The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XIX

The Colonel at Home

Our good Colonel’s house had received a coat of paint, which, like Madame Latour’s rouge in her latter days, only served to make her careworn face look more ghastly. The kitchens were gloomy. The stables were gloomy. Great black passages; cracked conservatory; dilapidated bathroom, with melancholy waters moaning and fizzing from the cistern; the great large blank stone staircase — were all so many melancholy features in the general countenance of the house; but the Colonel thought it perfectly, cheerful and pleasant, and furnished it in his rough-and-ready way. One day a cartload of chairs; the next a waggonful of fenders, fire-irons, and glass and crockery — a quantity of supplies, in a word, he poured into the place. There were a yellow curtain in the back drawing-room, and green curtains in the front. The carpet was an immense bargain, bought dirt cheap, sir, at a sale in Euston Square. He was against the purchase of a carpet for the stairs. What was the good of it? What did men want with stair-carpets? His own apartment contained a wonderful assortment of lumber. Shelves which he nailed himself, old Indian garments, camphor trunks. What did he want with gewgaws? anything was good enough for an old soldier. But the spare bedroom was endowed with all sorts of splendour: a bed as big as a general’s tent, a cheval glass — whereas the Colonel shaved in a little cracked mirror, which cost him no more than King Stephen’s breeches — and a handsome new carpet; while the boards of the Colonel’s bedchamber were as bare — as bare as old Miss Scragg’s shoulders, which would be so much more comfortable were they covered up. Mr. Binnie’s bedchamber was neat, snug, and appropriate. And Clive had a study and bedroom at the top of the house, which he was allowed to furnish entirely according to his own taste. How he and Ridley revelled in Wardour Street! What delightful coloured prints of hunting, racing, and beautiful ladies, did they not purchase, mount with their own hands, cut out for screens, frame and glaze, and hang up on the walls. When the rooms were ready they gave a party, inviting the Colonel and Mr. Binnie by note of hand, two gentlemen from Lamb Court, Temple, Mr. Honeyman, and Fred Bayham. We must have Fred Bayham. Fred Bayham frankly asked, “Is Mr. Sherrick, with whom you have become rather intimate lately — and mind you I say nothing, but I recommend strangers in London to be cautious about their friends — is Mr. Sherrick coming to you, young ’un? because if he is, F. B. must respectfully decline.”

Mr. Sherrick was not invited, and accordingly F. B. came. But Sherrick was invited on other days, and a very queer society did our honest Colonel gather together in that queer house, so dreary, so dingy, so comfortless, so pleasant. He, who was one of the most hospitable men alive, loved to have his friends around him; and it must be confessed that the evening parties now occasionally given in Fitzroy Square were of the oddest assemblage of people. The correct East India gentlemen from Hanover Square: the artists, Clive’s friends, gentlemen of all ages with all sorts of beards, in every variety of costume. Now and again a stray schoolfellow from Grey Friars, who stared, as well he might, at the company in which he found himself. Sometimes a few ladies were brought to these entertainments. The immense politeness of the good host compensated some of them for the strangeness of his company. They had never seen such odd-looking hairy men as those young artists, nor such wonderful women as Colonel Newcome assembled together. He was good to all old maids and poor widows. Retired captains with large families of daughters found in him their best friend. He sent carriages to fetch them and bring them back from the suburbs where they dwelt. Gandish, Mrs. Gandish, and the four Miss Gandishes in scarlet robes, were constant attendants at the Colonel’s soirees.

“I delight, sir, in the ‘ospitality of my distinguished military friend,” Mr. Gandish would say. “The harmy has always been my passion. — I served in the Soho Volunteers three years myself, till the conclusion of the war, sir, till the conclusion of the war.”

It was a great sight to see Mr. Frederick Bayham engaged in the waltz or the quadrille with some of the elderly houris at the Colonel’s parties. F. B., like a good-natured F. B. as he was, always chose the plainest women as partners, and entertained them with profound compliments and sumptuous conversation. The Colonel likewise danced quadrilles with the utmost gravity. Waltzing had been invented long since his time: but he practised quadrilles when they first came in, about 1817, in Calcutta. To see him leading up a little old maid, and bowing to her when the dance was ended, and performing cavalier seul with stately simplicity, was a sight indeed to remember. If Clive Newcome had not such a fine sense of humour, he would have blushed for his father’s simplicity. — As it was, the elder’s guileless goodness and childlike trustfulness endeared him immensely to his son. “Look at the old boy, Pendennis,” he would say, “look at him leading up that old Miss Tidswell to the piano. Doesn’t he do it like an old duke? I lay a wager she thinks she is going to be my mother-inlaw; all the women are in love with him, young and old. ‘Should he upbraid?’ There she goes. ‘I’ll own that he’ll prevail, and sing as sweetly as a nigh-tin-gale!’ Oh, you old warbler! Look at father’s old head bobbing up and down! Wouldn’t he do for Sir Roger de Coverley? How do you do, Uncle Charles? — I say, M’Collop, how gets on the Duke of What-d’ye-call-’em starving in the castle? — Gandish says it’s very good.” The lad retires to a group of artists. Mr. Honeyman comes up with a faint smile playing on his features, like moonlight on the facade of Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel.

“These parties are the most singular I have ever seen,” whispers Honeyman. “In entering one of these assemblies, one is struck with the immensity of London: and with the sense of one’s own insignificance. Without, I trust, departing from my clerical character, nay, from my very avocation as incumbent of a London chapel — I have seen a good deal of the world, and here is an assemblage no doubt of most respectable persons, on scarce one of whom I ever set eyes till this evening. Where does my good brother find such characters?”

“That,” says Mr. Honeyman’s interlocutor, “is the celebrated, though neglected artist, Professor Gandish, whom nothing but jealousy has kept out of the Royal Academy. Surely you have heard of the great Gandish?”

“Indeed I am ashamed to confess my ignorance, but a clergyman busy with his duties knows little, perhaps too little, of the fine arts.”

“Gandish, sir, is one of the greatest geniuses on whom our ungrateful country ever trampled; he exhibited his first celebrated picture of ‘Alfred in the Neatherd’s Hut’ (he says he is the first who ever touched that subject) in 180-; but Lord Nelson’s death, and victory of Trafalgar, occupied the public attention at that time, and Gandish’s work went unnoticed. In the year 1816, he painted his great work of ‘Boadicea.’ You see her before you. That lady in yellow, with a light front and a turban. Boadicea became Mrs. Gandish in that year. So late as ‘27, he brought before the world his ‘Non Angli sed Angeli.’ Two of the angels are yonder in sea-green dresses — the Misses Gandish. The youth in Berlin gloves was the little male angelus of that piece.”

“How came you to know all this, you strange man?” says Mr. Honeyman.

“Simply because Gandish has told me twenty times. He tells the story to everybody, every time he sees them. He told it today at dinner. Boadicea and the angels came afterwards.”

“Satire! satire! Mr. Pendennis,” says the divine, holding up a reproving finger of lavender kid, “beware of a wicked wit! — But when a man has that tendency, I know how difficult it is to restrain. My dear Colonel, good evening! You have a great reception to-night. That gentleman’s bass voice is very fine; Mr. Pendennis and I were admiring it. ‘The Wolf’ is a song admirably adapted to show its capabilities.”

Mr. Gandish’s autobiography had occupied the whole time of the retirement of the ladies from Colonel Newcome’s dinner-table. Mr. Hobson Newcome had been asleep during the performance; Sir Curry Baughton and one or two of the Colonel’s professional and military guests, silent and puzzled. Honest Mr. Binnie, with his shrewd good-humoured face, sipping his claret as usual, and delivering a sly joke now and again to the gentlemen at his end of the table. Mrs. Newcome had sat by him in sulky dignity; was it that Lady Baughton’s diamonds offended her? — her ladyship and her daughters being attired in great splendour for a Court ball, which they were to attend that evening. Was she hurt because she was not invited to that Royal Entertainment? As the festivities were to take place at an early hour, the ladies bidden were obliged to quit the Colonel’s house before the evening part commenced, from which Lady Anne declared she was quite vexed to be obliged to run away.

Lady Anne Newcome had been as gracious on this occasion as her sister-inlaw had been out of humour. Everything pleased her in the house. She had no idea that there were such fine houses in that quarter of the town. She thought the dinner so very nice — that Mr Binnie such a good-humoured-looking gentleman. That stout gentleman with his collars turned down like Lord Byron, so exceedingly clever and full of information. A celebrated artist was he? (courtly Mr. Smee had his own opinion upon that point, but did not utter it). All those artists are so eccentric and amusing and clever. Before dinner she insisted upon seeing Clive’s den with its pictures and casts and pipes. “You horrid young wicked creature, have you begun to smoke already?” she asks, as she admires his room. She admired everything. Nothing could exceed her satisfaction.

The sisters-inlaw kissed on meeting, with that cordiality so delightful to witness in sisters who dwell together in unity. It was, “My dear Maria, what an age since I have seen you!” “My dear Anne, our occupations are so engrossing, our circles are so different,” in a languid response from the other. “Sir Brian is not coming, I suppose? Now, Colonel,” she turns in a frisky manner towards him, and taps her fan, “did I not tell you Sir Brian would not come?”

“He is kept at the House of Commons, my dear. Those dreadful committees. He was quite vexed at not being able to come.”

“I know, I know, dear Anne, there are always excuses to gentlemen in Parliament; I have received many such. Mr. Shaloo and Mr. M’Sheny, the leaders of our party, often and often disappoint me. I knew Brian would not come. My husband came down from Marble Head on purpose this morning. Nothing would have induced us to give up our brother’s party.”

“I believe you. I did come down from Marble Head this morning, and I was four hours in the hay-field before I came away, and in the City till five, and I’ve been to look at a horse afterwards at Tattersall’s, and I’m as hungry as a hunter, and as tired as a hodman,” says Mr. Newcome, with his hands in his pockets. “How do you do, Mr. Pendennis? Maria, you remember Mr. Pendennis — don’t you?”

“Perfectly,” replies the languid Maria. Mrs. Gandish, Colonel Topham, Major M’Cracken. are announced, and then, in diamonds, feathers, and splendour, Lady Baughton and Miss Baughton, who are going to the Queen’s ball, and Sir Curry Baughton, not quite in his deputy-lieutenant’s uniform as yet, looking very shy in a pair of blue trousers, with a glittering stripe of silver down the seams. Clive looks with wonder and delight at these ravishing ladies, rustling in fresh brocades, with feathers, diamonds, and every magnificence. Aunt Anne has not her Court dress on as yet; and Aunt Maria blushes as she beholds the new comers, having thought fit to attire herself in a high dress, with a Quaker-like simplicity, and a pair of gloves more than ordinarily dingy. The pretty little foot she has, it is true, and sticks it out from habit; but what is Mrs. Newcome’s foot compared with that sweet little chaussure which Miss Baughton exhibits and withdraws? The shiny white satin slipper, the pink stocking which ever and anon peeps from the rustling folds of her robe, and timidly retires into its covert — that foot, light as it is, crushes Mrs. Newcome.

No wonder she winces, and is angry; there are some mischievous persons who rather like to witness that discomfiture. All Mr. Smee’s flatteries that day failed to soothe her. She was in the state in which his canvasses sometimes are, when he cannot paint on them.

What happened to her alone in the drawing-room, when the ladies invited to the dinner had departed, and those convoked to the soiree began to arrive — what happened to her or to them I do not like to think. The Gandishes arrived first. Boadicea and the angels. We judged from the fact that young Mr. Gandish came blushing in to the dessert. Name after name was announced of persons of whom Mrs. Newcome knew nothing. The young and the old, the pretty and homely, they were all in their best dresses, and no doubt stared at Mrs. Newcome, so obstinately plain in her attire. When we came upstairs from dinner, we found her seated entirely by herself, tapping her fan at the fireplace. Timid groups of persons were round about, waiting for the irruption of the gentlemen, until the pleasure should begin. Mr. Newcome, who came upstairs yawning, was heard to say to his wife, “Oh, dam, let’s cut!” And they went downstairs, and waited until their carriage had arrived, when they quitted Fitzroy Square.

Mr. Barnes Newcome presently arrived, looking particularly smart and lively, with a large flower in his button-hole, and leaning on the arm of a friend. “How do you do, Pendennis?” he says, with a peculiarly dandified air. “Did you dine here? You look as if you dined here” (and Barnes, certainly, as if he had dined elsewhere). “I was only asked to the cold soiree. Who did you have for dinner? You had my mamma and the Baughtons, and my uncle and aunt, I know, for they are down below in the library, waiting for the carriage: he is asleep, and she is as sulky as a bear.”

“Why did Mrs. Newcome say I should find nobody I knew up here?” asks Barnes’s companion. “On the contrary, there are lots of fellows I know. There’s Fred Bayham, dancing like a harlequin. There’s old Gandish, who used to be my drawing-master; and my Brighton friends, your uncle and cousin, Barnes. What relations are they to me? must be some relations. Fine fellow your cousin.”

“Hm,” growls Barnes. “Very fine boy — not spirited at all — not fond of flattery — not surrounded by toadies — not fond of drink — delightful boy! See yonder, the young fellow is in conversation with his most intimate friend, a little crooked fellow, with long hair. Do you know who he is? he is the son of old Todmoreton’s butler. Upon my life it’s true.”

“And suppose it is; what the deuce do I care!” cries Lord Kew. “Who can be more respectable than a butler? A man must be somebody’s son. When I am a middle-aged man, I hope humbly I shall look like a butler myself. Suppose you were to put ten of Gunter’s men into the House of Lords, do you mean to say that they would not look as well as any average ten peers in the house? Look at Lord Westcot; he is exactly like a butler that’s why the country has such confidence in him. I never dine with him but I fancy he ought to be at the sideboard. Here comes that insufferable little old Smee. How do you do, Mr. Smee?”

Mr. Smee smiles his sweetest smile. With his rings, diamond shirt-studs, and red velvet waistcoat, there are few more elaborate middle-aged bucks than Alfred Smee. “How do you do, my dear lord?” cries the bland one. “Who would ever have thought of seeing your lordship here?”

“Why the deuce not, Mr. Smee?” asks Lord Kew, abruptly. “Is it wrong to come here? I have been in the house only five minutes, and three people have said the same thing to me — Mrs. Newcome, who is sitting downstairs in a rage waiting for her carriage, the condescending Barnes, and yourself. Why do you come here, Since? How are you, Mr. Gandish? How do the fine arts go?”

“Your lordship’s kindness in asking for them will cheer them if anything will,” says Mr. Gandish. “Your noble family has always patronised them. I am proud to be reckonised by your lordship in this house, where the distinguished father of one of my pupils entertains us this evening. A most promising young man is young Mr. Clive — talents for a hamateur really most remarkable.”

“Excellent, upon my word — excellent,” cries Mr. Smee. “I’m not an animal painter myself, and perhaps don’t think much of that branch of the profession; but it seems to me the young fellow draws horses with the most wonderful spirit. I hope Lady Walham is very well, and that she was satisfied with her son’s portrait. Stockholm, I think, your brother is appointed to? I wish I might be allowed to paint the elder as well as the younger brother, my lord.”

“I am an historical painter; but whenever Lord Kew is painted I hope his lordship will think of the old servant of his lordship’s family, Charles Gandish,” cries the Professor.

“I am like Susannah between the two Elders,” says Lord Kew. “Let my innocence alone, Smee. Mr. Gandish, don’t persecute my modesty with your addresses. I won’t be painted. I am not a fit subject for a historical painter, Mr. Gandish.”

“Halcibiades sat to Praxiteles, and Pericles to Phridjas,” remarks Gandish.

“The cases are not quite similar,” says Lord Kew, languidly. “You are no doubt fully equal to Praxiteles; but I don’t see my resemblance to the other party. I should not look well as a hero, and Smee could not paint me handsome enough.”

“I would try, my dear lord,” cries Mr. Smee.

“I know you would, my dear fellow,” Lord Kew answered, looking at the painter with a lazy scorn in his eyes. “Where is Colonel Newcome, Mr. Gandish?” Mr. Gandish replied that our gallant host was dancing a quadrille in the next room; and the young gentleman walked on towards that apartment to pay his respects to the giver of the evening’s entertainment.

Newcome’s behaviour to the young peer was ceremonious, but not in the least servile. He saluted the other’s superior rank, not his person, as he turned the guard out for a general officer. He never could be brought to be otherwise than cold and grave in his behaviour to John James; nor was it without difficulty, when young Ridley and his son became pupils at Gandish’s, he could be induced to invite the former to his parties. “An artist is any man’s equal,” he said. “I have no prejudice of that sort; and think that Sir Joshua Reynolds and Doctor Johnson were fit company for any person, of whatever rank. But a young man whose father may have had to wait behind me at dinner, should not be brought into my company.” Clive compromises the dispute with a laugh. “First,” says he, “I will wait till I am asked; and then I promise I will not go to dine with Lord Todmoreton.”

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