The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Friends in Need

Quick, hackneycoach steeds, and bear George Warrington through Strand and Fleet Street to his imprisoned brother’s rescue! Any one who remembers Hogarth’s picture of a London hackneycoach and a London street road at that period, may fancy how weary the quick time was, and how long seemed the journey:— scarce any lights, save those carried by link-boys; badly hung coaches; bad pavements; great holes in the road, and vast quagmires of winter mud. That drive from Piccadilly to Fleet Street seemed almost as long to our young man, as the journey from Marlborough to London which he had performed in the morning.

He had written to Harry, announcing his arrival at Bristol. He had previously written to his brother, giving the great news of his existence and his return from captivity. There was war between England and France at that time; the French privateers were for ever on the look-out for British merchant-ships, and seized them often within sight of port. The letter bearing the intelligence of George’s restoration must have been on board one of the many American ships of which the French took possession. The letter telling of George’s arrival in England was never opened by poor Harry; it was lying at the latter’s apartments, which it reached on the third morning after Harry’s captivity, when the angry Mr. Ruff had refused to give up any single item more of his lodger’s property.

To these apartments George first went on his arrival in London, and asked for his brother. Scared at the likeness between them, the maid-servant who opened the door screamed, and ran back to her mistress. The mistress not liking to tell the truth, or to own that poor Harry was actually a prisoner at her husband’s suit, said Mr. Warrington had left his lodgings; she did not know where Mr. Warrington was. George knew that Clarges Street was close to Bond Street. Often and often had he looked over the London map. Aunt Bernstein would tell him where Harry was. He might be with her at that very moment. George had read in Harry’s letters to Virginia about Aunt Bernstein’s kindness to Harry. Even Madam Esmond was softened by it (and especially touched by a letter which the Baroness wrote — the letter which caused George to pack off post-haste for Europe, indeed). She heartily hoped and trusted that Madam Beatrix had found occasion to repent of her former bad ways. It was time, indeed, at her age; and Heaven knows that she had plenty to repent of! I have known a harmless, good old soul of eighty, still bepommelled and stoned by irreproachable ladies of the straitest sect of the Pharisees, for a little slip which occurred long before the present century was born, or she herself was twenty years old. Rachel Esmond never mentioned her eldest daughter: Madam Esmond Warrington never mentioned her sister. No. In spite of the order for remission of the sentence — in spite of the handwriting on the floor of the Temple — there is a crime which some folks never will pardon, and regarding which female virtue, especially, is inexorable.

I suppose the Virginians’ agent at Bristol had told George fearful stories of his brother’s doings. Gumbo, whom he met at his aunt’s door, as soon as the lad recovered from his terror at the sudden reappearance of the master whom he supposed dead, had leisure to stammer out a word or two respecting his young master’s whereabouts, and present pitiable condition; and hence Mr. George’s sternness of demeanour when he presented himself to the old lady. It seemed to him a matter of course that his brother in difficulty should be rescued by his relations. Oh, George, how little you know about London and London ways! Whenever you take your walks abroad how many poor you meet — if a philanthropist were for rescuing all of them, not all the wealth of all the provinces of America would suffice him!

But the feeling and agitation displayed by the old lady touched her nephew’s heart when, jolting through the dark streets towards the house of his brother’s captivity, George came to think of his aunt’s behaviour. “She does feel my poor Harry’s misfortune,” he thought to himself, “I have been too hasty in judging her.” Again and again, in the course of his life, Mr. George had to rebuke himself with the same crime of being too hasty. How many of us have not? And, alas, the mischief done, there’s no repentance will mend it. Quick, coachman! We are almost as slow as you are in getting from Clarges Street to the Temple. Poor Gumbo knows the way to the bailiff’s house well enough. Again the bell is set ringing. The first door is opened to George and his negro; then that first door is locked warily upon them, and they find themselves in a little passage with a little Jewish janitor; then a second door is unlocked, and they enter into the house. The Jewish janitor stares, as by his flaring tallow-torch he sees a second Mr. Warrington before him. Come to see that gentleman? Yes. But wait a moment. This is Mr. Warrington’s brother from America. Gumbo must go and prepare his master first. Step into this room. There’s a gentleman already there about Mr. W.‘s business (the porter says), and another upstairs with him now. There’s no end of people have been about him.

The room into which George was introduced was a small apartment which went by the name of Mr. Amos’s office, and where, by a guttering candle, and talking to the bailiff, sat a stout gentleman in a cloak and a laced hat. The young porter carried his candle, too, preceding Mr. George, so there was a sufficiency of light in the apartment.

“We are not angry any more, Harry!” says the stout gentleman, in a cheery voice, getting up and advancing with an outstretched hand to the new-comer. “Thank God, my boy! Mr. Amos here says, there will be no difficulty about James and me being your bail, and we will do your business by breakfast-time in the morning. Why . . . Angels and ministers of grace! who are you?” And he started back as the other had hold of his hand.

But the stranger grasped it only the more strongly. “God bless you, sir!” he said, “I know who you are. You must be Colonel Lambert, of whose kindness to him my poor Harry wrote. And I am the brother whom you have heard of, sir; and who was left for dead in Mr. Braddock’s action; and came to life again after eighteen months amongst the French; and live to thank God and thank you for your kindness to my Harry,” continued the lad with a faltering voice.

“James! James! Here is news!” cries Mr. Lambert to a gentleman in red, who now entered the room. “Here are the dead come alive! Here is Harry Scapegrace’s brother come back, and with his scalp on his head, too!” (George had taken his hat off, and was standing by the light.) “This is my brother-bail, Mr. Warrington! This is Lieutenant-Colonel James Wolfe, at your service. You must know there has been a little difference between Harry and me, Mr. George. He is pacified, is he, James?”

“He is full of gratitude,” says Mr. Wolfe, after making his bow to Mr. Warrington.

“Harry wrote home about Mr. Wolfe, too, sir,” said the young man, “and I hope my brother’s friends will be so kind as to be mine.”

“I wish he had none other but us, Mr. Warrington. Poor Harry’s fine folks have been too fine for him, and have ended by landing him here.”

“Nay, your honours, I have done my best to make the young gentleman comfortable; and, knowing your honour before, when you came to bail Captain Watkins, and that your security is perfectly good — if your honour wishes, the young gentleman can go out this very night, and I will make it all right with the lawyer in the morning,” says Harry’s landlord, who knew the rank and respectability of the two gentlemen who had come to offer bail for his young prisoner.

“The debt is five hundred and odd pounds, I think?” said Mr. Warrington. “With a hundred thanks to these gentlemen, I can pay the amount at this moment into the officers’ hands, taking the usual acknowledgment and caution. But I can never forget, gentlemen, that you helped my brother at his need, and, for doing so, I say thank you, and God bless you, in my mother’s name and mine.”

Gumbo had, meanwhile, gone upstairs to his master’s apartment, where Harry would probably have scolded the negro for returning that night, but that the young gentleman was very much soothed and touched by the conversation he had had with the friend who had just left him. He was sitting over his pipe of Virginia in a sad mood (for, somehow, even Maria’s goodness and affection, as she had just exhibited them, had not altogether consoled him; and he had thought, with a little dismay, of certain consequences to which that very kindness and fidelity bound him), when Mr. Wolfe’s homely features and eager outstretched hand came to cheer the prisoner, and he heard how Mr. Lambert was below, and the errand upon which the two officers had come. In spite of himself, Lambert would be kind to him. In spite of Harry’s ill-temper, and needless suspicion and anger, the good gentleman was determined to help him if he might — to help him even against Mr. Wolfe’s own advice, as the latter frankly told Harry, “For you were wrong, Mr. Warrington,” said the Colonel, “and you wouldn’t be set right; and you, a young man, used hard words and unkind behaviour to your senior, and what is more, one of the best gentlemen who walks God’s earth. You see, sir, what his answer hath been to your wayward temper. You will bear with a friend who speaks frankly with you? Martin Lambert hath acted in this as he always doth, as the best Christian, the best friend, the most kind and generous of men. Nay, if you want another proof of his goodness, here it is: He has converted me, who, as I don’t care to disguise, was angry with you for your treatment of him, and has absolutely brought me down here to be your bail. Let us both cry Peccavimus! Harry, and shake our friend by the hand! He is sitting in the room below. He would not come here till he knew how you would receive him.”

“I think he is a good man!” groaned out Harry. “I was very angry and wild at the time when he and I met last, Colonel Wolfe. Nay, perhaps he was right in sending back those trinkets, hurt as I was at his doing so. Go down to him, will you be so kind, sir? and tell him I am sorry, and ask his pardon, and — and, God bless him for his generous behaviour.” And here the young gentleman turned his head away, and rubbed his hand across his eyes.

“Tell him all this thyself, Harry!” cries the Colonel, taking the young fellow’s hand. “No deputy will ever say it half so well. Come with me now.”

“You go first, and I’ll — I’ll follow — on my word I will. See! I am in my morning-gown! I will but put on a coat and come to him. Give him my message first. Just — just prepare him for me!” says poor Harry, who knew he must do it, but yet did not much like that process of eating of humble-pie.

Wolfe went out smiling — understanding the lad’s scruples well enough, perhaps. As he opened the door, Mr. Gumbo entered it; almost forgetting to bow to the gentleman, profusely courteous as he was on ordinary occasions — his eyes glaring round, his great mouth grinning — himself in a state of such high excitement and delight that his master remarked his condition.

“What, Gum? What has happened to thee? Hast thou got a new sweetheart?”

No, Gum had not got no new sweetheart, master.

“Give me my coat. What has brought thee back?”

Gum grinned prodigiously. “I have seen a ghost, mas’r!” he said.

“A ghost! and whose, and where?”

“Whar? Saw him at Madame Bernstein’s house. Come with him here in the coach! He downstairs now with Colonel Lambert!” Whilst Gumbo is speaking, as he is putting on his master’s coat, his eyes are rolling, his head is wagging, his hands are trembling, his lips are grinning.

“Ghost — what ghost?” says Harry, in a strange agitation. Is anybody — is — my mother come?”

“No, sir; no, Master Harry!” Gumbo’s head rolls nearly off its violent convolutions, and his master, looking oddly at him, flings the door open, and goes rapidly down the stair.

He is at the foot of it, just as a voice within the little office, of which the door is open, is saying, “and for doing so, I say thank you, and God bless you, in my mother’s name and mine.”

“Whose voice is that?” calls out Harry Warrington, with a strange cry in his own voice.

“It’s the ghost’s, mas’r!” says Gumbo, from behind; and Harry runs forward to the room — where, if you please, we will pause a little minute before we enter. The two gentlemen who were there, turned their heads away. The lost was found again. The dead was alive. The prodigal was on his brother’s heart — his own full of love, gratitude, repentance.

“Come away, James! I think we are not wanted any more here,” says the Colonel. “Good-night, boys. Some ladies in Hill Street won’t be able to sleep for this strange news. Or will you go home and sup with ’em, and tell them the story?”

No, with many thanks, the boys would not go and sup to-night. They had stories of their own to tell. “Quick, Gumbo, with the trunks! Good-bye, Mr. Amos!” Harry felt almost unhappy when he went away.

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