, for he appears to me to be growing childish. Surely he could not always have been this frivolous creature!”
“I am really so astonished,” said Vivian, “that it is quite out of my power to assist your Highness in any supposition. But I should recommend you not to be too hasty in your movements. Take care that staying here does not affect the position which you have taken up, or retard the progress of any measures on which you have determined, and you are safe. What will it injure you if, with the chance of achieving the great and patriotic purpose to which you have devoted your powers and energies, you are subjected for a few hours to the caprices, or even rudeness, of any man whatever? If Beckendorff be the character which the world gives him credit to be, I do not think he can imagine that you are to be deceived twice; and if he do imagine so, we are convinced that he will be disappointed. If, as you have supposed, not only his power is on the wane, but his intellect also, four-and-twenty hours will convince us of the fact; for in less than that time your Highness will necessarily have conversation of a more important nature with him. I recommend, therefore, that we continue here to-day, although,” added Vivian, smiling, “I have to sleep in his observatory.”
After walking in the gardens about an hour, the Prince and Vivian again went into the house, imagining that Beckendorff might have returned by another entrance; but he was not there. The Prince was much annoyed; and Vivian, to amuse himself, had recourse to the library. After re-examining the armour, looking at the garden through the painted windows, conjecturing who might be the original of the mysterious picture and what could be the meaning of the withered branch, the Prince was fairly worn out. The precise dinner hour he did not know; and notwithstanding repeated exertions, he had hitherto been unable to find the blooming Clara. He could not flatter himself, however, that there were less than two hours to kill before the great event took place; and so, heartily wishing himself back again at Turriparva, he prevailed upon Vivian to throw aside his book and take another walk.
This time they extended their distance, stretched out as far as the river, and explored the adjoining woods; but of Mr. Beckendorff they saw and heard nothing. At length they again returned: it was getting dusk. They found the bow window of the library closed. They again entered the dining-room, and, to their surprise, found no preparations for dinner. This time the Prince was more fortunate in his exertions to procure an interview with Madam Clara, for that lady almost immediately entered the room.
“Pray, my good madam,” inquired the Prince, “has your master returned?”
“Mr. Beckendorff is in the library, sir,” said the old lady, pompously.
“Indeed! we do not dine in this room, then?”
“Dine, sir!” said the good dame, forgetting her pomposity in her astonishment.
“Yes, dine,” said the Prince.
“Mr. Beckendorff never takes anything after his noon meal.”
“Am I to understand, then, that we are to have no dinner?” asked his Highness, angry and agitated.
“Mr. Beckendorff never takes anything after his noon meal, sir; but I am sure that if you and your friend are hungry, sir, I hope there is never a want in this house.”
“My good lady, I am hungry, very hungry, indeed; and if your master, I mean Mr. von, that is Mr. Beckendorff, has such a bad appetite that he can satisfy himself with picking, once a day, the breast of a pheasant; why, if he expect his friends to be willing or even able to live on such fare, the least that I can say is, that he is much mistaken; and so, therefore, my good friend Grey, I think we had better order our horses and be off.”
“No occasion for that, I hope,” said Mrs. Clara, rather alarmed at the Prince’s passion; “no want, I trust, ever here, sir; and I make no doubt you will have dinner as soon as possible; and so, sir, I hope you will not be hasty.”
“Hasty! I have no wish to be hasty; but as for disarranging the whole economy of the house, and getting up an extemporaneous meal for me, I cannot think of it. Mr. Beckendorff may live as he likes, and if I stay here I am contented to live as he does. I do not wish him to change his habits for me, and I shall take care that, after today, there will be no necessity for his doing so. However, absolute hunger can make no compliments; and therefore I will thank you, my good madam, to let me and my friend have the remains of that cold game, if they be still in existence, on which we lunched, or, as you term it, took our noon meal, this morning; and which, if it were your own cooking, Mrs. Clara, I assure you, as I observed to my friend at the time, did you infinite credit.”
The Prince, although his gentlemanlike feelings had, in spite of his hunger, dictated a deprecation of Mrs. Clara’s making a dinner merely for himself, still thought that a seasonable and deserved compliment to the lady might assist in bringing about a result which, notwithstanding his politeness, he much desired; and that was the production of another specimen of her culinary accomplishments. Having behaved, as he considered, with moderation and dignified civility, he was, it must be confessed, rather astounded when Mrs. Clara, duly acknowledging his compliment by her curtsey, was sorry to inform him that she dared give no refreshment in this house without Mr. Beckendorff’s special order.
“Special order! Why! surely your master will not grudge me the cold leg of a pheasant?”
“Mr. Beckendorff is not in the habit of grudging anything,” answered the housekeeper, with offended majesty.
“Then why should he object?” asked the Prince.
“Mr. Beckendorff is the best judge, sir, of the propriety of his own regulations.”
“Well, well!” said Vivian, more interested for his friend than himself, “there is no difficulty in asking Mr. Beckendorff?”
“None in the least, sir,” answered the housekeeper, “when he is awake.”
“Awake!” said the Prince, “why! is he asleep now?”
“Yes, sir, in the library.”
“And how long will he be asleep?” asked the Prince, with eagerness.
“It is uncertain; he may be asleep for hours, he may wake in five minutes; all I can do is to watch.”
“But, surely in a case like the present, you can wake your master?”
“I could not wake Mr. Beckendorff, sir, if the house were on fire. No one can enter the room when he is asleep.”
“Then how can you possibly know when he is awake?”
“I shall hear his violin immediately, sir.”
“Well, well! I suppose it must be so. I wish we were in Turriparva; that is all I know. Men of my station have no business to be paying visits to the sons of the Lord knows who! peasants, shopkeepers, and pedagogues!”
As a fire was blazing in the dining-room, which Mrs. Clara informed them Mr. Beckendorff never omitted having every night in the year, the Prince and his friend imagined that they were to remain there, and they consequently did not attempt to disturb the slumbers of their host. Resting his feet on the hobs, his Highness, for the fiftieth time, declared that he wished he had never left Turriparva; and just when Vivian was on the point of giving up in despair the hope of consoling him, Mrs. Clara entered and proceeded to lay the cloth.
“Your master is awake, then?” asked the Prince, very quickly.
“Mr. Beckendorff has been long awake, sir! and dinner will be ready immediately.”
His Highness’ countenance brightened; and in a short time the supper appearing, the Prince, again fascinated by Mrs. Clara’s cookery and Mr. Beckendorff’s wine, forgot his chagrin, and regained his temper.
In about a couple of hours Mr. Beckendorff entered.
“I hope that Clara has given you wine you like, Mr. von Philipson?”
“The same bin, I will answer for that.”
Mr. Beckendorff had his violin in his hand, but his dress was much changed. His great boots being pulled off, exhibited the white silk stockings which he invariably wore. His coat had given place to the easier covering of a brocade dressing-gown. He drew a chair round the fire, between the Prince and Vivian. It was a late hour, and the room was only lighted by the glimmering coals, for the flames had long died away. Mr. Beckendorff sat for some time without speaking, gazing earnestly on the decaying embers. Indeed, before many minutes had elapsed, complete silence prevailed; for both the endeavours of the Prince and of Vivian to promote conversation had been unsuccessful. At length the master of the house turned round to the Prince, and pointing to a particular mass of coal, said, “I think, Mr. von Philipson, that is the completest elephant I ever saw. We will ring the bell for some coals, and then have a game of whist.”
The Prince was so surprised by Mr. Beckendorff’s remark that he was not sufficiently struck by the strangeness of his proposition, and it was only when he heard Vivian professing his ignorance of the game that it occurred to him that to play at whist was hardly the object for which he had travelled from Turriparva.
“An Englishman not know whist!” said Mr. Beckendorff:
“Ridiculous! You do know it. Let us play! Mr. von Philipson, I know, has no objection.”
“But, my good sir,” said the Prince, “although previous to conversation I may have no objection to join in a little amusement, still it appears to me that it has escaped your memory that whist is a game which requires the co-operation of four persons.”
“Not at all! I take dummy! I am not sure it is not the finest way of playing the game.”
The table was arranged, the lights brought, the cards produced, and the Prince of Little Lilliput, greatly to his surprise, found himself playing whist with Mr. Beckendorff. Nothing could be more dull. The Minister would neither bet nor stake, and the immense interest which he took in every card that was played ludicrously contrasted with the rather sullen looks of the Prince and the very sleepy ones of Vivian. Whenever Mr. Beckendorff played for dummy he always looked with the most searching eye into the next adversary’s face, as if he would read his cards in his features. The first rubber lasted an hour and a half, three long games, which Mr. Beckendorff, to his triumph, hardly won. In the first game of the second rubber Vivian blundered; in the second he revoked; and in the third, having neglected to play, and being loudly called upon, and rated both by his partner and Mr. Beckendorff, he was found to be asleep. Beckendorff threw down his hand with a loud dash, which roused Vivian from his slumber. He apologised for his drowsiness; but said that he was so sleepy that he must retire. The Prince, who longed to be with Beckendorff alone, winked approbation of his intention.
“Well!” said Beckendorff, “you spoiled the rubber. I shall ring for Clara. Why you all are so fond of going to bed I cannot understand. I have not been to bed these thirty years.”
Vivian made his escape; and Beckendorff, pitying his degeneracy, proposed to the Prince, in a tone which seemed to anticipate that the offer would meet with instantaneous acceptation, double dummy. This, however, was too much.
“No more cards, sir, I thank you,” said the Prince; “if, however, you have a mind for an hour’s conversation, I am quite at your service.”
“I am obliged to you; I never talk. Good night, Mr. von Philipson.”
Mr. Beckendorff left the room. His Highness could contain himself no longer. He rang the bell.
“Pray, Mrs. Clara,” said he, “where are my horses?”
“Mr. Beckendorff will have no quadrupeds within a mile of the house, except Owlface.”
“How do you mean? Let me see the man-servant.”
“The household consists only of myself, sir.”
“Why! where is my luggage, then?”
“That has been brought up, sir; it is in your room.”
“I tell you I must have my horses.”
“It is quite impossible to-night, sir. I think, sir, you had better retire. Mr. Beckendorff may not be home again these six hours.”
“What! is your master gone out?”
“Yes, sir, he is just gone out to take his ride.”
“Why! where is his horse kept, then?”
“It is Owlface, sir.”
“Owlface, indeed! What! is your master in the habit of riding out at night?”
“Mr. Beckendorff rides out, sir, just when it happens to suit him.”
“It is very odd I cannot ride out when it happens to suit me! However, I will be off to-morrow; and so, if you please, show me my bed-room at once.”
“Your room is the library, sir.”
“The library! Why, there is no bed in the library.”
“We have no beds, sir; but the sofa is made up.”
“No beds! Well! it is only for one night. You are all mad, and I am as mad as you for coming here.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07