The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter XIV.

We Ride After Him to London.

After a repose of a couple of days, the Lord Mohun was so far recovered of his hurt as to be able to announce his departure for the next morning; when, accordingly, he took leave of Castlewood, proposing to ride to London by easy stages, and lie two nights upon the road. His host treated him with a studied and ceremonious courtesy, certainly different from my lord’s usual frank and careless demeanor; but there was no reason to suppose that the two lords parted otherwise than good friends, though Harry Esmond remarked that my Lord Viscount only saw his guest in company with other persons, and seemed to avoid being alone with him. Nor did he ride any distance with Lord Mohun, as his custom was with most of his friends, whom he was always eager to welcome and unwilling to lose; but contented himself, when his lordship’s horses were announced, and their owner appeared, booted for his journey, to take a courteous leave of the ladies of Castlewood, by following the Lord Mohun down stairs to his horses, and by bowing and wishing him a good-day, in the court-yard. “I shall see you in London before very long, Mohun,” my lord said, with a smile, “when we will settle our accounts together.”

“Do not let them trouble you, Frank,” said the other good-naturedly, and holding out his hand, looked rather surprised at the grim and stately manner in which his host received his parting salutation; and so, followed by his people, he rode away.

Harry Esmond was witness of the departure. It was very different to my lord’s coming, for which great preparation had been made (the old house putting on its best appearance to welcome its guest), and there was a sadness and constraint about all persons that day, which filled Mr. Esmond with gloomy forebodings, and sad indefinite apprehensions. Lord Castlewood stood at the door watching his guest and his people as they went out under the arch of the outer gate. When he was there, Lord Mohun turned once more, my Lord Viscount slowly raised his beaver and bowed. His face wore a peculiar livid look, Harry thought. He cursed and kicked away his dogs, which came jumping about him — then he walked up to the fountain in the centre of the court, and leaned against a pillar and looked into the basin. As Esmond crossed over to his own room, late the chaplain’s, on the other side of the court, and turned to enter in at the low door, he saw Lady Castlewood looking through the curtains of the great window of the drawing-room overhead, at my lord as he stood regarding the fountain. There was in the court a peculiar silence somehow; and the scene remained long in Esmond’s memory:— the sky bright overhead; the buttresses of the building and the sun-dial casting shadow over the gilt memento mori inscribed underneath; the two dogs, a black greyhound and a spaniel nearly white, the one with his face up to the sun, and the other snuffing amongst the grass and stones, and my lord leaning over the fountain, which was bubbling audibly. ’Tis strange how that scene, and the sound of that fountain, remain fixed on the memory of a man who has beheld a hundred sights of splendor, and danger too, of which he has kept no account.

It was Lady Castlewood — she had been laughing all the morning, and especially gay and lively before her husband and his guest — who as soon as the two gentlemen went together from her room, ran to Harry, the expression of her countenance quite changed now, and with a face and eyes full of care, and said, “Follow them, Harry, I am sure something has gone wrong.” And so it was that Esmond was made an eavesdropper at this lady’s orders and retired to his own chamber, to give himself time in truth to try and compose a story which would soothe his mistress, for he could not but have his own apprehension that some serious quarrel was pending between the two gentlemen.

And now for several days the little company at Castlewood sat at table as of evenings: this care, though unnamed and invisible, being nevertheless present alway, in the minds of at least three persons there. My lord was exceeding gentle and kind. Whenever he quitted the room, his wife’s eyes followed him. He behaved to her with a kind of mournful courtesy and kindness remarkable in one of his blunt ways and ordinary rough manner. He called her by her Christian name often and fondly, was very soft and gentle with the children, especially with the boy, whom he did not love, and being lax about church generally, he went thither and performed all the offices (down even to listening to Dr. Tusher’s sermon) with great devotion.

“He paces his room all night; what is it? Henry, find out what it is,” Lady Castlewood said constantly to her young dependant. “He has sent three letters to London,” she said, another day.

“Indeed, madam, they were to a lawyer,” Harry answered, who knew of these letters, and had seen a part of the correspondence, which related to a new loan my lord was raising; and when the young man remonstrated with his patron, my lord said, “He was only raising money to pay off an old debt on the property, which must be discharged.”

Regarding the money, Lady Castlewood was not in the least anxious. Few fond women feel money-distressed; indeed you can hardly give a woman a greater pleasure than to bid her pawn her diamonds for the man she loves; and I remember hearing Mr. Congreve say of my Lord Marlborough, that the reason why my lord was so successful with women as a young man, was because he took money of them. “There are few men who will make such a sacrifice for them,” says Mr. Congreve, who knew a part of the sex pretty well.

Harry Esmond’s vacation was just over, and, as hath been said, he was preparing to return to the University for his last term before taking his degree and entering into the Church. He had made up his mind for this office, not indeed with that reverence which becomes a man about to enter upon a duty so holy, but with a worldly spirit of acquiescence in the prudence of adopting that profession for his calling. But his reasoning was that he owed all to the family of Castlewood, and loved better to be near them than anywhere else in the world; that he might be useful to his benefactors, who had the utmost confidence in him and affection for him in return; that he might aid in bringing up the young heir of the house and acting as his governor; that he might continue to be his dear patron’s and mistress’s friend and adviser, who both were pleased to say that they should ever look upon him as such; and so, by making himself useful to those he loved best, he proposed to console himself for giving up of any schemes of ambition which he might have had in his own bosom. Indeed, his mistress had told him that she would not have him leave her; and whatever she commanded was will to him.

The Lady Castlewood’s mind was greatly relieved in the last few days of this well-remembered holiday time, by my lord’s announcing one morning, after the post had brought him letters from London, in a careless tone, that the Lord Mohun was gone to Paris, and was about to make a great journey in Europe; and though Lord Castlewood’s own gloom did not wear off, or his behavior alter, yet this cause of anxiety being removed from his lady’s mind, she began to be more hopeful and easy in her spirits, striving too, with all her heart, and by all the means of soothing in her power, to call back my lord’s cheerfulness and dissipate his moody humor.

He accounted for it himself, by saying that he was out of health; that he wanted to see his physician; that he would go to London, and consult Doctor Cheyne. It was agreed that his lordship and Harry Esmond should make the journey as far as London together; and of a Monday morning, the 11th of October, in the year 1700, they set forwards towards London on horseback. The day before being Sunday, and the rain pouring down, the family did not visit church; and at night my lord read the service to his family very finely, and with a peculiar sweetness and gravity — speaking the parting benediction, Harry thought, as solemn as ever he heard it. And he kissed and embraced his wife and children before they went to their own chambers with more fondness than he was ordinarily wont to show, and with a solemnity and feeling of which they thought in after days with no small comfort.

They took horse the next morning (after adieux from the family as tender as on the night previous), lay that night on the road, and entered London at nightfall; my lord going to the “Trumpet,” in the Cockpit, Whitehall, a house used by the military in his time as a young man, and accustomed by his lordship ever since.

An hour after my lord’s arrival (which showed that his visit had been arranged beforehand), my lord’s man of business arrived from Gray’s Inn; and thinking that his patron might wish to be private with the lawyer, Esmond was for leaving them: but my lord said his business was short; introduced Mr. Esmond particularly to the lawyer, who had been engaged for the family in the old lord’s time; who said that he had paid the money, as desired that day, to my Lord Mohun himself, at his lodgings in Bow Street; that his lordship had expressed some surprise, as it was not customary to employ lawyers, he said, in such transactions between men of honor; but nevertheless, he had returned my Lord Viscount’s note of hand, which he held at his client’s disposition.

“I thought the Lord Mohun had been in Paris!” cried Mr. Esmond, in great alarm and astonishment.

“He is come back at my invitation,” said my Lord Viscount. “We have accounts to settle together.”

“I pray heaven they are over, sir,” says Esmond.

“Oh, quite,” replied the other, looking hard at the young man. “He was rather troublesome about that money which I told you I had lost to him at play. And now ’tis paid, and we are quits on that score, and we shall meet good friends again.”

“My lord,” cried out Esmond, “I am sure you are deceiving me, and that there is a quarrel between the Lord Mohun and you.”

“Quarrel — pish! We shall sup together this very night, and drink a bottle. Every man is ill-humored who loses such a sum as I have lost. But now ’tis paid, and my anger is gone with it.”

“Where shall we sup, sir?” says Harry.

“WE! Let some gentlemen wait till they are asked,” says my Lord Viscount with a laugh. “You go to Duke Street, and see Mr. Betterton. You love the play, I know. Leave me to follow my own devices: and in the morning we’ll breakfast together, with what appetite we may, as the play says.”

“By G—! my lord, I will not leave you this night,” says Harry Esmond. “I think I know the cause of your dispute. I swear to you ’tis nothing. On the very day the accident befell Lord Mohun, I was speaking to him about it. I know that nothing has passed but idle gallantry on his part.”

“You know that nothing has passed but idle gallantry between Lord Mohun and my wife,” says my lord, in a thundering voice —“you knew of this and did not tell me?”

“I knew more of it than my dear mistress did herself, sir — a thousand times more. How was she, who was as innocent as a child, to know what was the meaning of the covert addresses of a villain?”

“A villain he is, you allow, and would have taken my wife away from me.”

“Sir, she is as pure as an angel,” cried young Esmond.

“Have I said a word against her?” shrieks out my lord. “Did I ever doubt that she was pure? It would have been the last day of her life when I did. Do you fancy I think that SHE would go astray? No, she hasn’t passion enough for that. She neither sins nor forgives. I know her temper — and now I’ve lost her, by heaven I love her ten thousand times more than ever I did — yes, when she was as young and as beautiful as an angel — when she smiled at me in her old father’s house, and used to lie in wait for me there as I came from hunting — when I used to fling my head down on her little knees and cry like a child on her lap — and swear I would reform, and drink no more and play no more, and follow women no more; when all the men of the Court used to be following her — when she used to look with her child more beautiful, by George, than the Madonna in the Queen’s Chapel. I am not good like her, I know it. Who is — by heaven, who is? I tired and wearied her, I know that very well. I could not talk to her. You men of wit and books could do that, and I couldn’t — I felt I couldn’t. Why, when you was but a boy of fifteen I could hear you two together talking your poetry and your books till I was in such a rage that I was fit to strangle you. But you were always a good lad, Harry, and I loved you, you know I did. And I felt she didn’t belong to me: and the children don’t. And I besotted myself, and gambled and drank, and took to all sorts of deviltries out of despair and fury. And now comes this Mohun, and she likes him, I know she likes him.”

“Indeed, and on my soul, you are wrong, sir,” Esmond cried.

“She takes letters from him,” cries my lord —“look here, Harry,” and he pulled out a paper with a brown stain of blood upon it. “It fell from him that day he wasn’t killed. One of the grooms picked it up from the ground and gave it me. Here it is in their d — d comedy jargon. ‘Divine Gloriana — Why look so coldly on your slave who adores you? Have you no compassion on the tortures you have seen me suffering? Do you vouchsafe no reply to billets that are written with the blood of my heart.’ She had more letters from him.”

“But she answered none,” cries Esmond.

“That’s not Mohun’s fault,” says my lord, “and I will be revenged on him, as God’s in heaven, I will.”

“For a light word or two, will you risk your lady’s honor and your family’s happiness, my lord?” Esmond interposed beseechingly.

“Psha — there shall be no question of my wife’s honor,” said my lord; “we can quarrel on plenty of grounds beside. If I live, that villain will be punished; if I fall, my family will be only the better: there will only be a spendthrift the less to keep in the world: and Frank has better teaching than his father. My mind is made up, Harry Esmond, and whatever the event is, I am easy about it. I leave my wife and you as guardians to the children.”

Seeing that my lord was bent upon pursuing this quarrel, and that no entreaties would draw him from it, Harry Esmond (then of a hotter and more impetuous nature than now, when care, and reflection, and gray hairs have calmed him) thought it was his duty to stand by his kind, generous patron, and said, “My lord, if you are determined upon war, you must not go into it alone. ’Tis the duty of our house to stand by its chief; and I should neither forgive myself nor you if you did not call me, or I should be absent from you at a moment of danger.”

“Why, Harry, my poor boy, you are bred for a parson,” says my lord, taking Esmond by the hand very kindly; “and it were a great pity that you should meddle in the matter.”

“Your lordship thought of being a churchman once,” Harry answered, “and your father’s orders did not prevent him fighting at Castlewood against the Roundheads. Your enemies are mine, sir; I can use the foils, as you have seen, indifferently well, and don’t think I shall be afraid when the buttons are taken off ’em.” And then Harry explained, with some blushes and hesitation (for the matter was delicate, and he feared lest, by having put himself forward in the quarrel, he might have offended his patron), how he had himself expostulated with the Lord Mohun, and proposed to measure swords with him if need were, and he could not be got to withdraw peaceably in this dispute. “And I should have beat him, sir,” says Harry, laughing. “He never could parry that botte I brought from Cambridge. Let us have half an hour of it, and rehearse — I can teach it your lordship: ’tis the most delicate point in the world, and if you miss it, your adversary’s sword is through you.”

“By George, Harry, you ought to be the head of the house,” says my lord, gloomily. “You had been a better Lord Castlewood than a lazy sot like me,” he added, drawing his hand across his eyes, and surveying his kinsman with very kind and affectionate glances.

“Let us take our coats off and have half an hour’s practice before nightfall,” says Harry, after thankfully grasping his patron’s manly hand.

“You are but a little bit of a lad,” says my lord, good-humoredly; “but, in faith, I believe you could do for that fellow. No, my boy,” he continued, “I’ll have none of your feints and tricks of stabbing: I can use my sword pretty well too, and will fight my own quarrel my own way.”

“But I shall be by to see fair play?” cries Harry.

“Yes, God bless you — you shall be by.”

“When is it, sir?” says Harry, for he saw that the matter had been arranged privately and beforehand by my lord.

“’Tis arranged thus: I sent off a courier to Jack Westbury to say that I wanted him specially. He knows for what, and will be here presently, and drink part of that bottle of sack. Then we shall go to the theatre in Duke Street, where we shall meet Mohun; and then we shall all go sup at the ‘Rose’ or the ‘Greyhound.’ Then we shall call for cards, and there will be probably a difference over the cards — and then, God help us! — either a wicked villain and traitor shall go out of the world, or a poor worthless devil, that doesn’t care to remain in it. I am better away, Hal — my wife will be all the happier when I am gone,” says my lord, with a groan, that tore the heart of Harry Esmond, so that he fairly broke into a sob over his patron’s kind hand.

“The business was talked over with Mohun before he left home — Castlewood I mean”— my lord went on. “I took the letter in to him, which I had read, and I charged him with his villainy, and he could make no denial of it, only he said that my wife was innocent.”

“And so she is; before heaven, my lord, she is!” cries Harry.

“No doubt, no doubt. They always are,” says my lord. “No doubt, when she heard he was killed, she fainted from accident.”

“But, my lord, MY name is Harry,” cried out Esmond, burning red. “You told my lady, ‘Harry was killed!’”

“Damnation! shall I fight you too?” shouts my lord in a fury. “Are you, you little serpent, warmed by my fire, going to sting — YOU? — No, my boy, you’re an honest boy; you are a good boy.” (And here he broke from rage into tears even more cruel to see.) “You are an honest boy, and I love you; and, by heavens, I am so wretched that I don’t care what sword it is that ends me. Stop, here’s Jack Westbury. Well, Jack! Welcome, old boy! This is my kinsman, Harry Esmond.”

“Who brought your bowls for you at Castlewood, sir?” says Harry, bowing; and the three gentlemen sat down and drank of that bottle of sack which was prepared for them.

“Harry is number three,” says my lord. “You needn’t be afraid of him, Jack.” And the Colonel gave a look, as much as to say, “Indeed, he don’t look as if I need.” And then my lord explained what he had only told by hints before. When he quarrelled with Lord Mohun he was indebted to his lordship in a sum of sixteen hundred pounds, for which Lord Mohun said he proposed to wait until my Lord Viscount should pay him. My lord had raised the sixteen hundred pounds and sent them to Lord Mohun that morning, and before quitting home had put his affairs into order, and was now quite ready to abide the issue of the quarrel.

When we had drunk a couple of bottles of sack, a coach was called, and the three gentlemen went to the Duke’s Playhouse, as agreed. The play was one of Mr. Wycherley’s —“Love in a Wood.”

Harry Esmond has thought of that play ever since with a kind of terror, and of Mrs. Bracegirdle, the actress who performed the girl’s part in the comedy. She was disguised as a page, and came and stood before the gentlemen as they sat on the stage, and looked over her shoulder with a pair of arch black eyes, and laughed at my lord, and asked what ailed the gentleman from the country, and had he had bad news from Bullock fair?

Between the acts of the play the gentlemen crossed over and conversed freely. There were two of Lord Mohun’s party, Captain Macartney, in a military habit, and a gentleman in a suit of blue velvet and silver in a fair periwig, with a rich fall of point of Venice lace — my Lord the Earl of Warwick and Holland. My lord had a paper of oranges, which he ate and offered to the actresses, joking with them. And Mrs. Bracegirdle, when my Lord Mohun said something rude, turned on him, and asked him what he did there, and whether he and his friends had come to stab anybody else, as they did poor Will Mountford? My lord’s dark face grew darker at this taunt, and wore a mischievous, fatal look. They that saw it remembered it, and said so afterward.

When the play was ended the two parties joined company; and my Lord Castlewood then proposed that they should go to a tavern and sup. Lockit’s, the “Greyhound,” in Charing Cross, was the house selected. All six marched together that way; the three lords going a-head, Lord Mohun’s captain, and Colonel Westbury, and Harry Esmond, walking behind them. As they walked, Westbury told Harry Esmond about his old friend Dick the Scholar, who had got promotion, and was Cornet of the Guards, and had wrote a book called the “Christian Hero,” and had all the Guards to laugh at him for his pains, for the Christian Hero was breaking the commandments constantly, Westbury said, and had fought one or two duels already. And, in a lower tone, Westbury besought young Mr. Esmond to take no part in the quarrel. “There was no need for more seconds than one,” said the Colonel, “and the Captain or Lord Warwick might easily withdraw.” But Harry said no; he was bent on going through with the business. Indeed, he had a plan in his head, which, he thought, might prevent my Lord Viscount from engaging.

They went in at the bar of the tavern, and desired a private room and wine and cards, and when the drawer had brought these, they began to drink and call healths, and as long as the servants were in the room appeared very friendly.

Harry Esmond’s plan was no other than to engage in talk with Lord Mohun, to insult him, and so get the first of the quarrel. So when cards were proposed he offered to play. “Psha!” says my Lord Mohun (whether wishing to save Harry, or not choosing, to try the botte de Jesuite, it is not to be known)—“Young gentlemen from college should not play these stakes. You are too young.”

“Who dares say I am too young?” broke out Harry. “Is your lordship afraid?”

“Afraid!” cries out Mohun.

But my good Lord Viscount saw the move —“I’ll play you for ten moidores, Mohun,” says he. “You silly boy, we don’t play for groats here as you do at Cambridge.” And Harry, who had no such sum in his pocket (for his half-year’s salary was always pretty well spent before it was due), fell back with rage and vexation in his heart that he had not money enough to stake.

“I’ll stake the young gentleman a crown,” says the Lord Mohun’s captain.

“I thought crowns were rather scarce with the gentlemen of the army,” says Harry.

“Do they birch at College?” says the Captain.

“They birch fools,” says Harry, “and they cane bullies, and they fling puppies into the water.”

“Faith, then, there’s some escapes drowning,” says the Captain, who was an Irishman; and all the gentlemen began to laugh, and made poor Harry only more angry.

My Lord Mohun presently snuffed a candle. It was when the drawers brought in fresh bottles and glasses and were in the room on which my Lord Viscount said —“The Deuce take you, Mohun, how damned awkward you are. Light the candle, you drawer.”

“Damned awkward is a damned awkward expression, my lord,” says the other. “Town gentlemen don’t use such words — or ask pardon if they do.”

“I’m a country gentleman,” says my Lord Viscount.

“I see it by your manner,” says my Lord Mohun. “No man shall say damned awkward to me.”

“I fling the words in your face, my lord,” says the other; “shall I send the cards too?”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen! before the servants?” cry out Colonel Westbury and my Lord Warwick in a breath. The drawers go out of the room hastily. They tell the people below of the quarrel up stairs.

“Enough has been said,” says Colonel Westbury. “Will your lordships meet tomorrow morning?”

“Will my Lord Castlewood withdraw his words?” asks the Earl of Warwick.

“My Lord Castlewood will be —— first,” says Colonel Westbury.

“Then we have nothing for it. Take notice, gentlemen, there have been outrageous words — reparation asked and refused.”

“And refused,” says my Lord Castlewood, putting on his hat. “Where shall the meeting be? and when?”

“Since my Lord refuses me satisfaction, which I deeply regret, there is no time so good as now,” says my Lord Mohun. “Let us have chairs and go to Leicester Field.”

“Are your lordship and I to have the honor of exchanging a pass or two?” says Colonel Westbury, with a low bow to my Lord of Warwick and Holland.

“It is an honor for me,” says my lord, with a profound congee, “to be matched with a gentleman who has been at Mons and Namur.”

“Will your Reverence permit me to give you a lesson?” says the Captain.

“Nay, nay, gentlemen, two on a side are plenty,” says Harry’s patron. “Spare the boy, Captain Macartney,” and he shook Harry’s hand — for the last time, save one, in his life.

At the bar of the tavern all the gentlemen stopped, and my Lord Viscount said, laughing, to the barwoman, that those cards set people sadly a-quarrelling; but that the dispute was over now, and the parties were all going away to my Lord Mohun’s house, in Bow Street, to drink a bottle more before going to bed.

A half-dozen of chairs were now called, and the six gentlemen stepping into them, the word was privately given to the chairmen to go to Leicester Field, where the gentlemen were set down opposite the “Standard Tavern.” It was midnight, and the town was abed by this time, and only a few lights in the windows of the houses; but the night was bright enough for the unhappy purpose which the disputants came about; and so all six entered into that fatal square, the chairmen standing without the railing and keeping the gate, lest any persons should disturb the meeting.

All that happened there hath been matter of public notoriety, and is recorded, for warning to lawless men, in the annals of our country. After being engaged for not more than a couple of minutes, as Harry Esmond thought (though being occupied at the time with his own adversary’s point, which was active, he may not have taken a good note of time), a cry from the chairmen without, who were smoking their pipes, and leaning over the railings of the field as they watched the dim combat within, announced that some catastrophe had happened, which caused Esmond to drop his sword and look round, at which moment his enemy wounded him in the right hand. But the young man did not heed this hurt much, and ran up to the place where he saw his dear master was down.

My Lord Mohun was standing over him.

“Are you much hurt, Frank?” he asked in a hollow voice.

“I believe I am a dead man,” my lord said from the ground.

“No, no, not so,” says the other; “and I call God to witness, Frank Esmond, that I would have asked your pardon, had you but given me a chance. In — in the first cause of our falling out, I swear that no one was to blame but me, and — and that my lady —”

“Hush!” says my poor Lord Viscount, lifting himself on his elbow and speaking faintly. “’Twas a dispute about the cards — the cursed cards. Harry my boy, are you wounded, too? God help thee! I loved thee, Harry, and thou must watch over my little Frank — and — and carry this little heart to my wife.”

And here my dear lord felt in his breast for a locket he wore there, and, in the act, fell back fainting.

We were all at this terrified, thinking him dead; but Esmond and Colonel Westbury bade the chairmen come into the field; and so my lord was carried to one Mr. Aimes, a surgeon, in Long Acre, who kept a bath, and there the house was wakened up, and the victim of this quarrel carried in.

My Lord Viscount was put to bed, and his wound looked to by the surgeon, who seemed both kind and skilful. When he had looked to my lord, he bandaged up Harry Esmond’s hand (who, from loss of blood, had fainted too, in the house, and may have been some time unconscious); and when the young man came to himself, you may be sure he eagerly asked what news there were of his dear patron; on which the surgeon carried him to the room where the Lord Castlewood lay; who had already sent for a priest; and desired earnestly, they said, to speak with his kinsman. He was lying on a bed, very pale and ghastly, with that fixed, fatal look in his eyes, which betokens death; and faintly beckoning all the other persons away from him with his hand, and crying out “Only Harry Esmond,” the hand fell powerless down on the coverlet, as Harry came forward, and knelt down and kissed it.

“Thou art all but a priest, Harry,” my Lord Viscount gasped out, with a faint smile, and pressure of his cold hand. “Are they all gone? Let me make thee a death-bed confession.”

And with sacred Death waiting, as it were, at the bed-foot, as an awful witness of his words, the poor dying soul gasped out his last wishes in respect of his family; — his humble profession of contrition for his faults; — and his charity towards the world he was leaving. Some things he said concerned Harry Esmond as much as they astonished him. And my Lord Viscount, sinking visibly, was in the midst of these strange confessions, when the ecclesiastic for whom my lord had sent, Mr. Atterbury, arrived.

This gentleman had reached to no great church dignity as yet, but was only preacher at St. Bride’s, drawing all the town thither by his eloquent sermons. He was godson to my lord, who had been pupil to his father; had paid a visit to Castlewood from Oxford more than once; and it was by his advice, I think, that Harry Esmond was sent to Cambridge, rather than to Oxford, of which place Mr. Atterbury, though a distinguished member, spoke but ill.

Our messenger found the good priest already at his books at five o’clock in the morning, and he followed the man eagerly to the house where my poor Lord Viscount lay — Esmond watching him, and taking his dying words from his mouth.

My lord, hearing of Mr. Atterbury’s arrival, and squeezing Esmond’s hand, asked to be alone with the priest; and Esmond left them there for this solemn interview. You may be sure that his own prayers and grief accompanied that dying benefactor. My lord had said to him that which confounded the young man — informed him of a secret which greatly concerned him. Indeed, after hearing it, he had had good cause for doubt and dismay; for mental anguish as well as resolution. While the colloquy between Mr. Atterbury and his dying penitent took place within, an immense contest of perplexity was agitating Lord Castlewood’s young companion.

At the end of an hour — it may be more — Mr. Atterbury came out of the room, looking very hard at Esmond, and holding a paper.

“He is on the brink of God’s awful judgment,” the priest whispered. “He has made his breast clean to me. He forgives and believes, and makes restitution. Shall it be in public? Shall we call a witness to sign it?”

“God knows,” sobbed out the young man, “my dearest lord has only done me kindness all his life.”

The priest put the paper into Esmond’s hand. He looked at it. It swam before his eyes.

“’Tis a confession,” he said.

“’Tis as you please,” said Mr. Atterbury.

There was a fire in the room where the cloths were drying for the baths, and there lay a heap in a corner saturated with the blood of my dear lord’s body. Esmond went to the fire, and threw the paper into it. ’Twas a great chimney with glazed Dutch tiles. How we remember such trifles at such awful moments! — the scrap of the book that we have read in a great grief — the taste of that last dish that we have eaten before a duel, or some such supreme meeting or parting. On the Dutch tiles at the Bagnio was a rude picture representing Jacob in hairy gloves, cheating Isaac of Esau’s birthright. The burning paper lighted it up.

“’Tis only a confession, Mr. Atterbury,” said the young man. He leaned his head against the mantel-piece: a burst of tears came to his eyes. They were the first he had shed as he sat by his lord, scared by this calamity, and more yet by what the poor dying gentleman had told him, and shocked to think that he should be the agent of bringing this double misfortune on those he loved best.

“Let us go to him,” said Mr. Esmond. And accordingly they went into the next chamber, where by this time, the dawn had broke, which showed my lord’s poor pale face and wild appealing eyes, that wore that awful fatal look of coming dissolution. The surgeon was with him. He went into the chamber as Atterbury came out thence. My Lord Viscount turned round his sick eyes towards Esmond. It choked the other to hear that rattle in his throat.

“My Lord Viscount,” says Mr. Atterbury, “Mr. Esmond wants no witnesses, and hath burned the paper.”

“My dearest master!” Esmond said, kneeling down, and taking his hand and kissing it.

My Lord Viscount sprang up in his bed, and flung his arms round Esmond. “God bl — bless —” was all he said. The blood rushed from his mouth, deluging the young man. My dearest lord was no more. He was gone with a blessing on his lips, and love and repentance and kindness in his manly heart.

“Benedicti benedicentes,” says Mr. Atterbury, and the young man, kneeling at the bedside, groaned out an “Amen.”

“Who shall take the news to her?” was Mr. Esmond’s next thought. And on this he besought Mr. Atterbury to bear the tidings to Castlewood. He could not face his mistress himself with those dreadful news. Mr. Atterbury complying kindly, Esmond writ a hasty note on his table-book to my lord’s man, bidding him get the horses for Mr. Atterbury, and ride with him, and send Esmond’s own valise to the Gatehouse prison, whither he resolved to go and give himself up.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/esmond/chapter14.html

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