The History of Henry Esmond

by William Makepeace Thackeray

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Chapter II - I Come to the End of My Captivity, But Not of My Trouble

Among the company which came to visit the two officers was an old acquaintance of Harry Esmond; that gentleman of the Guards, namely, who had been so kind to Harry when Captain Westbury’s troop had been quartered at Castlewood more than seven years before. Dick the Scholar was no longer Dick the Trooper now, but Captain Steele of Lucas’s Fusiliers, and secretary to my Lord Cutts, that famous officer of King William’s, the bravest and most beloved man of the English army. The two jolly prisoners had been drinking with a party of friends (for our cellar and that of the keepers of Newgate, too, were supplied with endless hampers of Burgundy and Champagne that the friends of the Colonels sent in); and Harry, having no wish for their drink or their conversation, being too feeble in health for the one and too sad in spirits for the other, was sitting apart in his little room, reading such books as he had, one evening, when honest Colonel Westbury, flushed with liquor, and always good-humored in and out of his cups, came laughing into Harry’s closet and said, “Ho, young Killjoy! here’s a friend come to see thee; he’ll pray with thee, or he’ll drink with thee; or he’ll drink and pray turn about. Dick, my Christian hero, here’s the little scholar of Castlewood.”

Dick came up and kissed Esmond on both cheeks, imparting a strong perfume of burnt sack along with his caress to the young man.

“What! is this the little man that used to talk Latin and fetch our bowls? How tall thou art grown! I protest I should have known thee anywhere. And so you have turned ruffian and fighter; and wanted to measure swords with Mohun, did you? I protest that Mohun said at the Guard dinner yesterday, where there was a pretty company of us, that the young fellow wanted to fight him, and was the better man of the two.”

“I wish we could have tried and proved it, Mr. Steele,” says Esmond, thinking of his dead benefactor, and his eyes filling with tears.

With the exception of that one cruel letter which he had from his mistress, Mr. Esmond heard nothing from her, and she seemed determined to execute her resolve of parting from him and disowning him. But he had news of her, such as it was, which Mr. Steele assiduously brought him from the Prince’s and Princess’s Court, where our honest Captain had been advanced to the post of gentleman waiter. When off duty there, Captain Dick often came to console his friends in captivity; a good nature and a friendly disposition towards all who were in ill-fortune no doubt prompting him to make his visits, and good-fellowship and good wine to prolong them.

“Faith,” says Westbury, “the little scholar was the first to begin the quarrel—I mind me of it now—at Lockit’s. I always hated that fellow Mohun. What was the real cause, of the quarrel betwixt him and poor Frank? I would wager ‘twas a woman.”

“‘Twas a quarrel about play—on my word, about play,” Harry said. “My poor lord lost great sums to his guest at Castlewood. Angry words passed between them; and, though Lord Castlewood was the kindest and most pliable soul alive, his spirit was very high; and hence that meeting which has brought us all here,” says Mr. Esmond, resolved never to acknowledge that there had ever been any other cause but cards for the duel.

“I do not like to use bad words of a nobleman,” says Westbury; “but if my Lord Mohun were a commoner, I would say, ‘twas a pity he was not hanged. He was familiar with dice and women at a time other boys are at school being birched; he was as wicked as the oldest rake, years ere he had done growing; and handled a sword and a foil, and a bloody one, too, before he ever used a razor. He held poor Will Mountford in talk that night, when bloody Dick Hill ran him through. He will come to a bad end, will that young lord; and no end is bad enough for him,” says honest Mr. Westbury: whose prophecy was fulfilled twelve years after, upon that fatal day when Mohun fell, dragging down one of the bravest and greatest gentlemen in England in his fall.

From Mr. Steele, then, who brought the public rumor, as well as his own private intelligence, Esmond learned the movements of his unfortunate mistress. Steele’s heart was of very inflammable composition; and the gentleman usher spoke in terms of boundless admiration both of the widow (that most beautiful woman, as he said) and of her daughter, who, in the Captain’s eyes, was a still greater paragon. If the pale widow, whom Captain Richard, in his poetic rapture compared to a Niobe in tears—to a Sigismunda—to a weeping Belvidera, was an object the most lovely and pathetic which his eyes had ever beheld, or for which his heart had melted, even her ripened perfections and beauty were as nothing compared to the promise of that extreme loveliness which the good Captain saw in her daughter. It was matre pulcra filia pulcrior. Steele composed sonnets whilst he was on duty in his Prince’s ante-chamber, to the maternal and filial charms. He would speak for hours about them to Harry Esmond; and, indeed, he could have chosen few subjects more likely to interest the unhappy young man, whose heart was now as always devoted to these ladies; and who was thankful to all who loved them, or praised them, or wished them well.

Not that his fidelity was recompensed by any answering kindness, or show of relenting even, on the part of a mistress obdurate now after ten years of love and benefactions. The poor young man getting no answer, save Tusher’s, to that letter which he had written, and being too proud to write more, opened a part of his heart to Steele, than whom no man, when unhappy, could find a kinder hearer, or more friendly emissary; described (in words which were no doubt pathetic, for they came imo pectore, and caused honest Dick to weep plentifully) his youth, his constancy, his fond devotion to that household which had reared him; his affection, how earned, and how tenderly requited until but yesterday, and (as far as he might) the circumstances and causes for which that sad quarrel had made of Esmond a prisoner under sentence, a widow and orphans of those whom in life he held dearest. In terms that might well move a harder-hearted man than young Esmond’s confidant—for, indeed, the speaker’s own heart was half broke as he uttered them—he described a part of what had taken place in that only sad interview which his mistress had granted him; how she had left him with anger and almost imprecation, whose words and thoughts until then had been only blessing and kindness; how she had accused him of the guilt of that blood, in exchange for which he would cheerfully have sacrificed his own (indeed, in this the Lord Mohun, the Lord Warwick, and all the gentlemen engaged, as well as the common rumor out of doors—Steele told him—bore out the luckless young man); and with all his heart, and tears, he besought Mr. Steele to inform his mistress of her kinsman’s unhappiness, and to deprecate that cruel anger she showed him. Half frantic with grief at the injustice done him, and contrasting it with a thousand soft recollections of love and confidence gone by, that made his present misery inexpressibly more bitter, the poor wretch passed many a lonely day and wakeful night in a kind of powerless despair and rage against his iniquitous fortune. It was the softest hand that struck him, the gentlest and most compassionate nature that persecuted him. “I would as lief,” he said, “have pleaded guilty to the murder, and have suffered for it like any other felon, as have to endure the torture to which my mistress subjects me.”

Although the recital of Esmond’s story, and his passionate appeals and remonstrances, drew so many tears from Dick who heard them, they had no effect upon the person whom they were designed to move. Esmond’s ambassador came back from the mission with which the poor young gentleman had charged him, with a sad blank face and a shake of the head, which told that there was no hope for the prisoner; and scarce a wretched culprit in that prison of Newgate ordered for execution, and trembling for a reprieve, felt more cast down than Mr. Esmond, innocent and condemned.

As had been arranged between the prisoner and his counsel in their consultations, Mr. Steele had gone to the dowager’s house in Chelsey, where it has been said the widow and her orphans were, had seen my Lady Viscountess, and pleaded the cause of her unfortunate kinsman. “And I think I spoke well, my poor boy,” says Mr. Steele; “for who would not speak well in such a cause, and before so beautiful a judge? I did not see the lovely Beatrix (sure her famous namesake of Florence was never half so beautiful), only the young Viscount was in the room with the Lord Churchill, my Lord of Marlborough’s eldest son. But these young gentlemen went off to the garden; I could see them from the window tilting at each other with poles in a mimic tournament (grief touches the young but lightly, and I remember that I beat a drum at the coffin of my own father). My Lady Viscountess looked out at the two boys at their game and said—‘You see, sir, children are taught to use weapons of death as toys, and to make a sport of murder;’ and as she spoke she looked so lovely, and stood there in herself so sad and beautiful, an instance of that doctrine whereof I am a humble preacher, that had I not dedicated my little volume of the ‘Christian Hero’—(I perceive, Harry, thou hast not cut the leaves of it. The sermon is good, believe me, though the preacher’s life may not answer it)—I say, hadn’t I dedicated the volume to Lord Cutts, I would have asked permission to place her ladyship’s name on the first page. I think I never saw such a beautiful violet as that of her eyes, Harry. Her complexion is of the pink of the blush-rose, she hath an exquisite turned wrist and dimpled hand, and I make no doubt—”

“Did you come to tell me about the dimples on my lady’s hand?” broke out Mr. Esmond, sadly.

“A lovely creature in affliction seems always doubly beautiful to me,” says the poor Captain, who indeed was but too often in a state to see double, and so checked he resumed the interrupted thread of his story. “As I spoke my business,” Mr. Steele said, “and narrated to your mistress what all the world knows, and the other side hath been eager to acknowledge—that you had tried to put yourself between the two lords, and to take your patron’s quarrel on your own point; I recounted the general praises of your gallantry, besides my Lord Mohun’s particular testimony to it; I thought the widow listened with some interest, and her eyes—I have never seen such a violet, Harry—looked up at mine once or twice. But after I had spoken on this theme for a while she suddenly broke away with a cry of grief. ‘I would to God, sir,’ she said, ‘I had never heard that word gallantry which you use, or known the meaning of it. My lord might have been here but for that; my home might be happy; my poor boy have a father. It was what you gentlemen call gallantry came into my home, and drove my husband on to the cruel sword that killed him. You should not speak the word to a Christian woman, sir, a poor widowed mother of orphans, whose home was happy until the world came into it—the wicked godless world, that takes the blood of the innocent, and lets the guilty go free.’

“As the afflicted lady spoke in this strain, sir,” Mr. Steele continued, “it seemed as if indignation moved her, even more than grief. ‘Compensation!’ she went on passionately, her cheeks and eyes kindling; ‘what compensation does your world give the widow for her husband, and the children for the murderer of their father? The wretch who did the deed has not even a punishment. Conscience! what conscience has he, who can enter the house of a friend, whisper falsehood and insult to a woman that never harmed him, and stab the kind heart that trusted him? My Lord—my Lord Wretch’s, my Lord Villain’s, my Lord Murderer’s peers meet to try him, and they dismiss him with a word or two of reproof and send him into the world again, to pursue women with lust and falsehood, and to murder unsuspecting guests that harbor him. That day, my Lord—my Lord Murderer—(I will never name him)—was let loose, a woman was executed at Tyburn for stealing in a shop. But a man may rob another of his life, or a lady of her honor, and shall pay no penalty! I take my child, run to the throne, and on my knees ask for justice, and the King refuses me. The King! he is no king of mine—he never shall be. He, too, robbed the throne from the king his father—the true king—and he has gone unpunished, as the great do.’

“I then thought to speak for you,” Mr. Steele continued, “and I interposed by saying, ‘There was one, madam, who, at least, would have put his own breast between your husband’s and my Lord Mohun’s sword. Your poor young kinsman, Harry Esmond, hath told me that he tried to draw the quarrel on himself.’

“‘Are you come from HIM?’ asked the lady (so Mr. Steele went on) rising up with a great severity and stateliness. ‘I thought you had come from the Princess. I saw Mr. Esmond in his prison, and bade him farewell. He brought misery into my house. He never should have entered it.’

“‘Madam, madam, he is not to blame,’ I interposed,” continued Mr. Steele.

“‘Do I blame him to you, sir?’ asked the widow. ‘If ‘tis he who sent you, say that I have taken counsel, where’—she spoke with a very pallid cheek now, and a break in her voice—‘where all who ask may have it;—and that it bids me to part from him, and to see him no more. We met in the prison for the last time—at least for years to come. It may be, in years hence, when—when our knees and our tears and our contrition have changed our sinful hearts, sir, and wrought our pardon, we may meet again—but not now. After what has passed, I could not bear to see him. I wish him well, sir; but I wish him farewell, too; and if he has that—that regard towards us which he speaks of, I beseech him to prove it by obeying me in this.’

“‘I shall break the young man’s heart, madam, by this hard sentence,’” Mr. Steele said.

“The lady shook her head,” continued my kind scholar. “‘The hearts of young men, Mr. Steele, are not so made,’ she said. ‘Mr. Esmond will find other—other friends. The mistress of this house has relented very much towards the late lord’s son,’ she added, with a blush, ‘and has promised me, that is, has promised that she will care for his fortune. Whilst I live in it, after the horrid horrid deed which has passed, Castlewood must never be a home to him—never. Nor would I have him write to me—except—no—I would have him never write to me, nor see him more. Give him, if you will, my parting—Hush! not a word of this before my daughter.’

“Here the fair Beatrix entered from the river, with her cheeks flushing with health, and looking only the more lovely and fresh for the mourning habiliments which she wore. And my Lady Viscountess said—

“‘Beatrix, this is Mr. Steele, gentleman-usher to the Prince’s Highness. When does your new comedy appear, Mr. Steele?’ I hope thou wilt be out of prison for the first night, Harry.”

The sentimental Captain concluded his sad tale, saying, “Faith, the beauty of Filia pulcrior drove pulcram matrem out of my head; and yet as I came down the river, and thought about the pair, the pallid dignity and exquisite grace of the matron had the uppermost, and I thought her even more noble than the virgin!”

The party of prisoners lived very well in Newgate, and with comforts very different to those which were awarded to the poor wretches there (his insensibility to their misery, their gayety still more frightful, their curses and blasphemy, hath struck with a kind of shame since—as proving how selfish, during his imprisonment, his own particular grief was, and how entirely the thoughts of it absorbed him): if the three gentlemen lived well under the care of the Warden of Newgate, it was because they paid well: and indeed the cost at the dearest ordinary or the grandest tavern in London could not have furnished a longer reckoning, than our host of the “Handcuff Inn”—as Colonel Westbury called it. Our rooms were the three in the gate over Newgate—on the second story looking up Newgate Street towards Cheapside and Paul’s Church. And we had leave to walk on the roof, and could see thence Smithfield and the Bluecoat Boys’ School, Gardens, and the Chartreux, where, as Harry Esmond remembered, Dick the Scholar, and his friend Tom Tusher, had had their schooling.

Harry could never have paid his share of that prodigious heavy reckoning which my landlord brought to his guests once a week: for he had but three pieces in his pockets that fatal night before the duel, when the gentlemen were at cards, and offered to play five. But whilst he was yet ill at the Gatehouse, after Lady Castlewood had visited him there, and before his trial, there came one in an orange-tawny coat and blue lace, the livery which the Esmonds always wore, and brought a sealed packet for Mr. Esmond, which contained twenty guineas, and a note saying that a counsel had been appointed for him, and that more money would be forthcoming whenever he needed it.

‘Twas a queer letter from the scholar as she was, or as she called herself: the Dowager Viscountess Castlewood, written in the strange barbarous French which she and many other fine ladies of that time—witness her Grace of Portsmouth—employed. Indeed, spelling was not an article of general commodity in the world then, and my Lord Marlborough’s letters can show that he, for one, had but a little share of this part of grammar:—

“MONG COUSSIN,” my Lady Viscountess Dowager wrote, “je scay que vous vous etes bravement batew et grievement blessay—du coste de feu M. le Vicomte. M. le Compte de Varique ne se playt qua parlay de vous: M. de Moon aucy. Il di que vous avay voulew vous bastre avecque luy—que vous estes plus fort que luy fur l’ayscrimme—quil’y a surtout certaine Botte que vous scavay quil n’a jammay sceu pariay: et que c’en eut ete fay de luy si vouseluy vous vous fussiay battews ansamb. Aincy ce pauv Vicompte est mort. Mort et pontayt—Mon coussin, mon coussin! jay dans la tayste que vous n’estes quung pety Monst—angcy que les Esmonds ong tousjours este. La veuve est chay moy. J’ay recuilly cet’ pauve famme. Elle est furieuse cont vous, allans tous les jours chercher ley Roy (d’icy) demandant a gran cri revanche pour son Mary. Elle ne veux voyre ni entende parlay de vous: pourtant elle ne fay qu’en parlay milfoy par jour. Quand vous seray hor prison venay me voyre. J’auray soing de vous. Si cette petite Prude veut se defaire de song pety Monste (Helas je craing quil ne soy trotar!) je m’on chargeray. J’ay encor quelqu interay et quelques escus de costay.

“La Veuve se raccommode avec Miladi Marlboro qui est tout puicante avecque la Reine Anne. Cet dam senteraysent pour la petite prude; qui pourctant a un fi du mesme asge que vous savay.

“En sortant de prisong venez icy. Je ne puy vous recevoir chaymoy a cause des mechansetes du monde, may pre du moy vous aurez logement.


Marchioness of Esmond this lady sometimes called herself, in virtue of that patent which had been given by the late King James to Harry Esmond’s father; and in this state she had her train carried by a knight’s wife, a cup and cover of assay to drink from, and fringed cloth.

He who was of the same age as little Francis, whom we shall henceforth call Viscount Castlewood here, was H. R. H. the Prince of Wales, born in the same year and month with Frank, and just proclaimed at Saint Germains, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland.

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