The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXXIII

Troubles and Consolations

In our early days at home, when Harry and I used to be so undutiful to our tutor, who would have thought that Mr. Esmond Warrington of Virginia would turn Bearleader himself? My mother (when we came together again) never could be got to speak directly of this period of my life; but would allude to it as “that terrible time, my love, which I can’t bear to think of,” “those dreadful years when there was difference between us,” and so forth; and though my pupil, a worthy and grateful man, sent me out to Jamestown several barrels of that liquor by which his great fortune was made, Madam Esmond spoke of him as “your friend in England,” “your wealthy Lambeth friend,” etc., but never by his name; nor did she ever taste a drop of his beer. We brew our own too at Warrington Manor, but our good Mr. Foker never fails to ship to Ipswich every year a couple of butts of his entire. His son is a young sprig of fashion, and has married an earl’s daughter; the father is a very worthy and kind gentleman, and it is to the luck of making his acquaintance that I owe the receipt of some of the most welcome guineas that ever I received in my life.

It was not so much the sum, as the occupation and hope given me by the office of Governor, which I took on myself, which were then so precious to me. Mr. F.‘s Brewery (the site has since been changed) then stood near to Pedlar’s Acre in Lambeth and the surgeon who attended my wife in her confinement, likewise took care of the wealthy brewer’s family. He was a Bavarian, originally named Voelker. Mr. Lance, the surgeon, I suppose, made him acquainted with my name and history. The worthy doctor would smoke many a pipe of Virginia in my garden, and had conceived an attachment for me and my family. He brought his patron to my house; and when Mr. F. found that I had a smattering of his language, and could sing “Prinz Eugen the noble Ritter” (a song that my grandfather had brought home from the Marlborough wars), the German conceived a great friendship for me: his lady put her chair and her chariot at Mrs. Warrington’s service: his little daughter took a prodigious fancy to our baby (and to do him justice, the Captain, who is as ugly a fellow now as ever wore a queue, was beautiful as an infant) [The very image of the Squire at 30, everybody says so. M. W. (Note in the MS.)]: and his son and heir, Master Foker, being much maltreated at Westminster School because of his father’s profession of brewer, the parents asked if I would take charge of him; and paid me a not insufficient sum for superintending his education.

Mr. F. was a shrewd man of business, and as he and his family really interested themselves in me and mine, I laid all my pecuniary affairs pretty unreservedly before him; and my statement, he was pleased to say, augmented the respect and regard which he felt for me. He laughed at our stories of the aid which my noble relatives had given me — my aunt’s coverlid, my Lady Castlewood’s mouldy jelly, Lady Warrington’s contemptuous treatment of us. But he wept many tears over the story of little Miles’s moidore; and as for Sampson and Hagan, “I wow,” says he, “dey shall have so much beer als ever dey can drink.” He sent his wife to call upon Lady Maria, and treated her with the utmost respect and obsequiousness, whenever she came to visit him. It was with Mr. Foker that Lady Maria stayed when Hagan went to Dublin to complete his college terms; and the good brewer’s purse also ministered to our friend’s wants and supplied his outfit.

When Mr. Foker came fully to know my own affairs and position, he was pleased to speak of me with terms of enthusiasm, and as if my conduct showed some extraordinary virtue. I have said how my mother saved money for Harry, and how the two were in my debt. But when Harry spent money, he spent it fancying it to be his; Madam Esmond never could be made to understand she was dealing hardly with me — the money was paid and gone, and there was an end of it. Now, at the end of ‘62, I remember Harry sent over a considerable remittance for the purchase of his promotion, begging me at the same time to remember that he was in my debt, and to draw on his agents if I had any need. He did not know how great the need was, or how my little capital had been swallowed.

Well, to take my brother’s money would delay his promotion, and I naturally did not draw on him, though I own I was tempted; nor, knowing my dear General Lambert’s small means, did I care to impoverish him by asking for supplies. These simple acts of forbearance my worthy brewer must choose to consider as instances of exalted virtue. And what does my gentleman do but write privately to my brother in America, lauding me and my wife as the most admirable of human beings, and call upon Madame de Bernstein, who never told me of his visit indeed, but who, I perceived, about this time treated us with singular respect and gentleness, that surprised me in one whom I could not but consider as selfish and worldly. In after days I remember asking him how he had gained admission to the Baroness? He laughed: “De Baroness!” says he. “I knew de Baron when he was a walet at Munich, and I was a brewer-apprentice.” I think our family had best not be too curious about our uncle the Baron.

Thus, the part of my life which ought to have been most melancholy was in truth made pleasant by many friends, happy circumstances, and strokes of lucky fortune. The bear I led was a docile little cub, and danced to my piping very readily. Better to lead him about, than to hang round booksellers’ doors, or wait the pleasure or caprice of managers! My wife and I, during our exile, as we may call it, spent very many pleasant evenings with these kind friends and benefactors. Nor were we without intellectual enjoyments; Mrs. Foker and Mrs. Warrington sang finely together; and sometimes when I was in the mood, I read my own play of Pocahontas, to this friendly audience, in a manner better than Hagan’s own, Mr. Foker was pleased to say.

After that little escapade of Miles Warrington, junior, I saw nothing of him, and heard of my paternal relatives but rarely. Sir Miles was assiduous at court (as I believe he would have been at Nero’s), and I laughed one day when Mr. Foker told me that he had heard on ‘Change “that they were going to make my uncle a Beer.”—“A Beer?” says I in wonder. “Can’t you understand de vort, ven I say it?” says the testy old gentleman. “Vell, veil, a Lort!” Sir, Miles indeed was the obedient humble servant of the Minister, whoever he might be. I am surprised he did not speak English with a Scotch accent during the first favourite’s brief reign. I saw him and his wife coming from court, when Mrs. Claypool was presented to her Majesty on her marriage. I had my little boy on my shoulder. My uncle and aunt stared resolutely at me from their gilt coach window. The footmen looked blank over their nosegays. Had I worn the Fairy’s cap and been invisible, my father’s brother could not have passed me with less notice.

We did not avail ourselves much, or often, of that queer invitation of Lady Castlewood, to go and drink tea and sup with her ladyship when there was no other company. Old Van den Bosch, however shrewd his intellect, and great his skill in making a fortune, was not amusing in conversation, except to his daughter, who talked household and City matters, bulling and bearing, raising and selling farming-stock, and so forth, quite as keenly and shrewdly as her father. Nor was my Lord Castlewood often at home, or much missed by his wife when absent, or very much at ease in the old father’s company. The Countess told all this to my wife in her simple way. “Guess,” says she, “my lord and father don’t pull well together nohow. Guess my lord is always wanting money, and father keeps the key of the box and quite right, too. If he could have the fingering of all our money, my lord would soon make away with it, and then what’s to become of our noble family? We pay everything, my dear (except play-debts, and them we won’t have nohow). We pay cooks, horses, wine-merchants, tailors, and everybody — and lucky for them too — reckon my lord wouldn’t pay ’em! And we always take care that he has a guinea in his pocket, and goes out like a real nobleman. What that man do owe to us: what he did before we come — gracious goodness only knows! Me and father does our best to make him respectable: but it’s no easy job, my dear. Law! he’d melt the plate, only father keeps the key of the strong-room; and when we go to Castlewood, my father travels with me, and papa is armed too, as well as the people.”

“Gracious heavens!” cries my wife, “your ladyship does not mean to say you suspect your own husband of a desire to ——”

“To what? — Oh no, nothing, of course! And I would trust our brother Will with untold money, wouldn’t I? As much as I’d trust the cat with the cream-pan! I tell you, my dear, it’s not all pleasure being a woman of rank and fashion: and if I have bought a countess’s coronet, I have paid a good price for it — that I have!”

And so had my Lord Castlewood paid a large price for having his estate freed from incumbrances, his houses and stables furnished, and his debts discharged. He was the slave of the little wife and her father. No wonder the old man’s society was not pleasant to the poor victim, and that he gladly slunk away from his own fine house, to feast at the club when he had money, or at least to any society save that which he found at home. To lead a bear, as I did, was no very pleasant business, to be sure: to wait in a bookseller’s anteroom until it should please his honour to finish his dinner and give me audience, was sometimes a hard task for a man of my name and with my pride; but would I have exchanged my poverty against Castlewood’s ignominy, or preferred his miserable dependence to my own? At least I earned my wage, such as it was; and no man can say that I ever flattered my patrons, or was servile to them; or indeed, in my dealings with them, was otherwise than sulky, overbearing, and, in a word, intolerable.

Now there was a certain person with whom Fate had thrown me into a life-partnership, who bore her poverty with such a smiling sweetness and easy grace, that niggard Fortune relented before her, and, like some savage Ogre in the fairy tales, melted at the constant goodness and cheerfulness of that uncomplaining, artless, innocent creature. However poor she was, all who knew her saw that here was a fine lady; and the little tradesmen and humble folks round about us treated her with as much respect as the richest of our neighbours. “I think, my dear,” says good-natured Mrs. Foker, when they rode out in the latter’s chariot, “you look like the mistress of the carriage, and I only as your maid.” Our landladies adored her; the tradesfolk executed her little orders as eagerly as if a duchess gave them, or they were to make a fortune by waiting on her. I have thought often of the lady in Comus, and how, through all the rout and rabble, she moves, entirely serene and pure.

Several times, as often as we chose indeed, the good-natured parents of my young bear lent us their chariot to drive abroad or to call on the few friends we had. If I must tell the truth, we drove once to the Protestant Hero and had a syllabub in the garden there: and the hostess would insist upon calling my wife her ladyship during the whole afternoon. We also visited Mr. Johnson, and took tea with him (the ingenious Mr. Goldsmith was of the company); the Doctor waited upon my wife to her coach. But our most frequent visits were to Aunt Bernstein, and I promise you I was not at all jealous because my aunt presently professed to have a wonderful liking for Theo.

This liking grew so that she would have her most days in the week, or to stay altogether with her, and thought that Theo’s child and husband were only plagues to be sure, and hated us in the most amusing way for keeping her favourite from her. Not that my wife was unworthy of anybody’s favour; but her many forced absences, and the constant difficulty of intercourse with her, raised my aunt’s liking for a while to a sort of passion. She poured in notes like love-letters; and her people were ever about our kitchen. If my wife did not go to her, she wrote heartrending appeals, and scolded me severely when I saw her; and, the child being ill once (it hath pleased Fate to spare our Captain to be a prodigious trouble to us, and a wholesome trial for our tempers), Madame Bernstein came three days running to Lambeth; vowed there was nothing the matter with the baby; — nothing at all; — and that we only pretended his illness, in order to vex her.

The reigning Countess of Castlewood was just as easy and affable with her old aunt, as with other folks great and small. “What air you all about, scraping and bowing to that old woman, I can’t tell, noways!” her ladyship would say. “She a fine lady! Nonsense! She ain’t no more fine than any other lady: and I guess I’m as good as any of ’em with their high heels and their grand airs! She a beauty once! Take away her wig, and her rouge, and her teeth; and what becomes of your beauty, I’d like to know? Guess you’d put it all in a bandbox, and there would be nothing left but a shrivelled old woman!” And indeed the little homilist only spoke too truly. All beauty must at last come to this complexion; and decay, either underground or on the tree. Here was old age, I fear, without reverence. Here were grey hairs, that were hidden or painted. The world was still here, and she tottering on it, and clinging to it with her crutch. For fourscore years she had moved on it, and eaten of the tree, forbidden and permitted. She had had beauty, pleasure, flattery: but what secret rages, disappointments, defeats, humiliations! what thorns under the roses! what stinging bees in the fruit! “You are not a beauty, my dear,” she would say to my wife: “and may thank your stars that you are not.” (If she contradicted herself in her talk, I suppose the rest of us occasionally do the like.) “Don’t tell me that your husband is pleased with your face, and you want no one else’s admiration! We all do. Every woman would rather be beautiful than be anything else in the world — ever so rich, or ever so good, or have all the gifts of the fairies! Look at that picture, though I know ’tis but a bad one, and that stupid vapouring Kneller could not paint my eyes, nor my hair, nor my complexion. What a shape I had then — and look at me now, and this wrinkled old neck! Why have we such a short time of our beauty? I remember Mademoiselle de l’Enclos at a much greater age than mine, quite fresh and well-conserved. We can’t hide our ages. They are wrote in Mr. Collins’s books for us. I was born in the last year of King James’s reign. I am not old yet. I am but seventy-six. But what a wreck, my dear: and isn’t it cruel that our time should be so short?”

Here my wife has to state the incontrovertible proposition, that the time of all of us is short here below.

“Ha!” cries the Baroness. “Did not Adam live near a thousand years, and was not Eve beautiful all the time? I used to perplex Mr. Tusher with that — poor creature! What have we done since, that our lives are so much lessened, I say?”

“Has your life been so happy that you would prolong it ever so much more?” asks the Baroness’s auditor. “Have you, who love wit, never read Dean Swift’s famous description of the deathless people in Gulliver? My papa and my husband say ’tis one of the finest and most awful sermons ever wrote. It were better not to live at all, than to live without love; and I’m sure,” says my wife, putting her handkerchief to her eyes, “should anything happen to my dearest George, I would wish to go to Heaven that moment.”

“Who loves me in Heaven? I am quite alone, child — that is why I had rather stay here,” says the Baroness, in a frightened and rather piteous tone. “You are kind to me, God bless your sweet face! Though I scold, and have a frightful temper, my servants will do anything to make me comfortable, and get up at any hour of the night, and never say a cross word in answer. I like my cards still. Indeed, life would be a blank without ’em. Almost everything is gone except that. I can’t eat my dinner now, since I lost those last two teeth. Everything goes away from us in old age. But I still have my cards — thank Heaven, I still have my cards!” And here she would begin to doze: waking up, however, if my wife stirred or rose, and imagining that Theo was about to leave her. “Don’t go away, I can’t bear to be alone. I don’t want you to talk. But I like to see your face, my dear! It is much pleasanter than that horrid old Brett’s, that I have had scowling about my bedroom these ever so long years.”

“Well, Baroness! still at your cribbage?” (We may fancy a noble Countess interrupting a game at cards between Theo and Aunt Bernstein.) “Me and my Lord Esmond have come to see you! Go and shake hands with grandaunt, Esmond! and tell her ladyship that your lordship’s a good boy!”

“My lordship’s a good boy,” says the child. (Madam Theo used to act these scenes for me in a very lively way.)

“And if he is, I guess he don’t take after his father,” shrieks out Lady Castlewood. She chose to fancy that Aunt Bernstein was deaf, and always bawled at the old lady.

“Your ladyship chose my nephew for better or for worse,” says Aunt Bernstein, who was now always very much flurried in the presence of the young Countess.

“But he is a precious deal worse than ever I thought he was. I am speaking of your Pa, Ezzy. If it wasn’t for your mother, my son, Lord knows what would become of you! We are a-going to see his little Royal Highness. Sorry to see your ladyship not looking quite so well today. We can’t always remain young and law! how we do change as we grow old! Go up and kiss that lady, Ezzy. She has got a little boy, too. Why, bless us! have you got the child downstairs?” Indeed, Master Miles was down below, for special reasons accompanying his mother on her visits to Aunt Bernstein sometimes; and our aunt desired the mother’s company so much, that she was actually fain to put up with the child. “So you have got the child here? Oh, you slyboots!” says the Countess. “Guess you come after the old lady’s money! Law bless you! Don’t look so frightened. She can’t hear a single word I say. Come, Ezzy. Good-bye, aunt!” And my lady Countess rustles out of the room.

Did Aunt Bernstein hear her or not? Where was the wit for which the old lady had been long famous? and was that fire put out, as well as the brilliancy of her eyes? With other people — she was still ready enough, and unsparing of her sarcasms. When the Dowager of Castlewood and Lady Fanny visited her (these exalted ladies treated my wife with perfect indifference and charming good breeding) — the Baroness, in their society, was stately, easy, and even commanding. She would mischievously caress Mrs. Warrington before them; in her absence, vaunt my wife’s good breeding; say that her nephew had made a foolish match, perhaps, but that I certainly had taken a charming wife. “In a word, I praise you so to them, my dear,” says she, “that I think they would like to tear your eyes out.” But, before the little American, ’tis certain that she was uneasy and trembled. She was so afraid, that she actually did not dare to deny her door; and, the Countess’s back turned, did not even abuse her. However much they might dislike her, my ladies did not tear out Theo’s eyes. Once — they drove to our cottage at Lambeth, where my wife happened to be sitting at the open window, holding her child on her knee, and in full view of her visitors. A gigantic footman strutted through our little garden, and delivered their ladyships’ visiting tickets at our door. Their hatred hurt us no more than their visit pleased us. When next we had the loan of our friend the Brewer’s carriage Mrs. Warrington drove to Kensington, and Gumbo handed over to the giant our cards in return for those which his noble mistresses had bestowed on us.

The Baroness had a coach, but seldom thought of giving it to us: and would let Theo and her maid and baby start from Clarges Street in the rain, with a faint excuse that she was afraid to ask her coachman to take his horses out. But, twice on her return home, my wife was frightened by rude fellows on the other side of Westminster Bridge; and I fairly told my aunt that I should forbid Mrs. Warrington to go to her, unless she could be brought home in safety; so grumbling Jehu had to drive his horses through the darkness. He grumbled at my shillings: he did not know how few I had. Our poverty wore a pretty decent face. My relatives never thought of relieving it, nor I of complaining before them. I don’t know how Sampson got a windfall of guineas; but, I remember, he brought me six once; and they were more welcome than any money I ever had in my life. He had been looking into Mr. Miles’s crib, as the child lay asleep; and, when the parson went away, I found the money in the baby’s little rosy hand. Yes, Love is best of all. I have many such benefactions registered in my heart — precious welcome fountains springing up in desert places, kind, friendly lights cheering our despondency and gloom.

This worthy divine was willing enough to give as much of his company as she chose to Madame de Bernstein, whether for cards or theology. Having known her ladyship for many years now, Sampson could see, and averred to us, that she was breaking fast; and as he spoke of her evidently increasing infirmities, and of the probability of their fatal termination, Mr. S. would discourse to us in a very feeling manner of the necessity for preparing for a future world; of the vanities of this, and of the hope that in another there might be happiness for all repentant sinners.

“I have been a sinner for one,” says the chaplain, bowing his head. “God knoweth, and I pray Him to pardon me. I fear, sir, your aunt, the Lady Baroness, is not in such a state of mind as will fit her very well for the change which is imminent. I am but a poor weak wretch, and no prisoner in Newgate could confess that more humbly and heartily. Once or twice of late, I have sought to speak on this matter with her ladyship, but she has received me very roughly. ‘Parson,’ says she, ‘if you come for cards, ’tis mighty well, but I will thank you to spare me your sermons.’ What can I do, sir? I have called more than once of late, and Mr. Case hath told me his lady was unable to see me.” In fact Madame Bernstein told my wife, whom she never refused, as I said, that the poor chaplain’s ton was unendurable, and as for his theology, “Haven’t I been a Bishop’s wife?” says she, “and do I want this creature to teach me?”

The old lady was as impatient of doctors as of divines; pretending that my wife was ailing, and that it was more convenient for our good Doctor Heberden to visit her in Clarges Street than to travel all the way to our Lambeth lodgings, we got Dr. H. to see Theo at our aunt’s house, and prayed him if possible to offer his advice to the Baroness: we made Mrs. Brett, her woman, describe her ailments, and the doctor confirmed our opinion that they were most serious, and might speedily end. She would rally briskly enough of some evenings, and entertain a little company; but of late she scarcely went abroad at all. A somnolence, which we had remarked in her, was attributable in part to opiates which she was in the habit of taking; and she used these narcotics to smother habitual pain. One night, as we two sat with her (Mr. Miles was weaned by this time, and his mother could leave him to the charge of our faithful Molly), she fell asleep over her cards. We hushed the servants who came to lay out the supper-table (she would always have this luxurious, nor could any injunction of ours or the Doctor’s teach her abstinence), and we sat a while as we had often done before, waiting in silence till she should arouse from her doze.

When she awoke, she looked fixedly at me for a while, fumbled with the cards, and dropt them again in her lap, and said, “Henry, have I been long asleep?” I thought at first that it was for my brother she mistook me; but she went on quickly, and with eyes fixed as upon some very far distant object, and said, “My dear, ’tis of no use, I am not good enough for you. I love cards, and play, and court; and oh, Harry, you don’t know all!” Here her voice changed, and she flung her head up. “His father married Anne Hyde, and sure the Esmond blood is as good as any that’s not royal. Mamma, you must please to treat me with more respect. Vos sermons me fatiguent; entendez-vous? — faites place a mon Altesse royale: mesdames, me connaissez-vous? je suis la ——” Here she broke out into frightful hysterical shrieks and laughter, and as we ran up to her, alarmed, “Oui, Henri,” she says, “il a jure de m’epouser et les princes tiennent parole — n’est-ce pas? O oui! ils tiennent parole; si non, tu le tueras, cousin; tu le — ah! que je suis folle!” And the pitiful shrieks and laughter recommenced. Ere her frightened people had come up to her summons, the poor thing had passed out of this mood into another; but always labouring under the same delusion — that I was the Henry of past times, who had loved her and had been forsaken by her, whose bones were lying far away by the banks of the Potomac.

My wife and the women put the poor lady to bed as I ran myself for medical aid. She rambled, still talking wildly, through the night, with her nurses and the surgeon sitting by her. Then she fell into a sleep, brought on by more opiate. When she awoke, her mind did not actually wander; but her speech was changed, and one arm and side were paralysed.

’Tis needless to relate the progress and termination of her malady, or watch that expiring flame of life as it gasps and flickers. Her senses would remain with her for a while (and then she was never satisfied unless Theo was by her bedside), or again her mind would wander, and the poor decrepit creature, lying upon her bed, would imagine herself young again, and speak incoherently of the scenes and incidents of her early days. Then she would address me as Henry again, and call upon me to revenge some insult or slight, of which (whatever my suspicions might be) the only record lay in her insane memory. “They have always been so,” she would murmur: “they never loved man or woman but they forsook them. Je me vengerai, O oui, je me vengerai! I know them all: I know them all: and I will go to my Lord Stair with the list. Don’t tell me! His religion can’t be the right one. I will go back to my mother’s though she does not love me. She never did. Why don’t you, mother? Is it because I am too wicked? Ah! Pitie, pitie. O mon pere! I will make my confession”— and here the unhappy paralysed lady made as if she would move in her bed.

Let us draw the curtain round it. I think with awe still, of those rapid words, uttered in the shadow of the canopy, as my pallid wife sits by her, her Prayer-book on her knee; as the attendants move to and fro noiselessly; as the clock ticks without, and strikes the fleeting hours; as the sun falls upon the Kneller picture of Beatrix in her beauty, with the blushing cheeks, the smiling lips, the waving auburn tresses, and the eyes which seem to look towards the dim figure moaning in the bed. I could not for a while understand why our aunt’s attendants were so anxious that we should quit it. But towards evening, a servant stole in, and whispered her woman; and then Brett, looking rather disturbed, begged us to go downstairs, as the — as the Doctor was come to visit the Baroness. I did not tell my wife, at the time, who “the Doctor” was; but as the gentleman slid by us, and passed upstairs, I saw at once that he was a Catholic ecclesiastic. When Theo next saw our poor lady, she was speechless; she never recognised any one about her, and so passed unconsciously out of life. During her illness her relatives had called assiduously enough, though she would see none of them save us. But when she was gone, and we descended to the lower rooms after all was over, we found Castlewood with his white face, and my lady from Kensington, and Mr. Will already assembled in the parlour. They looked greedily at us as we appeared. They were hungry for the prey.

When our aunt’s will was opened, we found it dated five years back, and everything she had was left to her dear nephew, Henry Esmond Warrington, of Castlewood, in Virginia, “in affectionate love and remembrance of the name which he bore.” The property was not great. Her revenue had been derived from pensions from the Crown as it appeared (for what services I cannot say), but the pension of course died with her, and there were only a few hundred pounds, besides jewels, trinkets, and the furniture of the house in Clarges Street, of which all London came to the sale. Mr. Walpole bid for her portrait, but I made free with Harry’s money so far as to buy the picture in: and it now hangs over the mantelpiece of the chamber in which I write. What with jewels, laces, trinkets, and old china which she had gathered — Harry became possessed of more than four thousand pounds by his aunt’s legacy. I made so free as to lay my hand upon a hundred, which came, just as my stock was reduced to twenty pounds; and I procured bills for the remainder, which I forwarded to Captain Henry Esmond in Virginia. Nor should I have scrupled to take more (for my brother was indebted to me in a much greater sum), but he wrote me there was another wonderful opportunity for buying an estate and negroes in our neighbourhood at home; and Theo and I were only too glad to forgo our little claim, so as to establish our brother’s fortune. As to mine, poor Harry at this time did not know the state of it. My mother had never informed him that she had ceased remitting to me. She helped him with a considerable sum, the result of her savings, for the purchase of his new estate; and Theo and I were most heartily thankful at his prosperity.

And how strange ours was! By what curious good fortune, as our purse was emptied, was it filled again! I had actually come to the end of our stock, when poor Sampson brought me his six pieces — and with these I was enabled to carry on, until my half-year’s salary, as young Mr. Foker’s Governor, was due: then Harry’s hundred, on which I laid main basse, helped us over three months (we were behindhand with our rent, or the money would have lasted six good weeks longer): and when this was pretty near expended, what should arrive but a bill of exchange for a couple of hundred pounds from Jamaica, with ten thousand blessings, from the dear friends there, and fond scolding from the General that we had not sooner told him of our necessity — of which he had only heard through our friend, Mr. Foker, who spoke in such terms of Theo and myself as to make our parents more than ever proud of their children. Was my quarrel with my mother irreparable? Let me go to Jamaica. There was plenty there for all, and employment which his Excellency as Governor would immediately procure for me. “Come to us!” writes Hetty. “Come to us!” writes Aunt Lambert. “Have my children been suffering poverty, and we rolling in our Excellency’s coach, with guards to turn out whenever we pass? Has Charley been home to you for ever so many holidays, from the Chartreux, and had ever so many of my poor George’s half-crowns in his pocket, I dare say?” (this was indeed the truth, for where was he to go for holidays but to his sister? and was there any use in telling the child how scarce half-crowns were with us?). “And you always treating him with such goodness, as his letters tell me, which are brimful of love for George and little Miles! Oh, how we long to see Miles!” wrote Hetty and her mother; “and as for his godfather” (writes Het), “who has been good to my dearest and her child, I promise him a kiss whenever I see him!”

Our young benefactor was never to hear of our family’s love and gratitude to him. That glimpse of his bright face over the railings before our house at Lambeth, as he rode away on his little horse, was the last we ever were to have of him. At Christmas a basket comes to us, containing a great turkey, and three brace of partridges, with a card, and “shot by M. W.” wrote on one of them. And on receipt of this present, we wrote to thank the child and gave him our sister’s message.

To this letter, there came a reply from Lady Warrington, who said she was bound to inform me, that in visiting me her child had been guilty of disobedience, and that she learned his visit to me now for the first time. Knowing my views regarding duty to my parents (which I had exemplified in my marriage), she could not wish her son to adopt them. And fervently hoping that I might be brought to see the errors of my present course, she took leave of this most unpleasant subject, subscribing herself, etc. etc. And we got this pretty missive as sauce for poor Miles’s turkey, which was our family feast for New Year’s Day. My Lady Warrington’s letter choked our meal, though Sampson and Charley rejoiced over it.

Ah me! Ere the month was over, our little friend was gone from amongst us. Going out shooting, and dragging his gun through a hedge after him, the trigger caught in a bush, and the poor little man was brought home to his father’s house, only to live a few days and expire in pain and torture. Under the yew-trees yonder, I can see the vault which covers him, and where my bones one day no doubt will be laid. And over our pew at church, my children have often wistfully spelt the touching epitaph in which Miles’s heartbroken father has inscribed his grief and love for his only son.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/virginians/chapter83.html

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