Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XIII

I Continue My Career As A Man of Fashion

I find I have already filled up many scores of pages, and yet a vast deal of the most interesting portion of my history remains to be told, viz. that which describes my sojourn in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, and the great part I played there; moving among the most illustrious of the land, myself not the least distinguished of the brilliant circle. In order to give due justice to this portion of my Memoirs, then — which is more important than my foreign adventures can be (though I could fill volumes with interesting descriptions of the latter) — I shall cut short the account of my travels in Europe, and of my success at the Continental Courts, in order to speak of what befell me at home. Suffice it to say that there is not a capital in Europe, except the beggarly one of Berlin, where the young Chevalier de Balibari was not known and admired; and where he has not made the brave, the high-born, and the beautiful talk of him. I won 80,000 roubles from Potemkin at the Winter Palace at Petersburg, which the scoundrelly favourite never paid me; I have had the honour of seeing his Royal Highness the Chevalier Charles Edward as drunk as any porter at Rome; my uncle played several matches at billiards against the celebrated Lord C—— at Spa, and I promise you did not come off a loser. In fact, by a neat stratagem of ours, we raised the laugh against his Lordship, and something a great deal more substantial. My Lord did not know that the Chevalier Barry had a useless eye; and when, one day, my uncle playfully bet him odds at billiards that he would play him with a patch over one eye, the noble lord, thinking to bite us (he was one of the most desperate gamblers that ever lived), accepted the bet, and we won a very considerable amount of him.

Nor need I mention my successes among the fairer portion of the creation. One of the most accomplished, the tallest, the most athletic, and the handsomest gentlemen of Europe, as I was then, a young fellow of my figure could not fail of having advantages, which a person of my spirit knew very well how to use. But upon these subjects I am dumb. Charming Schuvaloff, black-eyed Sczotarska, dark Valdez, tender Hegenheim, brilliant Langeac! — ye gentle hearts that knew how to beat in old times for the warm young Irish gentleman, where are you now? Though my hair has grown grey now, and my sight dim, and my heart cold with years, and ennui, and disappointment, and the treachery of friends, yet I have but to lean back in my arm-chair and think, and those sweet figures come rising up before me out of the past, with their smiles, and their kindnesses, and their bright tender eyes! There are no women like them now — no manners like theirs! Look you at a bevy of women at the Prince’s, stitched up in tight white satin sacks, with their waists under their arms, and compare them to the graceful figures of the old time! Why, when I danced with Coralie de Langeac at the fetes on the birth of the first Dauphin at Versailles, her hoop was eighteen feet in circumference, and the heels of her lovely little mules were three inches from the ground; the lace of my jabot was worth a thousand crowns, and the buttons of my amaranth velvet coat alone cost eighty thousand livres. Look at the difference now! The gentlemen are dressed like boxers, Quakers, or hackney-coachmen; and the ladies are not dressed at all. There is no elegance, no refinement; none of the chivalry of the old world, of which I form a portion. Think of the fashion of London being led by a Br-mm-l! [Footnote: This manuscript must have been written at the time when Mr. Brummel was the leader of the London fashion.] a nobody’s son: a low creature, who can no more dance a minuet than I can talk Cherokee; who cannot even crack a bottle like a gentleman; who never showed himself to be a man with his sword in his hand: as we used to approve ourselves in the good old times, before that vulgar Corsican upset the gentry of the world! Oh, to see the Valdez once again, as on that day I met her first driving in state, with her eight mules and her retinue of gentlemen, by the side of yellow Mancanares! Oh, for another drive with Hegenheim, in the gilded sledge, over the Saxon snow! False as Schuvaloff was, ’twas better to be jilted by her than to be adored by any other woman. I can’t think of any one of them without tenderness. I have ringlets of all their hair in my poor little museum of recollections. Do you keep mine, you dear souls that survive the turmoils and troubles of near half a hundred years? How changed its colour is now, since the day Sczotarska wore it round her neck, after my duel with Count Bjernaski, at Warsaw.

I never kept any beggarly books of accounts in those days. I had no debts. I paid royally for everything I took; and I took everything I wanted. My income must have been very large. My entertainments and equipages were those of a gentleman of the highest distinction; nor let any scoundrel presume to sneer because I carried off and married my Lady Lyndon (as you shall presently hear), and call me an adventurer, or say I was penniless, or the match unequal. Penniless! I had the wealth of Europe at my command. Adventurer! So is a meritorious lawyer or a gallant soldier; so is every man who makes his own fortune an adventurer. My profession was play: in which I was then unrivalled. No man could play with me through Europe, on the square; and my income was just as certain (during health and the exercise of my profession) as that of a man who draws on his Three-per-cents., or any fat squire whose acres bring him revenue. Harvest is not more certain than the effect of skill is: a crop is a chance, as much as a game of cards greatly played by a fine player: there may be a drought, or a frost, or a hail-storm, and your stake is lost; but one man is just as much an adventurer as another.

In evoking the recollection of these kind and fair creatures I have nothing but pleasure. I would I could say as much of the memory of another lady, who will henceforth play a considerable part in the drama of my life — I mean the Countess of Lyndon; whose fatal acquaintance I made at Spa, very soon after the events described in the last chapter had caused me to quit Germany.

Honoria, Countess of Lyndon, Viscountess Bullingdon in England, Baroness Castle Lyndon of the kingdom of Ireland, was so well known to the great world in her day, that I have little need to enter into her family history; which is to be had in any peerage that the reader may lay his hand on. She was, as I need not say, a countess, viscountess, and baroness in her own right. Her estates in Devon and Cornwall were among the most extensive in those parts; her Irish possessions not less magnificent; and they have been alluded to, in a very early part of these Memoirs, as lying near to my own paternal property in the kingdom of Ireland: indeed, unjust confiscations in the time of Elizabeth and her father went to diminish my acres, while they added to the already vast possessions of the Lyndon family.

The Countess, when I first saw her at the assembly at Spa, was the wife of her cousin, the Right Honourable Sir Charles Reginald Lyndon, Knight of the Bath, and Minister to George II. and George III. at several of the smaller Courts of Europe. Sir Charles Lyndon was celebrated as a wit and bon vivant: he could write love-verses against Hanbury Williams, and make jokes with George Selwyn; he was a man of vertu like Harry Walpole, with whom and Mr. Grey he had made a part of the grand tour; and was cited, in a word, as one of the most elegant and accomplished men of his time.

I made this gentleman’s acquaintance as usual at the play-table, of which he was a constant frequenter. Indeed, one could not but admire the spirit and gallantry with which he pursued his favourite pastime; for, though worn out by gout and a myriad of diseases, a cripple wheeled about in a chair, and suffering pangs of agony, yet you would see him every morning and every evening at his post behind the delightful green cloth: and if, as it would often happen, his own hands were too feeble or inflamed to hold the box, he would call the mains, nevertheless, and have his valet or a friend to throw for him. I like this courageous spirit in a man; the greatest successes in life have been won by such indomitable perseverance.

I was by this time one of the best-known characters in Europe; and the fame of my exploits, my duels, my courage at play, would bring crowds around me in any public society where I appeared. I could show reams of scented paper, to prove that this eagerness to make my acquaintance was not confined to the gentlemen only; but that I hate boasting, and only talk of myself in so far as it is necessary to relate myself’s adventures: the most singular of any man’s in Europe. Well, Sir Charles Lyndon’s first acquaintance with me originated in the right honourable knight’s winning 700 pieces of me at picquet (for which he was almost my match); and I lost them with much good-humour, and paid them: and paid them, you may be sure, punctually. Indeed, I will say this for myself, that losing money at play never in the least put me out of good-humour with the winner, and that wherever I found a superior, I was always ready to acknowledge and hail him.

Lyndon was very proud of winning from so celebrated a person, and we contracted a kind of intimacy; which, however, did not for a while go beyond pump-room attentions, and conversations over the supper-table at play: but which gradually increased, until I was admitted into his more private friendship. He was a very free-spoken man (the gentry of those days were much prouder than at present), and used to say to me in his haughty easy way, ‘Hang it, Mr. Barry, you have no more manners than a barber, and I think my black footman has been better educated than you; but you are a young fellow of originality and pluck, and I like you, sir, because you seem determined to go to the deuce by a way of your own.’ I would thank him laughingly for this compliment, and say, that as he was bound to the next world much sooner than I was, I would be obliged to him to get comfortable quarters arranged there for me. He used also to be immensely amused with my stories about the splendour of my family and the magnificence of Castle Brady: he would never tire of listening or laughing at those histories.

‘Stick to the trumps, however, my lad,’ he would say, when I told him of my misfortunes in the conjugal line, and how near I had been winning the greatest fortune in Germany. ‘Do anything but marry, my artless Irish rustic’ (he called me by a multiplicity of queer names). ‘Cultivate your great talents in the gambling line; but mind this, that a woman will beat you.’

That I denied; mentioning several instances in which I had conquered the most intractable tempers among the sex.

‘They will beat you in the long run, my Tipperary Alcibiades. As soon as you are married, take my word of it, you are conquered. Look at me. I married my cousin, the noblest and greatest heiress in England — married her in spite of herself almost’ (here a dark shade passed over Sir Charles Lyndon’s countenance). ‘She is a weak woman. You shall see her, sir, HOW weak she is; but she is my mistress. She has embittered my whole life. She is a fool; but she has got the better of one of the best heads in Christendom. She is enormously rich; but somehow I have never been so poor as since I married her. I thought to better myself; and she has made me miserable and killed me. And she will do as much for my successor, when I am gone.’

‘Has her Ladyship a very large income?’ said I. At which Sir Charles burst out into a yelling laugh, and made me blush not a little at my gaucherie; for the fact is, seeing him in the condition in which he was, I could not help speculating upon the chance a man of spirit might have with his widow.

‘No, no!’ said he, laughing. ‘Waugh hawk, Mr. Barry; don’t think, if you value your peace of mind, to stand in my shoes when they are vacant. Besides, I don’t think my Lady Lyndon would QUITE condescend to marry a’——

‘Marry a what, sir?’ said I, in a rage.

“Never mind what: but the man who gets her will rue it, take my word on’t. A plague on her! had it not been for my father’s ambition and mine (he was her uncle and guardian, and we wouldn’t let such a prize out of the family), I might have died peaceably, at least; carried my gout down to my grave in quiet, lived in my modest tenement in Mayfair, had every house in England open to me; and now, now I have six of my own, and every one of them is a hell to me. Beware of greatness, Mr. Barry. Take warning by me. Ever since I have been married and have been rich, I have been the most miserable wretch in the world. Look at me. I am dying a worn-out cripple at the age of fifty. Marriage has added forty years to my life. When I took off Lady Lyndon, there was no man of my years who looked so young as myself. Fool that I was! I had enough with my pensions, perfect freedom, the best society in Europe; and I gave up all these, and married, and was miserable. Take a warning by me, Captain Barry, and stick to the trumps.”

Though my intimacy with the knight was considerable, for a long time I never penetrated into any other apartments of his hotel but those which he himself occupied. His lady lived entirely apart from him; and it is only curious how they came to travel together at all. She was a goddaughter of old Mary Wortley Montagu: and, like that famous old woman of the last century, made considerable pretensions to be a blue-stocking and a bel esprit. Lady Lyndon wrote poems in English and Italian, which still may be read by the curious in the pages of the magazines of the day. She entertained a correspondence with several of the European savans upon history, science, and ancient languages, and especially theology. Her pleasure was to dispute controversial points with abbes and bishops; and her flatterers said she rivalled Madam Dacier in learning. Every adventurer who had a discovery in chemistry, a new antique bust, or a plan for discovering the philosopher’s stone, was sure to find a patroness in her. She had numberless works dedicated to her, and sonnets without end addressed to her by all the poetasters of Europe, under the name of Lindonira or Calista. Her rooms were crowded with hideous China magots, and all sorts of objects of VERTU.

No woman piqued herself more upon her principles, or allowed love to be made to her more profusely. There was a habit of courtship practised by the fine gentlemen of those days, which is little understood in our coarse downright times: and young and old fellows would pour out floods of compliments in letters and madrigals, such as would make a sober lady stare were they addressed to her nowadays: so entirely has the gallantry of the last century disappeared out of our manners.

Lady Lyndon moved about with a little court of her own. She had half-a-dozen carriages in her progresses. In her own she would travel with her companion (some shabby lady of quality), her birds, and poodles, and the favourite savant for the time being. In another would be her female secretary and her waiting-women; who, in spite of their care, never could make their mistress look much better than a slattern. Sir Charles Lyndon had his own chariot, and the domestics of the establishment would follow in other vehicles.

Also must be mentioned the carriage in which rode her Ladyship’s chaplain, Mr. Runt, who acted in capacity of governor to her son, the little Viscount Bullingdon — a melancholy deserted little boy, about whom his father was more than indifferent, and whom his mother never saw, except for two minutes at her levee, when she would put to him a few questions of history or Latin grammar; after which he was consigned to his own amusements, or the care of his governor, for the rest of the day.

The notion of such a Minerva as this, whom I saw in the public places now and then, surrounded by swarms of needy abbes and schoolmasters, who flattered her, frightened me for some time, and I had not the least desire to make her acquaintance. I had no desire to be one of the beggarly adorers in the great lady’s train — fellows, half friend, half lacquey, who made verses, and wrote letters, and ran errands, content to be paid by a seat in her Ladyship’s box at the comedy, or a cover at her dinner-table at noon. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ Sir Charles Lyndon would say, whose great subject of conversation and abuse was his lady: ‘my Lindonira will have nothing to do with you. She likes the Tuscan brogue, not that of Kerry. She says you smell too much of the stable to be admitted to ladies’ society; and last Sunday fortnight, when she did me the honour to speak to me last, said, “I wonder, Sir Charles Lyndon, a gentleman who has been the King’s ambassador can demean himself by gambling and boozing with low Irish blacklegs!” Don’t fly in a fury! I’m a cripple, and it was Lindonira said it, not I.’

This piqued me, and I resolved to become acquainted with Lady Lyndon; if it were but to show her Ladyship that the descendant of those Barrys, whose property she unjustly held, was not an unworthy companion for any lady, were she ever so high. Besides, my friend the knight was dying: his widow would be the richest prize in the three kingdoms. Why should I not win her, and, with her, the means of making in the world that figure which my genius and inclination desired? I felt I was equal in blood and breeding to any Lyndon in Christendom, and determined to bend this haughty lady. When I determine, I look upon the thing as done.

My uncle and I talked the matter over, and speedily settled upon a method for making our approaches upon this stately lady of Castle Lyndon. Mr. Runt, young Lord Bullingdon’s governor, was fond of pleasure, of a glass of Rhenish in the garden-houses in the summer evenings, and of a sly throw of the dice when the occasion offered; and I took care to make friends with this person, who, being a college tutor and an Englishman, was ready to go on his knees to any one who resembled a man of fashion. Seeing me with my retinue of servants, my vis-a-vis and chariots, my valets, my hussar, and horses, dressed in gold, and velvet, and sables, saluting the greatest people in Europe as we met on the course, or at the Spas, Runt was dazzled by my advances, and was mine by a beckoning of the finger. I shall never forget the poor wretch’s astonishment when I asked him to dine, with two counts, off gold plate, at the little room in the casino: he was made happy by being allowed to win a few pieces of us, became exceedingly tipsy, sang Cambridge songs, and recreated the company by telling us, in his horrid Yorkshire French, stories about the gyps, and all the lords that had ever been in his college. I encouraged him to come and see me oftener, and bring with him his little viscount; for whom, though the boy always detested me, I took care to have a good stock of sweetmeats, toys, and picture-books when he came.

I then began to enter into a controversy with Mr. Runt, and confided to him some doubts which I had, and a very very earnest leaning towards the Church of Rome. I made a certain abbe whom I knew write me letters upon transubstantiation, &c., which the honest tutor was rather puzzled to answer. I knew that they would be communicated to his lady, as they were; for, asking leave to attend the English service which was celebrated in her apartments, and frequented by the best English then at the Spa, on the second Sunday she condescended to look at me; on the third she was pleased to reply to my profound bow by a curtsey; the next day I followed up the acquaintance by another obeisance in the public walk; and, to make a long story short, her Ladyship and I were in full correspondence on transubstantiation before six weeks were over. My Lady came to the aid of her chaplain; and then I began to see the prodigious weight of his arguments: as was to be expected. The progress of this harmless little intrigue need not be detailed. I make no doubt every one of my readers has practised similar stratagems when a fair lady was in the case.

I shall never forget the astonishment of Sir Charles Lyndon when, on one summer evening, as he was issuing out to the play-table in his sedan-chair, according to his wont, her Ladyship’s barouche and four, with her outriders in the tawny livery of the Lyndon family, came driving into the courtyard of the house which they inhabited; and in that carriage, by her Ladyship’s side, sat no other than the ‘vulgar Irish adventurer,’ as she was pleased to call him: I mean Redmond Barry, Esquire. He made the most courtly of his bows, and grinned and waved his hat in as graceful a manner as the gout permitted; and her Ladyship and I replied to the salutation with the utmost politeness and elegance on our parts.

I could not go to the play-table for some time afterwards for Lady Lyndon and I had an argument on transubstantiation, which lasted for three hours; in which she was, as usual, victorious, and, in which her companion, the Honourable Miss Flint Skinner, fell asleep; but when, at last, I joined Sir Charles at the casino, he received me with a yell of laughter, as his wont was, and introduced me to all the company as Lady Lyndon’s interesting young convert. This was his way. He laughed and sneered at everything. He laughed when he was in a paroxysm of pain; he laughed when he won money, or when he lost it: his laugh was not jovial or agreeable, but rather painful and sardonic.

‘Gentlemen,’ said he to Punter, Colonel Loder, Count du Carreau, and several jovial fellows with whom he used to discuss a flask of champagne and a Rhenish trout or two after play, ‘see this amiable youth! He has been troubled by religious scruples, and has flown for refuge to my chaplain, Mr. Runt, who has asked for advice from my wife, Lady Lyndon; and, between them both, they are confirming my ingenious young friend in his faith. Did you ever hear of such doctors, and such a disciple?’

‘‘Faith, sir,’ said I, ‘if I want to learn good principles, it’s surely better I should apply for them to your lady and your chaplain than to you!’

‘He wants to step into my shoes!’ continued the knight.

‘The man would be happy who did so,’ responded I, ‘provided there were no chalk-stones included!’ At which reply Sir Charles was not very well pleased, and went on with increased rancour. He was always free-spoken in his cups; and, to say the truth, he was in his cups many more times in a week than his doctors allowed.

‘Is it not a pleasure, gentlemen,’ said he, ‘for me, as I am drawing near the goal, to find my home such a happy one; my wife so fond of me, that she is even now thinking of appointing a successor? (I don’t mean you precisely, Mr. Barry; you are only taking your chance with a score of others whom I could mention.) Isn’t it a comfort to see her, like a prudent housewife, getting everything ready for her husband’s departure?’

‘I hope you are not thinking of leaving us soon, knight?’ said I, with perfect sincerity; for I liked him, as a most amusing companion. ‘Not so soon, my dear, as you may fancy, perhaps,’ continued he. ‘Why, man, I have been given over any time these four years; and there was always a candidate or two waiting to apply for the situation. Who knows how long I may keep you waiting?’ and he DID keep me waiting some little time longer than at that period there was any reason to suspect.

As I declared myself pretty openly, according to my usual way, and authors are accustomed to describe the persons of the ladies with whom their heroes fall in love; in compliance with this fashion, I perhaps should say a word or two respecting the charms of my Lady Lyndon. But though I celebrated them in many copies of verses, of my own and other persons’ writing; and though I filled reams of paper in the passionate style of those days with compliments to every one of her beauties and smiles, in which I compared her to every flower, goddess, or famous heroine ever heard of — truth compels me to say that there was nothing divine about her at all. She was very well; but no more. Her shape was fine, her hair dark, her eyes good, and exceedingly active; she loved singing, but performed it as so great a lady should, very much out of tune. She had a smattering of half-a-dozen modern languages, and, as I have said before, of many more sciences than I even knew the names of. She piqued herself on knowing Greek and Latin; but the truth is, that Mr. Runt, used to supply her with the quotations which she introduced into her voluminous correspondence. She had as much love of admiration, as strong, uneasy a vanity, and as little heart, as any woman I ever knew. Otherwise, when her son, Lord Bullingdon, on account of his differences with me, ran — but that matter shall be told in its proper time. Finally, my Lady Lyndon was about a year older than myself; though, of course, she would take her Bible oath that she was three years younger.

Few men are so honest as I am; for few will own to their real motives, and I don’t care a button about confessing mine. What Sir Charles Lyndon said was perfectly true. I made the acquaintance of Lady Lyndon with ulterior views. ‘Sir,’ said I to him, when, after the scene described and the jokes he made upon me, we met alone, ‘let those laugh that win. You were very pleasant upon me a few nights since, and on my intentions regarding your lady. Well, if they ARE what you think they are — if I DO wish to step into your shoes, what then? I have no other intentions than you had yourself. I’ll be sworn to muster just as much regard for my Lady Lyndon as you ever showed her; and if I win her and wear her when you are dead and gone, corbleu, knight, do you think it will be the fear of your ghost will deter me?’

Lyndon laughed as usual; but somewhat disconcertedly: indeed I had clearly the best of him in the argument, and had just as much right to hunt my fortune as he had.

But one day he said, ‘If you marry such a woman as my Lady Lyndon, mark my words, you will regret it. You will pine after the liberty you once enjoyed. By George! Captain Barry,’ he added, with a sigh, ‘the thing that I regret most in life — perhaps it is because I am old, blase, and dying — is, that I never had a virtuous attachment.’

‘Ha! ha! a milkmaid’s daughter!’ said I, laughing at the absurdity.

‘Well, why not a milkmaid’s daughter? My good fellow, I WAS in love in youth, as most gentlemen are, with my tutor’s daughter, Helena, a bouncing girl; of course older than myself’ (this made me remember my own little love-passages with Nora Brady in the days of my early life), ‘and do you know, sir, I heartily regret I didn’t marry her? There’s nothing like having a virtuous drudge at home, sir; depend upon that. It gives a zest to one’s enjoyments in the world, take my word for it. No man of sense need restrict himself, or deny himself a single amusement for his wife’s sake: on the contrary, if he select the animal properly, he will choose such a one as shall be no bar to his pleasure, but a comfort in his hours of annoyance. For instance, I have got the gout: who tends me? A hired valet, who robs me whenever he has the power. My wife never comes near me. What friend have I? None in the wide world. Men of the world, as you and I are, don’t make friends; and we are fools for our pains. Get a friend, sir, and that friend a woman — a good household drudge, who loves you. THAT is the most precious sort of friendship; for the expense of it is all on the woman’s side. The man needn’t contribute anything. If he’s a rogue, she’ll vow he’s an angel; if he’s a brute, she will like him all the better for his ill-treatment of her. They like it, sir, these women. They are born to be our greatest comforts and conveniences; our — our moral bootjacks, as it were; and to men in your way of life, believe me such a person would be invaluable. I am only speaking for your bodily and mental comfort’s sake, mind. Why didn’t I marry poor Helena Flower, the curate’s daughter?’

I thought these speeches the remarks of a weakly disappointed man; although since, perhaps, I have had reason to find the truth of Sir Charles Lyndon’s statements. The fact is, in my opinion, that we often buy money very much too dear. To purchase a few thousands a year at the expense of an odious wife, is very bad economy for a young fellow of any talent and spirit; and there have been moments of my life when, in the midst of my greatest splendour and opulence, with half-a-dozen lords at my levee, with the finest horses in my stables, the grandest house over my head, with unlimited credit at my banker’s, and — Lady Lyndon to boot, I have wished myself back a private of Bulow’s, or anything, so as to get rid of her. To return, however, to the story. Sir Charles, with his complication of ills, was dying before us by inches! and I’ve no doubt it could not have been very pleasant to him to see a young handsome fellow paying court to his widow before his own face as it were. After I once got into the house on the transubstantiation dispute, I found a dozen more occasions to improve my intimacy, and was scarcely ever out of her Ladyship’s doors. The world talked and blustered; but what cared I? The men cried fie upon the shameless Irish adventurer; but I have told my way of silencing such envious people: and my sword had by this time got such a reputation through Europe, that few people cared to encounter it. If I can once get my hold of a place, I keep it. Many’s the house I have been to where I have seen the men avoid me. ‘Faugh! the low Irishman,’ they would say. ‘Bah! the coarse adventurer!’ ‘Out on the insufferable blackleg and puppy!’ and so forth. This hatred has been of no inconsiderable service to me in the world; for when I fasten on a man, nothing can induce me to release my hold: and I am left to myself, which is all the better. As I told Lady Lyndon in those days, with perfect sincerity, ‘Calista’ (I used to call her Calista in my correspondence)—’ Calista, I swear to thee, by the spotlessness of thy own soul, by the brilliancy of thy immitigable eyes, by everything pure and chaste in heaven and in thy own heart, that I will never cease from following thee! Scorn I can bear, and have borne at thy hands. Indifference I can surmount; ’tis a rock which my energy will climb over, a magnet which attracts the dauntless iron of my soul!’ And it was true, I wouldn’t have left her — no, though they had kicked me downstairs every day I presented myself at her door.

That is my way of fascinating women. Let the man who has to make his fortune in life remember this maxim. ATTACKING is his only secret. Dare, and the world always yields: or, if it beat you sometimes, dare again, and it will succumb. In those days my spirit was so great, that if I had set my heart upon marrying a princess of the blood, I would have had her!

I told Calista my story, and altered very very little of the truth. My object was to frighten her: to show her that what I wanted, that I dared; that what I dared, that I won; and there were striking passages enough in my history to convince her of my iron will and indomitable courage. ‘Never hope to escape me, madam,’ I would say: ‘offer to marry another man, and he dies upon this sword, which never yet met its master. Fly from me, and I will follow you, though it were to the gates of Hades.’ I promise you this was very different language to that she had been in the habit of hearing from her Jemmy-Jessamy adorers. You should have seen how I scared the fellows from her.

When I said in this energetic way that I would follow Lady Lyndon across the Styx if necessary, of course I meant that I would do so, provided nothing more suitable presented itself in the interim. If Lyndon would not die, where was the use of my pursuing the Countess? And somehow, towards the end of the Spa season, very much to my mortification I do confess, the knight made another rally: it seemed as if nothing would kill him. ‘I am sorry for you, Captain Barry,’ he would say, laughing as usual. ‘I’m grieved to keep you, or any gentleman, waiting. Had you not better arrange with my doctor, or get the cook to flavour my omelette with arsenic? What are the odds, gentlemen,’ he would add, ‘that I don’t live to see Captain Barry hanged yet?’

In fact, the doctors tinkered him up for a year. ‘It’s my usual luck,’ I could not help saying to my uncle, who was my confidential and most excellent adviser in all matters of the heart. ‘I’ve been wasting the treasures of my affections upon that flirt of a countess, and here’s her husband restored to health and likely to live I don’t know how many years!’ And, as if to add to my mortification, there came just at this period to Spa an English tallow-chandler’s heiress, with a plum to her fortune; and Madame Cornu, the widow of a Norman cattle-dealer and farmer-general, with a dropsy and two hundred thousand livres a year.

‘What’s the use of my following the Lyndons to England,’ says I, ‘if the knight won’t die?’

‘Don’t follow them, my dear simple child,’ replied my uncle. ‘Stop here and pay court to the new arrivals.’

‘Yes, and lose Calista for ever, and the greatest estate in all England.’

‘Pooh, pooh! youths like you easily fire and easily despond. Keep up a correspondence with Lady Lyndon. You know there’s nothing she likes so much. There’s the Irish abbe, who will write you the most charming letters for a crown apiece. Let her go; write to her, and meanwhile look out for anything else which may turn up. Who knows? you might marry the Norman widow, bury her, take her money, and be ready for the Countess against the knight’s death.’

And so, with vows of the most profound respectful attachment, and having given twenty louis to Lady Lyndon’s waiting-woman for a lock of her hair (of which fact, of course, the woman informed her mistress), I took leave of the Countess, when it became necessary for her return to her estates in England; swearing I would follow her as soon as an affair of honour I had on my hands could be brought to an end.

I shall pass over the events of the year that ensued before I again saw her. She wrote to me according to promise; with much regularity at first, with somewhat less frequency afterwards. My affairs, meanwhile, at the play-table went on not unprosperously, and I was just on the point of marrying the widow Cornu (we were at Brussels by this time, and the poor soul was madly in love with me,) when the London Gazette was put into my hands, and I read the following announcement:—

‘Died at Castle-Lyndon, in the kingdom of Ireland, the Right Honourable Sir Charles Lyndon, Knight of the Bath, member of Parliament for Lyndon in Devonshire, and many years His Majesty’s representative at various European Courts. He hath left behind him a name which is endeared to all his friends for his manifold virtues and talents, a reputation justly acquired in the service of His Majesty, and an inconsolable widow to deplore his loss. Her Ladyship, the bereaved Countess of Lyndon, was at the Bath when the horrid intelligence reached her of her husband’s demise, and hastened to Ireland immediately in order to pay her last sad duties to his beloved remains.’

That very night I ordered my chariot and posted to Ostend, whence I freighted a vessel to Dover, and travelling rapidly into the West, reached Bristol; from which port I embarked for Waterford, and found myself, after an absence of eleven years, in my native country.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/lyndon/chapter13.html

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