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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Beatrix Esmond
By William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)
 
From ‘The History of Henry Esmond’

AS they came up to the house at Walcote, the windows from within were lighted up with friendly welcome; the supper table was spread in the oak parlor: it seemed as if forgiveness and love were awaiting the returning prodigal. Two or three familiar faces of domestics were on the lookout at the porch: the old housekeeper was there, and young Lockwood from Castlewood in my lord’s livery of tawny and blue. His dear mistress pressed his arm as they passed into the hall. Her eyes beamed out on him with affection indescribable. “Welcome,” was all she said, as she looked up, putting back her fair curls and black hood. A sweet rosy smile blushed on her face; Harry thought he had never seen her look so charming. Her face was lighted with a joy that was brighter than beauty; she took a hand of her son, who was in the hall waiting his mother—she did not quit Esmond’s arm.  1
  “Welcome, Harry!” my young lord echoed after her. “Here we are all come to say so. Here’s old Pincot: hasn’t she grown handsome?” and Pincot, who was older and no handsomer than usual, made a curtsy to the captain,—as she called Esmond,—and told my lord to “Have done, now.”  2
  “And here’s Jack Lockwood. He’ll make a famous grenadier. Jack; and so shall I: we’ll both ’list under you, cousin. As soon as I am seventeen, I go to the army—every gentleman goes to the army. Look! who comes here: ho, ho!” he burst into a laugh. “’Tis Mistress Trix, with a new ribbon: I knew she would put one on as soon as she heard a captain was coming to supper.”  3
  This laughing colloquy took place in the hall of Walcote House, in the midst of which is a staircase that leads from an open gallery, where are the doors of the sleeping-chambers; and from one of these, a wax candle in her hand and illuminating her, came Mistress Beatrix,—the light falling indeed upon the scarlet ribbon which she wore, and upon the most brilliant white neck in the world.  4
  Esmond had left a child, and found a woman; grown beyond the common height, and arrived at such a dazzling completeness of beauty that his eyes might well show surprise and delight at beholding her. In hers there was a brightness so lustrous and melting that I have seen a whole assembly follow her as if by an attraction irresistible; and that night the great duke was at the playhouse after Ramillies, every soul turned and looked (she chanced to enter at the opposite side of the theatre at the same moment) at her, and not at him. She was a brown beauty; that is, her eyes, hair, and eyebrows and eyelashes were dark, her hair curling with rich undulations and waving over her shoulders; but her complexion was as dazzling white as snow in sunshine, except her cheeks which were a bright red, and her lips which were of a still deeper crimson. Her mouth and chin, they said, were too large and full; and so they might be for a goddess in marble, but not for a woman whose eyes were fire, whose look was love, whose voice was the sweetest low song, whose shape was perfect symmetry, health, decision, activity, whose foot as it planted itself on the ground was firm but flexible, and whose motion, whether rapid or slow, was always perfect grace: agile as a nymph, lofty as a queen,—now melting, now imperious, now sarcastic,—there was no single movement of hers but was beautiful. As he thinks of her, he who writes feels young again, and remembers a paragon.  5
  So she came holding her dress with one fair rounded arm, and her taper before her, tripping down the stair to greet Esmond.  6
  “She hath put on her scarlet stockings and white shoes,” says my lord, still laughing. “Oh, my fine mistress! is this the way you set your cap at the captain?” She approached, shining smiles upon Esmond, who could look at nothing but her eyes. She advanced, holding forward her head, as if she would have him kiss her as he used to do when she was a child.  7
  “Stop,” she said, “I am grown too big! Welcome, Cousin Harry,” and she made him an arch curtsy, sweeping down to the ground almost with the most gracious bend, looking up the while with the brightest eyes and sweetest smile. Love seemed to radiate from her. Harry eyed her with such a rapture as the first lover is described as having by Milton.  8
  “N’est-ce pas?” says my lady, in a low, sweet voice, still hanging on his arm.  9
  Esmond turned round with a start and a blush, as he met his mistress’s clear eyes. He had forgotten her, rapt in admiration of the filia pulcrior.  10
  “Right foot forward, toe turned out, so; now drop the curtsy and show the red stockings, ’Trix. They’re silver clocks, Harry. The dowager sent ’em. She went to put ’em on,” cries my lord.  11
  “Hush, you stupid child!” says miss, smothering her brother with kisses; and then she must come and kiss her mamma, looking all the while at Harry over his mistress’s shoulder. And if she did not kiss him, she gave him both her hands and said, “O Harry, we’re so, so glad you’re come!”  12
  “There are woodcocks for supper,” says my lord. “Huzzay! It was such a hungry sermon.”  13
  “And it is the 29th of December, and our Harry has come home.”  14
  “Huzzay, old Pincot!” again says my lord; and my dear lady’s lips looked as if they were trembling with prayer. She would have Harry lead in Beatrix to the supper-room, going herself with my young Lord Viscount; and to this party came Tom Tusher directly, whom four at least out of the company of five wished away. Away he went, however, as soon as the sweetmeats were put down; and then, by the great crackling fire,—his mistress, or Beatrix with her blushing glances, filling his glass for him,—Harry told the story of his campaign, and passed the most delightful night his life had ever known. The sun was up long ere he was, so deep, sweet, and refreshing was his slumber. He woke as if angels had been watching at his bed all night. I daresay one that was as pure and loving as an angel had blessed his sleep with her prayers.  15
  Next morning the chaplain read prayers to the little household at Walcote, as the custom was: Esmond thought Mistress Beatrix did not listen to Tusher’s exhortation much; her eyes were wandering everywhere during the service,—at least whenever he looked up he met them. Perhaps he also was not very attentive to his reverence the chaplain. “This might have been my life,” he was thinking; “this might have been my duty from now till old age. Well, were it not a pleasant one to be with these dear friends and part from ’em no more? Until—until the destined lover comes and takes away pretty Beatrix—” and the best part of Tom Tusher’s exposition, which may have been very learned and eloquent, was quite lost to poor Harry by this vision of the destined lover, who put the preacher out.  16
  All the while of the prayers, Beatrix knelt a little way before Harry Esmond. The red stockings were changed for a pair of gray, and black shoes in which her feet looked to the full as pretty. All the roses of spring could not vie with the brightness of her complexion; Esmond thought he had never seen anything like the sunny lustre of her eyes. My lady viscountess looked fatigued as if with watching, and her face was pale.  17
  Miss Beatrix remarked these signs of indisposition in her mother, 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, my dear.”  18
  “She’ll never look as good as you do if she lives till she’s a hundred,” says my lord, taking his mother by the waist and kissing her hand.  19
  “Do I look very wicked, cousin?” says Beatrix, turning full round on Esmond, with her pretty face so close under his chin that the soft perfumed hair touched it. She laid her finger-tips on his sleeve as she spoke, and he put his other hand over hers.  20
  “I’m like your looking-glass,” says he, “and that can’t flatter you.”  21
  “He means that you are always looking at him, my dear,” says her mother archly. Beatrix ran away from Esmond at this, and flew to her mamma, whom she kissed, stopping my lady’s mouth with her pretty hand.  22
  “And Harry is very good to look at,” says my lady, with her fond eyes regarding the young man.  23
  “If ’tis good to see a happy face,” says he, “you see that.” My lady said “Amen” with a sigh; and Harry thought the memory of her dear lord rose up and rebuked her back again into sadness, for her face lost the smile and resumed its look of melancholy.  24
  “Why, Harry, how fine we look in our scarlet-and-silver and our black periwig,” cries my lord. “Mother, I am tired of my own hair. When shall I have a peruke? Where did you get your steenkirk, Harry?”  25
  “It’s some of my lady dowager’s lace,” says Harry; “she gave me this and a number of other fine things.”  26
  “My lady dowager isn’t such a bad woman,” my lord continued.  27
  “She’s not so—so red as she’s painted,” says Miss Beatrix.  28
  Her brother broke into a laugh. “I’ll tell her you said so; by the Lord, ’Trix, I will,” he cries out.  29
  “She’ll know that you hadn’t the wit to say it, my lord,” says Miss Beatrix.  30
  “We won’t quarrel the first day Harry’s here, will we, mother?” said the young lord. “We’ll see if we can get on to the new year without a fight. Have some of this Christmas pie. And here comes the tankard; no, it’s Pincot with the tea.”  31
  “Will the captain choose a dish’” asked Mistress Beatrix.  32
  “I say, Harry,” my lord goes on, “I’ll show thee my horses after breakfast, and we’ll go a-bird-netting to-night; and on Monday there’s a cock-match at Winchester—do you love cock-fighting, Harry?—between the gentlemen of Sussex and the gentlemen of Hampshire, at £10 the battle and £50 the odd battle, to show one-and-twenty cocks.”  33
  “And what will you do, Beatrix, to amuse our kinsman?” asks my lady.  34
  “I’ll listen to him,” says Beatrix. “I am sure he has a hundred things to tell us. And I’m jealous already of the Spanish ladies. Was that a beautiful nun at Cadiz that you rescued from the soldiers? Your man talked of it last night in the kitchen, and Mrs. Betty told me this morning as she combed my hair. And he says you must be in love, for you sat on deck all night and scribbled verses all day in your table-book.” Harry thought if he had wanted a subject for verses yesterday, to-day he had found one; and not all the Lindamiras and Ardelias of the poets were half so beautiful as this young creature: but he did not say so, though some one did for him.  35
 
 
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