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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 and the Duke of Hamilton
By William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)
 
From ‘The History of Henry Esmond’

PERHAPS Beatrix was a little offended at his gayety. “Is this the way, sir, that you receive the announcement of your misfortune,” says she; “and do you come smiling before me as if you were glad to be rid of me?”  1
  Esmond would not be put off from his good-humor, but told her the story of Tom Trett and his bankruptcy. “I have been hankering after the grapes on the wall,” says he, “and lost my temper because they were beyond my reach: was there any wonder? They’re gone now, and another has them,—a taller man than your humble servant has won them.” And the colonel made his cousin a low bow.  2
  “A taller man, Cousin Esmond!” says she. “A man of spirit would have scaled the wall, sir, and seized them! A man of courage would have fought for ’em, not gaped for ’em.”  3
  “A duke has but to gape and they drop into his mouth,” says Esmond, with another low bow.  4
  “Yes, sir,” says she, “a duke is a taller man than you. And why should I not be grateful to one such as his Grace, who gives me his heart and his great name? It is a great gift he honors me with; I know ’tis a bargain between us, and I accept it and will do my utmost to perform my part of it. ’Tis no question of sighing and philandering, between a nobleman of his Grace’s age and a girl who hath little of that softness in her nature. Why should I not own that I am ambitious, Harry Esmond; and if it be no sin in a man to covet honor, why should a woman too not desire it? Shall I be frank with you, Harry, and say that if you had not been down on your knees and so humble, you might have fared better with me? A woman of my spirit, cousin, is to be won by gallantry, and not by sighs and rueful faces. All the time you are worshiping and singing hymns to me, I know very well I am no goddess, and grow weary of the incense. So would you have been weary of the goddess too, when she was called Mrs. Esmond and got out of humor because she had not pin money enough, and was forced to go about in an old gown. Eh! cousin, a goddess in a mob cap that has to make her husband’s gruel ceases to be divine—I am sure of it. I should have been sulky and scolded; and of all the proud wretches in the world Mr. Esmond is the proudest, let me tell him that. You never fall into a passion; but you never forgive, I think. Had you been a great man you might have been good-humored; but being nobody, sir, you are too great a man for me: and I’m afraid of you, cousin—there! and I won’t worship you, and you’ll never be happy except with a woman who will. Why, after I belonged to you, and after one of my tantrums, you would have put the pillow over my head some night and smothered me, as the black man does the woman in the play that you’re so fond of. What’s the creature’s name? Desdemona. You would, you little black-eyed Othello.”  5
  “I think I should, Beatrix,” says the colonel.  6
  “And I want no such ending. I intend to live to be a hundred, and to go to ten thousand routs and balls, and to play cards every night of my life till the year eighteen hundred. And I like to be the first of my company, sir; and I like flattery and compliments, and you give me none: and I like to be made to laugh, sir, and who’s to laugh at your dismal face, I should like to know? and I like a coach-and-six or a coach-and-eight; and I like diamonds and a new gown every week, and people to say, ‘That’s the duchess—how well her Grace looks—make way for Madame l’Ambassadrice d’Angleterre—call her Excellency’s people’—that’s what I like. And as for you, you want a woman to bring your slippers and cap, and to sit at your feet and cry ‘Oh, caro! oh, bravo!’ while you read your Shakespeares and Miltons and stuff. Mamma would have been the wife for you had you been a little older, though you look ten years older than she does—you do, you glum-faced, blue-bearded little old man! You might have sat like Darby and Joan and flattered each other, and billed and cooed like a pair of old pigeons on a perch. I want my wings and to use them, sir.” And she spread out her beautiful arms, as if indeed she could fly off like the pretty “Gawrie” whom the man in the story was enamored of.  7
  “And what will your Peter Wilkins say to your flight?” says Esmond, who never admired this fair creature more than when she rebelled and laughed at him.  8
  “A duchess knows her place,” says she with a laugh. “Why, I have a son already made for me and thirty years old (my Lord Arran), and four daughters. How they will scold, and what a rage they will be in, when I come to take the head of the table! But I give them only a month to be angry: at the end of that time they shall love me every one, and so shall Lord Arran, and so shall all his Grace’s Scots vassals and followers in the Highlands. I’m bent on it; and when I take a thing in my head ’tis done. His Grace is the greatest gentleman in Europe, and I’ll try and make him happy: and when the King comes back you may count on my protection, Cousin Esmond—for come back the King will and shall; and I’ll bring him back from Versailles if he comes under my hoop.”  9
  “I hope the world will make you happy, Beatrix,” says Esmond with a sigh. “You’ll be Beatrix till you are my lady duchess—will you not? I shall then make your Grace my very lowest bow.”  10
  “None of these sighs and this satire, cousin,” she says: “I take his Grace’s great bounty thankfully—yes, thankfully, and will wear his honors becomingly. I do not say he hath touched my heart, but he has my gratitude, obedience, admiration; I have told him that and no more, and with that his noble heart is content. I have told him all—even the story of that poor creature that I was engaged to, and that I could not love, and I gladly gave his word back to him, and jumped for joy to get back my own. I am twenty-five years old.”  11
  “Twenty-six, my dear,” says Esmond.  12
  “Twenty-five, sir—I choose to be twenty-five; and in eight years no man hath ever touched my heart. Yes—you did once for a little, Harry, when you came back after Lille, and engaging with that murderer Mohun, and saving Frank’s life. I thought I could like you; and mamma begged me hard on her knees, and I did—for a day. But the old chill came over me, Henry, and the old fear of you and your melancholy; and I was glad when you went away, and engaged with my Lord Ashburnham that I might hear no more of you—that’s the truth. You are too good for me, somehow. I could not make you happy, and should break my heart in trying and not being able to love you. But if you had asked me when we gave you the sword, you might have had me, sir; and we both should have been miserable by this time. I talked with that silly lord all night just to vex you and mamma; and I succeeded, didn’t I? How frankly we can talk of these things! It seems a thousand years ago; and though we are here sitting in the same room, there is a great wall between us. My dear, kind, faithful, gloomy old cousin! I can like you now, and admire you too, sir, and say that you are brave, and very kind, and very true, and a fine gentleman for all—for all your little mishap at your birth,” says she, wagging her arch head. “And now, sir,” says she with a courtesy, “we must have no more talk except when mamma is by, as his Grace is with us; for he does not half like you, cousin, and is jealous as the black man in your favorite play.”  13
  Though the very kindness of the words stabbed Mr. Esmond with the keenest pang, he did not show his sense of the wound by any look of his (as Beatrix indeed afterward owned to him); but said with a perfect command of himself, and an easy smile, “The interview must not end yet, my dear, until I have had my last word. Stay, here comes your mother!” (Indeed she came in here with her sweet anxious face; and Esmond, going up, kissed her hand respectfully.) “My dear lady may hear too the last words, which are no secrets, and are only a parting benediction accompanying a present for your marriage from an old gentleman your guardian; for I feel as if I was the guardian of all the family, and an old fellow that is fit to be the grandfather of you all; and in this character let me make my lady duchess her wedding present. They are the diamonds my father’s widow left me. I had thought Beatrix might have had them a year ago; but they are good enough for a duchess, though not bright enough for the handsomest woman in the world.” And he took the case out of his pocket in which the jewels were, and presented them to his cousin.  14
  She gave a cry of delight, for the stones were indeed very handsome, and of great value; and the next minute the necklace was where Belinda’s cross is in Mr. Pope’s admirable poem, and glittering on the whitest and most perfectly shaped neck in all England.  15
  The girl’s delight at receiving these trinkets was so great that, after rushing to the looking-glass and examining the effect they produced upon that fair neck which they surrounded, Beatrix was running back with her arms extended, and was perhaps for paying her cousin with a price that he would have liked no doubt to receive from those beautiful rosy lips of hers; but at this moment the door opened, and his Grace the bridegroom elect was announced.  16
  He looked very black upon Mr. Esmond, to whom he made a very low bow indeed, and kissed the hand of each lady in his most ceremonious manner. He had come in his chair from the palace hard by, and wore his two stars of the Garter and the Thistle.  17
  “Look, my lord duke,” says Mistress Beatrix, advancing to him and showing the diamonds on her breast.  18
  “Diamonds,” says his Grace. “Hm! they seem pretty.”  19
  “They are a present on my marriage,” says Beatrix.  20
  “From her Majesty?” asks the duke. “The Queen is very good.”  21
  “From my Cousin Henry—from our Cousin Henry,” cry both the ladies in a breath.  22
  “I have not the honor of knowing the gentleman. I thought that my Lord Castlewood had no brother; and that on your Ladyship’s side there were no nephews.”  23
  “From our cousin, Colonel Henry Esmond, my lord,” says Beatrix, taking the colonel’s hand very bravely, “who was left guardian to us by our father, and who has a hundred times shown his love and friendship for our family.”  24
  “The Duchess of Hamilton receives no diamonds but from her husband, madam,” says the duke: “may I pray you to restore these to Mr. Esmond?”  25
  “Beatrix Esmond may receive a present from our kinsman and benefactor, my Lord Duke,” says Lady Castlewood with an air of great dignity. “She is my daughter yet; and if her mother sanctions the gift, no one else has the right to question it.”  26
  “Kinsman and benefactor!” says the duke. “I know of no kinsman; and I do not choose that my wife should have for benefactor a—”  27
  “My lord!” says Colonel Esmond.  28
  “I am not here to bandy words,” says his Grace: “frankly I tell you that your visits to this house are too frequent, and that I choose no presents for the Duchess of Hamilton from gentlemen that bear a name they have no right to.”  29
  “My lord!” breaks out Lady Castlewood, “Mr. Esmond hath the best right to that name of any man in the world; and ’tis as old and as honorable as your Grace’s.”  30
  My lord duke smiled, and looked as if Lady Castlewood was mad, that was so talking to him.  31
  “If I called him benefactor,” said my mistress, “it is because he has been so to us—yes, the noblest, the truest, the bravest, the dearest of benefactors. He would have saved my husband’s life from Mohun’s sword. He did save my boy’s, and defended him from that villain. Are these no benefits?”  32
  “I ask Colonel Esmond’s pardon,” says his Grace, if possible more haughty than before. “I would say not a word that should give him offense, and thank him for his kindness to your Ladyship’s family. My Lord Mohun and I are connected, you know, by marriage—though neither by blood nor friendship; but I must repeat what I said, that my wife can receive no presents from Colonel Esmond.”  33
  “My daughter may receive presents from the Head of our House; my daughter may thankfully take kindness from her father’s, her mother’s, her brother’s dearest friend, and be grateful for one more benefit besides the thousand we owe him,” cries Lady Esmond. “What is a string of diamond stones compared to that affection he hath given us—our dearest preserver and benefactor? We owe him not only Frank’s life, but our all—yes, our all,” says my mistress, with a heightened color and a trembling voice. “The title we bear is his, if he would claim it. ’Tis we who have no right to our name: not he that’s too great for it. He sacrificed his name at my dying lord’s bedside—sacrificed it to my orphan children; gave up rank and honor because he loved us so nobly. His father was Viscount of Castlewood and Marquis of Esmond before him; and he is his father’s lawful son and true heir, and we are the recipients of his bounty, and he the chief of a house that’s as old as your own. And if he is content to forego his name that my child may bear it, we love him and honor him and bless him under whatever name he bears”—and here the fond and affectionate creature would have knelt to Esmond again but that he prevented her; and Beatrix, running up to her with a pale face and a cry of alarm, embraced her and said, “Mother, what is this?”  34
  “’Tis a family secret, my lord duke,” says Colonel Esmond: “poor Beatrix knew nothing of it, nor did my lady till a year ago. And I have as good a right to resign my title as your Grace’s mother to abdicate hers to you.”  35
  “I should have told everything to the Duke of Hamilton,” said my mistress, “had his Grace applied to me for my daughter’s hand, and not to Beatrix. I should have spoken with you this very day in private, my lord, had not your words brought about this sudden explanation; and now ’tis fit Beatrix should hear it, and know, as I would have all the world know, what we owe to our kinsman and patron.”  36
  And then in her touching way, and having hold of her daughter’s hand, and speaking to her rather than my lord duke, Lady Castlewood told the story which you know already—lauding up to the skies her kinsman’s behavior. On his side Mr. Esmond explained the reasons, that seemed quite sufficiently cogent with him, why the succession in the family, as at present it stood, should not be disturbed; and he should remain as he was, Colonel Esmond.  37
  “And Marquis of Esmond, my lord,” says his Grace, with a low bow; “permit me to ask your Lordship’s pardon for words that were uttered in ignorance, and to beg for the favor of your friendship. To be allied to you, sir, must be an honor under whatever name you are known” (so his Grace was pleased to say); “and in return for the splendid present you make my wife, your kinswoman, I hope you will be pleased to command any service that James Douglas can perform. I shall never be easy until I repay you a part of my obligations at least; and ere very long, and with the mission her Majesty hath given me,” says the duke, “that may perhaps be in my power. I shall esteem it as a favor, my lord, if Colonel Esmond will give away the bride.”  38
  “And if he will take the usual payment in advance, he is welcome,” says Beatrix, stepping up to him; and as Esmond kissed her, she whispered, “Oh, why didn’t I know you before?”  39
  My lord duke was as hot as a flame at this salute, but said never a word; Beatrix made him a proud curtsy, and the two ladies quitted the room together.  40
 
 
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