The Virginians, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Miles’s Moidore

Little Miles made his appearance in this world within a few days of the gracious Prince who commands his regiment. Illuminations and cannonading saluted the Royal George’s birth, multitudes were admitted to see him as he lay behind a gilt railing at the Palace with noble nurses watching over him. Few nurses guarded the cradle of our little Prince; no courtiers, no faithful retainers saluted it, except our trusty Gumbo and kind Molly, who to be sure loved and admired the little heir of my poverty as loyally as our hearts could desire. Why was our boy not named George like the other paragon just mentioned, and like his father? I gave him the name of a little scapegrace of my family, a name which many generations of Warringtons had borne likewise; but my poor little Miles’s love and kindness touched me at a time when kindness and love were rare from those of my own blood, and Theo and I agreed that our child should be called after that single little friend of my paternal race.

We wrote to acquaint our royal parents with the auspicious event, and bravely inserted the child’s birth in the Daily Advertiser, and the place, Church Street, Lambeth, where he was born. “My dear,” says Aunt Bernstein, writing to me in reply to my announcement, “how could you point out to all the world that you live in such a trou as that in which you have buried yourself? I kiss the little mamma, and send a remembrance for the child.” This remembrance was a fine silk coverlid, with a lace edging fit for a prince. It was not very useful: the price of the lace would have served us much better, but Theo and Molly were delighted with the present, and my eldest son’s cradle had a cover as fine as any nobleman’s.

Good Dr. Heberden came over several times to visit my wife, and see that all things went well. He knew and recommended to us a surgeon in the vicinage, who took charge of her; luckily, my dear patient needed little care, beyond that which our landlady and her own trusty attendant could readily afford her. Again our humble precinct was adorned with the gilded apparition of Lady Castlewood’s chariot wheels; she brought a pot of jelly, which she thought Theo might like, and which, no doubt, had been served at one of her ladyship’s banquets on a previous day. And she told us of all the ceremonies at court, and of the splendour and festivities attending the birth of the august heir to the crown; Our good Mr. Johnson happened to pay me a visit on one of those days when my lady countess’s carriage flamed up to our little gate. He was not a little struck by her magnificence, and made her some bows, which were more respectful than graceful. She called me cousin very affably, and helped to transfer the present of jelly from her silver dish into our crockery pan with much benignity. The Doctor tasted the sweetmeat, and pronounced it to be excellent. “The great, sir,” says he, “are fortunate in every way. They can engage the most skilful practitioners of the culinary art, as they can assemble the most amiable wits round their table. If, as you think, sir, and, from the appearance of the dish, your suggestion at least is plausible, this sweetmeat may have appeared already at his lordship’s table, it has been there in good company. It has quivered under the eyes of celebrated beauties, it has been tasted by ruby lips, it has divided the attention of the distinguished company, with fruits, tarts, and creams, which I make no doubt were like itself delicious.” And so saying, the good Doctor absorbed a considerable portion of Lady Castlewood’s benefaction; though as regards the epithet delicious I am bound to say, that my poor wife, after tasting the jelly, put it away from her as not to her liking; and Molly, flinging up her head, declared it was mouldy.

My boy enjoyed at least the privilege of having an earl’s daughter for his godmother; for this office was performed by his cousin, our poor Lady Maria, whose kindness and attention to the mother and the infant were beyond all praise; and who, having lost her own solitary chance for maternal happiness, yearned over our child in a manner not a little touching to behold. Captain Miles is a mighty fine gentleman, and his uniforms of the Prince’s Hussars as splendid as any that ever bedizened a soldier of fashion; but he hath too good a heart, and is too true a gentleman, let us trust, not to be thankful when he remembers that his own infant limbs were dressed in some of the little garments which had been prepared for the poor player’s child. Sampson christened him in that very chapel in Southwark, where our marriage ceremony had been performed. Never were the words of the Prayer-book more beautifully and impressively read than by the celebrant of the service; except at its end, when his voice failed him, and he and the rest of the little congregation were fain to wipe their eyes. “Mr. Garrick himself, sir,” says Hagan, “could not have read those words so nobly. I am sure little innocent never entered the world accompanied by wishes and benedictions more tender and sincere.”

And now I have not told how it chanced that the Captain came by his name of Miles. A couple of days before his christening, when as yet I believe it was intended that our firstborn should bear his father’s name, a little patter of horse’s hoofs comes galloping up to our gate; and who should pull at the bell but young Miles, our cousin? I fear he had disobeyed his parents when he galloped away on that undutiful journey.

“You know,” says he, “cousin Harry gave me my little horse; and I can’t help liking you, because you are so like Harry, and because they’re always saying things of you at home, and it’s a shame; and I have brought my whistle and coral that my godmamma Lady Suckling gave me, for your little boy; and if you’re so poor, cousin George, here’s my gold moidore, and it’s worth ever so much, and it’s no use to me, because I mayn’t spend it, you know.”

We took the boy up to Theo in her room (he mounted the stair in his little tramping boots, of which he was very proud); and Theo kissed him, and thanked him; and his moidore has been in her purse from that day.

My mother, writing through her ambassador as usual, informed me of her royal surprise and displeasure on learning that my son had been christened Miles — a name not known, at least in the Esmond family. I did not care to tell the reason at the time; but when, in after years, I told Madam Esmond how my boy came by his name, I saw a tear roll down her wrinkled cheek, and I heard afterwards that she had asked Gumbo many questions about the boy who gave his name to our Miles — our Miles Gloriosus of Pall Mall, Valenciennes, Almack’s, Brighton.

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