The History of Henry Esmond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter XI.

Our Guest Quits Us As Not Being Hospitable Enough.

Beatrix’s departure took place within an hour, her maid going with her in the post-chaise, and a man armed on the coach-box to prevent any danger of the road. Esmond and Frank thought of escorting the carriage, but she indignantly refused their company, and another man was sent to follow the coach, and not to leave it till it had passed over Hounslow Heath on the next day. And these two forming the whole of Lady Castlewood’s male domestics, Mr. Esmond’s faithful John Lockwood came to wait on his mistress during their absence, though he would have preferred to escort Mrs. Lucy, his sweetheart, on her journey into the country.

We had a gloomy and silent meal; it seemed as if a darkness was over the house, since the bright face of Beatrix had been withdrawn from it. In the afternoon came a message from the favorite to relieve us somewhat from this despondency. “The Queen hath been much shaken,” the note said; “she is better now, and all things will go well. Let MY LORD Castlewood be ready against we send for him.”

At night there came a second billet: “There hath been a great battle in Council; Lord Treasurer hath broke his staff, and hath fallen never to rise again; no successor is appointed. Lord B—— receives a great Whig company to-night at Golden Square. If he is trimming, others are true; the Queen hath no more fits, but is a-bed now, and more quiet. Be ready against morning, when I still hope all will be well.”

The Prince came home shortly after the messenger who bore this billet had left the house. His Royal Highness was so much the better for the Bishop’s liquor, that to talk affairs to him now was of little service. He was helped to the Royal bed; he called Castlewood familiarly by his own name; he quite forgot the part upon the acting of which his crown, his safety, depended. ’Twas lucky that my Lady Castlewood’s servants were out of the way, and only those heard him who would not betray him. He inquired after the adorable Beatrix, with a royal hiccup in his voice; he was easily got to bed, and in a minute or two plunged in that deep slumber and forgetfulness with which Bacchus rewards the votaries of that god. We wished Beatrix had been there to see him in his cups. We regretted, perhaps, that she was gone.

One of the party at Kensington Square was fool enough to ride to Hounslow that night, coram latronibus, and to the inn which the family used ordinarily in their journeys out of London. Esmond desired my landlord not to acquaint Madam Beatrix with his coming, and had the grim satisfaction of passing by the door of the chamber where she lay with her maid, and of watching her chariot set forth in the early morning. He saw her smile and slip money into the man’s hand who was ordered to ride behind the coach as far as Bagshot. The road being open, and the other servant armed, it appeared she dispensed with the escort of a second domestic; and this fellow, bidding his young mistress adieu with many bows, went and took a pot of ale in the kitchen, and returned in company with his brother servant, John Coachman, and his horses, back to London.

They were not a mile out of Hounslow when the two worthies stopped for more drink, and here they were scared by seeing Colonel Esmond gallop by them. The man said in reply to Colonel Esmond’s stern question, that his young mistress had sent her duty; only that, no other message: she had had a very good night, and would reach Castlewood by nightfall. The Colonel had no time for further colloquy, and galloped on swiftly to London, having business of great importance there, as my reader very well knoweth. The thought of Beatrix riding away from the danger soothed his mind not a little. His horse was at Kensington Square (honest Dapple knew the way thither well enough) before the tipsy guest of last night was awake and sober.

The account of the previous evening was known all over the town early next day. A violent altercation had taken place before the Queen in the Council Chamber; and all the coffee-houses had their version of the quarrel. The news brought my Lord Bishop early to Kensington Square, where he awaited the waking of his Royal master above stairs, and spoke confidently of having him proclaimed as Prince of Wales and heir to the throne before that day was over. The Bishop had entertained on the previous afternoon certain of the most influential gentlemen of the true British party. His Royal highness had charmed all, both Scots and English, Papists and Churchmen: “Even Quakers,” says he, “were at our meeting; and, if the stranger took a little too much British punch and ale, he will soon grow more accustomed to those liquors; and my Lord Castlewood,” says the Bishop with a laugh, “must bear the cruel charge of having been for once in his life a little tipsy. He toasted your lovely sister a dozen times, at which we all laughed,” says the Bishop, “admiring so much fraternal affection. — Where is that charming nymph, and why doth she not adorn your ladyship’s tea-table with her bright eyes?”

Her ladyship said, dryly, that Beatrix was not at home that morning; my Lord Bishop was too busy with great affairs to trouble himself much about the presence or absence of any lady, however beautiful.

We were yet at table when Dr. A—— came from the Palace with a look of great alarm; the shocks the Queen had had the day before had acted on her severely; he had been sent for, and had ordered her to be blooded. The surgeon of Long Acre had come to cup the Queen, and her Majesty was now more easy and breathed more freely. What made us start at the name of Mr. Ayme? “Il faut etre aimable pour etre aime,” says the merry Doctor; Esmond pulled his sleeve, and bade him hush. It was to Ayme’s house, after his fatal duel, that my dear Lord Castlewood, Frank’s father, had been carried to die.

No second visit could be paid to the Queen on that day at any rate; and when our guest above gave his signal that he was awake, the Doctor, the Bishop, and Colonel Esmond waited upon the Prince’s levee, and brought him their news, cheerful or dubious. The Doctor had to go away presently, but promised to keep the Prince constantly acquainted with what was taking place at the Palace hard by. His counsel was, and the Bishop’s, that as soon as ever the Queen’s malady took a favorable turn, the Prince should be introduced to her bedside; the Council summoned; the guard at Kensington and St. James’s, of which two regiments were to be entirely relied on, and one known not to be hostile, would declare for the Prince, as the Queen would before the Lords of her Council, designating him as the heir to her throne.

With locked doors, and Colonel Esmond acting as secretary, the Prince and his Lordship of Rochester passed many hours of this day, composing Proclamations and Addresses to the Country, to the Scots, to the Clergy, to the People of London and England; announcing the arrival of the exile descendant of three sovereigns, and his acknowledgment by his sister as heir to the throne. Every safeguard for their liberties, the Church and People could ask, was promised to them. The Bishop could answer for the adhesion of very many prelates, who besought of their flocks and brother ecclesiastics to recognize the sacred right of the future sovereign, and to purge the country of the sin of rebellion.

During the composition of these papers, more messengers than one came from the Palace regarding the state of the august patient there lying. At mid-day she was somewhat better; at evening the torpor again seized her, and she wandered in her mind. At night Dr. A—— was with us again, with a report rather more favorable: no instant danger at any rate was apprehended. In the course of the last two years her Majesty had had many attacks similar, but more severe.

By this time we had finished a half-dozen of Proclamations, (the wording of them so as to offend no parties, and not to give umbrage to Whigs or Dissenters, required very great caution,) and the young Prince, who had indeed shown, during a long day’s labor, both alacrity at seizing the information given him, and ingenuity and skill in turning the phrases which were to go out signed by his name, here exhibited a good-humor and thoughtfulness that ought to be set down to his credit.

“Were these papers to be mislaid,” says he, “or our scheme to come to mishap, my Lord Esmond’s writing would bring him to a place where I heartily hope never to see him; and so, by your leave, I will copy the papers myself, though I am not very strong in spelling; and if they are found they will implicate none but the person they most concern;” and so, having carefully copied the Proclamations out, the Prince burned those in Colonel Esmond’s handwriting: “And now, and now, gentlemen,” says he, “let us go to supper, and drink a glass with the ladies. My Lord Esmond, you will sup with us to-night; you have given us of late too little of your company.”

The Prince’s meals were commonly served in the chamber which had been Beatrix’s bedroom, adjoining that in which he slept. And the dutiful practice of his entertainers was to wait until their Royal guest bade them take their places at table before they sat down to partake of the meal. On this night, as you may suppose, only Frank Castlewood and his mother were in waiting when the supper was announced to receive the Prince; who had passed the whole of the day in his own apartment, with the Bishop as his Minister of State, and Colonel Esmond officiating as Secretary of his Council.

The Prince’s countenance wore an expression by no means pleasant; when looking towards the little company assembled, and waiting for him, he did not see Beatrix’s bright face there as usual to greet him. He asked Lady Esmond for his fair introducer of yesterday: her ladyship only cast her eyes down, and said quietly, Beatrix could not be of the supper that night; nor did she show the least sign of confusion, whereas Castlewood turned red, and Esmond was no less embarrassed. I think women have an instinct of dissimulation; they know by nature how to disguise their emotions far better than the most consummate male courtiers can do. Is not the better part of the life of many of them spent in hiding their feelings, in cajoling their tyrants, in masking over with fond smiles and artful gayety, their doubt, or their grief, or their terror?

Our guest swallowed his supper very sulkily; it was not till the second bottle his Highness began to rally. When Lady Castlewood asked leave to depart, he sent a message to Beatrix, hoping she would be present at the next day’s dinner, and applied himself to drink, and to talk afterwards, for which there was subject in plenty.

The next day, we heard from our informer at Kensington that the Queen was somewhat better, and had been up for an hour, though she was not well enough yet to receive any visitor.

At dinner a single cover was laid for his Royal Highness; and the two gentlemen alone waited on him. We had had a consultation in the morning with Lady Castlewood, in which it had been determined that, should his Highness ask further questions about Beatrix, he should be answered by the gentlemen of the house.

He was evidently disturbed and uneasy, looking towards the door constantly, as if expecting some one. There came, however, nobody, except honest John Lockwood, when he knocked with a dish, which those within took from him; so the meals were always arranged, and I believe the council in the kitchen were of opinion that my young lord had brought over a priest, who had converted us all into Papists, and that Papists were like Jews, eating together, and not choosing to take their meals in the sight of Christians.

The Prince tried to cover his displeasure; he was but a clumsy dissembler at that time, and when out of humor could with difficulty keep a serene countenance; and having made some foolish attempts at trivial talk, he came to his point presently, and in as easy a manner as he could, saying to Lord Castlewood, he hoped, he requested, his lordship’s mother and sister would be of the supper that night. As the time hung heavy on him, and he must not go abroad, would not Miss Beatrix hold him company at a game of cards?

At this, looking up at Esmond, and taking the signal from him, Lord Castlewood informed his Royal Highness13 that his sister Beatrix was not at Kensington; and that her family had thought it best she should quit the town.

13 In London we addressed the Prince as Royal Highness invariably, though the women persisted in giving him the title of King.

“Not at Kensington!” says he; “is she ill? she was well yesterday; wherefore should she quit the town? Is it at your orders, my lord, or Colonel Esmond’s, who seems the master of this house?”

“Not of this, sir,” says Frank very nobly, “only of our house in the country, which he hath given to us. This is my mother’s house, and Walcote is my father’s, and the Marquis of Esmond knows he hath but to give his word, and I return his to him.”

“The Marquis of Esmond! — the Marquis of Esmond,” says the Prince, tossing off a glass, “meddles too much with my affairs, and presumes on the service he hath done me. If you want to carry your suit with Beatrix, my lord, by blocking her up in gaol, let me tell you that is not the way to win a woman.”

“I was not aware, sir, that I had spoken of my suit to Madam Beatrix to your Royal Highness.”

“Bah, bah, Monsieur! we need not be a conjurer to see that. It makes itself seen at all moments. You are jealous, my lord, and the maid of honor cannot look at another face without yours beginning to scowl. That which you do is unworthy, Monsieur; is inhospitable — is, is lache, yes, lache:” (he spoke rapidly in French, his rage carrying him away with each phrase:) “I come to your house; I risk my life; I pass it in ennui; I repose myself on your fidelity; I have no company but your lordship’s sermons or the conversations of that adorable young lady, and you take her from me, and you, you rest! Merci, Monsieur! I shall thank you when I have the means; I shall know to recompense a devotion a little importunate, my lord — a little importunate. For a month past your airs of protector have annoyed me beyond measure. You deign to offer me the crown, and bid me take it on my knees like King John — eh! I know my history, Monsieur, and mock myself of frowning barons. I admire your mistress, and you send her to a Bastile of the Province; I enter your house, and you mistrust me. I will leave it, Monsieur; from to-night I will leave it. I have other friends whose loyalty will not be so ready to question mine. If I have garters to give away, ’tis to noblemen who are not so ready to think evil. Bring me a coach and let me quit this place, or let the fair Beatrix return to it. I will not have your hospitality at the expense of the freedom of that fair creature.”

This harangue was uttered with rapid gesticulation such as the French use, and in the language of that nation. The Prince striding up and down the room; his face flushed, and his hands trembling with anger. He was very thin and frail from repeated illness and a life of pleasure. Either Castlewood or Esmond could have broke him across their knee, and in half a minute’s struggle put an end to him; and here he was insulting us both, and scarce deigning to hide from the two, whose honor it most concerned, the passion he felt for the young lady of our family. My Lord Castlewood replied to the Prince’s tirade very nobly and simply.

“Sir,” says he, “your Royal Highness is pleased to forget that others risk their lives, and for your cause. Very few Englishmen, please God, would dare to lay hands on your sacred person, though none would ever think of respecting ours. Our family’s lives are at your service, and everything we have except our honor.”

“Honor! bah, sir, who ever thought of hurting your honor?” says the Prince with a peevish air.

“We implore your Royal Highness never to think of hurting it,” says Lord Castlewood with a low bow. The night being warm, the windows were open both towards the Gardens and the Square. Colonel Esmond heard through the closed door the voice of the watchman calling the hour, in the square on the other side. He opened the door communicating with the Prince’s room; Martin, the servant that had rode with Beatrix to Hounslow, was just going out of the chamber as Esmond entered it, and when the fellow was gone, and the watchman again sang his cry of “Past ten o’clock, and a starlight night,” Esmond spoke to the Prince in a low voice, and said —“Your Royal Highness hears that man.”

“Apres, Monsieur?” says the Prince.

“I have but to beckon him from the window, and send him fifty yards, and he returns with a guard of men, and I deliver up to him the body of the person calling himself James the Third, for whose capture Parliament hath offered a reward of 500L., as your Royal Highness saw on our ride from Rochester. I have but to say the word, and, by the heaven that made me, I would say it if I thought the Prince, for his honor’s sake, would not desist from insulting ours. But the first gentleman of England knows his duty too well to forget himself with the humblest, or peril his crown for a deed that were shameful if it were done.”

“Has your lordship anything to say,” says the Prince, turning to Frank Castlewood, and quite pale with anger; “any threat or any insult, with which you would like to end this agreeable night’s entertainment?”

“I follow the head of our house,” says Castlewood, bowing gravely. “At what time shall it please the Prince that we should wait upon him in the morning?”

“You will wait on the Bishop of Rochester early, you will bid him bring his coach hither; and prepare an apartment for me in his own house, or in a place of safety. The King will reward you handsomely, never fear, for all you have done in his behalf. I wish you a good night, and shall go to bed, unless it pleases the Marquis of Esmond to call his colleague, the watchman, and that I should pass the night with the Kensington guard. Fare you well, be sure I will remember you. My Lord Castlewood, I can go to bed to-night without need of a chamberlain.” And the Prince dismissed us with a grim bow, locking one door as he spoke, that into the supping-room, and the other through which we passed, after us. It led into the small chamber which Frank Castlewood or MONSIEUR BAPTISTE occupied, and by which Martin entered when Colonel Esmond but now saw him in the chamber.

At an early hour next morning the Bishop arrived, and was closeted for some time with his master in his own apartment, where the Prince laid open to his counsellor the wrongs which, according to his version, he had received from the gentlemen of the Esmond family. The worthy prelate came out from the conference with an air of great satisfaction; he was a man full of resources, and of a most assured fidelity, and possessed of genius, and a hundred good qualities; but captious and of a most jealous temper, that could not help exulting at the downfall of any favorite; and he was pleased in spite of himself to hear that the Esmond Ministry was at an end.

“I have soothed your guest,” says he, coming out to the two gentlemen and the widow; who had been made acquainted with somewhat of the dispute of the night before. (By the version we gave her, the Prince was only made to exhibit anger because we doubted of his intentions in respect to Beatrix; and to leave us, because we questioned his honor.) “But I think, all things considered, ’tis as well he should leave this house; and then, my Lady Castlewood,” says the Bishop, “my pretty Beatrix may come back to it.”

“She is quite as well at home at Castlewood,” Esmond’s mistress said, “till everything is over.”

“You shall have your title, Esmond, that I promise you,” says the good Bishop, assuming the airs of a Prime Minister. “The Prince hath expressed himself most nobly in regard of the little difference of last night, and I promise you he hath listened to my sermon, as well as to that of other folks,” says the Doctor, archly; “he hath every great and generous quality, with perhaps a weakness for the sex which belongs to his family, and hath been known in scores of popular sovereigns from King David downwards.”

“My lord, my lord!” breaks out Lady Esmond, “the levity with which you speak of such conduct towards our sex shocks me, and what you call weakness I call deplorable sin.”

“Sin it is, my dear creature,” says the Bishop, with a shrug, taking snuff; “but consider what a sinner King Solomon was, and in spite of a thousand of wives too.”

“Enough of this, my lord,” says Lady Castlewood, with a fine blush, and walked out of the room very stately.

The Prince entered it presently with a smile on his face, and if he felt any offence against us on the previous night, at present exhibited none. He offered a hand to each gentleman with great courtesy. “If all your bishops preach so well as Doctor Atterbury.” says he, “I don’t know, gentlemen, what may happen to me. I spoke very hastily, my lords, last night, and ask pardon of both of you. But I must not stay any longer,” says he, “giving umbrage to good friends, or keeping pretty girls away from their homes. My Lord Bishop hath found a safe place for me, hard by at a curate’s house, whom the Bishop can trust, and whose wife is so ugly as to be beyond all danger; we will decamp into those new quarters, and I leave you, thanking you for a hundred kindnesses here. Where is my hostess, that I may bid her farewell; to welcome her in a house of my own, soon, I trust, where my friends shall have no cause to quarrel with me.”

Lady Castlewood arrived presently, blushing with great grace, and tears filling her eyes as the Prince graciously saluted her. She looked so charming and young, that the doctor, in his bantering way, could not help speaking of her beauty to the Prince; whose compliment made her blush, and look more charming still.

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