The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter XIII.

My Lord Leaves Us and His Evil Behind Him.

My Lord Mohun (of whose exploits and fame some of the gentlemen of the University had brought down but ugly reports) was once more a guest at Castlewood, and seemingly more intimately allied with my lord even than before. Once in the spring those two noblemen had ridden to Cambridge from Newmarket, whither they had gone for the horse-racing, and had honored Harry Esmond with a visit at his rooms; after which Doctor Montague, the master of the College, who had treated Harry somewhat haughtily, seeing his familiarity with these great folks, and that my Lord Castlewood laughed and walked with his hand on Harry’s shoulder, relented to Mr. Esmond, and condescended to be very civil to him; and some days after his arrival, Harry, laughing, told this story to Lady Esmond, remarking how strange it was that men famous for learning and renowned over Europe, should, nevertheless, so bow down to a title, and cringe to a nobleman ever so poor. At this Mistress Beatrix flung up her head, and said it became those of low origin to respect their betters; that the parsons made themselves a great deal too proud, she thought; and that she liked the way at Lady Sark’s best, where the chaplain, though he loved pudding, as all parsons do, always went away before the custard.

“And when I am a parson,” says Mr. Esmond, “will you give me no custard, Beatrix?”

“You — you are different,” Beatrix answered. “You are of our blood.”

“My father was a parson, as you call him,” said my lady.

“But mine is a peer of Ireland,” says Mistress Beatrix, tossing her head. “Let people know their places. I suppose you will have me go down on my knees and ask a blessing of Mr. Thomas Tusher, that has just been made a curate and whose mother was a waiting-maid.”

And she tossed out of the room, being in one of her flighty humors then.

When she was gone, my lady looked so sad and grave, that Harry asked the cause of her disquietude. She said it was not merely what he said of Newmarket, but what she had remarked, with great anxiety and terror, that my lord, ever since his acquaintance with the Lord Mohun especially, had recurred to his fondness for play, which he had renounced since his marriage.

“But men promise more than they are able to perform in marriage,” said my lady, with a sigh. “I fear he has lost large sums; and our property, always small, is dwindling away under this reckless dissipation. I heard of him in London with very wild company. Since his return, letters and lawyers are constantly coming and going: he seems to me to have a constant anxiety, though he hides it under boisterousness and laughter. I looked through — through the door last night, and — and before,” said my lady, “and saw them at cards after midnight; no estate will bear that extravagance, much less ours, which will be so diminished that my son will have nothing at all, and my poor Beatrix no portion!”

“I wish I could help you, madam,” said Harry Esmond, sighing, and wishing that unavailingly, and for the thousandth time in his life.

“Who can? Only God,” said Lady Esmond —“only God, in whose hands we are.” And so it is, and for his rule over his family, and for his conduct to wife and children — subjects over whom his power is monarchical — any one who watches the world must think with trembling sometimes of the account which many a man will have to render. For in our society there’s no law to control the King of the Fireside. He is master of property, happiness — life almost. He is free to punish, to make happy or unhappy — to ruin or to torture. He may kill a wife gradually, and be no more questioned than the Grand seignior who drowns a slave at midnight. He may make slaves and hypocrites of his children; or friends and freemen; or drive them into revolt and enmity against the natural law of love. I have heard politicians and coffee-house wiseacres talking over the newspaper, and railing at the tyranny of the French King, and the Emperor, and wondered how these (who are monarchs, too, in their way) govern their own dominions at home, where each man rules absolute. When the annals of each little reign are shown to the Supreme Master, under whom we hold sovereignty, histories will be laid bare of household tyrants as cruel as Amurath, and as savage as Nero, and as reckless and dissolute as Charles.

If Harry Esmond’s patron erred, ’twas in the latter way, from a disposition rather self-indulgent than cruel; and he might have been brought back to much better feelings, had time been given to him to bring his repentance to a lasting reform.

As my lord and his friend Lord Mohun were such close companions, Mistress Beatrix chose to be jealous of the latter; and the two gentlemen often entertained each other by laughing, in their rude boisterous way, at the child’s freaks of anger and show of dislike. “When thou art old enough, thou shalt marry Lord Mohun,” Beatrix’s father would say: on which the girl would pout and say, “I would rather marry Tom Tusher.” And because the Lord Mohun always showed an extreme gallantry to my Lady Castlewood, whom he professed to admire devotedly, one day, in answer to this old joke of her father’s, Beatrix said, “I think my lord would rather marry mamma than marry me; and is waiting till you die to ask her.”

The words were said lightly and pertly by the girl one night before supper, as the family party were assembled near the great fire. The two lords, who were at cards, both gave a start; my lady turned as red as scarlet, and bade Mistress Beatrix go to her own chamber; whereupon the girl, putting on, as her wont was, the most innocent air, said, “I am sure I meant no wrong; I am sure mamma talks a great deal more to Harry Esmond than she does to papa — and she cried when Harry went away, and she never does when papa goes away! and last night she talked to Lord Mohun for ever so long, and sent us out of the room, and cried when we came back, and —”

“D— n!” cried out my Lord Castlewood, out of all patience. “Go out of the room, you little viper!” and he started up and flung down his cards.

“Ask Lord Mohun what I said to him, Francis,” her ladyship said, rising up with a scared face, but yet with a great and touching dignity and candor in her look and voice. “Come away with me, Beatrix.” Beatrix sprung up too; she was in tears now.

“Dearest mamma, what have I done?” she asked. “Sure I meant no harm.” And she clung to her mother, and the pair went out sobbing together.

“I will tell you what your wife said to me, Frank,” my Lord Mohun cried. “Parson Harry may hear it; and, as I hope for heaven, every word I say is true. Last night, with tears in her eyes, your wife implored me to play no more with you at dice or at cards, and you know best whether what she asked was not for your good.”

“Of course, it was, Mohun,” says my lord in a dry hard voice. “Of course you are a model of a man: and the world knows what a saint you are.”

My Lord Mohun was separated from his wife, and had had many affairs of honor: of which women as usual had been the cause.

“I am no saint, though your wife is — and I can answer for my actions as other people must for their words,” said my Lord Mohun.

“By G — my lord, you shall,” cried the other, starting up.

“We have another little account to settle first, my lord,” says Lord Mohun. Whereupon Harry Esmond, filled with alarm for the consequences to which this disastrous dispute might lead, broke out into the most vehement expostulations with his patron and his adversary. “Gracious heavens!” he said, “my lord, are you going to draw a sword upon your friend in your own house? Can you doubt the honor of a lady who is as pure as heaven, and would die a thousand times rather than do you a wrong? Are the idle words of a jealous child to set friends at variance? Has not my mistress, as much as she dared do, besought your lordship, as the truth must be told, to break your intimacy with my Lord Mohun; and to give up the habit which may bring ruin on your family? But for my Lord Mohun’s illness, had he not left you?”

“‘Faith, Frank, a man with a gouty toe can’t run after other men’s wives,” broke out my Lord Mohun, who indeed was in that way, and with a laugh and a look at his swathed limb so frank and comical, that the other dashing his fist across his forehead was caught by that infectious good-humor, and said with his oath, “—— it, Harry, I believe thee,” and so this quarrel was over, and the two gentlemen, at swords drawn but just now, dropped their points, and shook hands.

Beati pacifici. “Go, bring my lady back,” said Harry’s patron. Esmond went away only too glad to be the bearer of such good news. He found her at the door; she had been listening there, but went back as he came. She took both his hands, hers were marble cold. She seemed as if she would fall on his shoulder. “Thank you, and God bless you, my dear brother Harry,” she said. She kissed his hand, Esmond felt her tears upon it: and leading her into the room, and up to my lord, the Lord Castlewood, with an outbreak of feeling and affection such as he had not exhibited for many a long day, took his wife to his heart, and bent over and kissed her and asked her pardon.

“’Tis time for me to go to roost. I will have my gruel a-bed,” said my Lord Mohun: and limped off comically on Harry Esmond’s arm. “By George, that woman is a pearl!” he said; “and ’tis only a pig that wouldn’t value her. Have you seen the vulgar traipsing orange-girl whom Esmond”— but here Mr. Esmond interrupted him, saying, that these were not affairs for him to know.

My lord’s gentleman came in to wait upon his master, who was no sooner in his nightcap and dressing-gown than he had another visitor whom his host insisted on sending to him: and this was no other than the Lady Castlewood herself with the toast and gruel, which her husband bade her make and carry with her own hands in to her guest.

Lord Castlewood stood looking after his wife as she went on this errand, and as he looked, Harry Esmond could not but gaze on him, and remarked in his patron’s face an expression of love, and grief, and care, which very much moved and touched the young man. Lord Castlewood’s hands fell down at his sides, and his head on his breast, and presently he said —

“You heard what Mohun said, parson?”

“That my lady was a saint?”

“That there are two accounts to settle. I have been going wrong these five years, Harry Esmond. Ever since you brought that damned small-pox into the house, there has been a fate pursuing me, and I had best have died of it, and not run away from it like a coward. I left Beatrix with her relations, and went to London; and I fell among thieves, Harry, and I got back to confounded cards and dice, which I hadn’t touched since my marriage — no, not since I was in the Duke’s Guard, with those wild Mohocks. And I have been playing worse and worse, and going deeper and deeper into it; and I owe Mohun two thousand pounds now; and when it’s paid I am little better than a beggar. I don’t like to look my boy in the face; he hates me, I know he does. And I have spent Beaty’s little portion: and the Lord knows what will come if I live; the best thing I can do is to die, and release what portion of the estate is redeemable for the boy.”

Mohun was as much master at Castlewood as the owner of the Hall itself; and his equipages filled the stables, where, indeed, there was room and plenty for many more horses than Harry Esmond’s impoverished patron could afford to keep. He had arrived on horseback with his people; but when his gout broke out my Lord Mohun sent to London for a light chaise he had, drawn by a pair of small horses, and running as swift, wherever roads were good, as a Laplander’s sledge. When this carriage came, his lordship was eager to drive the Lady Castlewood abroad in it, and did so many times, and at a rapid pace, greatly to his companion’s enjoyment, who loved the swift motion and the healthy breezes over the downs which lie hard upon Castlewood, and stretch thence towards the sea. As this amusement was very pleasant to her, and her lord, far from showing any mistrust of her intimacy with Lord Mohun, encouraged her to be his companion — as if willing by his present extreme confidence to make up for any past mistrust which his jealousy had shown — the Lady Castlewood enjoyed herself freely in this harmless diversion, which, it must be owned, her guest was very eager to give her; and it seemed that she grew the more free with Lord Mohun, and pleased with his company, because of some sacrifice which his gallantry was pleased to make in her favor.

Seeing the two gentlemen constantly at cards still of evenings, Harry Esmond one day deplored to his mistress that this fatal infatuation of her lord should continue; and now they seemed reconciled together, begged his lady to hint to her husband that he should play no more.

But Lady Castlewood, smiling archly and gayly, said she would speak to him presently, and that, for a few nights more at least, he might be let to have his amusement.

“Indeed, madam,” said Harry, “you know not what it costs you; and ’tis easy for any observer who knows the game, to see that Lord Mohun is by far the stronger of the two.”

“I know he is,” says my lady, still with exceeding good-humor; “he is not only the best player, but the kindest player in the world.”

“Madam, madam!” Esmond cried, transported and provoked. “Debts of honor must be paid some time or other; and my master will be ruined if he goes on.”

“Harry, shall I tell you a secret?” my lady replied, with kindness and pleasure still in her eyes. “Francis will not be ruined if he goes on; he will be rescued if he goes on. I repent of having spoken and thought unkindly of the Lord Mohun when he was here in the past year. He is full of much kindness and good; and ’tis my belief that we shall bring him to better things. I have lent him ‘Tillotson’ and your favorite ‘Bishop Taylor,’ and he is much touched, he says; and as a proof of his repentance —(and herein lies my secret)— what do you think he is doing with Francis? He is letting poor Frank win his money back again. He hath won already at the last four nights; and my Lord Mohun says that he will not be the means of injuring poor Frank and my dear children.”

“And in God’s name, what do you return him for the sacrifice?” asked Esmond, aghast; who knew enough of men, and of this one in particular, to be aware that such a finished rake gave nothing for nothing. “How, in heaven’s name, are you to pay him?”

“Pay him! With a mother’s blessing and a wife’s prayers!” cries my lady, clasping her hands together. Harry Esmond did not know whether to laugh, to be angry, or to love his dear mistress more than ever for the obstinate innocency with which she chose to regard the conduct of a man of the world, whose designs he knew better how to interpret. He told the lady, guardedly, but so as to make his meaning quite clear to her, what he knew in respect of the former life and conduct of this nobleman; of other women against whom he had plotted, and whom he had overcome; of the conversation which he, Harry himself, had had with Lord Mohun, wherein the lord made a boast of his libertinism, and frequently avowed that he held all women to be fair game (as his lordship styled this pretty sport), and that they were all, without exception, to be won. And the return Harry had for his entreaties and remonstrances was a fit of anger on Lady Castlewood’s part, who would not listen to his accusations; she said and retorted that he himself must be very wicked and perverted to suppose evil designs where she was sure none were meant. “And this is the good meddlers get of interfering,” Harry thought to himself with much bitterness; and his perplexity and annoyance were only the greater, because he could not speak to my Lord Castlewood himself upon a subject of this nature, or venture to advise or warn him regarding a matter so very sacred as his own honor, of which my lord was naturally the best guardian.

But though Lady Castlewood would listen to no advice from her young dependant, and appeared indignantly to refuse it when offered, Harry had the satisfaction to find that she adopted the counsel which she professed to reject; for the next day she pleaded a headache, when my Lord Mohun would have had her drive out, and the next day the headache continued; and next day, in a laughing gay way, she proposed that the children should take her place in his lordship’s car, for they would be charmed with a ride of all things; and she must not have all the pleasure for herself. My lord gave them a drive with a very good grace, though, I dare say, with rage and disappointment inwardly — not that his heart was very seriously engaged in his designs upon this simple lady: but the life of such men is often one of intrigue, and they can no more go through the day without a woman to pursue, than a fox-hunter without his sport after breakfast.

Under an affected carelessness of demeanor, and though there was no outward demonstration of doubt upon his patron’s part since the quarrel between the two lords, Harry yet saw that Lord Castlewood was watching his guest very narrowly; and caught sight of distrust and smothered rage (as Harry thought) which foreboded no good. On the point of honor Esmond knew how touchy his patron was; and watched him almost as a physician watches a patient, and it seemed to him that this one was slow to take the disease, though he could not throw off the poison when once it had mingled with his blood. We read in Shakspeare (whom the writer for his part considers to be far beyond Mr. Congreve, Mr. Dryden, or any of the wits of the present period,) that when jealousy is once declared, nor poppy, nor mandragora, nor all the drowsy syrups of the East, will ever soothe it or medicine it away.

In fine, the symptoms seemed to be so alarming to this young physician (who, indeed, young as he was, had felt the kind pulses of all those dear kinsmen), that Harry thought it would be his duty to warn my Lord Mohun, and let him know that his designs were suspected and watched. So one day, when in rather a pettish humor his lordship had sent to Lady Castlewood, who had promised to drive with him, and now refused to come, Harry said —“My lord, if you will kindly give me a place by your side I will thank you; I have much to say to you, and would like to speak to you alone.”

“You honor me by giving me your confidence, Mr. Henry Esmond,” says the other, with a very grand bow. My lord was always a fine gentleman, and young as he was there was that in Esmond’s manner which showed that he was a gentleman too, and that none might take a liberty with him — so the pair went out, and mounted the little carriage, which was in waiting for them in the court, with its two little cream-colored Hanoverian horses covered with splendid furniture and champing at the bit.

“My lord,” says Harry Esmond, after they were got into the country, and pointing to my Lord Mohun’s foot, which was swathed in flannel, and put up rather ostentatiously on a cushion —“my lord, I studied medicine at Cambridge.”

“Indeed, Parson Harry,” says he; “and are you going to take out a diploma: and cure your fellow-students of the —”

“Of the gout,” says Harry, interrupting him, and looking him hard in the face; “I know a good deal about the gout.”

“I hope you may never have it. ’Tis an infernal disease,” says my lord, “and its twinges are diabolical. Ah!” and he made a dreadful wry face, as if he just felt a twinge.

“Your lordship would be much better if you took off all that flannel — it only serves to inflame the toe,” Harry continued, looking his man full in the face.

“Oh! it only serves to inflame the toe, does it?” says the other, with an innocent air.

“If you took off that flannel, and flung that absurd slipper away, and wore a boot,” continues Harry.

“You recommend me boots, Mr. Esmond?” asks my lord.

“Yes, boots and spurs. I saw your lordship three days ago run down the gallery fast enough,” Harry goes on. “I am sure that taking gruel at night is not so pleasant as claret to your lordship; and besides it keeps your lordship’s head cool for play, whilst my patron’s is hot and flustered with drink.”

“‘Sdeath, sir, you dare not say that I don’t play fair?” cries my lord, whipping his horses, which went away at a gallop.

“You are cool when my lord is drunk,” Harry continued; “your lordship gets the better of my patron. I have watched you as I looked up from my books.”

“You young Argus!” says Lord Mohun, who liked Harry Esmond — and for whose company and wit, and a certain daring manner, Harry had a great liking too —“You young Argus! you may look with all your hundred eyes and see we play fair. I’ve played away an estate of a night, and I’ve played my shirt off my back; and I’ve played away my periwig and gone home in a nightcap. But no man can say I ever took an advantage of him beyond the advantage of the game. I played a dice-cogging scoundrel in Alsatia for his ears and won ’em, and have one of ’em in my lodging in Bow Street in a bottle of spirits. Harry Mohun will play any man for anything — always would.”

“You are playing awful stakes, my lord, in my patron’s house,” Harry said, “and more games than are on the cards.”

“What do you mean, sir?” cries my lord, turning round, with a flush on his face.

“I mean,” answers Harry, in a sarcastic tone, “that your gout is well — if ever you had it.”

“Sir!” cried my lord, getting hot.

“And to tell the truth I believe your lordship has no more gout than I have. At any rate, change of air will do you good, my Lord Mohun. And I mean fairly that you had better go from Castlewood.”

“And were you appointed to give me this message?” cries the Lord Mohun. “Did Frank Esmond commission you?”

“No one did. ’Twas the honor of my family that commissioned me.”

“And you are prepared to answer this?” cries the other, furiously lashing his horses.

“Quite, my lord: your lordship will upset the carriage if you whip so hotly.”

“By George, you have a brave spirit!” my lord cried out, bursting into a laugh. “I suppose ’tis that infernal botte de Jesuite that makes you so bold,” he added.

“’Tis the peace of the family I love best in the world,” Harry Esmond said warmly —”’tis the honor of a noble benefactor — the happiness of my dear mistress and her children. I owe them everything in life, my lord; and would lay it down for any one of them. What brings you here to disturb this quiet household? What keeps you lingering month after month in the country? What makes you feign illness, and invent pretexts for delay? Is it to win my poor patron’s money? Be generous, my lord, and spare his weakness for the sake of his wife and children. Is it to practise upon the simple heart of a virtuous lady? You might as well storm the Tower single-handed. But you may blemish her name by light comments on it, or by lawless pursuits — and I don’t deny that ’tis in your power to make her unhappy. Spare these innocent people, and leave them.”

“By the Lord, I believe thou hast an eye to the pretty Puritan thyself, Master Harry,” says my lord, with his reckless, good-humored laugh, and as if he had been listening with interest to the passionate appeal of the young man. “Whisper, Harry. Art thou in love with her thyself? Hath tipsy Frank Esmond come by the way of all flesh?”

“My lord, my lord,” cried Harry, his face flushing and his eyes filling as he spoke, “I never had a mother, but I love this lady as one. I worship her as a devotee worships a saint. To hear her name spoken lightly seems blasphemy to me. Would you dare think of your own mother so, or suffer any one so to speak of her? It is a horror to me to fancy that any man should think of her impurely. I implore you, I beseech you, to leave her. Danger will come out of it.”

“Danger, psha!” says my lord, giving a cut to the horses, which at this minute — for we were got on to the Downs — fairly ran off into a gallop that no pulling could stop. The rein broke in Lord Mohun’s hands, and the furious beasts scampered madly forwards, the carriage swaying to and fro, and the persons within it holding on to the sides as best they might, until seeing a great ravine before them, where an upset was inevitable, the two gentlemen leapt for their lives, each out of his side of the chaise. Harry Esmond was quit for a fall on the grass, which was so severe that it stunned him for a minute; but he got up presently very sick, and bleeding at the nose, but with no other hurt. The Lord Mohun was not so fortunate; he fell on his head against a stone, and lay on the ground, dead to all appearance.

This misadventure happened as the gentlemen were on their return homewards; and my Lord Castlewood, with his son and daughter, who were going out for a ride, met the ponies as they were galloping with the car behind, the broken traces entangling their heels, and my lord’s people turned and stopped them. It was young Frank who spied out Lord Mohun’s scarlet coat as he lay on the ground, and the party made up to that unfortunate gentleman and Esmond, who was now standing over him. His large periwig and feathered hat had fallen off, and he was bleeding profusely from a wound on the forehead, and looking, and being, indeed, a corpse.

“Great God! he’s dead!” says my lord. “Ride, some one: fetch a doctor — stay. I’ll go home and bring back Tusher; he knows surgery,” and my lord, with his son after him, galloped away.

They were scarce gone when Harry Esmond, who was indeed but just come to himself, bethought him of a similar accident which he had seen on a ride from Newmarket to Cambridge, and taking off a sleeve of my lord’s coat, Harry, with a penknife, opened a vein of his arm, and was greatly relieved, after a moment, to see the blood flow. He was near half an hour before he came to himself, by which time Doctor Tusher and little Frank arrived, and found my lord not a corpse indeed, but as pale as one.

After a time, when he was able to bear motion, they put my lord upon a groom’s horse, and gave the other to Esmond, the men walking on each side of my lord, to support him, if need were, and worthy Doctor Tusher with them. Little Frank and Harry rode together at a foot pace.

When we rode together home, the boy said: “We met mamma, who was walking on the terrace with the doctor, and papa frightened her, and told her you were dead . . .”

“That I was dead!” asks Harry.

“Yes. Papa says: ‘Here’s poor Harry killed, my dear;’ on which mamma gives a great scream; and oh, Harry! she drops down; and I thought she was dead too. And you never saw such a way as papa was in: he swore one of his great oaths: and he turned quite pale; and then he began to laugh somehow, and he told the Doctor to take his horse, and me to follow him; and we left him. And I looked back, and saw him dashing water out of the fountain on to mamma. Oh, she was so frightened!”

Musing upon this curious history — for my Lord Mohun’s name was Henry too, and they called each other Frank and Harry often — and not a little disturbed and anxious, Esmond rode home. His dear lady was on the terrace still, one of her women with her, and my lord no longer there. There are steps and a little door thence down into the road. My lord passed, looking very ghastly, with a handkerchief over his head, and without his hat and periwig, which a groom carried, but his politeness did not desert him, and he made a bow to the lady above.

“Thank heaven, you are safe,” she said.

“And so is Harry too, mamma,” says little Frank — “huzzay!”

Harry Esmond got off the horse to run to his mistress, as did little Frank, and one of the grooms took charge of the two beasts, while the other, hat and periwig in hand, walked by my lord’s bridle to the front gate, which lay half a mile away.

“Oh, my boy! what a fright you have given me!” Lady Castlewood said, when Harry Esmond came up, greeting him with one of her shining looks, and a voice of tender welcome; and she was so kind as to kiss the young man (’twas the second time she had so honored him), and she walked into the house between him and her son, holding a hand of each.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07