The History of Henry Esmond

by William Makepeace Thackeray

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Chapter V - My Superiors are Involved in Plots for the Restoration of King James II

Not having been able to sleep, for thinking of some lines for eels which he had placed the night before, the lad was lying in his little bed, waiting for the hour when the gate would be open, and he and his comrade, John Lockwood, the porter’s son, might go to the pond and see what fortune had brought them. At daybreak John was to awaken him, but his own eagerness for the sport had served as a reveillez long since—so long, that it seemed to him as if the day never would come.

It might have been four o’clock when he heard the door of the opposite chamber, the Chaplain’s room, open, and the voice of a man coughing in the passage. Harry jumped up, thinking for certain it was a robber, or hoping perhaps for a ghost, and, flinging open his own door, saw before him the Chaplain’s door open, and a light inside, and a figure standing in the doorway, in the midst of a great smoke which issued from the room.

“Who’s there?” cried out the boy, who was of a good spirit.

“Silentium!” whispered the other; “‘tis I, my boy!” and, holding his hand out, Harry had no difficulty in recognizing his master and friend, Father Holt. A curtain was over the window of the Chaplain’s room that looked to the court, and Harry saw that the smoke came from a great flame of papers which were burning in a brazier when he entered the Chaplain’s room. After giving a hasty greeting and blessing to the lad, who was charmed to see his tutor, the Father continued the burning of his papers, drawing them from a cupboard over the mantel-piece wall, which Harry had never seen before.

Father Holt laughed, seeing the lad’s attention fixed at once on this hole. “That is right, Harry,” he said; “faithful little famuli, see all and say nothing. You are faithful, I know.”

“I know I would go to the stake for you,” said Harry.

“I don’t want your head,” said the Father, patting it kindly; “all you have to do is to hold your tongue. Let us burn these papers, and say nothing to anybody. Should you like to read them?”

Harry Esmond blushed, and held down his head; he HAD looked as the fact was, and without thinking, at the paper before him; and though he had seen it, could not understand a word of it, the letters being quite clear enough, but quite without meaning. They burned the papers, beating down the ashes in a brazier, so that scarce any traces of them remained.

Harry had been accustomed to see Father Holt in more dresses than one; it not being safe, or worth the danger, for Popish ecclesiastics to wear their proper dress; and he was, in consequence, in no wise astonished that the priest should now appear before him in a riding-dress, with large buff leather boots, and a feather to his hat, plain, but such as gentlemen wore.

“You know the secret of the cupboard,” said he, laughing, “and must be prepared for other mysteries;” and he opened—but not a secret cupboard this time—only a wardrobe, which he usually kept locked, and from which he now took out two or three dresses and perruques of different colors, and a couple of swords of a pretty make (Father Holt was an expert practitioner with the small-sword, and every day, whilst he was at home, he and his pupil practised this exercise, in which the lad became a very great proficient), a military coat and cloak, and a farmer’s smock, and placed them in the large hole over the mantel-piece from which the papers had been taken.

“If they miss the cupboard,” he said, “they will not find these; if they find them, they’ll tell no tales, except that Father Holt wore more suits of clothes than one. All Jesuits do. You know what deceivers we are, Harry.”

Harry was alarmed at the notion that his friend was about to leave him; but “No,” the priest said, “I may very likely come back with my lord in a few days. We are to be tolerated; we are not to be persecuted. But they may take a fancy to pay a visit at Castlewood ere our return; and, as gentlemen of my cloth are suspected, they might choose to examine my papers, which concern nobody—at least not them.” And to this day, whether the papers in cipher related to politics, or to the affairs of that mysterious society whereof Father Holt was a member, his pupil, Harry Esmond, remains in entire ignorance.

The rest of his goods, his small wardrobe, &c. Holt left untouched on his shelves and in his cupboard, taking down—with a laugh, however—and flinging into the brazier, where he only half burned them, some theological treatises which he had been writing against the English divines. “And now,” said he, “Henry, my son, you may testify, with a safe conscience, that you saw me burning Latin sermons the last time I was here before I went away to London; and it will be daybreak directly, and I must be away before Lockwood is stirring.”

“Will not Lockwood let you out, sir?” Esmond asked. Holt laughed; he was never more gay or good-humored than when in the midst of action or danger.

“Lockwood knows nothing of my being here, mind you,” he said; “nor would you, you little wretch! had you slept better. You must forget that I have been here; and now farewell. Close the door, and go to your own room, and don’t come out till—stay, why should you not know one secret more? I know you will never betray me.”

In the Chaplain’s room were two windows; the one looking into the court facing westwards to the fountain; the other, a small casement strongly barred, and looking on to the green in front of the Hall. This window was too high to reach from the ground; but, mounting on a buffet which stood beneath it, Father Holt showed me how, by pressing on the base of the window, the whole framework of lead, glass, and iron stanchions descended into a cavity worked below, from which it could be drawn and restored to its usual place from without; a broken pane being purposely open to admit the hand which was to work upon the spring of the machine.

“When I am gone,” Father Holt said, “you may push away the buffet, so that no one may fancy that an exit has been made that way; lock the door; place the key—where shall we put the key?—under ‘Chrysostom’ on the book-shelf; and if any ask for it, say I keep it there, and told you where to find it, if you had need to go to my room. The descent is easy down the wall into the ditch; and so, once more farewell, until I see thee again, my dear son.” And with this the intrepid Father mounted the buffet with great agility and briskness, stepped across the window, lifting up the bars and framework again from the other side, and only leaving room for Harry Esmond to stand on tiptoe and kiss his hand before the casement closed, the bars fixing as firmly as ever, seemingly, in the stone arch overhead. When Father Holt next arrived at Castlewood, it was by the public gate on horseback; and he never so much as alluded to the existence of the private issue to Harry, except when he had need of a private messenger from within, for which end, no doubt, he had instructed his young pupil in the means of quitting the Hall.

Esmond, young as he was, would have died sooner than betray his friend and master, as Mr. Holt well knew; for he had tried the boy more than once, putting temptations in his way, to see whether he would yield to them and confess afterwards, or whether he would resist them, as he did sometimes, or whether he would lie, which he never did. Holt instructing the boy on this point, however, that if to keep silence is not to lie, as it certainly is not, yet silence is, after all, equivalent to a negation—and therefore a downright No, in the interest of justice or your friend, and in reply to a question that may be prejudicial to either, is not criminal, but, on the contrary, praiseworthy; and as lawful a way as the other of eluding a wrongful demand. For instance (says he), suppose a good citizen, who had seen his Majesty take refuge there, had been asked, “Is King Charles up that oak-tree?” his duty would have been not to say, Yes—so that the Cromwellians should seize the king and murder him like his father—but No; his Majesty being private in the tree, and therefore not to be seen there by loyal eyes: all which instruction, in religion and morals, as well as in the rudiments of the tongues and sciences, the boy took eagerly and with gratitude from his tutor. When, then, Holt was gone, and told Harry not to see him, it was as if he had never been. And he had this answer pat when he came to be questioned a few days after.

The Prince of Orange was then at Salisbury, as young Esmond learned from seeing Doctor Tusher in his best cassock (though the roads were muddy, and he never was known to wear his silk, only his stuff one, a-horseback), with a great orange cockade in his broad-leafed hat, and Nahum, his clerk, ornamented with a like decoration. The Doctor was walking up and down in front of his parsonage, when little Esmond saw him, and heard him say he was going to pay his duty to his Highness the Prince, as he mounted his pad and rode away with Nahum behind. The village people had orange cockades too, and his friend the blacksmith’s laughing daughter pinned one into Harry’s old hat, which he tore out indignantly when they bade him to cry “God save the Prince of Orange and the Protestant religion!” but the people only laughed, for they liked the boy in the village, where his solitary condition moved the general pity, and where he found friendly welcomes and faces in many houses. Father Holt had many friends there too, for he not only would fight the blacksmith at theology, never losing his temper, but laughing the whole time in his pleasant way; but he cured him of an ague with quinquina, and was always ready with a kind word for any man that asked it, so that they said in the village ‘twas a pity the two were Papists.

The Director and the Vicar of Castlewood agreed very well; indeed, the former was a perfectly-bred gentleman, and it was the latter’s business to agree with everybody. Doctor Tusher and the lady’s-maid, his spouse, had a boy who was about the age of little Esmond; and there was such a friendship between the lads, as propinquity and tolerable kindness and good-humor on either side would be pretty sure to occasion. Tom Tusher was sent off early, however, to a school in London, whither his father took him and a volume of sermons, in the first year of the reign of King James; and Tom returned but once, a year afterwards, to Castlewood for many years of his scholastic and collegiate life. Thus there was less danger to Tom of a perversion of his faith by the Director, who scarce ever saw him, than there was to Harry, who constantly was in the Vicar’s company; but as long as Harry’s religion was his Majesty’s, and my lord’s, and my lady’s, the Doctor said gravely, it should not be for him to disturb or disquiet him: it was far from him to say that his Majesty’s Church was not a branch of the Catholic Church; upon which Father Holt used, according to his custom, to laugh, and say that the Holy Church throughout all the world, and the noble Army of Martyrs, were very much obliged to the Doctor.

It was while Dr. Tusher was away at Salisbury that there came a troop of dragoons with orange scarfs, and quartered in Castlewood, and some of them came up to the Hall, where they took possession, robbing nothing however beyond the hen-house and the beer-cellar: and only insisting upon going through the house and looking for papers. The first room they asked to look at was Father Holt’s room, of which Harry Esmond brought the key, and they opened the drawers and the cupboards, and tossed over the papers and clothes—but found nothing except his books and clothes, and the vestments in a box by themselves, with which the dragoons made merry, to Harry Esmond’s horror. And to the questions which the gentleman put to Harry, he replied that Father Holt was a very kind man to him, and a very learned man, and Harry supposed would tell him none of his secrets if he had any. He was about eleven years old at this time, and looked as innocent as boys of his age.

The family were away more than six months, and when they returned they were in the deepest state of dejection, for King James had been banished, the Prince of Orange was on the throne, and the direst persecutions of those of the Catholic faith were apprehended by my lady, who said she did not believe that there was a word of truth in the promises of toleration that Dutch monster made, or in a single word the perjured wretch said. My lord and lady were in a manner prisoners in their own house; so her ladyship gave the little page to know, who was by this time growing of an age to understand what was passing about him, and something of the characters of the people he lived with.

“We are prisoners,” says she; “in everything but chains, we are prisoners. Let them come, let them consign me to dungeons, or strike off my head from this poor little throat” (and she clasped it in her long fingers). “The blood of the Esmonds will always flow freely for their kings. We are not like the Churchills—the Judases, who kiss their master and betray him. We know how to suffer, how even to forgive in the royal cause” (no doubt it was to that fatal business of losing the place of Groom of the Posset to which her ladyship alluded, as she did half a dozen times in the day). “Let the tyrant of Orange bring his rack and his odious Dutch tortures—the beast! the wretch! I spit upon him and defy him. Cheerfully will I lay this head upon the block; cheerfully will I accompany my lord to the scaffold: we will cry ‘God save King James!’ with our dying breath, and smile in the face of the executioner.” And she told her page, a hundred times at least, of the particulars of the last interview which she had with his Majesty.

“I flung myself before my liege’s feet,” she said, “at Salisbury. I devoted myself—my husband—my house, to his cause. Perhaps he remembered old times, when Isabella Esmond was young and fair; perhaps he recalled the day when ‘twas not I that knelt—at least he spoke to me with a voice that reminded ME of days gone by. ‘Egad!’ said his Majesty, ‘you should go to the Prince of Orange; if you want anything.’ ‘No, sire,’ I replied, ‘I would not kneel to a Usurper; the Esmond that would have served your Majesty will never be groom to a traitor’s posset.’ The royal exile smiled, even in the midst of his misfortune; he deigned to raise me with words of consolation. The Viscount, my husband, himself, could not be angry at the august salute with which he honored me!”

The public misfortune had the effect of making my lord and his lady better friends than they ever had been since their courtship. My lord Viscount had shown both loyalty and spirit, when these were rare qualities in the dispirited party about the King; and the praise he got elevated him not a little in his wife’s good opinion, and perhaps in his own. He wakened up from the listless and supine life which he had been leading; was always riding to and fro in consultation with this friend or that of the King’s; the page of course knowing little of his doings, but remarking only his greater cheerfulness and altered demeanor.

Father Holt came to the Hall constantly, but officiated no longer openly as chaplain; he was always fetching and carrying: strangers, military and ecclesiastic (Harry knew the latter, though they came in all sorts of disguises), were continually arriving and departing. My lord made long absences and sudden reappearances, using sometimes the means of exit which Father Holt had employed, though how often the little window in the Chaplain’s room let in or let out my lord and his friends, Harry could not tell. He stoutly kept his promise to the Father of not prying, and if at midnight from his little room he heard noises of persons stirring in the next chamber, he turned round to the wall, and hid his curiosity under his pillow until it fell asleep. Of course he could not help remarking that the priest’s journeys were constant, and understanding by a hundred signs that some active though secret business employed him: what this was may pretty well be guessed by what soon happened to my lord.

No garrison or watch was put into Castlewood when my lord came back, but a Guard was in the village; and one or other of them was always on the Green keeping a look-out on our great gate, and those who went out and in. Lockwood said that at night especially every person who came in or went out was watched by the outlying sentries. ‘Twas lucky that we had a gate which their Worships knew nothing about. My lord and Father Holt must have made constant journeys at night: once or twice little Harry acted as their messenger and discreet little aide-de-camp. He remembers he was bidden to go into the village with his fishing-rod, enter certain houses, ask for a drink of water, and tell the good man, “There would be a horse-market at Newbury next Thursday,” and so carry the same message on to the next house on his list.

He did not know what the message meant at the time, nor what was happening: which may as well, however, for clearness’ sake, be explained here. The Prince of Orange being gone to Ireland, where the King was ready to meet him with a great army, it was determined that a great rising of his Majesty’s party should take place in this country; and my lord was to head the force in our county. Of late he had taken a greater lead in affairs than before, having the indefatigable Mr. Holt at his elbow, and my Lady Viscountess strongly urging him on; and my Lord Sark being in the Tower a prisoner, and Sir Wilmot Crawley, of Queen’s Crawley, having gone over to the Prince of Orange’s side—my lord became the most considerable person in our part of the county for the affairs of the King.

It was arranged that the regiment of Scots Grays and Dragoons, then quartered at Newbury, should declare for the King on a certain day, when likewise the gentry affected to his Majesty’s cause were to come in with their tenants and adherents to Newbury, march upon the Dutch troops at Reading under Ginckel; and, these overthrown, and their indomitable little master away in Ireland, ‘twas thought that our side might move on London itself, and a confident victory was predicted for the King.

As these great matters were in agitation, my lord lost his listless manner and seemed to gain health; my lady did not scold him, Mr. Holt came to and fro, busy always; and little Harry longed to have been a few inches taller, that he might draw a sword in this good cause.

One day, it must have been about the month of July, 1690, my lord, in a great horseman’s coat, under which Harry could see the shining of a steel breastplate he had on, called little Harry to him, put the hair off the child’s forehead, and kissed him, and bade God bless him in such an affectionate way as he never had used before. Father Holt blessed him too, and then they took leave of my Lady Viscountess, who came from her apartment with a pocket-handkerchief to her eyes, and her gentlewoman and Mrs. Tusher supporting her. “You are going to—to ride,” says she. “Oh, that I might come too—but in my situation I am forbidden horse exercise.”

“We kiss my Lady Marchioness’s hand,” says Mr. Holt.

“My lord, God speed you!” she said, stepping up and embracing my lord in a grand manner. “Mr. Holt, I ask your blessing:” and she knelt down for that, whilst Mrs. Tusher tossed her head up.

Mr. Holt gave the same benediction to the little page, who went down and held my lord’s stirrups for him to mount; there were two servants waiting there too—and they rode out of Castlewood gate.

As they crossed the bridge, Harry could see an officer in scarlet ride up touching his hat, and address my lord.

The party stopped, and came to some parley or discussion, which presently ended, my lord putting his horse into a canter after taking off his hat and making a bow to the officer, who rode alongside him step for step: the trooper accompanying him falling back, and riding with my lord’s two men. They cantered over the Green, and behind the elms (my lord waving his hand, Harry thought), and so they disappeared. That evening we had a great panic, the cow-boy coming at milking-time riding one of our horses, which he had found grazing at the outer park-wall.

All night my Lady Viscountess was in a very quiet and subdued mood. She scarce found fault with anybody; she played at cards for six hours; little page Esmond went to sleep. He prayed for my lord and the good cause before closing his eyes.

It was quite in the gray of the morning when the porter’s bell rang, and old Lockwood, waking up, let in one of my lord’s servants, who had gone with him in the morning, and who returned with a melancholy story. The officer who rode up to my lord had, it appeared, said to him, that it was his duty to inform his lordship that he was not under arrest, but under surveillance, and to request him not to ride abroad that day.

My lord replied that riding was good for his health, that if the Captain chose to accompany him he was welcome; and it was then that he made a bow, and they cantered away together.

When he came on to Wansey Down, my lord all of a sudden pulled up, and the party came to a halt at the cross-way.

“Sir,” says he to the officer, “we are four to two; will you be so kind as to take that road, and leave me go mine?”

“Your road is mine, my lord,” says the officer.

“Then—” says my lord; but he had no time to say more, for the officer, drawing a pistol, snapped it at his lordship; as at the same moment Father Holt, drawing a pistol, shot the officer through the head. It was done, and the man dead in an instant of time. The orderly, gazing at the officer, looked seared for a moment, and galloped away for his life.

“Fire! fire!” cries out Father Holt, sending another shot after the trooper, but the two servants were too much surprised to use their pieces, and my lord calling to them to hold their hands, the fellow got away.

“Mr. Holt, qui pensait a tout,” says Blaise, “gets off his horse, examines the pockets of the dead officer for papers, gives his money to us two, and says, ‘The wine is drawn, M. le Marquis,’—why did he say Marquis to M. le Vicomte?—‘we must drink it.’

“The poor gentleman’s horse was a better one than that I rode,” Blaise continues; “Mr. Holt bids me get on him, and so I gave a cut to Whitefoot, and she trotted home. We rode on towards Newbury; we heard firing towards midday: at two o’clock a horseman comes up to us as we were giving our cattle water at an inn—and says, ‘All is done! The Ecossais declared an hour too soon—General Ginckel was down upon them.’ The whole thing was at an end.

“‘And we’ve shot an officer on duty, and let his orderly escape,’ says my lord.

“‘Blaise,’ says Mr. Holt, writing two lines on his table-book, one for my lady and one for you, Master Harry; ‘you must go back to Castlewood, and deliver these,’ and behold me.”

And he gave Harry the two papers. He read that to himself, which only said, “Burn the papers in the cupboard, burn this. You know nothing about anything.” Harry read this, ran up stairs to his mistress’s apartment, where her gentlewoman slept near to the door, made her bring a light and wake my lady, into whose hands he gave the paper. She was a wonderful object to look at in her night attire, nor had Harry ever seen the like.

As soon as she had the paper in her hand, Harry stepped back to the Chaplain’s room, opened the secret cupboard over the fireplace, burned all the papers in it, and, as he had seen the priest do before, took down one of his reverence’s manuscript sermons, and half burnt that in the brazier. By the time the papers were quite destroyed it was daylight. Harry ran back to his mistress again. Her gentlewoman ushered him again into her ladyship’s chamber; she told him (from behind her nuptial curtains) to bid the coach be got ready, and that she would ride away anon.

But the mysteries of her ladyship’s toilet were as awfully long on this day as on any other, and, long after the coach was ready, my lady was still attiring herself. And just as the Viscountess stepped forth from her room, ready for departure, young John Lockwood comes running up from the village with news that a lawyer, three officers, and twenty or four-and-twenty soldiers, were marching thence upon the house. John had but two minutes the start of them, and, ere he had well told his story, the troop rode into our court-yard.


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