The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXVII

And how everybody got out again

You, Captain Miles Warrington, have the honour of winning the good graces of a lady — of ever so many ladies — of the Duchess of Devonshire, let us say, of Mrs. Crew, of Mrs. Fitzherbert, of the Queen of Prussia, of the Goddess Venus, of Mademoiselle Hillisberg of the Opera — never mind of whom, in fine. If you win a lady’s good graces, do you always go to the mess and tell what happened?”

“Not such a fool, Squire!” says the Captain, surveying his side curl in the glass.

“Have you, Miss Theo, told your mother every word you said to Mr. Joe Blake, junior, in the shrubbery this morning?”

“Joe Blake, indeed!” cries Theo junior.

“And you, mademoiselle? That scented billet which came to you under Sir Thomas’s frank, have you told us all the letter contains? Look how she blushes! As red as the curtain, on my word! No, mademoiselle, we all have our secrets” (says the Squire, here making his best French bow). “No, Theo, there was nothing in the shrubbery — only nuts, my child! No, Miles, my son, we don’t tell all, even to the most indulgent of fathers — and if I tell what happened in a landau on the Hampstead Road, on the 25th of May, 1760, may the Chevalier Ruspini pull out every tooth in my head!”

“Pray tell, papa!” cries mamma: “or, as Jobson, who drove us, is in your service now, perhaps you will have him in from the stables! I insist upon your telling!”

“What is, then, this mystery?” asks mademoiselle, in her pretty French accent, of my wife.

“Eh, ma fille!” whispers the lady. “Thou wouldst ask me what I said? I said ‘Yes!’— behold all I said.” And so ’tis my wife has peached, and not I; and this was the sum of our conversation, as the carriage, all too swiftly as I thought, galloped towards Hampstead, and flew back again. Theo had not agreed to fly in the face of her honoured parents — no such thing. But we would marry no other person; no, not if we lived to be as old as Methuselah; no, not the Prince of Wales himself would she take. Her heart she had given away with her papa’s consent — nay, order — it was not hers to resume. So kind a father must relent one of these days; and, if George would keep his promise — were it now, or were it in twenty years, or were it in another world, she knew she should never break hers.

Hetty’s face beamed with delight when, my little interview over, she saw Theo’s countenance wearing a sweet tranquillity. All the doctor’s medicine has not done her so much good, the fond sister said. The girls went home after their act of disobedience. I gave up the place which I had held during a brief period of happiness by my dear invalid’s side. Hetty skipped back into her seat, and Charley on to his box. He told me in after days, that it was a very dull, stupid sermon he had heard. The little chap was too orthodox to love dissenting preachers’ sermons.

Hetty was not the only one of the family who remarked her sister’s altered countenance and improved spirits. I am told that on the girls’ return home their mother embraced both of them, especially the invalid, with more than common ardour of affection. “There was nothing like a country ride,” Aunt Lambert said, “for doing her dear Theo good. She had been on the road to Hampstead, had she? She must have another ride tomorrow. Heaven be blessed, my Lord Wrotham’s horses were at their orders three or four times a week, and the sweet child might have the advantage of them!” As for the idea that Mr. Warrington might have happened to meet the children on their drive, Aunt Lambert never once entertained it — at least spoke of it. I leave anybody who is interested in the matter to guess whether Mrs. Lambert could by any possibility have supposed that her daughter and her sweetheart could ever have come together again. Do women help each other in love perplexities? Do women scheme, intrigue, make little plans, tell little fibs, provide little amorous opportunities, hang up the rope-ladder, coax, wheedle, mystify the guardian or Abigail, and turn their attention away while Strephon and Chloe are billing and cooing in the twilight, or whisking off in the postchaise to Gretna Green? My dear young folks, some people there are of this nature; and some kind souls who have loved tenderly and truly in their own time, continue ever after to be kindly and tenderly disposed towards their young successors, when they begin to play the same pretty game.

Miss Prim doesn’t. If she hears of two young persons attached to each other, it is to snarl at them for fools, or to imagine of them all conceivable evil. Because she has a hump-back herself, she is for biting everybody else’s. I believe if she saw a pair of turtles cooing in a wood, she would turn her eyes down, or fling a stone to frighten them; but I am speaking, you see, young ladies, of your grandmother, Aunt Lambert, who was one great syllabub of human kindness; and, besides, about the affair at present under discussion, how am I ever to tell whether she knew anything regarding it or not?

So, all she says to Theo on her return home is, “My child, the country air has done you all the good in the world, and I hope you will take another drive tomorrow, and another, and another, and so on.”

“Don’t you think, papa, the ride has done the child most wonderful good, and must not she be made to go out in the air?” Aunt Lambert asks of the General, when he comes in for supper.

“Yes, sure, if a coach-and-six will do his little Theo good, she shall have it,” Lambert says, “or he will drag the landau up Hampstead Hill himself, if there are no horses;” and so the good man would have spent, freely, his guineas, or his breath, or his blood, to give his child pleasure. He was charmed at his girl’s altered countenance; she picked a bit of chicken with appetite: she drank a little negus, which he made for her: indeed it did seem to be better than the kind doctor’s best medicine, which hitherto, God wot, had been of little benefit. Mamma was gracious and happy. Hetty was radiant and rident. It was quite like an evening at home at Oakhurst. Never for months past, never since that fatal, cruel day, that no one spoke of, had they spent an evening so delightful.

But, if the other women chose to coax and cajole the good, simple father, Theo herself was too honest to continue for long even that sweet and fond delusion. When, for the third or fourth time, he comes back to the delightful theme of his daughter’s improved health, and asks, “What has done it? Is it the country air? is it the Jesuit’s bark? is it the new medicine?”

“Can’t you think, dear, what it is?” she says, laying a hand upon her father’s, with a tremor in her voice, perhaps, but eyes that are quite open and bright.

“And what is it, my child?” asks the General.

“It is because I have seen him again, papa!” she says.

The other two women turned pale, and Theo’s heart too begins to palpitate, and her cheek to whiten, as she continues to look in her father’s scared face.

“It was not wrong to see him,” she continues, more quickly; “it would have been wrong not to tell you.”

“Great God!” groans the father, drawing his hand back, and with such a dreadful grief in his countenance, that Hetty runs to her almost swooning sister, clasps her to her heart, and cries out, rapidly, “Theo knew nothing of it, sir! It was my doing — it was all my doing!”

Theo lies on her sister’s neck, and kisses it twenty, fifty times.

“Women, women! are you playing with my honour?” cries the father, bursting out with a fierce exclamation.

Aunt Lambert sobs, wildly, “Martin! Martin! Don’t say a word to her!” again calls out Hetty, and falls back herself staggering towards the wall, for Theo has fainted on her shoulder.

I was taking my breakfast next morning, with what appetite I might, when my door opens, and my faithful black announces, “General Lambert.” At once I saw, by the General’s face, that the yesterday’s transaction was known to him. “Your accomplices did not confess,” the General said, as soon as my servant had left us, “but sided with you against their father — a proof how desirable clandestine meetings are. It was from Theo herself I heard that she had seen you.”

“Accomplices, sir!” I said (perhaps not unwilling to turn the conversation from the real point at issue). “You know how fondly and dutifully your young people regard their father. If they side against you in this instance, it must be because justice is against you. A man like you is not going to set up sic volo sic jubeo as the sole law in his family!”

“Psha, George!” cries the General. “For though we are parted, God forbid I should desire that we should cease to love each other. I had your promise that you would not seek to see her.”

“Nor did I go to her, sir,” I said, turning red, no doubt; for though this was truth, I own it was untrue.

“You mean she was brought to you?” says Theo’s father, in great agitation. “Is it behind Hester’s petticoat that you will shelter yourself? What a fine defence for a gentleman!”

“Well, I won’t screen myself behind the poor child,” I replied. “To speak as I did was to make an attempt at evasion, and I am ill-accustomed to dissemble. I did not infringe the letter of my agreement, but I acted against the spirit of it. From this moment I annul it altogether.”

“You break your word given to me!” cries Mr. Lambert.

“I recall a hasty promise made on a sudden at a moment of extreme excitement and perturbation. No man can be for ever bound by words uttered at such a time; and, what is more, no man of honour or humanity, Mr. Lambert, would try to bind him.”

“Dishonour to me! sir,” exclaims the General.

“Yes, if the phrase is to be shuttlecocked between us!” I answered, hotly. “There can be no question about love, or mutual regard, or difference of age, when that word is used: and were you my own father — and I love you better than a father, Uncle Lambert — I would not bear it! What have I done? I have seen the woman whom I consider my wife before God and man, and if she calls me I will see her again. If she comes to me, here is my home for her, and the half of the little I have. ’Tis you, who have no right, having made me the gift, to resume it. Because my mother taunts you unjustly, are you to visit Mrs. Esmond’s wrong upon this tender, innocent creature? You profess to love your daughter, and you can’t bear a little wounded pride for her sake. Better she should perish away in misery, than an old woman in Virginia should say that Mr. Lambert had schemed to marry one of his daughters. Say that to satisfy what you call honour and I call selfishness, we part, we break our hearts well nigh, we rally, we try to forget each other, we marry elsewhere? Can any man be to my dear as I have been? God forbid! Can any woman be to me what she is? You shall marry her to the Prince of Wales tomorrow, and it is a cowardice and treason. How can we, how can you, undo the promises we have made to each other before Heaven? You may part us: and she will die as surely as if she were Jephthah’s daughter. Have you made any vow to Heaven to compass her murder? Kill her if you conceive your promise so binds you: but this I swear, that I am glad you have come, so that I may here formally recall a hasty pledge which I gave, and that, call me when she will, I will come to her!”

No doubt this speech was made with the flurry and agitation belonging to Mr. Warrington’s youth, and with the firm conviction that death would infallibly carry off one or both of the parties, in case their worldly separation was inevitably decreed. Who does not believe his first passion eternal? Having watched the world since, and seen the rise, progress, and — alas, that I must say it! — decay of other amours, I may smile now as I think of my own youthful errors and ardours; but, if it be a superstition, I had rather hold it; I had rather think that neither of us could have lived with any other mate, and that, of all its innumerable creatures, Heaven decreed these special two should be joined together.

“We must come, then, to what I had fain have spared myself,” says the General, in reply to my outbreak; “to an unfriendly separation. When I meet you, Mr. Warrington, I must know you no more. I must order — and they will not do other than obey me — my family and children not to recognise you when they see you, since you will not recognise in your intercourse with me the respect due to my age, the courtesy of gentlemen. I had hoped so far from your sense of honour, and the idea I had formed of you, that, in my present great grief and perplexity, I should have found you willing to soothe and help me as far as you might — for, God knows, I have need of everybody’s sympathy. But, instead of help, you fling obstacles in my way. Instead of a friend — a gracious Heaven pardon me! — I find in you an enemy! An enemy to the peace of my home and the honour of my children, sir! And as such I shall treat you, and know how to deal with you, when you molest me!”

And, waving his hand to me, and putting on his hat, Mr. Lambert hastily quitted my apartment.

I was confounded, and believed, indeed, there was war between us. The brief happiness of yesterday was clouded over and gone, and I thought that never since the day of the first separation had I felt so exquisitely unhappy as now, when the bitterness of quarrel was added to the pangs of parting, and I stood not only alone but friendless. In the course of one year’s constant intimacy I had come to regard Lambert with a reverence and affection which I had never before felt for any mortal man except my dearest Harry. That his face should be turned from me in anger was as if the sun had gone out of my sphere, and all was dark around me. And yet I felt sure that in withdrawing the hasty promise I had made not to see Theo, I was acting rightly — that my fidelity to her, as hers now to me, was paramount to all other ties of duty or obedience, and that, ceremony or none, I was hers, first and before all. Promises were passed between us, from which no parent could absolve either; and all the priests in Christendom could no more than attest and confirm the sacred contract which had tacitly been ratified between us.

I saw Jack Lambert by chance that day, as I went mechanically to my not unusual haunt, the library of the new Museum; and with the impetuousness of youth, and eager to impart my sorrow to some one, I took him out of the room and led him about the gardens, and poured out my grief to him. I did not much care for Jack (who in truth was somewhat of a prig, and not a little pompous and wearisome with his Latin quotations) except in the time of my own sorrow, when I would fasten upon him or any one; and having suffered himself in his affair with the little American, being haud ignarus mali (as I knew he would say), I found the college gentleman ready to compassionate another’s misery. I told him, what has here been represented at greater length, of my yesterday’s meeting with his sister; of my interview with his father in the morning; of my determination at all hazards never to part with Theo. When I found from the various quotations from the Greek and Latin authors which he uttered that he leaned to my side in the dispute, I thought him a man of great sense, clung eagerly to his elbow, and bestowed upon him much more affection than he was accustomed at other times to have from me. I walked with him up to his father’s lodgings in Dean Street; saw him enter at the dear door; surveyed the house from without with a sickening desire to know from its exterior appearance how my beloved fared within; and called for a bottle at the coffee-house where I waited Jack’s return. I called him Brother when I sent him away. I fondled him as the condemned wretch at Newgate hangs about the jailor or the parson, or any one who is kind to him in his misery. I drank a whole bottle of wine at the coffee-house — by the way, Jack’s Coffee-House was its name — called another. I thought Jack would never come back.

He appeared at length with rather a scared face; and, coming to my box, poured out for himself two or three bumpers from my second bottle, and then fell to his story, which, to me at least, was not a little interesting. My poor Theo was keeping her room, it appeared, being much agitated by the occurrences of yesterday; and Jack had come home in time to find dinner on table; after which his good father held forth upon the occurrences of the morning, being anxious and able to speak more freely, he said, because his eldest son was present and Theodosia was not in the room. The General stated what had happened at my lodgings between me and him. He bade Hester be silent, who indeed was as dumb as a mouse, poor thing! he told Aunt Lambert (who was indulging in that madefaction of pocket-handkerchiefs which I have before described), and with something like an imprecation, that the women were all against him, and pimps (he called them) for one another; and frantically turning round to Jack, asked what was his view in the matter?

To his father’s surprise and his mother’s and sister’s delight, Jack made a speech on my side. He ruled with me (citing what ancient authorities I don’t know), that the matter had gone out of the hands of the parents on either side; that having given their consent, some months previously, the elders had put themselves out of court. Though he did not hold with a great, a respectable, he might say a host of divines, those sacramental views of the marriage-ceremony — for which there was a great deal to be said — yet he held it, if possible, even more sacredly than they; conceiving that though marriages were made before the civil magistrate, and without the priest, yet they were, before Heaven, binding and indissoluble.

“It is not merely, sir,” says Jack, turning to his father, “those whom I, John Lambert, Priest, have joined, let no man put asunder; it is those whom God has joined let no man separate.” (Here he took off his hat, as he told the story to me.) “My views are clear upon the point, and surely these young people were joined, or permitted to plight themselves to each other by the consent of you, the priest of your own family. My views, I say, are clear, and I will lay them down at length in a series of two or three discourses which, no doubt, will satisfy you. Upon which,” says Jack, “my father said, ‘I am satisfied already, my dear boy,’ and my lively little Het (who has much archness) whispers to me, ‘Jack, mother and I will make you a dozen shirts, as sure as eggs is eggs.’”

“Whilst we were talking,” Mr. Lambert resumed, “my sister Theodosia made her appearance, I must say very much agitated and pale, kissed our father, and sate down at his side, and took a sippet of toast —(my dear George, this port is excellent, and I drink your health)— and took a sippet of toast and dipped it in his negus.

“‘You should have been here to hear Jack’s sermon!’ says Hester. ‘He has been preaching most beautifully.’

“‘Has he?’ asks Theodosia, who is too languid and weak, poor thing, much to care for the exercises of eloquence, or the display of authorities, such as I must own,” says Jack, “it was given to me this afternoon to bring forward.

“‘He has talked for three quarters of an hour by Shrewsbury clock,’ says my father, though I certainly had not talked so long or half so long by my own watch. ‘And his discourse has been you, my dear,’ says papa, playing with Theodosia’s hand.

“‘Me, papa?’

“‘You and — and Mr. Warrington — and — and George, my love,’ says papa. Upon which” (says Mr. Jack). “my sister came closer to the General, and laid her head upon him, and wept upon his shoulder.

“‘This is different, sir,’ says I, ‘to a passage I remember in Pausanias.’

“‘In Pausanias? Indeed!’ said the General. ‘And pray who was he?’

“I smiled at my father’s simplicity in exposing his ignorance before his children. ‘When Ulysses was taking away Penelope from her father, the king hastened after his daughter and bridegroom, and besought his darling to return. Whereupon, it is related, Ulysses offered her her choice — whether she would return, or go on with him? Upon which the daughter of Icarius covered her face with her veil. For want of a veil my sister has taken refuge in your waistcoat, sir,’ I said, and we all laughed; though my mother vowed that if such a proposal had been made to her, or Penelope had been a girl of spirit, she would have gone home with her father that instant.

“‘But I am not a girl of any spirit, dear mother!’ says Theodosia, still in gremio patris. I do not remember that this habit of caressing was frequent in my own youth,” continues Jack. “But after some more discourse, Brother Warrington! bethought me of you, and left my parents insisting upon Theodosia returning to bed. The late transactions have, it appears, weakened and agitated her much. I myself have experienced, in my own case, how full of solliciti timoris is a certain passion; how it racks the spirits; and I make no doubt, if carried far enough, or indulged to the extent to which women who have little philosophy will permit it to go — I make no doubt, I say, is ultimately injurious to the health. My service to you, brother!”

From grief to hope, how rapid the change was! What a flood of happiness poured into my soul, and glowed in my whole being! Landlord, more port! Would honest Jack have drunk a binful I would have treated him; and, to say truth, Jack’s sympathy was large in this case, and it had been generous all day. I decline to score the bottles of port: and place to the fabulous computations of interested waiters, the amount scored against me in the reckoning. Jack was my dearest, best of brothers. My friendship for him I swore should be eternal. If I could do him any service, were it a bishopric, by George! he should have it. He says I was interrupted by the watchman rhapsodising verses beneath the loved one’s window. I know not. I know I awoke joyfully and rapturously, in spite of a racking headache the next morning.

Nor did I know the extent of my happiness quite, or the entire conversion of my dear noble enemy of the previous morning. It must have been galling to the pride of an elder man to have to yield to representations and objections couched in language so little dutiful as that I had used towards Mr. Lambert. But the true Christian gentleman, retiring from his talk with me, mortified and wounded by my asperity of remonstrance, as well as by the pain which he saw his beloved daughter suffer, went thoughtfully and sadly to his business, as he subsequently told me, and in the afternoon (as his custom not unfrequently was) into a church which was open for prayers. And it was here, on his knees, submitting his case in the quarter whither he frequently, though privately, came for guidance and comfort, that it seemed to him that his child was right in her persistent fidelity to me, and himself wrong in demanding her utter submission. Hence Jack’s cause was won almost before he began to plead it; and the brave, gentle heart, which could bear no rancour, which bled at inflicting pain on those it loved, which even shrank from asserting authority or demanding submission, was only too glad to return to its natural pulses of love and affection.

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