Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 8

It was on the third day of the visit to Mr. Beckendorff, just as that gentleman was composing his mind after his noon meal with his favourite Cremona, and in a moment of rapture raising his instrument high in the air, that the door was suddenly dashed open, and Essper George rushed into the room. The intruder, the moment that his eye caught Vivian, flew to his master, and, seizing him by the arm, commenced and continued a loud shout of exultation, accompanying his scream the whole time by a kind of quick dance, which, though not quite as clamorous as the Pyrrhic, nevertheless completely drowned the scientific harmony of Mr. Beckendorff.

So astounded were the three gentlemen by this unexpected entrance, that some moments elapsed ere either of them found words at his command. At length the master of the house spoke.

“Mr. von Philipson, I beg the favour of being informed who this person is?”

The Prince did not answer, but looked at Vivian in great distress; and just as our hero was about to give Mr. Beckendorff the requisite information, Essper George, taking up the parable himself, seized the opportunity of explaining the mystery.

“Who am I? who are you? I am an honest man, and no traitor; and if all were the same, why, then, there would be no rogues in Reisenburg. Who am I? A man. There’s an arm! there’s a leg! Can you see through a wood by twilight? If so, yours is a better eye than mine. Can you eat an unskinned hare, or dine on the haunch of a bounding stag? If so, your teeth are sharper than mine. Can you hear a robber’s footstep when he’s kneeling before murder? or can you listen to the snow falling on Midsummer’s day? If so, your ears are finer than mine. Can you run with a chamois? can you wrestle with a bear? can you swim with an otter? If so, I’m your match. How many cities have you seen? how many knaves have you gulled? Which is dearest, bread or justice? Why do men pay more for the protection of life than life itself? Is cheatery a staple at Constantinople, as it is at Vienna? and what’s the difference between a Baltic merchant and a Greek pirate? Tell me all this, and I will tell you who went in mourning in the moon at the death of the last comet. Who am I, indeed!”

The embarrassment of the Prince and Vivian while Essper George addressed to Mr. Beckendorff these choice queries was indescribable. Once Vivian tried to check him, but in vain. He did not repeat his attempt, for he was sufficiently employed in restraining his own agitation and keeping his own countenance; for in spite of the mortification and anger that Essper’s appearance had excited in him, still an unfortunate but innate taste for the ludicrous did not allow him to be perfectly insensible to the humour of the scene. Mr. Beckendorff listened quietly till Essper had finished; he then rose.

“Mr. von Philipson,” said he, “as a personal favour to yourself, and to my own great inconvenience, I consented that in this interview you should be attended by a friend. I did not reckon upon your servant, and it is impossible that I can tolerate his presence for a moment. You know how I live, and that my sole attendant is a female. I allow no male servants within this house. Even when his Royal Highness honours me with his presence he is unattended. I desire that I am immediately released from the presence of this buffoon.”

So saying, Mr. Beckendorff left the room.

“Who are you?” said Essper, following him, with his back bent, his head on his chest, and his eyes glancing. The imitation was perfect.

“Essper,” said Vivian, “your conduct is inexcusable, the mischief that you have done irreparable, and your punishment shall be severe.”

“Severe! Why, what day did my master sell his gratitude for a silver groschen! Is this the return for finding you out, and saving you from a thousand times more desperate gang than that Baron at Ems! Severe indeed will be your lot when you are in a dungeon in Reisenburg Castle, with black bread for roast venison and sour water for Rhenish!”

“Why, what are you talking about?”

“Talking about! About treason, and arch traitors, and an old scoundrel who lives in a lone lane, and dares not look you straight in the face. Why, his very blink is enough to hang him without trial!”

“Essper, cease immediately this rhodomontade, and then in distinct terms inform his Highness and myself of the causes of this unparalleled intrusion.”

The impressiveness of Vivian’s manner produced a proper effect; and except that he spoke somewhat affectedly slow and ridiculously precise, Essper George delivered himself with great clearness.

“You see, sir, you never let me know that you were going to leave, and so when I found that you did not come back, I made bold to speak to Mr. Arnelm when he came home from hunting; but I could not get enough breath out of him to stop a ladybird on a rose-leaf. I did not much like it, your honour, for I was among strangers, and so were you, you know. Well, then, I went to Master Rodolph: he was very kind to me, and seeing me in low spirits, and thinking me, I suppose, in love, or in debt, or that I had done some piece of mischief, or had something or other preying on my mind, he comes to me, and says, ‘Essper,’ said he; you remember Master Rodolph’s voice, sir?”

“To the point. Never let me hear Master Rodolph’s name again.”

“Yes, sir! Well, well! he said to me, ‘Come and dine with me in my room;’ says I, ‘I will.’ A good offer should never be refused, unless we have a better one at the same time. Whereupon, after dinner, Master Rodolph said to me, ‘We will have a bottle of Burgundy for a treat.’ You see, sir, we were rather sick of the Rhenish. Well, sir, we were free with the wine; and Master Rodolph, who is never easy except when he knows everything, must be trying, you see, to get out of me what it was that made me so down in the mouth. I, seeing this, thought I would put off the secret to another bottle; which being produced, I did not conceal from him any longer what was making me so low. ‘Rodolph,’ said I, ‘I do not like my young master going out in this odd way: he is of a temper to get into scrapes, and I should like very much to know what he and the Prince (saving your Highness’ presence) are after. They have been shut up in that cabinet these two nights, and though I walked by the door pretty often, devil a bit of a word ever came through the key-hole; and so you see, Rodolph,’ said I, ‘it requires a bottle or two of Burgundy to keep my spirits up.’ Well, your Highness, strange to say, no sooner had I spoken than Master Rodolph put his head across the little table; we dined at the little table on the right hand of the room as you enter — ”

“Go on.”

“I am going on. Well! he put his head across the little table, and said to me in a low whisper, cocking his odd-looking eye at the same time, ‘I tell you what, Essper, you are a deuced sharp fellow!’ and so, giving a shake of his head and another wink of his eye, he was quiet. I smelt a rat, but I did not begin to pump directly; but after the third bottle, ‘Rodolph,’ said I, ‘with regard to your last observation (for we had not spoken lately, Burgundy being too fat a wine for talking), we are both of us sharp fellows. I dare say, now, you and I are thinking of the same thing.’ ‘No doubt of it,’ said Rodolph. And so, sir, he agreed to tell me what he was thinking of, on condition that I should be equally frank afterwards. Well, then, he told me that there were sad goings on at Turriparva.”

“The deuce!” said the Prince.

“Let him tell his story,” said Vivian.

“Sad goings on at Turriparva! He wished that his Highness would hunt more and attend less to politics; and then he told me, quite confidentially, that his Highness the Prince, and Heaven knows how many other Princes besides, had leagued together, and were going to dethrone the Grand Duke, and that his master was to be made King, and he, Master Rodolph, Prime Minister. Hearing all this, and duly allowing for a tale over a bottle, I made no doubt, as I find to be the case, that you, good master, were about to be led into some mischief; and as I know that conspiracies are always unsuccessful, I have done my best to save my master; and I beseech you, upon my knees, to get out of the scrape as soon as you possibly can.” Here Essper George threw himself at Vivian’s feet, and entreated him to quit the house immediately.

“Was ever anything so absurd and so mischievous!” ejaculated the Prince; and then he conversed with Vivian for some time in a whisper. “Essper,” at length Vivian said, “you have committed one of the most perfect and most injurious blunders that you could possibly perpetrate. The mischief which may result from your imprudent conduct is incalculable. How long is it since you have thought proper to regulate your conduct on the absurd falsehoods of a drunken steward? His Highness and myself wish to consult in private; but on no account leave the house. Now mind me; if you leave this house without my permission, you forfeit the little chance which remains of being retained in my service.”

“Where am I to go, sir?”

“Stay in the passage.”

“Suppose” (here he imitated Beckendorff) “comes to me.”

“Then open the door and come into this room.”

“Well,” said the Prince, when the door was at length shut, “one thing is quite clear. He does not know who Beckendorff is.”

“So far satisfactory; but I feel the force of your Highness’ observations. It is a most puzzling case. To send him back to Turriparva would be madness: the whole affair would be immediately revealed over another bottle of Burgundy with Master Rodolph; in fact, your Highness’ visit would be a secret to no one in the country, your host would be soon discovered, and the evil consequences are incalculable. I know no one to send him to at Reisenburg; and if I did, it appears to me that the same objections equally apply to his proceeding to that city as to his returning to Turriparva. What is to be done? Surely some demon must have inspired him. We cannot now request Beckendorff to allow him to stay here; and if we did, I am convinced, from his tone and manner, that nothing could induce him to comply with our wish. The only course to be pursued is certainly an annoying one; but, so far as I can judge, it is the only mode by which very serious mischief can be prevented. Let me proceed forthwith to Reisenburg with Essper. Placed immediately under my eye, and solemnly adjured by me to silence, I think I can answer, particularly when I give him a gentle hint of the station of Beckendorff, for his preserving the confidence with which it will now be our policy partially to entrust him. It is, to say the least, awkward and distressing to leave you alone; but what is to be done? It does not appear that I can now be of any material service to you. I have assisted you as much as, and more than, we could reasonably have supposed it would have been in my power to have done, by throwing some light upon the character and situation of Beckendorff. With the clue to his conduct which my chance meeting with him yesterday morning has afforded us, the only point for your Highness to determine is as to the length of time you will resolve to wait for his communication. As to your final agreement together, with your Highness’ settled views and decided purpose, all the difficulty of negotiation will be on his side. Whatever, my dear Prince,” continued Vivian, with a significant voice and marked emphasis, “whatever, my dear Prince, may be your secret wishes, be assured that to attain them in your present negotiation you have only to be firm. Let nothing divert you from your purpose, and the termination of this interview must be gratifying to you.”

The Prince of Little Lilliput was very disinclined to part with his shrewd counsellor, who had already done him considerable service, and he strongly opposed Vivian’s proposition. His opposition, however, like that of most other persons, was unaccompanied by any suggestion of his own. And as both agreed that something must be done, it of course ended in the Prince being of opinion that Vivian’s advice must be followed. The Prince was really much affected by this sudden and unexpected parting with one for whom, though he had known him so short a time, he began to entertain a sincere regard. “I owe you my life,” said the Prince, “and perhaps more than my life; and here we are about suddenly to part, never to meet again. I wish I could get you to make Turriparva your home. You should have your own suite of rooms, your own horses, your own servants, and never feel for an instant that you were not master of all around you. In truth,” continued the Prince, with great earnestness, “I wish, my dear friend, you would really think seriously of this. You know you could visit Vienna, and even Italy, and yet return to me. Max would be delighted to see you: he loves you already; and Sievers and his library would be at your command. Agree to my proposition, dear friend.”

“I cannot express to your Highness how sensible I am of your kindness. Your friendship I sincerely value and shall never forget; but I am too unhappy and unlucky a being to burden any one with my constant presence. Adieu! or will you go with me to Beckendorff?”

“Oh, go with you by all means! But,” said the Prince, taking a ruby ring of great antiquity off his finger, “I should feel happy if you would wear this for my sake.”

The Prince was so much affected at the thoughts of parting with Vivian that he could scarcely speak. Vivian accepted the ring with a cordiality which the kind-hearted donor deserved; and yet our hero unfortunately had had rather too much experience of the world not to be aware that, most probably, in less than another week, his affectionate friend would not be able to recall his name under an hour’s recollection. Such are friends! The moment that we are not at their side we are neglected, and the moment that we die we are forgotten!

They found Mr. Beckendorff in his library. In apprising Mr. Beckendorff of his intention of immediately quitting his roof, Vivian did not omit to state the cause of his sudden departure. These not only accounted for the abruptness of his movement, but also gave Beckendorff an opportunity of preventing its necessity, by allowing Essper to remain. But the opportunity was not seized by Mr. Beckendorff. The truth was, that gentleman had a particular wish to see Vivian out of his house. In allowing the Prince of Little Lilliput to be attended during the interview by a friend, Beckendorff had prepared himself for the reception of some brawny Jagd Junker, or some thick-headed chamberlain, who he reckoned would act rather as an incumbrance than an aid to his opponent. It was with great mortification therefore, that he found him accompanied by a shrewd, experienced, wary, and educated Englishman. A man like Beckendorff soon discovered that Vivian Grey’s was no common mind. His conversation with him of the last night had given him some notion of his powers, and the moment that Beckendorff saw Essper George enter the house he determined that he should be the cause of Vivian leaving it. There was also another and weighty reason for Mr. Beckendorff desiring that the Prince of Little Lilliput should at this moment be left to himself.

“Mr. Grey will ride on to Reisenburg immediately,” said the Prince, “and, my dear friend, you may depend upon having your luggage by the day after to-morrow. I shall be at Turriparva early to-morrow, and it will be my first care.”

This was said in a loud voice, and both gentlemen watched Mr. Beckendorff’s countenance as the information was given; but no emotion was visible.

“Well, sir, good morning to you,” said Mr. Beckendorff; “I am sorry you are going. Had I known it sooner I would have given you a letter. Mr. von Philipson,” said Beckendorff, “do me the favour of looking over that paper.” So saying, Mr. Beckendorff put some official report into the Prince’s hand; and while his Highness’ attention was attracted by this sudden request, Mr. Beckendorff laid his finger on Vivian’s arm, and said in a lower tone, “I shall take care that you find a powerful friend at Reisenburg!”

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