The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter V.

I Go On the Vigo Bay Expedition, Taste Salt-Water and Smell Powder.

The first expedition in which Mr. Esmond had the honor to be engaged, rather resembled one of the invasions projected by the redoubted Captain Avory or Captain Kidd, than a war between crowned heads, carried on by generals of rank and honor. On the 1st day of July, 1702, a great fleet, of a hundred and fifty sail, set sail from Spithead, under the command of Admiral Shovell, having on board 12,000 troops, with his Grace the Duke of Ormond as the Capt.-General of the expedition. One of these 12,000 heroes having never been to sea before, or, at least, only once in his infancy, when he made the voyage to England from that unknown country where he was born — one of those 12,000 — the junior ensign of Colonel Quin’s regiment of Fusileers — was in a quite unheroic state of corporal prostration a few hours after sailing; and an enemy, had he boarded the ship, would have had easy work of him. From Portsmouth we put into Plymouth, and took in fresh reinforcements. We were off Finisterre on the 31st of July, so Esmond’s table-book informs him: and on the 8th of August made the rock of Lisbon. By this time the Ensign was grown as bold as an admiral, and a week afterwards had the fortune to be under fire for the first time — and under water, too — his boat being swamped in the surf in Toros Bay, where the troops landed. The ducking of his new coat was all the harm the young soldier got in this expedition, for, indeed, the Spaniards made no stand before our troops, and were not in strength to do so.

But the campaign, if not very glorious, was very pleasant. New sights of nature, by sea and land — a life of action, beginning now for the first time — occupied and excited the young man. The many accidents, and the routine of shipboard — the military duty — the new acquaintances, both of his comrades in arms, and of the officers of the fleet — served to cheer and occupy his mind, and waken it out of that selfish depression into which his late unhappy fortunes had plunged him. He felt as if the ocean separated him from his past care, and welcomed the new era of life which was dawning for him. Wounds heal rapidly in a heart of two-and-twenty; hopes revive daily; and courage rallies in spite of a man. Perhaps, as Esmond thought of his late despondency and melancholy, and how irremediable it had seemed to him, as he lay in his prison a few months back, he was almost mortified in his secret mind at finding himself so cheerful.

To see with one’s own eyes men and countries, is better than reading all the books of travel in the world: and it was with extreme delight and exultation that the young man found himself actually on his grand tour, and in the view of people and cities which he had read about as a boy. He beheld war for the first time — the pride, pomp, and circumstance of it, at least, if not much of the danger. He saw actually, and with his own eyes, those Spanish cavaliers and ladies whom he had beheld in imagination in that immortal story of Cervantes, which had been the delight of his youthful leisure. ’Tis forty years since Mr. Esmond witnessed those scenes, but they remain as fresh in his memory as on the day when first he saw them as a young man. A cloud, as of grief, that had lowered over him, and had wrapped the last years of his life in gloom, seemed to clear away from Esmond during this fortunate voyage and campaign. His energies seemed to awaken and to expand under a cheerful sense of freedom. Was his heart secretly glad to have escaped from that fond but ignoble bondage at home? Was it that the inferiority to which the idea of his base birth had compelled him, vanished with the knowledge of that secret, which though, perforce, kept to himself, was yet enough to cheer and console him? At any rate, young Esmond of the army was quite a different being to the sad little dependant of the kind Castlewood household, and the melancholy student of Trinity Walks; discontented with his fate, and with the vocation into which that drove him, and thinking, with a secret indignation, that the cassock and bands, and the very sacred office with which he had once proposed to invest himself, were, in fact, but marks of a servitude which was to continue all his life long. For, disguise it as he might to himself, he had all along felt that to be Castlewood’s chaplain was to be Castlewood’s inferior still, and that his life was but to be a long, hopeless servitude. So, indeed, he was far from grudging his old friend Tom Tusher’s good fortune (as Tom, no doubt, thought it). Had it been a mitre and Lambeth which his friends offered him, and not a small living and a country parsonage, he would have felt as much a slave in one case as in the other, and was quite happy and thankful to be free.

The bravest man I ever knew in the army, and who had been present in most of King William’s actions, as well as in the campaigns of the great Duke of Marlborough, could never be got to tell us of any achievement of his, except that once Prince Eugene ordered him up a tree to reconnoitre the enemy, which feat he could not achieve on account of the horseman’s boots he wore; and on another day that he was very nearly taken prisoner because of these jack-boots, which prevented him from running away. The present narrator shall imitate this laudable reserve, and doth not intend to dwell upon his military exploits, which were in truth not very different from those of a thousand other gentlemen. This first campaign of Mr. Esmond’s lasted but a few days; and as a score of books have been written concerning it, it may be dismissed very briefly here.

When our fleet came within view of Cadiz, our commander sent a boat with a white flag and a couple of officers to the Governor of Cadiz, Don Scipio de Brancaccio, with a letter from his Grace, in which he hoped that as Don Scipio had formerly served with the Austrians against the French, ’twas to be hoped that his Excellency would now declare himself against the French King, and for the Austrian in the war between King Philip and King Charles. But his Excellency, Don Scipio, prepared a reply, in which he announced that, having served his former king with honor and fidelity, he hoped to exhibit the same loyalty and devotion towards his present sovereign, King Philip V.; and by the time this letter was ready, the two officers had been taken to see the town, and the alameda, and the theatre, where bull-fights are fought, and the convents, where the admirable works of Don Bartholomew Murillo inspired one of them with a great wonder and delight — such as he had never felt before — concerning this divine art of painting; and these sights over, and a handsome refection and chocolate being served to the English gentlemen, they were accompanied back to their shallop with every courtesy, and were the only two officers of the English army that saw at that time that famous city.

The general tried the power of another proclamation on the Spaniards, in which he announced that we only came in the interest of Spain and King Charles, and for ourselves wanted to make no conquest nor settlement in Spain at all. But all this eloquence was lost upon the Spaniards, it would seem: the Captain-General of Andalusia would no more listen to us than the Governor of Cadiz; and in reply to his Grace’s proclamation, the Marquis of Villadarias fired off another, which those who knew the Spanish thought rather the best of the two; and of this number was Harry Esmond, whose kind Jesuit in old days had instructed him, and now had the honor of translating for his Grace these harmless documents of war. There was a hard touch for his Grace, and, indeed, for other generals in her Majesty’s service, in the concluding sentence of the Don: “That he and his council had the generous example of their ancestors to follow, who had never yet sought their elevation in the blood or in the flight of their kings. ‘Mori pro patria’ was his device, which the Duke might communicate to the Princess who governed England.”

Whether the troops were angry at this repartee or no, ’tis certain something put them in a fury; for, not being able to get possession of Cadiz, our people seized upon Port Saint Mary’s and sacked it, burning down the merchants’ storehouses, getting drunk with the famous wines there, pillaging and robbing quiet houses and convents, murdering and doing worse. And the only blood which Mr. Esmond drew in this shameful campaign, was the knocking down an English sentinel with a half-pike, who was offering insult to a poor trembling nun. Is she going to turn out a beauty? or a princess? or perhaps Esmond’s mother that he had lost and never seen? Alas no, it was but a poor wheezy old dropsical woman, with a wart upon her nose. But having been early taught a part of the Roman religion, he never had the horror of it that some Protestants have shown, and seem to think to be a part of ours.

After the pillage and plunder of St. Mary’s and an assault upon a fort or two, the troops all took shipping, and finished their expedition, at any rate, more brilliantly than it had begun. Hearing that the French fleet with a great treasure was in Vigo Bay, our Admirals, Rooke and Hopson, pursued the enemy thither; the troops landed and carried the forts that protected the bay, Hopson passing the boom first on board his ship the “Torbay,” and the rest of the ships, English and Dutch, following him. Twenty ships were burned or taken in the Port of Redondilla, and a vast deal more plunder than was ever accounted for; but poor men before that expedition were rich afterwards, and so often was it found and remarked that the Vigo officers came home with pockets full of money, that the notorious Jack Shafto, who made such a figure at the coffeehouses and gaming-tables in London, and gave out that he had been a soldier at Vigo, owned, when he was about to be hanged, that Bagshot Heath had been HIS Vigo, and that he only spoke of La Redondilla to turn away people’s eyes from the real place where the booty lay. Indeed, Hounslow or Vigo — which matters much? The latter was a bad business, though Mr. Addison did sing its praises in Latin. That honest gentleman’s muse had an eye to the main chance; and I doubt whether she saw much inspiration in the losing side.

But though Esmond, for his part, got no share of this fabulous booty, one great prize which he had out of the campaign was, that excitement of action and change of scene, which shook off a great deal of his previous melancholy. He learnt at any rate to bear his fate cheerfully. He brought back a browned face, a heart resolute enough, and a little pleasant store of knowledge and observation, from that expedition, which was over with the autumn, when the troops were back in England again; and Esmond giving up his post of secretary to General Lumley, whose command was over, and parting with that officer with many kind expressions of good will on the General’s side, had leave to go to London, to see if he could push his fortunes any way further, and found himself once more in his dowager aunt’s comfortable quarters at Chelsey, and in greater favor than ever with the old lady. He propitiated her with a present of a comb, a fan, and a black mantle, such as the ladies of Cadiz wear, and which my Lady Viscountess pronounced became her style of beauty mightily. And she was greatily edified at hearing of that story of his rescue of the nun, and felt very little doubt but that her King James’s relic, which he had always dutifully worn in his desk, had kept him out of danger, and averted the shot of the enemy. My lady made feasts for him, introduced him to more company, and pushed his fortunes with such enthusiasm and success, that she got a promise of a company for him through the Lady Marlborough’s interest, who was graciously pleased to accept of a diamond worth a couple of hundred guineas, which Mr. Esmond was enabled to present to her ladyship through his aunt’s bounty, and who promised that she would take charge of Esmond’s fortune. He had the honor to make his appearance at the Queen’s drawing-room occasionally, and to frequent my Lord Marlborough’s levees. That great man received the young one with very especial favor, so Esmond’s comrades said, and deigned to say that he had received the best reports of Mr. Esmond, both for courage and ability, whereon you may be sure the young gentleman made a profound bow, and expressed himself eager to serve under the most distinguished captain in the world.

Whilst his business was going on thus prosperously, Esmond had his share of pleasure too, and made his appearance along with other young gentlemen at the coffee-houses, the theatres, and the Mall. He longed to hear of his dear mistress and her family: many a time, in the midst of the gayeties and pleasures of the town, his heart fondly reverted to them; and often as the young fellows of his society were making merry at the tavern, and calling toasts (as the fashion of that day was) over their wine, Esmond thought of persons — of two fair women, whom he had been used to adore almost, and emptied his glass with a sigh.

By this time the elder Viscountess had grown tired again of the younger, and whenever she spoke of my lord’s widow, ’twas in terms by no means complimentary towards that poor lady: the younger woman not needing her protection any longer, the elder abused her. Most of the family quarrels that I have seen in life (saving always those arising from money disputes, when a division of twopence halfpenny will often drive the dearest relatives into war and estrangement,) spring out of jealousy and envy. Jack and Tom, born of the same family and to the same fortune, live very cordially together, not until Jack is ruined when Tom deserts him, but until Tom makes a sudden rise in prosperity, which Jack can’t forgive. Ten times to one ’tis the unprosperous man that is angry, not the other who is in fault. ’Tis Mrs. Jack, who can only afford a chair, that sickens at Mrs. Tom’s new coach-and-sick, cries out against her sister’s airs, and sets her husband against his brother. ’Tis Jack who sees his brother shaking hands with a lord (with whom Jack would like to exchange snuff-boxes himself), that goes home and tells his wife how poor Tom is spoiled, he fears, and no better than a sneak, parasite, and beggar on horse back. I remember how furious the coffee-house wits were with Dick Steele when he set up his coach and fine house in Bloomsbury: they began to forgive him when the bailiffs were after him, and abused Mr. Addison for selling Dick’s country-house. And yet Dick in the sponging-house, or Dick in the Park, with his four mares and plated harness, was exactly the same gentle, kindly, improvident, jovial Dick Steele: and yet Mr. Addison was perfectly right in getting the money which was his, and not giving up the amount of his just claim, to be spent by Dick upon champagne and fiddlers, laced clothes, fine furniture, and parasites, Jew and Christian, male and female, who clung to him. As, according to the famous maxim of Monsieur de Rochefoucault, “in our friends’ misfortunes there’s something secretly pleasant to us;” so, on the other hand, their good fortune is disagreeable. If ’tis hard for a man to bear his own good luck, ’tis harder still for his friends to bear it for him and but few of them ordinarily can stand that trial: whereas one of the “precious uses” of adversity is, that it is a great reconciler; that it brings back averted kindness, disarms animosity, and causes yesterday’s enemy to fling his hatred aside, and hold out a hand to the fallen friend of old days. There’s pity and love, as well as envy, in the same heart and towards the same person. The rivalry stops when the competitor tumbles; and, as I view it, we should look at these agreeable and disagreeable qualities of our humanity humbly alike. They are consequent and natural, and our kindness and meanness both manly.

So you may either read the sentence, that the elder of Esmond’s two kinswomen pardoned the younger her beauty, when that had lost somewhat of its freshness, perhaps; and forgot most her grievances against the other, when the subject of them was no longer prosperous and enviable; or we may say more benevolently (but the sum comes to the same figures, worked either way,) that Isabella repented of her unkindness towards Rachel, when Rachel was unhappy; and, bestirring herself in behalf of the poor widow and her children, gave them shelter and friendship. The ladies were quite good friends as long as the weaker one needed a protector. Before Esmond went away on his first campaign, his mistress was still on terms of friendship (though a poor little chit, a woman that had evidently no spirit in her, &c.) with the elder Lady Castlewood; and Mistress Beatrix was allowed to be a beauty.

But between the first year of Queen Anne’s reign, and the second, sad changes for the worse had taken place in the two younger ladies, at least in the elder’s description of them. Rachel, Viscountess Castlewood, had no more face than a dumpling, and Mrs. Beatrix was grown quite coarse, and was losing all her beauty. Little Lord Blandford —(she never would call him Lord Blandford; his father was Lord Churchill — the King, whom he betrayed, had made him Lord Churchill, and he was Lord Churchill still)— might be making eyes at her; but his mother, that vixen of a Sarah Jennings, would never hear of such a folly. Lady Marlborough had got her to be a maid of honor at Court to the Princess, but she would repent of it. The widow Francis (she was but Mrs. Francis Esmond) was a scheming, artful, heartless hussy. She was spoiling her brat of a boy, and she would end by marrying her chaplain.

“What, Tusher!” cried Mr. Esmond, feeling a strange pang of rage and astonishment.

“Yes — Tusher, my maid’s son; and who has got all the qualities of his father the lackey in black, and his accomplished mamma the waiting-woman,” cries my lady. “What do you suppose that a sentimental widow, who will live down in that dingy dungeon of a Castlewood, where she spoils her boy, kills the poor with her drugs, has prayers twice a day and sees nobody but the chaplain — what do you suppose she can do, mon Cousin, but let the horrid parson, with his great square toes and hideous little green eyes, make love to her? Cela c’est vu, mon Cousin. When I was a girl at Castlewood, all the chaplains fell in love with me — they’ve nothing else to do.”

My lady went on with more talk of this kind, though, in truth, Esmond had no idea of what she said further, so entirely did her first words occupy his thought. Were they true? Not all, nor half, nor a tenth part of what the garrulous old woman said, was true. Could this be so? No ear had Esmond for anything else, though his patroness chatted on for an hour.

Some young gentlemen of the town, with whom Esmond had made acquaintance, had promised to present him to that most charming of actresses, and lively and agreeable of women, Mrs. Bracegirdle, about whom Harry’s old adversary Mohun had drawn swords, a few years before my poor lord and he fell out. The famous Mr. Congreve had stamped with his high approval, to the which there was no gainsaying, this delightful person: and she was acting in Dick Steele’s comedies, and finally, and for twenty-four hours after beholding her, Mr. Esmond felt himself, or thought himself, to be as violently enamored of this lovely brunette, as were a thousand other young fellows about the city. To have once seen her was to long to behold her again; and to be offered the delightful privilege of her acquaintance, was a pleasure the very idea of which set the young lieutenant’s heart on fire. A man cannot live with comrades under the tents without finding out that he too is five-and-twenty. A young fellow cannot be cast down by grief and misfortune ever so severe but some night he begins to sleep sound, and some day when dinner-time comes to feel hungry for a beefsteak. Time, youth and good health, new scenes and the excitement of action and a campaign, had pretty well brought Esmond’s mourning to an end; and his comrades said that Don Dismal, as they called him, was Don Dismal no more. So when a party was made to dine at the “Rose,” and go to the playhouse afterward, Esmond was as pleased as another to take his share of the bottle and the play.

How was it that the old aunt’s news, or it might be scandal, about Tom Tusher, caused such a strange and sudden excitement in Tom’s old playfellow? Hadn’t he sworn a thousand times in his own mind that the Lady of Castlewood, who had treated him with such kindness once, and then had left him so cruelly, was, and was to remain henceforth, indifferent to him for ever? Had his pride and his sense of justice not long since helped him to cure the pain of that desertion — was it even a pain to him now? Why, but last night as he walked across the fields and meadows to Chelsey from Pall Mall, had he not composed two or three stanzas of a song, celebrating Bracegirdle’s brown eyes, and declaring them a thousand times more beautiful than the brightest blue ones that ever languished under the lashes of an insipid fair beauty! But Tom Tusher! Tom Tusher, the waiting-woman’s son, raising up his little eyes to his mistress! Tom Tusher presuming to think of Castlewood’s widow! Rage and contempt filled Mr. Harry’s heart at the very notion; the honor of the family, of which he was the chief, made it his duty to prevent so monstrous an alliance, and to chastise the upstart who could dare to think of such an insult to their house. ’Tis true Mr. Esmond often boasted of republican principles, and could remember many fine speeches he had made at college and elsewhere, with WORTH and not BIRTH for a text: but Tom Tusher to take the place of the noble Castlewood — faugh! ’twas as monstrous as King Hamlet’s widow taking off her weeds for Claudius. Esmond laughed at all widows, all wives, all women; and were the banns about to be published, as no doubt they were, that very next Sunday at Walcote Church, Esmond swore that he would be present to shout No! in the face of the congregation, and to take a private revenge upon the ears of the bridegroom.

Instead of going to dinner then at the “Rose” that night, Mr. Esmond bade his servant pack a portmanteau and get horses, and was at Farnham, half-way on the road to Walcote, thirty miles off, before his comrades had got to their supper after the play. He bade his man give no hint to my Lady Dowager’s household of the expedition on which he was going; and as Chelsey was distant from London, the roads bad, and infested by footpads, and Esmond often in the habit, when engaged in a party of pleasure, of lying at a friend’s lodging in town, there was no need that his old aunt should be disturbed at his absence — indeed, nothing more delighted the old lady than to fancy that mon cousin, the incorrigible young sinner, was abroad boxing the watch, or scouring St. Giles’s. When she was not at her books of devotion, she thought Etheridge and Sedley very good reading. She had a hundred pretty stories about Rochester, Harry Jermyn, and Hamilton; and if Esmond would but have run away with the wife even of a citizen, ’tis my belief she would have pawned her diamonds (the best of them went to our Lady of Chaillot) to pay his damages.

My lord’s little house of Walcote — which he inhabited before he took his title and occupied the house of Castlewood — lies about a mile from Winchester, and his widow had returned to Walcote after my lord’s death as a place always dear to her, and where her earliest and happiest days had been spent, cheerfuller than Castlewood, which was too large for her straitened means, and giving her, too, the protection of the ex-dean, her father. The young Viscount had a year’s schooling at the famous college there, with Mr. Tusher as his governor. So much news of them Mr. Esmond had had during the past year from the old Viscountess, his own father’s widow; from the young one there had never been a word.

Twice or thrice in his benefactor’s lifetime, Esmond had been to Walcote; and now, taking but a couple of hours’ rest only at the inn on the road, he was up again long before daybreak, and made such good speed that he was at Walcote by two o’clock of the day. He rid to the end of the village, where he alighted and sent a man thence to Mr. Tusher, with a message that a gentleman from London would speak with him on urgent business. The messenger came back to say the Doctor was in town, most likely at prayers in the Cathedral. My Lady Viscountess was there, too; she always went to Cathedral prayers every day.

The horses belonged to the post-house at Winchester. Esmond mounted again and rode on to the “George;” whence he walked, leaving his grumbling domestic at last happy with a dinner, straight to the Cathedral. The organ was playing: the winter’s day was already growing gray: as he passed under the street-arch into the Cathedral yard, and made his way into the ancient solemn edifice.

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