The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter IV.

Beatrix’s New Suitor.

The gentleman whom Beatrix had selected was, to be sure, twenty years older than the Colonel, with whom she quarrelled for being too old; but this one was but a nameless adventurer, and the other the greatest duke in Scotland, with pretensions even to a still higher title. My Lord Duke of Hamilton had, indeed, every merit belonging to a gentleman, and he had had the time to mature his accomplishments fully, being upwards of fifty years old when Madam Beatrix selected him for a bridegroom. Duke Hamilton, then Earl of Arran, had been educated at the famous Scottish university of Glasgow, and, coming to London, became a great favorite of Charles the Second, who made him a lord of his bedchamber, and afterwards appointed him ambassador to the French king, under whom the Earl served two campaigns as his Majesty’s aide-de-camp; and he was absent on this service when King Charles died.

King James continued my lord’s promotion — made him Master of the Wardrobe and Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Horse; and his lordship adhered firmly to King James, being of the small company that never quitted that unfortunate monarch till his departure out of England; and then it was, in 1688 namely, that he made the friendship with Colonel Francis Esmond, that had always been, more or less, maintained in the two families.

The Earl professed a great admiration for King William always, but never could give him his allegiance; and was engaged in more than one of the plots in the late great King’s reign which always ended in the plotters’ discomfiture, and generally in their pardon, by the magnanimity of the King. Lord Arran was twice prisoner in the Tower during this reign, undauntedly saying, when offered his release, upon parole not to engage against King William, that he would not give his word, because “he was sure he could not keep it;” but, nevertheless, he was both times discharged without any trial; and the King bore this noble enemy so little malice, that when his mother, the Duchess of Hamilton, of her own right, resigned her claim on her husband’s death, the Earl was, by patent signed at Loo, 1690, created Duke of Hamilton, Marquis of Clydesdale, and Earl of Arran, with precedency from the original creation. His Grace took the oaths and his seat in the Scottish parliament in 1700: was famous there for his patriotism and eloquence, especially in the debates about the Union Bill, which Duke Hamilton opposed with all his strength, though he would not go the length of the Scottish gentry, who were for resisting it by force of arms. ’Twas said he withdrew his opposition all of a sudden, and in consequence of letters from the King at St. Germains, who entreated him on his allegiance not to thwart the Queen his sister in this measure; and the Duke, being always bent upon effecting the King’s return to his kingdom through a reconciliation between his Majesty and Queen Anne, and quite averse to his landing with arms and French troops, held aloof, and kept out of Scotland during the time when the Chevalier de St. George’s descent from Dunkirk was projected, passing his time in England in his great estate in Staffordshire.

When the Whigs went out of office in 1710, the Queen began to show his Grace the very greatest marks of her favor. He was created Duke of Brandon and Baron of Dutton in England; having the Thistle already originally bestowed on him by King James the Second, his Grace was now promoted to the honor of the Garter — a distinction so great and illustrious, that no subject hath ever borne them hitherto together. When this objection was made to her Majesty, she was pleased to say, “Such a subject as the Duke of Hamilton has a pre-eminent claim to every mark of distinction which a crowned head can confer. I will henceforth wear both orders myself.”

At the Chapter held at Windsor in October, 1712, the Duke and other knights, including Lord-Treasurer, the new-created Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, were installed; and a few days afterwards his Grace was appointed Ambassador-Extraordinary to France, and his equipages, plate, and liveries commanded, of the most sumptuous kind, not only for his Excellency the Ambassador, but for her Excellency the Ambassadress, who was to accompany him. Her arms were already quartered on the coach panels, and her brother was to hasten over on the appointed day to give her away.

His lordship was a widower, having married, in 1698, Elizabeth, daughter of Digby Lord Gerard, by which marriage great estates came into the Hamilton family; and out of these estates came, in part, that tragic quarrel which ended the Duke’s career.

From the loss of a tooth to that of a mistress there’s no pang that is not bearable. The apprehension is much more cruel than the certainty; and we make up our mind to the misfortune when ’tis irremediable, part with the tormentor, and mumble our crust on t’other side of the jaws. I think Colonel Esmond was relieved when a ducal coach and six came and whisked his charmer away out of his reach, and placed her in a higher sphere. As you have seen the nymph in the opera-machine go up to the clouds at the end of the piece where Mars, Bacchus, Apollo, and all the divine company of Olympians are seated, and quaver out her last song as a goddess: so when this portentous elevation was accomplished in the Esmond family, I am not sure that every one of us did not treat the divine Beatrix with special honors; at least the saucy little beauty carried her head with a toss of supreme authority, and assumed a touch-me-not air, which all her friends very good-humoredly bowed to.

An old army acquaintance of Colonel Esmond’s, honest Tom Trett, who had sold his company, married a wife, and turned merchant in the city, was dreadfully gloomy for a long time, though living in a fine house on the river, and carrying on a great trade to all appearance. At length Esmond saw his friend’s name in the Gazette as a bankrupt; and a week after this circumstance my bankrupt walks into Mr. Esmond’s lodging with a face perfectly radiant with good-humor, and as jolly and careless as when they had sailed from Southampton ten years before for Vigo. “This bankruptcy,” says Tom, “has been hanging over my head these three years; the thought hath prevented my sleeping, and I have looked at poor Polly’s head on t’other pillow, and then towards my razor on the table, and thought to put an end to myself, and so give my woes the slip. But now we are bankrupts: Tom Trett pays as many shillings in the pound as he can; his wife has a little cottage at Fulham, and her fortune secured to herself. I am afraid neither of bailiff nor of creditor: and for the last six nights have slept easy.” So it was that when Fortune shook her wings and left him, honest Tom cuddled himself up in his ragged virtue, and fell asleep.

Esmond did not tell his friend how much his story applied to Esmond too; but he laughed at it, and used it; and having fairly struck his docket in this love transaction, determined to put a cheerful face on his bankruptcy. Perhaps Beatrix was a little offended at his gayety. “Is this the way, sir, that you receive the announcement of your misfortune,” says she, “and do you come smiling before me as if you were glad to be rid of me?”

Esmond would not be put off from his good-humor, but told her the story of Tom Trett and his bankruptcy. “I have been hankering after the grapes on the wall,” says he, “and lost my temper because they were beyond my reach; was there any wonder? They’re gone now, and another has them — a taller man than your humble servant has won them.” And the Colonel made his cousin a low bow.

“A taller man, Cousin Esmond!” says she. “A man of spirit would have sealed the wall, sir, and seized them! A man of courage would have fought for ’em, not gaped for ’em.”

“A Duke has but to gape and they drop into his mouth,” says Esmond, with another low bow.

“Yes, sir,” says she, “a Duke IS a taller man than you. And why should I not be grateful to one such as his Grace, who gives me his heart and his great name? It is a great gift he honors me with; I know ’tis a bargain between us; and I accept it, and will do my utmost to perform my part of it. ’Tis no question of sighing and philandering between a noble man of his Grace’s age and a girl who hath little of that softness in her nature. Why should I not own that I am ambitious, Harry Esmond; and if it be no sin in a man to covet honor, why should a woman too not desire it? Shall I be frank with you, Harry, and say that if you had not been down on your knees, and so humble, you might have fared better with me? A woman of my spirit, cousin, is to be won by gallantry, and not by sighs and rueful faces. All the time you are worshipping and singing hymns to me, I know very well I am no goddess, and grow weary of the incense. So would you have been weary of the goddess too — when she was called Mrs. Esmond, and got out of humor because she had not pin-money enough, and was forced to go about in an old gown. Eh! cousin, a goddess in a mob-cap, that has to make her husband’s gruel, ceases to be divine — I am sure of it. I should have been sulky and scolded; and of all the proud wretches in the world Mr. Esmond is the proudest, let me tell him that. You never fall into a passion; but you never forgive, I think. Had you been a great man, you might have been good-humored; but being nobody, sir, you are too great a man for me; and I’m afraid of you, cousin — there! and I won’t worship you, and you’ll never be happy except with a woman who will. Why, after I belonged to you, and after one of my tantrums, you would have put the pillow over my head some night, and smothered me, as the black man does the woman in the play that you’re so fond of. What’s the creature’s name? — Desdemona. You would, you little black-dyed Othello!”

“I think I should, Beatrix,” says the Colonel.

“And I want no such ending. I intend to live to be a hundred, and to go to ten thousand routs and balls, and to play cards every night of my life till the year eighteen hundred. And I like to be the first of my company, sir; and I like flattery and compliments, and you give me none; and I like to be made to laugh, sir, and who’s to laugh at YOUR dismal face, I should like to know? and I like a coach-and six or a coach-and-eight; and I like diamonds, and a new gown every week; and people to say —‘That’s the Duchess — How well her Grace looks — Make way for Madame l’Ambassadrice d’Angleterre — Call her Excellency’s people’— that’s what I like. And as for you, you want a woman to bring your slippers and cap, and to sit at your feet, and cry, ‘O caro! O bravo!’ whilst you read your Shakespeares and Miltons and stuff. Mamma would have been the wife for you, had you been a little older, though you look ten years older than she does — you do, you glum-faced, blue-bearded little old man! You might have sat, like Darby and Joan, and flattered each other; and billed and cooed like a pair of old pigeons on a perch. I want my wings and to use them, sir.” And she spread out her beautiful arms, as if indeed she could fly off like the pretty “Gawrie,” whom the man in the story was enamored of.

“And what will your Peter Wilkins say to your flight?” says Esmond, who never admired this fair creature more than when she rebelled and laughed at him.

“A duchess knows her place,” says she, with a laugh. “Why, I have a son already made for me, and thirty years old (my Lord Arran), and four daughters. How they will scold, and what a rage they will be in, when I come to take the head of the table! But I give them only a month to be angry; at the end of that time they shall love me every one, and so shall Lord Arran, and so shall all his Grace’s Scots vassals and followers in the Highlands. I’m bent on it; and when I take a thing in my head, ’tis done. His Grace is the greatest gentleman in Europe, and I’ll try and make him happy; and, when the King comes back, you may count on my protection, Cousin Esmond — for come back the King will and shall; and I’ll bring him back from Versailles, if he comes under my hoop.”

“I hope the world will make you happy, Beatrix,” says Esmond, with a sigh. “You’ll be Beatrix till you are my Lady Duchess — will you not? I shall then make your Grace my very lowest bow.”

“None of these sighs and this satire, cousin,” she says. “I take his Grace’s great bounty thankfully — yes, thankfully; and will wear his honors becomingly. I do not say he hath touched my heart; but he has my gratitude, obedience, admiration — I have told him that, and no more; and with that his noble heart is content. I have told him all — even the story of that poor creature that I was engaged to — and that I could not love; and I gladly gave his word back to him, and jumped for joy to get back my own. I am twenty-five years old.”

“Twenty-six, my dear,” says Esmond.

“Twenty-five, sir — I choose to be twenty-five; and in eight years no man hath ever touched my heart. Yes — you did once, for a little, Harry, when you came back after Lille, and engaging with that murderer Mohun, and saving Frank’s life. I thought I could like you; and mamma begged me hard, on her knees, and I did — for a day. But the old chill came over me, Henry, and the old fear of you and your melancholy; and I was glad when you went away, and engaged with my Lord Ashburnham, that I might hear no more of you, that’s the truth. You are too good for me, somehow. I could not make you happy, and should break my heart in trying, and not being able to love you. But if you had asked me when we gave you the sword, you might have had me, sir, and we both should have been miserable by this time. I talked with that silly lord all night just to vex you and mamma, and I succeeded, didn’t I? How frankly we can talk of these things! It seems a thousand years ago: and, though we are here sitting in the same room, there is a great wall between us. My dear, kind, faithful, gloomy old cousin! I can like now, and admire you too, sir, and say that you are brave, and very kind, and very true, and a fine gentleman for all — for all your little mishap at your birth,” says she, wagging her arch head.

“And now, sir,” says she, with a curtsy, “we must have no more talk except when mamma is by, as his Grace is with us; for he does not half like you, cousin, and is jealous as the black man in your favorite play.”

Though the very kindness of the words stabbed Mr. Esmond with the keenest pang, he did not show his sense of the wound by any look of his (as Beatrix, indeed, afterwards owned to him), but said, with a perfect command of himself and an easy smile, “The interview must not end yet, my dear, until I have had my last word. Stay, here comes your mother” (indeed she came in here with her sweet anxious face, and Esmond going up kissed her hand respectfully). “My dear lady may hear, too, the last words, which are no secrets, and are only a parting benediction accompanying a present for your marriage from an old gentleman your guardian; for I feel as if I was the guardian of all the family, and an old old fellow that is fit to be the grandfather of you all; and in this character let me make my Lady Duchess her wedding present. They are the diamonds my father’s widow left me. I had thought Beatrix might have had them a year ago; but they are good enough for a duchess, though not bright enough for the handsomest woman in the world.” And he took the case out of his pocket in which the jewels were, and presented them to his cousin.

She gave a cry of delight, for the stones were indeed very handsome, and of great value; and the next minute the necklace was where Belinda’s cross is in Mr. Pope’s admirable poem, and glittering on the whitest and most perfectly-shaped neck in all England.

The girl’s delight at receiving these trinkets was so great, that after rushing to the looking-glass and examining the effect they produced upon that fair neck which they surrounded, Beatrix was running back with her arms extended, and was perhaps for paying her cousin with a price, that he would have liked no doubt to receive from those beautiful rosy lips of hers, but at this moment the door opened, and his Grace the bridegroom elect was announced.

He looked very black upon Mr. Esmond, to whom he made a very low bow indeed, and kissed the hand of each lady in his most ceremonious manner. He had come in his chair from the palace hard by, and wore his two stars of the Garter and the Thistle.

“Look, my Lord Duke,” says Mistress Beatrix, advancing to him, and showing the diamonds on her breast.

“Diamonds,” says his Grace. “Hm! they seem pretty.”

“They are a present on my marriage,” says Beatrix.

“From her Majesty?” asks the Duke. “The Queen is very good.”

“From my cousin Henry — from our cousin Henry”— cry both the ladies in a breath.

“I have not the honor of knowing the gentleman. I thought that my Lord Castlewood had no brother: and that on your ladyship’s side there were no nephews.”

“From our cousin, Colonel Henry Esmond, my lord,” says Beatrix, taking the Colonel’s hand very bravely — “who was left guardian to us by our father, and who has a hundred times shown his love and friendship for our family.”

“The Duchess of Hamilton receives no diamonds but from her husband, madam,” says the Duke —“may I pray you to restore these to Mr. Esmond?”

“Beatrix Esmond may receive a present from our kinsman and benefactor, my Lord Duke,” says Lady Castlewood, with an air of great dignity. “She is my daughter yet: and if her mother sanctions the gift — no one else hath the right to question it.”

“Kinsman and benefactor!” says the Duke. “I know of no kinsman: and I do not choose that my wife should have for benefactor a —”

“My lord!” says Colonel Esmond.

“I am not here to bandy words,” says his Grace: “frankly I tell you that your visits to this house are too frequent, and that I choose no presents for the Duchess of Hamilton from gentlemen that bear a name they have no right to.”

“My lord!” breaks out Lady Castlewood, “Mr. Esmond hath the best right to that name of any man in the world: and ’tis as old and as honorable as your Grace’s.”

My Lord Duke smiled, and looked as if Lady Castlewood was mad, that was so talking to him.

“If I called him benefactor,” said my mistress, “it is because he has been so to us — yes, the noblest, the truest, the bravest, the dearest of benefactors. He would have saved my husband’s life from Mohun’s sword. He did save my boy’s, and defended him from that villain. Are those no benefits?”

“I ask Colonel Esmond’s pardon,” says his Grace, if possible more haughty than before. “I would say not a word that should give him offence, and thank him for his kindness to your ladyship’s family. My Lord Mohun and I are connected, you know, by marriage — though neither by blood nor friendship; but I must repeat what I said, that my wife can receive no presents from Colonel Esmond.”

“My daughter may receive presents from the Head of our House: my daughter may thankfully take kindness from her father’s, her mother’s, her brother’s dearest friend; and be grateful for one more benefit besides the thousand we owe him,” cries Lady Esmond. “What is a string of diamond stones compared to that affection he hath given us — our dearest preserver and benefactor? We owe him not only Frank’s life, but our all — yes, our all,” says my mistress, with a heightened color and a trembling voice. “The title we bear is his, if he would claim it. ’Tis we who have no right to our name: not he that’s too great for it. He sacrificed his name at my dying lord’s bedside — sacrificed it to my orphan children; gave up rank and honor because he loved us so nobly. His father was Viscount of Castlewood and Marquis of Esmond before him; and he is his father’s lawful son and true heir, and we are the recipients of his bounty, and he the chief of a house that’s as old as your own. And if he is content to forego his name that my child may bear it, we love him and honor him and bless him under whatever name he bears”— and here the fond and affectionate creature would have knelt to Esmond again, but that he prevented her; and Beatrix, running up to her with a pale face and a cry of alarm, embraced her and said, “Mother, what is this?”

“’Tis a family secret, my Lord Duke,” says Colonel Esmond: “poor Beatrix knew nothing of it; nor did my lady till a year ago. And I have as good a right to resign my title as your Grace’s mother to abdicate hers to you.”

“I should have told everything to the Duke of Hamilton,” said my mistress, “had his Grace applied to me for my daughter’s hand, and not to Beatrix. I should have spoken with you this very day in private, my lord, had not your words brought about this sudden explanation — and now ’tis fit Beatrix should hear it; and know, as I would have all the world know, what we owe to our kinsman and patron.”

And then in her touching way, and having hold of her daughter’s hand, and speaking to her rather than my Lord Duke, Lady Castlewood told the story which you know already — lauding up to the skies her kinsman’s behavior. On his side Mr. Esmond explained the reasons that seemed quite sufficiently cogent with him, why the succession in the family, as at present it stood, should not be disturbed; and he should remain as he was, Colonel Esmond.

“And Marquis of Esmond, my lord,” says his Grace, with a low bow. “Permit me to ask your lordship’s pardon for words that were uttered in ignorance; and to beg for the favor of your friendship. To be allied to you, sir, must be an honor under whatever name you are known” (so his Grace was pleased to say); “and in return for the splendid present you make my wife, your kinswoman, I hope you will please to command any service that James Douglas can perform. I shall never be easy until I repay you a part of my obligations at least; and ere very long, and with the mission her Majesty hath given me,” says the Duke, “that may perhaps be in my power. I shall esteem it as a favor, my lord, if Colonel Esmond will give away the bride.”

“And if he will take the usual payment in advance, he is welcome,” says Beatrix, stepping up to him; and, as Esmond kissed her, she whispered, “Oh, why didn’t I know you before?”

My Lord Duke was as hot as a flame at this salute, but said never a word: Beatrix made him a proud curtsy, and the two ladies quitted the room together.

“When does your Excellency go for Paris?” asks Colonel Esmond.

“As soon after the ceremony as may be,” his Grace answered. “’Tis fixed for the first of December: it cannot be sooner. The equipage will not be ready till then. The Queen intends the embassy should be very grand — and I have law business to settle. That ill-omened Mohun has come, or is coming, to London again: we are in a lawsuit about my late Lord Gerard’s property; and he hath sent to me to meet him.”

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