The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Harry to the Rescue

“My dear Lord March” (wrote Mr. Warrington from Tunbridge Wells, on Saturday morning, the 25th August, 1756): “This is to inform you (with satisfaction) that I have one all our three betts. I was at Bromley two minutes within the hour; my new horses kep a-going at a capital rate. I drove them myself, having the postilion by me to show me the way, and my black man inside with Mrs. Betty. Hope they found the drive very pleasant. We were not stopped on Blackheath, though two fellows on horseback rode up to us, but not liking the looks of our countenantses, rode off again; and we got into Tunbridge Wells (where I transacted my business) at forty-five minutes after eleven. This makes me quitts with your lordship after yesterday’s piquet, which I shall be very happy to give your revenge, and am — Your most obliged, faithful servant,


And now, perhaps, the reader will understand by what means Lady Maria Esmond was enabled to surprise her dear aunt in her bed on Saturday morning, and walk out of the house of captivity. Having despatched Mrs. Betty to London, she scarcely expected that her emissary would return on the day of her departure; and she and the chaplain were playing their cards at midnight, after a small refection which the bailiff’s wife had provided for them, when the rapid whirling of wheels was heard approaching their house, and caused the lady to lay her trumps down, and her heart to beat with more than ordinary emotion. Whirr came the wheels — the carriage stopped at the very door: there was a parley at the gate: then appeared Mrs. Betty, with a face radiant with joy, though her eyes were full of tears; and next, who is that tall young gentleman who enters? Can any of my readers guess? Will they be very angry if I say that the chaplain slapped down his cards with a huzzay, whilst Lady Maria, turning as white as a sheet, rose up from her chair, tottered forward a step or two, and, with an hysterical shriek, flung herself in her cousin’s arms? How many kisses did he give her? If they were mille, deinde centum, dein mille altera, dein secunda centum, and so on, I am not going to cry out. He had come to rescue her. She knew he would; he was her champion, her preserver from bondage and ignominy. She wept a genuine flood of tears upon his shoulder, and as she reclines there, giving way to a hearty emotion, I protest I think she looks handsomer than she has looked during the whole course of this history. She did not faint this time; she went home, leaning lovingly on her cousin’s arm, and may have had one or two hysterical outbreaks in the night; but Madame Bernstein slept soundly, and did not hear her.

“You are both free to go home,” were the first words Harry said. “Get my lady’s hat and cardinal, Betty, and, Chaplain, we’ll smoke a pipe together at our lodgings, it will refresh me after my ride.” The chaplain, who, too, had a great deal of available sensibility, was very much overcome; he burst into tears as he seized Harry’s hand, and kissed it, and prayed God to bless his dear, generous, young patron. Mr. Warrington felt a glow of pleasure thrill through his frame. It is good to be able to help the suffering and the poor; it is good to be able to turn sorrow into joy. Not a little proud and elated was our young champion, as, with his hat cocked, he marched by the side of his rescued princess. His feelings came out to meet him, as it were, and beautiful happinesses with kind eyes and smiles danced before him, and clad him in a robe of honour, and scattered flowers on his path, and blew trumpets and shawms of sweet gratulation, calling, “Here comes the conqueror! Make way for the champion!” And so they led him up to the king’s house, and seated him in the hall of complacency, upon the cushions of comfort. And yet it was not much he had done. Only a kindness. He had but to put his hand in his pocket, and with an easy talisman, drive off the dragon which kept the gate, and cause the tyrant to lay down his axe, who had got Lady Maria in execution. Never mind if his vanity is puffed up; he is very good-natured; he has rescued two unfortunate people, and pumped tears of goodwill and happiness out of their eyes:— and if he brags a little to-night, and swaggers somewhat to the chaplain, and talks about London, and Lord March, and White’s, and Almack’s, with the air of a macaroni, I don’t think we need like him much the less.

Sampson continued to be prodigiously affected. This man had a nature most easily worked upon, and extraordinarily quick to receive pain and pleasure, to tears, gratitude, laughter, hatred, liking. In his preaching profession he had educated and trained his sensibilities so that they were of great use to him; he was for the moment what he acted. He wept quite genuine tears, finding that he could produce them freely. He loved you whilst he was with you; he had a real pang of grief as he mingled his sorrow with the widow or orphan; and, meeting Jack as he came out of the door, went to the tavern opposite, and laughed and roared over the bottle. He gave money very readily, but never repaid when he borrowed. He was on this night in a rapture of gratitude and flattery towards Harry Warrington. In all London, perhaps, the unlucky Fortunate Youth could not have found a more dangerous companion.

To-night he was in his grateful mood, and full of enthusiasm for the benefactor who had released him from durance. With each bumper his admiration grew stronger. He exalted Harry as the best and noblest of men, and the complacent young simpleton, as we have said, was disposed to take these praises as very well deserved. “The younger branch of our family,” said Mr. Harry, with a superb air, “have treated you scurvily; but, by Jove, Sampson my boy, I’ll stand by you!” At a certain period of Burgundian excitement Mr. Warrington was always very eloquent respecting the splendour of his family. “I am very glad I was enabled to help you in your strait. Count on me whenever you want me, Sampson. Did you not say you had a sister at boarding-school? You will want money for her, sir. Here is a little bill which may help to pay her schooling.” And the liberal young fellow passed a bank-note across to the chaplain.

Again the man was affected to tears. Harry’s generosity smote him.

“Mr. Warrington,” he said, putting the bank-note a short distance from him, “I— I don’t deserve your kindness — by George, I don’t!” and he swore an oath to corroborate his passionate assertion.

“Psha!” says Harry. “I have plenty more of ’em. There was no money in that confounded pocket-book which I lost last week.”

“No, sir. There was no money!” says Mr. Sampson, dropping his head.

“Hallo! How do you know, Mr. Chaplain?” asks the young gentleman.

“I know because I am a villain, sir. I am not worthy of your kindness. I told you so. I found the book, sir, that night, when you had too much wine at Barbeau’s.”

“And read the letters?” asked Mr. Warrington, starting up and turning very red.

“They told me nothing I did not know, sir,” said the chaplain “You have had spies about you whom you little suspect — from whom you are much too young and simple to be able to keep your secret.”

“Are those stories about Lady Fanny, and my cousin Will and his doings, true then?” inquired Harry.

“Yes, they are true,” sighed the chaplain. “The house of Castlewood has not been fortunate, sir, since your honour’s branch, the elder branch, left it.”

“Sir, you don’t dare for to breathe a word against my Lady Maria?” Harry cried out.

“Oh, not for worlds!” says Mr. Sampson, with a queer look at his young friend. “I may think she is too old for your honour, and that ’tis a pity you should not have a wife better suited to your age, though I admit she looks very young for hers, and hath every virtue and accomplishment.”

“She is too old, Sampson, I know she is,” says Mr. Warrington, with much majesty; “but she has my word, and you see, sir, how fond she is of me. Go bring me the letters, sir, which you found, and let me try and forgive you for having seized upon them.”

“My benefactor, let me try and forgive myself!” cries Mr. Sampson, and departed towards his chamber, leaving his young patron alone over his wine.

Sampson returned presently, looking very pale. “What has happened, sir?” says Harry, with an imperious air.

The chaplain held out a pocket-book. “With your name in it, sir,” he said.

“My brother’s name in it,” says Harry; “it was George who gave it to me.”

“I kept it in a locked chest, sir, in which I left it this morning before I was taken by those people. Here is the book, sir, but the letters are gone. My trunk and valise have also been tampered with. And I am a miserable, guilty man, unable to make you the restitution which I owe you.” Sampson looked the picture of woe as he uttered these sentiments. He clasped his hands together, and almost knelt before Harry in an attitude the most pathetic.

Who had been in the rooms in Mr. Sampson’s and Mr. Warrington’s absence? The landlady was ready to go on her knees, and declare that nobody had come in: nor, indeed, was Mr. Warrington’s chamber in the least disturbed, nor anything abstracted from Mr. Sampson’s scanty wardrobe and possessions, except those papers of which he deplored the absence.

Whose interest was it to seize them? Lady Maria’s? The poor woman had been a prisoner all day, and during the time when the capture was effected.

She certainly was guiltless of the rape of the letters. The sudden seizure of the two — Case, the house-steward’s secret journey to London — Case, who knew the shoemaker at whose house Sampson lodged in London, and all the secret affairs of the Esmond family — these points, considered together and separately, might make Mr. Sampson think that the Baroness Bernstein was at the bottom of this mischief. But why arrest Lady Maria? The chaplain knew nothing as yet about that letter which her ladyship had lost; for poor Maria had not thought it necessary to confide her secret to him.

As for the pocket-book and its contents, Mr. Harry was so swollen up with self-satisfaction that evening, at winning his three bets, at rescuing his two friends, at the capital premature cold supper of partridges and ancient Burgundy which obsequious Monsieur Barbeau had sent over to the young gentleman’s lodgings, that he accepted Sampson’s vows of contrition, and solemn promises of future fidelity, and reached his gracious hand to the chaplain, and condoned his offence. When the latter swore his great gods, that henceforth he would be Harry’s truest, humblest friend and follower, and at any moment would be ready to die for Mr. Warrington, Harry said, majestically, “I think, Sampson, you would; I hope you would. My family — the Esmond family — has always been accustomed to have faithful friends round about ’em — and to reward ’em too. The wine’s with you, Chaplain. What toast do you call, sir?”

“I call a blessing on the house of Esmond-Warrington!” cries the chaplain, with real tears in his eyes.

“We are the elder branch, sir. My grandfather was the Marquis of Esmond,” says Mr. Harry, in a voice noble but somewhat indistinct. “Here’s to you, Chaplain — and I forgive you, sir — and God bless you, sir — and if you had been took for three times as much, I’d have paid it. Why, what’s that I see through the shutters? I am blest if the sun hasn’t risen again! We have no need of candles to go to bed, ha, ha!” And once more extending his blessing to his chaplain, the young fellow went off to sleep.

About noon Madame de Bernstein sent over a servant to say that she would be glad if her nephew would come over and drink a dish of chocolate with her, whereupon our young friend rose and walked to his aunt’s lodgings. She remarked, not without pleasure, some alteration in his toilette: in his brief sojourn in London he had visited a tailor or two, and had been introduced by my Lord March to some of his lordship’s purveyors and tradesmen.

Aunt Bernstein called him “my dearest child,” and thanked him for his noble, his generous behaviour to dear Maria. What a shock that seizure in church had been to her! A still greater shock that she had lost three hundred only on the Wednesday night to Lady Yarmouth, and was quite a sec. “Why,” said the Baroness, “I had to send Case to London to my agent to get me money to pay — I could not leave Tunbridge in her debt.”

“So Case did go to London?” says Mr. Harry.

“Of course he did: the Baroness de Bernstein can’t afford to say she is court d’argent. Canst thou lend me some, child?”

“I can give your ladyship twenty-two pounds,” said Harry, blushing very red: “I have but forty-four left till I get my Virginian remittances. I have bought horses and clothes, and been very extravagant, aunt.”

“And rescued your poor relations in distress, you prodigal good boy. No, child, I do not want thy money. I can give thee some. Here is a note upon my agent for fifty pounds, vaurien! Go and spend it, and be merry! I dare say thy mother will repay me, though she does not love me.” And she looked quite affectionate, and held out a pretty hand, which the youth kissed.

“Your mother did not love me, but your mother’s father did once. Mind, sir, you always come to me when you have need of me.”

When bent on exhibiting them, nothing could exceed Beatrix Bernstein’s grace or good-humour. “I can’t help loving you, child,” she continued, “and yet I am so angry with you that I have scarce the patience to speak to you. So you have actually engaged yourself to poor Maria, who is as old as your mother? What will Madam Esmond say? She may live three hundred years, and you will not have wherewithal to support yourselves.”

“I have ten thousand pounds from my father, of my own, now my poor brother is gone,” said Harry, “that will go some way.”

“Why, the interest will not keep you in card-money.”

“We must give up cards,” says Harry.

“It is more than Maria is capable of. She will pawn the coat off your back to play. The rage for it runs in all my brother’s family — in me too, I own it. I warned you. I prayed you not to play with them, and now a lad of twenty to engage himself to a woman of forty-two! — to write letters on his knees and signed with his heart’s blood (which he spells like hartshorn), and say that he will marry no other woman than his adorable cousin, Lady Maria Esmond. Oh! it’s cruel — cruel!”

“Great heavens! madam, who showed you my letter?” asked Harry, burning with a blush again.

“An accident. She fainted when she was taken by those bailiffs. Brett cut her laces for her; and when she was carried off, poor thing, we found a little sachet on the floor, which I opened, not knowing in the least what it contained. And in it was Mr. Harry Warrington’s precious letter. And here, sir, is the case.”

A pang shot through Harry’s heart. “Great heavens! why didn’t she destroy it?” he thought.

“I— I will give it back to Maria,” he said, stretching out his hand for the little locket.

“My dear, I have burned the foolish letter,” said the old lady.

“If you choose to betray me I must take the consequence. If you choose to write another, I cannot help thee. But, in that case, Harry Esmond, I had rather never see thee again. Will you keep my secret? Will you believe an old woman who loves you and knows the world better than you do? I tell you, if you keep that foolish promise, misery and ruin are surely in store for you. What is a lad like you in the hands of a wily woman of the world, who makes a toy of you? She has entrapped you into a promise, and your old aunt has cut the strings and set you free. Go back again! Betray me if you will, Harry.”

“I am not angry with you, aunt — I wish I were,” said Mr. Warrington, with very great emotion. “I— I shall not repeat what you told me.”

“Maria never will, child — mark my words!” cried the old lady, eagerly. “She will never own that she has lost that paper. She will tell you that she has it.”

“But I am sure she — she is very fond of me; you should have seen her last night,” faltered Harry.

“Must I tell more stories against my own flesh and blood?” sobs out the Baroness. “Child, you do not know her past life!”

“And I must not, and I will not!” cries Harry, starting up. “Written or said — it does not matter which! But my word is given; they may play with such things in England, but we gentlemen of Virginia don’t break ’em. If she holds me to my word, she shall have me. If we are miserable, as I dare say we shall be, I’ll take a firelock, and go join the King of Prussia, or let a ball put an end to me.”

“I— I have no more to say. Will you be pleased to ring that bell? I— I wish you a good morning, Mr. Warrington,” and dropping a very stately curtsey, the old lady rose on her tortoiseshell stick, and turned towards the door. But, as she made her first step, she put her hand to her heart, sank on the sofa again, an shed the first tears that had dropped for long years from Beatrix Esmond’s eyes.

Harry was greatly moved, too. He knelt down by her. He seized her cold hand, and kissed it. He told her, in his artless way, how very keenly he had felt her love for him, and how, with all his heart, he returned it. “Ah, aunt!” said he, “you don’t know what a villain I feel myself. When you told me, just now how that paper was burned — oh! I was ashamed to think how glad I was.” He bowed his comely head over her hand. She felt hot drops from his eyes raining on it. She had loved this boy. For half a century past — never, perhaps, in the course of her whole worldly life, had she felt a sensation so tender and so pure. The hard heart was wounded now, softened, overcome. She put her two hands on his shoulders, and lightly kissed his forehead.

“You will not tell her what I have done, child?” she said.

He declared never! never! And demure Mrs. Brett, entering at her mistress’s summons, found the nephew and aunt in this sentimental attitude.

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