The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter III.

A Paper Out of the “spectator.”

Doth any young gentleman of my progeny, who may read his old grandfather’s papers, chance to be presently suffering under the passion of Love? There is a humiliating cure, but one that is easy and almost specific for the malady — which is, to try an alibi. Esmond went away from his mistress and was cured a half-dozen times; he came back to her side, and instantly fell ill again of the fever. He vowed that he could leave her and think no more of her, and so he could pretty well, at least, succeed in quelling that rage and longing he had whenever he was with her; but as soon as he returned he was as bad as ever again. Truly a ludicrous and pitiable object, at least exhausting everybody’s pity but his dearest mistress’s, Lady Castlewood’s, in whose tender breast he reposed all his dreary confessions, and who never tired of hearing him and pleading for him.

Sometimes Esmond would think there was hope. Then again he would be plagued with despair, at some impertinence or coquetry of his mistress. For days they would be like brother and sister, or the dearest friends — she, simple, fond, and charming — he, happy beyond measure at her good behavior. But this would all vanish on a sudden. Either he would be too pressing, and hint his love, when she would rebuff him instantly, and give his vanity a box on the ear; or he would be jealous, and with perfect good reason, of some new admirer that had sprung up, or some rich young gentleman newly arrived in the town, that this incorrigible flirt would set her nets and baits to draw in. If Esmond remonstrated, the little rebel would say —“Who are you? I shall go my own way, sirrah, and that way is towards a husband, and I don’t want YOU on the way. I am for your betters, Colonel, for your betters: do you hear that? You might do if you had an estate and were younger; only eight years older than I, you say! pish, you are a hundred years older. You are an old, old Graveairs, and I should make you miserable, that would be the only comfort I should have in marrying you. But you have not money enough to keep a cat decently after you have paid your man his wages, and your landlady her bill. Do you think I am going to live in a lodging, and turn the mutton at a string whilst your honor nurses the baby? Fiddlestick, and why did you not get this nonsense knocked out of your head when you were in the wars? You are come back more dismal and dreary than ever. You and mamma are fit for each other. You might be Darby and Joan, and play cribbage to the end of your lives.”

“At least you own to your worldliness, my poor Trix,” says her mother.

“Worldliness. Oh, my pretty lady! Do you think that I am a child in the nursery, and to be frightened by Bogey! Worldliness, to be sure; and pray, madam, where is the harm of wishing to be comfortable? When you are gone, you dearest old woman, or when I am tired of you and have run away from you, where shall I go? Shall I go and be head nurse to my Popish sister-inlaw, take the children their physic, and whip ’em, and put ’em to bed when they are naughty? Shall I be Castlewood’s upper servant, and perhaps marry Tom Tusher? Merci! I have been long enough Frank’s humble servant. Why am I not a man? I have ten times his brains, and had I worn the — well, don’t let your ladyship be frightened — had I worn a sword and periwig instead of this mantle and commode to which nature has condemned me —(though ’tis a pretty stuff, too — Cousin Esmond! you will go to the Exchange tomorrow, and get the exact counterpart of this ribbon, sir; do you hear?)— I would have made our name talked about. So would Graveairs here have made something out of our name if he had represented it. My Lord Graveairs would have done very well. Yes, you have a very pretty way, and would have made a very decent, grave speaker.” And here she began to imitate Esmond’s way of carrying himself and speaking to his face, and so ludicrously that his mistress burst out a-laughing, and even he himself could see there was some likeness in the fantastical malicious caricature.

“Yes,” says she, “I solemnly vow, own, and confess, that I want a good husband. Where’s the harm of one? My face is my fortune. Who’ll come? — buy, buy, buy! I cannot toil, neither can I spin, but I can play twenty-three games on the cards. I can dance the last dance, I can hunt the stag, and I think I could shoot flying. I can talk as wicked as any woman of my years, and know enough stories to amuse a sulky husband for at least one thousand and one nights. I have a pretty taste for dress, diamonds, gambling, and old China. I love sugar-plums, Malines lace (that you brought me, cousin, is very pretty), the opera, and everything that is useless and costly. I have got a monkey and a little black boy — Pompey, sir, go and give a dish of chocolate to Colonel Graveairs — and a parrot and a spaniel, and I must have a husband. Cupid, you hear?”

“Iss, Missis!” says Pompey, a little grinning negro Lord Peterborrow gave her, with a bird of Paradise in his turbant, and a collar with his mistress’s name on it.

“Iss, Missis!” says Beatrix, imitating the child. “And if husband not come, Pompey must go fetch one.”

And Pompey went away grinning with his chocolate tray as Miss Beatrix ran up to her mother and ended her sally of mischief in her common way, with a kiss — no wonder that upon paying such a penalty her fond judge pardoned her.

When Mr. Esmond came home, his health was still shattered; and he took a lodging near to his mistresses, at Kensington, glad enough to be served by them, and to see them day after day. He was enabled to see a little company — and of the sort he liked best. Mr. Steele and Mr. Addison both did him the honor to visit him; and drank many a glass of good claret at his lodging, whilst their entertainer, through his wound, was kept to diet drink and gruel. These gentlemen were Whigs, and great admirers of my Lord Duke of Marlborough; and Esmond was entirely of the other party. But their different views of politics did not prevent the gentlemen from agreeing in private, nor from allowing, on one evening when Esmond’s kind old patron, Lieutenant-General Webb, with a stick and a crutch, hobbled up to the Colonel’s lodging (which was prettily situate at Knightsbridge, between London and Kensington, and looking over the Gardens), that the Lieutenant-General was a noble and gallant soldier — and even that he had been hardly used in the Wynendael affair. He took his revenge in talk, that must be confessed; and if Mr. Addison had had a mind to write a poem about Wynendael, he might have heard from the commander’s own lips the story a hundred times over.

Mr. Esmond, forced to be quiet, betook himself to literature for a relaxation, and composed his comedy, whereof the prompter’s copy lieth in my walnut escritoire, sealed up and docketed, “The Faithful Fool, a Comedy, as it was performed by her Majesty’s Servants.” ’Twas a very sentimental piece; and Mr. Steele, who had more of that kind of sentiment than Mr. Addison, admired it, whilst the other rather sneered at the performance; though he owned that, here and there, it contained some pretty strokes. He was bringing out his own play of “Cato” at the time, the blaze of which quite extinguished Esmond’s farthing candle; and his name was never put to the piece, which was printed as by a Person of Quality. Only nine copies were sold, though Mr. Dennis, the great critic, praised it, and said ’twas a work of great merit; and Colonel Esmond had the whole impression burned one day in a rage, by Jack Lockwood, his man.

All this comedy was full of bitter satiric strokes against a certain young lady. The plot of the piece was quite a new one. A young woman was represented with a great number of suitors, selecting a pert fribble of a peer, in place of the hero (but ill-acted, I think, by Mr. Wilks, the Faithful Fool,) who persisted in admiring her. In the fifth act, Teraminta was made to discover the merits of Eugenio (the F. F.), and to feel a partiality for him too late; for he announced that he had bestowed his hand and estate upon Rosaria, a country lass, endowed with every virtue. But it must be owned that the audience yawned through the play; and that it perished on the third night, with only half a dozen persons to behold its agonies. Esmond and his two mistresses came to the first night, and Miss Beatrix fell asleep; whilst her mother, who had not been to a play since King James the Second’s time, thought the piece, though not brilliant, had a very pretty moral.

Mr. Esmond dabbled in letters, and wrote a deal of prose and verse at this time of leisure. When displeased with the conduct of Miss Beatrix, he would compose a satire, in which he relieved his mind. When smarting under the faithlessness of women, he dashed off a copy of verses, in which he held the whole sex up to scorn. One day, in one of these moods, he made a little joke, in which (swearing him to secrecy) he got his friend Dick Steele to help him; and, composing a paper, he had it printed exactly like Steele’s paper, and by his printer, and laid on his mistress’s breakfast-table the following —

“SPECTATOR.

“No. 341. “Tuesday, April 1, 1712.

Mutato nomine de te Fabula narratur. — HORACE.
Thyself the morain of the fable see. — CREECH.

“Jocasta is known as a woman of learning and fashion, and as one of the most amiable persons of this court and country. She is at home two mornings of the week, and all the wits and a few of the beauties of London flock to her assemblies. When she goes abroad to Tunbridge or the Bath, a retinue of adorers rides the journey with her; and besides the London beaux, she has a crowd of admirers at the Wells, the polite amongst the natives of Sussex and Somerset pressing round her tea-tables, and being anxious for a nod from her chair. Jocasta’s acquaintance is thus very numerous. Indeed, ’tis one smart writer’s work to keep her visiting-book — a strong footman is engaged to carry it; and it would require a much stronger head even than Jocasta’s own to remember the names of all her dear friends.

“Either at Epsom Wells or at Tunbridge (for of this important matter Jocasta cannot be certain) it was her ladyship’s fortune to become acquainted with a young gentleman, whose conversation was so sprightly, and manners amiable, that she invited the agreeable young spark to visit her if ever he came to London, where her house in Spring Garden should be open to him. Charming as he was, and without any manner of doubt a pretty fellow, Jocasta hath such a regiment of the like continually marching round her standard, that ’tis no wonder her attention is distracted amongst them. And so, though this gentleman made a considerable impression upon her, and touched her heart for at least three-and-twenty minutes, it must be owned that she has forgotten his name. He is a dark man, and may be eight-and-twenty years old. His dress is sober, though of rich materials. He has a mole on his forehead over his left eye; has a blue ribbon to his cane and sword, and wears his own hair.

“Jocasta was much flattered by beholding her admirer (for that everybody admires who sees her is a point which she never can for a moment doubt) in the next pew to her at St. James’s Church last Sunday; and the manner in which he appeared to go to sleep during the sermon — though from under his fringed eyelids it was evident he was casting glances of respectful rapture towards Jocasta — deeply moved and interested her. On coming out of church, he found his way to her chair, and made her an elegant bow as she stepped into it. She saw him at Court afterwards, where he carried himself with a most distinguished air, though none of her acquaintances knew his name; and the next night he was at the play, where her ladyship was pleased to acknowledge him from the side-box.

“During the whole of the comedy she racked her brains so to remember his name that she did not hear a word of the piece: and having the happiness to meet him once more in the lobby of the playhouse, she went up to him in a flutter, and bade him remember that she kept two nights in the week, and that she longed to see him at Spring Garden.

“He appeared on Tuesday, in a rich suit, showing a very fine taste both in the tailor and wearer; and though a knot of us were gathered round the charming Jocasta, fellows who pretended to know every face upon the town, not one could tell the gentleman’s name in reply to Jocasta’s eager inquiries, flung to the right and left of her as he advanced up the room with a bow that would become a duke.

“Jocasta acknowledged this salute with one of those smiles and curtsies of which that lady hath the secret. She curtsies with a languishing air, as if to say, ‘You are come at last. I have been pining for you:’ and then she finishes her victim with a killing look, which declares: ‘O Philander! I have no eyes but for you.’ Camilla hath as good a curtsy perhaps, and Thalestris much such another look; but the glance and the curtsy together belong to Jocasta of all the English beauties alone.

“‘Welcome to London, sir,’ says she. ‘One can see you are from the country by your looks.’ She would have said ‘Epsom,’ or ‘Tunbridge,’ had she remembered rightly at which place she had met the stranger; but, alas! she had forgotten.

“The gentleman said, ‘he had been in town but three days; and one of his reasons for coming hither was to have the honor of paying his court to Jocasta.’

“She said, ‘the waters had agreed with her but indifferently.’

“‘The waters were for the sick,’ the gentleman said: ‘the young and beautiful came but to make them sparkle. And as the clergyman read the service on Sunday,’ he added, ‘your ladyship reminded me of the angel that visited the pool.’ A murmur of approbation saluted this sally. Manilio, who is a wit when he is not at cards, was in such a rage that he revoked when he heard it.

“Jocasta was an angel visiting the waters; but at which of the Bethesdas? She was puzzled more and more; and, as her way always is, looked the more innocent and simple, the more artful her intentions were.

“‘We were discoursing,’ says she, ‘about spelling of names and words when you came. Why should we say goold and write gold, and call china chayney, and Cavendish Candish, and Cholmondeley Chumley? If we call Pulteney Poltney, why shouldn’t we call poultry pultry — and —’

“‘Such an enchantress as your ladyship,’ says he, ‘is mistress of all sorts of spells.’ But this was Dr. Swift’s pun, and we all knew it.

“‘And — and how do you spell your name?’ says she, coming to the point at length; for this sprightly conversation had lasted much longer than is here set down, and been carried on through at least three dishes of tea.

“‘Oh, madam,’ says he, ‘I SPELL MY NAME WITH THE Y.’ And laying down his dish, my gentleman made another elegant bow, and was gone in a moment.

“Jocasta hath had no sleep since this mortification, and the stranger’s disappearance. If balked in anything, she is sure to lose her health and temper; and we, her servants, suffer, as usual, during the angry fits of our Queen. Can you help us, Mr. Spectator, who know everything, to read this riddle for her, and set at rest all our minds? We find in her list, Mr. Berty, Mr. Smith, Mr. Pike, Mr. Tyler — who may be Mr. Bertie, Mr. Smyth, Mr. Pyke, Mr. Tiler, for what we know. She hath turned away the clerk of her visiting-book, a poor fellow with a great family of children. Read me this riddle, good Mr. Shortface, and oblige your admirer — OEDIPUS.”

“THE TRUMPET COFFEE-HOUSE, WHITEHALL.

“MR. SPECTATOR — I am a gentleman but little acquainted with the town, though I have had a university education, and passed some years serving my country abroad, where my name is better known than in the coffee-house and St. James’s.

“Two years since my uncle died, leaving me a pretty estate in the county of Kent; and being at Tunbridge Wells last summer, after my mourning was over, and on the look-out, if truth must be told, for some young lady who would share with me the solitude of my great Kentish house, and be kind to my tenantry (for whom a woman can do a great deal more good than the best-intentioned man can), I was greatly fascinated by a young lady of London, who was the toast of all the company at the Wells. Every one knows Saccharissa’s beauty; and I think, Mr. Spectator, no one better than herself.

“My table-book informs me that I danced no less than seven-and-twenty sets with her at the Assembly. I treated her to the fiddles twice. I was admitted on several days to her lodging, and received by her with a great deal of distinction, and, for a time, was entirely her slave. It was only when I found, from common talk of the company at the Wells, and from narrowly watching one, who I once thought of asking the most sacred question a man can put to a woman, that I became aware how unfit she was to be a country gentleman’s wife; and that this fair creature was but a heartless worldly jilt, playing with affections that she never meant to return, and, indeed, incapable of returning them. ’Tis admiration such women want, not love that touches them; and I can conceive, in her old age, no more wretched creature than this lady will be, when her beauty hath deserted her, when her admirers have left her, and she hath neither friendship nor religion to console her.

“Business calling me to London, I went to St. James’s Church last Sunday, and there opposite me sat my beauty of the Wells. Her behavior during the whole service was so pert, languishing, and absurd; she flirted her fan, and ogled and eyed me in a manner so indecent, that I was obliged to shut my eyes, so as actually not to see her, and whenever I opened them beheld hers (and very bright they are) still staring at me. I fell in with her afterwards at Court, and at the playhouse; and here nothing would satisfy her but she must elbow through the crowd and speak to me, and invite me to the assembly, which she holds at her house, not very far from Ch-r-ng Cr-ss.

“Having made her a promise to attend, of course I kept my promise; and found the young widow in the midst of a half-dozen of card tables, and a crowd of wits and admirers. I made the best bow I could, and advanced towards her; and saw by a peculiar puzzled look in her face, though she tried to hide her perplexity, that she had forgotten even my name.

“Her talk, artful as it was, convinced me that I had guessed aright. She turned the conversation most ridiculously upon the spelling of names and words; and I replied with as ridiculous fulsome compliments as I could pay her: indeed, one in which I compared her to an angel visiting the sick wells, went a little too far; nor should I have employed it, but that the allusion came from the Second Lesson last Sunday, which we both had heard, and I was pressed to answer her.

“Then she came to the question, which I knew was awaiting me, and asked how I SPELT my name? ‘Madam,’ says I, turning on my heel, ‘I spell it with a Y.’ And so I left her, wondering at the light-heartedness of the town-people, who forget and make friends so easily, and resolved to look elsewhere for a partner for your constant reader,

“CYMON WYLDOATS.”

“You know my real name, Mr. Spectator, in which there is no such a letter as HUPSILON. But if the lady, whom I have called Saccharissa, wonders that I appear no more at the tea-tables, she is hereby respectfully informed the reason Y.”

The above is a parable, whereof the writer will now expound the meaning. Jocasta was no other than Miss Esmond, Maid of Honor to her Majesty. She had told Mr. Esmond this little story of having met a gentleman somewhere, and forgetting his name, when the gentleman, with no such malicious intentions as those of “Cymon” in the above fable, made the answer simply as above; and we all laughed to think how little Mistress Jocasta-Beatrix had profited by her artifice and precautions.

As for Cymon, he was intended to represent yours and her very humble servant, the writer of the apologue and of this story, which we had printed on a “Spectator” paper at Mr. Steele’s office, exactly as those famous journals were printed, and which was laid on the table at breakfast in place of the real newspaper. Mistress Jocasta, who had plenty of wit, could not live without her Spectator to her tea; and this sham Spectator was intended to convey to the young woman that she herself was a flirt, and that Cymon was a gentleman of honor and resolution, seeing all her faults, and determined to break the chains once and for ever.

For though enough hath been said about this love-business already — enough, at least, to prove to the writer’s heirs what a silly fond fool their old grandfather was, who would like them to consider him as a very wise old gentleman; yet not near all has been told concerning this matter, which, if it were allowed to take in Esmond’s journal the space it occupied in his time, would weary his kinsmen and women of a hundred years’ time beyond all endurance; and form such a diary of folly and drivelling, raptures and rage, as no man of ordinary vanity would like to leave behind him.

The truth is, that, whether she laughed at him or encouraged him; whether she smiled or was cold, and turned her smiles on another; worldly and ambitious, as he knew her to be; hard and careless, as she seemed to grow with her court life, and a hundred admirers that came to her and left her; Esmond, do what he would, never could get Beatrix out of his mind; thought of her constantly at home or away. If he read his name in a Gazette, or escaped the shot of a cannon-ball or a greater danger in the campaign, as has happened to him more than once, the instant thought after the honor achieved or the danger avoided, was, “What will SHE say of it?” “Will this distinction or the idea of this peril elate her or touch her, so as to be better inclined towards me?” He could no more help this passionate fidelity of temper than he could help the eyes he saw with — one or the other seemed a part of his nature; and knowing every one of her faults as well as the keenest of her detractors, and the folly of an attachment to such a woman, of which the fruition could never bring him happiness for above a week, there was yet a charm about this Circe from which the poor deluded gentleman could not free himself; and for a much longer period than Ulysses (another middle-aged officer, who had travelled much, and been in the foreign wars,) Esmond felt himself enthralled and besotted by the wiles of this enchantress. Quit her! He could no more quit her, as the Cymon of this story was made to quit his false one, than he could lose his consciousness of yesterday. She had but to raise her finger, and he would come back from ever so far; she had but to say I have discarded such and such an adorer, and the poor infatuated wretch would be sure to come and roder about her mother’s house, willing to be put on the ranks of suitors, though he knew he might be cast off the next week. If he were like Ulysses in his folly, at least she was in so far like Penelope that she had a crowd of suitors, and undid day after day and night after night the handiwork of fascination and the web of coquetry with which she was wont to allure and entertain them.

Part of her coquetry may have come from her position about the Court, where the beautiful maid of honor was the light about which a thousand beaux came and fluttered; where she was sure to have a ring of admirers round her, crowding to listen to her repartees as much as to admire her beauty; and where she spoke and listened to much free talk, such as one never would have thought the lips or ears of Rachel Castlewood’s daughter would have uttered or heard. When in waiting at Windsor or Hampton, the Court ladies and gentlemen would be making riding parties together; Mrs. Beatrix in a horseman’s coat and hat, the foremost after the stag-hounds and over the park fences, a crowd of young fellows at her heels. If the English country ladies at this time were the most pure and modest of any ladies in the world — the English town and court ladies permitted themselves words and behavior that were neither modest nor pure; and claimed, some of them, a freedom which those who love that sex most would never wish to grant them. The gentlemen of my family that follow after me (for I don’t encourage the ladies to pursue any such studies), may read in the works of Mr. Congreve, and Dr. Swift and others, what was the conversation and what the habits of our time.

The most beautiful woman in England in 1712, when Esmond returned to this country, a lady of high birth, and though of no fortune to be sure, with a thousand fascinations of wit and manners, Beatrix Esmond was now six-and-twenty years old, and Beatrix Esmond still. Of her hundred adorers she had not chosen one for a husband; and those who had asked had been jilted by her; and more still had left her. A succession of near ten years’ crops of beauties had come up since her time, and had been reaped by proper HUSBANDmen, if we may make an agricultural simile, and had been housed comfortably long ago. Her own contemporaries were sober mothers by this time; girls with not a tithe of her charms, or her wit, having made good matches, and now claiming precedence over the spinster who but lately had derided and outshone them. The young beauties were beginning to look down on Beatrix as an old maid, and sneer, and call her one of Charles II.‘s ladies, and ask whether her portrait was not in the Hampton Court Gallery? But still she reigned, at least in one man’s opinion, superior over all the little misses that were the toasts of the young lads; and in Esmond’s eyes was ever perfectly lovely and young.

Who knows how many were nearly made happy by possessing her, or, rather, how many were fortunate in escaping this siren? ’Tis a marvel to think that her mother was the purest and simplest woman in the whole world, and that this girl should have been born from her. I am inclined to fancy, my mistress, who never said a harsh word to her children (and but twice or thrice only to one person), must have been too fond and pressing with the maternal authority; for her son and her daughter both revolted early; nor after their first flight from the nest could they ever be brought back quite to the fond mother’s bosom. Lady Castlewood, and perhaps it was as well, knew little of her daughter’s life and real thoughts. How was she to apprehend what passes in Queen’s ante-chambers and at Court tables? Mrs. Beatrix asserted her own authority so resolutely that her mother quickly gave in. The maid of honor had her own equipage; went from home and came back at her own will: her mother was alike powerless to resist her or to lead her, or to command or to persuade her.

She had been engaged once, twice, thrice, to be married, Esmond believed. When he quitted home, it hath been said, she was promised to my Lord Ashburnham, and now, on his return, behold his lordship was just married to Lady Mary Butler, the Duke of Ormonde’s daughter, and his fine houses, and twelve thousand a year of fortune, for which Miss Beatrix had rather coveted him, was out of her power. To her Esmond could say nothing in regard to the breaking of this match; and, asking his mistress about it, all Lady Castlewood answered was: “do not speak to me about it, Harry. I cannot tell you how or why they parted, and I fear to inquire. I have told you before, that with all her kindness, and wit, and generosity, and that sort of splendor of nature she has, I can say but little good of poor Beatrix, and look with dread at the marriage she will form. Her mind is fixed on ambition only, and making a great figure; and, this achieved, she will tire of it as she does of everything. Heaven help her husband, whoever he shall be! My Lord Ashburnham was a most excellent young man, gentle and yet manly, of very good parts, so they told me, and as my little conversation would enable me to judge: and a kind temper — kind and enduring I’m sure he must have been, from all that he had to endure. But he quitted her at last, from some crowning piece of caprice or tyranny of hers; and now he has married a young woman that will make him a thousand times happier than my poor girl ever could.”

The rupture, whatever its cause was, (I heard the scandal, but indeed shall not take pains to repeat at length in this diary the trumpery coffee-house story,) caused a good deal of low talk; and Mr. Esmond was present at my lord’s appearance at the Birthday with his bride, over whom the revenge that Beatrix took was to look so imperial and lovely that the modest downcast young lady could not appear beside her, and Lord Ashburnham, who had his reasons for wishing to avoid her, slunk away quite shamefaced, and very early. This time his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, whom Esmond had seen about her before, was constant at Miss Beatrix’s side: he was one of the most splendid gentlemen of Europe, accomplished by books, by travel, by long command of the best company, distinguished as a statesman, having been ambassador in King Williamn’s time, and a noble speaker in the Scots’ Parliament, where he had led the party that was against the Union, and though now five or six and forty years of age, a gentleman so high in stature, accomplished in wit, and favored in person, that he might pretend to the hand of any Princess in Europe.

“Should you like the Duke for a cousin?” says Mr. Secretary St. John, whispering to Colonel Esmond in French; “it appears that the widower consoles himself.”

But to return to our little Spectator paper and the conversation which grew out of it. Miss Beatrix at first was quite BIT (as the phrase of that day was) and did not “smoke” the authorship of the story; indeed Esmond had tried to imitate as well as he could Mr. Steele’s manner (as for the other author of the Spectator, his prose style I think is altogether inimitable); and Dick, who was the idlest and best-natured of men, would have let the piece pass into his journal and go to posterity as one of his own lucubrations, but that Esmond did not care to have a lady’s name whom he loved sent forth to the world in a light so unfavorable. Beatrix pished and psha’d over the paper; Colonel Esmond watching with no little interest her countenance as she read it.

“How stupid your friend Mr. Steele becomes!” cries Miss Beatrix. “Epsom and Tunbridge! Will he never have done with Epsom and Tunbridge, and with beaux at church, and Jocastas and Lindamiras? Why does he not call women Nelly and Betty, as their godfathers and godmothers did for them in their baptism?”

“Beatrix. Beatrix!” says her mother, “speak gravely of grave things.”

“Mamma thinks the Church Catechism came from heaven, I believe,” says Beatrix, with a laugh, “and was brought down by a bishop from a mountain. Oh, how I used to break my heart over it! Besides, I had a Popish godmother, mamma; why did you give me one?”

“I gave you the Queen’s name,” says her mother blushing. “And a very pretty name it is,” said somebody else.

Beatrix went on reading —“Spell my name with a Y— why, you wretch,” says she, turning round to Colonel Esmond, “you have been telling my story to Mr. Steele — or stop — you have written the paper yourself to turn me into ridicule. For shame, sir!”

Poor Mr. Esmond felt rather frightened, and told a truth, which was nevertheless an entire falsehood. “Upon my honor,” says he, “I have not even read the Spectator of this morning.” Nor had he, for that was not the Spectator, but a sham newspaper put in its place.

She went on reading: her face rather flushed as she read. “No,” she says, “I think you couldn’t have written it. I think it must have been Mr. Steele when he was drunk — and afraid of his horrid vulgar wife. Whenever I see an enormous compliment to a woman, and some outrageous panegyric about female virtue, I always feel sure that the Captain and his better half have fallen out over-night, and that he has been brought home tipsy, or has been found out in-”

“Beatrix!” cries the Lady Castlewood.

“Well, mamma! Do not cry out before you are hurt. I am not going to say anything wrong. I won’t give you more annoyance than you can help, you pretty kind mamma. Yes, and your little Trix is a naughty little Trix, and she leaves undone those things which she ought to have done, and does those things which she ought not to have done, and there’s — well now — I won’t go on. Yes, I will, unless you kiss me.” And with this the young lady lays aside her paper, and runs up to her mother and performs a variety of embraces with her ladyship, saying as plain as eyes could speak to Mr. Esmond —“There, sir: would not YOU like to play the very same pleasant game?”

“Indeed, madam, I would,” says he.

“Would what?” asked Miss Beatrix.

“What you meant when you looked at me in that provoking way,” answers Esmond.

“What a confessor!” cries Beatrix, with a laugh.

“What is it Henry would like, my dear?” asks her mother, the kind soul, who was always thinking what we would like, and how she could please us.

The girl runs up to her —“Oh, you silly kind mamma,” she says, kissing her again, “that’s what Harry would like;” and she broke out into a great joyful laugh; and Lady Castlewood blushed as bashful as a maid of sixteen.

“Look at her, Harry,” whispers Beatrix, running up, and speaking in her sweet low tones. “Doesn’t the blush become her? Isn’t she pretty? She looks younger than I am, and I am sure she is a hundred million thousand times better.”

Esmond’s kind mistress left the room, carrying her blushes away with her.

“If we girls at Court could grow such roses as that,” continues Beatrix, with her laugh, “what wouldn’t we do to preserve ’em? We’d clip their stalks and put ’em in salt and water. But those flowers don’t bloom at Hampton Court and Windsor, Henry.” She paused for a minute, and the smile fading away from her April face, gave place to a menacing shower of tears; “Oh, how good she is, Harry,” Beatrix went on to say. “Oh, what a saint she is! Her goodness frightens me. I’m not fit to live with her. I should be better I think if she were not so perfect. She has had a great sorrow in her life, and a great secret; and repented of it. It could not have been my father’s death. She talks freely about that; nor could she have loved him very much — though who knows what we women do love, and why?”

“What, and why, indeed,” says Mr. Esmond.

“No one knows,” Beatrix went on, without noticing this interruption except by a look, “what my mother’s life is. She hath been at early prayer this morning; she passes hours in her closet; if you were to follow her thither, you would find her at prayers now. She tends the poor of the place — the horrid dirty poor! She sits through the curate’s sermons — oh, those dreary sermons! And you see on a beau dire; but good as they are, people like her are not fit to commune with us of the world. There is always, as it were, a third person present, even when I and my mother are alone. She can’t be frank with me quite; who is always thinking of the next world, and of her guardian angel, perhaps that’s in company. Oh, Harry, I’m jealous of that guardian angel!” here broke out Mistress Beatrix. “It’s horrid, I know; but my mother’s life is all for heaven, and mine — all for earth. We can never be friends quite; and then, she cares more for Frank’s little finger than she does for me — I know she does: and she loves you, sir, a great deal too much; and I hate you for it. I would have had her all to myself; but she wouldn’t. In my childhood, it was my father she loved —(oh, how could she? I remember him kind and handsome, but so stupid, and not being able to speak after drinking wine). And then it was Frank; and now, it is heaven and the clergyman. How I would have loved her! From a child I used to be in a rage that she loved anybody but me; but she loved you all better — all, I know she did. And now, she talks of the blessed consolation of religion. Dear soul! she thinks she is happier for believing, as she must, that we are all of us wicked and miserable sinners; and this world is only a pied-a-terre for the good, where they stay for a night, as we do, coming from Walcote, at that great, dreary, uncomfortable Hounslow Inn, in those horrid beds — oh, do you remember those horrid beds? — and the chariot comes and fetches them to heaven the next morning.”

“Hush, Beatrix,” says Mr. Esmond.

“Hush, indeed. You are a hypocrite, too, Henry, with your grave airs and your glum face. We are all hypocrites. O dear me! We are all alone, alone, alone,” says poor Beatrix, her fair breast heaving with a sigh.

“It was I that writ every line of that paper, my dear,” says Mr. Esmond. “You are not so worldly as you think yourself, Beatrix, and better than we believe you. The good we have in us we doubt of; and the happiness that’s to our hand we throw away. You bend your ambition on a great marriage and establishment — and why? You’ll tire of them when you win them; and be no happier with a coronet on your coach —”

“Than riding pillion with Lubin to market,” says Beatrix. “Thank you, Lubin!”

“I’m a dismal shepherd, to be sure,” answers Esmond, with a blush; “and require a nymph that can tuck my bed-clothes up, and make me water-gruel. Well, Tom Lockwood can do that. He took me out of the fire upon his shoulders, and nursed me through my illness as love will scarce ever do. Only good wages, and a hope of my clothes, and the contents of my portmanteau. How long was it that Jacob served an apprenticeship for Rachel?”

“For mamma?” says Beatrix. “It is mamma your honor wants, and that I should have the happiness of calling you papa?”

Esmond blushed again. “I spoke of a Rachel that a shepherd courted five thousand years ago; when shepherds were longer lived than now. And my meaning was, that since I saw you first after our separation — a child you were then . . .”

“And I put on my best stockings to captivate you, I remember, sir . . .”

“You have had my heart ever since then, such as it was; and such as you were, I cared for no other woman. What little reputation I have won, it was that you might be pleased with it: and indeed, it is not much; and I think a hundred fools in the army have got and deserved quite as much. Was there something in the air of that dismal old Castlewood that made us all gloomy, and dissatisfied, and lonely under its ruined old roof? We were all so, even when together and united, as it seemed, following our separate schemes, each as we sat round the table.”

“Dear, dreary old place!” cries Beatrix. “Mamma hath never had the heart to go back thither since we left it, when — never mind how many years ago.” And she flung back her curls, and looked over her fair shoulder at the mirror superbly, as if she said, “Time, I defy you.”

“Yes,” says Esmond, who had the art, as she owned, of divining many of her thoughts. “You can afford to look in the glass still; and only be pleased by the truth it tells you. As for me, do you know what my scheme is? I think of asking Frank to give me the Virginian estate King Charles gave our grandfather. (She gave a superb curtsy, as much as to say, ‘Our grandfather, indeed! Thank you, Mr. Bastard.’) Yes, I know you are thinking of my bar-sinister, and so am I. A man cannot get over it in this country; unless, indeed, he wears it across a king’s arms, when ’tis a highly honorable coat; and I am thinking of retiring into the plantations, and building myself a wigwam in the woods, and perhaps, if I want company, suiting myself with a squaw. We will send your ladyship furs over for the winter; and, when you are old, we’ll provide you with tobacco. I am not quite clever enough, or not rogue enough — I know not which — for the Old World. I may make a place for myself in the New, which is not so full; and found a family there. When you are a mother yourself, and a great lady, perhaps I shall send you over from the plantation some day a little barbarian that is half Esmond half Mohock, and you will be kind to him for his father’s sake, who was, after all, your kinsman; and whom you loved a little.”

“What folly you are talking, Harry,” says Miss Beatrix, looking with her great eyes.

“’Tis sober earnest,” says Esmond. And, indeed, the scheme had been dwelling a good deal in his mind for some time past, and especially since his return home, when he found how hopeless, and even degrading to himself, his passion was. “No,” says he, then: “I have tried half a dozen times now. I can bear being away from you well enough; but being with you is intolerable” (another low curtsy on Mistress Beatrix’s part), “and I will go. I have enough to buy axes and guns for my men, and beads and blankets for the savages; and I’ll go and live amongst them.”

“Mon ami,” she says quite kindly, and taking Esmond’s hand, with an air of great compassion, “you can’t think that in our position anything more than our present friendship is possible. You are our elder brother — as such we view you, pitying your misfortune, not rebuking you with it. Why, you are old enough and grave enough to be our father. I always thought you a hundred years old, Harry, with your solemn face and grave air. I feel as a sister to you, and can no more. Isn’t that enough, sir?” And she put her face quite close to his — who knows with what intention?

“It’s too much,” says Esmond, turning away. “I can’t bear this life, and shall leave it. I shall stay, I think, to see you married, and then freight a ship, and call it the ‘Beatrix,’ and bid you all . . .”

Here the servant, flinging the door open, announced his Grace the Duke of Hamilton, and Esmond started back with something like an imprecation on his lips, as the nobleman entered, looking splendid in his star and green ribbon. He gave Mr. Esmond just that gracious bow which he would have given to a lackey who fetched him a chair or took his hat, and seated himself by Miss Beatrix, as the poor Colonel went out of the room with a hang-dog look.

Esmond’s mistress was in the lower room as he passed down stairs. She often met him as he was coming away from Beatrix; and she beckoned him into the apartment.

“Has she told you, Harry?” Lady Castlewood said.

“She has been very frank — very,” says Esmond.

“But — but about what is going to happen?”

“What is going to happen?” says he, his heart beating.

“His Grace the Duke of Hamilton has proposed to her,” says my lady. “He made his offer yesterday. They will marry as soon as his mourning is over; and you have heard his Grace is appointed Ambassador to Paris; and the Ambassadress goes with him.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/esmond/chapter32.html

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