The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXII

Arma Virumque

Indeed, if Harry Warrington had a passion for military pursuits and studies, there was enough of war stirring in Europe, and enough talk in all societies which he frequented in London, to excite and inflame him. Though our own gracious Prince of the house of Hanover had been beaten, the Protestant Hero, the King of Prussia, was filling the world with his glory, and winning those astonishing victories in which I deem it fortunate on my own account that my poor Harry took no part; for then his veracious biographer would have had to narrate battles the description whereof has been undertaken by another pen. I am glad, I say, that Harry Warrington was not at Rossbach on that famous Gunpowder Fete-day, on the 5th of November, in the year 1757; nor at that tremendous slaughtering-match of Leuthen, which the Prussian king played a month afterwards; for these prodigious actions will presently be narrated in other volumes, which I and all the world are eager to behold. Would you have this history compete with yonder book? Could my jaunty, yellow park-phaeton run counter to that grim chariot of thundering war? Could my meek little jog-trot Pegasus meet the shock of yon steed of foaming bit and flaming nostril? Dear, kind reader (with whom I love to talk from time to time, stepping down from the stage where our figures are performing, attired in the habits and using the parlance of past ages) — my kind, patient reader! it is a mercy for both of us that Harry Warrington did not follow the King of the Borussians, as he was minded to do, for then I should have had to describe battles which Carlyle is going to paint; and I don’t wish you should make odious comparisons between me and that master.

Harry Warrington not only did not join the King of the Borussians, but he pined and chafed at not going. He led a sulky useless life, that is the fact. He dangled about the military coffee-houses. He did not care for reading anything save a newspaper. His turn was not literary. He even thought novels were stupid; and, as for the ladies crying their eyes out over Mr. Richardson, he could not imagine how they could be moved by any such nonsense. He used to laugh in a very hearty jolly way, but a little late, and some time after the joke was over. Pray, why should all gentlemen have a literary turn? And do we like some of our friends the worse because they never turned a couplet in their lives? Ruined, perforce idle, dependent on his brother for supplies, if he read a book falling asleep over it, with no fitting work for his great strong hands to do — how lucky it is that he did not get into more trouble! Why, in the case of Achilles himself, when he was sent by his mamma to the court of King What-d’ye-call-’em in order to be put out of harm’s reach, what happened to him amongst a parcel of women with whom he was made to idle his life away? And how did Pyrrhus come into the world? A powerful mettlesome young Achilles ought not to be leading-stringed by women too much; is out of his place dawdling by distaffs or handing coffee-cups; and when he is not fighting, depend on it, is likely to fall into much worse mischief.

Those soft-hearted women, the two elder ladies of the Lambert family, with whom he mainly consorted, had an untiring pity and kindness for Harry, such as women only — and only a few of those — can give. If a man is in grief, who cheers him; in trouble, who consoles him; in wrath, who soothes him; in joy, who makes him doubly happy; in prosperity, who rejoices; in disgrace, who backs him against the world, and dresses with gentle unguents and warm poultices the rankling wounds made by the slings and arrows of outrageous Fortune? Who but woman, if you please? You who are ill and sore from the buffets of Fate, have you one or two of these sweet physicians? Return thanks to the gods that they have left you so much of consolation. What gentleman is not more or less a Prometheus? Who has not his rock (ai, ai), his chain (ea, ea), and his liver in a deuce of a condition? But the sea-nymphs come — the gentle, the sympathising; they kiss our writhing feet; they moisten our parched lips with their tears; they do their blessed best to console us Titans; they don’t turn their backs upon us after our overthrow.

Now Theo and her mother were full of pity for Harry; but Hetty’s heart was rather hard and seemingly savage towards him. She chafed that his position was not more glorious; she was angry that he was still dependent and idle. The whole world was in arms, and could he not carry a musket? It was harvest-time, and hundreds of thousands of reapers were out with their flashing sickles; could he not use his, and cut down his sheaf or two of glory?

“Why, how savage the little thing is with him!” says papa, after a scene in which, according to her wont, Miss Hetty had been firing little shots into that quivering target which came and set itself up in Mrs. Lambert’s drawing-room every day.

“Her conduct is perfectly abominable!” cries mamma; “she deserves to be whipped, and sent to bed.”

“Perhaps, mother, it is because she likes him better than any of us do,” says Theo, “and it is for his sake that Hetty is angry. If I were fond of — of some one, I should like to be able to admire and respect him always — to think everything he did right — and my gentleman better than all the gentlemen in the world.”

“The truth is, my dear,” answers Mrs. Lambert, “that your father is so much better than all the world, he has spoiled us. Did you ever see any one to compare with him?”

“Very few, indeed,” owns Theo, with a blush.

“Very few. Who is so good-tempered?”

“I think nobody, mamma,” Theo acknowledges.

“Or so brave?”

“Why, I dare say Mr. Wolfe, or Harry, or Mr. George, are very brave.”

“Or so learned and witty?”

“I am sure Mr. George seems very learned, and witty too, in his way,” says Theo; “and his manners are very fine — you own they are. Madame de Bernstein says they are, and she hath seen the world. Indeed, Mr. George has a lofty way with him, which I don’t see in other people; and, in reading books, I find he chooses the fine noble things always, and loves them in spite of all his satire. He certainly is of a satirical turn, but then he is only bitter against mean things and people. No gentleman hath a more tender heart I am sure; and but yesterday, after he had been talking so bitterly as you said, I happened to look out of window, and saw him stop and treat a whole crowd of little children to apples at the stall at the corner. And the day before yesterday, when he was coming and brought me the Moliere, he stopped and gave money to a beggar, and how charmingly, sure, he reads the French! I agree with him though about Tartuffe, though ’tis so wonderfully clever and lively, that a mere villain and hypocrite is a figure too mean to be made the chief of a great piece. Iago, Mr. George said, is near as great a villain; but then he is not the first character of the tragedy, which is Othello, with his noble weakness. But what fine ladies and gentlemen Moliere represents — so Mr. George thinks — and — but oh, I don’t dare to repeat the verses after him.”

“But you know them by heart, my dear?” asks Mrs. Lambert.

And Theo replies, “Oh yes, mamma! I know them by . . . Nonsense!”

I here fancy osculations, palpitations, and exit Miss Theo, blushing like a rose. Why had she stopped in her sentence? Because mamma was looking at her so oddly. And why was mamma looking at her so oddly? And why had she looked after Mr. George when he was going away, and looked for him when he was coming? Ah, and why do cheeks blush, and why do roses bloom? Old Time is still a-flying. Old spring and bud time; old summer and bloom time; old autumn and seed time; old winter time, when the cracking, shivering old tree-tops are bald or covered with snow.

A few minutes after George arrived, Theo would come downstairs with a fluttering heart, may be, and a sweet nosegay in her cheeks, just culled, as it were, fresh in his honour; and I suppose she must have been constantly at that window which commanded the street, and whence she could espy his generosity to the sweep, or his purchases from the apple-woman. But if it was Harry who knocked, she remained in her own apartment with her work or her books, sending her sister to receive the young gentleman, or her brothers when the elder was at home from college, or Doctor Crusius from the Chartreux gave the younger leave to go home. And what good eyes Theo must have had — and often in the evening, too — to note the difference between Harry’s yellow hair and George’s dark locks — and between their figures, though they were so like that people continually were mistaking one for the other brother. Now it is certain that Theo never mistook one or t’other; and that Hetty, for her part, was not in the least excited, or rude, or pert, when she found the black-haired gentleman in her mother’s drawing-room.

Our friends could come when they liked to Mr. Lambert’s house, and stay as long as they chose; and, one day, he of the golden locks was sitting on a couch there, in an attitude of more than ordinary idleness and despondency, when who should come down to him but Miss Hetty? I say it was a most curious thing (though the girls would have gone to the rack rather than own any collusion), that when Harry called, Hetty appeared; when George arrived, Theo somehow came; and so, according to the usual dispensation, it was Miss Lambert, junior, who now arrived to entertain the younger Virginian.

After usual ceremonies and compliments we may imagine that the lady says to the gentleman:

“And pray, sir, what makes your honour look so glum this morning?”

“Ah, Hetty!” says he, “I have nothing else to do but to look glum. I remember when we were boys — and I a rare idle one, you may be sure — I would always be asking my tutor for a holiday, which I would pass very likely swinging on a gate, or making ducks and drakes over the pond, and those do-nothing days were always the most melancholy. What have I got to do now from morning till night?”

“Breakfast, walk — dinner, walk — tea, supper, I suppose; and a pipe of your Virginia,” says Miss Hetty, tossing her head.

“I tell you what, when I went back with Charley to the Chartreux, t’other night, I had a mind to say to the master, ‘Teach me, sir. Here’s a boy knows a deal more Latin and Greek, at thirteen, than I do, who am ten years older. I have nothing to do from morning till night, and I might as well go to my books again, and see if I can repair my idleness as a boy.’ Why do you laugh, Hetty?”

“I laugh to fancy you at the head of a class, and called up by the master!” cries Hetty.

“I shouldn’t be at the head of the class,” Harry says, humbly. “George might be at the head of any class, but I am not a bookman, you see; and when I was young neglected myself, and was very idle. We would not let our tutors cane us much at home, but, if we had, it might have done me good.”

Hetty drubbed with her little foot, and looked at the young man sitting before her — strong, idle, melancholy.

“Upon my word, it might do you good now!” she was minded to say. “What does Tom say about the caning at school? Does his account of it set you longing for it, pray?” she asked.

“His account of his school,” Harry answered simply, “makes me see that I have been idle when I ought to have worked, and that I have not a genius for books, and for what am I good? Only to spend my patrimony when I come abroad, or to lounge at coffee-houses or racecourses, or to gallop behind dogs when I am at home. I am good for nothing, I am.”

“What, such a great, brave, strong fellow as you good for nothing?” cries Het. “I would not confess as much to any woman, if I were twice as good for nothing!”

“What am I to do? I ask for leave to go into the army, and Madam Esmond does not answer me. ’Tis the only thing I am fit for. I have no money to buy. Having spent all my own, and so much of my brother’s, I cannot and won’t ask for more. If my mother would but send me to the army, you know I would jump to go.”

“Eh! A gentleman of spirit does not want a woman to buckle his sword on for him or to clean his firelock! What was that our papa told us of the young gentleman at court yesterday? — Sir John Armytage ——”

“Sir John Armytage? I used to know him when I frequented White’s and the club-houses — a fine, noble young gentleman, of a great estate in the North.”

“And engaged to be married to a famous beauty, too — Miss Howe, my Lord Howe’s sister — but that, I suppose, is not an obstacle to gentlemen?”

“An obstacle to what?” asks the gentleman.

“An obstacle to glory!” says Miss Hetty. “I think no woman of spirit would say ‘Stay!’ though she adored her lover ever so much, when his country said ‘Go!’ Sir John had volunteered for the expedition which is preparing, and being at court yesterday his Majesty asked him when he would be ready to go? ‘Tomorrow, please your Majesty,’ replies Sir John, and the king said, that was a soldier’s answer. My father himself is longing to go, though he has mamma and all us brats at home. Oh dear, oh dear! Why wasn’t I a man myself? Both my brothers are for the Church; but, as for me, I know I should have made a famous little soldier!” And, so speaking, this young person strode about the room, wearing a most courageous military aspect, and looking as bold as Joan of Arc.

Harry beheld her with a tender admiration. “I think,” says he, “I would hardly like to see a musket on that little shoulder, nor a wound on that pretty face, Hetty.”

“Wounds! who fears wounds?” cries the little maid. “Muskets? If I could carry one, I would use it. You men fancy that we women are good for nothing but to make puddings or stitch samplers. Why wasn’t I a man, I say? George was reading to us yesterday out of Tasso — look, here it is, and I thought the verses applied to me. See! Here is the book, with the mark in it where we left off.”

“With the mark in it?” says Harry dutifully.

“Yes! it is about a woman who is disappointed because — because her brother does not go to war, and she says of herself —

“‘Alas! why did not Heaven these members frail
With lively force and vigour strengthen, so
That I this silken gown . . .’”

“Silken gown?” says downright Harry, with a look of inquiry.

“Well, sir, I know ’tis but Calimanco; — but so it is in the book —

“’ . . . this silken gown and slender veil
Might for a breastplate and a helm forgo;
Then should not heat, nor cold, nor rain, nor hail,
Nor storms that fall, nor blust’ring winds that blow,
Withhold me; but I would, both day and night,
In pitched field or private combat, fight —’

“Fight? Yes, that I would! Why are both my brothers to be parsons, I say? One of my papa’s children ought to be a soldier!”

Harry laughed, a very gentle, kind laugh, as he looked at her. He felt that he would not like much to hit such a tender little warrior as that.

“Why,” says he, holding a finger out, “I think here is a finger nigh as big as your arm. How would you stand up before a great, strong man? I should like to see a man try and injure you, though; I should just like to see him! You little, delicate, tender creature! Do you suppose any scoundrel would dare to do anything unkind to you?” And, excited by this flight of his imagination, Harry fell to walking up and down the room, too, chafing at the idea of any rogue of a Frenchman daring to be rude to Miss Hester Lambert.

It was a belief in this silent courage of his which subjugated Hetty, and this quality which she supposed him to possess, which caused her specially to admire him. Miss Hetty was no more bold, in reality, than Madam Erminia, whose speech she had been reading out of the book, and about whom Mr. Harry Warrington never heard one single word. He may have been in the room when brother George was reading his poetry out to the ladies, but his thoughts were busy with his own affairs, and he was entirely bewildered with your Clotildas and Erminias, and giants, and enchanters, and nonsense. No, Miss Hetty, I say and believe, had nothing of the virago in her composition; else, no doubt, she would have taken a fancy to a soft young fellow with a literary turn, or a genius for playing the flute, according to the laws of contrast and nature provided in those cases; and who has not heard how great, strong men have an affinity for frail, tender little women; how tender little women are attracted by great, honest, strong men; and how your burly heroes and champions of war are constantly henpecked? If Mr. Harry Warrington falls in love with a woman who is like Miss Lambert in disposition, and if he marries her — without being conjurers, I think we may all see what the end will be.

So, whilst Hetty was firing her little sarcasms into Harry, he for a while scarcely felt that they were stinging him, and let her shoot on without so much as taking the trouble to shake the little arrows out of his hide. Did she mean by her sneers and innuendoes to rouse him into action? He was too magnanimous to understand such small hints. Did she mean to shame him by saying that she, a weak woman, would don the casque and breastplate? The simple fellow either melted at the idea of her being in danger, or at the notion of her fighting fell a-laughing.

“Pray what is the use of having a strong hand if you only use it to hold a skein of silk for my mother?” cries Miss Hester; “and what is the good of being ever so strong in a drawing-room? Nobody wants you to throw anybody out of window, Harry! A strong man, indeed! I suppose there’s a stronger at Bartholomew Fair. James Wolfe is not a strong man. He seems quite weakly and ill. When he was here last he was coughing the whole time, and as pale as if he had seen a ghost.”

“I never could understand why a man should be frightened at a ghost,” says Harry.

“Pray, have you seen one, sir?” asks the pert young lady.

“No. I thought I did once at home — when we were boys; but it was only Nathan in his night-shirt; but I wasn’t frightened when I thought he was a ghost. I believe there’s no such things. Our nurses tell a pack of lies about ’em,” says Harry, gravely. “George was a little frightened; but then he’s ——” Here he paused.

“Then George is what?” asked Hetty.

“George is different from me, that’s all. Our mother’s a bold woman as ever you saw, but she screams at seeing a mouse — always does — can’t help it. It’s her nature. So, you see, perhaps my brother can’t bear ghosts. I don’t mind ’em.”

“George always says you would have made a better soldier than he.”

“So I think I should, if I had been allowed to try. But he can do a thousand things better than me, or anybody else in the world. Why didn’t he let me volunteer on Braddock’s expedition? I might have got knocked on the head, and then I should have been pretty much as useful as I am now, and then I shouldn’t have ruined myself, and brought people to point at me and say that I had disgraced the name of Warrington. Why mayn’t I go on this expedition, and volunteer like Sir John Armytage? Oh, Hetty! I’m a miserable fellow — that’s what I am,” and the miserable fellow paced the room at double quick time. “I wish I had never come to Europe,” he groaned out.

“What a compliment to us! Thank you, Harry!” But presently, on an appealing look from the gentleman, she added, “Are you — are you thinking of going home?”

“And have all Virginia jeering at me! There’s not a gentleman there that wouldn’t, except one, and him my mother doesn’t like. I should be ashamed to go home now, I think. You don’t know my mother, Hetty. I ain’t afraid of most things; but, somehow, I am of her. What shall I say to her, when she says, ‘Harry, where’s your patrimony?’ ‘Spent, mother,’ I shall have to say. ‘What have you done with it?’ ‘Wasted it, mother, and went to prison after.’ ‘Who took you out of prison?’ ‘Brother George, ma’am, he took me out of prison; and now I’m come back, having done no good for myself, with no profession, no prospects, no nothing — only to look after negroes, and be scolded at home; or to go to sleep at sermons; or to play at cards, and drink, and fight cocks at the taverns about.’ How can I look the gentlemen of the country in the face? I’m ashamed to go home in this way, I say. I must and will do something! What shall I do, Hetty? Ah! what shall I do?”

“Do? What did Mr. Wolfe do at Louisbourg? Ill as he was, and in love as we knew him to be, he didn’t stop to be nursed by his mother, Harry, or to dawdle with his sweetheart. He went on the King’s service, and hath come back covered with honour. If there is to be another great campaign in America, papa says he is sure of a great command.”

“I wish he would take me with him, and that a ball would knock me on the head and finish me,” groaned Harry. “You speak to me, Hetty, as though it were my fault that I am not in the army, when you know I would give — give, forsooth, what have I to give? — yes! my life to go on service!”

“Life indeed!” says Miss Hetty, with a shrug of her shoulders.

“You don’t seem to think that of much value, Hetty,” remarked Harry, sadly. “No more it is — to anybody. I’m a poor useless fellow. I’m not even free to throw it away as I would like, being under orders here and at home.”

“Orders indeed! Why under orders?” cries Miss Hetty. “Aren’t you tall enough, and old enough, to act for yourself, and must you have George for a master here, and your mother for a schoolmistress at home? If I were a man, I would do something famous before I was two-and-twenty years old, that I would! I would have the world speak of me. I wouldn’t dawdle at apron-strings. I wouldn’t curse my fortune — I’d make it. I vow and declare I would!”

Now, for the first time, Harry began to wince at the words of his young lecturer.

“No negro on our estate is more a slave than I am, Hetty,” he said, turning very red as he addressed her; “but then, Miss Lambert, we don’t reproach the poor fellow for not being free. That isn’t generous. At least, that isn’t the way I understand honour. Perhaps with women it’s different, or I may be wrong, and have no right to be hurt at a young girl telling me what my faults are. Perhaps my faults are not my faults — only my cursed luck. You have been talking ever so long about this gentleman volunteering, and that man winning glory, and cracking up their courage as if I had none of my own. I suppose, for the matter of that, I’m as well provided as other gentlemen. I don’t brag but I’m not afraid of Mr. Wolfe, nor of Sir John Armytage, nor of anybody else that ever I saw. How can I buy a commission when I’ve spent my last shilling, or ask my brother for more who has already halved with me? A gentleman of my rank can’t go a common soldier — else, by Jupiter, I would! And if a ball finished me, I suppose Miss Hetty Lambert wouldn’t be very sorry. It isn’t kind, Hetty — I didn’t think it of you.”

“What is it I have said?” asks the young lady. “I have only said Sir John Armytage has volunteered, and Mr. Wolfe has covered himself with honour, and you begin to scold me! How can I help it if Mr. Wolfe is brave and famous? Is that any reason you should be angry, pray?”

“I didn’t say angry,” said Harry, gravely. “I said I was hurt.”

“Oh, indeed! I thought such a little creature as I am couldn’t hurt anybody! I’m sure ’tis mighty complimentary to me to say that a young lady whose arm is no bigger than your little finger can hurt such a great strong man as you!”

“I scarce thought you would try, Hetty,” the young man said. You see, I’m not used to this kind of welcome in this house.”

“What is it, my poor boy?” asks kind Mrs. Lambert, looking in at the door at this juncture, and finding the youth with a very woeworn countenance.

“Oh, we have heard the story before, mamma!” says Hetty, hurriedly. “Harry is making his old complaint of having nothing to do. And he is quite unhappy; and he is telling us so over and over again, that’s all.”

“So are you hungry over and over again, my dear! Is that a reason why your papa and I should leave off giving you dinner?” cries mamma, with some emotion. “Will you stay and have ours, Harry? ’Tis just three o’clock!” Harry agreed to stay, after a few faint negations. “My husband dines abroad. We are but three women, so you will have a dull dinner,” remarks Mrs. Lambert.

“We shall have a gentleman to enliven us, mamma, I dare say!” says Madam Pert, and then looked in mamma’s face with that admirable gaze of blank innocence which Madam Pert knows how to assume when she has been specially and successfully wicked.

When the dinner appeared. Miss Hetty came downstairs, and was exceedingly chatty, lively, and entertaining. Theo did not know that any little difference had occurred (such, alas, my Christian friends, will happen in the most charming families), did not know, I say, that anything had happened until Hetty’s uncommon sprightliness and gaiety roused her suspicions. Hetty would start a dozen subjects of conversation — the King of Prussia, and the news from America; the last masquerade, and the highwayman shot near Barnet; and when her sister, admiring this volubility, inquired the reason of it, with her eyes —

“Oh, my dear, you need not nod and wink at me!” cries Hetty. “Mamma asked Harry on purpose to enliven us, and I am talking until he begins, just like the fiddles at the playhouse, you know, Theo! First the fiddles. Then the play. Pray begin, Harry!”

“Hester!” cries mamma.

“I merely asked Harry to entertain us. You said yourself, mother, that we were only three women, and the dinner would be dull for a gentleman; unless, indeed, he chose to be very lively.”

“I’m not that on most days — and, Heaven knows, on this day less than most,” says poor Harry.

“Why on this day less than another? Tuesday is as good a day to be lively as Wednesday. The only day when we mustn’t be lively is Sunday. Well, you know it is, ma’am! We mustn’t sing, nor dance, nor do anything on Sunday.”

And in this naughty way the young woman went on for the rest of the evening, and was complimented by her mother and sister when poor Harry took his leave. He was not ready of wit, and could not fling back the taunts which Hetty cast against him. Nay, had he been able to retort, he would have been silent. He was too generous to engage in that small war, and chose to take all Hester’s sarcasms without an attempt to parry or evade them. Very likely the young lady watched and admired that magnanimity, while she tried it so cruelly. And after one of her fits of ill-behaviour, her parents and friends had not the least need to scold her, as she candidly told them, because she suffered a great deal more than they would ever have had her, and her conscience punished her a great deal more severely than her kind elders would have thought of doing. I suppose she lies awake all that night, and tosses and tumbles in her bed. I suppose she wets her pillow with tears, and should not mind about her sobbing: unless it kept her sister awake; unless she was unwell the next day, and the doctor had to be fetched; unless the whole family is to be put to discomfort; mother to choke over her dinner in flurry and indignation; father to eat his roast-beef in silence and with bitter sauce; everybody to look at the door each time it opens, with a vague hope that Harry is coming in. If Harry does not come, why at least does not George come? thinks Miss Theo.

Some time in the course of the evening comes a billet from George Warrington, with a large nosegay of lilacs, per Mr. Gumbo. “‘I send my best duty and regards to Mrs. Lambert and the ladies,’” George says, “‘and humbly beg to present to Miss Theo this nosegay of lilacs, which she says she loves in the early spring. You must not thank me for them, please, but the gardener of Bedford House, with whom I have made great friends by presenting him with some dried specimens of a Virginian plant which some ladies don’t think as fragrant as lilacs.

“‘I have been in the garden almost all the day. It is alive with sunshine and spring; and I have been composing two scenes of you know what, and polishing the verses which the Page sings in the fourth act, under Sybilla’s window, which she cannot hear, poor thing, because she has just had her head off.’”

“Provoking! I wish he would not always sneer and laugh! The verses are beautiful,” says Theo.

“You really think so, my dear? How very odd!” remarks papa.

Little Het looks up from her dismal corner with a faint smile of humour. Theo’s secret is a secret for nobody in the house, it seems. Can any young people guess what it is? Our young lady continues to read:

“‘Spencer has asked the famous Mr. Johnson to breakfast tomorrow, who condescends to hear the play, and who won’t, I hope, be too angry because my heroine undergoes the fate of his in Irene. I have heard he came up to London himself as a young man with only his tragedy in his wallet. Shall I ever be able to get mine played? Can you fancy the catcall music beginning, and the pit hissing at that perilous part of the fourth act, where my executioner comes out from the closet with his great sword, at the awful moment when he is called upon to amputate? They say Mr. Fielding, when the pit hissed at a part of one of his pieces, about which Mr. Garrick had warned him, said, ‘Hang them, they have found it out, have they?’ and finished his punch in tranquillity. I suppose his wife was not in the boxes. There are some women to whom I would be very unwilling to give pain, and there are some to whom I would give the best I have.’”

“Whom can he mean? The letter is to you, my dear. I protest he is making love to your mother before my face!” cries papa to Hetty, who only gives a little sigh, puts her hand in her father’s hand, and then withdraws it.

“‘To whom I would give the best I have. To-day it is only a bunch of lilacs. To-morrow it may be what? — a branch of rue — a sprig of bays, perhaps — anything, so it be my best and my all.

“‘I have had a fine long day, and all to myself. What do you think of Harry playing truant?’” (Here we may imagine, what they call in France, or what they used to call, when men dared to speak or citizens to hear, sensation dans l’auditoire.)

“‘I suppose Carpezan wearied the poor fellow’s existence out. Certain it is he has been miserable for weeks past; and a change of air and scene may do him good. This morning, quite early, he came to my room, and told me he had taken a seat in the Portsmouth machine, and proposed to go to the Isle of Wight, to the army there.’”

The army! Hetty looks very pale at this announcement, and her mother continues:

“‘And a little portion of it, namely, the thirty-second regiment, is commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond Webb — the nephew of the famous old General under whom my grandfather Esmond served in the great wars of Marlborough. Mr. Webb met us at our uncle’s, accosting us very politely, and giving us an invitation to visit him at his regiment. Let my poor brother go and listen to his darling music of fife and drum! He bade me tell the ladies that they should hear from him. I kiss their hands, and go to dress for dinner, at the Star and Garter, in Pall Mall. We are to have Mr. Soame Jenyns, Mr. Cambridge, Mr. Walpole, possibly, if he is not too fine to dine in a tavern; a young Irishman, a Mr. Bourke, who they say is a wonder of eloquence and learning — in fine, all the wits of Mr. Dodsley’s shop. Quick, Gumbo, a coach, and my French grey suit! And if gentlemen ask me, ‘Who gave you that sprig of lilac you wear on your heart-side?’ I shall call a bumper, and give Lilac for a toast.’”

I fear there is no more rest for Hetty on this night than on the previous one, when she had behaved so mutinously to poor Harry Warrington. Some secret resolution must have inspired that gentleman, for, after leaving Mr. Lambert’s table, he paced the streets for a while, and appeared at a late hour in the evening at Madame de Bernstein’s house in Clarges Street. Her ladyship’s health had been somewhat ailing of late, so that even her favourite routs were denied her, and she was sitting over a quiet game of ecarte, with a divine of whom our last news were from a lock-up house hard by that in which Harry Warrington had been himself confined. George, at Harry’s request, had paid the little debt under which Mr. Sampson had suffered temporarily. He had been at his living for a year. He may have paid and contracted ever so many debts, have been in and out of jail many times since we saw him. For some time past he had been back in London stout and hearty as usual, and ready for any invitation to cards or claret. Madame de Bernstein did not care to have her game interrupted by her nephew, whose conversation had little interest now for the fickle old woman. Next to the very young, I suppose the very old are the most selfish. Alas, the heart hardens as the blood ceases to run. The cold snow strikes down from the head, and checks the glow of feeling. Who wants to survive into old age after abdicating all his faculties one by one, and be sans teeth, sans eyes, sans memory, sans hope, sans sympathy? How fared it with those patriarchs of old who lived for their nine centuries, and when were life’s conditions so changed that, after threescore years and ten, it became but a vexation and a burden?

Getting no reply but Yes and No to his brief speeches, poor Harry sat a while on a couch opposite his aunt, who shrugged her shoulders, had her back to her nephew, and continued her game with the chaplain. Sampson sat opposite Mr. Warrington, and could see that something disturbed him. His face was very pale, and his countenance disturbed and full of gloom. “Something has happened to him, ma’am,” he whispered to the Baroness.

“Bah!” She shrugged her shoulders again, and continued to deal her cards. “What is the matter with you, sir,” she at last said, at a pause in the game, “that you have such a dismal countenance? Chaplain, that last game makes us even, I think!”

Harry got up from his place. “I am going on a journey: I am come to bid you good-bye, aunt,” he said, in a very tragical voice.

“On a journey! Are you going home to America? I mark the king, Chaplain, and play him.”

No, Harry said: he was not going to America yet going to the Isle of Wight for the present.

“Indeed! — a lovely spot!” says the Baroness. “Bon jour, mon ami, et bon voyage!” And she kissed a hand to her nephew.

“I mayn’t come back for some time, aunt,” he groaned out.

“Indeed! We shall be inconsolable without you! Unless you have a spade, Mr. Sampson, the game is mine. Good-bye, my child! No more about your journey at present: tell us about it when you come back!” And she gaily bade him farewell. He looked for a moment piteously at her, and was gone.

“Something grave has happened, madam,” says the chaplain.

“Oh! The boy is always getting into scrapes! I suppose he has been falling in love with one of those country girls — what are their names, Lamberts? — with whom he is ever dawdling about. He has been doing no good here for some time. I am disappointed in him, really quite grieved about him — I will take two cards, if you please — again? — quite grieved. What do you think they say of his cousin — the Miss Warrington who made eyes at him when she thought he was a prize — they say the King has remarked her, and the Yarmouth is creving with rage. He, be! — those methodistical Warringtons! They are not a bit less worldly than their neighbours; and, old as he is, if the Grand Seignior throws his pocket-handkerchief, they will jump to catch it!”

“Ah, madam; how your ladyship knows the world!” sighs the chaplain. “I propose, if you please!”

“I have lived long enough in it, Mr. Sampson, to know something of it. ’Tis sadly selfish, my dear sir, sadly selfish; and everybody is struggling to pass his neighbour! No, I can’t give you any more cards. You haven’t the king? I play queen, knave, and a ten — a sadly selfish world, indeed. And here comes my chocolate!”

The more immediate interest of the cards entirely absorbs the old woman. The door shuts out her nephew and his cares. Under his hat, he bears them into the street, and paces the dark town for a while.

“Good God!” he thinks, “what a miserable fellow I am, and what a spendthrift of my life I have been! I sit silent with George and his friends. I am not clever and witty as he is. I am only a burthen to him; and, if I would help him ever so much, don’t know how. My dear Aunt Lambert’s kindness never tires, but I begin to be ashamed of trying it. Why, even Hetty can’t help turning on me; and when she tells me I am idle and should be doing something, ought I to be angry? The rest have left me. There’s my cousins and uncle and my lady my aunt, they have shown me the cold shoulder this long time. They didn’t even ask me to Norfolk when they went down to the country, and offer me so much as a day’s partridge-shooting. I can’t go to Castlewood — after what has happened; I should break that scoundrel William’s bones; and, faith, am well out of the place altogether,”

He laughs a fierce laugh as he recalls his adventures since he has been in Europe. Money, friends, pleasure, all have passed away, and he feels the past like a dream. He strolls into White’s Chocolate-House, where the waiters have scarce seen him for a year. The parliament is up. Gentlemen are away; there is not even any play going on:— not that he would join it, if there were.

He has but a few pieces in his pocket; George’s drawer is open, and he may take what money he likes thence; but very, very sparingly will he avail himself of his brother’s repeated invitation. He sits and drinks his glass in moody silence. Two or three officers of the Guards enter from St. James’s. He knew them in former days, and the young men, who have been already dining and drinking on guard, insist on more drink at the club. The other battalion of their regiment is at Winchester: it is going on this great expedition, no one knows whither, which everybody is talking about. Cursed fate that they do not belong to the other battalion; and must stay and do duty in London and at Kensington! There is Webb, who was of their regiment: he did well to exchange his company in the Coldstreams for the lieutenant-colonelcy of the thirty-second. He will be of the expedition. Why, everybody is going; and the young gentlemen mention a score of names of men of the first birth and fashion who have volunteered. “It ain’t Hanoverians this time, commanded by the big Prince,” says one young gentleman (whose relatives may have been Tories forty years ago)—“it’s Englishmen, with the Guards at the head of ’em, and a Marlborough for a leader! Will the Frenchmen ever stand against them? No, by George, they are irresistible.” And a fresh bowl is called, and loud toasts are drunk to the success of the expedition.

Mr. Warrington, who is a cup too low, the young Guardsmen say, walks away when they are not steady enough to be able to follow him, thinks over the matter on his way to his lodgings, and lies thinking of it all through the night.

“What is it, my boy?” asks George Warrington of his brother, when the latter enters his chamber very early on a blushing May morning.

“I want a little money out of the drawer,” says Harry, looking at his brother. “I am sick and tired of London.”

“Good heavens! Can anybody be tired of London?” George asks, who has reasons for thinking it the most delightful place in the world.

“I am for one. I am sick and ill,” says Harry.

“You and Hetty have been quarrelling?”

“She don’t care a penny-piece about me, nor I for her neither,” says Harry, nodding his head. “But I am ill, and a little country air will do me good,” and he mentions how he thinks of going to visit Mr. Webb in the Isle of Wight, and how a Portsmouth coach starts from Holborn.

“There’s the till, Harry,” says George, pointing from his bed. “Put your hand in, and take what you will. What a lovely morning, and how fresh the Bedford House garden looks!”

“God bless you, brother!” Harry says.

“Have a good time, Harry!” and down goes George’s head on the pillow again, and he takes his pencil and notebook from under his bolster, and falls to polishing his verses, as Harry, with his cloak over his shoulder and a little valise in his hand, walks to the inn in Holborn whence the Portsmouth machine starts.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/virginians/chapter62.html

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