The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXII

In which a Family Coach is ordered

Our pleasing duty now is to divulge the secret which Mr. Lambert whispered in his wife’s ear at the close of the antepenultimate chapter, and the publication of which caused such great pleasure to the whole of the Oakhurst family. As the hay was in, the corn not ready for cutting, and by consequence the farm horses disengaged, why, asked Colonel Lambert, should they not be put into the coach, and should we not all pay a visit to Tunbridge Wells, taking friend Wolfe at Westerham on our way?

Mamma embraced this proposal, and I dare say the honest gentleman who made it. All the children jumped for joy. The girls went off straightway to get together their best calamancoes, paduasoys, falbalas, furbelows, capes, cardinals, sacks, negligees, solitaires, caps, ribbons, mantuas, clocked stockings, and high-heeled shoes, and I know not what articles of toilet. Mamma’s best robes were taken from the presses, whence they only issued on rare, solemn occasions, retiring immediately afterwards to lavender and seclusion; the brave Colonel produced his laced hat and waistcoat and silver-hilted hanger; Charley rejoiced in a rasee holiday suit of his father’s, in which the Colonel had been married, and which Mrs. Lambert cut up, not without a pang. Ball and Dumpling had their tails and manes tied with ribbon, and Chump, the old white cart-horse, went as unicorn leader, to help the carriage-horses up the first hilly five miles of the road from Oakhurst to Westerham. The carriage was an ancient vehicle, and was believed to have served in the procession which had brought George I. from Greenwich to London, on his first arrival to assume the sovereignty of these realms. It had belonged to Mr. Lambert’s father, and the family had been in the habit of regarding it, ever since they could remember anything, as one of the most splendid coaches in the three kingdoms. Brian, coachman, and — must it also be owned? — ploughman, of the Oakhurst family, had a place on the box, with Mr. Charley by his side. The precious clothes were packed in imperials on the roof. The Colonel’s pistols were put in the pockets of the carriage, and the blunderbuss hung behind the box, in reach of Brian, who was an old soldier. No highwayman, however, molested the convoy; not even an innkeeper levied contributions on Colonel Lambert, who, with a slender purse and a large family, was not to be plundered by those or any other depredators on the king’s highway; and a reasonable cheap modest lodging had been engaged for them by young Colonel Wolfe, at the house where he was in the habit of putting up, and whither he himself accompanied them on horseback.

It happened that these lodgings were opposite Madame Bernstein’s; and as the Oakhurst family reached their quarters on a Saturday evening, they could see chair after chair discharging powdered beaux and patched and brocaded beauties at the Baroness’s door, who was holding one of her many card-parties. The sun was not yet down (for our ancestors began their dissipations at early hours, and were at meat, drink, or cards, any time after three o’clock in the afternoon until any time in the night or morning), and the young country ladies and their mother from their window could see the various personages as they passed into the Bernstein rout. Colonel Wolfe told the ladies who most of the characters were. ’Twas almost as delightful as going to the party themselves, Hetty and Theo thought, for they not only could see the guests arriving, but look into the Baroness’s open casements and watch many of them there. Of a few of the personages we have before had a glimpse. When the Duchess of Queensberry passed, and Mr. Wolfe explained who she was, Martin Lambert was ready with a score of lines about “Kitty, beautiful and young,” from his favourite Mat Prior.

“Think that that old lady was once like you, girls!” cries the Colonel.

“Like us, papa? Well, certainly we never set up for being beauties!” says Miss Hetty, tossing up her little head.

“Yes, like you, you little baggage; like you at this moment, who want to go to that drum yonder:—

‘Inflamed with rage at sad restraint
Which wise mamma ordained,
And sorely vexed to play the saint
Whilst wit and beauty reigned.’”

“We were never invited, papa; and I am sure if there’s no beauty more worth seeing than that, the wit can’t be much worth the hearing,” again says the satirist of the family.

“Oh, but he’s a rare poet, Mat Prior!” continues the Colonel; “though, mind you, girls, you’ll skip over all the poems I have marked with a cross. A rare poet! and to think you should see one of his heroines! ‘Fondness prevailed, mamma gave way’ (she always will, Mrs. Lambert!)—

‘Fondness prevailed, mamma gave way,
Kitty at heart’s desire
Obtained the chariot for a day,
And set the world on fire!’”

“I am sure it must have been very inflammable,” says mamma.

“So it was, my dear, twenty years ago, much more inflammable than it is now,” remarks the Colonel.

“Nonsense, Mr. Lambert,” is mamma’s answer.

“Look, look!” cries Hetty, running forward and pointing to the little square, and the covered gallery, where was the door leading to Madame Bernstein’s apartments, and round which stood a crowd of street urchins, idlers, and yokels, watching the company.

“It’s Harry Warrington!” exclaims Theo, waving a handkerchief to the young Virginian: but Warrington did not see Miss Lambert. The Virginian was walking arm-inarm with a portly clergyman in a crisp rustling silk gown, and the two went into Madame de Bernstein’s door.

“I heard him preach a most admirable sermon here last Sunday,” says Mr. Wolfe; “a little theatrical, but most striking and eloquent.”

“You seem to be here most Sundays, James,” says Mrs. Lambert.

“And Monday, and soon till Saturday,” adds the Colonel. “See, Harry has beautified himself already, hath his hair in buckle, and I have no doubt is going to the drum too.”

“I had rather sit quiet generally of a Saturday evening,” says sober Mr. Wolfe; “at any rate, away from card-playing and scandal; but I own, dear Mrs. Lambert, I am under orders. Shall I go across the way and send Mr. Warrington to you?”

“No, let him have his sport. We shall see him tomorrow. He won’t care to be disturbed amidst his fine folks by us country-people,” said meek Mrs. Lambert.

“I am glad he is with a clergyman who preaches so well,” says Theo, softly; and her eyes seemed to say, You see, good people, he is not so bad as you thought him, and as I, for my part, never believed him to be. “The clergyman has a very kind, handsome face.”

“Here comes a greater clergyman,” cries Mr. Wolfe. “It is my Lord of Salisbury, with his blue ribbon, and a chaplain behind him.”

“And whom a mercy’s name have we here?” breaks in Mrs. Lambert, as a sedan-chair, covered with gilding, topped with no less than five earl’s coronets, carried by bearers in richly laced clothes, and preceded by three footmen in the same splendid livery, now came up to Madame de Bernstein’s door. The Bishop, who had been about to enter, stopped, and ran back with the most respectful bows and curtseys to the sedan-chair, giving his hand to the lady who stepped thence.

“Who on earth is this?” asks Mrs. Lambert.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch? Ja, meinherr. Nichts verstand,” says the waggish Colonel.

“Pooh, Martin.”

“Well, if you can’t understand High Dutch, my love, how can I help it? Your education was neglected at school. Can you understand heraldry? — I know you can.”

“I make.” cries Charley, reciting the shield, “three merions on a field or, with an earl’s coronet.”

“A countess’s coronet, my son. The Countess of Yarmouth, my son.”

“And pray who is she?”

“It hath ever been the custom of our sovereigns to advance persons of distinction to honour,” continues the Colonel, gravely, “and this eminent lady hath been so promoted by our gracious monarch, to the rank of Countess of this kingdom.”

“But why, papa?” asked the daughters together.

“Never mind, girls!” said mamma.

But that incorrigible Colonel would go on.

“Y, my children, is one of the last and the most awkward letters of the whole alphabet. When I tell you stories, you are always saying Why. Why should my Lord Bishop be cringing to that lady? Look at him rubbing his fat hands together, and smiling into her face! It’s not a handsome face any longer. It is all painted red and white like Scaramouch’s in the pantomime. See, there comes another blue-riband, as I live. My Lord Bamborough. The descendant of the Hotspurs. The proudest man in England. He stops, he bows, he smiles; he is hat in hand, too. See, she taps him with her fan. Get away, you crowd of little blackguard boys, and don’t tread on the robe of the lady whom the King delights to honour.”

“But why does the King honour her?” ask the girls once more.

“There goes that odious last letter but one! Did you ever hear of her Grace the Duchess of Kendal? No. Of the Duchess of Portsmouth? Non plus. Of the Duchess of La Valliore? Of Fair Rosamond, then?”

“Hush, papa! There is no need to bring blushes on the cheeks of my dear ones, Martin Lambert!” said the mother, putting her finger to her husband’s lips.

“’Tis not I; it is their sacred Majesties who are the cause of the shame,” cries the son of the old republican. “Think of the bishops of the Church and the proudest nobility of the world cringing and bowing before that painted High Dutch Jezebel. Oh, it’s a shame! a shame!”

“Confusion!” here broke out Colonel Wolfe, and making a dash at his hat, ran from the room. He had seen the young lady whom he admired and her guardian walking across the Pantiles on foot to the Baroness’s party, and they came up whilst the Countess of Yarmouth-Walmoden was engaged in conversation with the two lords spiritual and temporal, and these two made the lowest reverences and bows to the Countess, and waited until she had passed in at the door on the Bishop’s arm.

Theo turned away from the window with a sad, almost awestricken face. Hetty still remained there, looking from it with indignation in her eyes, and a little red spot on each cheek.

“A penny for little Hetty’s thoughts,” says mamma, coming to the window to lead the child away.

“I am thinking what I should do if I saw papa bowing to that woman,” says Hetty.

Tea and a hissing kettle here made their appearance, and the family sate down to partake of their evening meal — leaving, however, Miss Hetty, from her place, command of the window, which she begged her brother not to close. That young gentleman had been down amongst the crowd to inspect the armorial bearings of the Countess’s and other sedans, no doubt, and also to invest sixpence in a cheese-cake, by mamma’s order and his own desire, and he returned presently with this delicacy wrapped up in a paper.

“Look, mother,” he comes back and says, “do you see that big man in brown beating all the pillars with a stick? That is the learned Mr. Johnson. He comes to the Friars sometimes to see our master. He was sitting with some friends just now at the tea-table before Mrs. Brown’s tart-shop. They have tea there, twopence a cup; I heard Mr. Johnson say he had had seventeen cups — that makes two-and-tenpence — what a sight of money for tea!”

“What would you have, Charley?” asks Theo.

“I think I would have cheese-cakes,” says Charley, sighing, as his teeth closed on a large slice, “and the gentleman whom Mr. Johnson was with,” continues Charley, with his mouth quite full, “was Mr. Richardson who wrote ——”

“Clarissa!” cry all the women in a breath, and run to the window to see their favourite writer. By this time the sun was sunk, the stars were twinkling overhead, and the footman came and lighted the candles in the Baroness’s room opposite our spies.

Theo and her mother were standing together looking from their place of observation. There was a small illumination at Mrs. Brown’s tart — and tea-shop, by which our friends could see one lady getting Mr. Richardson’s hat and stick, and another tying a shawl round his neck, after which he walked home.

“Oh dear me! he does not look like Grandison!” cries Theo.

“I rather think I wish we had not seen him, my dear,” says mamma, who has been described as a most sentimental woman and eager novel-reader; and here again they were interrupted by Miss Hetty, who cried:

“Never mind that little fat man, but look yonder, mamma.”

And they looked yonder. And they saw, in the first place, Mr. Warrington undergoing the honour of a presentation to the Countess of Yarmouth, who was still followed by the obsequious peer and prelate with blue ribands. And now the Countess graciously sate down to a card-table, the Bishop and the Earl and a fourth person being her partners. And now Mr. Warrington came into the embrasure of the window with a lady whom they recognised as the lady whom they had seen for a few minutes at Oakhurst.

“How much finer he is!” remarks mamma.

“How he is improved in his looks! What has he done to himself?” asks Theo.

“Look at his grand lace frills and rules! My dear, he has not got on our shirts any more,” cries the matron.

“What are you talking about, girls?” asks papa, reclining on his sofa, where, perhaps, he was dozing after the fashion of honest house-fathers.

The girls said how Harry Warrington was in the window, talking with his cousin Lady Maria Esmond.

“Come away!” cries papa. “You have no right to be spying the young fellow. Down with the curtains, I say!”

And down the curtains went, so that the girls saw no more of Madame Bernstein’s guests or doings for that night.

I pray you be not angry at my remarking, if only by way of contrast between these two opposite houses, that while Madame Bernstein and her guests — bishop, dignitaries, noblemen, and what not — were gambling or talking scandal, or devouring champagne and chickens (which I hold to be venial sin), or doing honour to her ladyship the king’s favourite, the Countess of Yarmouth-Walmoden, our country friends in their lodgings knelt round their table, whither Mr. Brian the coachman came as silently as his creaking shoes would let him, whilst Mr. Lambert, standing up, read in a low voice, a prayer that Heaven would lighten their darkness and defend them from the perils of that night, and a supplication that it would grant the request of those two or three gathered together.

Our young folks were up betimes on Sunday morning, and arrayed themselves in those smart new dresses which were to fascinate the Tunbridge folks, and, with the escort of brother Charley, paced the little town, and the quaint Pantiles, and the pretty common, long ere the company was at breakfast, or the bells had rung to church. It was Hester who found out where Harry Warrington’s lodging must be, by remarking Mr. Gumbo in an undress, with his lovely hair in curl-papers, drawing a pair of red curtains aside, and opening a window-sash, whence he thrust his head and inhaled the sweet morning breeze. Mr. Gumbo did not happen to see the young people from Oakhurst, though they beheld him clearly enough. He leaned gracefully from the window; he waved a large feather brush, with which he condescended to dust the furniture of the apartment within; he affably engaged in conversation with a cherry-cheeked milkmaid, who was lingering under the casement, and kissed his lily hand to her. Gumbo’s hand sparkled with rings, and his person was decorated with a profusion of jewellery — gifts, no doubt, of the fair who appreciated the young African. Once or twice more before breakfast-time the girls passed near that window. It remained opened, but the room behind it was blank. No face of Harry Warrington appeared there. Neither spoke to the other of the subject on which both were brooding. Hetty was a little provoked with Charley, who was clamorous about breakfast, and told him he was always thinking of eating. In reply to her sarcastic inquiry, he artlessly owned he should like another cheese-cake, and good-natured Theo, laughing, said she had a sixpence, and if the cake-shop were open of a Sunday morning Charley should have one. The cake-shop was open: and Theo took out her little purse, netted by her dearest friend at school, and containing her pocket-piece, her grandmother’s guinea, her slender little store of shillings — nay, some copper money at one end; and she treated Charley to the meal which he loved.

A great deal of fine company was at church. There was that funny old Duchess, and old Madame Bernstein, with Lady Maria at her side; and Mr. Wolfe, of course, by the side of Miss Lowther, and singing with her out of the same psalm-book; and Mr. Richardson with a bevy of ladies. One of them is Miss Fielding, papa tells them after church, Harry Fielding’s sister. “Oh, girls, what good company he was! And his books are worth a dozen of your milksop Pamelas and Clarissas, Mrs. Lambert: but what woman ever loved true humour? And there was Mr. Johnson sitting amongst the charity children. Did you see how he turned round to the altar at the Belief, and upset two or three of the scared little urchins in leather breeches? And what a famous sermon Harry’s parson gave, didn’t he? A sermon about scandal. How, he touched up some of the old harridans who were seated round! Why wasn’t Mr. Warrington at church? It was a shame he wasn’t at church.”

“I really did not remark whether he was there or not,” says Miss Hetty, tossing her head up.

But Theo, who was all truth, said, “Yes, I thought of him, and was sorry he was not there; and so did you think of him, Hetty.”

“I did no such thing, miss,” persists Hetty.

“Then why did you whisper to me it was Harry’s clergyman who preached?”

“To think of Mr. Warrington’s clergyman is not to think of Mr. Warrington. It was a most excellent sermon, certainly, and the children sang most dreadfully out of tune. And there is Lady Maria at the window opposite, smelling at the roses; and that is Mr. Wolfe’s step, I know his great military tramp. Right left — right left! How do you do, Colonel Wolfe?”

“Why do you look so glum, James?” asks Colonel Lambert, good-naturedly. “Has the charmer been scolding thee, or is thy conscience pricked by the sermon. Mr. Sampson, isn’t the parson’s name? A famous preacher, on my word!”

“A pretty preacher, and a pretty practitioner!” says Mr. Wolfe, with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Why, I thought the discourse did not last ten minutes, and madam did not sleep one single wink during the sermon, didst thou, Molly?”

“Did you see when the fellow came into church?” asked the indignant Colonel Wolfe. “He came in at the open door of the common, just in time, and as the psalm was over.”

“Well, he had been reading the service probably to some sick person; there are many here,” remarks Mrs. Lambert.

“Reading the service! Oh, my good Mrs. Lambert! Do you know where I found him? I went to look for your young scapegrace of a Virginian.”

“His own name is a very pretty name, I’m sure,” cries out Hetty. “It isn’t Scapegrace! It is Henry Esmond Warrington, Esquire.”

“Miss Hester, I found the parson in his cassock, and Henry Esmond Warrington, Esquire, in his bedgown, at a quarter before eleven o’clock in the morning, when all the Sunday bells were ringing, and they were playing over a game of piquet they had had the night before!”

“Well, numbers of good people play at cards of a Sunday. The King plays at cards of a Sunday.”

“Hush, my dear!”

“I know he does,” says Hetty, “with that painted person we saw yesterday — that Countess what-d’you-call-her?”

“I think, my dear Miss Hester, a clergyman had best take to God’s books instead of the Devil’s books on that day — and so I took the liberty of telling your parson.” Hetty looked as if she thought it was a liberty which Mr. Wolfe had taken. “And I told our young friend that I thought he had better have been on his way to church than there in his bedgown.”

“You wouldn’t have Harry go to church in a dressing-gown and nightcap, Colonel Wolfe? That would be a pretty sight, indeed!” again says Hetty, fiercely.

“I would have my little girl’s tongue not wag quite so fast,” remarks papa, patting the girl’s flushed little cheek.

“Not speak when a friend is attacked, and nobody says a word in his favour? No; nobody!”

Here the two lips of the little mouth closed on each other: the whole little frame shook: the child flung a parting look of defiance at Mr. Wolfe, and went out of the room, just in time to close the door, and burst out crying on the stair.

Mr. Wolfe looked very much discomfited. “I am sure, Aunt Lambert, I did not intend to hurt Hester’s feelings.”

“No, James,” she said, very kindly — the young officer used to call her Aunt Lambert in quite early days — and she gave him her hand.

Mr. Lambert whistled his favourite tune of “Over the hills and far away,” with a drum accompaniment performed by his fingers on the window. “I say, you mustn’t whistle on Sunday, papa!” cries the artless young gown-boy from Grey Friars; and then suggested that it was three hours from breakfast, and he should like to finish Theo’s cheese-cake.

“Oh, you greedy child!” cries Theo. But here, hearing a little exclamatory noise outside, she ran out of the room, closing the door behind her. And we will not pursue her. The noise was that sob which broke from Hester’s panting, overloaded heart; and, though we cannot see, I am sure the little maid flung herself on her sister’s neck, and wept upon Theo’s kind bosom.

Hetty did not walk out in the afternoon when the family took the air on the common, but had a headache and lay on her bed, where her mother watched her. Charley had discovered a comrade from Grey Friars: Mr. Wolfe of course paired off with Miss Lowther: and Theo and her father, taking their sober walk in the Sabbath sunshine, found Madame Bernstein basking on a bench under a tree, her niece and nephew in attendance. Harry ran up to greet his dear friends: he was radiant with pleasure at beholding them — the elder ladies were most gracious to the Colonel and his wife, who had so kindly welcomed their Harry.

How noble and handsome he looked! Theo thought: she called him by his Christian name, as if he were really her brother. “Why did we not see you sooner today, Harry?” she asked.

“I never thought you were here, Theo.”

“But you might have seen us if you wished.”

“Where?” asked Harry.

“There, sir,” she said, pointing to the church. And she held her hand up as if in reproof; but a sweet kindness beamed in her honest face. Ah, friendly young reader, wandering on the world and struggling with temptation, may you also have one or two pure hearts to love and pray for you!

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