The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray



My Lord Castlewood had a house in Kensington Square spacious enough to accommodate the several members of his noble family, and convenient for their service at the palace hard by, when his Majesty dwelt there. Her ladyship had her evenings, and gave her card-parties here for such as would come; but Kensington was a long way from London a hundred years since, and George Selwyn said he for one was afraid to go, for fear of being robbed of a night — whether by footpads with crape over their faces, or by ladies in rouge at the quadrille-table, we have no means of saying. About noon on the day after Harry had made his reappearance at White’s, it chanced that all his virtuous kinsfolks partook of breakfast together, even Mr. Will being present, who was to go into waiting in the afternoon.

The ladies came first to their chocolate: them Mr. Will joined in his court suit; finally, my lord appeared, languid, in his bedgown and nightcap, having not yet assumed his wig for the day. Here was news which Will had brought home from the Star and Garter last night, when he supped in company with some men who had heard it at White’s and seen it at Ranelagh!

“Heard what? seen what?” asked the head of the house, taking up his Daily Advertiser.

“Ask Maria!” says Lady Fanny. My lord turns to his elder sister, who wears a face of portentous sadness, and looks as pale as a tablecloth.

“’Tis one of Will’s usual elegant and polite inventions,” says Maria.

“No,” swore Will, with several of his oaths; “it was no invention of his. Tom Claypool of Norfolk saw ’em both at Ranelagh; and Jack Morris came out of White’s, where he heard the story from Harry Warrington’s own lips. Curse him, I’m glad of it!” roars Will, slapping the table. “What do you think of your Fortunate Youth, your Virginian, whom your lordship made so much of, turning out to be a second son?”

“The elder brother not dead?” says my lord.

“No more dead than you are. Never was. It’s my belief that it was a cross between the two.”

“Mr. Warrington is incapable of such duplicity!” cries Maria.

“I never encouraged the fellow, I am sure you will do me justice there,” says my lady. “Nor did Fanny: not we, indeed!”

“Not we, indeed!” echoes my Lady Fanny.

“The fellow is only a beggar, and, I dare say, has not paid for the clothes on his back,” continues Will. “I’m glad of it, for, hang him, I hate him!”

“You don’t regard him with favourable eyes; especially since he blacked yours, Will!” grins my lord. “So the poor fellow has found his brother, and lost his estate!” And here he turned towards his sister Maria, who, although she looked the picture of woe, must have suggested something ludicrous to the humourist near whom she sate; for his lordship, having gazed at her for a minute, burst into a shrill laugh, which caused the poor lady’s face to flush, and presently her eyes to pour over with tears. “It’s a shame! it’s a shame!” she sobbed out, and hid her face in her handkerchief. Maria’s stepmother and sister looked at each other. “We never quite understand your lordship’s humour,” the former lady remarked, gravely.

“I don’t see there is the least reason why you should,” said my lord, coolly. “Maria, my dear, pray excuse me if I have said — that is, done anything, to hurt your feelings.”

“Done anything! You pillaged the poor lad in his prosperity, and laugh at him in his ruin!” says Maria, rising from table, and glaring round at all her family.

“Excuse me, my dear sister, I was not laughing at him,” said my lord, gently.

“Oh, never mind at what or whom else, my lord! You have taken from him all he had to lose. All the world points at you as the man who feeds on his own flesh and blood. And now you have his all, you make merry over his misfortune!” And away she rustled from the room, flinging looks of defiance at all the party there assembled.

“Tell us what has happened, or what you have heard, Will, and my sister’s grief will not interrupt us.” And Will told, at great length, and with immense exultation at Harry’s discomfiture, the story now buzzed through all London, of George Warrington’s sudden apparition. Lord Castlewood was sorry for Harry: Harry was a good, brave lad, and his kinsman liked him, as much as certain worldly folks like each other. To be sure he played Harry at cards, and took the advantage of the market upon him; but why not? The peach which other men would certainly pluck, he might as well devour. Eh! if that were all my conscience had to reproach me with, I need not be very uneasy! my lord thought. “Where does Mr. Warrington live?”

Will expressed himself ready to enter upon a state of reprobation if he knew or cared.

“He shall be invited here, and treated with every respect,” said my lord.

“Including piquet, I suppose!” growls Will.

“Or will you take him to the stables, and sell him one of your bargains of horseflesh, Will?” asks Lord Castlewood. “You would have won of Harry Warrington fast enough, if you could; but you cheat so clumsily at your game that you got paid with a cudgel. I desire, once more, that every attention may be paid to our cousin Warrington.”

“And that you are not to be disturbed, when you sit down to play, of course, my lord!” cries Lady Castlewood.

“Madam, I desire fair play, for Mr. Warrington, and for myself, and for every member of this amiable family,” retorted Lord Castlewood, fiercely.

“Heaven help the poor gentleman if your lordship is going to be kind to him,” said the stepmother, with a curtsey; and there is no knowing how far this family dispute might have been carried, had not, at this moment, a phaeton driven up to the house, in which were seated the two young Virginians.

It was the carriage which our young Prodigal had purchased in the days of his prosperity. He drove it still: George sate in it by his side; their negroes were behind them. Harry had been for meekly giving the whip and reins to his brother, and ceding the whole property to him. “What business has a poor devil like me with horses and carriages, Georgy?” Harry had humbly said. “Beyond the coat on my back, and the purse my aunt gave me, I have nothing in the world. You take the driving-seat, brother; it will ease my mind if you will take the driving-seat.” George laughingly said he did not know the way, and Harry did; and that, as for the carriage, he would claim only a half of it, as he had already done with his brother’s wardrobe. “But a bargain is a bargain; if I share thy coats, thou must divide my breeches’ pocket, Harry; that is but fair dealing!” Again and again Harry swore there never was such a brother on earth. How he rattled his horses over the road! How pleased and proud he was to drive such a brother! They came to Kensington in famous high spirits; and Gumbo’s thunder upon Lord Castlewood’s door was worthy of the biggest footman in all St. James’s.

Only my Lady Castlewood and her daughter Lady Fanny were in the room into which our young gentlemen were ushered. Will had no particular fancy to face Harry, my lord was not dressed, Maria had her reasons for being away, at least till her eyes were dried. When we drive up to friends’ houses nowadays in our coaches-and-six, when John carries up our noble names, when, finally, we enter the drawing-room with our best hat and best Sunday smile foremost, does it ever happen that we interrupt a family row! that we come simpering and smiling in, and stepping over the delusive ashes of a still burning domestic heat? that in the interval between the hall-door and the drawing-room, Mrs., Mr., and the Misses Jones have grouped themselves in a family tableau; this girl artlessly arranging flowers in a vase, let us say; that one reclining over an illuminated work of devotion; mamma on the sofa, with the butcher’s and grocer’s book pushed under the cushion, some elegant work in her hand, and a pretty little foot pushed out advantageously; while honest Jones, far from saying, “Curse that Brown, he is always calling here!” holds out a kindly hand, shows a pleased face, and exclaims, “What, Brown my boy, delighted to see you! Hope you’ve come to lunch!” I say, does it ever happen to us to be made the victims of domestic artifices, the spectators of domestic comedies got up for our special amusement? Oh, let us be thankful, not only for faces, but for masks! not only for honest welcome, but for hypocrisy, which hides unwelcome things from us! Whilst I am talking, for instance, in this easy, chatty way, what right have you, my good sir, to know what is really passing in my mind? It may be that I am racked with gout, or that my eldest son has just sent me in a thousand pounds’ worth of college-bills, or that I am writhing under an attack of the Stoke Pogis Sentinel, which has just been sent me under cover, or that there is a dreadfully scrappy dinner, the evident remains of a party to which I didn’t invite you, and yet I conceal my agony, I wear a merry smile; I say, “What! come to take pot-luck with us, Brown my boy! Betsy! put a knife and fork for Mr. Brown. Eat! Welcome! Fall to! It’s my best!” I say that humbug which I am performing is beautiful self-denial — that hypocrisy is true virtue. Oh, if every man spoke his mind what an intolerable society ours would be to live in!

As the young gentlemen are announced, Lady Castlewood advances towards them with perfect ease and good-humour. “We have heard, Harry,” she says, looking at the latter with a special friendliness, “of this most extraordinary circumstance. My Lord Castlewood said at breakfast that he should wait on you this very day, Mr. Warrington, and, cousin Harry, we intend not to love you any the less because you are poor.”

“We shall be able to show now that it is not for your acres that we like you, Harry!” says Lady Fanny, following her mamma’s lead,

“And I to whom the acres have fallen?” says Mr. George, with a smile and a bow.

“Oh, cousin, we shall like you for being like Harry!” replies the arch Lady Fanny.

Ah! who that has seen the world, has not admired that astonishing ease with which fine ladies drop you and pick you up again? Both the ladies now addressed themselves almost exclusively to the younger brother. They were quite civil to Mr. George: but with Mr. Harry they were fond, they were softly familiar, they were gently kind, they were affectionately reproachful. Why had Harry not been for days and days to see them?

“Better to have had a dish of tea and a game at piquet with them than with some other folks,” says Lady Castlewood. “If we had won enough to buy a paper of pins from you we should have been content; but young gentlemen don’t know what is for their own good,” says mamma.

“Now you have no more money to play with, you can come and play with us, cousin!” cries fond Lady Fanny, lifting up a finger, “and so your misfortune will be good fortune to us.”

George was puzzled. This welcome of his brother was very different from that to which he had looked. All these compliments and attentions paid to the younger brother, though he was without a guinea! Perhaps the people were not so bad as they were painted? The Blackest of all Blacks is said not to be of quite so dark a complexion as some folks describe him.

This affectionate conversation continued for some twenty minutes, at the end of which period my Lord Castlewood made his appearance, wig on head, and sword by side. He greeted both the young men with much politeness: one not more than the other. “If you were to come to us — and I, for one, cordially rejoice to see you — what a pity it is you did not come a few months earlier! A certain evening at piquet would then most likely never have taken place. A younger son would have been more prudent.”

“Yes, indeed,” said Harry.

“Or a kinsman more compassionate. But I fear that love of play runs in the blood of all of us. I have it from my father, and it has made me the poorest peer in England. Those fair ladies whom you see before you are not exempt. My poor brother Will is a martyr to it; and what I, for my part, win on one day, I lose on the next. ’Tis shocking, positively, the rage for play in England. All my poor cousin’s bank-notes parted company from me within twenty-four hours after I got them.”

“I have played, like other gentlemen, but never to hurt myself, and never indeed caring much for the sport,” remarked Mr. Warrington.

“When we heard that my lord had played with Harry, we did so scold him,” cried the ladies.

“But if it had not been I, thou knowest, cousin Warrington, some other person would have had thy money. ’Tis a poor consolation, but as such Harry must please to take it, and be glad that friends won his money, who wish him well, not strangers, who cared nothing for him, and fleeced him.”

“Eh! a tooth out is a tooth out, though it be your brother who pulls it, my lord!” said Mr. George, laughing. “Harry must bear the penalty of his faults, and pay his debts, like other men.”

“I am sure I have never said or thought otherwise. ’Tis not like an Englishman to be sulky because he is beaten,” says Harry.

“Your hand, cousin! You speak like a man!” cries my lord, with delight. The ladies smiled to each other.

“My sister, in Virginia, has known how to bring up her sons as gentlemen!” exclaims Lady Castlewood, enthusiastically.

“I protest you must not be growing so amiable now you are poor, cousin Harry!” cries cousin Fanny. “Why, mamma, we did not know half his good qualities when he was only Fortunate Youth and Prince of Virginia! You are exactly like him, cousin George, but I vow you can’t be as amiable as your brother!”

“I am the Prince of Virginia, but I fear I am not the Fortunate Youth,” said George, gravely.

Harry was beginning, “By Jove, he is the best ——” when the noise of a harpsichord was heard from the upper room. The lad blushed: the ladies smiled.

“’Tis Maria, above,” said Lady Castlewood. “Let some of us go up to her.”

The ladies rose, and made way towards the door; and Harry followed them, blushing very much. George was about to join the party, but Lord Castlewood checked him. “Nay, if all the ladies follow your brother” his lordship said, “let me at least have the benefit of your company and conversation. I long to hear the account of your captivity and rescue, cousin George!”

“Oh, we must hear that too!” cried one of the ladies, lingering.

“I am greedy, and should like it all by myself,” said Lord Castlewood, looking at her very sternly; and followed the women to the door, and closed it upon them with a low bow.

“Your brother has no doubt acquainted you with the history of all that has happened to him in this house, cousin George?” asked George’s kinsman.

“Yes, including the quarrel with Mr. Will and the engagement to my Lady Maria,” replies George, with a bow. “I may be pardoned for saying that he hath met with but ill fortune here, my lord.”

“Which no one can deplore more cordially than myself. My brother lives with horse jockeys and trainers, and the wildest bloods of the town, and between us there is very little sympathy. We should not all live together, were we not so poor. This is the house which our grandmother occupied before she went to America and married Colonel Esmond. Much of the furniture belonged to her.” George looked round the wainscoted parlour with some interest. “Our house has not flourished in the last twenty years; though we had a promotion of rank a score of years since, owing to some interest we had at court, then. But the malady of play has been the ruin of us all. I am a miserable victim to it: only too proud to sell myself and title to a roturiere, as many noblemen, less scrupulous, have done. Pride is my fault, my dear cousin. I remember how I was born!” And his lordship laid his hand on his shirt-frill, turned out his toe, and looked his cousin nobly in the face.

Young George Warrington’s natural disposition was to believe everything which everybody said to him. When once deceived, however, or undeceived about the character of a person, he became utterly incredulous, and he saluted this fine speech of my lord’s with a sardonical, inward laughter, preserving his gravity, however, and scarce allowing any of his scorn to appear in his words.

“We have all our faults, my lord. That of play hath been condoned over and over again in gentlemen of our rank. Having heartily forgiven my brother, surely I cannot presume to be your lordship’s judge in the matter; and instead of playing and losing, I wish sincerely that you had both played and won!”

“So do I, with all my heart!” says my lord with a sigh. “I augur well for your goodness when you can speak in this way, and for your experience and knowledge of the world, too, cousin, of which you seem to possess a greater share than most young men of your age. Your poor Harry hath the best heart in the world; but I doubt whether his head be very strong.”

“Not very strong, indeed. But he hath the art to make friends wherever he goes, and in spite of all his imprudences most people love him.”

“I do — we all do, I’m sure! as if he were our brother!” cries my lord.

“He has often described in his letters his welcome at your lordship’s house. My mother keeps them all, you may be sure. Harry’s style is not very learned, but his heart is so good, that to read him is better than wit.”

“I may be mistaken, but I fancy his brother possesses a good heart and a good wit, too!” says my lord, obstinately gracious.

“I am as Heaven made me, cousin; and perhaps some more experience and sorrow than has fallen to the lot of most young men.”

“This misfortune of your poor brother — I mean this piece of good fortune, your sudden reappearance — has not quite left Harry without resources?” continued Lord Castlewood, very gently.

“With nothing but what his mother can leave him, or I, at her death, can spare him. What is the usual portion here of a younger brother, my lord?”

“Eh! a younger brother here is — you know — in fine, everybody knows what a younger brother is,” said my lord, and shrugged his shoulders and looked his guest in the face.

The other went on: “We are the best of friends, but we are flesh and blood: and I don’t pretend to do more for him than is usually done for younger brothers. Why give him money? That he should squander it at cards or horse-racing? My lord, we have cards and jockeys in Virginia, too; and my poor Harry hath distinguished himself in his own country already, before he came to yours. He inherits the family failing for dissipation.”

“Poor fellow, poor fellow, I pity him!”

“Our estate, you see, is great, but our income is small. We have little more money than that which we get from England for our tobacco — and very little of that too — for our tobacco comes back to us in the shape of goods, clothes, leather, groceries, ironmongery, nay, wine and beer for our people and ourselves. Harry may come back and share all these: there is a nag in the stable for him, a piece of venison on the table, a little ready money to keep his pocket warm, and a coat or two every year. This will go on whilst my mother lives, unless, which is far from improbable, he gets into some quarrel with Madam Esmond. Then, whilst I live he will have the run of the house and all it contains: then, if I die leaving children, he will be less and less welcome. His future, my lord, is a dismal one, unless some strange piece of luck turn up on which we were fools to speculate. Henceforth he is doomed to dependence, and I know no worse lot than to be dependent on a self-willed woman like our mother. The means he had to make himself respected at home he hath squandered away here. He has flung his patrimony to the dogs, and poverty and subserviency are now his only portion.” Mr. Warrington delivered this speech with considerable spirit and volubility, and his cousin heard him respectfully.

“You speak well, Mr. Warrington. Have you ever thought of public life?” said my lord.

“Of course I have thought of public life like every man of my station — every man, that is, who cares for something beyond a dice-box or a stable,” replies George. “I hope, my lord, to be able to take my own place, and my unlucky brother must content himself with his. This I say advisedly, having heard from him of certain engagements which he has formed, and which it would be misery to all parties were he to attempt to execute now.”

“Your logic is very strong,” said my lord. “Shall we go up and see the ladies? There is a picture above-stairs which your grandfather is said to have executed. Before you go, my dear cousin, you will please to fix a day when our family may have the honour of receiving you. Castlewood, you know, is always your home when we are there. It is something like your Virginian Castlewood, cousin, from your account. We have beef, and mutton, and ale, and wood, in plenty; but money is woefully scarce amongst us.”

They ascended to the drawing-room, where, however, they found only one of the ladies of the family. This was my Lady Maria, who came out of the embrasure of a window, where she and Harry Warrington had been engaged in talk.

George made his best bow, Maria her lowest curtsey. “You are indeed wonderfully like your brother,” she said, giving him her hand. “And from what he says, cousin George, I think you are as good as he is.”

At the sight of her swollen eyes and tearful face George felt a pang of remorse. “Poor thing!” he thought. “Harry has been vaunting my generosity and virtue to her, and I have beer, playing the selfish elder brother downstairs! How old she looks! How could he ever have a passion for such a woman as that?” How? Because he did not see with your eyes, Mr. George. He saw rightly too now with his own, perhaps. I never know whether to pity or congratulate a man on coming to his senses.

After the introduction a little talk took place, which for a while Lady Maria managed to carry on in an easy manner: but though ladies in this matter of social hypocrisy are, I think, far more consummate performers than men, after a sentence or two the poor lady broke out into a sob, and, motioning Harry away with her hand, fairly fled from the room.

Harry was rushing forward, but stopped — checked by that sign. My lord said his poor sister was subject to these fits of nerves, and had already been ill that morning. After this event our young gentlemen thought it was needless to prolong their visit. Lord Castlewood followed them downstairs, accompanied them to the door, admired their nags in the phaeton, and waved them a friendly farewell.

“And so we have been coaxing and cuddling in the window, and we part good friends, Harry? Is it not so?” says George to his charioteer.

“Oh, she is a good woman!” cries Harry, lashing the horses. “I know you’ll think so when you come to know her.”

“When you take her home to Virginia? A pretty welcome our mother will give her. She will never forgive me for not breaking the match off, nor you for making it.”

“I can’t help it, George! Don’t you be popping your ugly head so close to my ears, Gumbo! After what has passed between us, I am bound in honour to stand by her. If she sees no objection, I must find none. I told her all. I told her that Madam would be very rusty at first; but that she was very fond of me, and must end by relenting. And when you come to the property, I told her that I knew my dearest George so well, that I might count upon sharing with him.”

“The deuce you did! Let me tell you, my dear, that I have been telling my Lord Castlewood quite a different story. That as an elder brother I intend to have all my rights — there, don’t flog that near horse so — and that you can but look forward to poverty and dependence.”

“What! You won’t help me?” cries Harry, turning quite pale.

“George, I don’t believe it, though I hear it out of your own mouth! There was a minute’s pause after this outbreak, during which Harry did not even look at his brother, but sate, gazing blindly before him, the picture of grief and gloom. He was driving so near to a road-post that the carriage might have been upset but for George’s pulling the rein.

“You had better take the reins, sir,” said Harry. “I told you you had better take them.”

“Did you ever know me fail you, Harry?” George asked.

“No,” said the other, “not till now”— the tears were rolling down his cheeks as he spoke.

“My dear, I think one day you will say I have done my duty.”

“What have you done? asked Harry.

“I have said you were a younger brother — that you have spent all your patrimony, and that your portion at home must be very slender. Is it not true?”

“Yes, but I would not have believed it, if ten thousand men had told me,” said Harry. “Whatever happened to me, I thought I could trust you, George Warrington.” And in this frame of mind Harry remained during the rest of the drive.

Their dinner was served soon after their return to their lodgings, of which Harry scarce ate any, though he drank freely of the wine before him.

“That wine is a bad consoler in trouble, Harry,” his brother remarked.

“I have no other, sir,” said Harry, grimly; and having drunk glass after glass in silence, he presently seized his hat, and left the room.

He did not return for three hours. George, in much anxiety about his brother, had not left home meanwhile, but read his book, and smoked the pipe of patience. “It was shabby to say I would not aid him, and, God help me, it was not true. I won’t leave him, though he marries a blackamoor,” thought George “have I not done him harm enough already, by coming to life again? Where has he gone; has he gone to play?”

“Good God! what has happened to thee?” cried George Warrington, presently, when his brother came in, looking ghastly pale.

He came up and took his brother’s hand. “I can take it now, Georgy,” he said. “Perhaps what you did was right, though. I for one will never believe that you would throw your brother off in distress. I’ll tell you what. At dinner, I thought suddenly, I’ll go back to her and speak to her. I’ll say to her, ‘Maria, poor as I am, your conduct to me has been so noble, that, by heaven! I am yours to take or to leave. If you will have me, here I am: I will enlist: I will work: I will try and make a livelihood for myself somehow, and my bro —— my relations will relent, and give us enough to live on.’ That’s what I determined to tell her; and I did, George. I ran all the way to Kensington in the rain — look, I am splashed from head to foot — and found them all at dinner, all except Will, that is. I spoke out that very moment to them all, sitting round the table, over their wine. ‘Maria,’ says I, ‘a poor fellow wants to redeem his promise which he made when he fancied he was rich. Will you take him?’ I found I had plenty of words, and didn’t hem and stutter as I’m doing now. I spoke ever so long, and I ended by saying I would do my best and my duty by her, so help me God!

“When I had done, she came up to me quite kind. She took my hand, and kissed it before the rest. ‘My dearest, best Harry!’ she said (those were her words, I don’t want otherwise to be praising myself), ‘you are a noble heart, and I thank you with all mine. But, my dear, I have long seen it was only duty, and a foolish promise made by a young man to an old woman, that has held you to your engagement. To keep it would make you miserable, my dear. I absolve you from it, thanking you with all my heart for your fidelity, and blessing and loving my dear cousin always.’ And she came up and kissed me before them all, and went out of the room quite stately, and without a single tear. They were all crying, especially my lord, who was sobbing quite loud. I didn’t think he had so much feeling. And she, George? Oh, isn’t she a noble creature?”

“Here’s her health!” cries George, filling one of the glasses that still stood before him.

“Hip, hip, huzzay!” says Harry. He was wild with delight at being free.

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