The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XL

In which Harry pays off an Old Debt, and incurs some New Ones

Our Tunbridge friends were now weary of the Wells, and eager to take their departure. When the autumn should arrive, Bath was Madame de Bernstein’s mark. There were more cards, company, life, there. She would reach it after paying a few visits to her country friends. Harry promised, with rather a bad grace, to ride with Lady Maria and the chaplain to Castlewood. Again they passed by Oakhurst village, and the hospitable house where Harry had been so kindly entertained. Maria made so many keen remarks about the young ladies of Oakhurst, and their setting their caps at Harry, and the mother’s evident desire to catch him for one of them, that, somewhat in a pet, Mr. Warrington said he would pass his friends’ door, as her ladyship disliked and abused them; and was very haughty and sulky that evening at the inn where they stopped, some few miles farther on the road. At supper, my Lady Maria’s smiles brought no corresponding good-humour to Harry’s face; her tears (which her ladyship had at command) did not seem to create the least sympathy from Mr. Warrington; to her querulous remarks he growled a surly reply; and my lady was obliged to go to bed at length without getting a single tete-a-tete with her cousin — that obstinate chaplain, as if by order, persisting in staying in the room. Had Harry given Sampson orders to remain? She departed with a sigh. He bowed her to the door with an obstinate politeness, and consigned her to the care of the landlady and her maid.

What horse was that which galloped out of the inn-yard ten minutes after Lady Maria had gone to her chamber? An hour after her departure from their supper-room, Mrs. Betty came in for her lady’s bottle of smelling-salts, and found Parson Sampson smoking a pipe alone. Mr. Warrington was gone to bed — was gone to fetch a walk in the moonlight — how should he know where Mr. Harry was? Sampson answered, in reply to the maid’s interrogatories. Mr. Warrington was ready to set forward the next morning, and took his place by the side of Lady Maria’s carriage. But his brow was black — the dark spirit was still on him. He hardly spoke to her during the journey. “Great heavens! she must have told him that she stole it!” thought Lady Maria within her own mind.

The fact is, that, as they were walking up that steep hill which lies about three miles from Oakhurst, on the Westerham road, Lady Maria Esmond, leaning on her fond youth’s arm, and indeed very much in love with him, had warbled into his ear the most sentimental vows, protests, and expressions of affection. As she grew fonder, he grew colder. As she looked up in his face, the sun shone down upon hers, which, fresh and well-preserved as it was, yet showed some of the lines and wrinkles of twoscore years; and poor Harry, with that arm leaning on his, felt it intolerably weighty, and by no means relished his walk up the hill. To think that all his life, that drag was to be upon him! It was a dreary look forward and he cursed the moonlight walk, and the hot evening, and the hot wine which had made him give that silly pledge by which he was fatally bound.

Maria’s praises and raptures annoyed Harry beyond measure. The poor thing poured out scraps of the few plays which she knew that had reference to her case, and strove with her utmost power to charm her young companion. She called him, over and over again, her champion, her Henrico, her preserver, and vowed that his Molinda would be ever, ever faithful to him. She clung to him. “Ah, child! have I not thy precious image, thy precious hair, thy precious writing here?” she said, looking in his face. “Shall it not go with me to the grave? It would, sir, were I to meet with unkindness from my Henrico!” she sighed out.

Here was a strange story! Madame Bernstein had given him the little silken case — she had burned the hair and the note which the case contained, and Maria had it still on her heart! It was then, at the start which Harry gave, as she was leaning on his arm — at the sudden movement as if he would drop hers — that Lady Maria felt her first pang of remorse that she had told a fib, or rather, that she was found out in telling a fib, which is a far more cogent reason for repentance. Heaven help us! if some people were to do penance for telling lies, would they ever be out of sackcloth and ashes?

Arrived at Castlewood, Mr. Harry’s good-humour was not increased. My lord was from home; the ladies also were away; the only member of the family whom Harry found, was Mr. Will, who returned from partridge-shooting just as the chaise and cavalcade reached the gate, and who turned very pale when he saw his cousin, and received a sulky scowl of recognition from the young Virginian.

Nevertheless, he thought to put a good face on the matter, and they met at supper, where, before my Lady Maria, their conversation was at first civil, but not lively. Mr. Will had been to some races? To several. He had been pretty successful in his bets? Mr. Warrington hopes. Pretty well. “And you have brought back my horse sound?” asked Mr. Warrington.

“Your horse! what horse?” asked Mr. Will.

“What horse? my horse!” says Mr. Harry, curtly.

“Protest I don’t understand you,” says Will.

“The brown horse for which I played you, and which I won of you the night before you rode away upon it,” says Mr. Warrington, sternly. “You remember the horse, Mr. Esmond.”

“Mr. Warrington, I perfectly well remember playing you for a horse, which my servant handed over to you on the day of your departure.”

“The chaplain was present at our play. Mr. Sampson, will you be umpire between us?” Mr. Warrington said, with much gentleness.

“I am bound to decide that Mr. Warrington played for the brown horse,” says Mr. Sampson.

“Well, he got the other one,” said sulky Mr. Will, with a grin.

“And sold it for thirty shillings!” said Mr. Warrington, always preserving his calm tone.

Will was waggish. “Thirty shillings? and a devilish good price, too, for the broken-kneed old rip. Ha, ha!”

“Not a word more. ’Tis only a question about a bet, my dear Lady Maria. Shall I serve you some more chicken?” Nothing could be more studiously courteous and gay than Mr. Warrington was, so long as the lady remained in the room. When she rose to go, Harry followed her to the door, and closed it upon her with the most courtly bow of farewell. He stood at the closed door for a moment, and then he bade the servants retire. When those menials were gone, Mr. Warrington locked the heavy door before them, and pocketed the key.

As it clicked in the lock, Mr. Will, who had been sitting over his punch, looking now and then askance at his cousin, asked, with one of the oaths which commonly garnished his conversation, what the — Mr. Warrington meant by that?

“I guess there’s going to be a quarrel,” said Mr. Warrington, blandly, “and there is no use in having these fellows look on at rows between their betters.”

“Who is going to quarrel here, I should like to know?” asked Will, looking very pale, and grasping a knife.

“Mr. Sampson, you were present when I played Mr. Will fifty guineas against his brown horse?”

“Against his horse!” bawls out Mr. Will.

“I am not such a something fool as you take me for,” says Mr. Warrington, “although I do come from Virginia!” And he repeated his question: “Mr. Sampson, you were here when I played the Honourable William Esmond, Esquire, fifty guineas against his brown horse?”

“I must own it, sir,” says the chaplain, with a deprecatory look towards his lord’s brother.

“I don’t own no such a thing,” says Mr. Will, with rather a forced laugh.

“No, sir: because it costs you no more pains to lie than to cheat,” said Mr. Warrington, walking up to his cousin. “Hands off, Mr. Chaplain, and see fair play! Because you are no better than a — ha! ——”

No better than a what we can’t say, and shall never know, for as Harry uttered the exclamation, his dear cousin flung a wine bottle at Mr. Warrington’s head, who bobbed just in time, so that the missile flew across the room, and broke against the wainscot opposite, breaking the face of a pictured ancestor of the Esmond family, and then itself against the wall, whence it spirted a pint of good port wine over the chaplain’s face and flowered wig. “Great heavens, gentlemen, I pray you to be quiet!” cried the parson, dripping with gore.

But gentlemen are not inclined at some moments to remember the commands of the Church. The bottle having failed, Mr. Esmond seized the large silver-handled knife and drove at his cousin. But Harry caught up the other’s right hand with his left, as he had seen the boxers do at Marybone; and delivered a rapid blow upon Mr. Esmond’s nose, which sent him reeling up against the oak panels, and I dare say caused him to see ten thousand illuminations. He dropped his knife in his retreat against the wall, which his rapid antagonist kicked under the table.

Now Will, too, had been at Marybone and Hockley-inthe-Hole, and after a gasp for breath and a glare over his bleeding nose at his enemy, he dashed forward his head as though it had been a battering-ram, intending to project it into Mr. Henry Warrington’s stomach.

This manoeuvre Harry had seen, too, on his visit to Marybone, and amongst the negroes upon the maternal estate, who would meet in combat like two concutient cannon-balls, each harder than the other. But Harry had seen and marked the civilised practice of the white man. He skipped aside, and, saluting his advancing enemy with a tremendous blow on the right ear, felled him, so that he struck his head against the heavy oak table and sank lifeless to the ground.

“Chaplain, you will bear witness that it has been a fair fight!” said Mr. Warrington, still quivering with the excitement of the combat, but striving with all his might to restrain himself and look cool. And he drew the key from his pocket and opened the door in the lobby, behind which three or four servants were gathered. A crash of broken glass, a cry, a shout, an oath or two, had told them that some violent scene was occurring within, and they entered, and behold two victims bedabbled with red — the chaplain bleeding port wine, and the Honourable William Esmond, Esquire, stretched in his own gore.

“Mr. Sampson will bear witness that I struck fair, and that Mr. Esmond hit the first blow,” said Mr. Warrington. “Undo his neckcloth, somebody — he may be dead; and get a fleam, Gumbo, and bleed him. Stop! He is coming to himself! Lift him up, you, and tell a maid to wash the floor.”

Indeed, in a minute, Mr. Will did come to himself. First his eyes rolled about, or rather, I am ashamed to say, his eye, one having been closed by Mr. Warrington’s first blow. First, then, his eye rolled about; then he gasped and uttered an inarticulate moan or two, then he began to swear and curse very freely and articulately.

“He is getting well,” said Mr. Warrington.

“Oh, praise be Mussy!” sighs the sentimental Betty.

“Ask him, Gumbo, whether he would like any more?” said Mr. Warrington, with a stern humour.

“Massa Harry say, wool you like any maw?” asked obedient Gumbo, bowing over the prostrate gentleman.

“No, curse you, you black devil!” says Mr. Will, hitting up at the black object before him. (“So he nearly cut my tongue in to in my mouf!” Gumbo explained to the pitying Betty.) “No, that is, yes! You infernal Mohock! Why does not somebody kick him out of the place?”

“Because nobody dares, Mr. Esmond,” says Mr. Warrington, with great state, arranging his ruffles — his ruffled ruffles.

“And nobody won’t neither,” growled the men. They had all grown to love Harry, whereas Mr. Will had nobody’s good word.

“We know all’s fair, sir. It ain’t the first time Master William have been served so.”

“And I hope it won’t be the last,” cries shrill Betty. “To go for to strike a poor black gentleman so!”

Mr. Will had gathered himself up by this time, had wiped his bleeding face with a napkin, and was skulking off to bed.

“Surely it’s manners to say good night to the company. Good night, Mr. Esmond,” says Mr. Warrington, whose jokes, though few, were not very brilliant; but the honest lad relished the brilliant sally and laughed at it inwardly.

“He’s ad his zopper, and he goes to baid!” says Betty, in her native dialect, at which everybody laughed outright, except Mr. William, who went away leaving a black fume of curses, as it were, rolling out of that funnel, his mouth.

It must be owned that Mr. Warrington continued to be witty the next morning. He sent a note to Mr. Will begging to know whether he was for a ride to town or anywheres else. If he was for London, that he would friten the highwaymen on Hounslow Heath, and look a very genteel figar at the Chocolate House. Which letter, I fear, Mr. Will received with his usual violence, requesting the writer to go to some place — not Hounslow.

And, besides the parley between Will and Harry, there comes a maiden simpering to Mr. Warrington’s door, and Gumbo advances, holding something white and triangular in his ebon fingers.

Harry knew what it was well enough. “Of course it’s a letter,” groans he. Molinda greets her Enrico, etc. etc. etc. No sleep has she known that night, and so forth, and so forth, and so forth. Has Enrico slept well in the halls of his fathers? und so weiter, und so weiter. He must never never quaril and be so cruel again. Kai ta loipa. And I protest I shan’t quote any more of this letter. Ah, tablets, golden once — are ye now faded leaves? Where is the juggler who transmuted you, and why is the glamour over?

After the little scandal with cousin Will, Harry’s dignity would not allow him to stay longer at Castlewood: he wrote a majestic letter to the lord of the mansion, explaining the circumstances which had occurred, and, as he called in Parson Sampson to supervise the document, no doubt it contained none of those eccentricities in spelling which figured in his ordinary correspondence at this period. He represented to poor Maria, that after blackening the eye and damaging the nose of a son of the house, he should remain in it with a very bad grace; and she was forced to acquiesce in the opinion that, for the present, his absence would best become him. Of course, she wept plentiful tears at parting with him. He would go to London, and see younger beauties: he would find none, none who would love him like his fond Maria. I fear Mr. Warrington did not exhibit any profound emotion on leaving her: nay, he cheered up immediately after he crossed Castlewood Bridge, and made his horses whisk over the road at ten miles an hour: he sang to them to go along: he nodded to the pretty girls by the roadside: he chucked my landlady under the chin: he certainly was not inconsolable. Truth is, he longed to be back in London again, to make a figure at St. James’s, at Newmarket, wherever the men of fashion congregated. All that petty Tunbridge society of women and card-playing seemed child’s-play to him now he had tasted the delight of London life.

By the time he reached London again, almost all the four-and-forty pounds which we have seen that he possessed at Tunbridge had slipped out of his pocket, and further supplies were necessary. Regarding these he made himself presently easy. There were the two sums of 5000 pounds in his own and his brother’s name, of which he was the master. He would take up a little money, and with a run or two of good luck at play he could easily replace it. Meantime he must live in a manner becoming his station, and it must be explained to Madam Esmond that a gentleman of his rank cannot keep fitting company, and appear as becomes him in society, upon a miserable pittance of two hundred a year.

Mr. Warrington sojourned at the Bedford Coffee-House as before, but only for a short while. He sought out proper lodgings at the Court end of the town, and fixed on some apartments in Bond Street, where he and Gumbo installed themselves, his horses standing at a neighbouring livery-stable. And now tailors, mercers, and shoemakers were put in requisition. Not without a pang of remorse, he laid aside his mourning and figured in a laced hat and waistcoat. Gumbo was always dexterous in the art of dressing hair, and with a little powder flung into his fair locks Mr. Warrington’s head was as modish as that of any gentleman in the Mall. He figured in the Ring in his phaeton. Reports of his great wealth had long since preceded him to London, and not a little curiosity was excited about the fortunate Virginian.

Until our young friend could be balloted for at the proper season, my Lord March had written down his name for the club at White’s Chocolate-House, as a distinguished gentleman from America. There were as yet but few persons of fashion in London, but with a pocket full of money at one-and-twenty, a young fellow can make himself happy even out of the season; and Mr. Harry was determined to enjoy.

He ordered Mr. Draper, then, to sell five hundred pounds of his stock. What would his poor mother have said had she known that the young spendthrift was already beginning to dissipate his patrimony? He dined at the tavern, he supped at the club, where Jack Morris introduced him, with immense eulogiums, to such gentlemen as were in town. Life and youth and pleasure were before him, the wine was set a-running, and the eager lad was greedy to drink. Do you see, far away in the west yonder, the pious widow at her prayers for her son? Behind the trees at Oakhurst a tender little heart, too, is beating for him, perhaps. When the Prodigal Son was away carousing, were not love and forgiveness still on the watch for him?

Amongst the inedited letters of the late Lord Orford, there is one which the present learned editor, Mr. Peter Cunningbam, has omitted from his collection, doubting possibly the authenticity of the document. Nay, I myself have only seen a copy of it in the Warrington papers in Madam Esmond’s prim handwriting, and noted “Mr. H. Walpole’s account of my son Henry at London, and of Baroness Tusher — wrote to General Conway.”

“ARLINGTON STREET, Friday Night.

“I have come away, child, for a day or two from my devotions to our Lady of Strawberry. Have I not been on my knees to her these three weeks, and aren’t the poor old joints full of rheumatism? A fit took me that I would pay London a visit, that I would go to Vauxhall and Ranelagh. Quoi! May I not have my rattle as well as other elderly babies? Suppose, after being so long virtuous, I take a fancy to cakes and ale, shall your reverence say nay to me? George Selwyn and Tony Storer and your humble servant took boat at Westminster t’other night. Was it Tuesday? — no, Tuesday I was with their Graces of Norfolk, who are just from Tunbridge — it was Wednesday. How should I know? Wasn’t I dead drunk with a whole pint of lemonade I took at White’s?

“The Norfolk folk had been entertaining me on Tuesday with the account of a young savage Iroquois, Choctaw, or Virginian, who has lately been making a little noise in our quarter of the globe. He is an offshoot of that disreputable family of Esmond, Castlewood, of whom all the men are gamblers and spendthrifts, and all the women — well, I shan’t say the word, lest Lady Ailesbury should be looking over your shoulder. Both the late lords, my father told me, were in his pay, and the last one, a beau of Queen Anne’s reign, from a viscount advanced to be an earl through the merits and intercession of his notorious old sister Bernstein, late Tusher, nee Esmond — a great beauty, too, of her day, a favourite of the old Pretender. She sold his secrets to my papa, who paid her for them; and being nowise particular in her love for the Stuarts, came over to the august Hanoverian house at present reigning over us. ‘Will Horace Walpole’s tongue never stop scandal?’ says your wife over your shoulder. I kiss your ladyship’s hand. I am dumb. The Bernstein is a model of virtue. She had no good reasons for marrying her father’s chaplain. Many of the nobility omit the marriage altogether. She wasn’t ashamed of being Mrs. Tusher, and didn’t take a German Baroncino for a second husband, whom nobody out of Hanover ever saw. The Yarmouth bears no malice. Esther and Vashti are very good friends, and have been cheating each other at Tunbridge at cards all the summer.

“‘And what has all this to do with the Iroquois?’ says your ladyship. The Iroquois has been at Tunbridge, too — not cheating, perhaps, but winning vastly. They say he has bled Lord March of thousands — Lord March, by whom so much blood hath been shed, that he has quarrelled with everybody, fought with everybody, rode over everybody, been fallen in love with by everybody’s wife except Mr. Conway’s, and not excepting her present Majesty, the Countess of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Queen of Walmoden and Yarmouth, whom Heaven preserve to us.

“You know an offensive little creature, de par le monde, one Jack Morris, who skips in and out of all the houses of London. When we were at Vauxhall, Mr. Jack gave us a nod under the shoulder of a pretty young fellow enough, on whose arm he was leaning, and who appeared hugely delighted with the enchantments of the garden. Lord, how he stared at the fireworks! Gods, how he huzzayed at the singing of a horrible painted wench who shrieked the ears off my head! A twopenny string of glass beads and a strip of tawdry cloth are treasures in Iroquois-land, and our savage valued them accordingly.

“A buzz went about the place that this was the fortunate youth. He won three hundred at White’s last night very genteelly from Rockingham and my precious nephew, and here he was bellowing and huzzaying over the music so as to do you good to hear. I do not love a puppet-show, but I love to treat children to one, Miss Conway! I present your ladyship my compliments, and hope we shall go and see the dolls together.

“When the singing woman came down from her throne, Jack Morris must introduce my Virginian to her. I saw him blush up to the eyes, and make her, upon my word, a very fine bow, such as I had no idea was practised in wigwams. ‘There is a certain jenny squaw about her, and that’s why the savage likes her,’ George said — a joke certainly not as brilliant as a firework. After which it seemed to me that the savage and the savages retired together.

“Having had a great deal too much to eat and drink three hours before, my partners must have chicken and rack-punch at Vauxhall, where George fell asleep straightway, and for my sins I must tell Tony Storer what I knew about this Virginian’s amiable family, especially some of the Bernstein’s antecedents, and the history of another elderly beauty of the family, a certain Lady Maria, who was au mieux with the late Prince of Wales. What did I say? I protest not half of what I knew, and of course not a tenth part of what I was going to tell, for who should start out upon us but my savage, this time quite red in the face; and in his war paint. The wretch had been drinking fire-water in the next box!

“He cocked his hat, clapped his hand to his sword, asked which of the gentleman was it that was maligning his family? so that I was obliged to entreat him not to make such a noise, lest he should wake my friend, Mr. George Selwyn. And I added, ‘I assure you, sir, I had no idea that you were near me, and most sincerely apologise for giving you pain.’

“The Huron took his hand off his tomahawk at this pacific rejoinder, made a bow not ungraciously, said he could not, of course, ask more than an apology from a gentleman of my age (Merci, monsieur!), and, hearing the name of Mr. Selwyn, made another bow to George, and said he had a letter to him from Lord March, which he had had the ill-fortune to mislay. George has put him up for the club, it appears, in conjunction with March, and no doubt these three lambs will fleece each other. Meanwhile, my pacified savage sate down with us, and buried the hatchet in another bowl of punch, for which these gentlemen must call. Heaven help us! ’Tis eleven o’clock, and here comes Bedson with my gruel! H. W.

“To the Honourable. H. S. Conway.”

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