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The Virginians
by William Makepeace Thackeray
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes

Thackeray and the title page of the 1st edition

William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811, at Calcutta, where his father was in the service of the East India Company. He was educated at Charterhouse School, then situated in Smithfield, and spent two years at Trinity College, Cambridge. After travelling on the continent as an artist, he returned to London, and wrote for the "Examiner" and "Fraser's Magazine," subsequently joining the staff of "Punch."

Abridged: JH
For more works by William Makepeace Thackeray, see The Index

The Virginians

I. - Harry Warrington Comes Home

One summer morning in the year 1756, and in the reign of his Majesty King George the Second, the Young Rachel, Virginian ship, Edward Franks, master, came up the Avon river on her happy return from her annual voyage to the Potomac. She proceeded to Bristol with the tide, and moored in the stream as near as possible to Frail's wharf, and Mr. Frail, her part owner, who could survey his ship from his counting-house windows, straightway took boat and came up her side.

While the master was in conversation with Mr. Frail a young man of some nineteen years of age came up the hatchway. He was dressed in deep mourning and called out, "Gumbo, you idiot, why don't you fetch the baggage out of the cabin? Well, shipmate, our journey is ended. I thought yesterday the voyage would never be done, and now I am almost sorry it is over."

"This is Mr. Warrington, Madam Esmond Warrington's son of Castlewood," said Captain Franks to Mr. Frail. The British merchant's hat was instantly off his head, and its owner was bowing, as if a crown prince were before him.

"Gracious powers, Mr. Warrington! This is a delight indeed! Let me cordially and respectfully welcome you to England; let me shake your hand as the son of my benefactress and patroness, Mrs. Esmond Warrington, whose name is known and honoured on Bristol 'Change, I warrant you, my dear Mr. George."

"My name is not George; my name is Henry," said the young man as he turned his head away, and his eyes filled with tears.

"Gracious powers, what do you mean, sir? Are you not my lady's heir? and is not George Esmond Warrington, Esq - "

"Hold your tongue, you fool!" cried Mr. Franks.

"Don't you see the young gentleman's black clothes? Mr. George is there," pointing with his finger towards the topmast, or the sky beyond. "He is dead a year sir, come next July. He would go out with General Braddock, and he and a thousand more never came back again. Every man of them was murdered as he fell. You know the Indian way, Mr. Frail? Horrible! Ain't it, sir? He was a fine young man, the very picture of this one; only his hair was black, which is now hanging in a bloody Indian wigwam. He was often on board on the Young Rachel, with his chest of books, - a shy and silent young gent, not like this one, which was the merriest, wildest young fellow full of his songs and fun. He took on dreadful at the news, but he's got better on the voyage; and, in course, the young gentleman can't be for ever a-crying after a brother who dies and leaves him a great fortune. Ever since we sighted Ireland he has been quite gay and happy, only he would go off at times, when he was most merry, saying, 'I wish my dearest Georgie could enjoy this here sight along with me,' and when you mentioned t'other's name, you see, he couldn't stand it."

Again and again Harry Warrington and his brother had poured over the English map, and determined upon the course which they should take upon arriving at Home. The sacred point in their pilgrimage was that old Castlewood in Hampshire, the home of their family, whence had come their grandparents. From Bristol to Bath, to Salisbury, to Winchester, to Home; they had mapped the journey many and many a time. Without stopping in Bristol, Harry Warrington was whirled away in a postchaise and at last drew up at the rustic inn on Castlewood Green. Then with a beating heart he walked towards the house where his grandsire Colonel Esmond's youth had been passed.

The family was away, and the housekeeper was busy getting ready for my lord and my lady who were expected that evening. Harry wrote down his name on a paper from his own pocket and laid it on a table in the hall; and then walked away, not caring to own how disappointed he was. No one had known him. Had any of his relatives ridden up to his house in Virginia, whether the master were present or absent, the guests would have been made welcome. Harry felt terribly alone. The inn folks did not know the name of Warrington. They told him before he went to bed that my lord Castlewood and his sister Lady Maria, and their stepmother the Countess, and her son Mr. William, had arrived at the Castle, and two hours later the Baroness Bernstein, my lord's aunt. Harry remembered that the Baroness Bernstein was his mother's half-sister, for Colonel Esmond's wife was the mother of Beatrice Bernstein who had married a German baron, after marrying Bishop Tusher.

The Castlewoods were for letting their young American kinsman stay at his inn, but Madam Bernstein, of whom all the family stood in awe, at once insisted that Harry Warrington should be sent for, and on his arrival made much of him. As for the boy, he felt very grateful towards the lady who had received him so warmly.

Within six months Harry had fallen in love with Lady Maria, who was over forty. He was wealthy and, thanks to Gumbo, his servant, the extent of his estate had been greatly magnified by that cheerfullest of negroes. The Castlewoods professed themselves indifferent to the love-making that seemed to be going on between Harry and Maria, but Madam Bernstein was indignant.

"Do you remember," she cried, with energy, "who the poor boy is, and what your house owes to its family? His grandfather gave up this estate, this title, this very castle, that you and yours might profit by it. And the reward for all this is that you talk of marrying him to a silly elderly creature, who might be his mother. He shan't marry her."

So Madam Bernstein, having tired of Castlewood, decided that Maria must accompany her to Tunbridge Wells and Harry was invited to act as escort, and to stay a day or two at the Wells. At the end of the first day's travel, when they had just reached Farnham, poor Maria was ill, and her cheeks were yellow when she retired for the night.

"That absurd Maria!" says Madam Bernstein, playing piquet with Harry. "She never had a good constitution. I hope she intends to be well to-morrow morning. She was forty-one years old. All her upper teeth are false, and she can't eat with them. How clumsily you deal, child!"

The next morning Lady Maria's indisposition was over, but Harry was wretched. Then in the evening the horse Harry was riding, in the matter of which he had been cheated by his cousin Will, at Castlewood, came down on his knees and sent the rider over his head. Mr. Harry was picked up insensible and carried home into a house called Oakhurst that stood hard by the road.

II. - Samaritans

That Mr. Warrington is still alive can be proved by the following letter, sent from the lady into whose house he was taken after his fall from Mr. Will's broken-kneed horse, to Mrs. Esmond Warrington.

"If Mrs. Esmond Warrington of Virginia can call to mind twenty-three years ago, she may perhaps remember Miss Molly Benson, her classmate, at Kensington boarding school. Yesterday evening, as we were at tea there came a great ringing at our gate, and the servants, running out returned with the news that a young gentleman was lying lifeless on the road. At this, my dear husband, Colonel Lambert (who is sure the most Samaritan of men) hastens away, and presently, with the aid of the servants, and followed by two ladies, - one of whom is your cousin, Lady Maria Esmond and the other Baroness of Bernstein, - brings into the house such a pale, beautiful young man! The ladies went on to Tunbridge when Mr. Warrington was restored to consciousness and this morning the patient is very comfortable and the Colonel, who has had plenty of practice in accidents of this nature during his campaigns, pronounces that in two days more Mr. Warrington will be ready to take the road.
   "Madam, Your affectionate, humble servant,

Harry Warrington's dislocated shoulder having been set, he was well enough to rise the following day, and Colonel Lambert lead his young guest into the parlour and introduced him to his two daughters, Miss Hester and Miss Theo. Three days later Mr. Warrington's health was entirely restored and he was out walking with Mrs. Lambert and the young ladies. What business had he to be walking with anybody but Lady Maria Esmond on the Pantiles, Tunbridge Wells? Why did he stay behind, unless he was in love with either of the young ladies? (and we say he wasn't). Could it be that he did not want to go? Only a week ago he was whispering in Castlewood shrubberies, and was he now ashamed of the nonsense he had talked there? What if his fell aunt's purpose is answered, and if his late love is killed by her communications? Surely kind hearts must pity Lady Maria, for she is having no very pleasant time of it at Tunbridge Wells. There is no one to protect her. Madam Beatrix has her all to herself. Lady Maria is poor, and hopes for money for her aunt, and Lady Maria has a secret or two which the old woman knows and brandishes over her.

Meanwhile Harry Warrington remained day after day contentedly at Oakhurst, with each day finding the kindly folks who welcomed him more to his liking. Never, since his grandfather's death, had he been in such good company. His lot had lain among fox hunting Virginian squires, and until he left his home he did not know how narrow and confined his life had been there.

Here the lad found himself in the midst of a circle where everything about him was incomparably gayer, brighter and more free. He was living with a man and woman who had seen the world, though they lived retired from it, and one of the benefits which Harry Warrington received from this family was to begin to learn that he was a profoundly ignorant young fellow. He admired his brother at home faithfully, of his kinsman at Castlewood he had felt himself at least the equal. In Colonel Lambert he found a man who had read far more books than Harry could pretend to judge of, and who had goodness and honesty written on his face and breathing from his lips.

As for the women, they were the kindest, merriest, most agreeable he had ever known. Here was a tranquil, sunshiny day of a life that was to be agitated and stormy. He was not in love, either with saucy Hetty or generous Theodosia: but when the time came for going away, he fastened on both their hands, and felt an immense regard for them.

"He is very kind and honest," said Theo gravely as they watched him and their father riding away.

"I am glad he has got papa to ride with him to Westerham," said little Hetty. "I don't like his going to those Castlewood people. I am sure that Madam Bernstein is a wicked old woman. I expected to see her ride away on her crooked stick. The other old woman seemed fond of him. She looked very melancholy when she went away, but Madam Bernstein whisked her off with her crutch, and she was obliged to go."

III. - Harry Warrington is Disinherited

Our young Virginian found himself after a few days at Tunbridge Wells by far the most important personage in the place. The story of his wealth had been magnified, and his winnings at play, which were considerable, were told and calculated at every tea-table. The old aunt Bernstein enjoyed his triumphs, and bade him pursue his enjoyments. As for Lady Maria, though Harry Warrington knew she was as old as his mother, he had given her his word to marry her at Castlewood, and, as he said, "A Virginian Esmond has but his word!"

Madam Bernstein offered her niece £5,000 to free Mr. Warrington of his engagement but the offer was declined, and a few weeks later Lady Maria returned to Castlewood, while Harry went to London. He knew that his mother, who was mistress for life of the Virginian property, would refuse her consent to his marriage, and the thought of it was put off to a late period. Meanwhile it hung like a weight round the young man's neck.

No wonder that his spirits rose more gaily as he came near London. He took lodgings in Bond Street and lived upon the fat of the land. His title of Fortunate Youth, bestowed upon him because of his luck at cards, was prettily recognised. But after a few weeks of lavish success, the luck turned and he lost heavily: the last blow was after a private game at piquet with his kinsman Lord Castlewood. Harry Warrington had now drawn and spent all his patrimony, and one evening when he was leaving the house of his uncle Sir Miles Warrington, - his dead father's elder brother, - two bailiffs took him for a debt of £500 and the Fortunate Youth was lodged in a sponging house in Chancery Lane.

Madam Bernstein was willing to pay her nephew's debts at once if he would break off his engagement with Lady Maria, but this the high-spirited youth declined to do.

Castlewood wrote frankly and said he had not got enough money for the purpose, and Lady Warrington sent a tract and said Sir Miles was away from home. But for his faithful servant Gumbo, Harry would have wanted ready money for his food.

It was Colonel Lambert, of whom Harry had seen little since he left Oakhurst, who came to his young friend's assistance. But the same night which saw Colonel Lambert at the sponging house saw the reappearance of his brother George.

"I am the brother whom you have heard of, sir," he said, addressing Colonel Lambert; "and who was left for dead in Mr. Braddock's action: and came to life again after eighteen months amongst the French; and live to thank God, and thank you for your kindness to my Harry. I can never forget that you helped my brother at his need."

While the two brothers were rejoicing over their meeting, "the whole town" was soon busy talking over the news that Mr. Harry Warrington was but a second son, and no longer the heir to a principality and untold wealth.

George loved his brother too well to have any desire for the union with Lady Maria, and lost no time in explaining to Lord Castlewood that Harry had no resources save dependence, - "and I know no worse lot than to be dependent on a self-willed woman like our mother. The means my brother had to make himself respected at home he hath squandered away here."

To Harry himself George repeated these words and added:

"My dear, I think one day you will say I have done my duty."

That night after the two brothers had dined together Harry went out, and did not return for three hours.

"It was shabby to say I would not aid him, and God help me, it was not true. I won't leave him, though he marries a blackamoor," thought George as he sat alone.

Presently Harry came in, looking ghastly pale. He came up and took his brother's hand.

"Perhaps what you did was right," he said, "though I, for one, will never believe that you would throw your brother off in distress. At dinner I thought suddenly, I'll say to her, 'Maria, poor as I am, I am yours to take or to leave. If you will have me, here I am: I will enlist: I will work: I will try and make a livelihood for myself somehow, and my bro - my relations will relent, and give us enough to live on.' That's what I determined to tell her; and I did, George. I found them all at dinner, all except Will; that is, I spoke out that very moment to them all, sitting round the table over their wine. 'Maria,' says I, 'a poor fellow wants to redeem his promise which he made when he fancied he was rich. Will you take him?' I found I had plenty of words, and I ended by saying 'I would do my best and my duty by her, so help me God!'

"When I had done, she came up to me quite kind. She took my hand, and kissed it before the rest. 'My dear,' she said, 'I have long seen it was only duty and a foolish promise made by a young man to an old woman, that has held you to your engagement. To keep it would make you miserable, and I absolve you from it, thanking you with all my heart for your fidelity, and blessing my dear cousin always.' And she came up to me and kissed me before them all, and went out of the room quite stately, and without a single tear. Oh, George, isn't she a noble creature?"

"Here's her health," cries George, filling a glass.

"Hip, hip, huzzay!" says Harry. He was wild with delight at being free.

Madame Bernstein was scarcely less pleased than her Virginian nephews at the result of Harry's final interview with Lady Maria.

IV. - From the Warrington MSS.

My brother Harry Warrington went to Canada to serve tinder General Wolfe, and remained with the army after the death of his glorious commander. And I, George Warrington, stayed in London, read law in the Temple, and wrote plays which were performed at Covent Garden, and was in love with Miss Theodosia Lambert. Madame Esmond Warrington, however, refused her consent to the match, and Major General Lambert declared an engagement impossible under the circumstances.

Then in 1760, when George II. was dead, and George III. was king, General Lambert was appointed to be governor and commander-in-chief of the Island of Jamaica. His speedy departure was announced, he would have a frigate given him, and take his family with him. Merciful powers! and were we to be parted?

At last, one day, almost the last of his stay, when the General's preparations for departure were all made, the good man (His Excellency we call him now) canoe home to his dinner and sighed out to his wife:

"I wish, Molly, George was here. I may go away and never see him again, and take his foolish little sweetheart along with me. I suppose you will write to each other, children? I can't prevent that, you know."

"George is in the drawing-room," says mamma, quietly.

"Is he? my dearest boy!" cries the general. "Come to me - come in!" And when I entered he held me to his heart and kissed me.

"Always loved you as a son - haven't I, Molly?" he mutters hurriedly. "Broke my heart nearly when I quarrelled with you about this little - What, all down on your knees! In heaven's name, tell me what has happened!"

What had happened was, that George Esmond Warrington and Theodosia Lambert had been married in Southwark Church that morning.

I pass over the scenes of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of final separation when the ship sailed away before us, leaving me and Theo on the shore. And there is no need to recall her expressions of maternal indignation when my mother was informed of the step I had taken. On the pacification of Canada, my dear Harry dutifully paid a visit to Virginia, and wrote describing his reception at home.

Many were the doubts and anxieties which, for my last play had been a failure, now beset us, and plan after plan I tried for procuring work and adding to our dwindling stock of money. By a hard day's labour at translating from foreign languages for the booksellers, I could earn a few shillings - so few that a week's work would hardly bring me a guinea. Hard times were not over with us till some time after the Baroness Bernstein's death (she left everything she had to her dear nephew, Henry Esmond Warrington), when my uncle Sir Miles procured me a post as one of his Majesty's commissioners for licensing hackney coaches. His only child was dead, and I was now heir to the Baronetcy.

Then one morning, before almost I had heard of my uncle's illness, a lawyer waits upon me at my lodgings in Bloomsbury, and salutes me by the name of Sir George Warrington.

The records of a prosperous country life are easily told. Obedient tenants bowed and curtsied as we went to church, and we drove to visit our neighbours in the great family coach.

Shall I ever see the old mother again, I wonder! When Hal was in England, we sent her pictures of both her sons painted by the admirable Sir Joshua Reynolds. We never let Harry rest until he had asked Hetty in marriage. He obeyed, and it was she who declined. "She had always," she wrote, "the truest regard for him from the dear old time when they had met almost children together. But she would never leave her father. When it pleased God to take him, she hoped she would be too old to think of bearing any other name but her own."

My brother Hal is still a young man, being little more than 50, and Hetty is now a staid little lady. There are days when she looks surprisingly young and blooming. Why should Theo and I have been so happy, and thou so lonely?

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