The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Visitors in Trouble

Mr. Gumbo’s generous and feeling conduct soothed and softened the angry heart of his master, and Harry’s second night in the spunging-house was passed more pleasantly than the first. Somebody at least there was to help and compassionate with him. Still, though softened in that one particular spot, Harry’s heart was hard and proud towards almost all the rest of the world. They were selfish and ungenerous, he thought. His pious Aunt Warrington, his lordly friend March, his cynical cousin Castlewood — all had been tried, and were found wanting. Not to avoid twenty years of prison would he stoop to ask a favour of one of them again. Fool that he had been, to believe in their promises, and confide in their friendship! There was no friendship in this cursed, cold, selfish country. He would leave it. He would trust no Englishman, great or small. He would go to Germany, and make a campaign with the king; or he would go home to Virginia, bury himself in the woods there, and hunt all day; become his mother’s factor and land-steward; marry Polly Broadbent, or Fanny Mountain; turn regular tobacco-grower and farmer; do anything, rather than remain amongst these English fine gentlemen. So he arose with an outwardly cheerful countenance, but an angry spirit; and at an early hour in the morning the faithful Gumbo was in attendance in his master’s chamber, having come from Bond Street, and brought Mr. Harry’s letters thence. “I wanted to bring some more clothes,” honest Gumbo said; “but Mr. Ruff, the landlord, he wouldn’t let me bring no more.”

Harry did not care to look at the letters: he opened one, two, three; they were all bills. He opened a fourth; it was from the landlord, to say that he would allow no more of Mr. Warrington’s things to go out of the house — that unless his bill was paid he should sell Mr. W.‘s goods and pay himself: and that his black man must go and sleep elsewhere. He would hardly let Gumbo take his own clothes and portmanteau away. The black said he had found refuge elsewhere — with some friends at Lord Wrotham’s house. “With Colonel Lambert’s people,” says Mr. Gumbo, looking very hard at his master. “And Miss Hetty she fall down in a faint, when she hear you taken up; and Mr. Lambert, he very good man, and he say to me this morning, he say, ‘Gumbo, you tell your master if he want me he send to me, and I come to him.’”

Harry was touched when he heard that Hetty had been afflicted by his misfortune. He did not believe Gumbo’s story about her fainting; he was accustomed to translate his black’s language and to allow for exaggeration. But when Gumbo spoke of the Colonel the young Virginian’s spirit was darkened again. “I send to Lambert” he thought, grinding his teeth, “the man who insulted me, and flung my presents back in my face! If I were starving I would not ask him for a crust!” And presently, being dressed, Mr. Warrington called for his breakfast, and despatched Gumbo with a brief note to Mr. Draper in the Temple, requiring that gentleman’s attendance.

“The note was as haughty as if he was writing to one of his negroes, and not to a freeborn English gentleman,” Draper said; whom indeed Harry had always treated with insufferable condescension. “It’s all very well for a fine gentleman to give himself airs; but for a fellow in a spunging-house! Hang him!” says Draper, “I’ve a great mind not to go!” Nevertheless, Mr. Draper did go, and found Mr. Warrington in his misfortune even more arrogant than he had ever been in the days of his utmost prosperity. Mr. W. sat on his bed, like a lord, in a splendid gown with his hair dressed. He motioned his black man to fetch him a chair.

“Excuse me, madam, but such haughtiness and airs I ain’t accustomed to!” said the outraged attorney.

“Take a chair and go on with your story, my good Mr. Draper!” said Madame de Bernstein, smiling, to whom he went to report proceedings. She was amused at the lawyer’s anger. She liked her nephew for being insolent in adversity.

The course which Draper was to pursue in his interview with Harry had been arranged between the Baroness and her man of business on the previous day. Draper was an able man, and likely in most cases to do a client good service: he failed in the present instance because he was piqued and angry, or, more likely still, because he could not understand the gentleman with whom he had to deal. I presume that he who casts his eye on the present page is the most gentle of readers. Gentleman, as you unquestionably are, then, my dear sir, have you not remarked in your dealings with people who are no gentlemen, that you offend them not knowing the how or the why? So the man who is no gentleman offends you in a thousand ways of which the poor creature has no idea himself. He does or says something which provokes your scorn. He perceives that scorn (being always on the watch, and uneasy about himself, his manners and behaviour) and he rages. You speak to him naturally, and he fancies still that you are sneering at him. You have indifference towards him, but he hates you, and hates you the worse because you don’t care. “Gumbo, a chair to Mr. Draper!” says Mr. Warrington, folding his brocaded dressing-gown round his legs as he sits on the dingy bed. “Sit down, if you please, and let us talk my business over. Much obliged to you for coming so soon in reply to my message. Had you heard of this piece of ill-luck before?”

Mr. Draper had heard of the circumstance. “Bad news travel quick, Mr. Warrington,” he said; “and I was eager to offer my humble services as soon as ever you should require them. Your friends, your family, will be much pained that a gentleman of your rank should be in such a position.”

“I have been very imprudent, Mr. Draper. I have lived beyond my means.” (Mr. Draper bowed.) “I played in company with gentlemen who were much richer than myself, and a cursed run of ill-luck has carried away all my ready money, leaving me with liabilities to the amount of five hundred pounds, and more.”

“Five hundred now in the office,” says Mr. Draper.

“Well, this is such a trifle that I thought by sending to one or two friends, yesterday, I could have paid my debt and gone home without further to do. I have been mistaken; and will thank you to have the kindness to put me in the way of raising the money as soon as may be.”

Mr. Draper said “Hm!” and pulled a very grave and long face.

“Why, sir, it can be done!” says Mr. Warrington, staring at the lawyer.

It not only could be done, but Mr. Draper had proposed to Madame Bernstein on the day before instantly to pay the money, and release Mr. Warrington. That lady had declared she intended to make the young gentleman her heir. In common with the rest of the world, Draper believed Harry’s hereditary property in Virginia to be as great in money-value as in extent. He had notes in his pocket, and Madame Bernstein’s order to pay them under certain conditions: nevertheless, when Harry said, “It can be done!” Draper pulled his long face, and said, “It can be done in time, sir; but it will require a considerable time. To touch the property in England which is yours on Mr. George Warrington’s death, we must have the event proved, the trustees released: and who is to do either? Lady Esmond Warrington in Virginia, of course, will not allow her son to remain in prison, but we must wait six months before we hear from her. Has your Bristol agent any authority to honour your drafts?”

“He is only authorised to pay me two hundred pounds a year,” says Mr. Warrington. “I suppose I have no resource, then, but to apply to my aunt, Madame de Bernstein. She will be my security.”

“Her ladyship will do anything for you, sir; she has said so to me, often and often,” said the lawyer; “and, if she gives the word at that moment you can walk out of this place.”

“Go to her, then, from me, Mr. Draper. I did not want to have troubled my relations: but rather than continue in this horrible needless imprisonment, I must speak to her. Say where I am, and what has befallen me. Disguise nothing! And tell her, that I confide in her affection and kindness for me to release me from this — this disgrace,” and Mr. Warrington’s voice shook a little, and he passed his hand across his eyes.

“Sir,” says Mr. Draper, eyeing the young man, “I was with her ladyship yesterday, when we talked over the whole of this here most unpleasant — I won’t say as you do, disgraceful business.”

“What do you mean, sir? Does Madame de Bernstein know of my misfortune?” asked Harry.

“Every circumstance, sir; the pawning the watches, and all.”

Harry turned burning red. “It is an unfortunate business, the pawning them watches and things which you had never paid for,” continued the lawyer. The young man started up from the bed, looking so fierce that Draper felt a little alarmed.

“It may lead to litigation and unpleasant remarks being made, in court, sir. Them barristers respect nothing; and when they get a feller in the box ——”

“Great Heaven, sir, you don’t suppose a gentleman of my rank can’t take a watch upon credit without intending to cheat the tradesman?” cried Harry, in the greatest agitation.

“Of course you meant everything that’s honourable; only, you see, the law mayn’t happen to think so,” says Mr. Draper, winking his eye. (“Hang the supercilious beast; I touch him there!) Your aunt says it’s the most imprudent thing ever she heard of — to call it by no worse name.”

“You call it by no worse name yourself, Mr. Draper?” says Harry, speaking each word very slow, and evidently trying to keep a command of himself.

Draper did not like his looks. “Heaven forbid that I should say anything as between gentleman and gentleman — but between me and my client, it’s my duty to say, ‘Sir, you are in a very unpleasant scrape,’ just as a doctor would have to tell his patient, ‘Sir, you are very ill.’”

“And you can’t help me to pay this debt off — and you have come only to tell me that I may be accused of roguery?” says Harry.

“Of obtaining goods under false pretences? Most undoubtedly, yes. I can’t help it, sir. Don’t look as if you would knock me down. (Curse him, I am making him wince, though.) A young gentleman, who has only two hundred a year from his ma’, orders diamonds and watches, and takes ’em to a pawnbroker. You ask me what people will think of such behaviour, and I tell you honestly. Don’t be angry with me, Mr. Warrington.”

“Go on, sir!” says Harry, with a groan.

The lawyer thought the day was his own. “But you ask if I can’t help to pay this debt off? And I say Yes — and that here is the money in my pocket to do it now, if you like — not mine, sir, my honoured client’s, your aunt, Lady Bernstein. But she has a right to impose her conditions, and I’ve brought ’em with me.”

“Tell them, sir,” says Mr. Harry.

“They are not hard. They are only for your own good: and if you say Yes, we can call a hackney-coach, and go to Clarges Street together, which I have promised to go there, whether you will or no. Mr. Warrington, I name no names, but there was a question of marriage between you and a certain party.”

“Ah!” said Harry; and his countenance looked more cheerful than it had yet done.

“To that marriage my noble client, the Baroness, is most averse — having other views for you, and thinking it will be your ruin to marry a party, — of noble birth and title it is true; but, excuse me, not of first-rate character, and so much older than yourself. You had given an imprudent promise to that party.”

“Yes; and she has it still,” says Mr. Warrington.

“It has been recovered. She dropped it by an accident at Tunbridge,” says Mr. Draper, “so my client informed me; indeed her ladyship showed it me, for the matter of that. It was wrote in bl ——”

“Never mind, sir!” cries Harry, turning almost as red as the ink which he had used to write his absurd promise, of which the madness and folly had smote him with shame a thousand times over.

“At the same time letters, wrote to you, and compromising a noble family, were recovered,” continues the lawyer. “You had lost ’em. It was no fault of yours. You were away when they were found again. You may say that that noble family, that you yourself, have a friend such as few young men have. Well, sir, there’s no earthly promise to bind you — only so many idle words said over a bottle, which very likely any gentleman may forget. Say you won’t go on with this marriage — give me and my noble friend your word of honour. Cry off, I say, Mr. W.! Don’t be such a d —— fool, saving your presence, as to marry an old woman who has jilted scores of men in her time. Say the word, and I step downstairs, pay every shilling against you in the office, and put you down in my coach, either at your aunt’s or at White’s Club, if you like, with a couple of hundred in your pocket. Say yes; and give us your hand! There’s no use in sitting grinning behind these bars all day!”

So far Mr. Draper had had the best of the talk. Harry only longed himself to be rid of the engagement from which his aunt wanted to free him. His foolish flame for Maria Esmond had died out long since. If she would release him, how thankful would he be! “Come! give us your hand, and say done!” says the lawyer, with a knowing wink. “Don’t stand shilly-shallying, sir. Law bless you, Mr. W., if I had married everybody I promised, I should be like the Grand Turk, or Captain Macheath in the play!”

The lawyer’s familiarity disgusted Harry, who shrank from Draper, scarcely knowing that he did so. He folded his dressing gown round him, and stepped back from the other’s proffered hand. “Give me a little time to think of the matter, if you please, Mr. Draper,” he said, “and have the goodness to come to me again in an hour.

“Very good, sir, very good, sir!” says the lawyer, biting his lips, and, as he seized up his hat, turning very red. “Most parties would not want an hour to consider about such an offer as I make you: but I suppose my time must be yours, and I’ll come again, and see whether you are to go or to stay. Good morning, sir, good morning:” and he went his way, growling curses down the stairs. “Won’t take my hand, won’t he? Will tell me in an hour’s time! Hang his impudence! I’ll show him what an hour is!”

Mr. Draper went to his chambers in dudgeon then; bullied his clerks all round, sent off a messenger to the Baroness, to say that he had waited on the young gentleman, who had demanded a little time for consideration, which was for form’s sake, as he had no doubt; the lawyer then saw clients, transacted business, went out to his dinner in the most leisurely manner; and then finally turned his steps towards the neighbouring Cursitor Street. “He’ll be at home when I call, the haughty beast!” says Draper, with a sneer. “The Fortunate Youth in his room?” the lawyer asked of the sheriff’s officer’s aide-de-camp who came to open the double doors.

“Mr. Warrington is in his apartment,” said the gentleman, “but ——” and here the gentleman winked at Mr. Draper, and laid his hand on his nose.

“But what, Mr. Paddy from Cork?” said the lawyer.

“My name is Costigan; me familee is noble, and me neetive place is the Irish methrawpolis, Mr. Six-and-eightpence!” said the janitor, scowling at Draper. A rich odour of spirituous liquors filled the little space between the double doors where he held the attorney in conversation.

“Confound you, sir, let me pass!” bawled out Mr. Draper.

“I can hear you perfectly well, Six-and-eightpence, except your h’s, which you dthrop out of your conversation. I’ll thank ye not to call neems, me good friend, or me fingers and your nose will have to make an intimate hic-quaintance. Walk in, sir! Be polite for the future to your shupariors in birth and manners, though they may be your infariors in temporary station. Confound the kay! Walk in, sir, I say! — Madam, I have the honour of saluting ye most respectfully!”

A lady with her face covered with a capuchin, and further hidden by her handkerchief, uttered a little exclamation as of alarm as she came down the stairs at this instant and hurried past the lawyer. He was pressing forward to look at her — for Mr. Draper was very cavalier in his manners to women — but the bailiff’s follower thrust his leg between Draper and the retreating lady, crying, “Keep your own distance, if you plaise! This way, madam! I at once recognised your ladysh ——” Here he closed the door on Draper’s nose, and left that attorney to find his own way to his client upstairs.

At six o’clock that evening the old Baroness de Bernstein was pacing up and down her drawing-crutch, and for ever running to the window when the noise of a coach was heard passing in Clarges Street. She had delayed her dinner from hour to hour: she who scolded so fiercely, on ordinary occasions, if her cook was five minutes after his time. She had ordered two covers to be laid, plate to be set out, and some extra dishes to be prepared as if for a little fete. Four — five o’clock passed, and at six she looked from the window, and a coach actually stopped at her door.

“Mr. Draper” was announced, and entered bowing profoundly.

The old lady trembled on her stick. “Where is the boy?” she said quickly. “I told you to bring him, sir! How dare you come without him?”

“It is not my fault, madam, that Mr. Warrington refuses to come.” And Draper gave his version of the interview which had just taken place between himself and the young Virginian.

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