The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter VIII.

I Travel to France and Bring Home a Portrait of Rigaud.

Mr. Esmond did not think fit to take leave at Court, or to inform all the world of Pall Mall and the coffee-houses, that he was about to quit England; and chose to depart in the most private manner possible. He procured a pass as for a Frenchman, through Dr. Atterbury, who did that business for him, getting the signature even from Lord Bolingbroke’s office, without any personal application to the Secretary. Lockwood, his faithful servant, he took with him to Castlewood, and left behind there: giving out ere he left London that he himself was sick, and gone to Hampshire for country air, and so departed as silently as might be upon his business.

As Frank Castlewood’s aid was indispensable for Mr. Esmond’s scheme, his first visit was to Bruxelles (passing by way of Antwerp, where the Duke of Marlborough was in exile), and in the first-named place Harry found his dear young Benedict, the married man, who appeared to be rather out of humor with his matrimonial chain, and clogged with the obstinate embraces which Clotilda kept round his neck. Colonel Esmond was not presented to her; but Monsieur Simon was, a gentleman of the Royal Cravat (Esmond bethought him of the regiment of his honest Irishman, whom he had seen that day after Malplaquet, when he first set eyes on the young King); and Monsieur Simon was introduced to the Viscountess Castlewood, nee Comptesse Wertheim; to the numerous counts, the Lady Clotilda’s tall brothers; to her father the chamberlain; and to the lady his wife, Frank’s mother-inlaw, a tall and majestic person of large proportions, such as became the mother of such a company of grenadiers as her warlike sons formed. The whole race were at free quarters in the little castle nigh to Bruxelles which Frank had taken; rode his horses; drank his wine; and lived easily at the poor lad’s charges. Mr. Esmond had always maintained a perfect fluency in the French, which was his mother tongue; and if this family (that spoke French with the twang which the Flemings use) discovered any inaccuracy in Mr. Simon’s pronunciation, ’twas to be attributed to the latter’s long residence in England, where he had married and remained ever since he was taken prisoner at Blenheim. His story was perfectly pat; there were none there to doubt it save honest Frank, and he was charmed with his kinsman’s scheme, when he became acquainted with it; and, in truth, always admired Colonel Esmond with an affectionate fidelity, and thought his cousin the wisest and best of all cousins and men. Frank entered heart and soul into the plan, and liked it the better as it was to take him to Paris, out of reach of his brothers, his father, and his mother-inlaw, whose attentions rather fatigued him.

Castlewood, I have said, was born in the same year as the Prince of Wales; had not a little of the Prince’s air, height, and figure; and, especially since he had seen the Chevalier de St. George on the occasion before-named, took no small pride in his resemblance to a person so illustrious; which likeness he increased by all means in his power, wearing fair brown periwigs, such as the Prince wore, and ribbons, and so forth, of the Chevalier’s color.

This resemblance was, in truth, the circumstance on which Mr. Esmond’s scheme was founded; and having secured Frank’s secrecy and enthusiasm, he left him to continue his journey, and see the other personages on whom its success depended. The place whither Mr. Simon next travelled was Bar, in Lorraine, where that merchant arrived with a consignment of broadcloths, valuable laces from Malines, and letters for his correspondent there.

Would you know how a prince, heroic from misfortunes, and descended from a line of kings, whose race seemed to be doomed like the Atridae of old — would you know how he was employed, when the envoy who came to him through danger and difficulty beheld him for the first time? The young king, in a flannel jacket, was at tennis with the gentlemen of his suite, crying out after the balls, and swearing like the meanest of his subjects. The next time Mr. Esmond saw him, ’twas when Monsieur Simon took a packet of laces to Miss Oglethorpe: the Prince’s ante-chamber in those days, at which ignoble door men were forced to knock for admission to his Majesty. The admission was given, the envoy found the King and the mistress together; the pair were at cards and his Majesty was in liquor. He cared more for three honors than three kingdoms; and a half-dozen glasses of ratafia made him forget all his woes and his losses, his father’s crown, and his grandfather’s head.

Mr. Esmond did not open himself to the Prince then. His Majesty was scarce in a condition to hear him; and he doubted whether a King who drank so much could keep a secret in his fuddled head; or whether a hand that shook so, was strong enough to grasp at a crown. However, at last, and after taking counsel with the Prince’s advisers, amongst whom were many gentlemen, honest and faithful, Esmond’s plan was laid before the King, and her actual Majesty Queen Oglethorpe, in council. The Prince liked the scheme well enough; ’twas easy and daring, and suited to his reckless gayety and lively youthful spirit. In the morning after he had slept his wine off, he was very gay, lively, and agreeable. His manner had an extreme charm of archness, and a kind simplicity; and, to do her justice, her Oglethorpean Majesty was kind, acute, resolute, and of good counsel; she gave the Prince much good advice that he was too weak to follow, and loved him with a fidelity which he returned with an ingratitude quite Royal.

Having his own forebodings regarding his scheme should it ever be fulfilled, and his usual sceptic doubts as to the benefit which might accrue to the country by bringing a tipsy young monarch back to it, Colonel Esmond had his audience of leave and quiet. Monsieur Simon took his departure. At any rate the youth at Bar was as good as the older Pretender at Hanover; if the worst came to the worst, the Englishman could be dealt with as easy as the German. Monsieur Simon trotted on that long journey from Nancy to Paris, and saw that famous town, stealthily and like a spy, as in truth he was; and where, sure, more magnificence and more misery is heaped together, more rags and lace, more filth and gilding, than in any city in this world. Here he was put in communication with the King’s best friend, his half brother, the famous Duke of Berwick; Esmond recognized him as the stranger who had visited Castlewood now near twenty years ago. His Grace opened to him when he found that Mr. Esmond was one of Webb’s brave regiment, that had once been his Grace’s own. He was the sword and buckler indeed of the Stuart cause: there was no stain on his shield except the bar across it, which Marlborough’s sister left him. Had Berwick been his father’s heir, James the Third had assuredly sat on the English throne. He could dare, endure, strike, speak, be silent. The fire and genius, perhaps, he had not (that were given to baser men), but except these he had some of the best qualities of a leader. His Grace knew Esmond’s father and history; and hinted at the latter in such a way as made the Colonel to think he was aware of the particulars of that story. But Esmond did not choose to enter on it, nor did the Duke press him. Mr. Esmond said, “No doubt he should come by his name if ever greater people came by theirs.”

What confirmed Esmond in his notion that the Duke of Berwick knew of his case was, that when the Colonel went to pay his duty at St. Germains, her Majesty once addressed him by the title of Marquis. He took the Queen the dutiful remembrances of her goddaughter, and the lady whom, in the days of her prosperity, her Majesty had befriended. The Queen remembered Rachel Esmond perfectly well, had heard of my Lord Castlewood’s conversion, and was much edified by that act of heaven in his favor. She knew that others of that family had been of the only true church too: “Your father and your mother, M. le Marquis,” her Majesty said (that was the only time she used the phrase). Monsieur Simon bowed very low, and said he had found other parents than his own, who had taught him differently; but these had only one king: on which her Majesty was pleased to give him a medal blessed by the Pope, which had been found very efficacious in cases similar to his own, and to promise she would offer up prayers for his conversion and that of the family: which no doubt this pious lady did, though up to the present moment, and after twenty-seven years, Colonel Esmond is bound to say that neither the medal nor the prayers have had the slightest known effect upon his religious convictions.

As for the splendors of Versailles, Monsieur Simon, the merchant, only beheld them as a humble and distant spectator, seeing the old King but once, when he went to feed his carps; and asking for no presentation at his Majesty’s Court.

By this time my Lord Viscount Castlewood was got to Paris, where, as the London prints presently announced, her ladyship was brought to bed of a son and heir. For a long while afterwards she was in a delicate state of health, and ordered by the physicians not to travel; otherwise ’twas well known that the Viscount Castlewood proposed returning to England, and taking up his residence at his own seat.

Whilst he remained at Paris, my Lord Castlewood had his picture done by the famous French painter, Monsieur Rigaud, a present for his mother in London; and this piece Monsieur Simon took back with him when he returned to that city, which he reached about May, in the year 1714, very soon after which time my Lady Castlewood and her daughter, and their kinsman, Colonel Esmond, who had been at Castlewood all this time, likewise returned to London; her ladyship occupying her house at Kensington, Mr. Esmond returning to his lodgings at Knightsbridge, nearer the town, and once more making his appearance at all public places, his health greatly improved by his long stay in the country.

The portrait of my lord, in a handsome gilt frame, was hung up in the place of honor in her ladyship’s drawing-room. His lordship was represented in his scarlet uniform of Captain of the Guard, with a light brown periwig, a cuirass under his coat, a blue ribbon, and a fall of Bruxelles lace. Many of her ladyship’s friends admired the piece beyond measure, and flocked to see it; Bishop Atterbury, Mr. Lesly, good old Mr. Collier, and others amongst the clergy, were delighted with the performance, and many among the first quality examined and praised it; only I must own that Doctor Tusher happening to come up to London, and seeing the picture, (it was ordinarily covered by a curtain, but on this day Miss Beatrix happened to be looking at it when the Doctor arrived,) the Vicar of Castlewood vowed he could not see any resemblance in the piece to his old pupil, except, perhaps, a little about the chin and the periwig; but we all of us convinced him that he had not seen Frank for five years or more; that he knew no more about the Fine Arts than a ploughboy, and that he must be mistaken; and we sent him home assured that the piece was an excellent likeness. As for my Lord Bolingbroke, who honored her ladyship with a visit occasionally, when Colonel Esmond showed him the picture he burst out laughing, and asked what devilry he was engaged on? Esmond owned simply that the portrait was not that of Viscount Castlewood; besought the Secretary on his honor to keep the secret; said that the ladies of the house were enthusiastic Jacobites, as was well known; and confessed that the picture was that of the Chevalier St. George.

The truth is, that Mr. Simon, waiting upon Lord Castlewood one day at Monsieur Rigaud’s whilst his lordship was sitting for his picture, affected to be much struck with a piece representing the Chevalier, whereof the head only was finished, and purchased it of the painter for a hundred crowns. It had been intended, the artist said, for Miss Oglethorpe, the Prince’s mistress, but that young lady quitting Paris, had left the work on the artist’s hands; and taking this piece home, when my lord’s portrait arrived, Colonel Esmond, alias Monsieur Simon, had copied the uniform and other accessories from my lord’s picture to fill up Rigaud’s incomplete canvas: the Colonel all his life having been a practitioner of painting, and especially followed it during his long residence in the cities of Flanders, among the masterpieces of Van Dyck and Rubens. My grandson hath the piece, such as it is, in Virginia now.

At the commencement of the month of June, Miss Beatrix Esmond, and my Lady Viscountess, her mother, arrived from Castlewood; the former to resume her services at Court, which had been interrupted by the fatal catastrophe of Duke Hamilton’s death. She once more took her place, then, in her Majesty’s suite and at the Maids’ table, being always a favorite with Mrs. Masham, the Queen’s chief woman, partly perhaps on account of their bitterness against the Duchess of Marlborough, whom Miss Beatrix loved no better than her rival did. The gentlemen about the Court, my Lord Bolingbroke amongst others, owned that the young lady had come back handsomer than ever, and that the serious and tragic air which her face now involuntarily wore became her better than her former smiles and archness.

All the old domestics at the little house of Kensington Square were changed; the old steward that had served the family any time these five-and-twenty years, since the birth of the children of the house, was despatched into the kingdom of Ireland to see my lord’s estate there: the housekeeper, who had been my lady’s woman time out of mind, and the attendant of the young children, was sent away grumbling to Walcote, to see to the new painting and preparing of that house, which my Lady Dowager intended to occupy for the future, giving up Castlewood to her daughter-inlaw that might be expected daily from France. Another servant the Viscountess had was dismissed too — with a gratuity — on the pretext that her ladyship’s train of domestics must be diminished; so, finally, there was not left in the household a single person who had belonged to it during the time my young Lord Castlewood was yet at home.

For the plan which Colonel Esmond had in view, and the stroke he intended, ’twas necessary that the very smallest number of persons should be put in possession of his secret. It scarce was known, except to three or four out of his family, and it was kept to a wonder.

On the 10th of June, 1714, there came by Mr. Prior’s messenger from Paris a letter from my Lord Viscount Castlewood to his mother, saying that he had been foolish in regard of money matters, that he was ashamed to own he had lost at play, and by other extravagances; and that instead of having great entertainments as he had hoped at Castlewood this year, he must live as quiet as he could, and make every effort to be saving. So far every word of poor Frank’s letter was true, nor was there a doubt that he and his tall brothers-inlaw had spent a great deal more than they ought, and engaged the revenues of the Castlewood property, which the fond mother had husbanded and improved so carefully during the time of her guardianship.

His “Clotilda,” Castlewood went on to say, “was still delicate, and her physicians thought her lying-in had best take place at Paris. He should come without her ladyship, and be at his mother’s house about the 17th or 18th day of June, proposing to take horse from Paris immediately, and bringing but a single servant with him; and he requested that the lawyers of Gray’s inn might be invited to meet him with their account, and the land-steward come from Castlewood with his, so that he might settle with them speedily, raise a sum of money whereof he stood in need, and be back to his viscountess by the time of her lying-in.” Then his lordship gave some of the news of the town, sent his remembrance to kinsfolk, and so the letter ended. ’Twas put in the common post, and no doubt the French police and the English there had a copy of it, to which they were exceeding welcome.

Two days after another letter was despatched by the public post of France, in the same open way, and this, after giving news of the fashion at Court there, ended by the following sentences, in which, but for those that had the key, ‘twould be difficult for any man to find any secret lurked at all:—

“(The King will take) medicine on Thursday. His Majesty is better than he hath been of late, though incommoded by indigestion from his too great appetite. Madame Maintenon continues well. They have performed a play of Mons. Racine at St. Cyr. The Duke of Shrewsbury and Mr. Prior, our envoy, and all the English nobility here were present at it. (The Viscount Castlewood’s passports) were refused to him, ’twas said; his lordship being sued by a goldsmith for Vaisselle plate, and a pearl necklace supplied to Mademoiselle Meruel of the French Comedy. ’Tis a pity such news should get abroad (and travel to England) about our young nobility here. Mademoiselle Meruel has been sent to the Fort l’Evesque; they say she has ordered not only plate, but furniture, and a chariot and horses (under that lord’s name), of which extravagance his unfortunate Viscountess knows nothing.

“(His Majesty will be) eighty-two years of age on his next birthday. The Court prepares to celebrate it with a great feast. Mr. Prior is in a sad way about their refusing at home to send him his plate. All here admired my Lord Viscount’s portrait, and said it was a masterpiece of Rigaud. Have you seen it? It is (at the Lady Castlewood’s house in Kensington Square). I think no English painter could produce such a piece.

“Our poor friend the Abbe hath been at the Bastile, but is now transported to the Conciergerie (where his friends may visit him. They are to ask for) a remission of his sentence soon. Let us hope the poor rogue will have repented in prison.

“(The Lord Castlewood) has had the affair of the plate made up, and departs for England.

“Is not this a dull letter? I have a cursed headache with drinking with Mat and some more over-night, and tipsy or sober am

“Thine ever ——.”

All this letter, save some dozen of words which I have put above between brackets, was mere idle talk, though the substance of the letter was as important as any letter well could be. It told those that had the key, that The King will take the Viscount Castlewood’s passports and travel to England under that lord’s name. His Majesty will be at the Lady Castlewood’s house in Kensington Square, where his friends may visit him; they are to ask for the Lord Castlewood. This note may have passed under Mr. Prior’s eyes, and those of our new allies the French, and taught them nothing; though it explains sufficiently to persons in London what the event was which was about to happen, as ’twill show those who read my memoirs a hundred years hence, what was that errand on which Colonel Esmond of late had been busy. Silently and swiftly to do that about which others were conspiring, and thousands of Jacobites all over the country clumsily caballing; alone to effect that which the leaders here were only talking about; to bring the Prince of Wales into the country openly in the face of all, under Bolingbroke’s very eyes, the walls placarded with the proclamation signed with the Secretary’s name, and offering five hundred pounds reward for his apprehension: this was a stroke, the playing and winning of which might well give any adventurous spirit pleasure: the loss of the stake might involve a heavy penalty, but all our family were eager to risk that for the glorious chance of winning the game.

Nor shall it be called a game, save perhaps with the chief player, who was not more or less sceptical than most public men with whom he had acquaintance in that age. (Is there ever a public man in England that altogether believes in his party? Is there one, however doubtful, that will not fight for it?) Young Frank was ready to fight without much thinking, he was a Jacobite as his father before him was; all the Esmonds were Royalists. Give him but the word, he would cry, “God save King James!” before the palace guard, or at the Maypole in the Strand; and with respect to the women, as is usual with them, ’twas not a question of party but of faith; their belief was a passion; either Esmond’s mistress or her daughter would have died for it cheerfully. I have laughed often, talking of King William’s reign, and said I thought Lady Castlewood was disappointed the King did not persecute the family more; and those who know the nature of women may fancy for themselves, what needs not here be written down, the rapture with which these neophytes received the mystery when made known to them; the eagerness with which they looked forward to its completion; the reverence which they paid the minister who initiated them into that secret Truth, now known only to a few, but presently to reign over the world. Sure there is no bound to the trustingness of women. Look at Arria worshipping the drunken clodpate of a husband who beats her; look at Cornelia treasuring as a jewel in her maternal heart the oaf her son; I have known a woman preach Jesuit’s bark, and afterwards Dr. Berkeley’s tar-water, as though to swallow them were a divine decree, and to refuse them no better than blasphemy.

On his return from France Colonel Esmond put himself at the head of this little knot of fond conspirators. No death or torture he knew would frighten them out of their constancy. When he detailed his plan for bringing the King back, his elder mistress thought that that Restoration was to be attributed under heaven to the Castlewood family and to its chief, and she worshipped and loved Esmond, if that could be, more than ever she had done. She doubted not for one moment of the success of his scheme, to mistrust which would have seemed impious in her eyes. And as for Beatrix, when she became acquainted with the plan, and joined it, as she did with all her heart, she gave Esmond one of her searching bright looks. “Ah, Harry,” says she, “why were you not the head of our house? You are the only one fit to raise it; why do you give that silly boy the name and the honor? But ’tis so in the world; those get the prize that don’t deserve or care for it. I wish I could give you YOUR silly prize, cousin, but I can’t; I have tried, and I can’t.” And she went away, shaking her head mournfully, but always, it seemed to Esmond, that her liking and respect for him was greatly increased, since she knew what capability he had both to act and bear; to do and to forego.

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