The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter III.

Whither in the Time of Thomas, Third Viscount, I Had Preceded Him As Page to Isabella.

Coming up to London again some short time after this retreat, the Lord Castlewood despatched a retainer of his to a little Cottage in the village of Ealing, near to London, where for some time had dwelt an old French refugee, by name Mr. Pastoureau, one of those whom the persecution of the Huguenots by the French king had brought over to this country. With this old man lived a little lad, who went by the name of Henry Thomas. He remembered to have lived in another place a short time before, near to London too, amongst looms and spinning-wheels, and a great deal of psalm-singing and church-going, and a whole colony of Frenchmen.

There he had a dear, dear friend, who died, and whom he called Aunt. She used to visit him in his dreams sometimes; and her face, though it was homely, was a thousand times dearer to him than that of Mrs. Pastoureau, Bon Papa Pastoureau’s new wife, who came to live with him after aunt went away. And there, at Spittlefields, as it used to be called, lived Uncle George, who was a weaver too, but used to tell Harry that he was a little gentleman, and that his father was a captain, and his mother an angel.

When he said so, Bon Papa used to look up from the loom, where he was embroidering beautiful silk flowers, and say, “Angel! she belongs to the Babylonish scarlet woman.” Bon Papa was always talking of the scarlet woman. He had a little room where he always used to preach and sing hymns out of his great old nose. Little Harry did not like the preaching; he liked better the fine stories which aunt used to tell him. Bon Papa’s wife never told him pretty stories; she quarrelled with Uncle George, and he went away.

After this, Harry’s Bon Papa and his wife and two children of her own that she brought with her, came to live at Ealing. The new wife gave her children the best of everything, and Harry many a whipping, he knew not why. Besides blows, he got ill names from her, which need not be set down here, for the sake of old Mr. Pastoureau, who was still kind sometimes. The unhappiness of those days is long forgiven, though they cast a shade of melancholy over the child’s youth, which will accompany him, no doubt, to the end of his days: as those tender twigs are bent the trees grow afterward; and he, at least, who has suffered as a child, and is not quite perverted in that early school of unhappiness, learns to be gentle and long-suffering with little children.

Harry was very glad when a gentleman dressed in black, on horseback, with a mounted servant behind him, came to fetch him away from Ealing. The noverca, or unjust stepmother, who had neglected him for her own two children, gave him supper enough the night before he went away, and plenty in the morning. She did not beat him once, and told the children to keep their hands off him. One was a girl, and Harry never could bear to strike a girl; and the other was a boy, whom he could easily have beat, but he always cried out, when Mrs. Pastoureau came sailing to the rescue with arms like a flail. She only washed Harry’s face the day he went away; nor ever so much as once boxed his ears. She whimpered rather when the gentleman in black came for the boy; and old Mr. Pastoureau, as he gave the child his blessing, scowled over his shoulder at the strange gentleman, and grumbled out something about Babylon and the scarlet lady. He was grown quite old, like a child almost. Mrs. Pastoureau used to wipe his nose as she did to the children. She was a great, big, handsome young woman; but, though she pretended to cry, Harry thought ’twas only a sham, and sprung quite delighted upon the horse upon which the lackey helped him.

He was a Frenchman; his name was Blaise. The child could talk to him in his own language perfectly well: he knew it better than English indeed, having lived hitherto chiefly among French people: and being called the Little Frenchman by other boys on Ealing Green. He soon learnt to speak English perfectly, and to forget some of his French: children forget easily. Some earlier and fainter recollections the child had of a different country; and a town with tall white houses: and a ship. But these were quite indistinct in the boy’s mind, as indeed the memory of Ealing soon became, at least of much that he suffered there.

The lackey before whom he rode was very lively and voluble, and informed the boy that the gentleman riding before him was my lord’s chaplain, Father Holt — that he was now to be called Master Harry Esmond — that my Lord Viscount Castlewood was his parrain — that he was to live at the great house of Castlewood, in the province of —— shire, where he would see Madame the Viscountess, who was a grand lady. And so, seated on a cloth before Blaise’s saddle, Harry Esmond was brought to London, and to a fine square called Covent Garden, near to which his patron lodged.

Mr. Holt, the priest, took the child by the hand, and brought him to this nobleman, a grand languid nobleman in a great cap and flowered morning-gown, sucking oranges. He patted Harry on the head and gave him an orange.

“C’est bien ca,” he said to the priest after eying the child, and the gentleman in black shrugged his shoulders.

“Let Blaise take him out for a holiday,” and out for a holiday the boy and the valet went. Harry went jumping along; he was glad enough to go.

He will remember to his life’s end the delights of those days. He was taken to see a play by Monsieur Blaise, in a house a thousand times greater and finer than the booth at Ealing Fair — and on the next happy day they took water on the river, and Harry saw London Bridge, with the houses and booksellers’ shops thereon, looking like a street, and the Tower of London, with the Armor, and the great lions and bears in the moat — all under company of Monsieur Blaise.

Presently, of an early morning, all the party set forth for the country, namely, my Lord Viscount and the other gentleman; Monsieur Blaise and Harry on a pillion behind them, and two or three men with pistols leading the baggage-horses. And all along the road the Frenchman told little Harry stories of brigands, which made the child’s hair stand on end, and terrified him; so that at the great gloomy inn on the road where they lay, he besought to be allowed to sleep in a room with one of the servants, and was compassionated by Mr. Holt, the gentleman who travelled with my lord, and who gave the child a little bed in his chamber.

His artless talk and answers very likely inclined this gentleman in the boy’s favor, for next day Mr. Holt said Harry should ride behind him, and not with the French lacky; and all along the journey put a thousand questions to the child — as to his foster-brother and relations at Ealing; what his old grandfather had taught him; what languages he knew; whether he could read and write, and sing, and so forth. And Mr. Holt found that Harry could read and write, and possessed the two languages of French and English very well; and when he asked Harry about singing, the lad broke out with a hymn to the tune of Dr. Martin Luther, which set Mr. Holt a-laughing; and even caused his grand parrain in the laced hat and periwig to laugh too when Holt told him what the child was singing. For it appeared that Dr. Martin Luther’s hymns were not sung in the churches Mr. Holt preached at.

“You must never sing that song any more: do you hear, little mannikin?” says my Lord Viscount, holding up a finger.

“But we will try and teach you a better, Harry,” Mr. Holt said; and the child answered, for he was a docile child, and of an affectionate nature, “That he loved pretty songs, and would try and learn anything the gentleman would tell him.” That day he so pleased the gentlemen by his talk, that they had him to dine with them at the inn, and encouraged him in his prattle; and Monsieur Blaise, with whom he rode and dined the day before, waited upon him now.

“’Tis well, ’tis well!” said Blaise, that night (in his own language) when they lay again at an inn. “We are a little lord here; we are a little lord now: we shall see what we are when we come to Castlewood, where my lady is.”

“When shall we come to Castlewood, Monsieur Blaise?” says Harry.

“Parbleu! my lord does not press himself,” Blaise says, with a grin; and, indeed, it seemed as if his lordship was not in a great hurry, for he spent three days on that journey which Harry Esmond hath often since ridden in a dozen hours. For the last two of the days Harry rode with the priest, who was so kind to him, that the child had grown to be quite fond and familiar with him by the journey’s end, and had scarce a thought in his little heart which by that time he had not confided to his new friend.

At length, on the third day, at evening, they came to a village standing on a green with elms round it, very pretty to look at; and the people there all took off their hats, and made curtsies to my Lord Viscount, who bowed to them all languidly; and there was one portly person that wore a cassock and a broad-leafed hat, who bowed lower than any one — and with this one both my lord and Mr. Holt had a few words. “This, Harry, is Castlewood church,” says Mr. Holt, “and this is the pillar thereof, learned Doctor Tusher. Take off your hat, sirrah, and salute Dr. Tusher!”

“Come up to supper, Doctor,” says my lord; at which the Doctor made another low bow, and the party moved on towards a grand house that was before them, with many gray towers and vanes on them, and windows flaming in the sunshine; and a great army of rooks, wheeling over their heads, made for the woods behind the house, as Harry saw; and Mr. Holt told him that they lived at Castlewood too.

They came to the house, and passed under an arch into a court-yard, with a fountain in the centre, where many men came and held my lord’s stirrup as he descended, and paid great respect to Mr. Holt likewise. And the child thought that the servants looked at him curiously, and smiled to one another — and he recalled what Blaise had said to him when they were in London, and Harry had spoken about his godpapa, when the Frenchman said, “Parbleu, one sees well that my lord is your godfather;” words whereof the poor lad did not know the meaning then, though he apprehended the truth in a very short time afterwards, and learned it, and thought of it with no small feeling of shame.

Taking Harry by the hand as soon as they were both descended from their horses, Mr. Holt led him across the court, and under a low door to rooms on a level with the ground; one of which Father Holt said was to be the boy’s chamber, the other on the other side of the passage being the Father’s own; and as soon as the little man’s face was washed, and the Father’s own dress arranged, Harry’s guide took him once more to the door by which my lord had entered the hall, and up a stair, and through an ante-room to my lady’s drawing-room — an apartment than which Harry thought he had never seen anything more grand — no, not in the Tower of London which he had just visited. Indeed, the chamber was richly ornamented in the manner of Queen Elizabeth’s time, with great stained windows at either end, and hangings of tapestry, which the sun shining through the colored glass painted of a thousand lines; and here in state, by the fire, sat a lady to whom the priest took up Harry, who was indeed amazed by her appearance.

My Lady Viscountess’s face was daubed with white and red up to the eyes, to which the paint gave an unearthly glare: she had a tower of lace on her head, under which was a bush of black curls — borrowed curls — so that no wonder little Harry Esmond was scared when he was first presented to her — the kind priest acting as master of the ceremonies at that solemn introduction — and he stared at her with eyes almost as great as her own, as he had stared at the player woman who acted the wicked tragedy-queen, when the players came down to Ealing Fair. She sat in a great chair by the fire-corner; in her lap was a spaniel-dog that barked furiously; on a little table by her was her ladyship’s snuff-box and her sugar-plum box. She wore a dress of black velvet, and a petticoat of flame-colored brocade. She had as many rings on her fingers as the old woman of Banbury Cross; and pretty small feet which she was fond of showing, with great gold clocks to her stockings, and white pantofles with red heels; and an odor of musk was shook out of her garments whenever she moved or quitted the room, leaning on her tortoise-shell stick, little Fury barking at her heels.

Mrs. Tusher, the parson’s wife, was with my lady. She had been waiting-woman to her ladyship in the late lord’s time, and, having her soul in that business, took naturally to it when the Viscountess of Castlewood returned to inhabit her father’s house.

“I present to your ladyship your kinsman and little page of honor, Master Henry Esmond,” Mr. Holt said, bowing lowly, with a sort of comical humility. “Make a pretty bow to my lady, Monsieur; and then another little bow, not so low, to Madame Tusher — the fair priestess of Castlewood.”

“Where I have lived and hope to die, sir,” says Madame Tusher, giving a hard glance at the brat, and then at my lady.

Upon her the boy’s whole attention was for a time directed. He could not keep his great eyes off from her. Since the Empress of Ealing, he had seen nothing so awful.

“Does my appearance please you, little page?” asked the lady.

“He would be very hard to please if it didn’t,” cried Madame Tusher.

“Have done, you silly Maria,” said Lady Castlewood.

“Where I’m attached, I’m attached, Madame — and I’d die rather than not say so.”

“Je meurs ou je m’attache,” Mr. Holt said with a polite grin. “The ivy says so in the picture, and clings to the oak like a fond parasite as it is.”

“Parricide, sir!” cries Mrs. Tusher.

“Hush, Tusher — you are always bickering with Father Holt,” cried my lady. “Come and kiss my hand, child;” and the oak held out a BRANCH to little Harry Esmond, who took and dutifully kissed the lean old hand, upon the gnarled knuckles of which there glittered a hundred rings.

“To kiss that hand would make many a pretty fellow happy!” cried Mrs. Tusher: on which my lady crying out, “Go, you foolish Tusher!” and tapping her with her great fan, Tusher ran forward to seize her hand and kiss it. Fury arose and barked furiously at Tusher; and Father Holt looked on at this queer scene, with arch, grave glances.

The awe exhibited by the little boy perhaps pleased the lady to whom this artless flattery was bestowed: for having gone down on his knee (as Father Holt had directed him, and the mode then was) and performed his obeisance, she said, “Page Esmond, my groom of the chamber will inform you what your duties are, when you wait upon my lord and me; and good Father Holt will instruct you as becomes a gentleman of our name. You will pay him obedience in everything, and I pray you may grow to be as learned and as good as your tutor.”

The lady seemed to have the greatest reverence for Mr. Holt, and to be more afraid of him than of anything else in the world. If she was ever so angry, a word or look from Father Holt made her calm: indeed he had a vast power of subjecting those who came near him; and, among the rest, his new pupil gave himself up with an entire confidence and attachment to the good Father, and became his willing slave almost from the first moment he saw him.

He put his small hand into the Father’s as he walked away from his first presentation to his mistress, and asked many questions in his artless childish way. “Who is that other woman?” he asked. “She is fat and round; she is more pretty than my Lady Castlewood.”

“She is Madame Tusher, the parson’s wife of Castlewood. She has a son of your age, but bigger than you.”

“Why does she like so to kiss my lady’s hand. It is not good to kiss.”

“Tastes are different, little man. Madame Tusher is attached to my lady, having been her waiting-woman before she was married, in the old lord’s time. She married Doctor Tusher the chaplain. The English household divines often marry the waiting-women.”

“You will not marry the French woman, will you? I saw her laughing with Blaise in the buttery.”

“I belong to a church that is older and better than the English church,” Mr. Holt said (making a sign whereof Esmond did not then understand the meaning, across his breast and forehead); “in our church the clergy do not marry. You will understand these things better soon.”

“Was not Saint Peter the head of your church? — Dr. Rabbits of Ealing told us so.”

The Father said, “Yes, he was.”

“But Saint Peter was married, for we heard only last Sunday that his wife’s mother lay sick of a fever.” On which the Father again laughed, and said he would understand this too better soon, and talked of other things, and took away Harry Esmond, and showed him the great old house which he had come to inhabit.

It stood on a rising green hill, with woods behind it, in which were rooks’ nests, where the birds at morning and returning home at evening made a great cawing. At the foot of the hill was a river, with a steep ancient bridge crossing it; and beyond that a large pleasant green flat, where the village of Castlewood stood, and stands, with the church in the midst, the parsonage hard by it, the inn with the blacksmith’s forge beside it, and the sign of the “Three Castles” on the elm. The London road stretched away towards the rising sun, and to the west were swelling hills and peaks, behind which many a time Harry Esmond saw the same sun setting, that he now looks on thousands of miles away across the great ocean — in a new Castlewood, by another stream, that bears, like the new country of wandering AEneas, the fond names of the land of his youth.

The Hall of Castlewood was built with two courts, whereof one only, the fountain-court, was now inhabited, the other having been battered down in the Cromwellian wars. In the fountain-court, still in good repair, was the great hall, near to the kitchen and butteries. A dozen of living-rooms looking to the north, and communicating with the little chapel that faced eastwards and the buildings stretching from that to the main gate, and with the hall (which looked to the west) into the court now dismantled. This court had been the most magnificent of the two, until the Protector’s cannon tore down one side of it before the place was taken and stormed. The besiegers entered at the terrace under the clock-tower, slaying every man of the garrison, and at their head my lord’s brother, Francis Esmond.

The Restoration did not bring enough money to the Lord Castlewood to restore this ruined part of his house; where were the morning parlors, above them the long music-gallery, and before which stretched the garden-terrace, where, however, the flowers grew again which the boots of the Roundheads had trodden in their assault, and which was restored without much cost, and only a little care, by both ladies who succeeded the second viscount in the government of this mansion. Round the terrace-garden was a low wall with a wicket leading to the wooded height beyond, that is called Cromwell’s Battery to this day.

Young Harry Esmond learned the domestic part of his duty, which was easy enough, from the groom of her ladyship’s chamber: serving the Countess, as the custom commonly was in his boyhood, as page, waiting at her chair, bringing her scented water and the silver basin after dinner — sitting on her carriage-step on state occasions, or on public days introducing her company to her. This was chiefly of the Catholic gentry, of whom there were a pretty many in the country and neighboring city; and who rode not seldom to Castlewood to partake of the hospitalities there. In the second year of their residence, the company seemed especially to increase. My lord and my lady were seldom without visitors, in whose society it was curious to contrast the difference of behavior between Father Holt, the director of the family, and Doctor Tusher, the rector of the parish — Mr. Holt moving amongst the very highest as quite their equal, and as commanding them all; while poor Doctor Tusher, whose position was indeed a difficult one, having been chaplain once to the Hall, and still to the Protestant servants there, seemed more like an usher than an equal, and always rose to go away after the first course.

Also there came in these times to Father Holt many private visitors, whom, after a little, Henry Esmond had little difficulty in recognizing as ecclesiastics of the Father’s persuasion, whatever their dresses (and they adopted all) might be. These were closeted with the Father constantly, and often came and rode away without paying their devoirs to my lord and lady — to the lady and lord rather — his lordship being little more than a cipher in the house, and entirely under his domineering partner. A little fowling, a little hunting, a great deal of sleep, and a long dine at cards and table, carried through one day after another with his lordship. When meetings took place in this second year, which often would happen with closed doors, the page found my lord’s sheet of paper scribbled over with dogs and horses, and ’twas said he had much ado to keep himself awake at these councils: the Countess ruling over them, and he acting as little more than her secretary.

Father Holt began speedily to be so much occupied with these meetings as rather to neglect the education of the little lad who so gladly put himself under the kind priest’s orders. At first they read much and regularly, both in Latin and French; the Father not neglecting in anything to impress his faith upon his pupil, but not forcing him violently, and treating him with a delicacy and kindness which surprised and attached the child, always more easily won by these methods than by any severe exercise of authority. And his delight in their walks was to tell Harry of the glories of his order, of its martyrs and heroes, of its Brethren converting the heathen by myriads, traversing the desert, facing the stake, ruling the courts and councils, or braving the tortures of kings; so that Harry Esmond thought that to belong to the Jesuits was the greatest prize of life and bravest end of ambition; the greatest career here, and in heaven the surest reward; and began to long for the day, not only when he should enter into the one church and receive his first communion, but when he might join that wonderful brotherhood, which was present throughout all the world, and which numbered the wisest, the bravest, the highest born, the most eloquent of men among its members. Father Holt bade him keep his views secret, and to hide them as a great treasure which would escape him if it was revealed; and, proud of this confidence and secret vested in him, the lad became fondly attached to the master who initiated him into a mystery so wonderful and awful. And when little Tom Tusher, his neighbor, came from school for his holiday, and said how he, too, was to be bred up for an English priest, and would get what he called an exhibition from his school, and then a college scholarship and fellowship, and then a good living — it tasked young Harry Esmond’s powers of reticence not to say to his young companion, “Church! priesthood! fat living! My dear Tommy, do you call yours a church and a priesthood? What is a fat living compared to converting a hundred thousand heathens by a single sermon? What is a scholarship at Trinity by the side of a crown of martyrdom, with angels awaiting you as your head is taken off? Could your master at school sail over the Thames on his gown? Have you statues in your church that can bleed, speak, walk, and cry? My good Tommy, in dear Father Holt’s church these things take place every day. You know Saint Philip of the Willows appeared to Lord Castlewood, and caused him to turn to the one true church. No saints ever come to you.” And Harry Esmond, because of his promise to Father Holt, hiding away these treasures of faith from T. Tusher, delivered himself of them nevertheless simply to Father Holt; who stroked his head, smiled at him with his inscrutable look, and told him that he did well to meditate on these great things, and not to talk of them except under direction.

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