Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 11

The reader is not to suppose that Vivian Grey thought of the young Baroness merely in the rapid scenes which we have sketched. There were few moments in the day in which her image did not occupy his thoughts, and which, indeed, he did not spend in her presence. From the first her character had interested him. His accidental but extraordinary acquaintance with Beckendorff made him view any individual connected with that singular man with a far more curious feeling than could influence the young nobles of the Court, who were ignorant of the Minister’s personal character. There was an evident mystery about the character and situation of the Baroness, which well accorded with the eccentric and romantic career of the Prime Minister of Reisenburg. Of the precise nature of her connection with Beckendorff Vivian was wholly ignorant. The world spoke of her as his daughter, and the affirmation of Madame Carolina confirmed the world’s report. Her name was still unknown to him; and although during the few moments that they had enjoyed an opportunity of conversing together alone, Vivian had made every exertion of which good breeding, impelled by curiosity, is capable, and had devised many little artifices with which a schooled address is well acquainted to obtain it, his exertions had hitherto been unsuccessful. If there was a mystery, the young lady was competent to preserve it; and with all her naïveté, her interesting ignorance of the world, and her evidently uncontrollable spirit, no hasty word ever fell from her cautious lips which threw any light on the objects of his inquiry. Though impetuous, she was never indiscreet, and often displayed a caution which was little in accordance with her youth and temper. The last night had witnessed the only moment in which her passions seemed for a time to have struggled with, and to have overcome, her judgment; but it was only for a moment. That display of overpowering feeling had cost Vivian a sleepless night; and he is at this instant pacing up and down the chamber of his hotel, thinking of that which he had imagined could exercise his thoughts no more.

She was beautiful; she loved him; she was unhappy! To be loved by any woman is flattering to the feelings of every man, no matter how deeply he may have quaffed the bitter goblet of worldly knowledge. The praise of a fool is incense to the wisest of us; and though we believe ourselves broken-hearted, it still delights us to find that we are loved. The memory of Violet Fane was still as fresh, as sweet, to the mind of Vivian Grey as when he pressed her blushing cheek for the first and only time. To love again, really to love as he had done, he once thought was impossible; he thought so still. The character of the Baroness had interested him from the first. Her ignorance of mankind, and her perfect acquaintance with the polished forms of society; her extreme beauty, her mysterious rank, her proud spirit and impetuous feelings; her occasional pensiveness, her extreme waywardness, had astonished, perplexed, and enchanted him. But he had never felt in love. It never for a moment had entered into his mind that his lonely bosom could again be a fit resting-place for one so lovely and so young. Scared at the misery which had always followed in his track, he would have shuddered ere he again asked a human being to share his sad and blighted fortunes. The partiality of the Baroness for his society, without flattering his vanity, or giving rise to thoughts more serious than how he could most completely enchant for her the passing hour, had certainly made the time passed in her presence the least gloomy which he had lately experienced. At the same moment that he left the saloon of the palace he had supposed that his image quitted her remembrance; and if she had again welcomed him with cheerfulness and cordiality, he had felt that his reception was owing to not being, perhaps, quite as frivolous as the Count of Eberstein, and rather more amusing than the Baron of Gernsbach.

It was therefore with the greatest astonishment that, last night, he had found that he was loved, loved, too, by this beautiful and haughty girl, who had treated the advances of the most distinguished nobles with ill-concealed scorn, and who had so presumed upon her dubious relationship to the bourgeois Minister that nothing but her own surpassing loveliness and her parent’s all-engrossing influence could have excused or authorised her conduct.

Vivian had yielded to the magic of the moment, and had returned the feelings apparently no sooner expressed than withdrawn. Had he left the gardens of the palace the Baroness’s plighted lover he might perhaps have deplored his rash engagement, and the sacred image of his first and hallowed love might have risen up in judgment against his violated affection; but how had he and the interesting stranger parted? He was rejected, even while his affection was returned; and while her flattering voice told him that he alone could make her happy, she had mournfully declared that happiness could not be hers. How was this? Could she be another’s? Her agitation at the Opera, often the object of his thought, quickly occurred to him! It must be so. Ah! another’s! and who this rival? this proud possessor of a heart which could not beat for him? Madame Carolina’s declaration that the Baroness must be married off was at this moment remembered: her marked observation, that von Sohnspeer was no son of Beckendorff’s, not forgotten. The Field Marshal, too, was the valued friend of the Minister; and it did not fail to occur to Vivian that it was not von Sohnspeer’s fault that his attendance on the Baroness was not as constant as his own. Indeed, the unusual gallantry of the Commander-in-Chief had been the subject of many a joke among the young lords of the Court, and the reception of his addresses by their unmerciful object not unobserved or unspared. But as for poor von Sohnspeer, what could be expected, as Emilius von Aslingen observed, “from a man whose softest compliment was as long, loud, and obscure as a birthday salute!”

No sooner was the affair clear to Vivian, no sooner was he convinced that a powerful obstacle existed to the love or union of himself and the Baroness, than he began to ask what right the interests of third persons had to interfere between the mutual affection of any individuals. He thought of her in the moonlight garden, struggling with her pure and natural passion. He thought of her exceeding beauty, her exceeding love. He beheld this rare and lovely creature in the embrace of von Sohnspeer. He turned from the picture in disgust and indignation. She was his. Nature had decreed it. She should be the bride of no other man. Sooner than yield her up he would beard Beckendorff himself in his own retreat, and run every hazard and meet every danger which the ardent imagination of a lover could conceive. Was he madly to reject the happiness which Providence, or Destiny, or Chance had at length offered him? If the romance of boyhood could never be realised, at least with this engaging being for his companion, he might pass through his remaining years in calmness and in peace. His trials were perhaps over. Alas! this is the last delusion of unhappy men!

Vivian called at the Palace, but the fatigues of the preceding night prevented either of the ladies from being visible. In the evening he joined a small and select circle. The party, indeed, only consisted of the Grand Duke, Madame, their visitors, and the usual attendants, himself, and von Sohnspeer. The quiet of the little circle did not more strikingly contrast with the noise, and glare, and splendour of the last night than did Vivian’s subdued reception by the Baroness with her agitated demeanour in the garden. She was cordial, but calm. He found it quite impossible to gain even one moment’s private conversation with her. Madame Carolina monopolised his attention, as much to favour the views of the Field Marshal as to discuss the comparative merits of Pope as a moralist and a poet; and Vivian had the mortification of observing his odious rival, whom he now thoroughly detested, discharge without ceasing his royal salutes in the impatient ear of Beckendorff’s lovely daughter.

Towards the conclusion of the evening a chamberlain entered the room and whispered his mission to the Baroness. She immediately rose and quitted the apartment. As the party was breaking up she again entered. Her countenance was agitated. Madame Carolina was in the art of being overwhelmed with the compliments of the Grand Marshal, and Vivian seized the opportunity of reaching the Baroness. After a few hurried sentences she dropped her glove. Vivian gave it her. So many persons were round them that it was impossible to converse except on the most common topics. The glove was again dropped.

“I see,” said the Baroness, with a meaning look, “that you are but a recreant knight, or else you would not part with a lady’s glove so easily.”

Vivian gave a rapid glance round the room. No one was observing him, and the glove was immediately concealed. He hurried home, rushed up the staircase of the hotel, ordered lights, locked the door, and with a sensation of indescribable anxiety tore the precious glove from his bosom, seized, opened, and read the enclosed and following note. It was written in pencil, in a hurried hand, and some of the words were repeated:—

“I leave the Court to-night. He is here himself. No art can postpone my departure. Much, much, I wish to see you; to say, to say, to you. He is to have an interview with the Grand Duke to-morrow morning. Dare you come to his place in his absence? You know the private road. He goes by the high road, and calls in his way on a Forest Councillor: it is the white house by the barrier; you know it! Watch him to-morrow morning; about nine or ten I should think; here, here; and then for heaven’s sake let me see you. Dare everything! Fail not! Mind, by the private road: beware the other! You know the ground. God bless you:


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