The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter VI.

Poor Beatrix.

There had been no need to urge upon Esmond the necessity of a separation between him and Beatrix: Fate had done that completely; and I think from the very moment poor Beatrix had accepted the Duke’s offer, she began to assume the majestic air of a Duchess, nay, Queen Elect, and to carry herself as one sacred and removed from us common people. Her mother and kinsman both fell into her ways, the latter scornfully perhaps, and uttering his usual gibes at her vanity and his own. There was a certain charm about this girl of which neither Colonel Esmond nor his fond mistress could forego the fascination; in spite of her faults and her pride and wilfulness, they were forced to love her; and, indeed, might be set down as the two chief flatterers of the brilliant creature’s court.

Who, in the course of his life, hath not been so bewitched, and worshipped some idol or another? Years after this passion hath been dead and buried, along with a thousand other worldly cares and ambitions, he who felt it can recall it out of its grave, and admire, almost as fondly as he did in his youth, that lovely queenly creature. I invoke that beautiful spirit from the shades and love her still; or rather I should say such a past is always present to a man; such a passion once felt forms a part of his whole being, and cannot be separated from it; it becomes a portion of the man of today, just as any great faith or conviction, the discovery of poetry, the awakening of religion, ever afterwards influence him; just as the wound I had at Blenheim, and of which I wear the scar, hath become part of my frame and influenced my whole body, nay, spirit subsequently, though ’twas got and healed forty years ago. Parting and forgetting! What faithful heart can do these? Our great thoughts, our great affections, the Truths of our life, never leave us. Surely, they cannot separate from our consciousness; shall follow it whithersoever that shall go; and are of their nature divine and immortal.

With the horrible news of this catsstrophe, which was confirmed by the weeping domestics at the Duke’s own door, Esmond rode homewards as quick as his lazy coach would carry him, devising all the time how he should break the intelligence to the person most concerned in it; and if a satire upon human vanity could be needed, that poor soul afforded it in the altered company and occupations in which Esmond found her. For days before, her chariot had been rolling the street from mercer to toyshop — from goldsmith to laceman: her taste was perfect, or at least the fond bridegroom had thought so, and had given her entire authority over all tradesmen, and for all the plate, furniture and equipages, with which his Grace the Ambassador wished to adorn his splendid mission. She must have her picture by Kneller, a duchess not being complete without a portrait, and a noble one he made, and actually sketched in, on a cushion, a coronet which she was about to wear. She vowed she would wear it at King James the Third’s coronation, and never a princess in the land would have become ermine better. Esmond found the ante-chamber crowded with milliners and toyshop women, obsequious goldsmiths with jewels, salvers, and tankards; and mercers’ men with hangings, and velvets, and brocades. My Lady Duchess elect was giving audience to one famous silversmith from Exeter Change, who brought with him a great chased salver, of which he was pointing out the beauties as Colonel Esmond entered. “Come,” says she, “cousin, and admire the taste of this pretty thing.” I think Mars and Venus were lying in the golden bower, that one gilt Cupid carried off the war-god’s casque — another his sword — another his great buckler, upon which my Lord Duke Hamilton’s arms with ours were to be engraved — and a fourth was kneeling down to the reclining goddess with the ducal coronet in her hands, God help us! The next time Mr. Esmond saw that piece of plate, the arms were changed, the ducal coronet had been replaced by a viscount’s; it formed part of the fortune of the thrifty goldsmith’s own daughter, when she married my Lord Viscount Squanderfield two years after.

“Isn’t this a beautiful piece?” says Beatrix, examining it, and she pointed out the arch graces of the Cupids, and the fine carving of the languid prostrate Mars. Esmond sickened as he thought of the warrior dead in his chamber, his servants and children weeping around him; and of this smiling creature attiring herself, as it were, for that nuptial death-bed. “’Tis a pretty piece of vanity,” says he, looking gloomily at the beautiful creature: there were flambeaux in the room lighting up the brilliant mistress of it. She lifted up the great gold salver with her fair arms.

“Vanity!” says she, haughtily. “What is vanity in you, sir, is propriety in me. You ask a Jewish price for it, Mr. Graves; but have it I will, if only to spite Mr. Esmond.”

“Oh, Beatrix, lay it down!” says Mr. Esmond. “Herodias! you know not what you carry in the charger.”

She dropped it with a clang; the eager goldsmith running to seize his fallen ware. The lady’s face caught the fright from Esmond’s pale countenance, and her eyes shone out like beacons of alarm:—“What is it, Henry!” says she, running to him, and seizing both his hands. “What do you mean by your pale face and gloomy tones?”

“Come away, come away!” says Esmond, leading her: she clung frightened to him, and he supported her upon his heart, bidding the scared goldsmith leave them. The man went into the next apartment, staring with surprise, and hugging his precious charger.

“Oh, my Beatrix, my sister!” says Esmond, still holding in his arms the pallid and affrighted creature, “you have the greatest courage of any woman in the world; prepare to show it now, for you have a dreadful trial to bear.”

She sprang away from the friend who would have protected her:—“Hath he left me?” says she. “We had words this morning: he was very gloomy, and I angered him: but he dared not, he dared not!” As she spoke a burning blush flushed over her whole face and bosom. Esmond saw it reflected in the glass by which she stood, with clenched hands, pressing her swelling heart.

“He has left you,” says Esmond, wondering that rage rather than sorrow was in her looks.

“And he is alive,” cried Beatrix, “and you bring me this commission! He has left me, and you haven’t dared to avenge me! You, that pretend to be the champion of our house, have let me suffer this insult! Where is Castlewood? I will go to my brother.”

“The Duke is not alive, Beatrix,” said Esmond.

She looked at her cousin wildly, and fell back to the wall as though shot in the breast:—“And you come here, and — and — you killed him?”

“No; thank heaven!” her kinsman said. “The blood of that noble heart doth not stain my sword! In its last hour it was faithful to thee, Beatrix Esmond. Vain and cruel woman! kneel and thank the awful heaven which awards life and death, and chastises pride, that the noble Hamilton died true to you; at least that ’twas not your quarrel, or your pride, or your wicked vanity, that drove him to his fate. He died by the bloody sword which already had drank your own father’s blood. O woman, O sister! to that sad field where two corpses are lying — for the murderer died too by the hand of the man he slew — can you bring no mourners but your revenge and your vanity? God help and pardon thee, Beatrix, as he brings this awful punishment to your hard and rebellious heart.”

Esmond had scarce done speaking, when his mistress came in. The colloquy between him and Beatrix had lasted but a few minutes, during which time Esmond’s servant had carried the disastrous news through the household. The army of Vanity Fair, waiting without, gathered up all their fripperies and fled aghast. Tender Lady Castlewood had been in talk above with Dean Atterbury, the pious creature’s almoner and director; and the Dean had entered with her as a physician whose place was at a sick-bed. Beatrix’s mother looked at Esmond and ran towards her daughter, with a pale face and open heart and hands, all kindness and pity. But Beatrix passed her by, nor would she have any of the medicaments of the spiritual physician. “I am best in my own room and by myself,” she said. Her eyes were quite dry; nor did Esmond ever see them otherwise, save once, in respect to that grief. She gave him a cold hand as she went out: “Thank you, brother,” she said, in a low voice, and with a simplicity more touching than tears; “all you have said is true and kind, and I will go away and ask pardon.” The three others remained behind, and talked over the dreadful story. It affected Dr. Atterbury more even than us, as it seemed. The death of Mohun, her husband’s murderer, was more awful to my mistress than even the Duke’s unhappy end. Esmond gave at length what particulars he knew of their quarrel, and the cause of it. The two noblemen had long been at war with respect to the Lord Gerard’s property, whose two daughters my Lord Duke and Mohun had married. They had met by appointment that day at the lawyer’s in Lincoln’s Inn Fields; had words which, though they appeared very trifling to those who heard them, were not so to men exasperated by long and previous enmity. Mohun asked my Lord Duke where he could see his Grace’s friends, and within an hour had sent two of his own to arrange this deadly duel. It was pursued with such fierceness, and sprung from so trifling a cause, that all men agreed at the time that there was a party, of which these three notorious brawlers were but agents, who desired to take Duke Hamilton’s life away. They fought three on a side, as in that tragic meeting twelve years back, which hath been recounted already, and in which Mohun performed his second murder. They rushed in, and closed upon each other at once without any feints or crossing of swords even, and stabbed one at the other desperately, each receiving many wounds; and Mohun having his death-wound, and my Lord Duke lying by him, Macartney came up and stabbed his Grace as he lay on the ground, and gave him the blow of which he died. Colonel Macartney denied this, of which the horror and indignation of the whole kingdom would nevertheless have him guilty, and fled the country, whither he never returned.

What was the real cause of the Duke Hamilton’s death? — a paltry quarrel that might easily have been made up, and with a ruffian so low, base, profligate, and degraded with former crimes and repeated murders, that a man of such renown and princely rank as my Lord Duke might have disdained to sully his sword with the blood of such a villain. But his spirit was so high that those who wished his death knew that his courage was like his charity, and never turned any man away; and he died by the hands of Mohun, and the other two cut-throats that were set on him. The Queen’s ambassador to Paris died, the loyal and devoted servant of the House of Stuart, and a Royal Prince of Scotland himself, and carrying the confidence, the repentance of Queen Anne along with his own open devotion, and the good-will of millions in the country more, to the Queen’s exiled brother and sovereign.

That party to which Lord Mohun belonged had the benefit of his service, and now were well rid of such a ruffian. He, and Meredith, and Macartney, were the Duke of Marlborough’s men; and the two colonels had been broke but the year before for drinking perdition to the Tories. His Grace was a Whig now and a Hanoverian, and as eager for war as Prince Eugene himself. I say not that he was privy to Duke Hamilton’s death, I say that his party profited by it; and that three desperate and bloody instruments were found to effect that murder.

As Esmond and the Dean walked away from Kensington discoursing of this tragedy, and how fatal it was to the cause which they both had at heart, the street-criers were already out with their broadsides, shouting through the town the full, true, and horrible account of the death of Lord Mohun and Duke Hamilton in a duel. A fellow had got to Kensington, and was crying it in the square there at very early morning, when Mr. Esmond happened to pass by. He drove the man from under Beatrix’s very window, whereof the casement had been set open. The sun was shining though ’twas November: he had seen the market-carts rolling into London, the guard relieved at the palace, the laborers trudging to their work in the gardens between Kensington and the City — the wandering merchants and hawkers filling the air with their cries. The world was going to its business again, although dukes lay dead and ladies mourned for them; and kings, very likely, lost their chances. So night and day pass away, and tomorrow comes, and our place knows us not. Esmond thought of the courier, now galloping on the North road to inform him, who was Earl of Arran yesterday, that he was Duke of Hamilton today, and of a thousand great schemes, hopes, ambitions, that were alive in the gallant heart, beating a few hours since, and now in a little dust quiescent.

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