The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXI

White Favours

The little quarrel between George and his cousin caused the former to discontinue his visits to Bloomsbury in a great measure; for Mr. Will was more than ever assiduous in his attentions; and, now that both were bound over to peace, so outrageous in his behaviour, that George found the greatest difficulty in keeping his hands from his cousin. The artless little Lydia had certainly a queer way of receiving her friends. But six weeks before madly jealous of George’s preference for another, she now took occasion repeatedly to compliment Theo in her conversation. Miss Theo was such a quiet, gentle creature, Lyddy was sure George was just the husband for her. How fortunate that horrible quarrel had been prevented! The constables had come up just in time; and it was quite ridiculous to hear Mr. Esmond cursing and swearing, and the rage he was in at being disappointed of his duel! “But the arrival of the constables saved your valuable life, dear Mr. George, and I am sure Miss Theo ought to bless them forever,” says Lyddy, with a soft smile. “You won’t stop and meet Mr. Esmond at dinner today? You don’t like being in his company? He can’t do you any harm; and I am sure you will do him none.” Kind speeches like these addressed by a little girl to a gentleman, and spoken by a strange inadvertency in company, and when other gentlemen and ladies were present, were not likely to render Mr. Warrington very eager for the society of the young American lady.

George’s meeting with Mr. Will was not known for some days in Dean Street, for he did not wish to disturb those kind folks with his quarrel; but when the ladies were made aware of it, you may be sure there was a great flurry and to-do. “You were actually going to take a fellow-creature’s life, and you came to see us, and said not a word! Oh, George, it was shocking!” said Theo.

“My dear, he had insulted me and my brother,” pleaded George. “Could I let him call us both cowards, and sit by and say, Thank you?”

The General sate by and looked very grave.

“You know you think, papa, it is a wicked and unChristian practice; and have often said you wished gentlemen would have the courage to refuse!”

“To refuse? Yes,” says Mr. Lambert, still very glum.

“It must require a prodigious strength of mind to refuse,” says Jack Lambert, looking as gloomy as his father; “and I think if any man were to call me a coward, I should be apt to forget my orders.”

“You see brother Jack is with me!” cries George.

“I must not be against you, Mr. Warrington,” says Jack Lambert.

“Mr. Warrington!” cries George, turning very red.

“Would you, a clergyman, have George break the Commandments, and commit murder, John?” asks Theo, aghast.

“I am a soldier’s son, sister,” says the young divine, drily. “Besides, Mr. Warrington has committed no murder at all. We must soon be hearing from Canada, father. The great question of the supremacy of the two races must be tried there ere long!” He turned his back on George as he spoke, and the latter eyed him with wonder.

Hetty, looking rather pale at this original remark of brother Jack, is called out of the room by some artful pretext of her sister. George started up and followed the retreating girls to the door.

“Great powers, gentlemen!” says he, coming back, “I believe, on my honour, you are giving me the credit of shirking this affair with Mr. Esmond!” The clergyman and his father looked at one another.

“A man’s nearest and dearest are always the first to insult him,” says George, flashing out.

“You mean to say, ‘Not guilty?’ God bless thee, my boy!” cries the General. “I told thee so, Jack.” And he rubbed his hand across his eyes, and blushed, and wrung George’s hand with all his might.

“Not guilty of what, in heaven’s name?” asks Mr. Warrington.

“Nay,” said the General, “Mr. Jack, here, brought the story. Let him tell it. I believe ’tis a ——— lie, with all my heart.” And uttering this wicked expression, the General fairly walked out of the room.

The Rev. J. Lambert looked uncommonly foolish.

“And what is this — this d —— d lie, sir, that somebody has been telling of me?” asked George, grinning at the young clergyman.

“To question the courage of any man is always an offence to him,” says Mr. Lambert, “and I rejoice that yours has been belied.”

“Who told the falsehood, sir, which you repeated?” bawls out Mr. Warrington. “I insist on the man’s name!”

“You forget you are bound over to keep the peace,” says Jack.

“Curse the peace, sir! We can go and fight in Holland. Tell me the man’s name, I say!”

“Fair and softly, Mr. Warrington!” cries the young parson; “my hearing is perfectly good. It was not a man who told me the story which, I confess, I imparted to my father.”

“What?” asks George, the truth suddenly occurring. “Was it that artful, wicked little vixen in Bloomsbury Square?”

“Vixen is not the word to apply to any young lady, George Warrington!” exclaims Lambert, “much less to the charming Miss Lydia. She artful — the most innocent of Heaven’s creatures! She wicked — that angel! With unfeigned delight that the quarrel should be over — with devout gratitude to think that blood consanguineous should not be shed — she spoke in terms of the highest praise of you for declining this quarrel, and of the deepest sympathy with you for taking the painful but only method of averting it.”

“What method?” demands George, stamping his foot.

“Why, of laying an information, to be sure!” says Mr. Jack; on which George burst forth into language much too violent for us to repeat here, and highly uncomplimentary to Miss Lydia.

“Don’t utter such words, sir!” cried the parson, who, as it seemed, now took his turn to be angry. “Do not insult, in my hearing, the most charming, the most innocent of her sex! If she has been mistaken in her information regarding you, and doubted your willingness to commit what, after all, is a crime — for a crime homicide is, and of the most awful description — you, sir, have no right to blacken that angel’s character with foul words: and, innocent yourself, should respect the most innocent as she is the most lovely of women! Oh, George, are you to be my brother?”

“I hope to have that honour,” answered George, smiling. He began to perceive the other’s drift.

“What, then, what — though ’tis too much bliss to be hoped for by sinful man — what, if she should one day be your sister? Who could see her charms without being subjugated by them? I own that I am a slave. I own that those Latin Sapphics in the September number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, beginning Lydicae quondam cecinit venustae (with an English version by my friend Hickson of Corpus), were mine. I have told my mother what hath passed between us, and Mrs. Lambert also thinks that the most lovely of her sex has deigned to look favourably on me. I have composed a letter — she another. She proposes to wait on Miss Lydia’s grandpapa this very day, and to bring me the answer, which shall make me the happiest or the most wretched of men! It was in the unrestrained intercourse of family conversation that I chanced to impart to my father the sentiments which my dear girl had uttered. Perhaps I spoke slightingly of your courage, which I don’t doubt — by Heaven, I don’t doubt: it may be, she has erred, too, regarding you. It may be that the fiend jealousy has been gnawing at my bosom, and — horrible suspicion! — that I thought my sister’s lover found too much favour with her I would have all my own. Ah, dear George, who knows his faults? I am as one distracted with passion. Confound it, sir! What right have you to laugh at me? I would have you to know that risu inepto”

“What, have you two boys made it up?” cries the General, entering at this moment, in the midst of a roar of laughter from George.

“I was giving my opinion to Mr. Warrington upon laughter, and upon his laughter in particular,” says Jack Lambert, in a fume.

“George is bound over to keep the peace, Jack! Thou canst not fight him for two years; and between now and then, let us trust you will have made up your quarrel. Here is dinner, boys! We will drink absent friends, and an end to the war, and no fighting out of the profession!”

George pleaded an engagement, as a reason for running away early from his dinner; and Jack must have speedily followed him, for when the former, after transacting some brief business at his own lodgings, came to Mr. Van den Bosch’s door, in Bloomsbury Square, he found the young parson already in parley with a servant there. “His master and mistress had left town yesterday,” the servant said.

“Poor Jack! And you had the decisive letter in your pocket?” George asked of his future brother-inlaw.

“Well, yes,”— Jack owned he had the document —“and my mother has ordered a chair, and was coming to wait on Miss Lyddy,” he whispered piteously, as the young men lingered on the steps.

George had a note, too, in his pocket for the young lady, which he had not cared to mention to Jack. In truth, his business at home had been to write a smart note to Miss Lyddy, with a message for the gentleman who had brought her that funny story of his giving information regarding the duel! The family being absent, George, too, did not choose to leave his note. “If cousin Will has been the slander-bearer, I will go and make him recant,” thought George. “Will the family soon be back?” he blandly asked.

“They are gone to visit the quality,” the servant replied. “Here is the address on this paper;” and George read, in Miss Lydia’s hand, “The box from Madam Hocquet’s to be sent by the Farnham Flying Coach; addressed to Miss Van den Bosch, at the Right Honourable the Earl of Castlewood’s, Castlewood, Hants.”

“Where?” cried poor Jack, aghast.

“His lordship and their ladyships have been here often,” the servant said, with much importance. “The families is quite intimate.”

This was very strange; for, in the course of their conversation, Lyddy had owned but to one single visit from Lady Castlewood.

“And they must be a-going to stay there some time, for Miss have took a power of boxes and gowns with her!” the man added. And the young men walked away, each crumpling his letter in his pocket.

“What was that remark you made?” asks George of Jack, at some exclamation of the latter. “I think you said ——”

“Distraction! I am beside myself, George! I— I scarce know what I am saying,” groans the clergyman. “She is gone to Hampshire, and Mr. Esmond is gone with her!”

“Othello could not have spoken better! and she has a pretty scoundrel in her company!” says Mr. George. “Ha! here is your mother’s chair!” Indeed, at this moment poor Aunt Lambert came swinging down Great Russell Street, preceded by her footman. “’Tis no use going farther, Aunt Lambert!” cries George. “Our little bird has flown.”

“What little bird?”

“The bird Jack wished to pair with:— the Lyddy bird, aunt. Why, Jack, I protest you are swearing again! This morning ’twas the Sixth Commandment you wanted to break; and now ——”

“Confound it! leave me alone, Mr. Warrington, do you hear?” growls Jack, looking very savage; and away he strides far out of the reach of his mother’s bearers.

“What is the matter, George?” asks the lady.

George, who has not been very well pleased with brother Jack’s behaviour all day, says: “Brother Jack has not a fine temper, Aunt Lambert. He informs you all that I am a coward, and remonstrates with me for being angry. He finds his mistress gone to the country, and he bawls, and stamps, and swears. O fie! Oh, Aunt Lambert, beware of jealousy! Did the General ever make you jealous?”

“You will make me very angry if you speak to me in this way,” says poor Aunt Lambert from her chair.

“I am respectfully dumb. I make my bow. I withdraw,” says George, with a low bow, and turns towards Holborn. His soul was wrath within him. He was bent on quarrelling with somebody. Had he met cousin Will that night, it had gone ill with his sureties.

He sought Will at all his haunts, at Arthur’s, at his own house. There Lady Castlewood’s servants informed him that they believed Mr. Esmond had gone to join the family in Hants. He wrote a letter to his cousin:

“My dear, kind cousin William,” he said, “you know I am bound over, and would not quarrel with any one, much less with a dear, truth-telling, affectionate kinsman, whom my brother insulted by caning. But if you can find any one who says that I prevented a meeting the other day by giving information, will you tell your informant that I think it is not I but somebody else is the coward? And I write to Mr. Van den Bosch by the same post, to inform him and Miss Lyddy that I find some rascal has been telling them lies to my discredit, and to beg them to have a care of such persons.” And, these neat letters being despatched, Mr. Warrington dressed himself, showed himself at the play, and took supper cheerfully at the Bedford.

In a few days George found a letter on his breakfast-table franked “Castlewood,” and, indeed, written by that nobleman.

“Dear Cousin,” my lord wrote, “there has been so much annoyance in our family of late, that I am sure ’tis time our quarrels should cease. Two days since my brother William brought me a very angry letter, signed G. Warrington, and at the same time, to my great grief and pain, acquainted me with a quarrel that had taken place between you, in which, to say the least, your conduct was violent. ’Tis an ill use to put good wine to — that to which you applied good Mr. Van den Bosch’s. Sure, before an old man, young ones should be more respectful. I do not deny that Wm.‘s language and behaviour are often irritating. I know he has often tried my temper, and that within the 24 hours.

“Ah! why should we not all live happily together? You know, cousin, I have ever professed a sincere regard for you — that I am a sincere admirer of the admirable young lady to whom you are engaged, and to whom I offer my most cordial compliments and remembrances. I would live in harmony with all my family where ’tis possible — the more because I hope to introduce to it a Countess of Castlewood.

“At my mature age, ’tis not uncommon for a man to choose a young wife. My Lydia (you will divine that I am happy in being able to call mine the elegant Miss Van den Bosch) will naturally survive me. After soothing my declining years, I shall not be jealous if at their close she should select some happy man to succeed me; though I shall envy him the possession of so much perfection and beauty. Though of a noble Dutch family, her rank, the dear girl declares, is not equal to mine, which she confesses that she is pleased to share. I, on the other hand, shall not be sorry to see descendants to my house, and to have it, through my Lady Castlewood’s means, restored to something of the splendour which it knew before two or three improvident predecessors impaired it. My Lydia, who is by my side, sends you and the charming Lambert family her warmest remembrances.

“The marriage will take place very speedily here. May I hope to see you at church? My brother will not be present to quarrel with you. When I and dear Lydia announced the match to him yesterday, he took the intelligence in bad part, uttered language that I know he will one day regret, and is at present on a visit to some neighbours. The Dowager Lady Castlewood retains the house at Kensington; we having our own establishment, where you will ever be welcomed, dear cousin, by your affectionate humble servant, CASTLEWOOD.”

From the London Magazine of November 1759:

“Saturday, October 13th, married, at his seat, Castlewood, Hants, the Right Honourable Eugene, Earl of Castlewood, to the beautiful Miss Van den Bosch, of Virginia. 70,000 pounds.”

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