Vivian Grey, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 12

Vivian read the note over a thousand times. He could not retire to rest. He called Essper George, and gave him all necessary directions for the morning. About three o’clock Vivian lay down on a sofa, and slept for a few hours. He started often in his short and feverish slumber. His dreams were unceasing and inexplicable. At first von Sohnspeer was their natural hero; but soon the scene shifted. Vivian was at Ems, walking under the well-remembered lime-trees, and with the Baroness. Suddenly, although it was mid-day, the Sun became large, blood-red, and fell out of the heavens; his companion screamed, a man rushed forward with a drawn sword. It was the idiot Crown Prince of Reisenburg. Vivian tried to oppose him, but without success. The infuriated ruffian sheathed his weapon in the heart of the Baroness. Vivian shrieked, and fell upon her body, and, to his horror, found himself embracing the cold corpse of Violet Fane!

Vivian and Essper mounted their horses about seven o’clock. At eight they had reached a small inn near the Forest Councillor’s house, where Vivian was to remain until Essper had watched the entrance of the Minister. It was a few minutes past nine when Essper returned with the joyful intelligence that Owlface and his master had been seen to enter the Courtyard. Vivian immediately mounted Max, and telling Essper to keep a sharp watch, he set spurs to his horse.

“Now, Max, my good steed, each minute is golden; serve thy master well!” He patted the horse’s neck, the animal’s erected ears proved how well it understood its master’s wishes; and taking advantage of the loose bridle, which was confidently allowed it, the horse sprang rather than galloped to the Minister’s residence. Nearly an hour, however, was lost in gaining the private road, for Vivian, after the caution in the Baroness’s letter, did not dare the high road.

He is galloping up the winding rural lane, where he met Beckendorff on the second morning of his visit. He has reached the little gate, and following the example of the Grand Duke, ties Max at the entrance. He dashes over the meadows; not following the path, but crossing straight through the long dewy grass, he leaps over the light iron railing; he is rushing up the walk; he takes a rapid glance, in passing, at the little summer-house; the blue passion-flower is still blooming, the house is in sight; a white handkerchief is waving from the drawing-room window! He sees it; fresh wings are added to its course; he dashes through a bed of flowers, frightens the white peacock, darts through the library window, and is in the drawing room.

The Baroness was there: pale and agitated she stood beneath the mysterious picture, with one arm leaning on the old carved mantelpiece. Overcome by her emotions, she did not move forward to meet him as he entered; but Vivian observed neither her constraint nor her agitation.

“Sybilla! dearest Sybilla! say you are mine!”

He seized her hand. She struggled not to disengage herself; her head sank upon her arm, which rested upon his shoulder. Overpowered, she sobbed convulsively. He endeavoured to calm her, but her agitation increased; and minutes elapsed ere she seemed to be even sensible of his presence. At length she became more calm, and apparently making a struggle to compose herself, she raised her head and said, “This is very weak let us walk for a moment about the room!”

At this moment Vivian was seized by the throat with a strong grasp. He turned round; it was Mr. Beckendorff, with a face deadly white, his full eyes darting from their sockets like a hungry snake’s, and the famous Italian dagger in his right hand.

“Villain!” said he, in the low voice of fatal passion; “Villain, is this your Destiny?”

Vivian’s first thoughts were for the Baroness; and turning his head from Beckendorff, he looked with the eye of anxious love to his companion. But, instead of fainting, instead of being overwhelmed by this terrible interruption, she seemed, on the contrary, to have suddenly regained her natural spirit and self-possession. The blood had returned to her hitherto pale cheek, and the fire to an eye before dull with weeping. She extricated herself immediately from Vivian’s encircling arm, and by so doing enabled him to have struggled, had it been necessary, more equally with the powerful grasp of his assailant.

“Stand off, sir!” said the Baroness, with an air of inexpressible dignity, and a voice which even at this crisis seemed to anticipate that it would be obeyed. “Stand off, sir! stand off, I command you!”

Beckendorff for one moment was motionless: he then gave her a look of piercing earnestness, threw Vivian, rather than released him, from his hold, and flung the dagger with a bitter smile, into the corner of the room. “Well, madam!” said he, in a choking voice, “you are obeyed!”

“Mr. Grey,” continued the Baroness, “I regret that this outrage should have been experienced by you because you have dared to serve me. My presence should have preserved you from this contumely; but what are we to expect from those who pride themselves upon being the sons of slaves! You shall hear further from me.” So saying, the lady, bowing to Vivian, and sweeping by the Minister with a glance of indescribable disdain, quitted the apartment. As she was on the point of leaving the room, Vivian was standing against the wall, with a pale face and folded arms; Beckendorff, with his back to the window, his eyes fixed on the ground; and Vivian, to his astonishment, perceived, what escaped the Minister’s notice, that while the lady bade him adieu with one hand she made rapid signs with the other to some unknown person in the garden.

Mr. Beckendorff and Vivian were left alone, and the latter was the first to break silence.

“Mr. Beckendorff,” said he, in a calm voice, “considering the circumstances under which you have found me in your house this morning, I should have known how to excuse and to forget any irritable expressions which a moment of ungovernable passion might have inspired. I should have passed them over unnoticed. But your unjustifiable behaviour has exceeded that line of demarcation which sympathy with human feelings allows even men of honour to recognise. You have disgraced both me and yourself by giving me a blow. It is, as that lady well styled it, an outrage; an outrage which the blood of any other man but yourself could only obliterate from my memory; but while I am inclined to be indulgent to your exalted station and your peculiar character, I at the same time expect, and now wait for, an apology!”

“An apology!” said Beckendorff, now beginning to stamp up and down the room; “an apology! Shall it be made to you, sir, or the Archduchess?”

“The Archduchess;” said Vivian. “Good God! what can you mean! Did I hear you right?”

“I said the Archduchess,” answered Beckendorff, with firmness; “a Princess of the House of Austria, and the pledged wife of his Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Reisenburg. Perhaps you may now think that other persons have to apologise?”

“Mr. Beckendorff,” said Vivian, “I am overwhelmed; I declare, upon my honour — ”

“Stop, sir! you have said too much already — ”

“But, Mr. Beckendorff, surely you will allow me to explain — ”

“Sir! there is no need of explanation. I know everything; more than you do yourself. You can have nothing to explain to me! and I presume you are now fully aware of the impossibility of again speaking to her. It is at present within an hour of noon. Before sunset you must be twenty miles from the Court; so far you will be attended. Do not answer me; you know my power. A remonstrance only, and I write to Vienna: your progress shall be stopped throughout the South of Europe. For her sake this business will be hushed up. An important and secret mission will be the accredited reason of your leaving Reisenburg. This will be confirmed by your official attendant, who will be an Envoy’s Courier. Farewell!”

As Mr. Beckendorff quitted the room, his confidential servant, the messenger of Turriparva, entered, and with the most respectful bow informed Vivian that the horses were ready. In about three hours’ time Vivian Grey, followed by the Government messenger, stopped at his hotel. The landlord and waiters bowed with increased obsequiousness on seeing him so attended, and in a few minutes Reisenburg was ringing with the news that his appointment to the Under–Secretaryship of State was now “a settled thing.”

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