The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXXVI

Which seems to mean Mischief

Though she had clearly had the worst of the battle described in the last chapter, the Baroness Bernstein, when she next met her niece showed no rancour or anger. “Of course, my Lady Maria,” she said, “you can’t suppose that I, as Harry Warrington’s near relative, can be pleased at the idea of his marrying a woman who is as old as his mother, and has not a penny to her fortune; but if he chooses to do so silly a thing, the affair is none of mine; and I doubt whether I should have been much inclined to be taken au serieux with regard to that offer of five thousand pounds which I made in the heat of our talk. So it was already at Castlewood that this pretty affair was arranged? Had I known how far it had gone, my dear, I should have spared some needless opposition. When a pitcher is broken, what railing can mend it?”

“Madam!” here interposed Maria.

“Pardon me — I mean nothing against your ladyship’s honour or character, which, no doubt, are quite safe. Harry says so, and you say so — what more can one ask?”

“You have talked to Mr. Warrington, madam?”

“And he has owned that he made you a promise at Castlewood: that you have it in his writing.”

“Certainly I have, madam!” says Lady Maria.

“Ah!” (the elder lady did not wince at this). “And I own, too, that at first I put a wrong construction upon the tenor of your letters to him. They implicate other members of the family ——”

“Who have spoken most wickedly of me, and endeavoured to prejudice me in every way in my dear Mr. Warrington’s eyes. Yes, madam, I own I have written against them, to justify myself.”

“But, of course, are pained to think that any wretch should get possession of stories to the disadvantage of our family, and make them public scandal. Hence your disquiet just now.”

“Exactly so,” said Lady Maria. “From Mr. Warrington I could have nothing concealed henceforth, and spoke freely to him. But that is a very different thing from wishing all the world to know the disputes of a noble family.”

“Upon my word, Maria, I admire you, and have done you injustice. These — these twenty years, let us say.”

“I am very glad, madam, that you end by doing me justice at all,” said the niece.

“When I saw you last night, opening the ball with my nephew, can you guess what I thought of, my dear?”

“I really have no idea what the Baroness de Bernstein thought of,” said Lady Maria, haughtily.

“I remembered that you had performed to that very tune with the dancing-master at Kensington, my dear!”

“Madam, it was an infamous calumny.”

“By which the poor dancing-master got a cudgelling for nothing!”

“It is cruel and unkind, madam, to recall that calumny — and I shall beg to decline living any longer with any one who utters it,” continued Maria, with great spirit.

“You wish to go home? I can fancy you won’t like Tunbridge. It will be very hot for you if those letters are found.”

“There was not a word against you in them, madam: about that I can make your mind easy.”

“So Harry said, and did your ladyship justice. Well, my dear, we are tired of one another, and shall be better apart for a while.”

“That is precisely my own opinion,” said Lady Maria, dropping a curtsey.

“Mr. Sampson can escort you to Castlewood. You and your maid can take a postchaise.”

“We can take a postchaise, and Mr. Sampson can escort me,” echoed the younger lady. “You see, madam, I act like a dutiful niece.”

“Do you know, my dear, I have a notion that Sampson has got the letters?” said the Baroness, frankly.

“I confess that such a notion has passed through my own mind.”

“And you want to go home in the chaise, and coax the letters from him! Delilah! Well, they can be no good to me, and I trust you may get them. When will you go? The sooner the better, you say? We are women of the world, Maria. We only call names when we are in a passion. We don’t want each other’s company; and we part on good terms. Shall we go to my Lady Yarmouth’s? ’Tis her night. There is nothing like a change of scene after one of those little nervous attacks you have had, and cards drive away unpleasant thoughts better than any doctor.”

Lady Maria agreed to go to Lady Yarmouth’s cards, and was dressed and ready first, awaiting her aunt in the drawing-room. Madame Bernstein, as she came down, remarked Maria’s door was left open. “She has the letters upon her,” thought the old lady. And the pair went off to their entertainment in their respective chairs, and exhibited towards each other that charming cordiality and respect which women can show after, and even during, the bitterest quarrels.

That night, on their return from the Countess’s drum, Mrs. Brett, Madame Bernstein’s maid, presented herself to my Lady Maria’s call, when that lady rang her hand-bell upon retiring to her room. Betty, Mrs. Brett was ashamed to say, was not in a fit state to come before my lady. Betty had been a-junketing and merry-making with Mr. Warrington’s black gentleman, with my Lord Bamborough’s valet, and several more ladies and gentlemen of that station, and the liquor — Mrs. Brett was shocked to own it — had proved too much for Mrs. Betty. Should Mrs. Brett undress my lady? My lady said she would undress without a maid, and gave Mrs. Brett leave to withdraw. “She has the letters in her stays,” thought Madame Bernstein. They had bidden each other an amicable good-night on the stairs.

Mrs. Betty had a scolding the next morning, when she came to wait on her mistress, from the closet adjoining Lady Maria’s apartment, in which Betty lay. She owned, with contrition, her partiality for rum-punch, which Mr. Gumbo had the knack of brewing most delicate. She took her scolding with meekness, and, having performed her usual duties about her lady’s person, retired.

Now Betty was one of the Castlewood girls who had been so fascinated by Gumbo, and was a very good-looking, blue-eyed lass, upon whom Mr. Case, Madame Bernstein’s confidential man, had also cast the eyes of affection. Hence, between Messrs. Gumbo and Case, there had been jealousies and even quarrels; which had caused Gumbo, who was of a peaceful disposition, to be rather shy of the Baroness’s gentlemen, the chief of whom vowed he would break the bones, or have the life of Gumbo, if he persisted in his attentions to Mrs. Betty.

But on the night of the rum-punch, though Mr. Case found Gumbo and Mrs. Betty whispering in the doorway, in the cool breeze, and Gumbo would have turned pale with fear had he been able so to do, no one could be more gracious than Mr. Case. It was he who proposed the bowl of punch, which was brewed and drunk in Mrs. Betty’s room, and which Gumbo concocted with exquisite skill. He complimented Gumbo on his music. Though a sober man ordinarily, he insisted upon more and more drinking, until poor Mrs. Betty was reduced to the state which occasioned her ladyship’s just censure.

As for Mr. Case himself, who lay out of the house, he was so ill with the punch, that he kept his bed the whole of the next day, and did not get strength to make his appearance, and wait on his ladies, until supper-time; when his mistress good-naturedly rebuked him, saying that it was not often he sinned in that way.

“Why, Case, I could have made oath it was you I saw on horseback this morning galloping on the London road,” said Mr. Warrington, who was supping with his relatives.

“Me! law bless you, sir! I was a-bed, and I thought my head would come off with the aching. I ate a bit at six o’clock, and drunk a deal of small beer, and I am almost my own man again now. But that Gumbo, saving your honour’s presence, I won’t taste none of his punch again.” And the honest major-domo went on with his duties among the bottles and glasses.

As they sate after their meal, Madame Bernstein was friendly enough. She prescribed strong fortifying drinks for Maria, against the recurrence of her fainting fits. The lady had such attacks not unfrequently. She urged her to consult her London physician, and to send up an account of her case by Harry. By Harry! asked the lady. Yes. Harry was going for two days on an errand for his aunt to London. “I do not care to tell you, my dear, that it is on business which will do him good. I wish Mr. Draper to put him into my will, and as I am going travelling upon a round of visits when you and I part, I think, for security, I shall ask Mr. Warrington to take my trinket-box in his postchaise to London with him, for there have been robberies of late, and I have no fancy for being stopped by highwaymen.”

Maria looked blank at the notion of the young gentleman’s departure, but hoped that she might have his escort back to Castlewood, whither her elder brother had now returned. “Nay,” says his aunt, “the lad hath been tied to our apron-strings long enough. A day in London will do him no harm. He can perform my errand for me and be back with you by Saturday.”

“I would offer to accompany Mr. Warrington, but I preach on Friday before her ladyship,” says Mr. Sampson. He was anxious that my Lady Yarmouth should judge of his powers as a preacher; and Madame Bernstein had exerted her influence with the king’s favourite to induce her to hear the chaplain.

Harry relished the notion of a rattling journey to London, and a day or two of sport there. He promised that his pistols were good, and that he would hand the diamonds over in safety to the banker’s strong-room. Would he occupy his aunt’s London house? No, that would be a dreary lodging with only a housemaid and a groom in charge of it. He would go to the Star and Garter in Pall Mall, or to an inn in Covent Garden. “Ah! I have often talked over that journey,” said Harry, his countenance saddening.

“And with whom, sir?” asked Lady Maria.

“With one who promised to make it with me,” said the young man, thinking, as he always did, with an extreme tenderness of the lost brother.

“He has more heart, my good Maria, than some of us!” says Harry’s aunt, witnessing his emotion. Uncontrollable gusts of grief would, not unfrequently, still pass over our young man. The parting from his brother; the scene and circumstances of George’s fall last year; the recollection of his words, or of some excursion at home which they had planned together; would recur to him and overcome him. “I doubt, madam,” whispered the chaplain, demurely, to Madame Bernstein, after one of these bursts of sorrow, “whether some folks in England would suffer quite so much at the death of their elder brother.”

But, of course, this sorrow was not to be perpetual; and we can fancy Mr. Warrington setting out on his London journey eagerly enough, and very gay and happy, if it must be owned, to be rid of his elderly attachment. Yes. There was no help for it. At Castlewood, on one unlucky evening, he had made an offer of his heart and himself to his mature cousin, and she had accepted the foolish lad’s offer. But the marriage now was out of the question. He must consult his mother. She was the mistress for life of the Virginian property. Of course she would refuse her consent to such a union. The thought of it was deferred to a late period. Meanwhile, it hung like a weight round the young man’s neck, and caused him no small remorse and disquiet.

No wonder that his spirits rose more gaily as he came near London, and that he looked with delight from his postchaise windows upon the city as he advanced towards it. No highwayman stopped our traveller on Blackheath. Yonder are the gleaming domes of Greenwich, canopied with woods. There is the famous Thames, with its countless shipping; there actually is the Tower of London. “Look, Gumbo! There is the Tower!” “Yes, master,” says Gumbo, who has never heard of the Tower; but Harry has, and remembers how he has read about it in Howell’s Medulla, and how he and his brother used to play at the Tower, and he thinks with delight now, how he is actually going to see the armour and the jewels and the lions. They pass through Southwark and over that famous London Bridge, which was all covered with houses like a street two years ago. Now there is only a single gate left, and that is coming down. Then the chaise rolls through the city; and, “Look, Gumbo, that is Saint Paul’s!” “Yes, master; Saint Paul’s,” says Gumbo, obsequiously, but little struck by the beauties of the architecture. And so by the well-known course we reach the Temple, and Gumbo and his master look up with awe at the rebel heads on Temple Bar.

The chaise drives to Mr. Draper’s chambers in Middle Temple Lane, where Harry handed the precious box over to Mr. Draper, and a letter from his aunt, which the gentleman read with some interest seemingly, and carefully put away. He then consigned the trinket-box to his strong closet, went into the adjoining room, taking his clerk with him, and then was at Mr. Warrington’s service to take him to an hotel. An hotel in Covent Garden was fixed upon as the best place for his residence. “I shall have to keep you for two or three days, Mr. Warrington,” the lawyer said. “I don’t think the papers which the Baroness wants can be ready until then. Meanwhile, I am at your service to see the town. I live out of it myself, and have a little box at Camberwell, where I shall be proud to have the honour of entertaining Mr. Warrington; but a young man, I suppose, will like his inn and his liberty best, sir?”

Harry said yes, he thought the inn would be best; and the postchaise, and a clerk of Mr. Draper’s inside, was despatched to the Bedford, whither the two gentlemen agreed to walk on foot.

Mr. Draper and Mr. Warrington sat and talked for a while. The Drapers, father and son, had been lawyers time out of mind to the Esmond family, and the attorney related to the young gentleman numerous stories regarding his ancestors of Castlewood. Of the present Earl Mr. Draper was no longer the agent: his father and his lordship had had differences, and his lordship’s business had been taken elsewhere: but the Baroness was still their honoured client, and very happy indeed was Mr. Draper to think that her ladyship was so well disposed towards her nephew.

As they were taking their hats to go out, a young clerk of the house stopped his principal in the passage, and said: “If you please, sir, them papers of the Baroness was given to her ladyship’s man, Mr. Case, two days ago.”

“Just please to mind your own business, Mr. Brown,” said the lawyer, rather sharply. “This way, Mr. Warrington. Our Temple stairs are rather dark. Allow me to show you the way.”

Harry saw Mr. Draper darting a Parthian look of anger at Mr. Brown. “So it was Case I saw on the London Road two days ago,” he thought. “What business brought the old fox to London?” Wherewith, not choosing to be inquisitive about other folks’ affairs, he dismissed the subject from his mind.

Whither should they go first? First, Harry was for going to see the place where his grandfather and Lord Castlewood had fought a duel fifty-six years ago, in Leicester Field. Mr. Draper knew the place well, and all about the story. They might take Covent Garden on their way to Leicester Field, and see that Mr. Warrington was comfortably lodged. “And order dinner,” says Mr. Warrington. No, Mr. Draper could not consent to that. Mr. Warrington must be so obliging as to honour him on that day. In fact, he had made so bold as to order a collation from the Cock. Mr. Warrington could not decline an invitation so pressing, and walked away gaily with his friend, passing under that arch where the heads were, and taking off his hat to them, much to the lawyer’s astonishment.

“They were gentlemen who died for their king, sir. My dear brother George and I always said we would salute ’em when we saw ’em,” Mr. Warrington said.

“You’ll have a mob at your heels if you do, sir,” said the alarmed lawyer.

“Confound the mob, sir,” said Mr. Harry, loftily, but the passers-by, thinking about their own affairs, did not take any notice of Mr. Warrington’s conduct; and he walked up the thronging Strand, gazing with delight upon all he saw, remembering, I dare say, for all his life after, the sights and impressions there presented to him, but maintaining a discreet reserve; for he did not care to let the lawyer know how much he was moved, or the public perceive that he was a stranger. He did not hear much of his companion’s talk, though the latter chattered ceaselessly on the way. Nor was Mr. Draper displeased by the young Virginian’s silent and haughty demeanour. A hundred years ago a gentleman was a gentleman, and his attorney his very humble servant.

The chamberlain at the Bedford showed Mr. Warrington to his rooms, bowing before him with delightful obsequiousness, for Gumbo had already trumpeted his master’s greatness, and Mr. Draper’s clerk announced that the new-comer was a “high fellar.” Then, the rooms surveyed, the two gentlemen went to Leicester Field, Mr. Gumbo strutting behind his master: and, having looked at the scene of his grandsire’s wound, and poor Lord Castlewood’s tragedy, they returned to the Temple to Mr. Draper’s chambers.

Who was that shabby-looking big man Mr. Warrington bowed to as they went out after dinner for a walk in the gardens? That was Mr. Johnson, an author, whom he had met at Tunbridge Wells. “Take the advice of a man of the world, sir,” says Mr. Draper, eyeing the shabby man of letters very superciliously; “the less you have to do with that kind of person, the better. The business we have into our office about them literary men is not very pleasant, I can tell you.” “Indeed!” says Mr. Warrington. He did not like his new friend the more as the latter grew more familiar. The theatres were shut. Should they go to Sadler’s Wells? or Marybone Gardens? or Ranelagh? or how? “Not Ranelagh,” says Mr. Draper, “because there’s none of the nobility in town;” but, seeing in the newspaper that at the entertainment at Sadler’s Wells, Islington, there would be the most singular kind of diversion on eight hand-bells by Mr. Franklyn, as well as the surprising performances of Signora Catherina, Harry wisely determined that he would go to Marybone Gardens, where they had a concert of music, a choice of tea, coffee, and all sorts of wines, and the benefit of Mr. Draper’s ceaseless conversation. The lawyer’s obsequiousness only ended at Harry’s bedroom door, where, with haughty grandeur, the young gentleman bade his talkative host good night.

The next morning Mr. Warrington, arrayed in his brocade bedgown, took his breakfast, read the newspaper, and enjoyed his ease in his inn. He read in the paper news from his own country. And when he saw the words, Williamsburg, Virginia, June 7th, his eyes grew dim somehow. He had just had letters by that packet of June 7th, but his mother did not tell how — “A great number of the principal gentry of the colony have associated themselves under the command of the Honourable Peyton Randolph, Esquire, to march to the relief of their distressed fellow-subjects, and revenge the cruelties of the French and their barbarous allies. They are in a uniform: viz., a plain blue frock, nanquin or brown waistcoats and breeches, and plain hats. They are armed each with a light firelock, a brace of pistols, and a cutting sword.”

“Ah, why ain’t we there, Gumbo?” cried out Harry.

“Why ain’t we dar?” shouted Gumbo.

“Why am I here, dangling at women’s trains?” continued the Virginian.

“Think dangling at women’s trains very pleasant, Master Harry!” says the materialistic Gumbo, who was also very little affected by some further home news which his master read, viz., that The Lovely Sally, Virginia ship, had been taken in sight of port by a French privateer.

And now, reading that the finest mare in England, and a pair of very genteel bay geldings, were to be sold at the Bull Inn, the lower end of Hatton Garden, Harry determined to go and look at the animals, and inquired his way to the place. He then and there bought the genteel bay geldings, and paid for them with easy generosity. He never said what he did on that day, being shy of appearing like a stranger; but it is believed that he took a coach and went to Westminster Abbey, from which he bade the coachman drive him to the Tower, then to Mrs. Salmon’s Waxwork, then to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace; then he had given orders to go to the Royal Exchange, but catching a glimpse of Covent Garden, on his way to the Exchange, he bade Jehu take him to his inn, and cut short his enumeration of places to which he had been, by flinging the fellow a guinea.

Mr. Draper had called in his absence, and said he would come again; but Mr. Warrington, having dined sumptuously by himself, went off nimbly to Marybone Gardens again, in the same noble company.

As he issued forth the next day, the bells of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, were ringing for morning prayers, and reminded him that friend Sampson was going to preach his sermon. Harry smiled. He had begun to have a shrewd and just opinion of the value of Mr. Sampson’s sermons.

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