The Great Hoggarty Diamond, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER I

Gives an Account of Our Village and the First Glimpse of the Diamond

When I came up to town for my second year, my aunt Hoggarty made me a present of a diamond-pin; that is to say, it was not a diamond-pin then, but a large old-fashioned locket, of Dublin manufacture in the year 1795, which the late Mr. Hoggarty used to sport at the Lord Lieutenant’s balls and elsewhere. He wore it, he said, at the battle of Vinegar Hill, when his club pigtail saved his head from being taken off — but that is neither here nor there.

In the middle of the brooch was Hoggarty in the scarlet uniform of the corps of Fencibles to which he belonged; around it were thirteen locks of hair, belonging to a baker’s dozen of sisters that the old gentleman had; and, as all these little ringlets partook of the family hue of brilliant auburn, Hoggarty’s portrait seemed to the fanciful view like a great fat red round of beef surrounded by thirteen carrots. These were dished up on a plate of blue enamel, and it was from the Great Hoggarty Diamond (as we called it in the family) that the collection of hairs in question seemed as it were to spring.

My aunt, I need not say, is rich; and I thought I might be her heir as well as another. During my month’s holiday, she was particularly pleased with me; made me drink tea with her often (though there was a certain person in the village with whom on those golden summer evenings I should have liked to have taken a stroll in the hayfields); promised every time I drank her bohea to do something handsome for me when I went back to town — nay, three or four times had me to dinner at three, and to whist or cribbage afterwards. I did not care for the cards; for though we always played seven hours on a stretch, and I always lost, my losings were never more than nineteenpence a night: but there was some infernal sour black-currant wine, that the old lady always produced at dinner, and with the tray at ten o’clock, and which I dared not refuse; though upon my word and honour it made me very unwell.

Well, I thought after all this obsequiousness on my part, and my aunt’s repeated promises, that the old lady would at least make me a present of a score of guineas (of which she had a power in the drawer); and so convinced was I that some such present was intended for me, that a young lady by the name of Miss Mary Smith, with whom I had conversed on the subject, actually netted me a little green silk purse, which she gave me (behind Hicks’s hayrick, as you turn to the right up Churchyard Lane)— which she gave me, I say, wrapped up in a bit of silver paper. There was something in the purse, too, if the truth must be known. First there was a thick curl of the glossiest blackest hair you ever saw in your life, and next there was threepence: that is to say, the half of a silver sixpence hanging by a little necklace of blue riband. Ah, but I knew where the other half of the sixpence was, and envied that happy bit of silver!

The last day of my holiday I was obliged, of course, to devote to Mrs. Hoggarty. My aunt was excessively gracious; and by way of a treat brought out a couple of bottles of the black currant, of which she made me drink the greater part. At night when all the ladies assembled at her party had gone off with their pattens and their maids, Mrs. Hoggarty, who had made a signal to me to stay, first blew out three of the wax candles in the drawing-room, and taking the fourth in her hand, went and unlocked her escritoire.

I can tell you my heart beat, though I pretended to look quite unconcerned.

“Sam my dear,” said she, as she was fumbling with her keys, “take another glass of Rosolio” (that was the name by which she baptised the cursed beverage): “it will do you good.” I took it, and you might have seen my hand tremble as the bottle went click — click against the glass. By the time I had swallowed it, the old lady had finished her operations at the bureau, and was coming towards me, the wax-candle bobbing in one hand and a large parcel in the other.

“Now’s the time,” thought I.

“Samuel, my dear nephew,” said she, “your first name you received from your sainted uncle, my blessed husband; and of all my nephews and nieces, you are the one whose conduct in life has most pleased me.”

When you consider that my aunt herself was one of seven married sisters, that all the Hoggarties were married in Ireland and mothers of numerous children, I must say that the compliment my aunt paid me was a very handsome one.

“Dear aunt,” says I, in a slow agitated voice, “I have often heard you say there were seventy-three of us in all, and believe me I do think your high opinion of me very complimentary indeed: I’m unworthy of it — indeed I am.”

“As for those odious Irish people,” says my aunt, rather sharply, “don’t speak of them, I hate them, and every one of their mothers” (the fact is, there had been a lawsuit about Hoggarty’s property); “but of all my other kindred, you, Samuel, have been the most dutiful and affectionate to me. Your employers in London give the best accounts of your regularity and good conduct. Though you have had eighty pounds a year (a liberal salary), you have not spent a shilling more than your income, as other young men would; and you have devoted your month’s holidays to your old aunt, who, I assure you, is grateful.”

“Oh, ma’am!” said I. It was all that I could utter.

“Samuel,” continued she, “I promised you a present, and here it is. I first thought of giving you money; but you are a regular lad; and don’t want it. You are above money, dear Samuel. I give you what I value most in life — the p — the po, the po-ortrait of my sainted Hoggarty” (tears), “set in the locket which contains the valuable diamond that you have often heard me speak of. Wear it, dear Sam, for my sake; and think of that angel in heaven, and of your dear Aunt Susy.”

She put the machine into my hands: it was about the size of the lid of a shaving-box: and I should as soon have thought of wearing it as of wearing a cocked-hat and pigtail. I was so disgusted and disappointed that I really could not get out a single word.

When I recovered my presence of mind a little, I took the locket out of the bit of paper (the locket indeed! it was as big as a barndoor padlock), and slowly put it into my shirt. “Thank you, Aunt,” said I, with admirable raillery. “I shall always value this present for the sake of you, who gave it me; and it will recall to me my uncle, and my thirteen aunts in Ireland.”

“I don’t want you to wear it in that way!” shrieked Mrs. Hoggarty, “with the hair of those odious carroty women. You must have their hair removed.”

“Then the locket will be spoiled, Aunt.”

“Well, sir, never mind the locket; have it set afresh.”

“Or suppose,” said I, “I put aside the setting altogether: it is a little too large for the present fashion; and have the portrait of my uncle framed and placed over my chimney-piece, next to yours. It’s a sweet miniature.”

“That miniature,” said Mrs. Hoggarty, solemnly, “was the great Mulcahy’s chef-d’oeuvre” (pronounced shy dewver, a favourite word of my aunt’s; being, with the words bongtong and ally mode de Parry, the extent of her French vocabulary). “You know the dreadful story of that poor poor artist. When he had finished that wonderful likeness for the late Mrs. Hoggarty of Castle Hoggarty, county Mayo, she wore it in her bosom at the Lord Lieutenant’s ball, where she played a game of piquet with the Commander-inChief. What could have made her put the hair of her vulgar daughters round Mick’s portrait, I can’t think; but so it was, as you see it this day. ‘Madam,’ says the Commander-inChief, ‘if that is not my friend Mick Hoggarty, I’m a Dutchman!’ Those were his Lordship’s very words. Mrs. Hoggarty of Castle Hoggarty took off the brooch and showed it to him.

“‘Who is the artist?’ says my Lord. ‘It’s the most wonderful likeness I ever saw in my life!’

“‘Mulcahy,’ says she, ‘of Ormond’s Quay.’

“‘Begad, I patronise him!’ says my Lord; but presently his face darkened, and he gave back the picture with a dissatisfied air. ‘There is one fault in that portrait,’ said his Lordship, who was a rigid disciplinarian; ‘and I wonder that my friend Mick, as a military man, should have overlooked it.’

“‘What’s that?’ says Mrs. Hoggarty of Castle Hoggarty.

“‘Madam, he has been painted without his sword-belt!’ And he took up the cards again in a passion, and finished the game without saying a single word.

“The news was carried to Mr. Mulcahy the next day, and that unfortunate artist went mad immediately! He had set his whole reputation upon this miniature, and declared that it should be faultless. Such was the effect of the announcement upon his susceptible heart! When Mrs. Hoggarty died, your uncle took the portrait and always wore it himself. His sisters said it was for the sake of the diamond; whereas, ungrateful things! it was merely on account of their hair, and his love for the fine arts. As for the poor artist, my dear, some people said it was the profuse use of spirit that brought on delirium tremens; but I don’t believe it. Take another glass of Rosolio.”

The telling of this story always put my aunt into great good-humour, and she promised at the end of it to pay for the new setting of the diamond; desiring me to take it on my arrival in London to the great jeweller, Mr. Polonius, and send her the bill. “The fact is,” said she, “that the gold in which the thing is set is worth five guineas at the very least, and you can have the diamond reset for two. However, keep the remainder, dear Sam, and buy yourself what you please with it.”

With this the old lady bade me adieu. The clock was striking twelve as I walked down the village, for the story of Mulcahy always took an hour in the telling, and I went away not quite so downhearted as when the present was first made to me. “After all,” thought I, “a diamond-pin is a handsome thing, and will give me a distingue air, though my clothes be never so shabby”— and shabby they were without any doubt. “Well,” I said, “three guineas, which I shall have over, will buy me a couple of pairs of what-d’ye-call-‘ems;” of which, entre nous, I was in great want, having just then done growing, whereas my pantaloons were made a good eighteen months before.

Well, I walked down the village, my hands in my breeches pockets; I had poor Mary’s purse there, having removed the little things which she gave me the day before, and placed them — never mind where: but look you, in those days I had a heart, and a warm one too. I had Mary’s purse ready for my aunt’s donation, which never came, and with my own little stock of money besides, that Mrs. Hoggarty’s card parties had lessened by a good five-and-twenty shillings, I calculated that, after paying my fare, I should get to town with a couple of seven-shilling pieces in my pocket.

I walked down the village at a deuce of a pace; so quick that, if the thing had been possible, I should have overtaken ten o’clock that had passed by me two hours ago, when I was listening to Mrs. H.‘s long stories over her terrible Rosolio. The truth is, at ten I had an appointment under a certain person’s window, who was to have been looking at the moon at that hour, with her pretty quilled nightcap on, and her blessed hair in papers.

There was the window shut, and not so much as a candle in it; and though I hemmed and hawed, and whistled over the garden paling, and sang a song of which Somebody was very fond, and even threw a pebble at the window, which hit it exactly at the opening of the lattice — I woke no one except a great brute of a house-dog, that yelled, and howled, and bounced so at me over the rails, that I thought every moment he would have had my nose between his teeth.

So I was obliged to go off as quickly as might be; and the next morning Mamma and my sisters made breakfast for me at four, and at five came the “True Blue” light six-inside post-coach to London, and I got up on the roof without having seen Mary Smith.

As we passed the house, it did seem as if the window curtain in her room was drawn aside just a little bit. Certainly the window was open, and it had been shut the night before: but away went the coach; and the village, cottage, and the churchyard, and Hicks’s hayricks were soon out of sight.

* * * * *

“My hi, what a pin!” said a stable-boy, who was smoking a cigar, to the guard, looking at me and putting his finger to his nose.

The fact is, that I had never undressed since my aunt’s party; and being uneasy in mind and having all my clothes to pack up, and thinking of something else, had quite forgotten Mrs. Hoggarty’s brooch, which I had stuck into my shirt-frill the night before.

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