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William Makepeace Thackeray - The History Of Henry Esmond (1852)

The period of this novel is the reign of Queen Anne, when the Pretender, the son of James II of England, was trying to gain possession of the throne. The story has a sequel in The Virginians.

THEN Thomas Esmond married his elderly cousin, Isabel, and presently came into his uncle's titles and estates as my Lord Viscount Castlewood, there were several little things concerning his past which he did not think it necessary to mention. Among them was the fact that he already had a wife living, a weaver's daughter, whom he had married in the Low Countries when he was there in the train of the Duke of York.

He had married her in a fit of repentance when he thought himself dying of a wound received in a duel; but when he got well of his wound he repented of his repentance and returned to England resolved to consider the incident closed. The unhappy wife, after bearing a son, named Henry, entered a convent.

His lordship had been for some time comfortably installed in his ancestral house of Castlewood Hants, when he heard of this first wife's death. Being a good-natured rascal, he sent for his son, made him a member of the household and turned him over to the care of his chaplain, Father Holt, to be educated for a priest, but all without telling the truth. He allowed it to be understood generally that there was a bar sinister on little Henry's escutcheon.

Henry was entirely ignorant of his own history; he vaguely remembered that at one time he had lived with some weavers who spoke a foreign tongue. He came to realize early, though how he could not tell, that he was supposed to bear the name of Esmond only by courtesy.

A vast amount of political intriguing was going on at Castle-wood as the boy became older; and of this Father Holt seemed to be the guiding spirit. Most of the Esmonds were of the old religion, and all were intensely loyal to the House of Stuart. One had died at a Worcester fight, with half the men of Castle-wood at his side; another had fallen defending Castlewood against the soldiers of Cromwell, and a third had melted down all the family plate and emptied the family coffers to supply the necessities of King Charles when the royal martyr was at Oxford.

That superannuated Esther, Isabel Esmond, had disputed with Nell Gwyn and the Duchess of Portsmouth for the favor of the second Charles—all of them, women and men, had made heavy sacrifices for the royal Stuarts.

So finally, when King James attempted to recover his ancient kingdom of Ireland, Tom Esmond joined him and fell, sword in hand, at the battle of the Boyne, while his wife fled away to her dower house at Chelsea. Henry Esmond was left alone with the domestics at gloomy old Castlewood, watching the rooks wheeling in flocks to their nests in the ancient trees at sunset, and wondering what had become of Father Holt, who also had fled.

Thus the new lord, Colonel Frank Esmond, found the sallow-faced, large-eyed, grave twelve-year-old boy when he came with his beautiful wife to take possession of the title and estates. The new lord, a bluff, hearty man of forty-five or fifty, greeted the solitary little fellow kindly; and as for his wife, who was barely twenty, Harry thought when she took him by the hand that he never had heard so sweet a voice before or seen such a vision of loveliness as this fair lady with the golden hair and the fresh, pink complexion.

There was another—a beautiful girl of four, who ran to Harry at once and kissed him, her father crying out:

"You are always ready to forsake an old friend for a new one, Trix."

And then there was a little boy baby in his nurse's arms.

My lady worshiped her husband first and her children next, and things settled down for a time very pleasantly at Castlewood. But after a while it was easy to see that my lord was wearying of incense, and that my lady, though she fought against it, was beginning to find that her boasted idol not only had feet of clay but was rather earthy all over.

Then one day Harry brought the smallpox from the village, and Lord Castlewood fled away with his daughter. My lady and little Frank were taken down with it before Harry recovered. My lady was beautiful still after her illness, but it was as if some rough hand had rubbed off the delicate tints of that sweet picture; and when Castlewood returned and met his wife it was evident she never could forgive him for the look he gave her when he saw the change.

When Harry came home for his first vacation from Cam-bridge, whither he had been sent as soon as he was of a proper age, he found as a guest at Castlewood the notorious Lord Mohun, a young man who had achieved a reputation all over Europe for profligacy at an age when most boys are being birched at school. Lord Castlewood drank and gamed with his guests recklessly and seemed more than ever estranged from his wife.

"You see how she treats me, Harry!" he cried. "Damn it! I'm not good enough for her saintship. It's been that way ever since you brought that cursed smallpox into the house. Pass the tankard, Harry, All women are like that—all jilts and flirts—every one of 'em."

When Harry came home from his second vacation matters came to a crisis. He found Mohun again a guest at Castlewood, and my lord more reckless than ever, while his wife seemed by turns deeply distressed and coldly sarcastic. Castlewood greeted Harry with curious deference and bewailed his fate to him.

One night when my lord and Mohun were seated at cards, before supper, Castlewood said to Beatrix: "When thou art old enough, Trix, thou shalt marry Mohun."

"I think my lord would rather marry mamma," replied the spoiled girl, "and is only waiting for you to die to do so. She talked ever so long with him last night and sent Frank and me out of the room."

"Ask Lord Mohun what I said to him, Frank," said Lady Castlewood, with great dignity, and, taking her daughter by the hand, swept out of the room.

"I will tell you what your wife said to me," said Mohun. "She asked me not to drink and gamble with you any more. You know best whether that was for your good or not."

"Oh, of course," sneered Castlewood. "You are a model man, my lord."

"I am no saint, though your wife is," retorted Mohun, "and can answer for my actions as others must for their words." "When you please, my lord," said the Viscount.

Lady Castlewood was frightened when she heard that Mohun and her husband had quarreled; but when the guest rode away next morning the two lords appeared to have made it up, and parted as if nothing had happened. A few days later, however, Lord Castlewood suddenly grew silent and reserved, treated his wife with greater kindness than he had for a long while, and appeared to have much business with his lawyer. Sometimes they could hear him pacing his chamber all night alone.

Harry endeavored unavailingly to soothe the fears of his dear lady and to raise the spirits of his patron. At the end of the month Castlewood announced that he was ill and must go to London to see his physician. He took Harry along with him.

In London they met, apparently by appointment, Lord Mohun and two of his friends, Captain Macartney and the young Earl of Warwick, and went to the Greyhound Tavern. There they were joined by Captain Westbury, an old friend of Castle-wood's, and seemed quite merry with wine and cards in a private room until Mohun snuffed a candle, and Castlewood said : "Don't be so damned awkward, Mohun."

"Awkward's a damned awkward word, my lord," replied Mohun. "City gentlemen don't use such words--or, if they do, ask pardon."

"I fling the words in your face, my lord—shall I send the cards after them?" said Castlewood.

Harry saw it all—the quarrel at cards was only a pretext. In fact, as they left the tavern to go to the dueling-grounds at Leicester Fields Lord Castlewood confessed aside to him that it had all been arranged before. He had surprised a letter that Mohun had written to Lady Castlewood, which showed that, while she was innocent of wrong, Mohun was a villain. He would have fought him before but that he owed him a great sum of money lost at cards, which he of course had to pay first.

They had not been on the dueling-grounds more than two minutes, it seemed to Harry, before Castlewood lay on the ground with Mohun standing over him with bloody rapier.

They got my lord to bed in a neighboring bath-house, and when the Rev. Mr. Atterbury came out from confessing him he handed Harry a paper signed by the hand of his dying patron. It was the story of Harry's own birth, which had been told to my lord by Father Holt when he made a secret visit to Castle-wood during Harry's second term at Cambridge.

Harry thought of all the kindnesses that had been done to him before his patron knew that he could claim them justly; of that sweet and sorely tried woman about to become a widow; of her children, whose fancied inheritance he would take away should he claim his own—and threw the paper into the fire.

For his part in the duel Harry suffered a short imprisonment in the Gatehouse, and there Lady Castlewood came to see him. It was a distressing interview. She reproached Harry for not preventing the duel; declared that he had brought discord into her home; reproached herself; seemed, in fact, half distracted, and so at last the woman for whom Esmond would willingly have given his life went away declaring that though she forgave him she could never see him more.

All thoughts of being a priest were now over with Harry, and when he came out of prison he did not scruple to accept the help that his father's widow, the Dowager Lady Isabel, offered him, knowing, as he did, how much more was rightfully his. He would be a soldier, he decided, and so the Chelsea dowager procured him a commission in Colonel Quin's regiment.

Hardly was the ink dry on Esmond's commission when King William died and Queen Anne succeeded with blare of trumpets and much pomp of heralds. Mr. Esmond was soon off to the wars, where he made a name for himeslf, and came back after two years to find Lady Isabel as full of gossip as ever.

Almost the first piece of news she told him was that the late lord's widow was going to marry Tom Tusher, the chaplain at Castlewood. Much disturbed by this news, Harry posted off to Walcote, the little house near Winchester where Frank Esmond lived before he became my lord, and where his widow was now residing with her children. He minded not in the least now the prohibition that Lady Castlewood had made about his never seeing her again. He was the head of the family, and as such had a duty to perform. Marry Tom Tusher, indeed!

At the house they told him Lady Castlewood was at prayers at the Cathedral; she went to Cathedral prayers every day. The organ was playing. The winter's day was growing gray as he passed under the street arch into the Cathedral yard.

A score of persons were in the Cathedral besides the dean and some of his clergy and the choristers performing the beautiful evening service; and in one of the stalls, still in her black widow's hood, sat Esmond's dear mistress, her son by her side, very much grown, a noble-looking youth.

Frank caught sight of Mr. Esmond and said to his mother, "Look! Look!" quite loudly. Harry felt his face flush and his frame tremble as his worshiped lady looked upon him.

The service was soon over, and Frank rushed to Captain Esmond with glad welcome, while my lady said:

"It was kind of you to come, Harry. I—I thought you might come."

So it was all made up between them, and there was no truth whatever in the story the spiteful Lady Isabel had started about Tom Tusher and my lady. As they walked home in the gathering shadows, Frank hurrying before, Lady Castlewood said :

"Do you know what day it is? It is your birthday. But last year we did not drink it—no, no ! My lord was cold, and my poor Harry was far off, and my brain was in a fever. But now you are come home again, bringing your sheaves with you."

She burst into a flood of weeping as she spoke, she laughed and sobbed on the young man's heart crying out wildly: "Bringing your sheaves with you—your sheaves with you!"

"If—if 'tis so, my dear lady," said Harry, "why need we ever part? Come away. Leave this Europe, which has so many sad recollections for you, and begin life again with me in the New World. There is that land in Virginia which King Charles gave our ancestor. Frank will give us that."

"Hush, boy," she replied. "For you the world is just beginning; for me, I must leave it and pray out my expiation, dear. But when your heart is wounded come to me, Harry."

When they reached the house at Walcote and stood in the great hall, Frank, who had preceded them, welcomed the Cap-tain with a shout of joy and cried:

"When I am seventeen I am going to the army, too. Look, who comes here—'tis Mistress Trix with a new ribbon. Ho! ho! I knew she would put on one as soon as she heard the Captain was coming to dinner!"

And down the stairs came Beatrix, holding a candle in her hand which illuminated her and shone on her scarlet ribbon and on the most beautiful white neck in the world. Esmond had left a child and found a woman, grown beyond the common height and arrived at such a dazzling perfection of beauty that his eyes might well delight at beholding her.

Her eyes, eyebrows, lashes, and hair were dark; her hair curling in rich undulations and falling on her shoulders; but her complexion was as dazzling white as snow in sunshine, and her cheeks and lips a full, rich red. Her eyes were fire, her look was love, and her voice the sweetest low song. Her form was symmetry itself.

She advanced, holding her head forward as if she would have Esmond kiss her as he used to do when a child, but checked herself with :

"Stop! I am grown too big. Welcome, Cousin Harry." And she made a sweeping curtsey down to the floor. Then she gave him both her hands and said: "Oh, Harry, we are so glad you are come."

Esmond stood entranced, enthralled.

The next day Lady Castlewood looked fatigued as if with watching, and her face was pale. Beatrix remarked these signs of indisposition and deplored them.

"I am an old woman," says my lady, with a kind smile. "I cannot hope to look as young as you do, dear."

In his artless way Frank told Harry many a tale of Trix; how the young Lord Blandford, the great Marlborough's heir, had been desperately in love with her, and she had given him a lock of her hair, discovering which his mother, the Duchess, had raved and stormed and boxed the ears of both of them; how young Sir Wilmot Crawley and Anthony Henley had drawn swords about her, and much more.

Harry realized that Beatrix never would marry but for rank and station) and he would not have been human had he not for a time wavered in his resolution never to claim possession of the title and estates of Castlewood.

Torn by a tumult of conflicting emotions, Harry fled away to the wars again, to the campaigns hi Germany.

When he returned oncé more hé found that his father's widow, the Lady Isabel; had died and left td him her small for-the and her diamonds, which were of considerable value, being the gift of a king. Beatrix was more beautiful than ever. She was about to miry the great M k& of Hamilton, who was going on an embàsy to France which; it was hoped; might result the young King at St. Germain's being brought back as heir to his sister, the Queen; who was rapidly failing in health.

Beatrix was heart and soul in "the good cause" and radiant with ambitions about to be gratified.

" Gd and Barry mamma," she said to Colonel Esmond. " Go and be Darby and Joan the rest of your lives; that's what yod two are fitted for. Oh, cousin; when will you learn that I have no heart?"

Lady Castlewood was established in a modest house at Kensington, where Béatrix was maid of honor at the palace:

"I have waited your coming anxiously, Harty," the gentle lady said. "bean Atterbury advised me to await your decision. Your father's widow before her death sent for me and told me all. She learned the secret accidentally, she said, after she had been three years married; and had kept it because it had been considered better tot the cause of the King's restoration that it should be so: Those who knew held it as a whip over my husband to keep him true to the good cause. But now the decision is with you; Harry."

"My decision was made besidë the deathbed of My dear lord," said Harry. "I am the head of the family, but our son is Viscount Castlewood still."

"Deaf, génerous Harry!" cried the lady; throwing herself at his feet. "gay, do not raise me let me kneel and—and worship you."

Lady Castlewood's house was a headquarters of the Tory faction; avid bue night as a company of gentlemen sat over their glasses after dinner my Lord Bolingbroke, excited by the wine he had drùnk, shouted:

"Treason! Loyalty! What names are these to frighten you and me with? Here's to the King over the water: We'll bring him back and show him Whitehall, and then if he betrays us hurrah for the British Republic!"

Just then Dean Swift came in with a scared face. "For God's sake, my lord, drink no more," he said.

"What!" exclaimed the company, starting up, "is the Queen dead?"

"No, but Duke Hamilton is dead," replied the Dean. "He has just been killed in a duel with that rascal Mohun, who is dead, too."

"Poor Beatrix!" was Esmond's first thought. But the proud girl bore the ruin of her ambitious hopes with a dignity that repelled sympathy and a gravity that disarmed criticism.

As for the disaster which the Duke's death had been to the Tory party, Colonel Esmond had a plan of his own for retrieving it. This was to bring over the King secretly and have him pro-claimed instantly on the death of his sister, who could not last much longer.

As he was undoubted inheritor of the right divine, the feelings of more than half the nation, of almost all the clergy and of the gentry of England and Scotland were with "the King over the water."

The young Viscount Castlewood had been abroad for three years, serving with the army on the Rhine and extending his travels. He was of the same age as the youthful King and bore a remarkable personal resemblance to him. What was easier than that the King, traveling as the Viscount Castlewood, with Frank as his servant, should come swiftly to London? The leaders of the Tory party agreed, and so one night the little house at Kensington had a royal guest who was to lie hidden there for a while.

He was but a boy, and a French boy at that, with all the imperfections of his race aggravated by exile and his foreign training. But they served him on bended knee in the house of Lady Castlewood.

Young Castlewood was startled by the beauty and splendor of Beatrix when she came down-stairs to meet the King on his arrival; and James Stuart stood enthralled, as Henry Esmond had once stood when Trix came down the stairs to meet him, years ago, at Walcote.

These were busy days for the Tory managers, who were filled with the hope of a great triumph. But the King, instead of showing interest in the hot labor of his supporters, employed his waiting time in dalliance with Beatrix; and the bearing of that young lady toward the royal guest caused the Esmond family much concern. The girl was better at Castlewood, her mother said at last, until the King should have his own house.

"For shame," burst out Beatrix with tears of rage and mortification. "You disgrace me with your suspicions. I will go; but I will go alone to Castlewood. You three shall stay behind and triumph over my unhappiness. I want not that my mother should accompany me. I thank you, Henry Esmond, for your share in this conspiracy."

"Well," said Frank, "we all think you are a deal too fond of the King, and he of you, and that's a fact."

So poor Beatrix went off to lonely Castlewood, and the young King, when he found her gone, swallowed his supper very sulkily and did not rally in spirits until the second bottle.

Messengers were now corning constantly from the palace, where the Queen lay dying. At any moment the youth who was sighing for the vanished Beatrix might be proclaimed King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland from the palace gates.

The next day the King was more cheerful, in fact quite re-stored to his former gracious good humor. But on the following night when an important message came from Bishop Atterbury the royal boy had vanished.

Frank and Harry looked at each other with startled faces. Both had the same thought; and as day broke they stood before the ancient walls of their ancestral castle. The King had arrived the evening before, they learned from the porter, and had supped with Beatrix, she keeping two servants always in the room with her. Then he had gone to bed in the chamber off the chaplain's room across the court.

Harry knew a secret way of getting into this room, a way used by Father Holt for his comings and goings in the old days at Castlewood. In the chamber they found a candle burning and the King, dressed, asleep on the bed. He started up at seeing two men in his room, and drawing a pistol from beneath his pillow, cried out: "Qui est là ?"

"It is the Marquis of Esmond," said the Colonel, " come to welcome your Majesty to his poor house of Castlewood and to report what has taken place in London. By this time the Queen may be dead; and had not your Majesty chosen to ride to Castlewood, the King might have slept in Saint James's. We were ready; there was only one person who failed us—your Majesty's gracious-"

"Morbleu, Monsieur, you give me too much majesty," said the Prince, who now seemed to be looking for one of his visitors to help him on with his coat. Neither man stirred.

"We shall take care," said Esmond, "not much oftener to offend in that respect."

The King muttered something about a guet-apens.

"The snare, sir," replied Esmond, "was not of our laying. We came to avenge, not to encompass, the dishonor of our family."

"Dishonor? Morbleu ! There has been no dishonor!" cried the King. " Only a little harmless playing, I swear."

"Which was meant to end seriously," answered the Colonel. "We have arrived in time, Frank. His Majesty has been writing poetry to Beatrix. Had the royal lover been happy, he would not thus have employed his time." And, in fact, there were scraps of boyish verse on the table, which the Prince had been composing to his charmer.

"Sir," said the King in a rage, "did I come here to receive insults?"

"Rather to confer them, your Majesty," replied Harry. "If your Majesty will accompany me into the next apartment I have some papers I should like to show you."

Taking the candle, he walked backward with great stateliness and ushered the King into the chaplain's room, through which they had just entered the house. Then going to a little crypt over the mantelpiece, the Colonel opened it and took therefrom papers that had long reposed there.

"Here, may it please your Majesty," said he, "is the patent of Marquis sent over from Saint Germain's to Viscount Castle-wood, my father; here is the certificate of my father's marriage to my mother, and of my birth and christening. I was christened in that religion of which your sainted sire gave all through life so shining an example. These are my titles, dear Frank, and this is what I do with them: here go baptism, marriage, the marquisate and the august sign manual."

He set the papers afire in the brazier. "Yod will please to remember; sire;" said he; turning to the King, "that our family hath ruined itself for yours; that my grandfather spent his estate and gave his blood and his son to die for your service; that my lord's grandfather—for lord you are now, Frank, by right and title, too—fell in the same cause; that my poor kinswoman, my father's second wife, after giving away her honor to your wicked, perjured race, sent all her wealth to the King and got in return this inestimable yard of blue ribbon. I lay it at your feet and stamp upon it; I draw my sword and break it and deny you; and had you accomplished what you had designed I should have run it through your heart and no more spared you than your sire spared Monmouth:"

As the Colonel broke his sword, Frank, who had been looking on stupidly, drew and broke his blade, saying:

"I go with my cousin. It's all your Majesty's fault. The Queen's dead, likely, by this time, and you might have been King if you hadn't come dangling after Trix."

" Thus to lose a crown," said the young Prince, speaking in his impetuous way, rapidly, in French, "and the loyalty of such hearts as these! To lose the loveliest woman in the world! Marquis; I offer you the only reparation in my power. Will yod favor hie by crossing swords with me?"

Extremely touched by this immense mark of condescension, Esmond took two swords from the armoire and handed one to the King, bowing so low as almost to kiss the royal hand. The swords were no sooner met than Frank knocked up Esmond's with the broken blade of his own, and the Colonel, stepping back, made another very low bow.

Just then Beatrix entered the room. She started and turned pale at the sight of the broken swords, the papers smoldering in the brazier, and her stern kinsmen. The King made some light and gallant remark and told her that, business calling him at once to London, these two lords had come to fetch him.

"Will it please the King to breakfast before he goes?" was all the girl would say. The roses had shuddered out of her cheeks, her eyes were glaring, she looked quite old. She came up to Esmond and hissed out a word or two:

"If I did not love you before, think how I love you now!"

As Esmond looked at her he wondered that he ever could have loved her. The King and his two companions set out for London at once. As they came by Lady Warwick's house and down the street of Kensington there was much bustle of persons going to and fro and a great crowd around the palace gate. Opposite the palace the coach was stopped, and presently out from the gates came marching Horse Guards with their trumpets and a company of heralds with their tabards.

The trumpets blew and the heralds proclaimed: "George, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King; Defender of the Faith." And all the people shouted: " God save the King!"

All the hopes of the Pretender were blown away on the breath of King George's trumpets, and he was secretly hurried back to St. Germain's, whither Beatrix, escaping from the custody of her family, soon followed him. Frank had taken a foreign wife, who soon came over to him, and Esmond's dear lady was alone in life except for that faithful heart of his, which had for a time, it is true, been fascinated by the charms of one who could fascinate him no longer.

So one day, finding his lady in tears, Esmond besought her to confide herself and her troubles to one who would never for-sake her, and with eyes of meek surrender she yielded to his importunity. Frank released to them the Virginia estates, where, in a new Castlewood, they turned their diamonds into plows and axes for their plantation, and into negroes who were the happiest and merriest in all the country.

In the transatlantic country there is a season, the calmest and most delightful of the year, which is called the Indian Summer. The autumn of their lives resembled that happy serene weather, and they were thankful for its rest and its sweet sunshine.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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