Vivian Grey/Volume 1/Chapter 2.17

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4360977Vivian Grey, Volume 1The Cabinet DinnerBenjamin Disraeli



Vivian had duly acquainted the Marquess with the successful progress of his negotiations with their intended partizans, and his Lordship himself had conversed with them singly on the important subject. It was thought proper, however, in this stage of the proceedings, that the parties interested should meet together, and so the two Lords, and Sir Berdmore, and Vivian, were invited to dine with the Marquess alone, and in his library.

There was abundance of dumb waiters, and other inventions, by which the ease of the guests might be consulted, without risking even their secret looks to the gaze of liveried menials. The Marquess's gentleman sat in an antichamber, in case human aid might be necessary, and every thing, as his Lordship averred, was "on the same system as the Cabinet Dinners."

In the ancient kingdom of England, it hath ever been the custom to dine previously to transacting business. This habit is one of those few which are not contingent upon the mutable fancies of fashion, and at this day we see Cabinet Dinners, and Vestry Dinners, alike proving the correctness of my assertion. Whether the custom really expedites the completion, or the general progress of the business which gives rise to it, is a grave question, which I do not feel qualified to decide. Certain it is, that very often, after the dinner, an appointment is made for the transaction of the business on the following morning: at the same time it must be remembered, that had it not been for the opportunity which the banquet afforded of developing the convivial qualities of the guests, and drawing out, by the assistance of generous wine, their most kindly sentiments, and most engaging feelings, it is very probable that the appointment for the transaction of the business would never have been made at all.

There certainly was every appearance that "the great business," as the Marquess styled it, would not be very much advanced by the cabinet dinner at Château Desir. For, in the first place, the table was laden "with every delicacy of the season," and really when a man is either going to talk sense, fight a duel, or make his will, nothing should be seen at dinner, save rump steaks, and the lightest Bourdeaux. And, in the second place, it must be candidly confessed, that when it came to the point of all the parties interested meeting, the Marquess's courage somewhat misgave him. Not that any particular reason occurred to him, which would have induced him to yield one jot of the theory of his sentiments, but the putting them in practice rather made him nervous. In short, he was as convinced as ever, that he was an ill used man of first rate talent, but then he remembered his agreeable sinecure, and his dignified office, and he might not succeed.—"The thought did not please.""

But here they were all assembled; receding was impossible; and so the Marquess dashed off a tumbler of Burgundy, and felt more courageous. His Lordship's conduct did not escape the hawk eye of one of his guests, and Vivian Grey was rather annoyed at seeing the Marquess's glass so frequently refilled. In fact the Marquess was drinking deep, and deep drinking was neither my Lord Carabas' weak, nor strong point, for he was neither habitually a toper, nor one who bore wine's sweet influence like a docile subject.

The venison was so prime, that not one word relative to the subject of their meeting was broached during the whole dinner; and Lord Beaconsfield, more than once, thought to himself, that had he ever been aware that business was so agreeable, he too would have been a statesman. But the haunch at last vanished, and the speech from the throne commenced.

"My Lords and Gentlemen," began the Marquess, "although I have myself taken the opportunity of communicating to you singly my thoughts upon a certain subject, and although, if I am rightly informed, my excellent young friend has communicated to you more fully upon that subject; yet, my Lords and Gentlemen, I beg to remark, that this is the first time, that we have collectively assembled to consult on the possibility of certain views, upon the propriety of their nature, and the expediency of their adoption." Here the bottle passed, and the Marquess took a bumper. "My Lords and Gentlemen, when I take into consideration the nature of the various interests, of which the body politic of this great empire is regulated; (Lord Courtown, the bottle stops with you) when I observe, I repeat, this, I naturally ask myself what right, what claims, what, what, what,—I repeat, what right, these governing interests have to the influence which they possess? (Vivian, my boy, you 'll find Champagne on the waiter behind you.) Yes, gentlemen, it is in this temper (the corkscrew's by Sir Berdmore,) it is, I repeat, in this temper, and actuated by these views, that we meet together this day. Gentlemen, to make the matter short, it is clear to me that we have all been under a mistake; that my Lord Courtown, and my Lord Beaconsfield, and Sir Berdmore Scrope, and my humble self, are not doing our duty to our country, in not taking the management of its affairs into our own hands! Mr. Vivian Grey, a gentleman with whom you are all acquainted,—Mr. Vivian Grey is younger than myself, or you, my Lord Courtown, or you, my Lord Beaconsfield, or even you, I believe. Sir Berdmore. Mr. Vivian Grey has consequently better lungs than any of us, and he will, I make no doubt, do, what I would, if I were of his age, explain the whole business to us all; and now my Lords, and Gentlemen, let us have a glass of Champagne."

A great deal of "desultory conversation," as the reporters style it, relative to the great topic of debate, now occurred; and, as the subject was somewhat dry, the Carabas Champagne suffered considerably. When the brains of the party were tolerably elevated, Vivian addressed them. The tenor of his oration may be imagined. He developed the new political principles, demonstrated the mistake under the baneful influence of which they had so long suffered, promised them place, and power, and patronage, and personal consideration, if they would only act on the principles which he recommended, in the most flowing language, and the most melodious voice, in which the glories of ambition were ever yet chaunted. There was a buzz of admiration when the flattering music ceased; the Marquess smiled triumphantly, as if to say, "Didn't I tell you he was a monstrous clever fellow?" and the whole business seemed settled. Lord Courtown gave in a bumper, "Mr. Vivian Grey, and success to his maiden speech;" and Vivian dashed off" a tumbler of Champagne to "the New Union," and certainly the whole party were in extreme good spirits. At last, Sir Berdmore, the coolest of them all, raised his voice: "He quite agreed with Mr. Grey in the principles which he had developed; and, for his own part, he was free to confess, that he had the most perfect confidence in that gentleman's very brilliant abilities, and augured from their exertion the most complete and triumphant success. At the same time, he felt it his duty to remark to their Lordships, and also to that gentleman, that the House of Commons was a new scene to him; and he put it, whether they were quite convinced that they were sufficiently strong, as regarded talent in that assembly. He could not take it upon himself to offer to become the leader of the party. Mr. Grey might be capable of undertaking that charge, but still, it must be remembered, that, in that assembly, he was, as yet, untried. He made no apology to Mr. Grey for speaking his mind so freely; he was sure that his motives could not be misinterpreted. If their Lordships, on the whole, were of opinion that this charge should be entrusted to him, he. Sir Berdmore, having the greatest confidence in Mr. Grey's abilities, would certainly support him to the utmost."

"He can do any thing," shouted the Marquess; who was now quite tipsy.

"He's a surprising clever man!" said Lord Courtown.

He's a surprising clever man!" echoed Lord Beaconsfield.

"Stop, my Lords," burst forth Vivian, "your good opinion deserves my gratitude, but these important matters do indeed require a moment's consideration. I trust that Sir Berdmore Scrope does not imagine that I am the vain idiot, to be offended at his most excellent remarks, even for a moment. Are we not met here for the common good—and to consult for the success of the common cause? Whatever my talents are, they are at your service—and, in your service, will I venture any thing; but surely, my Lords, you will not unnecessarily entrust this great business to a raw hand! I need only aver, that I am ready to follow any leader, who can play his great part in a becoming manner."

"Noble!" halloed the Marquess; who was now quite drunk.

But who was the leader to be? Sir Berdmore frankly confessed that he had none to propose; and the Viscount and the Baron were quite silent.

"Gentlemen!" bawled the Marquess, and his eye danced in his beaming face, "Gentlemen! there is a man, who could do our bidding." The eyes of every guest were fixed on the haranguing host.

"Gentlemen, fill your glasses—I give you our leader—Mr. Frederick Cleveland."

"Cleveland!" was the universal shout. A glass of claret fell from Lord Courtown's hand; Lord Beaconsfield stopped as he was about to fill his glass, and stood gaping at the Marquess, with the decanter in his hand; and Sir Berdmore stared on the table, as men do when something unexpected, and astounding, has occurred at dinner, which seems past all their management.

"Cleveland!" shouted the guests.

"I should as soon have expected you to have given us Lucifer!" said Lord Courtown.

"Or the present Secretary!" said Lord Beaconsfield.

"Or yourself," said Sir Berdmore Scrope.

"And does any one mean to insinuate that Frederick Cleveland is not capable of driving out every minister, that has ever existed since the days of the deluge?" demanded the Marquess, with a fierce air.

"We do not deny Mr. Cleveland's powers, my Lord; we only humbly beg to suggest that it appears to us, that, of all the persons in the world, the man with whom Mr. Cleveland would be least inclined to coalesce, would be the Marquess of Carabas."

In spite of the Champagne, the Marquess looked blank.

"Gentlemen," said Vivian, "do not despair; it's enough for me to know that there is a man who is capable of doing our work. Be he animate man, or incarnate fiend, provided he can be found within this realm, I pledge myself that, within ten days, he is drinking my noble friend's health at this very board."

The Marquess halloed, "Bravo!"—the rest laughed, and rose in confusion; Lord Beaconsfield fell over a chair, and, extricating himself with admirable agility, got entangled with a dumb-waiter, which came tumbling down with a fearful crash of plates, bottles, knives, and decanters. The pledge was, however, accepted; and the Marquess and Vivian were left alone. The worthy Peer, though terrifically tipsy, seemed quite overcome by Vivian's offer and engagement.

"Vivian, my boy! you don't know what you've done—you don't, indeed—take care of yourself, my boy,—you 're going to call on the Devil; you are, indeed—you're going to leave your card at the Devil's. Didn't you hear what Lord Beaconsfield,—a very worthy gentleman, but, between ourselves, a damned fool—that's entre nous, though, entre nous—I say, didn't you hear Lord Beaconsfield—no, was it Lord Beaconsfield ? No, no, your memory, Vivian, 's very bad; it was Lord Courtown: didn't you hear him say that Frederick Cleveland was Lucifer.—He is Lucifer; he is, upon my honor—how shocking! What times we live in! To think of you, Vivian Grey; you, a respectable young man, with a worthy and respectable father; to think of you leaving your card at—the Devil's!—Oh! shocking! shocking! But never mind, my dear fellow! never mind, don't lose heart.—I'll tell you what to do—talk to him, and by Jove, if he doesn't make me an apology, I'm not a Cabinet Minister. Good night, my dear fellow; he 's sure to make an apology; don't be frightened; remember what I say, talk to him,—talk—talk."—So saying, the worthy Marquess reeled and retired.

"What have I done?" thought Vivian; "I'm sure that Lucifer may know, for I do not. This Cleveland is, I suppose, after all but a man. I saw the feeble fools were wavering; and to save all, made a leap in the dark. Well! is my skull cracked? Nous verrons. How hot, either this room or my blood is! Come, for some fresh air; (he opened the library window) how fresh and soft it is! Just the night for the balcony. Hah! music! I cannot mistake that voice. Singular woman! I 'll just walk on, till I'm beneath her window."

Vivian accordingly proceeded along the balcony, which extended down one whole side of the Château. While he was looking at the moon he stumbled against some one. It was Colonel Delmington. He apologised to the militaire for treading on his toes, and "wondered how the devil he got there!"



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