Vivian Grey/Volume 2/Chapter 3.7

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4422101Vivian Grey, Volume 2South American OrnithologyBenjamin Disraeli



What is this chapter to be about? Come, I 'm inclined to be courteous! You shall choose the subject of it. What shall it be——sentiment or scandal? a love scene, or a lay-sermon——or a lecture on omelettes soufflées? I am sick of the world! Don't be frightened, sweet reader! and Pearson, bring me a bottle of soda-water! I am sick of the world, and actually am now hesitating whether I shall turn misanthrope, or go to the Ancient Music. Not that you are to imagine that I am a dissatisfied, disappointed, moody monster, who lectures the stars, and fancies himself Rousseau secundus—not in the least. I am naturally a very amiable individual; but the truth is, I have been suffering the last three weeks under a tremendous attack of bile, and if I chance to touch a quill in this miserable state, why unfortunately, I have the habit of discharging a little of that ever- to-be abhorred juice. This, therefore, must be my excuse for occasionally appearing to be a little peevish. Far from disliking the world, I am always ready to do its merits the most poetical justice. Oh! thou beautiful world! thou art a very pleasant thing—to those who know thee not. Pah! I can"t get on: and now, on looking in the glass again, I do find myself a leetle yellow under the eyes still, a twitch in the left temple, tongue like snow in a fog, a violent nausea, pulse at one hundred and ten, yet with the appetite of a Bonassus. Another fit of the bile, by all that's sacred—Oh! thou vile world! now for a libel!

When Vivian awoke in the morning, he found a note upon his pillow.

"Did you hear the horrid shriek last night? It must have disturbed every one. I think it must have been one of the South American birds, which Captain Tropic gave the Marchioness. Do not they sometimes favour the world with these nocturnal shriekings? Isn't there a passage in Spix apropos to this?


"Did you hear the shriek last night, Mr. Grey?" asked the Marchioness, as Vivian entered the breakfast-room.

"Oh yes! Mr. Grey, did you hear the shriek?" asked Miss Graves.

"Who didn't?"

"Oh! what could it be?" said the Marchioness.

"Oh! what could it be?" said Miss Graves.

"Oh! what should it be—a cat in a gutter, or a sick cow, or a toad dying to be devoured, Miss Graves."

Always snub toadeys, and fed captains. It's only your greenhorns who endeavour to make their way by fawning and cringing to every member of the establishment. It is a miserable mistake. No one likes his dependants to be treated with respect, for such treatment affords an unpleasant contrast to his own conduct. Besides, it makes the toadey's blood unruly. There are three persons, mind you, to be attended to:—my lord, or my lady, as the case may be (usually the latter), the pet daughter, and the pet dog. I throw out these hints en passant, for my principal objects in writing this work are to amuse myself, and to instruct society. In some future book, probably the twentieth or twenty-fifth, when the plot begins to wear threadbare, and we can afford a digression, I may give a chapter on Domestic Tactics.

"My dear Marchioness,"" continued Vivian, "see there—I've kept my promise—there's your bracelet. How's Julie to-day?"

"Oh! Julie, poor dear, I hope she's better."

"Oh! yes, poor Julie! I think she's better."

"I don't know that, Miss Graves," said her Ladyship somewhat tartly, not at all approving of a toadey thinking. "I'm afraid that scream last night must have disturbed her. Oh dear! Mr. Grey, I'm afraid she'll be ill again."

Miss Graves looked mournful, and lifted up her eyes, and hands, to Heaven, but did not dare to speak this time.

"I thought she looked a little heavy about the eyes this morning," said the Marchioness, apparently very agitated; "and I've heard from Eglamour this post; he 's not well too—I think every body's ill now—he 's caught a fever going to see the ruins of Pæstum: I wonder why people go to see ruins!"

"I wonder indeed," said Miss Graves; "I never could see any thing in a ruin."

"Oh dear Grey!" continued the Marchioness, "I really am afraid Julie's going to be very ill."

"Oh! let Miss Graves pull her tail, and give her a little mustard seed; she'll be better to-morrow."

"Well, Graves, mind you do what Mr. Grey tells you."

"Oh! y-e-s, my Lady!"

"Mrs. Felix Lorraine," said the Marchioness, as that lady entered the room, "you are late to-day; I always reckon upon you as a supporter of an early breakfast at Desir."

"Oh! I've been half round the park."

"Did you hear the scream, Mrs. Felix?"

"Do you know what it was, Marchioness?"

"No— do you?"

"Ay! ay! see the reward of early rising, and a walk before breakfast. It was one of your new American birds, and it has half torn down your aviary."

"One of the New Americans! Oh, the naughty thing! and has it broke the new fancy wire-work?"

Here a little odd-looking, snuffy old man, with a brown scratch wig, who had been very busily employed the whole breakfast-time with a cold game pie, the bones of which Vivian observed him most scientifically pick and polish, laid down his knife and fork, and addressed the Marchioness with an air of great interest.

"Pray, will your Ladyship have the goodness to inform me what bird this is."

The Marchioness looked astounded at any one presuming to ask her a question; and then she drawled, "Vivian, you know every thing—tell this gentleman what a bird is."

Now this gentleman was Mr. Mackaw, the most celebrated ornithologist extant, and who had written a treatise on Brazilian parroquets, in three volumes folio. He had arrived late at the Château the preceding night, and, although he had the honour of presenting his letter of introduction to the Marquess, this morning was the first time he had been seen by any of the party present, who were of course profoundly ignorant of his character.

"Oh! we were talking of some South American bird given to the Marchioness by the famous Captain Tropic; you know him, perhaps, Bolivar's brother-in-law, or aid-de-camp, or something of that kind;—and which screams so dreadfully at night, that the whole family is disturbed. The Chowchowtow it's called—isn't it, Mrs. Lorraine?""

"The Chowchowtow!" said Mr. Mackaw; "I don't know it by that name."

"Oh! don't you? I dare say we shall find an account of it in Spix; however," said Vivian, rising, and taking a volume from the book-case; "ay! here it is—I'll read it to you.

"The Chowchowtow is about five feet seven inches in length, from the point of the bill, to the extremity of the claws. Its plumage is of a dingy, yellowish white: its form is elegant, and in its movements, and action, a certain pleasing and graceful dignity is observable; but its head is by no means worthy of the rest of its frame; and the expression of its eye is indicative of the cunning, and treachery, of its character. The habits of this bird are peculiar: occasionally most easily domesticated, it is apparently sensible of the slightest kindness; but its regard cannot be depended upon, and for the slightest inducement, or with the least irritation, it will fly at its feeder. At other times, it seeks the most perfect solitude, and can only be captured with the greatest skill and perseverance. It generally feeds three times a-day, but its appetite is not rapacious; it sleeps little; is usually on the wing at sunrise, and proves that it slumbers but little in the night by its nocturnal and thrilling shrieks."

"What an extraordinary bird! Is that the bird you meant, Mrs. Felix Lorraine?"

Mr. Mackaw was extremely restless the whole time that Vivian was reading this interesting extract. At last, he burst forth with an immense deal of science, and a great want of construction—a want, which scientific men often experience, always excepting those mealy-mouthed professeurs who lecture "at the Royal," and get patronized by the blues—the Lavoisiers of May Fair!

"Chowchowtow, my Lady!—five feet seven inches high! Brazilian bird! When I just remind your Ladyship, that the height of the tallest bird to be found in Brazil,—and in mentioning this fact, I mention nothing hypothetical,—the tallest bird does not stand higher than four feet nine. Chowchowtow! Dr. Spix is a name—accurate traveller—don't remember the passage—most singular bird! Chowchowtow! don't know it by that name. Perhaps, your Ladyship isn't aware. I think you called that gentleman Mr. Grey. Perhaps, Mr. Grey is not aware, that I am Mr. Mackaw—I arrived here late last night—whose work in three volumes folio, on Brazilian Parroquets, although I had the honour of seeing his Lordship is, I trust, a sufficient evidence that I am. not speaking at random on this subject; and consequently, from the lateness of the hour, could not have the honour of being introduced to your Ladyship."

"Mr. Mackaw!" thought Vivian. "The deuce you are! Oh! why didn't I say a Columbian cassowary, or a Peruvian penquin, or a Chilian condor, or a Guatemalan goose, or a Mexican mastard—any tiling but Brazilian, Oh! unfortunate Vivian Grey!"

The Marchioness, who was quite overcome with this scientific appeal, raised her large, beautiful, sleepy eyes, from a delicious compound of French roll and new milk, which she was working up in a Sevre saucer for Julie; and then, as usual, looked to Vivian for assistance.

"Grey, dear! You know every thing. Tell Mr. Mackaw about a bird."

"Is there any point on which you differ from Spix in his account of the Chowchowtow, Mr. Mackaw?"

"My dear sir, I don't follow him at all. Dr. Spix is a most excellent man; a most accurate traveller—quite a name—but to be sure, I've only read his work in our own tongue; and I fear from the passage you have just quoted—five feet seven inches high! in Brazil! It must be a most imperfect version. I say, that four feet nine is the greatest height I know. I don't speak without some foundation for my statement. The only bird I know above that height is the Paraguay cassowary; which, to be sure, is sometimes found in Brazil. But the description of your bird, Mr. Grey, does not answer that at all. I ought to know. I do not speak at random. The only living specimen of that extraordinary bird, the Paraguay cassowary, in this country, is in my possession. It was sent me by Bonpland; and was given to him by the dictator of Paraguay himself. I call it, in compliment, Doctor Francia. I arrived here so late last night—only saw his Lordship—or I would have had it on the lawn this morning."

"Oh! then, Mr. Mackaw," said Vivian, "that was the bird which screamed last night!"

"Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Mr. Mackaw," said Mrs. Felix Lorraine.

"Marchioness! Marchioness!" continued Vivian, "it 's found out. It 's Mr. Mackaw's particular friend, his family physician, whom he always travels with, that awoke us all last night."

"Is he a foreigner?" asked the Marchioness, looking up.

"My dear Mr. Grey, impossible! the Doctor never screams."

"Oh! Mr. Mackaw, Mr. Mackaw!" said Vivian.

"Oh! Mr. Mackaw, Mr. Mackaw!" said Mrs. Felix Lorraine.

"I tell you he never screams," reiterated the man of science, "I tell you he can't scream, he's muzzled."

"Oh! then, it must have been the Chowchowtow."

"Yes; I think it must have been the Chowchowtow."

"I should very much like to hear Spix's description again," said Mr, Mackaw, "only I fear it 's troubling you too much, Mr. Grey."

"Read it yourself, my dear Sir," said Vivian, putting the book into his hand, which was the third volume of Tremaine.

Mr. Mackaw looked at the volume, and turned it over, and sideways, and upside downwards: the brain of a man who has written three folios on parroquets is soon puzzled. At first, he thought the book was a novel; but then, an essay on predestination, under the title of Memoirs of a Man of Refinement, rather puzzled him; then he mistook it for an Oxford reprint of Pearson on the Creed; and then he stumbled on rather a warm scene in an old Château in the South of France.

Before Mr. Mackaw could gain the power of speech, the door opened, and entered—who?—Doctor Francia.

Mr. Mackaw's travelling companion possessed the awkward accomplishment of opening doors, and now strutted in, in quest of his beloved master. Affection for Mr. Mackaw was not, however, the only cause which induced this entrée.

The household of Château Desir, unused to cassowarys, had neglected to supply Dr. Francia with his usual breakfast, which consisted of half a dozen pounds of rump steaks, a couple of bars of hard iron, some pig lead, and brown stout. The consequence was, the dictator was sadly famished.

All the ladies screamed; and then Mrs. Felix Lorraine admired the Doctor's violet neck, and the Marchioness looked with an anxious eye on Julie, and Miss Graves, as in duty bound, with an anxious eye on the Marchioness.

There stood the Doctor, quite still, with his large yellow eye fixed on Mr. Mackaw. At length, he perceived the cold pasty, and his little black wings began to flutter on the surface of his immense body.

"Che, che, che, che!" said the ornithologist, who didn't like the symptoms at all: "Che, che, che, che,—don't be frightened, ladies! you see he's muzzled—che, che, che, che,—now, my dear doctor, now, now, now, Franky, Franky, Franky, now go away, go away, that's a dear doctor—che, che, che che!"

But the large yellow eye grew more flaming and fiery, and the little black wings grew larger, and larger; and now the left leg was dashed to and fro, with a fearful agitation. Mackaw looked agonized.—Pop!—what a whirr!—Francia is on the table!—All shriek, the chairs tumble over the Ottomans—the Sevre china is in a thousand pieces—the muzzle is torn off and thrown at Miss Graves; Mackaw's wig is dashed in the clotted cream, and devoured on the spot; and the contents of the boiling urn are poured over the beauteous, and beloved Julie!