“FAUST AND MARGUERITE”
“We beg to inform you that the pearl ornaments were yesterday sent as you desired to the address given at Park-lane, but were the same evening returned to us. Under these circumstances we have thought it best to transmit them to you with this explanation, while we await your further esteemed directions.
“We are, Sir,
“Your obedient servants
“BRIGHT, BURNISHER, AND CO.”
This was the note that Vane Vaurien held in his hand as he sat in the solitude of his bachelor adytum in a well-known West-end locality, on the morning after the last opera of the season. This was the note he read several times with the blandest countenance and serenest composure of nerve and muscle, as though the announcement in question had been an expected invitation to dinner or a document of any other ordinary and sublunary description. This was the note which in a state of perfect equanimity he refolded and tore into many small pieces, not performing that destructive operation with the least resentment, vexation, or malignity, but much in the same manner as he might have broken a biscuit at luncheon, or crushed a wafer at a ball-supper.
Which, having done, Mr. Vaurien arose, took from its place before him that velvet étui which had lain eighteen hours ago upon the toilette table of Fräulein Stern, and locked it carefully up in the principal drawer of his escritoire, dropping the key thereof in his purse afterwards with an air of grim and resigned resolve, which said more plainly than any enunciation could have done; "Very well, we will try another way.”
Mr. Vane Vaurien, standing with his back towards his empty fireplace,
his faultlessly trousered legs wide asunder, and his caoutchouc visage pinched into the semblance of a meditative smile, was a moral study. For, not even alone could this man be sincere and natural, he was steeped in artificiality to the eyelids, and the four walls of his private sanctuary, if they had been really possessed of these auricular appendages with which proverbial tradition has accustomed us to associate such combinations of lath and plaster, would have heard nothing to his disadvantage. Now he smiled urbanely, not that there was the least ostensible incentive to mirth in anything that had recently occurred to him, but merely because he was sensible of some annoyance and much vindictiveness; and it was so completely his habit to disguise emotion that even in the perfect solitude of his own chamber he was false and deceptive.
False, yes, but any philosopher or observer of humanity who might have penetrated to the lair of this bipedal fox, would have read his character there at a glance without need to study the physical appearance of the cunning animal himself. For, if walls have not always ears, they are never without tongues, and when a man or a woman has any individuality worth the telling at all, it is plainly told in the garniture and manière d’être of the tabagie, or the boudoir.
We do not reflect when we nail up our favourite pictures, lay down our particular style of carpet, hang our pet curtains, dispose our chosen statuettes, and bestow the furniture, books and nicknacks which we most affect in our own peculiar sancta-sanctorum, that we are in actuality nailing up, laying down, hanging out, and parading our own heart, soul, mind, and habitual mode of thought, nay, even sometimes, the very history of our life. But so the thing really is. And Vane, standing here like a substantial, personal, breathing Lie, was convicted of his falseness upon every side, and pilloried by his own hand in the unblushing shroudless nudity of Truth on each one of the walls which environed him.
He was there – on the top of the looking-glass above the mantlepiece carved out with his own crest and monogram in the elaborate borderwork of the oaken frame; he was there is the luxurious voluptuousness of the sloping satin-cushioned arm-chair by the escritoire; – there, too, in the box
of matchlessly flavoured Manillas that lay open upon a heap of the day’s journals. He was there – interwoven, and emblazoned and twisted inside out with his initials, and his coat of arms, and his motto, and his baron’s crown, and his name, and his armorial bearings, and his heater shield, upon every book-cover, and chair-back, and casket-lid, and trinket in the small apartment. He was to be walked upon in the device of his own gaudy Wilton and hearthrug, where he was let in some fifty times by means of a mediæval monogram upon a diapered background. He obstructed the daylight in the window - casement opposite the door, under the emblem of an obese mammal of extinct species, rampant and ferocious, surrounded by scrolls of an heraldic nature and thickly pervaded with Siamese-like twins of the letter V, richly illuminated and much contorted; the whole magnificent conception being executed in stained glass of the most brilliant order, and fitly enshrined, like a glorified sampler, in an embrazure of dark oak, profusely adorned with similar celestial hieroglyphs.
He was there again, – framed and glazed and mounted, all round the room, with bits of bright water-colour, copied from the antique undraped, – photographs of French pictures, among which was conspicuous, a recent painting of Phyrne’s trial, – malignant caricatures of certain persons in public and private life whom vane hated, – pencil sketches of an architectural character, exclusively devoted to the promotion of the fame, honour, and glory, of the most ancient and puissant House of Vaurien, which, it would appear from various miniature cartoons of historic nature ornamenting the room, was originally of Norman extraction, and imported itself into more northern climes about the date of the Conquest, in connexion with the pippins and chicanery of the same celebrated nationality. They had been powerful folks once, apparently, these Sires de Vaureine, and had held potential fiefs under mighty monarchs long defunct, but Time, the universal destroyer and impoverisher, had mercilessly alienated their territory and unkindly corrupted their title, so that the present chief representative of the family, – which had become, by the way, an exceedingly numerous one, – was only plain John
Vaurien, Esquire, of Guingamp House, Bayswater. Ah! Quid rides? Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis! Well, and he was also here in a collection of heterogeneous ”reminders,” torn up or tossed aside beneath scattered cartes-de-visite of Cora Bell, – popular actresses, – and vignetted Daphnes, Venuses, and Andromedas, in a condition of primitive nudity, if not of primitive innocence; there – in a packet of elaborate prospectuses printed in true Tory cerulean, for a novel establishment to be called the “Topboot Club,” which, provided a sufficient fund could be obtained for the realization of the scheme, was destined to be a metropolitan paradise of epicurean delights, wherein the pleasure-slipper should be blissfully hunted “from morn to dewy eve;” and whereof Vane Vaurien, Esquire, with the disjecta membra of some three alphabets after his illustrious patronymic, was announced as presiding functionary, secretary, and Pontifex Maximus.
Everywhere around him, in brief, was the mark of the beast who inhabited this resplendent and archæological den. Here were legibly inscribed, as though each attribute had been emblazoned in order upon a monumental tablet, the
And Utter Worldliness
of Mr. Vane Vaurien.
And all the vices in this formidable category are merely different cases and inflexions of that one comprehensive noun, Selfishness; for Vane was his own god, and his religion consisted in abject devotion to the pleasure and glory of his omnipotent deity. All men serve themselves in this
world, of course; it is an obligation necessarily attaching to individual existence, and to our present condition of being, that every person should act continually and inevitably to please himself; but our nature is dualistic, – spiritual, and sensual, and some men prefer to please the higher nature, some the lower. When we say that a man is selfish, we merely avail ourselves of a façon de parler, and we mean that the individual of whom we speak prefers to gratify his baser rather than his nobler self. We all seek rewards of some sort; it is healthy and natural to do so; only the man of pleasure – the selfish man – as we should commonly call him – seeks for himself the reward of the senses, while the philosopher and the religionist, – the self-denying men, as we should say in ordinary parlance, seek for themselves “the peace which passeth understanding.” The difference between the two classes lies not, therefore, in the motive of action, but in the mode of expressing it; the selfishness of the worldly man is grosser than the selfishness of the higher minded. The thieves that robbed and well-nigh murdered the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho, were flagrantly selfish in their conduct. They did not care what became of their victim if only they got off safely with the booty of which they had despoiled him. The Priest and the Levite were selfish also in another degree. They minded nothing whether that deserted wretch by the wayside lived or died, so long as they were spared trouble and annoyance. And the good Samaritan was selfish too. He choose to sacrifice his time and money, and to incur much fatigue and inconvenience because his kind heart would not suffer him to witness misfortune without obliging him to relieve it, and because he knew that the pleasure his spirit would enjoy by means of a good self-denying action would outweigh the pleasure his senses would be able to afford him if he were to gratify them by pursuing his journey in undisturbed physical comfort. So he parted with a few coins and hours of the day, and gave himself some pains and much responsibility for the sake of bearing about in his heart the priceless peace of God. And he made thereby a better bargain than anyone else in the story.
Just so much as this en parenthèse, to get rid of any possible misconception
on the part of my reader with regard to the motives of behaviour actuating the various dramatis personâ of this fiction, and to have it thoroughly understood that whenever in the future I may characterize Vaurien’s career as one of eminent selfishness, I shall employ that latter substantive to designate only an unworthy and ignoble principle, for which, unhappily, we have no fitter name in our language. And yet it is natural to man to have so great a faith in his own virtue, that Vaurien, really believed himself to be generous. He was fond of giving expensive club dinners to his associates, and had been heard to boast that in his youthful days when fortune had not smiled upon him so kindly as she did in later years, he had expended his only remaining ten pound notes in entertaining friends, not knowing the while from what quarter or after what manner more current coin of the realm was to be collected for the replenishment of his empty coffers. This statement may or may not have been strictly correct, but its enunciation sufficed at least to furnish some idea of the very peculiar views regarding morality which must have pervaded the mind of this gentleman, who believed it a generous thing to spend such worldly substance as he had for the delectation of his boon companions, while he obliged his creditors to suspend their lawful claims year after year, and accustomed himself to write witty and malicious articles in strong-minded journals against his personal enemies.
And, truth to tell, Mr. Vane Vaurien had contrived, by means of this last agreeable habit, to inspire considerable dread and respect among certain small celebrities. Reputation, beauty, erudition; – nay even wealth itself, seemed to lose prestige under Vane’s skilful manipulation in the columns of the “Stiletto” or the pungent pages of the “John Blunt.” One and all he delighted to asperse and discredit whether by trenchant sarcasm or pointed inuendo, nor did he ever enjoy intellectual pleasure so great and genuine as that of doubling-up and putting into vigorous verbal chancery some parvenu lordling, speculative philanthropist, or political enthusiast. However, it must be admitted, in justice to the unhappy subject of our remarks, that Vane never gratified any baser craving, than that of spleen by these terrific onslaughts upon the characters and attributes
of his acquaintances. Frequently, indeed, did rank and lucre endeavour to prostitute the pen of our literary Free Lance to their own purposes, but the appeal was always futile, unless it really engaged his personal interest, for Vaurien who spared neither man in his rage, nor woman in his love, still possessed his own adamantine notions of honour, and could repudiate a bribe with as much noble scorn as a Spartan philosopher. No doubt he was troubled with great moral aberration and obliquity of mental vision, but after his lights as a thorough man of the world, a reckless scoffer, a pitiless giber of other men’s faiths, – he yet believed in his own rectitude and brought forth fruit after his kind.
And, although the constant occurrence of such unamiable episodes as those we have indicated, in a gentleman’s personal history, might seem to demonstrate a disposition unblessed by kindness, or even geniality, yet Vaurien was unanimously voted among those who were acquainted with him, one of the best companions a fellow could invite to his table, and as a host, the very pink of cordial hospitality and bonhomie. Observers of humanity, however, know well that this sort of artificial liberality is but the obverse of natural meanness, a mere development of that ignoble love of self, and inordinate desire for applause which underlay the whole of Vane Vaurien’s character and coloured the motive of every action he performed. And for the present at least, he had his reward. “So long as thou doest good unto thyself, men will speak well of thee,” saith the Wise Man, and Vane was a living verification of the adage. He had the entrée of all the best houses in town, he was upon easy terms with most of the literati and artistes of the day, he had an engagement in his memorandum-book for every night in the week, he had once dined with Ab del Kadir, he had edited several volumes by well-known authors, had been “familiar” with the pretty and fascinating actress who used – poor child! – to do Prince Prettypet at Astley’s, and who, by the way, had been Cora’s predecessor in Vane’s affections, – he was affiliated to several of the best Masonic Lodges, had entertained at dinner a celebrated prelate of the Catholic Church, and had talked face to face with the Queen of Spain.
And these were not things to be sneezed at in a general way, for which reason, Vaurien was accustomed to make the most of them on all occasions, well understanding that worldly advantages, like the heavenly talents of the parable, do not increase by concealment, but by usury.
Was he satisfied with the catalogue of these advantages now, as he stood with the back of his glossy head presented towards the crested and monogramed looking-glass, and his lustful eyes riveted on the particular drawer of the bureau which contained the rejected pearls? One would be tempted to guess not, even in spite of the equanimous smile that curved his waxed moustaches, for notwithstanding its mellifluence it was not by any means a smile of gratification, and the lofty altitude of his thick dark eyebrows manifested at least the presence of some considerable disturbance of an unpleasant nature in the mind of their wearer. But these scanty tokens were the only signs of annoyance perceptible in the outward and visible demeanour of Mr. Vaurien. Your practised villains who clench their hands, gnash their teeth, and flash fire from their eyes upon the occurrence of every rebuff or provocation, belong to past ages or to remote climes. Every civilised man who has the address and the education to sin cleverly and systematically, is also necessarily calm and uniform in his outer seeming. It is usually virtue, not vice, that is demonstrative. Vane Vaurien contemned all exhibition of emotion except that of love. He hated without fatigue or display, by being simply malicious and sardonic towards the object of his wrath, he was elated without hilarity, be bore disappointment or loss without secluding himself, and could stare as serenely upon the struggles of a fallen cab-horse suffering under some inhuman master’s kicks and blows, as he could aim his pistol at a young bird in the nest, or receive intelligence of the death of a man whom he had the day before invited to dinner. So excellently bred, so exhaustedly gentleman-like was Cora Bell’s cher ami!
But if in his solitude Vane was the placid and emotionless creature just described, how surprisingly debonnaire he became as certain masculine voices sounded on the landing outside his brilliant sanctuary, and
Mr. Richard Dyce Rankin, closely followed by Carew, appeared upon its velvetty threshold!
“My dear fellows, how are you? Where do you come from, eh?”
Both queries with much empressement.
“Come from breakfast,” responded Dick, dropping himself easily into Vaurien’s smoking chair; “and are pretty jovial, thanks.”
“Chirpy, in fact,” interpolated Carew, “and if we had a bit of weed a piece, we should be in full song in no time!”
Vaurien took the hint, and produced the Manillas with the necessary combustibles. A short pause ensued, consequent on the preparation of the three cigars, and during that silence, Rankin caught Carew’s glance and winked at him significantly, upon receiving which confidential token, the latter gentleman forthwith opened conversation on this wise.
“Splendid night at her Majesty’s, last night, wasn’t it, Dick?” he observed, craning out his chin and fixing a fusee in the end of the cigar be held between his teeth, – “good idea to finish up with Faust. Best thing Adelheid does, – my ‘pinion.”
“Golopshus!” said Dick readily, “Yow saw her play that the first time she did it Vau; we all went together you remember, Somers and Cora Bell were with us.”
“Yes, I recollect,” answered Vane shortly, looking at his boots.
“And you admired the German piper so much you know, and made your poor little Venus confoundedly jea–––.”
“Leave Mrs. Bell’s name alone, if you please. Rankin,” interrupted Vane; ”that’s humbug.”
“All right, old fellow, don’t draw it with a head on! I beg the fair one’s pardon. But she was, all the same.”
Dick knew that Vaurien secretly liked to be reminded of Cora’s weakness, because the knowledge that his friends had observed and remembered it was flattering to his Vanity, and for that reason he would well bear their insisting upon it. Carew also seized the occasion, and in his turn took up the wondrous tale.
“Poor Cora!” said he, blowing her reputation away from his lips in a fragrant cloud. “Too bad, by Jove! I’ll be hanged if it isn’t! Did you see Adelheid last night, Vau? Think I spotted you in the stalls.”
“Yes, I saw her. Never miss a last opera, unless I can’t help it, eh?”
“Tell you where she acts best,” observed Rankin, critically; “when she finds the jewels. That’s out-and-out nature and no mistake! One forgets the prima donna then, and fancies she’s actually Gretchen! She looks as pleased as if somebody really had given her a lot of sparklers by George!”
For a second Vaurien regarded the speaker and his companion keenly, but as Rankin was only lounging indolently in the smoking chair and looking at the ceiling, and Carew was obtusely contemplating the end of his manilla, Vaurien put on his milkiest smile and nodded acquiescence after the manner of a connoisseur.
“Told you there was stuff in her that night, you know. She’ll be A.1 next season, eh?”
“Wonder who gave her those opals she had on yesterday evening,” soliloquized Carew. ”she’s too fresh to have got on with the Dooks and Wiscounts already!”
“Brabazon, I dare say," suggested Rankin.
“But she picked up a thing or two off the boards last night. You know Brabazon well, don’t you, Vau?”
“Yes,” returned Vane, with a curl of the lip that indicated something between a snarl and a smile, ”tolerably well. He’s in the F.O., you know, eh?”
“Rather a queer thing for a baronet to be Queen’s Messenger, isn’t it?” questioned Carew.
“Why doesn’t he live at his place?”
“Oh, his place isn’t much,” said Vane, looking at his finger-nails; “only a little shooting-box up somewhere among the hills in Wales. There are a few rents, but they wouldn’t keep him respectably, so he leaves the thing to his bailiffs and keeps in town. They give him a
very good income at the F.O., and he likes roaming. Besides, Diana hates the country, and they couldn’t do a town house decently upon the Welsh rents alone.”
“Brabazon’s not a marrying man, is he?”
“Should’nt think so,” said Vaurien, still contemplating his nails; “he hasn’t the manner, eh?”
“Didn’t know you were acquainted with the Fräulein, old f’la,” quoth Rankin, abruptly, at this crisis of the conversation.
“Who told you I was, eh?” said Vane blandly, not relishing at all this close connexion of Adelheid’s name with Vivian’s.
“Saw her bow to you in the park the other day, and then I found out that Somers had introduced you.”
“The deuce!” muttered Vane, irritably. ”Who told you that, eh?"
“Fred himself. I was saying how surprised I was to see her recognize you, as I was sure you didn’t know one another at the beginning of the season, and Fred heard me and told me about his taking you to the Lennox’s to meet her.”
“Fred says the Brabazons and Adelheid are all going over to Paris in the end of October,” remarked Carew, with adroit opportuneness; “the siren is going to captivate the gay capital during the winter. Paris will do her good. She’s lovely, she’s divine – but she wants training – badly, I should say.”
Vane was evidently interested. This was news to him.
“They’ll go down to the Welsh mountains, and do a little breezy first, I suppose, eh?” said he. “Brabazon can hardly afford the German waters as well as Paris. Have another cigar Dick, eh?”
“No, thanks. Must go now. I’ve got a confounded appointment with one of the children of Israel at two-thirty. Coming, Carry?”
“Wait a minute, and I’m all there,” replied that latter worthy, picking up his hat. ”Ta-ta, Vau!”
“Ta-ta, old fellow,” responded Vane in a tone of the most unctuous friendliness, accompanying his visitors to the staircase, “mind you
pitch into the Hebrews strong, Dick! And be d – d to you both,” he concluded as he closed the door behind them and walked back alone into his sanctum.
“I say, Carry,” said Rankin, when the two friends had issued forth into the street, “he’s a wakeful fowl, isn’t he? What’ll he do, do you think?”
“Do?” repeated Carew, with some contempt. “Why, go to Paris when she goes, of course.”
“Ah, – but are you certain about the jewellery?”
“Well, it’s a pretty powerful guess. I saw him come out of Bright and Burnisher’s, and I looked in directly afterwards and spotted the things he’d been choosing. He’s not the man to give pearls or diamonds to Fifine or Minnie Herbert, or any of that lot.”
“Might be for Cora, perhaps?” ventured Dick interrogatively.
“Pouf!” cried the other with such indescribable scorn that Rankin abandoned the idea as preposterous and untenable from that moment; – “Cora! What does he want to give her pearls for – now? And she hasn’t even the advantage of being the fashion, as Fifine and Minnie are! Nonsense!”
Only consider, Mrs. Archibald Bell, after what manner these loose men speak of you and your like behind your backs! This sort of discourse is the only reward society has taught them to render to your philosophic complaisance! Is it worth while –––?
“I say,” recommended Dick, after a minute’s pause; “Fred won’t like it, will he? He introduced ‘em, you know.”
“No, Fred’s an awfully steady goer. How do you think it’ll end?”
“Not as Vau hopes, I’ll bet you a couple of ponies!"
“No, will you though? I’ll bet on the jewellery! Depend upon it Goethe’s Gretchen is pretty true to Nature, even when it’s only a sham Gretchen that’s concerned! Faust’ll be the winning horse again, you’ll see!"
“Done with you!” said Dick Rankin. “Enter that in your notebook. A pair of ponies on the integrity of Fräulein Adelheid Stern,
versus the beguilements of Vane Vaurien, Esquire, pearls inclusive. Think Cora Bell knows about Vane’s penchant?”
“ ‘Course she does,” quoth Carew, with much more disdain than before.
“Why, she knew it that first night at the Opera!”
“Then,” rejoined Rankin decidedly, “she’ll wing him somehow. And that’s another toss in favour of my luck, by Jove!”