The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXI

In which the Prince marches up the Hill and down again

We understand the respectful indignation of all loyal Britons when they come to read of Mr. George Warrington’s conduct towards a gallant and gracious Prince, the beloved son of the best of monarchs, and the Captain-General of the British army. What an inestimable favour has not the young man slighted! What a chance of promotion had he not thrown away! Will Esmond, whose language was always rich in blasphemies, employed his very strongest curses in speaking of his cousin’s behaviour, and expressed his delight that the confounded young Mohock was cutting his own throat. Cousin Castlewood said that a savage gentleman had a right to scalp himself if he liked; or perhaps, he added charitably, our cousin Mr. Warrington heard enough of the war-whoop in Braddock’s affair, and has no more stomach for fighting. Mr. Will rejoiced that the younger brother had gone to the deuce, and he rejoiced to think that the elder was following him. The first time he met the fellow, Will said, he should take care to let Mr. George know what he thought of him.

“If you intend to insult George, at least you had best take care that his brother Harry is out of hearing!” cried Lady Maria — on which we may fancy more curses uttered by Mr. Will, with regard to his twin kinsfolk.

“Ta, ta, ta!” says my lord. “No more of this squabbling! We can’t be all warriors in the family!”

“I never heard your lordship laid claim to be one!” says Maria.

“Never, my dear; quite the contrary! Will is our champion, and one is quite enough in the house. So I dare say with the two Mohocks; — George is the student, and Harry is the fighting man. When you intended to quarrel, Will, what a pity it was you had not George, instead of t’other, to your hand!”

“Your lordship’s hand is famous — at piquet,” says Will’s mother.

“It is a pretty one,” says my lord, surveying his fingers, with a simper. “My Lord Hervey’s glove and mine were of a size. Yes, my hand, as you say, is more fitted for cards than for war. Yours, my Lady Castlewood, is pretty dexterous, too. How I bless the day when you bestowed it on my lamented father!” In this play of sarcasm, as in some other games of skill, his lordship was not sorry to engage, having a cool head, and being able to beat his family all round.

Madame de Bernstein, when she heard of Mr. Warrington’s bevue, was exceedingly angry, stormed, and scolded her immediate household; and would have scolded George but she was growing old, and had not the courage of her early days. Moreover, she was a little afraid of her nephew, and respectful in her behaviour to him. “You will never make your fortune at court, nephew!” she groaned, when, soon after his discomfiture, the young gentleman went to wait upon her.

“It was never my wish, madam,” said Mr. George, in a very stately manner.

“Your wish was to help Harry? You might hereafter have been of service to your brother, had you accepted the Duke’s offer. Princes do not love to have their favours refused, and I don’t wonder that his Royal Highness was offended.”

“General Lambert said the same thing,” George confessed, turning rather red; “and I see now that I was wrong. But you must please remember that I had never seen a court before, and I suppose I am scarce likely to shine in one.”

“I think possibly not, my good nephew,” says the aunt, taking snuff.

“And what then?” asked George. “I never had ambition for that kind of glory, and can make myself quite easy without it. When his Royal Highness spoke to me — most kindly, as I own — my thought was, I shall make a very bad soldier, and my brother would be a very good one. He has a hundred good qualities for the profession, in which I am deficient; and would have served a Commanding Officer far better than I ever could. Say the Duke is in battle, and his horse is shot, as my poor chief’s was at home, would he not be better for a beast that had courage and strength to bear him anywhere, than with one that could not carry his weight?”

“Au fait. His Royal Highness’s charger must be a strong one, my dear!” says the old lady.

“Expende Hannibalem,” mutters George, with a shrug. “Our Hannibal weighs no trifle.”

“I don’t quite follow you, sir, and your Hannibal,” the Baroness remarks.

“When Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Lambert remonstrated with me as you have done, madam,” George rejoins, with a laugh, “I made this same defence which I am making to you. I said I offered to the Prince the best soldier in the family, and the two gentlemen allowed that my blunder at least had some excuse. Who knows but that they may set me right with his Royal Highness? The taste I have had of battles has shown me how little my genius inclines that way. We saw the Scotch play which everybody is talking about t’other night. And when the hero, young Norval, said how he longed to follow to the field some warlike lord, I thought to myself, ‘how like my Harry is to him, except that he doth not brag.’ Harry is pining now for a red coat, and if we don’t mind, will take the shilling. He has the map of Germany for ever under his eyes, and follows the King of Prussia everywhere. He is not afraid of men or gods. As for me, I love my books and quiet best, and to read about battles in Homer or Lucan.”

“Then what made a soldier of you at all, my dear? And why did you not send Harry with Mr. Braddock, instead of going yourself?” asked Madame de Bernstein.

“My mother loved her younger son the best,” said George, darkly. “Besides, with the enemy invading our country, it was my duty, as the head of our family, to go on the campaign. Had I been a Scotchman twelve years ago, I should have been a ——”

“Hush, sir! or I shall be more angry than ever!” said the old lady, with a perfectly pleased face.

George’s explanation might thus appease Madame de Bernstein, an old woman whose principles we fear were but loose: but to the loyal heart of Sir Miles Warrington and his lady, the young man’s conduct gave a severe blow indeed! “I should have thought,” her ladyship said, “from my sister Esmond Warrington’s letter, that my brother’s widow was a woman of good sense and judgment, and that she had educated her sons in a becoming manner. But what, Sir Miles, what, my dear Thomas Claypool, can we think of an education which has resulted so lamentably for both these young men?”

“The elder seems to know a power of Latin, though, and speaks the French and the German too. I heard him with the Hanover Envoy, at the Baroness’s rout,” says Mr. Claypool. “The French he jabbered quite easy: and when he was at a loss for the High Dutch, he and the Envoy began in Latin, and talked away till all the room stared.”

“It is not language, but principles, Thomas Claypool!” exclaims the virtuous matron. “What must Mr. Warrington’s principles be, when he could reject an offer made him by his Prince? Can he speak the High Dutch? So much the more ought he to have accepted his Royal Highness’s condescension, and made himself useful in the campaign! Look at our son, look at Miles!”

“Hold up thy head, Miley, my boy!” says papa.

“I trust, Sir Miles, that, as a member of the House of Commons, as an English gentleman, you will attend his Royal Highness’s levee tomorrow, and say, if such an offer had been made to us for that child, we would have taken it, though our boy is but ten years of age.”

“Faith, Miley, thou wouldst make a good little drummer or fifer!” says papa. “Shouldst like to be a little soldier, Miley?”

“Anything, sir, anything! a Warrington ought to be ready at any moment to have himself cut in pieces for his sovereign!” cries the matron, pointing to the boy; who, as soon as he comprehended his mother’s proposal, protested against it by a loud roar, in the midst of which he was removed by Screwby. In obedience to the conjugal orders, Sir Miles went to his Royal Highness’s levee the next day, and made a protest of his love and duty, which the Prince deigned to accept, saying:

“Nobody ever supposed that Sir Miles Warrington would ever refuse any place offered to him.”

A compliment gracious indeed, and repeated everywhere by Lady Warrington, as showing how implicitly the august family on the throne could rely on the loyalty of the Warringtons.

Accordingly, when this worthy couple saw George, they received him with a ghastly commiseration, such as our dear relatives or friends will sometimes extend to us when we have done something fatal or clumsy in life; when we have come badly out of our lawsuit; when we enter the room just as the company has been abusing us; when our banker has broke; or we for our sad part have had to figure in the commercial columns of the London Gazette; — when, in a word, we are guilty of some notorious fault, or blunder, or misfortune. Who does not know that face of pity? Whose dear relations have not so deplored him, not dead, but living? Not yours? Then, sir, if you have never been in scrapes; if you have never sowed a handful of wild oats or two; if you have always been fortunate, and good, and careful, and butter has never melted in your mouth, and an imprudent word has never come out of it; if you have never sinned and repented, and been a fool and been sorry — then, sir, you are a wiseacre who won’t waste your time over an idle novel, and it is not de te that the fable is narrated at all.

Not that it was just on Sir Miles’s part to turn upon George, and be angry with his nephew for refusing the offer of promotion made by his Royal Highness, for Sir Miles himself had agreed in George’s view of pursuing quite other than a military career, and it was in respect to this plan of her son’s that Madam Esmond had written from Virginia to Sir Miles Warrington. George had announced to her his intention of entering at the Temple, and qualifying himself for the magisterial and civil duties which, in the course of nature, he would be called to fulfil; nor could any one applaud his resolution more cordially than his uncle Sir Miles, who introduced George to a lawyer of reputation, under whose guidance we may fancy the young gentleman reading leisurely. Madam Esmond from home signified her approval of her son’s course, fully agreeing with Sir Miles (to whom and his lady she begged to send her grateful remembrances) that the British Constitution was the envy of the world, and the proper object of every English gentleman’s admiring study. The chief point to which George’s mother objected was the notion that Mr. Warrington should have to sit down in the Temple dinner-ball, and cut at a shoulder of mutton, and drink small-beer out of tin pannikins, by the side of rough students who wore gowns like the parish-clerk. George’s loyal younger brother shared too this repugnance. Anything was good enough for him, Harry said; he was a younger son, and prepared to rough it; but George, in a gown, and dining in a mess with three nobody’s sons off dirty pewter platters! Harry never could relish this condescension on his brother’s part, or fancy George in his proper place at any except the high table; and was sorry that a plan Madam Esmond hinted at in her letters was not feasible — viz., that an application should be made to the Master of the Temple, who should be informed that Mr. George Warrington was a gentleman of most noble birth, and of great property in America, and ought only to sit with the very best company in the Hall. Rather to Harry’s discomfiture, when he communicated his own and his mother’s ideas to the gentlemen’s new coffee-house friend, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Spencer received the proposal with roars of laughter; and I cannot learn, from the Warrington papers, that any application was made to the Master of the Temple on this subject. Besides his literary and historical pursuits, which were those he most especially loved, Mr. Warrington studied the laws of his country, attended the courts at Westminster, where he heard a Henley, a Pratt, a Murray, and those other great famous schools of eloquence and patriotism, the two houses of parliament.

Gradually Mr. Warrington made acquaintance with some of the members of the House and the Bar; who, when they came to know him, spoke of him as a young gentleman of good parts and good breeding, and in terms so generally complimentary, that his good uncle’s heart relented towards him, and Dora and Flora began once more to smile upon him. This reconciliation dated from the time when his Royal Highness the Duke, after having been defeated by the French, in the affair of Hastenbeck, concluded the famous capitulation with the French, which his Majesty George II. refused to ratify. His Royal Highness, as ’tis well known, flung up his commissions after this disgrace, laid down his commander’s baton — which, it must be confessed, he had not wielded with much luck or dexterity — and never again appeared at the head of armies or in public life. The stout warrior would not allow a word of complaint against his father and sovereign to escape his lips; but, as he retired with his wounded honour, and as he would have no interest or authority more, nor any places to give, it may be supposed that Sir Miles Warrington’s anger against his nephew diminished as his respect for his Royal Highness diminished.

As our two gentlemen were walking in St. James’s Park, one day, with their friend Mr. Lambert, they met his Royal Highness in plain clothes and without a star, and made profound bows to the Prince, who was pleased to stop and speak to them.

He asked Mr. Lambert how he liked my Lord Ligonier, his new chief at the Horse Guards, and the new duties there in which he was engaged? And, recognising the young men, with that fidelity of memory for which his Royal race hath ever been remarkable, he said to Mr. Warrington:

“You did well, sir, not to come with me when I asked you in the spring.”

“I was sorry, then, sir,” Mr. Warrington said, making a very low reverence, “but I am more sorry now.”

On which the Prince said, “Thank you, sir,” and, touching his hat, walked away. And the circumstances of this interview, and the discourse which passed at it, being related to Mrs. Esmond Warrington in a letter from her younger son, created so deep an impression in that lady’s mind, that she narrated the anecdote many hundreds of times until all her friends and acquaintances knew and, perhaps, were tired of it.

Our gentlemen went through the Park, and so towards the Strand, where they had business. And Mr. Lambert, pointing to the lion on the top of the Earl of Northumberland’s house at Charing Cross, says:

“Harry Warrington! your brother is like yonder lion.”

“Because he is as brave as one,” says Harry.

“Because I respect virgins!” says George, laughing.

“Because you are a stupid lion. Because you turn your back on the East, and absolutely salute the setting sun. Why, child, what earthly good can you get by being civil to a man in hopeless dudgeon and disgrace? Your uncle will be more angry with you than ever — and so am I, sir.” But Mr. Lambert was always laughing in his waggish way, and, indeed, he did not look the least angry.

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