The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Containing both Love and Luck

At the next meal, when the family party assembled, there was not a trace of displeasure in Madame de Bernstein’s countenance, and her behaviour to all the company, Harry included, was perfectly kind and cordial. She praised the cook this time, declared the fricassee was excellent, and that there were no eels anywhere like those in the Castlewood moats; would not allow that the wine was corked, or hear of such extravagance as opening a fresh bottle for a useless old woman like her; gave Madam Esmond Warrington, of Virginia, as her toast, when the new wine was brought, and hoped Harry had brought away his mamma’s permission to take back an English wife with him. He did not remember his grandmother; her, Madame de Bernstein’s, dear mother? The Baroness amused the company with numerous stories of her mother, of her beauty and goodness, of her happiness with her second husband, though the wife was so much older than Colonel Esmond. To see them together was delightful, she had heard. Their attachment was celebrated all through the country. To talk of disparity in marriages was vain after that. My Lady Castlewood and her two children held their peace whilst Madame Bernstein prattled. Harry was enraptured, and Maria surprised. Lord Castlewood was puzzled to know what sudden freak or scheme had occasioned this prodigious amiability on the part of his aunt; but did not allow the slightest expression of solicitude or doubt to appear on his countenance, which wore every mark of the most perfect satisfaction.

The Baroness’s good-humour infected the whole family; not one person at table escaped a gracious word from her. In reply to some compliment to Mr. Will, when that artless youth uttered an expression of satisfaction and surprise at his aunt’s behaviour, she frankly said: “Complimentary, my dear! Of course I am. I want to make up with you for having been exceedingly rude to everybody this morning. When I was a child, and my father and mother were alive, and lived here, I remember I used to adopt exactly the same behaviour. If I had been naughty in the morning, I used to try and coax my parents at night. I remember in this very room, at this very table — oh, ever so many hundred years ago! — so coaxing my father, and mother, and your grandfather, Harry Warrington; and there were eels for supper, as we have had them to-night, and it was that dish of collared eels which brought the circumstance back to my mind. I had been just as wayward that day, when I was seven years old, as I am today, when I am seventy, and so I confess my sins, and ask to be forgiven, like a good girl.”

“I absolve your ladyship!” cried the chaplain, who made one of the party.

“But your reverence does not know how cross and ill-tempered I was. I scolded my sister, Castlewood: I scolded her children, I boxed Harry Warrington’s ears: and all because he would not go with me to Tunbridge Wells.”

“But I will go, madam; I will ride with you with all the pleasure in life,” said Mr. Warrington.

“You see, Mr. Chaplain, what good, dutiful children they all are. ’Twas I alone who was cross and peevish. Oh, it was cruel of me to treat them so! Maria, I ask your pardon, my dear.”

“Sure, madam, you have done me no wrong,” says Maria to this humble suppliant.

“Indeed, I have, a very great wrong, child! Because I was weary of myself, I told you that your company would be wearisome to me. You offered to come with me to Tunbridge, and I rudely refused you.”

“Nay, ma’am, if you were sick, and my presence annoyed you . . .

“But it will not annoy me! You were most kind to say that you would come. I do, of all things, beg, pray, entreat, implore, command that you will come.”

My lord filled himself a glass, and sipped it. Most utterly unconscious did his lordship look. This, then, was the meaning of the previous comedy.

“Anything which can give my aunt pleasure, I am sure, will delight me,” said Maria, trying to look as happy as possible.

“You must come and stay with me, my dear, and I promise to be good and good-humoured. My dear lord, you will spare your sister to me?”

“Lady Maria Esmond is quite of age to judge for herself about such a matter,” said his lordship, with a bow. “If any of us can be of use to you, madam, you sure ought to command us.” Which sentence, being interpreted, no doubt meant, “Plague take the old woman! She is taking Maria away in order to separate her from this young Virginian.”

“Oh, Tunbridge will be delightful!” sighed Lady Maria.

“Mr. Sampson will go and see Goody Jones for you,” my lord continued.

Harry drew pictures with his finger on the table. What delights had he not been speculating on? What walks, what rides, what interminable conversations, what delicious shrubberies and sweet sequestered summer-houses, what poring over music-books, what moonlight, what billing and cooing, had he not imagined! Yes, the day was coming. They were all departing — my Lady Castlewood to her friends, Madame Bernstein to her waters — and he was to be left alone with his divine charmer — alone with her and unutterable rapture! The thought of the pleasure was maddening. That these people were all going away. That he was to be left to enjoy that heaven — to sit at the feet of that angel and kiss the hem of that white robe. O Gods! ’twas too great bliss to be real! “I knew it couldn’t be,” thought poor Harry. “I knew something would happen to take her from me.”

“But you will ride with us to Tunbridge, nephew Warrington, and keep us from the highwaymen?” said Madame de Bernstein.

Harry Warrington hoped the company did not see how red he grew. He tried to keep his voice calm and without tremor. Yes, he would ride with their ladyships, and he was sure they need fear no danger. Danger! Harry felt he would rather like danger than not. He would slay ten thousand highwaymen if they approached his mistress’s coach. At least, he would ride by that coach, and now and again see her eyes at the window. He might not speak to her, but he should be near her. He should press the blessed hand at the inn at night, and feel it reposing on his as he led her to the carriage at morning. They would be two whole days going to Tunbridge, and one day or two he might stay there. Is not the poor wretch who is left for execution at Newgate thankful for even two or three days of respite?

You see, we have only indicated, we have not chosen to describe, at length, Mr. Harry Warrington’s condition, or that utter depth of imbecility into which the poor young wretch was now plunged. Some boys have the complaint of love favourably and gently. Others, when they get the fever, are sick unto death with it; or, recovering, carry the marks of the malady down with them to the grave, or to remotest old age. I say, it is not fair to take down a young fellow’s words when he is raging in that delirium. Suppose he is in love with a woman twice as old as himself; have we not all read of the young gentleman who committed suicide in consequence of his fatal passion for Mademoiselle Ninon de l’Enclos who turned out to be his grandmother? Suppose thou art making an ass of thyself, young Harry Warrington, of Virginia! are there not people in England who heehaw too? Kick and abuse him, you who have never brayed; but bear with him, all honest fellow-cardophagi: long-eared messmates, recognise a brother-donkey!

“You will stay with us for a day or two at the Wells,” Madame Bernstein continued. “You will see us put into our lodgings. Then you can return to Castlewood and the partridge-shooting, and all the fine things which you and my lord are to study together.”

Harry bowed an acquiescence. A whole week of heaven! Life was not altogether a blank, then.

“And as there is sure to be plenty of company at the Wells, I shall be able to present you,” the lady graciously added.

“Company! ah! I shan’t need company,” sighed out Harry. “I mean that I shall be quite contented in the company of you two ladies,” he added, eagerly; and no doubt Mr. Will wondered at his cousin’s taste.

As this was to be the last night of cousin Harry’s present visit to Castlewood, cousin Will suggested that he, and his reverence, and Warrington should meet at the quarters of the latter and make up accounts, to which process, Harry, being a considerable winner in his play transactions with the two gentlemen, had no objection. Accordingly, when the ladies retired for the night, and my lord withdrew — as his custom was — to his own apartments, the three gentlemen all found themselves assembled in Mr. Harry’s little room before the punch-bowl, which was Will’s usual midnight companion.

But Will’s method of settling accounts was by producing a couple of fresh packs of cards, and offering to submit Harry’s debt to the process of being doubled or acquitted. The poor chaplain had no more ready cash than Lord Castlewood’s younger brother. Harry Warrington wanted to win the money of neither. Would he give pain to the brother of his adored Maria, or allow any one of her near kinsfolk to tax him with any want of generosity or forbearance? He was ready to give them their revenge, as the gentlemen proposed. Up to midnight he would play with them for what stakes they chose to name. And so they set to work, and the dice-box was rattled and the cards shuffled and dealt.

Very likely he did not think about the cards at all. Very likely he was thinking; —“At this moment, my beloved one is sitting with her beauteous golden locks outspread under the fingers of her maid. Happy maid! Now she is on her knees, the sainted creature, addressing prayers to that Heaven which is the abode of angels like her. Now she has sunk to rest behind her damask curtains. Oh, bless, bless her!” “You double us all round? I will take a card upon each of my two. Thank you, that will do — a ten — now, upon the other, a queen — two natural vingt-et-uns, and as you doubled us you owe me so-and-so.”

I imagine volleys of oaths from Mr. William, and brisk pattering of imprecations from his reverence, at the young Virginian’s luck. He won because he did not want to win. Fortune, that notoriously coquettish jade, came to him, because he was thinking of another nymph, who possibly was as fickle. Will and the chaplain may have played against him, solicitous constantly to increase their stakes, and supposing that the wealthy Virginian wished to let them recover all their losings. But this was by no means Harry Warrington’s notion. When he was at home he had taken a part in scores of such games as these (whereby we may be led to suppose that he kept many little circumstances of his life mum from his lady mother), and had learned to play and pay. And as he practised fair play towards his friends he expected it from them in return.

“The luck does seem to be with me, cousin,” he said, in reply to some more oaths and growls of Will, “and I am sure I do not want to press it; but you don’t suppose I’m going to be such a fool as to fling it away altogether? I have quite a heap of your promises on paper by this time. If we are to go on playing, let us have the dollars on the table, if you please; or, if not the money, the worth of it.”

“Always the way with you rich men,” grumbled Will. “Never lend except on security — always win because you are rich.”

“Faith, cousin, you have been of late for ever flinging my riches into my face. I have enough for my wants and for my creditors.”

“Oh, that we could all say as much!” groaned the chaplain. “How happy we, and how happy the duns would be! What have we got to play against our conqueror? There is my new gown, Mr. Warrington. Will you set me five pieces against it? I have but to preach in stuff if I lose. Stop! I have a Chrysostom, a Foxe’s Martyrs, a Baker’s Chronicle, and a cow and her calf. What shall we set against these?”

“I will bet one of cousin Will’s notes for twenty pounds,” cried Mr. Warrington, producing one of those documents.

“Or I have my brown mare, and will back her red against your honour’s notes of hand, but against ready money.”

“I have my horse. I will back my horse against you for fifty,” bawls out Will.

Harry took the offers of both gentlemen. In the course of ten minutes the horse and the bay mare had both changed owners. Cousin William swore more fiercely than ever. The parson dashed his wig to the ground, and emulated his pupil in the loudness of his objurgations. Mr. Harry Warrington was quite calm, and not the least elated by his triumph. They had asked him to play, and he had played. He knew he should win. O beloved slumbering angel! he thought, am I not sure of victory when you are kind to me? He was looking out from his window towards the casement on the opposite side of the court, which he knew to be hers. He had forgot about his victims and their groans, and ill-luck, ere they crossed the court. Under yonder brilliant flickering star, behind yonder casement where the lamp was burning faintly, was his joy, and heart, and treasure.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00