The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XVI

In which Mr. Sherrick lets his House in Fitzroy Square

In spite of the sneers of the Newcome Independent, and the Colonel’s unlucky visit to his nurse’s native place, he still remained in high favour in Park Lane; where the worthy gentleman paid almost daily visits, and was received with welcome and almost affection, at least by the ladies and the children of the house. Who was it that took the children to Astley’s but Uncle Newcome? I saw him there in the midst of a cluster of these little people, all children together. He laughed delighted at Mr. Merryman’s jokes in the ring. He beheld the Battle of Waterloo with breathless interest, and was amazed — amazed, by Jove, sir — at the prodigious likeness of the principal actor to the Emperor Napoleon; whose tomb he had visited on his return from India, as it pleased him to tell his little audience who sat clustering round him: the little girls, Sir Brian’s daughters, holding each by a finger of his honest hands; young Masters Alfred and Edward clapping and hurrahing by his side; while Mr. Clive and Miss Ethel sat in the back of the box enjoying the scene, but with that decorum which belonged to their superior age and gravity. As for Clive, he was in these matters much older than the grizzled old warrior his father. It did one good to hear the Colonel’s honest laughs at clown’s jokes, and to see the tenderness and simplicity with which he watched over this happy brood of young ones. How lavishly did he supply them with sweetmeats between the acts! There he sat in the midst of them, and ate an orange himself with perfect satisfaction. I wonder what sum of money Mr. Barnes Newcome would have taken to sit for five hours with his young brothers and sisters in a public box at the theatre and eat an orange in the face of the audience? When little Alfred went to Harrow, you may be sure Colonel Newcome and Clive galloped over to see the little man, and tipped him royally. What money is better bestowed than that of a schoolboy’s tip? How the kindness is recalled by the recipient in after days! It blesses him that gives and him that takes. Remember how happy such benefactions made you in your own early time, and go off on the very first fine day and tip your nephew at school!

The Colonel’s organ of benevolence was so large, that he would have liked to administer bounties to the young folks his nephews and nieces in Bryanstone Square, as well as to their cousins in Park Lane; but Mrs. Newcome was a great deal too virtuous to admit of such spoiling of children. She took the poor gentleman to task for an attempt upon her boys when those lads came home for their holidays, and caused them ruefully to give back the shining gold sovereign with which their uncle had thought to give them a treat.

“I do not quarrel with other families,” says she; “I do not allude to other families;” meaning, of course, that she did not allude to Park Lane. “There may be children who are allowed to receive money from their father’s grown-up friends. There may be children who hold out their hands for presents, and thus become mercenary in early life. I make no reflections with regard to other households. I only look, and think, and pray for the welfare of my own beloved ones. They want for nothing. Heaven has bounteously furnished us with every comfort, with every elegance, with every luxury. Why need we be bounden to others, who have been ourselves so amply provided? I should consider it ingratitude, Colonel Newcome, want of proper spirit, to allow my boys to accept money. Mind, I make no allusions. When they go to school they receive a sovereign a-piece from their father, and a shilling a week, which is ample pocket-money. When they are at home, I desire that they may have rational amusements: I send them to the Polytechnic with Professor Hickson, who kindly explains to them some of the marvels of science and the wonders of machinery. I send them to the picture-galleries and the British Museum. I go with them myself to the delightful lectures at the institution in Albemarle Street. I do not desire that they should attend theatrical exhibitions. I do not quarrel with those who go to plays; far from it! Who am I that I should venture to judge the conduct of others? When you wrote from India, expressing a wish that your boy should be made acquainted with the works of Shakspeare, I gave up my own opinion at once. Should I interpose between a child and his father? I encouraged the boy to go to the play, and sent him to the pit with one of our footmen.”

“And you tipped him very handsomely, my dear Maria, too,” said the good-natured Colonel, breaking in upon her sermon; but Virtue was not to be put off in that way.

“And why, Colonel Newcome,” Virtue exclaimed, laying a pudgy little hand on its heart; “why did I treat Clive so? Because I stood towards him in loco parentis; because he was as a child to me, and I to him as a mother. I indulged him more than my own. I loved him with a true maternal tenderness. Then he was happy to come to our house: then perhaps Park Lane was not so often open to him as Bryanstone Square: but I make no allusions. Then he did not go six times to another house for once that he came to mine. He was a simple, confiding, generous boy, was not dazzled by worldly rank or titles of splendour. He could not find these in Bryanstone Square. A merchant’s wife, a country lawyer’s daughter — I could not be expected to have my humble board surrounded by titled aristocracy; I would not if I could. I love my own family too well; I am too honest, too simple — let me own it at once, Colonel Newcome, too proud! And now, now his father has come to England, and I have resigned him, and he meets with no titled aristocrats at my house, and he does not come here any more.”

Tears rolled out of her little eyes as she spoke, and she covered her round face with her pocket-handkerchief.

Had Colonel Newcome read the paper that morning, he might have seen amongst what are called the fashionable announcements, the cause, perhaps, why his sister-inlaw had exhibited so much anger and virtue. The Morning Post stated, that yesterday Sir Brian and Lady Newcome entertained at dinner His Excellency the Persian Ambassador and Bucksheesh Bey; the Right Honourable Cannon Rowe, President of the Board of Control, and Lady Louisa Rowe; the Earl of H—— — the Countess of Kew, the Earl of Kew, Sir Currey Baughton, Major-General and Mrs. Hooker, Colonel Newcome, and Mr. Horace Fogey. Afterwards her ladyship had an assembly, which was attended by, etc. etc.

This catalogue of illustrious names had been read by Mr. Newcome to her spouse at breakfast, with such comments as she was in the habit of making.

“The President of the Board of Control, the Chairman of the Court of Directors, and Ex-Governor-General of India, and a whole regiment of Kews. By Jove, Maria, the Colonel is in good company,” cries Mr. Newcome, with a laugh. “That’s the sort of dinner you should have given him. Some people to talk about India. When he dined with us he was put between old Lady Wormely and Professor Roots. I don’t wonder at his going to sleep after dinner. I was off myself once or twice during that confounded long argument between Professor Roots and Dr. Windus. That Windus is the deuce to talk.”

“Dr. Windus is a man of science, and his name is of European celebrity!” says Maria solemnly. “Any intellectual person would prefer such company to the titled nobodies into whose family your brother has married.”

“There you go, Polly; you are always having a shy at Lady Anne and her relations,” says Mr. Newcome, good-naturedly.

“A shy! How can you use such vulgar words, Mr. Newcome? What have I to do with Sir Brian’s titled relations? I do not value nobility. I prefer people of science — people of intellect — to all the rank in the world.”

“So you do,” says Hobson her spouse. “You have your party — Lady Anne has her party. You take your line — Lady Anne takes her line. You are a superior woman, my dear Polly; every one knows that. I’m a plain country farmer, I am. As long as you are happy, I am happy too. The people you get to dine here may talk Greek or algebra for what I care. By Jove, my dear, I think you can hold your own with the best of them.”

“I have endeavoured by assiduity to make up for time lost, and an early imperfect education,” says Mrs. Newcome. “You married a poor country lawyer’s daughter. You did not seek a partner in the Peerage, Mr. Newcome.”

“No, no. Not such a confounded flat as that,” cries Mr. Newcome, surveying his plump partner behind her silver teapot, with eyes of admiration.

“I had an imperfect education, but I knew its blessings, and have, I trust, endeavoured to cultivate the humble talents which Heaven has given me, Mr. Newcome.”

“Humble, by Jove!” exclaims the husband. “No gammon of that sort, Polly. You know well enough that you are a superior woman. I ain’t a superior man. I know that: one is enough in a family. I leave the reading to you, my dear. Here comes my horses. I say, I wish you’d call on Lady Anne today. Do go and see her, now that’s a good girl. I know she is flighty, and that; and Brian’s back is up a little. But he ain’t a bad fellow; and I wish I could see you and his wife better friends.”

On his way to the City, Mr. Newcome rode to look at the new house, No. 120 Fitzroy Square, which his brother, the Colonel, had taken in conjunction with that Indian friend of his, Mr. Binnie. Shrewd old cock, Mr. Binnie. Has brought home a good bit of money from India. Is looking out for safe investments. Has been introduced to Newcome Brothers. Mr. Newcome thinks very well of the Colonel’s friend.

The house is vast, but, it must be owned, melancholy. Not long since it was a ladies’ school, in an unprosperous condition. The scar left by Madame Latour’s brass plate may still be seen on the tall black door, cheerfully ornamented in the style of the end of the last century, with a funereal urn in the centre of the entry, and garlands, and the skulls of rams at each corner. Madame Latour, who at one time actually kept a large yellow coach, and drove her parlour young ladies in the Regent’s Park, was an exile from her native country (Islington was her birthplace, and Grigson her paternal name), and an outlaw at the suit of Samuel Sherrick: that Mr. Sherrick whose wine-vaults undermine Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel where the eloquent Honeyman preaches.

The house is Mr. Sherrick’s house. Some say his name is Shadrach, and pretend to have known him as an orange-boy, afterwards as a chorus-singer in the theatres, afterwards as secretary to a great tragedian. I know nothing of these stories. He may or he may not be a partner of Mr. Campion, of Shepherd’s Inn: he has a handsome villa, Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, entertains good company, rather loud, of the sporting sort, rides and drives very showy horses, has boxes at the Opera whenever he likes, and free access behind the scenes: is handsome, dark, bright-eyed, with a quantity of jewellery, and a tuft to his chin; sings sweetly sentimental songs after dinner. Who cares a fig what was the religion of Mr. Sherrick’s ancestry, or what the occupation of his youth? Mr. Honeyman, a most respectable man surely, introduced Sherrick to the Colonel and Binnie.

Mr. Sherrick stocked their cellar with some of the wine over which Honeyman preached such lovely sermons. It was not dear; it was not bad when you dealt with Mr. Sherrick for wine alone. Going into his market with ready money in your hand, as our simple friends did, you were pretty fairly treated by Mr. Sherrick.

The house being taken, we may be certain there was fine amusement for Clive, Mr. Binnie, and the Colonel, in frequenting the sales, in the inspection of upholsterers’ shops, and the purchase of furniture for the new mansion. It was like nobody else’s house. There were three masters with four or five servants over them. Kean for the Colonel and his son; a smart boy with boots for Mr. Binnie; Mrs. Kean to cook and keep house, with a couple of maids under her. The Colonel, himself, was great at making hash mutton, hot-pot, curry, and pillau. What cosy pipes did we not smoke in the dining-room, in the drawing-room, or where we would! What pleasant evenings did we not have with Mr Binnie’s books and Schiedam! Then there were the solemn state dinners, at most of which the writer of this biography had a corner.

Clive had a tutor — Cirindey of Corpus — whom we recommended to him, and with whom the young gentleman did not fatigue his brains very much; but his great forte decidedly lay in drawing. He sketched the horses, he sketched the dogs; all the servants from the blear-eyed boot-boy to the rosy-cheeked lass, Mrs. Kean’s niece, whom that virtuous housekeeper was always calling to come downstairs. He drew his father in all postures — asleep, on foot, on horseback; and jolly little Mr. Binnie, with his plump legs on a chair, or jumping briskly on the back of the cob which he rode. He should have drawn the pictures for this book, but that he no longer condescends to make sketches. Young Ridley was his daily friend now; and Grindley, his classics and mathematics over in the morning, and the ride with father over, this pair of young men would constantly attend Gandish’s Drawing Academy, where, to be sure, Ridley passed many hours at work on his art, before his young friend and patron could be spared from his books to his pencil.

“Oh,” says Clive, “if you talk to him now about those early days, it was a jolly time! I do not believe there was any young fellow in London so happy.” And there hangs up in his painting-room now, a head, painted at one sitting, of a man rather bald, with hair touched with grey, with a large moustache, and a sweet mouth half smiling beneath it, and melancholy eyes; and Clive shows that portrait of their grandfather to his children, and tells them that the whole world never saw a nobler gentleman.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07