The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXVI

In which we are at a very Great Distance from Oakhurst

Within the precinct of the White Horse Tavern, and coming up to the windows of the eating-room, was a bowling-green, with a table or two, where guests might sit and partake of punch or tea. The three gentlemen having come to an end of their dinner about the same time, Mr. Morris proposed that they should adjourn to the Green, and there drink a cool bottle. “Jack Morris would adjourn to the Dust Hole, as a pretext for a fresh drink,” said my lord. On which Jack said he supposed each gentleman had his own favourite way of going to the deuce. His weakness, he owned, was a bottle.

“My Lord Chesterfield’s deuce is deuce-ace,” says my Lord March. “His lordship can’t keep away from the cards or dice.”

“My Lord March has not one devil, but several devils. He loves gambling, he loves horse-racing, he loves betting, he loves drinking, he loves eating, he loves money, he loves women; and you have fallen into bad company, Mr. Warrington, when you lighted upon his lordship. He will play you for every acre you have in Virginia.”

“With the greatest pleasure in life, Mr. Warrington!” interposes my lord.

“And for all your tobacco, and for all your spices, and for all your slaves, and for all your oxen and asses, and for everything that is yours.”

“Shall we begin now? Jack, you are never without a dice-box or a bottle-screw. I will set Mr. Warrington for what he likes.”

“Unfortunately, my lord, the tobacco, and the slaves, and the asses, and the oxen, are not mine, as yet. I am just of age, and my mother, scarce twenty years older, has quite as good chance of long life as I have.”

“I will bet you that you survive her. I will pay you a sum now against four times the sum to be paid at her death. I will set you a fair sum over this table against the reversion of your estate in Virginia at the old lady’s departure. What do you call your place?”

“Castlewood.”

“A principality, I hear it is. I will bet that its value has been exaggerated ten times at least amongst the quidnuncs here. How came you by the name of Castlewood? — you are related to my lord? Oh, stay: I know — my lady, your mother, descends from the real head of the house. He took the losing side in ‘15. I have had the story a dozen times from my old Duchess. She knew your grandfather. He was friend of Addison and Steele, and Pope and Milton, I dare say, and the bigwigs. It is a pity he did not stay at home, and transport the other branch of the family to the plantations.”

“I have just been staying at Castlewood with my cousin there,” remarked Mr. Warrington.

“Hm! Did you play with him? He’s fond of pasteboard and bones.”

“Never, but for sixpences and a pool of commerce with the ladies.”

“So much the better for both of you. But you played with Will Esmond if he was at home? I will lay ten to one you played with Will Esmond.”

Harry blushed, and owned that of an evening his cousin and he had had a few games at cards.

“And Tom Sampson, the chaplain,” cried Jack Morris, “was he of the party? I wager that Tom made a third, and the Lord deliver you from Tom and Will Esmond together!”

“Nay; the truth is, I won of both of them,” said Mr. Warrington.

“And they paid you? Well, miracles will never cease!”

“I did not say anything about miracles,” remarked Mr. Harry, smiling over his wine.

“And you don’t tell tales out of school — the volto sciolto — hey, Mr. Warrington?” says my lord.

“I beg your pardon,” said downright Harry, “French is the only language besides my own of which I know a little.”

“My Lord March has learned Italian at the Opera, and a pretty penny his lessons have cost him,” remarked Jack Morris. “We must show him the Opera — mustn’t we, March?”

“Must we, Morris?” said my lord, as if he only half liked the other’s familiarity.

Both of the two gentlemen were dressed alike, in small scratch-wigs without powder, in blue frocks with plate buttons, in buckskins and riding-boots, in little hats with a narrow cord of lace, and no outward mark of fashion.

“I don’t care about the Opera much, my lord,” says Harry, warming with his wine; “but I should like to go to Newmarket, and long to see a good English hunting-field.”

“We will show you Newmarket and the hunting-field, sir. Can you ride pretty well?”

“I think I can,” Harry said; “and I can shoot pretty well, and jump some.”

“What’s your weight? I bet you we weigh even, or I weigh most. I bet you Jack Morris beats you at birds or a mark, at five-and-twenty paces. I bet you I jump farther than you on flat ground, here on this green.”

“I don’t know Mr. Morris’s shooting — I never saw either gentleman before — but I take your bets, my lord, at what you please,” cries Harry, who by this time was more than warm with Burgundy.

“Ponies on each!” cried my lord.

“Done and done!” cried my lord and Harry together. The young man thought it was for the honour of his country not to be ashamed of any bet made to him.

“We can try the last bet now, if your feet are pretty steady,” said my lord, springing up, stretching his arms and limbs, and looking at the crisp, dry grass. He drew his boots off, then his coat and waistcoat, buckling his belt round his waist, and flinging his clothes down to the ground.

Harry had more respect for his garments. It was his best suit. He took off the velvet coat and waistcoat, folded them up daintily, and, as the two or three tables round were slopped with drink, went to place the clothes on a table in the eating-room, of which the windows were open.

Here a new guest had entered; and this was no other than Mr. Wolfe, who was soberly eating a chicken and salad, with a modest pint of wine. Harry was in high spirits. He told the Colonel he had a bet with my Lord March — would Colonel Wolfe stand him halves? The Colonel said he was too poor to bet. Would he come out and see fair play? That he would with all his heart. Colonel Wolfe set down his glass, and stalked through the open window after his young friend.

“Who is that tallow-faced Put with the carroty hair?” says Jack Morris, on whom the Burgundy had had its due effect.

Mr. Warrington explained that this was Lieutenant-Colonel Wolfe, of the 20th Regiment.

“Your humble servant, gentlemen!” says the Colonel, making the company a rigid military bow.

“Never saw such a figure in my life!” cries Jack Morris. “Did you — March?”

“I beg your pardon, I think you said March?” said the Colonel, looking very much surprised.

“I am the Earl of March, sir, at Colonel Wolfe’s service,” said the nobleman, bowing. “My friend, Mr. Morris, is so intimate with me, that, after dinner, we are quite like brothers.”

Why is not all Tunbridge Wells by to hear this? thought Morris. And he was so delighted that he shouted out, “Two to one on my lord!”

“Done!” calls out Mr. Warrington; and the enthusiastic Jack was obliged to cry “Done!” too.

“Take him, Colonel,” Harry whispers to his friend.

But the Colonel said he could not afford to lose, and therefore could not hope to win.

“I see you have won one of our bets already, Mr. Warrington,” my Lord March remarked. “I am taller than you by an inch or two, but you are broader round the shoulders.”

“Pooh, my dear Will! I bet you you weigh twice as much as he does!” cries Jack Morris.

“Done, Jack!” says my lord, laughing. “The bets are all ponies. Will you take him, Mr. Warrington?”

“No, my dear fellow — one’s enough,” says Jack.

“Very good, my dear fellow,” says my lord; “and now we will settle the other wager.”

Having already arrayed himself in his best silk stockings, black satin-net breeches, and neatest pumps, Harry did not care to take off his shoes as his antagonist had done, whose heavy riding-boots and spurs were, to be sure, little calculated for leaping. They had before them a fine even green turf of some thirty yards in length, enough for a run and enough for a jump. A gravel walk ran around this green, beyond which was a wall and gate-sign — a field azure, bearing the Hanoverian White Horse rampant between two skittles proper, and for motto the name of the landlord and of the animal depicted.

My lord’s friend laid a handkerchief on the ground as the mark whence the leapers were to take their jump, and Mr. Wolfe stood at the other end of the grass-plat to note the spot where each came down. “My lord went first,” writes Mr. Warrington, in a letter to Mrs. Mountain, at Castlewood, Virginia, still extant. “He was for having me take the lead; but, remembering the story about the Battel of Fontanoy which my dearest George used to tell, I says, ‘Monseigneur le Comte, tirez le premier, s’il vous play.’ So he took his run in his stocken feet, and for the honour of Old Virginia, I had the gratafacation of beating his lordship by more than two feet — viz., two feet nine inches — me jumping twenty-one feet three inches, by the drawer’s measured tape, and his lordship only eighteen six. I had won from him about my weight before (which I knew the moment I set my eye upon him). So he and Mr. Jack paid me these two betts. And with my best duty to my mother — she will not be displeased with me, for I bett for the honor of the Old Dominion, and my opponent was a nobleman of the first quality, himself holding two Erldomes, and heir to a Duke. Betting is all the rage here, and the bloods and young fellows of fashion are betting away from morning till night.

“I told them — and that was my mischief perhaps — that there was a gentleman at home who could beat me by a good foot; and when they asked who it was, and I said Col. G. Washington, of Mount Vernon — as you know he can, and he’s the only man in his county or mine that can do it — Mr. Wolfe asked me ever so many questions about Col. G. W., and showed that he had heard of him, and talked over last year’s unhappy campane as if he knew every inch of the ground, and he knew the names of all our rivers, only he called the Potowmac Pottamac, at which we had a good laugh at him. My Lord of March and Ruglen was not in the least ill-humour about losing, and he and his friend handed me notes out of their pocket-books, which filled mine that was getting very empty, for the vales to the servants at my cousin Castlewood’s house and buying a horse at Oakhurst have very nearly put me on the necessity of making another draft upon my honoured mother or her London or Bristol agent.”

These feats of activity over, the four gentlemen now strolled out of the tavern garden into the public walk, where, by this time, a great deal of company was assembled: upon whom Mr. Jack, who was of a frank and free nature, with a loud voice, chose to make remarks that were not always agreeable. And here, if my Lord March made a joke, of which his lordship was not sparing, Jack roared, “Oh, ho, ho! Oh, good Gad! Oh, my dear earl! Oh, my dear lord, you’ll be the death of me!” “It seemed as if he wished everybody to know,” writes Harry sagaciously to Mrs. Mountain, “that his friend and companion was an Erl!”

There was, indeed, a great variety of characters who passed. M. Poellnitz, no finer dressed than he had been at dinner, grinned, and saluted with his great laced hat and tarnished feathers. Then came by my Lord Chesterfield, in a pearl-coloured suit, with his blue ribbon and star, and saluted the young men in his turn.

“I will back the old boy for taking his hat off against the whole kingdom, and France either,” says my Lord March. “He has never changed the shape of that hat of his for twenty years. Look at it. There it goes again! Do you see that great, big, awkward, pock-marked, snuff-coloured man, who hardly touches his clumsy beaver in reply. D—— his confounded impudence — do you know who that is?”

“No, curse him! Who is it, March?” asks Jack, with an oath.

“It’s one Johnson, a Dictionary-maker, about whom my Lord Chesterfield wrote some most capital papers, when his dixonary was coming out, to patronise the fellow. I know they were capital. I’ve heard Horry Walpole say so, and he knows all about that kind of thing. Confound the impudent schoolmaster!”

“Hang him, he ought to stand in the pillory!” roars Jack.

“That fat man he’s walking with is another of your writing fellows — a printer — his name is Richardson; he wrote Clarissa, you know.”

“Great heavens! my lord, is that the great Richardson? Is that the man who wrote Clarissa?” called out Colonel Wolfe and Mr. Warrington, in a breath.

Harry ran forward to look at the old gentleman toddling along the walk with a train of admiring ladies surrounding him.

“Indeed, my very dear sir,” one was saying, “you are too great and good to live in such a world; but sure you were sent to teach it virtue!”

“Ah, my Miss Mulso! Who shall teach the teacher?” said the good, fat old man, raising a kind, round face skywards. “Even he has his faults and errors! Even his age and experience does not prevent him from stumbl ——. Heaven bless my soul, Mr. Johnson! I ask your pardon if I have trodden on your corn.”

“You have done both, sir. You have trodden on the corn, and received the pardon,” said Mr. Johnson, and went on mumbling some verses, swaying to and fro, his eyes turned towards the ground, his hands behind him, and occasionally endangering with his great stick the honest, meek eyes of his companion-author.

“They do not see very well, my dear Mulso,” he says to the young lady, “but such as they are, I would keep my lash from Mr. Johnson’s cudgel. Your servant, sir.” Here he made a low bow, and took off his hat to Mr. Warrington, who shrank back with many blushes, after saluting the great author. The great author was accustomed to be adored. A gentler wind never puffed mortal vanity. Enraptured spinsters flung tea-leaves round him, and incensed him with the coffee-pot. Matrons kissed the slippers they had worked for him. There was a halo of virtue round his nightcap. All Europe had thrilled, panted, admired, trembled, wept, over the pages of the immortal little, kind, honest man with the round paunch. Harry came back quite glowing and proud at having a bow from him. “Ah!” says he, “my lord, I am glad to have seen him!”

“Seen him! why, dammy, you may see him any day in his shop, I suppose?” says Jack, with a laugh.

“My brother declared that he, and Mr. Fielding, I think, was the name, were the greatest geniuses in England; and often used to say, that when we came to Europe, his first pilgrimage would be to Mr. Richardson,” cried Harry, always impetuous, honest, and tender, when he spoke of the dearest friend.

“Your brother spoke like a man,” cried Mr. Wolfe, too, his pale face likewise flushing up. “I would rather be a man of genius, than a peer of the realm.”

“Every man to his taste, Colonel,” says my lord, much amused. “Your enthusiasm — I don’t mean anything personal — refreshes me, on my honour it does.”

“So it does me — by gad — perfectly refreshes me,” cries Jack

“So it does Jack — you see — it actually refreshes Jack! I say, Jack, which would you rather be? — a fat old printer,” who has written a story about a confounded girl and a fellow that ruins her — or a peer of Parliament with ten thousand a year?”

“March — my Lord March, do you take me for a fool?” says Jack, with a tearful voice. “Have I done anything to deserve this language from you?”

“I would rather win honour than honours: I would rather have genius than wealth. I would rather make my name than inherit it, though my father’s, thank God, is an honest one,” said the young Colonel. “But pardon me, gentlemen,” and here making, them a hasty salutation, he ran across the parade towards a young and elderly lady and a gentleman, who were now advancing.

“It is the beautiful Miss Lowther. I remember now,” says my lord. “See! he takes her arm! The report is, he is engaged to her.”

“You don’t mean to say such a fellow is engaged to any of the Lowthers of the North?” cries out Jack. “Curse me, what is the world come to, with your printers, and your half-pay ensigns, and your schoolmasters, and your infernal nonsense?”

The Dictionary-maker, who had shown so little desire to bow to my Lord Chesterfield, when that famous nobleman courteously saluted him, was here seen to take off his beaver, and bow almost to the ground, before a florid personage in a large round hat, with bands and a gown, who made his appearance in the Walk. This was my Lord Bishop of Salisbury, wearing complacently the blue riband and badge of the Garter, of which Noble Order his lordship was prelate.

Mr. Johnson stood, hat in hand, during the whole time of his conversation with Dr. Gilbert; who made many flattering and benedictory remarks to Mr. Richardson, declaring that he was the supporter of virtue, the preacher of sound morals, the mainstay of religion, of all which points the honest printer himself was perfectly convinced.

Do not let any young lady trip to her grandpapa’s bookcase in consequence of this eulogium, and rashly take down Clarissa from the shelf. She would not care to read the volumes, over which her pretty ancestresses wept and thrilled a hundred years ago; which were commended by divines from pulpits and belauded all Europe over. I wonder, are our women more virtuous than their grandmothers, or only more squeamish? If the former, then Miss Smith of New York is certainly more modest than Miss Smith of London, who still does not scruple to say that tables, pianos, and animals have legs. Oh, my faithful, good old Samuel Richardson! Hath the news yet reached thee in Hades that thy sublime novels are huddled away in corners, and that our daughters may no more read Clarissa than Tom Jones? Go up, Samuel, and be reconciled with thy brother-scribe, whom in life thou didst hate so. I wonder whether a century hence the novels of today will be hidden behind locks and wires, and make pretty little maidens blush?

“Who is yonder queer person in the high headdress of my grandmother’s time, who stops and speaks to Mr. Richardson?” asked Harry, as a fantastically dressed lady came up, and performed a curtsey and a compliment to the bowing printer.

Jack Morris nervously struck Harry a blow in the side with the butt end of his whip. Lord March laughed.

“Yonder queer person is my gracious kinswoman, Katharine, Duchess of Dover and Queensberry, at your service, Mr. Warrington. She was a beauty price! She is changed now, isn’t she? What an old Gorgon it is! She is a great patroness of your book-men and when that old frump was young, they actually made verses about her.”

The Earl quitted his friends for a moment to make his bow to the old Duchess, Jack Morris explaining to Mr. Warrington how, at the Duke’s death, my Lord of March and Ruglen would succeed to his cousin’s dukedoms.

“I suppose,” says Harry, simply, “his lordship is here in attendance upon the old lady?”

Jack burst into a loud laugh.

“Oh yes! very much! exactly!” says he. “Why, my dear fellow, you don’t mean to say you haven’t heard about the little Opera-dancer?”

“I am but lately arrived in England, Mr. Morris,” said Harry, with a smile, “and in Virginia, I own, we have not heard much about the little Opera-dancer.”

Luckily for us, the secret about the little Opera-dancer never was revealed, for the young men’s conversation was interrupted by a lady in a cardinal cape, and a hat by no means unlike those lovely headpieces which have returned into vogue a hundred years after the date of our present history, who made a profound curtsey to the two gentlemen and received their salutation in return. She stopped opposite to Harry; she held out her hand, rather to his wonderment:

“Have you so soon forgotten me, Mr. Warrington?” she said.

Off went Harry’s hat in an instant. He started, blushed, stammered, and called out Good Heavens! as if there had been any celestial wonder in the circumstance! It was Lady Maria come out for a walk. He had not been thinking about her. She was, to say truth, for the moment so utterly out of the young gentleman’s mind, that her sudden re-entry there and appearance in the body startled Mr. Warrington’s faculties, and caused those guilty blushes to crowd into his cheeks.

No. He was not even thinking of her! A week ago — a year, a hundred years ago it seemed — he would not have been surprised to meet her anywhere. Appearing from amidst darkling shrubberies, gliding over green garden terraces, loitering on stairs or corridors, hovering even in his dreams, all day or all night, bodily or spiritually, he had been accustomed to meet her. A week ago his heart used to beat. A week ago, and at the very instant when he jumped out of his sleep, there was her idea smiling on him. And it was only last Tuesday that his love was stabbed and slain, and he not only had left off mourning for her, but had forgotten her!

“You will come and walk with me a little?” she said. “Or would you like the music best? I dare say you will like the music best.”

“You know,” said Harry, “I don’t care about any music much, except”— he was thinking of the evening hymn —“except of your playing.” He turned very red again as he spoke, he felt he was perjuring himself horribly.

The poor lady was agitated herself by the flutter and agitation which she saw in her young companion. Gracious Heaven! Could that tremor and excitement mean that she was mistaken, and that the lad was still faithful? “Give me your arm, and let us take a little walk,” she said, waving round a curtsey to the other two gentlemen: “my aunt is asleep after her dinner.” Harry could not but offer the arm, and press the hand that lay against his heart. Maria made another fine curtsey to Harry’s bowing companions, and walked off with her prize. In her griefs, in her rages, in the pains and anguish of wrong and desertion, how a woman remembers to smile, curtsey, caress, dissemble! How resolutely they discharge the social proprieties; how they have a word, or a hand, or a kind little speech or reply for the passing acquaintance who crosses unknowing the path of the tragedy, drops a light airy remark or two (happy self-satisfied rogue!) and passes on. He passes on, and thinks that woman was rather pleased with what I said. “That joke I made was rather neat. I do really think Lady Maria looks rather favourably at me, and she’s a dev’lish fine woman, begad she is!” O you wiseacre! Such was Jack Morris’s observation and case as he walked away leaning on the arm of his noble friend, and thinking the whole Society of the Wells was looking at him. He had made some exquisite remarks about a particular run of cards at Lady Flushington’s the night before, and Lady Maria had replied graciously and neatly, and so away went Jack perfectly happy.

The absurd creature! I declare we know nothing of anybody (but that for my part I know better and better every day). You enter smiling to see your new acquaintance, Mrs. A. and her charming family. You make your bow in the elegant drawing-room of Mr. and Mrs. B.? I tell you that in your course through life you are for ever putting your great clumsy foot upon the mute invisible wounds of bleeding tragedies. Mrs. B.‘s closets for what you know are stuffed with skeletons. Look there under the sofa-cushion. Is that merely Missy’s doll, or is it the limb of a stifled Cupid peeping out? What do you suppose are those ashes smouldering in the grate? — Very likely a suttee has been offered up there just before you came in: a faithful heart has been burned out upon a callous corpse, and you are looking on the cineri doloso. You see B. and his wife receiving their company before dinner. Gracious powers! Do you know that that bouquet which she wears is a signal to Captain C., and that he will find a note under the little bronze Shakespeare on the mantelpiece in the study? And with all this you go up and say some uncommonly neat thing (as you fancy) to Mrs. B. about the weather (clever dog!), or about Lady E.‘s last party (fashionable buck!), or about the dear children in the nursery (insinuating rogue!). Heaven and earth, my good sir, how can you tell that B. is not going to pitch all the children out of the nursery window this very night, or that his lady has not made an arrangement for leaving them, and running off with the Captain? How do you know that those footmen are not disguised bailiffs? — that yonder large-looking butler (really a skeleton) is not the pawnbroker’s man? and that there are not skeleton rotis and entrees under every one of the covers? Look at their feet peeping from under the tablecloth. Mind how you stretch out your own lovely little slippers, madam, lest you knock over a rib or two. Remark the death’s-head moths fluttering among the flowers. See, the pale winding-sheets gleaming in the wax-candles! I know it is an old story, and especially that this preacher has yelled vanitas vanitatum five hundred times before. I can’t help always falling upon it, and cry out with particular loudness and wailing, and become especially melancholy, when I see a dead love tied to a live love. Ha! I look up from my desk, across the street: and there come in Mr. and Mrs. D. from their walk in Kensington Gardens. How she hangs on him! how jolly and happy he looks, as the children frisk round! My poor dear benighted Mrs. D., there is a Regent’s Park as well as a Kensington Gardens in the world. Go in, fond wretch! Smilingly lay before him what you know he likes for dinner. Show him the children’s copies and the reports of their masters. Go with Missy to the piano, and play your artless duet together; and fancy you are happy!

There go Harry and Maria taking their evening walk on the common, away from the village which is waking up from its after-dinner siesta, and where the people are beginning to stir and the music to play. With the music Maria knows Madame de Bernstein will waken: with the candles she must be back to the tea-table and the cards. Never mind. Here is a minute. It may be my love is dead, but here is a minute to kneel over the grave and pray by it. He certainly was not thinking about her: he was startled and did not even know her. He was laughing and talking with Jack Morris and my Lord March. He is twenty years younger than she. Never mind. To-day is today in which we are all equal. This moment is ours. Come, let us walk a little way over the heath, Harry. She will go, though she feels a deadly assurance that he will tell her all is over between them, and that he loves the dark-haired girl at Oakhurst.

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