The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


An Apparition

Going off in his wrath from his morning’s conversation with Harry, Mr. Draper thought he heard the young prisoner speak behind him; and, indeed, Harry had risen, and uttered a half-exclamation to call the lawyer back. But he was proud, and the other offended: Harry checked words, and Draper did not choose to stop. It wound Harry’s pride to be obliged to humble himself before the lawyer, and to have to yield from mere lack and desire of money. “An hour hence will do as well,” thought Harry, and lapsed sulkily on to the bed again. No, he did not care for Maria Esmond! No: he was ashamed of the way in which he had been entrapped into that engagement. A wily and experienced woman, she had cheated his boyish ardour. She had taken unfair advantage of him, as her brother had at play. They were his own flesh and blood, and they ought to have spared him. Instead, one and the other had made a prey of him, and had used him for their selfish ends. He thought how they had betrayed the rights of hospitality: how they had made a victim of the young kinsman who came confiding within their gates. His heart was sore wounded: his head sank back on his pillow: bitter tears wetted it. “Had they come to Virginia,” he thought, “I had given them a different welcome!”

He was roused from this mood of despondency by Gumbo’s grinning face at his door, who said a lady was come to see Master Harry, and behind the lad came the lady in the capuchin, of whom we have just made mention. Harry sat up, pale and haggard, on his bed. The lady, with a sob, and almost ere the servant-man withdrew, ran towards the young prisoner, put her arms round his neck with real emotion and a maternal tenderness, sobbed over his pale cheek and kissed it in the midst of plentiful tears, and cried out —

“Oh, my Harry! Did I ever, ever think to see thee here?”

He started back, scared as it seemed at her presence, but she sank down at the bedside, and seized his feverish hand, and embraced his knees. She had a real regard and tenderness for him. The wretched place in which she found him, his wretched look, filled her heart with a sincere love and pity.

“I— I thought none of you would come!” said poor Harry, with a groan.

More tears, more kisses of the hot young hand, more clasps and pressure with hers, were the lady’s reply for a moment or two.

“Oh, my dear! my dear! I cannot bear to think of thee in misery,” she sobbed out.

Hardened though it might be, that heart was not all marble — that dreary life not all desert. Harry’s mother could not have been fonder, nor her tones more tender than those of his kinswoman now kneeling at his feet.

“Some of the debts, I fear, were owing to my extravagance!” she said (and this was true). “You bought trinkets and jewels in order to give me pleasure. Oh, how I hate them now! I little thought I ever could! I have brought them all with me, and more trinkets — here! and here! and all the money I have in the world!”

And she poured brooches, rings, a watch, and a score or so of guineas into Harry’s lap. The sight of which strangely agitated and immensely touched the young man.

“Dearest, kindest cousin!” he sobbed out.

His lips found no more words to utter, but yet, no doubt they served to express his gratitude, his affection, his emotion.

He became quite gay presently, and smiled as he put away some of the trinkets, his presents to Maria, and told her into what danger he had fallen by selling other goods which he had purchased on credit; and how a lawyer had insulted him just now upon this very point. He would not have his dear Maria’s money — he had enough, quite enough for the present: but he valued her twenty guineas as much as if they had been twenty thousand. He would never forget her love and kindness: no, by all that was sacred he would not! His mother should know of all her goodness. It had had cheered him when he was just on the point of breaking down under his disgrace and misery. Might Heaven bless her for it! There is no need to pursue beyond this, the cousins’ conversation. The dark day seemed brighter to Harry after Maria’s visit: the imprisonment not so hard to bear. The world was not all selfish and cold. Here was a fond creature who really and truly loved him. Even Castlewood was not so bad as he had thought. He had expressed the deepest grief at not being able to assist his kinsman. He was hopelessly in debt. Every shilling he had won from Harry he had lost on the next day to others. Anything that lay in his power he would do. He would come soon and see Mr. Warrington: he was in waiting today, and as much a prisoner as Harry himself. So the pair talked on cheerfully and affectionately until the darkness began to close in, when Maria, with a sigh, bade Harry farewell.

The door scarcely closed upon her, when it opened to admit Draper.

“Your humble servant, sir,” says the attorney. His voice jarred upon Harry’s ear, and his presence offended the young man.

“I had expected you some hours ago, sir,” he curtly said.

“A lawyer’s time is not always his own, sir,” said Mr. Draper, who had just been in consultation with a bottle of port at the Grecian. “Never mind, I’m at your orders now. Presume it’s all right, Mr. Warrington. Packed your trunk? Why, now there you are in your bedgown still. Let me go down and settle whilst you call in your black man and titivate a bit. I’ve a coach at the door, and we’ll be off and dine with the old lady.”

“Are you going to dine with the Baroness de Bernstein, pray?”

“Not me — no such honour. Had my dinner already. It’s you are a-going to dine with your aunt, I suppose?”

“Mr. Draper, you suppose a great deal more than you know,” says Mr. Warrington, looking very fierce and tall, as he folds his brocade dressing-gown round him.

“Great goodness, sir, what do you mean?” asks Draper.

“I mean, sir, that I have considered, and, that having given my word to a faithful and honourable lady, it does not become me to withdraw it.”

“Confound it, sir!” shrieks the lawyer, “I tell you she has lost the paper. There’s nothing to bind you — nothing. Why she’s old enough to be ——”

“Enough, sir,” says Mr. Warrington, with a stamp of his foot. “You seem to think you are talking to some other pettifogger. I take it, Mr. Draper, you are not accustomed to have dealings with men of honour.”

“Pettifogger, indeed!” cries Draper in a fury. “Men of honour, indeed! I’d have you to know, Mr. Warrington, that I’m as good a man of honour as you. I don’t know so many gamblers and horse-jockeys, perhaps. I haven’t gambled away my patrimony, and lived as if I was a nobleman on two hundred a year. I haven’t bought watches on credit, and pawned — touch me if you dare, sir,” and the lawyer sprang to the door.

“That is the way out, sir. You can’t go through the window, because it is barred,” says Mr. Warrington.

“And the answer I take to my client is No, then!” screamed out Draper.

Harry stepped forward, with his two hands clenched. “If you utter another word,” he said, “I’ll ——” The door was shut rapidly — the sentence was never finished, and Draper went away furious to Madame de Bernstein, from whom, though he gave her the best version of his story, he got still fiercer language than he had received from Mr. Warrington himself.

“What? Shall she trust me, and I desert her?” says Harry, stalking up and down his room in his flowing, rustling brocade. “Dear, faithful, generous woman! If I lie in prison for years, I’ll be true to her.”

Her lawyer dismissed after a stormy interview, the desolate old woman was fain to sit down to the meal which she had hoped to share with her nephew. The chair was before her which he was to have filled, the glasses shining by the silver. One dish after another was laid before her by the silent major-domo, and tasted and pushed away. The man pressed his mistress at last. “It is eight o’clock,” he said. “You have had nothing all day. It is good for you to eat.” She could not eat. She would have her coffee. Let Case go get her her coffee. The lacqueys bore the dishes off the table, leaving their mistress sitting at it before the vacant chair.

Presently the old servant re-entered the room without his lady’s coffee and with a strange scared face, and said, “Mr. WARRINGTON!”

The old woman uttered an exclamation, got up from her armchair, but sank back in it trembling very much. “So you are come, sir, are you?” she said, with a fond shaking voice. “Bring back the —— Ah!” here she screamed, “Gracious God, who is it?” Her eyes stared wildly: her white face looked ghastly through her rouge. She clung to the arms of her chair for support, as the visitor approached her.

A gentleman whose face and figure exactly resembled Harry Warrington and whose voice, when he spoke, had tones strangely similar, had followed the servant into the room. He bowed towards the Baroness.

“You expected my brother, madam?” he said “I am but now arrived in London. I went to his house. I met his servant at your door, who was bearing this letter for you. I thought I would bring it to your ladyship before going to him,”— and the stranger laid down a letter before Madam Bernstein.

“Are you”— gasped out the Baroness —“are you my nephew, that we supposed was ——”

“Was killed — and is alive! I am George Warrington, madam and I ask his kinsfolk what have you done with my brother?”

“Look, George!” said the bewildered old lady “I expected him here to-night — that chair was set for him — I have been waiting for him, sir, till now — till I am quite faint — I don’t like — I don’t like being alone. Do stay an sup with me!”

“Pardon me, madam. Please God, my supper will be with Harry tonight!”

“Bring him back. Bring him back here on any conditions! It is but five hundred pounds! Here is the money, sir, if you need it!”

“I have no want, madam. I have money with me that can’t be better employed than in my brother’s service.”

“And you will bring him to me, sir! Say you will bring him to me!”

Mr. Warrington made a very stately bow for answer, and quitted the room, passing by the amazed domestics, and calling with an air of authority to Gumbo to follow him.

Had Mr. Harry received no letters from home? Master Harry had not opened all his letters the last day or two. Had he received no letter announcing his brother’s escape from the French settlements and return to Virginia? Oh no! No such letter had come, else Master Harry certainly tell Gumbo. Quick, horses! Quick by Strand to Temple Bar! Here is the house of Captivity and the Deliverer come to the rescue!

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