Littell's Living Age/Volume 1/Issue 1/Letter from Charles Edwards, Esq.
LETTER FROM CHARLES EDWARDS, ESQ.
- MEDHURST, 1816.
THANKS for your congratulations; and take mine in return, on your having escaped free with life, and, what is more important still, without disfigurement. Really, to see a man, in these times, go through ten years’ service untouched—Talavera, Busaco, Salamanca, and Waterloo; besides duels, by-skirmishes, and occasional leaps out of windows; might almost make one a believer in “The Special Grace,” or the Mussulman doctrine of predestination.
Your kind papers met me at Falmouth, where I landed, from a pilot-boat, on the 14th, after contending thirty hours with such a gale as the very spirit of larceny might have given itself up for lost in. One whole night we had of it, and best part of two days, with top masts struck, top-gallant masts rolled away, hatches battened down, dead-lights shut in, boats gone, spars washed off, (except a few that we lashed across the deck, to avoid being washed off ourselves,) and lower masts groaning, and creaking and straining, as if well inclined, if the hubbub lasted, to make away after their companions.
Never was I so frightened before in all my life—which I attribute entirely to my having lately become “monied.” In the onset of the affair, a trifle of a sea took us; beat in all the quarter boards on our weather side; and carried away six water casks, and four pigs, besides the cook-house, the cook in it, and the binnacle. It was night, dark as pitch, and raining. So black, that the man at the helm could not have seen shore if his bowsprit-end had run against it. And then, on a sudden, by the flashes of lightning half a minute long—the whole hopeless, interminable prospect of white foaming water opened before you; with the pigs, and the casks, and the hen-coops, each riding off upon a separate wave as big as Westminster Abbey.
Beggary, time out of mind, has been valiant. He must be brave (perforce) who has no breeches; but the holder of exchequer bills hates instinctively to find himself one moment trespassing upon the moon—flying upwards to impugn the dog-star, as if out of a swing, nine times as high as the gibbet Haman was hanged upon; and, the next, to be sunk down into a cursed bottomless black chasm, with the water, on three sides at least of him, above the pitch of his top-gallant yard, the whole bed of sea, in the ordinary course of fluids coming to their level, being to close fifty feet over his head within the next half second.
And then, in the midst of the provoking darkness, which hides the extent of your danger, and enables you to add just two hundred per cent. to it, arises a vast array of multifarious clatters, to terrify those who don’t know their import, and those who do. First, your jeopardy is suggested by the lively rattling of the thunder, the pelting of the rain, and the hoarse roar of the wind in the rigging. Next, you become interested in the rending and shivering of sails, the rocking and squeaking of yards and masts, the choking and hickuping of pumps, and the frequent crashes of “something gone!”—expecting the next thing that “goes” to be yourself. The lighter accompaniments consisting, chiefly. in a perpetual rush of boiling water under your bow, and the blowing of a score of grampuses (who are evidently waiting for you) in it; these last performers (doubtless the original tritons) spouting, and committing all kinds of singeries, in their hilarity; obviously esteeming it a mistake of Providence that it should not be a tempest always!
A man may be as stout as Hercules, and yet not care to be eaten by cetaceous fishes. Did you never observe that the people who bring themselves to subaqueous terminations in and about London, almost always choose to conclude in something like smooth water? Nursery maids take the New River and the Paddington Canal;—lovers, the “Serpentine,” and the “Bason” in Hyde Park;—stock-jobbers go to Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars;—whipped school-boys, and desperate ’prentices, into water butts and fish ponds; but no adventurers (at least I don’t recollect any) ever jump off London Bridge, where the flood has an angry, threatening appearance. Man, even where he is to be a slave and a fool, finds a satisfaction in being a slave and a fool in his own way. One gentleman conceits to die in battle; another has a fancy to pass in his bed. Many part by corrosive sublimate and laudanum, who would live on if they were bound to use the knife. There are obstacles to the application of the “bare bodkin” more than the high-souled Hamlet could descend to think of; and, for myself, if I were going to be drowned, I confess I should like to meet my fate in quiet water.
But here I am, my friend, on shore; every thought of danger (and of water) over; master of myself, ten years of life and youth, and a hundred thousand pounds of fortune that I never hoped for. Your letter is most welcome. For excuses, let them trouble neither of us. A lapse of intercourse is not necessarily a breach of friendship; and, if it were, the act that made the lapse was mine. “Man proposes,” as somebody says, “and God disposes;”—few sublunary resolves can stand against the force of circumstances. I took my course seven years since—at least I think so—not as a man who was without friends, but like a man who wished to keep them. When the sheet-anchor could not hold my vessel, it was as well to drive, and keep the kedge on board. Fools “try” their friends, and lose them—pressing on a toy of glass, as though it were a rock of adamant. They forget the very first condition upon which they hold the feeling they are trusting to; void the lease, and yet marvel when the lord enters for breach of covenant. A man must perish—this is an arrangement in nature—before he can be regretted. The tragic poet dares not, for all Parnassus, save his hero in the last scene. You are mistaken, and you do me injustice, when you say, that I had no “friend” (at the time you refer to) but yourself. I tell you, that at the very moment when, upon deliberation, I “took service” as a private soldier—an act of which I am more proud than of any I ever performed in my whole life at that very moment I had a letter in my hand from a woman—God bless her! She was the widow of an officer whom I had once served, and she suspected my condition—entreating me, in terms which I can never forget, though I will not quote them, to share her means (and they were slight ones) till my embarrassments were over. If friendship could have helped me, Heaven knows! here it was in its most agreeable form. But there is a principle of reaction, among the first ordinances of nature, which makes it impossible to profit by such an offer. It seemed a jewel, the thing that was held out to me; but, had I grasped, it would have turned to ashes in my hand. I was famishing, and cool water stood at my lips; but it would have fled and mocked me, had I sought to taste it. Here lies no failure; for, on the point, there is no power in the will of the proposing individual; the obstacle, which is insurmountable, is a parcel of the very system under which we breathe. The precise qualities which procure a man offers of assistance, are those (nine times in ten) he would sacrifice by accepting it.
Few people will give away, even their money, to a crouching coward—a dependant—a hanger-on; and yet what else than these can he be who consents to live upon the bounty of another? The romantic generosity of Mrs. ———’s character was excited by what she took to be a corresponding principle of chivalry in mine. She would have saved a man, (she guessed from death,) whom certain qualities, which she liked, went to endanger; and forgot to think of the folly which had brought him into peril, in surprise at the unshrinking obduracy with which lie stood to meet it. Why, you see, a man’s very vanity, in a situation like this, leaves him no choice but to be cut up and devoured. From the moment that I listened to a thought of safety, I ceased to be the hero that the lady took me for. I should have been absolutely an impostor if I had accepted her offer; for, the very instant that I even paused upon it, it became the property of somebody else. You must be burned—there is no help for it—if you wish to be a martyr. You must die (though it is unpleasant) before your name can be emblazoned on your tomb. I desire to wrong no man’s feeling; but the course you complain of is the course which I should take again. Assistance from “friendship” is always bought dearly, and turns out generally to be mood lbr nothing when you have it. You part, in a sad state of the market, with, perhaps, a good character; and, after the bargain is concluded, find that you have got in payment a bad shilling.
But a truce to past troubles, unless it be to laugh at them. Did I not tell you, even when I was falling—did I not tell you that I should rise again? It is but yesterday that I stood in the world alone, without rank, reckoning, or respect; that I was a nameless creature, without rights, without possessions, without even personal liberty; and to-day, I, the same “Charles Edwards”—helped by no man—thanking none—I breathe my horse on ground that is mine own, and am a “lord” and a gentleman of worship! I went forth as a sold and purchased slave; and, Mameluke like, I have returned as a chief and a conqueror. Charles Edwards—(“rogue Wellborn!”)—“Lord” of the manor of Medhurst! and the “lanceprisade” hath two bankers;—the “rough-rider” knows when it shall be “quarter-day!” Yesterday my estate was an empty stomach, and Chelsea was my inheritance! and to-day, there is a gentleman who cannot stand straight in my presence, shows the rentroll of my “landed property;” and talks of “rents,” “farms,” “feoffments,” “fisheries,” “waifs,” “strays,” and “commonable rights!”—
Come to me, if possible, for I am full of business; and my head might be in a better condition for transacting it. People who inherit fortunes from their fathers, never guess even at the real advantages of wealth. You never got a true feeling of the deliciousness of having money—no, not even from seeing half your acquaintances go without it. But, for me! I am just bursting as from darkness into the broad blaze of sunshine—from bondage into freedom uncontrolled—from childish helplessness, into the strength and power of a giant! My quarrel always with life was, that a man could not work his way into a house in Grosvenor Square, until a narrower house might serve his desires, and be more than sufficient for his necessities. There was no path by which a man could make a fortune to himself, and sit down to dissipate it in profusion, even at thirty. I had a thought once of going to the bar—I scarcely know how or why. But, when I peeped into a court of law, and saw the bare results of years of puzzlement—the “damned Hebrew, or parebment as thick as a board,” what was the net product of eyes poured out, and brains distracted! and the Chancellor himself, the enfant gaté of forensic fortune—suffering arguments, and reconciling absurdities, for eight or ten hours every day—even if he got off for that!—I found myself, (with the power of locomotion, and two shirts,) incomparably the richer man of the two! His lordship had the peerage; but I could walk “i’ the sweet air.” He held the seat of honor; but I was at liberty to “depart the court.” Like the Frenchman in Montaigne’s tale, who had his choice to be hanged or married, I cried, “Drive on the cart”—it was cheaper to starve than, (on such terms,) to earn the money! But now—when I have the money, Robert—and have it—as only it becomes worth having—without the earning—when I have it honorably too, and conscientiously—in my own undoubted right! no kidnapped prodigy of ninety to break in upon my graceful leisure, with fables of cajolement, plunder, and desertion! no heiress wife, even though young and beautiful, made bold by an unreasonable settlement, to hint that my extravagances, or infidelities, are committed, in all senses, at her cost!—the luxury—the splendor—the free agency—that all my life I have been thirsting for, are mine! Not a wild scheme that I have dreamed of but takes a “local habitation,” and a show of accomplishment! Not a light wish but now seems feasible, fitting—only unpossessed, because I may possess it when I will. How many a woman have I adored—and fled from—lest I might make her estate as desperate as my own! How many a man, whom I could have trampled, have I suffered to insult over me, when those I loved might have been injured by my triumph! I was prudent, and forbearing, and humble, where the tempers of some would have given way. I was modest, and shunned collision, where I felt myself the weaker vessel. I did not care even to be fought with, where the contest would have been felt a matter of hardship by my antagonist. I “abode my time” in suffering and in silence—but that time is come at last! and what I owe in the world, both of good and ill, please Heaven! shall now be paid to the utmost farthing. If it was sport while the poor bear was chained, the scene may change now he has broke free. I have never complained of the abuse of strength by others; let none complain of its reasonable exercise by me. I will ask no account for what has been done in the past, but the right shall be mine to do now for the future. I will seek for no combat with any man alive; but it shall go hard, if, with some, I have not the benefit of a victory.
And this seems very heroical, all of it, and very foolish, when I meant to be in the best humor in the world. But the fact is, I have had a touch or two of the piquant here—my recollection just a little stirred up—since my arrival. I came to England, prepared to be pleased at all points. Home shows delightfully, to the imagination at least, after six years’ absence. And then there was the white bread in the hotels of Falmouth, and its blue-eyed Saxon beauties—and the incomparable fresh butter—and the cream!—I felt my heart cleave to my country the moment I sat down to breakfast. So I saddled at once, finding my cavalry sain et sauf, (which I had shipped from Figuera a week before me,) and rode at a round rate through Cornwall, Devonshire, and Somerset, purposing, as “greatness” was “thrust upon me,” to lose no time in taking possession of it; but, when I got to Bath, an idea struck me—it was for the first time—that Sir Walter Beauvoir—(my grandfather’s executor)—that it might not be pleasant, under all “existing circumstances,” for me to have to introduce myself to the worthy baronet.
We had not been always strangers, in times past, the Beauvoir family and your very devoted servant; and there had been a cessation of usual attention to him, at a certain time when perhaps he was not acting so cautiously as he might have done. Whether I distrusted my own merits, or their “friendship,” I wrote a formal letter of announcement, covered all over with family arms and black wax, and sent it forward by a courier, addressed to Sir Walter; which done, I again put on, with as much speed as I could muster, wishing to get a peep, if possible, at my property, without being recognized as the owner of it.
I got to Medhurst before my messenger; but found myself already cried at the very Marketcross! I had been hatching devices all the way, to know what people thought about me. I might have spared myself the pains. Most of my grandfather’s tenants bold beneficial leases; and their “prophetic souls” were on the qui vive. My “listing for a horse soldier,” and “going off with the Major’s lady”—the whole history was afield, with additions, alterations, and exaggerations. I sent for a hair-dresser, and had it all (without asking) in five minutes. My father’s unreasonable postponement gave some offence; my most-to-be-lamented succession still more. I was to make a seraglio of the manor-house in a fortnight; and to get rid of the last acre in a year.
Next day, I seat my own servant to Beauvoir, with a note, setting forth my arrival, and requesting an interview. Signor José wore his foreign livery, and red Montero cap; and departed, upon a very curious Spanish horse, that I have brought over with me, with half the population of Medhurst at his heels. In truth, the horse—you shall see him when we meet—was a monture fit for Murat in person! No whipped and curbed-up restive English jade, that you thrust spurs into, and, when he flinches, call it spirit; but a beast that will eat of his master’s bread, and drink of his cup; never felt a spur in all his life, and knows switches and halters only by report. On my affirmation—(my attorney shall make affidavit of it)—he is the very steed—the real Rabican—sung of by Ariosto—who cheats the sand of his shadow, and on the snow leaves no marks of his footsteps—who was begotten of the flame, and of the wind!—who might pace dry-shod upon the sea; make his trottoir of a zephyr; and for speed—I forget the rest of the poetry; but I know I bought the animal when he was a colt, and have pampered him ever since, till he is as fleet as a roebuck, and as fierce, in any hands but my own, as a three-days-taken tiger.
And noon brought this inestimable quadruped back, with an answer to my letter, and with so many clowns in admiration of his curvetting, that I was fain to command the locking of his stable door.
Sir Walter’s communication was less offensive than I had expected; but my mind was made up as to how I should proceed. Fight always at once, if possible, where you desire to be quiet—you are sure of peace, after men know that there is nothing to he got by going to war with you. These Beauvoirs are of your gens de coterie—your people of the “real caste” and “tone”—(that is, your people who, singly, would be hunted down as owls and bedlamites; but who, as a “set,” have managed to make their joint-stock impudence imposing.) I suspected the reception that I should meet from them; and I waited upon good Sir Walter without my scabbard. There is a recipe in some old book—“How to avoid being tossed by a mad hull.” And the instruction given is—“Toss him!” Try the experiment upon the first coxcomb who fancies that you are his inferior;—charge first, and give him to understand roundly that you fancy he is yours. Be coldly supercilious with all “important” caitiffs, and most punctual be your attention to the matter in debate; but let no temptation prevail with you to touch on any earthly point beyond it. In business all men are equal. The casting of an account knows no distinction of persons. But remember, that he (whoever he is) stands a babbler, convict, who utters one word except to state the sum total of it. Get an observation about the weather, you reply with some—“Thirteen and ninepence!” and your interlocutor is dead. A syllable de trop will enable you to decline “general communication,” where no approach to such a state was ever intended. Poor Sir Walter came down, loaded to the very muzzle, to repress “familiarity” on my part; but I found him guilty of “familiarity” himself, and made him bear the penalty of it, before six sentences had been exchanged between us.
“The late gales”—there was no “Happy to see me at Beauvoir!”—“The late gales had rendered my passage from the continent difficult?”
“It had not been pleasant.”—This came after we were seated; and after a salutation such as might pass between the automaton chess-player and the ghost in Don Juan.
I had received letters, of course, from Mr. Dupuis?
“At Figuera, to the 30th ult.”—Followed by a long pause, which I did not move to interrupt.—Mr. Dupuis is my agent and attorney.
“The late Mr. Charlton Edwards,”—in a tone of condescension this and dignified feeling, which made me think that the Lord had delivered the speaker into my hands—“The late Mr. Charlton Edwards, I was perhaps aware, he (Sir W. B.) had much respected?” (I was aware, Robert, that it was very inconvenient for a gentleman to speak, and not to be answered; but, as this observation needed no reply, I made none, except a look of polite surprise.)
“That sentiment alone”—here a little hesitation, occasioned by my omitting such an opportunity to protest—“that sentiment alone had induced him to take upon himself the somewhat laborious duty of an executor. There was a legacy of five hundred pounds attached to the office; but,”—(this was the coup that was to annihilate me)—“that—remembrance—he should desire to be excused from accepting.”
As six cards at least more, in the potential way, were coming, I trumped the suit at once.—“In that case, the sum would pass to any charity which he (Sir Walter) might be disposed to favor; and I would endeavor to add something which should be worthy to accompany so munificent a donation.”—This reply, not even pointed with contempt at his thinking to overwhelm me by giving up five hundred pounds that I knew he did not want—(had it been ten thousand, with all the family consequence, I had trembled for my patrimony)—this reply, given without the movement of a single muscle, carried us straight to reading “the will;” during which operation, the Baronet’s temper was once or twice nearly overcome by the irreverent neighing of my Spanish steeds, who challenged all comers, from under the window. We did get through, however—temper, gravity, and all—and, Mr. Dupuis being summoned, Sir Walter and I formally took leave of each other;—I, on my part tolerably well satisfied that I had waived no dignity in our brief conference, but a little surprised why a man, who certainly disliked me, should have chosen to act as my executor; and he, as I thought, somewhat disconcerted (though I never guessed with what abundant cause) at the seeming change in my humor, and habits of acting and thinking.
My grandfather has left me every thing; and (with all his eccentricities he had spirit and taste,) his last order was, that Monckton Manor should be kept, to my arrival, just as he himself had lived in it. It would be nonsense to talk of feeling any deep regret for the death of a man whom I scarcely ever saw; but—I am not quite ungrateful—if half his money would bring him to life again, he should have it. As the case stands, however, I get a diamond, you see, not only ready polished, but ready set to my hand, and had nothing to do when I arrived here, but walk straight into the well ordered mansion of my forefathers—from the which imagine me writing, just now, to bid you welcome! So despotic, that not a mouse, if I list be silent, dare raise his voice within three stories of me! Conceive me, sole master, and disposing of all, in the very last house of all the world, in which I ever looked to dispose of any thing. Sitting in a small room, more stocked with roses than with books, which takes rank as “The Library.” Before a buhl-table, at a long narrow Gothic window—people did not care for too much light, even before there was a tax upon it—really extant, I believe, (the window,) since the days of Henry the VII. My great grandfather, I know, traced it back to Rufus, and had his doubts if it might not have been carried up to the Conqueror. With a great deal of nicknack furniture, and some good Flemish pictures; a most unnecessary list of servants, and an incomparable cellar of wine, to amuse me within; and, without—a strange, irregular, semi-barbarous kind of prospect to look at,—almost grotesque, but not unpleasing—between the remote, and the immediate. Beyond my “ring fence,” a branch of the Wye—a real steeple (the church of Medhurst)—the village inn, with a rising sun (for a sign) that might warm all Lapland through a three months’ winter—and abundance, generally, of heath, and rivulet, and hill, and copse, and forest, part of mine own, and part belonging to the demesne of Beauvoir.
More at home, a great multiplication of flower-gardens, kitchen-gardens, and nurseries, shrubberies, zig-zag walks, and fish-ponds, with duck islands in the middle of them. The view total supplying a sort of index to the various tastes of the twelve last incumbents on the property; each of whom thought it a pity to undo any trifle that had been done by his predecessor; and all had such a horror of either rebuilding, or radical alteration, that a surveyor, caught even making a sketch upon the estate, would have found no more quarter from them than a beast of prey.
For my own part, I rather agree, I confess, in this opinion about the “surveyor.” I think, in strictness, he belongs to that class of artists—as the attorney—the house-painter—or the undertaker—in whose very callings there is something that men shudder at the recollection of. Certainly, if I were in trade myself, I would be a wine-merchant, or a confectioner, or of some craft, so that people should be able to look me in the face without abhorrence; and, for the present at least, I shall so far affirm my ancestral piety, as to let Monckton remain with all its inconveniences. But you lost much, I assure you, that—not meeting me on the coast—you missed the solemnity of my “taking possession.”
The “joyful tidings” of the “new lord’s” arrival had been promulgated as soon as I reached Beauvoir Castle; and, in the hall of that edifice, (on leaving it,) I found my steward, attended by a couple of keepers, waiting to “pay his duty.” I mounted my grey horse, who had collected all the domestics of Sir Walter’s stable department in criticism round him; and the unearthly immovableness which I preserved of feature, joined to a few words of Spanish, in which I now and then spoke to José, seemed to root the very thought of my ever having been an offending Adam out of men’s minds. As I rode through the village, “attended,” the landlord of the Rising Sun stood, in devotion, to bow to me. His wife and daughters were forthcoming too in their best clothes; and there was my barber, looking as though he wished, for once, he had been less communicative; although, as he told me afterwards, by way of excuse, “he had only said what every body else said.” So we moved forward—the bells ringing for my “happy return.” I, in the front, with Mr. Poundage a little to the rear on one side, and Mr. Dupuis, wishing to be familiar, but not quite knowing how to compass it, on the other; José behind, and the two keepers taking long shots, (in the way of comprehension,) at his English; and the folks of the village taking off their hats as we passed—to the whole of which I returned a grave courtesy; but as though it disturbed my own reflections, rather than otherwise.
I shall be in the commission of the peace, Robert, within these six months, and set people in the stocks! The five hundred pound legacy goes to repair “the church,” as the joint gift of Sir Walter Beauvoir and myself. The parish-officers have already waited upon me in procession! I shall have a tablet put up for me of marble, and a vile verse inscribed on it in Latin—and “Charles Edwards, Esq.” gave—so much—to “beautify,”—“Anno MDCCCXVI.”—with an obiit when I die, and a notice who was church-warden when I was buried.
On my arrival at “Home,” every thing—the short notice considered—was creditable to my friend Poundage’s taste. People, all very alarmed and anxious, as beseems those who have to get their own livelihood. At the lodge-gate I found my “porter” in deep black, and reverence, “deeper still.” My gardeners were scattered at different points about the grounds, that I might not, by any accident, go too far without having worship paid me. Before the grand entrance, (to which Mr. Poundage rode forward, with a bow for permission,) stood my serving-men, in full livery. My housekeeper, fat and oppressive, as an ancient lady ought to be, ready to welcome me. Half a dozen of my chief tenants, all “in mourning” (for the “beneficial leases;”) my maid servants peeping here and there, round corners, and out of upper windows. And then, MOI—Myself—Le Grand Homme vient!—Don’t you see me, Bob?—in my long dark pelisse, able to stand alone with lace and embroidery—upon my grey horse, full sixteen hands high, with his massy furniture, foreign saddle, holsters, pistols, &c., all complete. The whole cavalcade an extremely well got up and imposing affair, I assure you; and one which would have led me to think most puissantly of the chief personage concerned in it, if I had not (on certain previous occasions) enjoyed the advantage of his acquaintance.
My location completed, “domestic duties” commenced; and I could n’t find in my heart (though I shall economize) to discharge any of my people.
Audience to Mrs. Glasse—“Forty years in the family!”—“Hoped my Honor’s breakfast had given my Honor satisfaction.” She must die, I suppose, at Monckton, and be buried at my cost.
Audience to my steward—at breakfast—and told him I was satisfied with his way of doing things. He had a desire, I saw, to fall at my feet, but doubted whether it might not be taken as a liberty. Visit from Mr. Dupuis;—thought he seemed rather a scoundrel, and went through all his accounts at one sitting!—Cost me seven hours, but completely took down the gentleman’s importance. Concluded by making him commit several valuable documents to my own iron chest; and ordered his bill (convinced he’d never live to make it out) for “the morning of the 27th.”
Day following, full of business. Opened letters from all the tradesmen within ten miles, craving “orders.” Before dinner, made a progress through my whole estate, and went through the ceremonies (legal) of taking possession. Rode my grey horse again, who neighed furiously, bringing every body out of doors at every fresh house or stable he came near. Going home—all the people about quite deafened with this outcry, met one of the junior Beauvoirs, on horsebaek, in a lane; at the sight of whom, le dit Rabican gave such a ferocious neigh, rearing and plunging at the same time, as if for battle, that the Captain’s hunter bolted into the hedge, and had nearly overthrown him. I moved slightly, looking at Dupuis—who was riding in great bodily fear, as far as he might from me—and the compliment was (quite as slightly) returned.
But I had a hold all this while (of which I knew nothing) upon the heart of the Beauvoir family; and it procured me the unhoped-for honor of a visit from Sir Walter, almost before I became aware of its existence.
Dupuis let me into the fact first—as a last card against bringing in his bill, and giving up his agency. It was the borough of Medhurst, it seems, that formed the grand link between my late grandfather and the people at the castle.
He always gave up the parliamentary interests; but our property is suspected of carrying a majority. Major Beauvoir sits for Medhurst; Sir Walter is one of the members for the county. I was to have been played upon by these good folks as they pleased, and slighted as they pleased into the bargain. But my business-like movements have struck them with alarm. A general election approaches, and, though they are rich, they must not lose Medhurst. I am a beast, instead of (what they hoped to find me) a fool; but my “beneficial leases” are dangerous. And so—though the Beauvoirs are “select”—down came Sir Walter, to trim between his pride and his necessity.
It was really pitiful to see the poor old buzzard, who, you know, is high and mighty, compelled to communicate with a wretch, who would have no notion of any body’s being high and mighty at all. First, he had a sort of hope left that I was an ass, and that he might cheat me out of what he wanted, instead of purchasing it. Then, got out of patience at my obstinate formality; but still was sure that any direct overture towards intimacy from him, would remove it. At last, in the midst of the creature’s doubt whether he would be friends, he suddenly happened to doubt whether I would; on which the quibbling was dropped in alarm, and nothing thought of but carrying the point. And so, two hours after Mr. Dupuis had told me this long election story, “in confidence,”—a confidence to which I just trusted so far, as not to give him the slightest hint how I meant to act upon it in return—though I was a “rough rider,” and had a horse that “neighed,” I received a morning call from Sir Walter, which ended (sorely against his will) in an invitation to dine at Beauvoir Castle.
If I could make head against the world when I was naked and pennyless, I can hardly fear to do so now. You know me, and know how I value the opinion of such people as these; but they are still members of a party, that in some way or other must be dealt with. I shall have to light my passage, against something perhaps of prejudice, into certain circles to which a man of fortune should have admission. As the first goose might cackle, ten to one the whole flock would follow. This Beauvoir bidding was an opportunity to begin the struggle with advantage.
I rode to the castle on horseback, (this took place yesterday,) and arrived as nearly as possible at the last moment; having declined using one of Sir Walter’s carriages, “until my own could be put in order.” From the very entry of the avenue, I saw what was to be my reception—the evening was tempting, but the windows and balconies were deserted. The “having me” was evidently an “infliction.”—I’ll try if I can’t teach some of the family what “infliction” is.
Dinner was instantaneous—(as I had hoped)—so sparing me an inconvenient preliminary ten minutes in the drawing-room. The party quite private, in order that the open avowal of me might still be got rid of, if possible. We had Sir Walter, pompous, but rather fidgety. We had Lady B., well-bred enough, and not very ill-natured. The two Misses Beauvoirs, looking most determinately—“nothing less than nobility approaches Kitty!” Major B., the gentleman who “sits;” Captain B., the gentleman whom I nearly overthrew; the gouvernante of the young ladies; and the parson of the parish.
This was the “bore” party—evidently premeditated; every thing was conducted “in a concatenation,” as Goldsmith has it, “accordingly.” I was meant—transparently—to be a “lost monster” within the first five minutes; and yet I never enjoyed an entertainment so much, I think, in my life. It is so delicious a role to play—and, withal, so easy—when a man is desirous only of being disagreeable! And when I reflected that these lunatic creatures, who really stood personally within the scope of my danger—these “splacknucks,” into whose house I would have hired myself as their footman, and, in twelve months, have ruled it as their lord—that they, who were absolutely suitors to me for a boon, and over my prospects, or possessions, could have no breath of influence—that they should be so mad as to desire to distress me, and hope by exhibiting a few common grimaces to succeed!—the thing, so far from supplying a cause of annoyance, was, as you must perceive, unboundedly jocose and entertaining.
We had the stale farce of silent hauteur played off; and a few more modern airs in the peculiarities of eating and drinking. The Misses B. were prodigious in the arrangements of their salad. The Captain—he is of “the Guards”—ate fish with his fingers. But, for the ton, I had carte blanche, as being a foreigner; and, for the silence, you don’t very easily awe any man where he feels that circumstances make him your master. I talked, if no one else did; and he who talks prepense, may even “talk” with safety. With Sir Walter Beauvoir, I spoke of property and interests, in a way that made him very anxiously attend to me. The Captain I addressed once, (in reply,) and that in a tone just more steady, the twentieth part of a note, than I had been using with his father—a word more, and I would have apologized for his ill horsemanship on the preceding day. The Misses Beauvoir I took wine with, and would not see that they were fair and inexorable. To Lady B. I ventured a few words, just to show that I could behave decently, if it was my cue to do so. But it was with the Major—the member for Medhurst—(that has been)—the gentleman for whose immediate convenience my presence was submitted to; it was with him that my high fortune lay; and the gain was greater than I could have even hoped for.
The Major, I believe, is a person that you have no acquaintance with?—I knew something of him, and disliked him, when we both were lads. He had then—allowing for my prejudices—the qualities which compose a brute; but has now acquired cunning enough, in some degree, to conceal them. His early familiarities were with watch-houses; his exploits, the beating of hackney-coachmen, and dandy linen-drapers at Vauxhall. You may recollect the fact, perhaps, of his exchanging out of the Fusileers, at Cheltenham, for having put a tailor (who asked for money, I believe) into the fire?
The man either was troublesome, or his creditors wanted amusement; but he was ordered, I know, to come for payment to a house at which three or four gentlemen were dining; the whole party then made a very facetious assault upon him, in consequence of which Ensign B——— had to quit his regiment; and the relatives of the other offenders paid near two thousand pounds to avoid the disgrace of the matter coming into court. Those times are over. Men grow more prudent, if not more honest, as they increase in age. And my friend the Major’s rank and associations have made him a man of fashion; but still he is one of those men, whom, at first sight, you would dislike. There are a description of persons, as we all find out sometimes, whom you can hardly meet, even in the stage-coach, without looking for a quarrel with them. The slightest degree of intercourse seems to make the event quite certain; and, feeling that, you desperately think that the sooner it happens, and is over, the better. I remember once sitting in the same coffee-room with a man whose deportment absolutely fascinated me. Not a word had passed between us; and yet I felt that I must either instantly insult him, or leave the apartment. Major Beauvoir’s manner yesterday, at our re-introduction, was a curious illustration of the ungovernableness of this particular faculty: it was decidedly repelling, (though not sufficiently so to call for notice,) while, from what followed, I have no doubt that it was meant to be conciliatory.
For he has the infirmity upon him, (this gentleman,) among others, of being easily affected by wine; and the spirit of play, which also constantly attends him, had caught a scent of my ready money. The exposure that followed was good enough to have been bought by encouragement; but his monstrous folly made even encouragement unnecessary. A wild extravagance keeps him constantly poor; and he has not brains enough to make him timid; for, take successful speculators, with the odds ten to one against them generally, and you will find them coarse-minded, obtuse men—acute intellect would see too clearly the chance of overthrow. In spite of all Sir Walter’s exertion, after the first eight glasses, my mere listening became sufficient to draw him out. First, he adverted to the circumstance of our former acquaintance, and drew on valiantly, though I made him pull me all the way. Then we talked of the country—of horses (his and my own) and hunting—my share in the discussion going little beyond monosyllables. From thence it caine to arrangements for town, (whither the Major himself was forthwith returning;) and clubs—matches—bets—introductions—all the circumstances of currency which I wanted, (the command of,) I was enabled politely, but without the slightest acknowledgment, to decline. At length I rose to take my leave, accompanied to the last possible moment of conversation by Sir Walter, who saw his son’s failure with obvious horror, although the ingenious gentleman himself never suspected it. We descended the great staircase, with solemn deprecation on my part, and immense, though not very happily managed, conciliation on his. But just as the august personage was expressing his hope, under great ardent suffering, that he should early have the pleasure to see me again at Beauvoir Castle, when perhaps something might be suggested, with respect to certain political arrangements, which might operate to the mutual conveniences, and, indeed, advantage, of both our families—just as he got to this point, we reached the lower hall, and my grey horse, who was in waiting, uttered a most extra hyæna-like, and demoniacal neigh. This strange interruption—(which was produced, I believe, by the hearing my voice)—and at such a juncture too!—disconcerted him completely. He stopped—gulped—recollected himself—doubted whether to piece his discourse, or begin over again. In the end, the poor Baronet stammered out a parting compliment, even worse turned than that which Monsieur Rabican had broken in upon; and I returned home a personage decidedly more hateful to the Beauvoir family than ever, but completely relieved from all anxiety about my reception—as a potentate of the vicinity—in future; and as an object of detestation with the worthy folks, you know, of necessity, an object, if not of terror, of respect.
This, I think, is as it should be. I am fêted by these people, and will be farther so: and, when they have gone through the abomination of getting my interest, they shall find that they have lost it. But that they are clumsy impostors, and deserve no such lenity, I could end their anxiety in a word; for, if I really have a majority in the borough, I think I shall sit for it myself. You laugh—but I can’t come back to the army, after six years’ desertion, to face your Waterloo reputation upon a “lady-peace” establishment. And a scat in Parliament gives a man a semblance of pursuits in life, which (where no trouble attaches) is convenient. You will come over to my election, (if I find I can command the place,) and help to eat the bad dinners, and kiss the people’s wives. Drop no word, however, I charge you, in the interim; because I must bamboozle these cockscombs, who meant to bamboozle me. The hook is in their mouths, and I shall be able to keep them on, without giving either a reasonable expectation. The moment they ask my decision, I shall give it against them; and yet, before then, I will have gained all they sought to withhold from me. This is not a world, Robert, in which a man can live by the use of candor, or of liberal principle; and he who is wise will fall into its spirit, and acquire a taste for hollow-heartedness and selfish feeling. To have one’s “opinions” always flying out against those of every body else—one’s heart pinned upon one’s sleeve—is it not to fight too much at a disadvantage? And may there not be some whim in shaking hands with a man very cordially, when you know he means to do you a mortal injury, and when you have digged a countermine, (in the way of surprise,) which, in five minutes, is to blow him to the moon? When I was poor, who ever behaved even fairly to me? And is it not monstrous vanity to expect that I now should behave disinterestedly to those I love not?
Farewell till we meet, which I hope will not be many days; but I must (with the kind aid of Sir W. Beauvoir) stamp my credit in the right way, before I go—here—in Glostershire. I have got a touch, you see, of the true moneyed feeling already —letting policy detain me in one place, when inclination would carry me to another.
Fare you well once more, until we shake hands; which, with you, I would not do, unless I did it honestly. I shall be in town, I believe, by the 28th; and a lieutenant-colonel, I am sure, can leave a regiment at any time. As a proof that (for my part) we are still upon the same terms tlat we used to be—ask your father if he will “present” me. I could make old Sir Walter here, I have no doubt, submit to the duty, (and, in case I go to the continent, it may be convenient to me to get this done;) but I would not have him able to say that I ever hoaxed him out of any politeness worth a moment’s consideration. Besides, I know enough of your father, to believe that he will feel no hesitation in obliging me;-and I write to show you that I can ask a favor from a friend, when it is such a favor as may be conferred by one gentleman upon another.