The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which Harry flies High

So Mr. Harry Warrington, of Virginia, had his lodgings in Bond Street, London, England, and lived upon the fat of the land, and drank bumpers of the best wine thereof. His title of Fortunate Youth was pretty generally recognised. Being young, wealthy, good-looking, and fortunate, the fashionable world took him by the hand and made him welcome. And don’t, my dear brethren, let us cry out too loudly against the selfishness of the world for being kind to the young, handsome, and fortunate, and frowning upon you and me, who may be, for argument’s sake, old, ugly, and the miserablest dogs under the sun. If I have a right to choose my acquaintance, and — at the club, let us say prefer the company of a lively, handsome, well-dressed, gentleman like young man, who amuses me, to that of a slouching, ill-washed, misanthropic H-murderer, a ceaselessly prating coxcomb, or what not; has not society — the aggregate you and I— a right to the same choice? Harry was liked because he was likeable; because he was rich, handsome, jovial, well-born, well-bred, brave; because, with jolly topers, he liked a jolly song and a bottle; because, with gentlemen sportsmen, he loved any game that was a-foot or a-horseback; because, with ladies, he had a modest blushing timidity which rendered the lad interesting; because, to those humbler than himself in degree he was always magnificently liberal, and anxious to spare annoyance. Our Virginian was very grand, and high and mighty, to be sure; but, in those times, when the distinction of ranks yet obtained, to be high and distant with his inferiors, brought no unpopularity to a gentleman. Remember that, in those days, the Secretary of State always knelt when he went to the king with his despatches of a morning, and the Under-Secretary never dared to sit down in his chief’s presence. If I were Secretary of State (and such there have been amongst men of letters since Addison’s days) I should not like to kneel when I went in to my audience with my despatch-bog. If I were Under-Secretary, I should not like to have to stand, whilst the Right Honourable Benjamin or the Right Honourable Sir Edward looked over the papers. But there is a modus in rebus: there are certain lines which must be drawn: and I am only half pleased for my part, when Bob Bowstreet, whose connection with letters is through Policeman X and Y, and Tom Garbage, who is an esteemed contributor to the Kennel Miscellany, propose to join fellowship as brother literary men, slap me on the back, and call me old boy, or by my Christian name.

As much pleasure as the town could give in the winter season of 1756-57, Mr. Warrington had for the asking. There were operas for him, in which he took but moderate delight. (A prodigious deal of satire was brought to bear against these Italian Operas, and they were assailed for being foolish, Popish, unmanly, unmeaning; but people went, nevertheless.) There were the theatres, with Mr. Garrick and Mrs. Pritchard at one house, and Mrs. Clive at another. There were masquerades and ridottos frequented by all the fine society; there were their lordships’ and ladyships’ own private drums and assemblies, which began and ended with cards, and which Mr. Warrington did not like so well as White’s, because the play there was neither so high nor so fair as at the club-table.

One day his kinsman, Lord Castlewood, took him to court, and presented Harry to his Majesty, who was now come to town from Kensington. But that gracious sovereign either did not like Harry’s introducer, or had other reasons for being sulky. His Majesty only said, “Oh, heard of you from Lady Yarmouth. The Earl of Castlewood” (turning to his lordship, and speaking in German) “shall tell him that he plays too much!” And so saying, the Defender of the Faith turned his royal back.

Lord Castlewood shrank back quite frightened at this cold reception of his august master.

“What does he say?” asked Harry.

“His Majesty thinks they play too high at White’s, and is displeased,” whispered the nobleman.

“If he does not want us, we had better not come again, that is all,” said Harry, simply. “I never, somehow, considered that German fellow a real King of England.”

“Hush! for Heaven’s sake, hold your confounded colonial tongue!” cries out my lord. “Don’t you see the walls here have ears!”

“And what then?” asks Mr. Warrington. “Why, look at the people! Hang me, if it is not quite a curiosity! They were all shaking hands with me, and bowing to me, and flattering me just now; and at present they avoid me as if I were the plague!”

“Shake hands, nephew,” said a broad-faced, broad-shouldered gentleman, in a scarlet-laced waistcoat, and a great old-fashioned wig. “I heard what you said. I have ears like the wall, look you. And, now, if other people show you the cold shoulder, I’ll give you my hand;” and so saying, the gentleman put out a great brown hand, with which he grasped Harry’s. “Something of my brother about your eyes and face. Though I suppose in your island you grow more wiry and thin like. I am thine uncle, child. My name is Sir Miles Warrington. My lord knows me well enough.”

My lord looked very frightened and yellow. “Yes, my dear Harry. This is your paternal uncle, Sir Miles Warrington.”

“Might as well have come to see us in Norfolk, as dangle about playing the fool at Tunbridge Wells, Mr. Warrington, or Mr. Esmond — which do you call yourself?” said the Baronet. “The old lady calls herself Madam Esmond, don’t she?”

“My mother is not ashamed of her father’s name, nor am I, uncle,” said Mr. Harry, rather proudly.

“Well said, lad! Come home and eat a bit of mutton with Lady Warrington, at three, in Hill Street — that is if you can do without your White’s kickshaws. You need not look frightened, my Lord Castlewood! I shall tell no tales out of school.”

“I— I am sure Sir Miles Warrington will act as a gentleman!” says my lord, in much perturbation.

“Belike, he will,” growled the Baronet, turning on his heel. “And thou wilt come, young man, at three; and mind, good roast mutton waits for nobody. Thou hast a great look of thy father. Lord bless us, how we used to beat each other! He was smaller than me, and in course younger; but many a time he had the best of it. Take it he was henpecked when he married, and Madam Esmond took the spirit out of him when she got him in her island. Virginia is an island. Ain’t it an island?”

Harry laughed, and said “No!” And the jolly Baronet, going off, said, “Well, island or not, thou must come and tell all about it to my lady. She’ll know whether ’tis an island or not.”

“My dear Mr. Warrington,” said my lord, with an appealing look, “I need not tell you that, in this great city, every man has enemies, and that there is a great, great deal of detraction and scandal. I never spoke to you about Sir Miles Warrington, precisely because I did know him, and because we have had differences together. Should he permit himself remarks to my disparagement, you will receive them cum grano, and remember that it is from an enemy they come.” And the pair walked out of the King’s apartments and into Saint James’s Street. Harry found the news of his cold reception at court had already preceded him to White’s. The King had turned his back upon him. The King was jealous of Harry’s favour with the favourite. Harry was au mieux with Lady Yarmouth. A score of gentlemen wished him a compliment upon his conquest. Before night it was a settled matter that this was amongst the other victories of the Fortunate Youth.

Sir Miles told his wife and Harry as much, when the young man appeared at the appointed hour at the Baronet’s dinner-table, and he rallied Harry in his simple rustic fashion. The lady, at first a grand and stately personage, told Harry, on their further acquaintance, that the reputation which the world had made for him was so bad, that at first she had given him but a frigid welcome. With the young ladies, Sir Miles’s daughters, it was “How d’ye do, cousin?” and “No, thank you, cousin,” and a number of prim curtseys to the Virginian, as they greeted him and took leave of him. The little boy, the heir of the house, dined at table, under the care of his governor; and, having his glass of port by papa after dinner, gave a loose to his innocent tongue, and asked many questions of his cousin. At last the innocent youth said, after looking hard in Harry’s face, “Are you wicked, cousin Harry? You don’t look very wicked!”

“My dear Master Miles!” expostulates the tutor, turning very red.

“But you know you said he was wicked!” cried the child.

“We are all miserable sinners, Miley,” explains papa. “Haven’t you heard the clergyman say so every Sunday?”

“Yes, but not so very wicked as cousin Harry. Is it true that you gamble, cousin, and drink all night with wicked men, and frequent the company of wicked women? You know you said so, Mr. Walker — and mamma said so, too, that Lady Yarmouth was a wicked woman.”

“And you are a little pitcher,” cries papa: “and my wife, nephew Harry, is a staunch Jacobite — you won’t like her the worse for that. Take Miles to his sisters, Mr. Walker, and Topsham shall give thee a ride in the park, child, on thy little horse.” The idea of the little horse consoled Master Miles; for, when his father ordered him away to his sisters, he had begun to cry bitterly, bawling out that he would far rather stay with his wicked cousin.

“They have made you a sad reputation among ’em, nephew!” says the jolly Baronet. “My wife, you must know, of late years, and since the death of my poor eldest son, has taken to — to, hum! — to Tottenham Court Road and Mr. Whitfield’s preaching: and we have had one Ward about the house, a friend of Mr. Walker’s yonder, who has recounted sad stories about you and your brother at home.”

“About me, Sir Miles, as much as he pleases,” cries Harry, warm with port: “but I’ll break any man’s bones who dares say a word against my brother! Why, sir, that fellow was not fit to buckle my dear George’s shoe; and if I find him repeating at home what he dared to say in our house in Virginia, I promise him a second caning.”

“You seem to stand up for your friends, nephew Harry,” says the Baronet. “Fill thy glass, lad, thou art not as bad as thou hast been painted. I always told my lady so. I drink Madam Esmond Warrington’s health, of Virginia, and will have a full bumper for that toast.”

Harry, as in duty bound, emptied his glass, filled again, and drank Lady Warrington and Master Miles.

“Thou wouldst be heir to four thousand acres in Norfolk, did he die, though,” said the Baronet.

“God forbid, sir, and be praised that I have acres enough in Virginia of my own!” says Mr. Warrington. He went up presently and took a dish of coffee with Lady Warrington: he talked to the young ladies of the house. He was quite easy, pleasant, and natural. There was one of them somewhat like Fanny Mountain, and this young lady became his special favourite. When he went away, they all agreed their wicked cousin was not near so wicked as they had imagined him to be: at any rate, my lady had strong hopes of rescuing him from the pit. She sent him a good book that evening, whilst Mr. Harry was at White’s; with a pretty note, praying that Law’s Call might be of service to him: and, this despatched, she and her daughters went off to a rout at the house of a minister’s lady. But Harry, before he went to White’s, had driven to his friend Mr. Sparks, in Tavistock Street, and purchased more trinkets for his female cousins — “from their aunt in Virginia,” he said. You see, he was full of kindness: he kindled and warmed with prosperity. There are men on whom wealth hath no such fortunate influence. It hardens base hearts: it makes those who were mean and servile, mean and proud. If it should please the gods to try me with ten thousand a year, I will, of course, meekly submit myself to their decrees, but I will pray them to give me strength enough to bear the trial. All the girls in Hill Street were delighted at getting the presents from Aunt Warrington in Virginia and addressed a collective note, which must have astonished that good lady when she received it in spring-time, when she and Mountain and Fanny were on a visit to grim deserted Castlewood, when the snows had cleared away and a thousand peach-trees flushed with blossoms. “Poor boy!” the mother thought “This is some present he gave his cousins in my name, in the time of his prosperity — nay, of his extravagance and folly. How quickly his wealth has passed away! But he ever had a kind heart for the poor Mountain; and we must not forget him in his need. It behoves us to be more than ever careful of our own expenses, my good people!” And so, I dare say, they warmed themselves by one log, and ate of one dish, and worked by one candle. And the widow’s servants, whom the good soul began to pinch more and more I fear, lied, stole, and cheated more and more: and what was saved in one way, was stole in another.

One afternoon, Mr. Harry sate in his Bond Street lodgings, arrayed in his dressing-gown, sipping his chocolate, surrounded by luxury, encased in satin, and yet enveloped in care. A few weeks previously when the luck was with him, and he was scattering his benefactions to and fro, he had royally told Parson Sampson to get together a list of his debts which he, Mr. Warrington, would pay. Accordingly Sampson had gone to work, and had got together a list, not of all his debts — no man ever does set down all — but such a catalogue as he thought sufficient to bring in to Mr. Warrington, at whose breakfast-table the divine had humbly waited until his honour should choose to attend it.

Harry appeared at length, very pale and languid, in curl-papers, and scarce any appetite for his breakfast; and the chaplain, fumbling with his schedule in his pocket, humbly asked if his patron had had a bad night? He had been brought home from White’s by two chairmen at five o’clock in the morning; had caught a confounded cold, for one of the windows of the chair would not shut, and the rain and snow came in, finally, was in such a bad humour, that all poor Sampson’s quirks and jokes could scarcely extort a smile from him.

At last, to be sure, Mr. Warrington burst into a loud laugh. It was when the poor chaplain, after a sufficient discussion of muffins, eggs, tea, the news, the theatres, and so forth, pulled a paper out of his pocket and in a piteous tone said, “Here is that schedule of debts which your honour asked for — two hundred and forty-three pounds — every shilling I owe in the world, thank Heaven! — that is — ahem! — every shilling of which the payment will in the least inconvenience me — and I need not tell my dearest patron that I shall consider him my saviour and benefactor!”

It was then that Harry, taking the paper and eyeing the chaplain with rather a wicked look, burst into a laugh, which was, however, anything but jovial. Wicked execrations, moreover, accompanied this outbreak of humour, and the luckless chaplain felt that his petition had come at the wrong moment.

“Confound it, why didn’t you bring it on Monday?” Harry asked.

“Confound me, why did I not bring it on Monday?” echoed the chaplain’s timid soul. “It is my luck — my usual luck. Have the cards been against you, Mr. Warrington?”

“Yes: a plague on them. Monday night, and last night, have both gone against me. Don’t be frightened, chaplain, there’s money enough in the locker yet. But I must go into the City and get some.”

“What, sell out, sir?” asks his reverence, with a voice that was reassured, though it intended to be alarmed.

“Sell out, sir? Yes! I borrowed a hundred off Mackreth in counters last night, and must pay him at dinner-time. I will do your business for you nevertheless, and never fear, my good Mr. Sampson. Come to breakfast tomorrow, and we will see and deliver your reverence from the Philistines.” But though he laughed in Sampson’s presence, and strove to put a good face upon the matter, Harry’s head sank down on his chest when the parson quitted him, and he sate over the fire, beating the coals about with the poker, and giving utterance to many disjointed naughty words, which showed, but did not relieve, the agitation of his spirit.

In this mood, the young fellow was interrupted by the appearance of a friend, who, on any other day — even on that one when his conscience was so uneasy — was welcome to Mr. Warrington. This was no other than Mr. Lambert, in his military dress, but with a cloak over him, who had come from the country, had been to the Captain-General’s levee that morning, and had come thence to visit his young friend in Bond Street.

Harry may have thought Lambert’s greeting rather cold; but being occupied with his own affairs, he put away the notion. How were the ladies of Oakhurst, and Miss Hetty, who was ailing when he passed through in the autumn? Purely? Mr. Warrington was very glad. They were come to stay a while in London with their friend, Lord Wrotham? Mr. Harry was delighted — though it must be confessed his face did not exhibit any peculiar signs of pleasure when he heard the news.

“And so you live at White’s, and with the great folks; and you fare sumptuously every day, and you pay your court at St. James’s, and make one at my Lady Yarmouth’s routs, and at all the card-parties in the Court end of the town?” asks the Colonel.

“My dear Colonel, I do what other folks do,” says Harry, with rather a high manner.

“Other folks are richer folks than some folks, my dear lad.”

“Sir!” says Mr. Warrington, “I would thank you to believe that I owe nothing for which I cannot pay!”

“I should never have spoken about your affairs,” said the other, not noticing the young man’s haughty tone, “but that you yourself confided them to me. I hear all sorts of stories about the Fortunate Youth. Only at his Royal Highness’s even today, they were saying how rich you were already, and I did not undeceive them ——”

“Colonel Lambert, I cannot help the world gossiping about me!” cries Mr. Warrington, more and more impatient.

“— And what prodigious sums you had won. Eighteen hundred one night — two thousand another — six or eight thousand in all! Oh! there were gentlemen from White’s at the levee too, I can assure you, and the army can fling a main as well as you civilians!”

“I wish they would meddle with their own affairs,” says Harry, scowling at his old friend.

“And I, too, you look as if you were going to say. Well, my boy, it is my affair and you must let Theo’s father and Hetty’s father, and Harry Warrington’s father’s old friend say how it is my affair.” Here the Colonel drew a packet out of his pocket, whereof the lappets and the coat-tails and the general pocket accommodations were much more ample than in the scant military garments of present warriors. “Look you, Harry. These trinkets which you sent with the kindest heart in the world to people who love you, and would cut off their little hands to spare you needless pain, could never be bought by a young fellow with two or three hundred a year. Why, a nobleman might buy these things, or a rich City banker, and send them to his — to his daughters, let us say.”

“Sir, as you say, I meant only kindness,” says Harry, blushing burning-red.

“But you must not give them to my girls, my boy. Hester and Theodosia Lambert must not be dressed up with the winnings off the gaming-table, saving your presence. It goes to my heart to bring back the trinkets. Mrs. Lambert will keep her present, which is of small value, and sends you her love and a God bless you — and so say I, Harry Warrington, with all my heart.” Here the good Colonel’s voice was much moved, and his face grew very red, and he passed his hand over his eyes ere he held it out.

But the spirit of rebellion was strong in Mr. Warrington. He rose up from his seat, never offering to take the hand which his senior held out to him. “Give me leave to tell Colonel Lambert,” he said, “that I have had somewhat too much advice from him. You are for ever volunteering it, sir, and when I don’t ask it. You make it your business to inquire about my gains at play, and about the company I keep. What right have you to control my amusements or my companions? I strive to show my sense of your former kindness by little presents to your family, and you fling — you bring them back.”

“I can’t do otherwise, Mr. Warrington,” says the Colonel, with a very sad face.

“Such a slight may mean nothing here, sir, but in our country it means war, sir!” cries Mr. Warrington. “God forbid I should talk of drawing a sword against the father of ladies who have been as mother and sister to me: but you have wounded my heart, Colonel Lambert — you have, I won’t say insulted, but humiliated me, and this is a treatment I will bear from no man alive! My servants will attend you to the door, sir!” Saying which, and rustling in his brocade dressing-gown, Mr. Warrington, with much state, walked off to his bedroom.

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