The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XX

Contains more Particulars of the Colonel and his Brethren

Clive’s amusements, studies, or occupations, such as they were, filled his day pretty completely, and caused the young gentleman’s time to pass rapidly and pleasantly, his father, it must be owned, had no such resources, and the good Colonel’s idleness hung heavily upon him. He submitted very kindly to this infliction, however, as he would have done to any other for Clive’s sake; and though he may have wished himself back with his regiment again, and engaged in the pursuits in which his life had been spent, he chose to consider these desires as very selfish and blameable on his part, and sacrificed them resolutely for his son’s welfare. The young fellow, I dare say, gave his parent no more credit for his long self-denial, than many other children award to theirs. We take such life-offerings as our due commonly. The old French satirist avers that, in a love affair, there is usually one person who loves, and the other, qui se laisse aimer; it is only in later days, perhaps, when the treasures of love are spent, and the kind hand cold which ministered them, that we remember how tender it was; how soft to soothe; how eager to shield; how ready to support and caress. The ears may no longer hear, which would have received our words of thanks so delightedly. Let us hope those fruits of love, though tardy, are yet not all too late; and though we bring our tribute of reverence and gratitude, it may be to a gravestone, there is an acceptance even there for the stricken heart’s oblation of fond remorse, contrite memories, and pious tears. I am thinking of the love of Clive Newcome’s father for him (and, perhaps, young reader, that of yours and mine for ourselves); how the old man lay awake, and devised kindnesses, and gave his all for the love of his son; and the young man took, and spent, and slept, and made merry. Did we not say at our tale’s commencement that all stories were old? Careless prodigals and anxious elders have been from the beginning:— and so may love, and repentance, and forgiveness endure even till the end.

The stifling fogs, the slippery mud, the dun dreary November mornings, when the Regent’s Park, where the Colonel took his early walk, was wrapped in yellow mist, must have been a melancholy exchange for the splendour of Eastern sunrise, and the invigorating gallop at dawn, to which, for so many years of his life, Thomas Newcome had accustomed himself. His obstinate habit of early waking accompanied him to England, and occasioned the despair of his London domestics, who, if master wasn’t so awful early, would have found no fault with him; for a gentleman as gives less trouble to his servants; as scarcely ever rings the bell for his self; as will brush his own clothes; as will even boil his own shaving-water in the little hetna which he keeps up in his dressing-room; as pays so regular, and never looks twice at the accounts; such a man deserved to be loved by his household, and I dare say comparisons were made between him and his son, who do ring the bells, and scold if his boots ain’t nice, and horder about like a young lord. But Clive, though imperious, was very liberal and good-humoured, and not the worse served because he insisted upon exerting his youthful authority. As for friend Binnie, he had a hundred pursuits of his own, which made his time pass very comfortably. He had all the Lectures at the British Institution; he had the Geographical Society, the Asiatic Society, and the Political Economy Club; and though he talked year after year of going to visit his relations in Scotland, the months and seasons passed away, and his feet still beat the London pavement.

In spite of the cold reception his brothers gave him, duty was duty, and Colonel Newcome still proposed, or hoped to be well with the female members of the Newcome family; and having, as we have said, plenty of time on his hands, and living at no very great distance from either of his brothers’ town houses, when their wives were in London, the elder Newcome was for paying them pretty constant visits. But after the good gentleman had called twice or thrice upon his sister-inlaw in Bryanstone Square — bringing, as was his wont, a present for this little niece, or a book for that — Mrs. Newcome, with her usual virtue, gave him to understand that the occupation of an English matron, who, besides her multifarious family duties, had her own intellectual culture to mind, would not allow her to pass the mornings in idle gossips: and of course took great credit to herself for having so rebuked him. “I am not above instruction of any age,” says she, thanking Heaven (or complimenting it, rather, for having created a being so virtuous and humble-minded). “When Professor Schroff comes, I sit with my children, and take lessons in German — and I say my verbs with Maria and Tommy in the same class!” Yes, with curtsies and fine speeches she actually bowed her brother out of doors; and the honest gentleman meekly left her, though with bewilderment, as he thought of the different hospitality to which he had been accustomed in the East, where no friend’s house was ever closed to him, where no neighbour was so busy but he had time to make Thomas Newcome welcome.

When Hobson Newcome’s boys came home for the holidays, their kind uncle was for treating them to the sights of the town, but here Virtue again interposed and laid its interdict upon pleasure. “Thank you, very much, my dear Colonel,” says Virtue, “there never was surely such a kind, affectionate, unselfish creature as you are, and so indulgent for children, but my boys and yours are brought up on a very different plan. Excuse me for saying that I do not think it is advisable that they should even see too much of each other. Clive’s company is not good for them.”

“Great heavens, Maria!” cries the Colonel, starting up, “do you mean that my boy’s society is not good enough for any boy alive?”

Maria turned very red: she had said not more than she meant, but more than she meant to say. “My dear Colonel, how hot we are! how angry you Indian gentlemen become with us poor women! Your boy is much older than mine. He lives with artists, with all sorts of eccentric people. Our children are bred on quite a diferent plan. Hobson will succeed his father in the bank, and dear Samuel I trust will go into the Church. I told you, before, the views I had regarding the boys: but it was most kind of you to think of them — most generous and kind.”

“That nabob of ours is a queer fish,” Hobson Newcome remarked to his nephew Barnes. “He is as proud as Lucifer, he is always taking huff about one thing or the other. He went off in a fume the other night because your aunt objected to his taking the boys to the play. She don’t like their going to the play. My mother didn’t either. Your aunt is a woman who is uncommon wideawake, I can tell you.”

“I always knew, sir, that my aunt was perfectly aware of the time of the day,” says Barnes, with a bow.

“And then the Colonel flies out about his boy, and says that my wife insulted him! I used to like that boy. Before his father came he was a good lad enough — a jolly brave little fellow.”

“I confess I did not know Mr. Clive at that interesting period of his existence,” remarks Barnes.

“But since he has taken this madcap freak of turning painter,” the uncle continues, “there is no understanding the chap. Did you ever see such a set of fellows as the Colonel had got together at his party the other night? Dirty chaps in velvet coats and beards? They looked like a set of mountebanks. And this young Clive is going to turn painter!”

“Very advantageous thing for the family. He’ll do our pictures for nothing. I always said he was a darling boy,” simpered Barnes.

“Darling jackass!” growled out the senior. “Confound it, why doesn’t my brother set him up in some respectable business? I ain’t proud. I have not married an earl’s daughter. No offence to you, Barnes.”

“Not at all, sir. I can’t help it if my grandfather is a gentleman,” says Barnes, with a fascinating smile.

The uncle laughs. “I mean I don’t care what a fellow is if he is a good fellow. But a painter! hang it — a painter’s no trade at all — I don’t fancy seeing one of our family sticking up pictures for sale. I don’t like it, Barnes.”

“Hush! here comes his distinguished friend, Mr. Pendennis,” whispers Barnes; and the uncle growling out, “Damn all literary fellows — all artists — the whole lot of them!” turns away. Barnes waves three languid fingers of recognition towards Pendennis: and when the uncle and nephew have moved out of the club newspaper room, little Tom Eaves comes up and tells the present reporter every word of their conversation.

Very soon Mrs. Newcome announced that their Indian brother found the society of Bryanstone Square very little to his taste, as indeed how should he? being a man of a good harmless disposition certainly, but of small intellectual culture. It could not be helped. She had done her utmost to make him welcome, and grieved that their pursuits were not more congenial. She heard that he was much more intimate in Park Lane. Possibly the superior rank of Lady Anne’s family might present charms to Colonel Newcome, who fell asleep at her assemblies. His boy, she was afraid, was leading the most irregular life. He was growing a pair of mustachios, and going about with all sorts of wild associates. She found no fault; who was she, to find fault with any one? But she had been compelled to hint that her children must not be too intimate with him. And so, between one brother who meant no unkindness, and another who was all affection and goodwill, this undoubting woman created difference, distrust, dislike, which might one day possibly lead to open rupture. The wicked are wicked, no doubt, and they go astray and they fall, and they come by their deserts: but who can tell the mischief which the very virtuous do?

To her sister-inlaw, Lady Anne, the Colonel’s society was more welcome. The affectionate gentleman never tired of doing kindnesses to his brother’s many children; and as Mr. Clive’s pursuits now separated him a good deal from his father, the Colonel, not perhaps without a sigh that fate should so separate him from the society which he loved best in the world, consoled himself as best he might with his nephews and nieces, especially with Ethel, for whom his belle passion conceived at first sight never diminished. If Uncle Newcome had a hundred children, Ethel said, who was rather jealous of disposition, he would spoil them all. He found a fine occupation in breaking a pretty little horse for her, of which he made her a present, and there was no horse in the Park that was so handsome, and surely no girl who looked more beautiful than Ethel Newcome with her broad hat and red ribbon, with her thick black locks waving round her bright face, galloping along the ride on Bhurtpore. Occasionally Clive was at their riding-parties, when the Colonel would fall back and fondly survey the young people cantering side by side over the grass: but by a tacit convention it was arranged that the cousins should be but seldom together; the Colonel might be his niece’s companion and no one could receive him with a more joyous welcome, but when Mr. Clive made his appearance with his father at the Park Lane door, a certain gene was visible in Miss Ethel, who would never mount except with Colonel Newcome’s assistance, and who, especially after Mr. Clive’s famous mustachios made their appearance, rallied him, and remonstrated with him regarding those ornaments, and treated him with much distance and dignity. She asked him if he was going into the army? she could not understand how any but military men could wear mustachios; and then she looked fondly and archly at her uncle, and said she liked none that were not grey.

Clive set her down as a very haughty, spoiled, aristocratic young creature. If he had been in love with her, no doubt he would have sacrificed even those beloved new-born whiskers for the charmer. Had he not already bought on credit the necessary implements in a fine dressing-case, from young Moss? But he was not in love with her; otherwise he would have found a thousand opportunities of riding with her, walking with her, meeting her, in spite of all prohibitions tacit or expressed, all governesses, guardians, mamma’s punctilios, and kind hints from friends. For a while, Mr. Clive thought himself in love with his cousin; than whom no more beautiful young girl could be seen in any park, ball, or drawing-room; and he drew a hundred pictures of her, and discoursed about her beauties to J. J., who fell in love with her on hearsay. But at this time Mademoiselle Saltarelli was dancing at Drury Lane Theatre, and it certainly may be said that Clive’s first love was bestowed upon that beauty: whose picture of course he drew in most of her favourite characters; and for whom his passion lasted until the end of the season, when her night was announced, tickets to be had at the theatre, or of Mademoiselle Saltarelli, Buckingham Street, Strand. Then it was that with a throbbing heart and a five-pound note, to engage places for the houri’s benefit, Clive beheld Madame Rogomme, Mademoiselle Saltarelli’s mother, who entertained him in the French language in a dark parlour smelling of onions. And oh! issuing from the adjoining dining-room (where was a dingy vision of a feast and pewter pots upon a darkling tablecloth), could that lean, scraggy, old, beetle-browed yellow face, who cried, “Ou es tu donc, maman?” with such a shrill nasal voice — could that elderly vixen be that blooming and divine Saltarelli? Clive drew her picture as she was, and a likeness of Madame Rogomme, her mamma; a Mosaic youth, profusely jewelled, and scented at once with tobacco and eau-de-cologne, occupied Clive’s stall on Mademoiselle Saltarelli’s night. It was young Mr. Moss, of Gandish’s to whom Newcome ceded his place, and who laughed (as he always did at Clive’s jokes) when the latter told the story of his interview with the dancer. “Paid five pound to see that woman! I could have took you behind the scenes” (or “beide the seeds,” Mr. Moss said) “and showed her to you for dothing.” Did he take Clive behind the scenes? Over this part of the young gentleman’s life, without implying the least harm to him — for have not others been behind the scenes; and can there be any more dreary object than those whitened and raddled old women who shudder at the slips? — over this stage of Clive Newcome’s life we may surely drop the curtain.

It is pleasanter to contemplate that kind old face of Clive’s father, that sweet young blushing lady by his side, as the two ride homewards at sunset. The grooms behind in quiet conversation about horses, as men never tire of talking about horses. Ethel wants to know about battles; about lovers’ lamps, which she has read of in Lalla Rookh. “Have you ever seen them, uncle, floating down the Ganges of a night?” About Indian widows. “Did you actually see one burning, and hear her scream as you rode up?” She wonders whether he will tell her anything about Clive’s mother: how she must have loved Uncle Newcome! Ethel can’t bear, somehow, to think that her name was Mrs. Casey, perhaps he was very fond of her; though he scarcely ever mentions her name. She was nothing like that good old funny Miss Honeyman at Brighton. Who could the person be? — a person that her uncle knew ever so long ago — a French lady, whom her uncle says Ethel often resembles? That is why he speaks French so well. He can recite whole pages out of Racine. Perhaps it was the French lady who taught him. And he was not very happy at the Hermitage (though grandpapa was a very kind good man), and he upset papa in a little carriage, and was wild, and got into disgrace, and was sent to India? He could not have been very bad, Ethel thinks, looking at him with her honest eyes. Last week he went to the Drawing-room, and papa presented him. His uniform of grey and silver was quite old, yet he looked much grander than Sir Brian in his new deputy-lieutenant’s dress. “Next year, when I am presented, you must come too, sir,” says Ethel. “I insist upon it, you must come too!”

“I will order a new uniform, Ethel,” says her uncle.

The girl laughs. “When little Egbert took hold of your sword, uncle, and asked you how many people you had killed, do you know I had the same question in my mind; and I thought when you went to the Drawing-room, perhaps the King will knight him. But instead he knighted mamma’s apothecary, Sir Danby Jilks: that horrid little man, and I won’t have you knighted any more.”

“I hope Egbert won’t ask Sir Danby Jilks how many people HE has killed,” says the Colonel, laughing; but thinking the joke too severe upon Sir Danby and the profession, he forthwith apologises by narrating many anecdotes he knows to the credit of surgeons. How, when the fever broke out on board the ship going to India, their surgeon devoted himself to the safety of the crew, and died himself, leaving directions for the treatment of the patients when he was gone! What heroism the doctors showed during the cholera in India; and what courage he had seen some of them exhibit in action: attending the wounded men under the hottest fire, and exposing themselves as readily as the bravest troops. Ethel declares that her uncle always will talk of other people’s courage, and never say a word about his own; “and the only reason,” she says, “which made me like that odious Sir Thomas de Boots, who laughs so, and looks so red, and pays such horrid compliments to all ladies, was, that he praised you, uncle, at Newcome, last year, when Barnes and he came to us at Christmas. Why did you not come? Mamma and I went to see your old nurse; and we found her such a nice old lady.” So the pair talk kindly on, riding homewards through the pleasant summer twilight. Mamma had gone out to dinner; and there were cards for three parties afterwards. “Oh, how I wish it was next year!” says Miss Ethel.

Many a splendid assembly, and many a brilliant next year, will the ardent and hopeful young creature enjoy; but in the midst of her splendour and triumphs, buzzing flatterers, conquered rivals, prostrate admirers, no doubt she will think sometimes of that quiet season before the world began for her, and that dear old friend, on whose arm she leaned while she was yet a young girl.

The Colonel comes to Park Street early in the forenoon, when the mistress of the house, surrounded by her little ones, is administering dinner to them. He behaves with splendid courtesy to Miss Quigley, the governess, and makes a point of taking wine with her, and of making a most profound bow during that ceremony. Miss Quigley cannot help thinking Colonel Newcome’s bow very fine. She has an idea that his late Majesty must have bowed in that way: she flutteringly imparts this opinion to Lady Anne’s maid; who tells her mistress, who tells Miss Ethel, who watches the Colonel the next time he takes wine with Miss Quigley, and they laugh, and then Ethel tells him; so that the gentleman and the governess have to blush ever after when they drink wine together. When she is walking with her little charges in the Park, or in that before-mentioned paradise nigh to Apsley House, faint signals of welcome appear on her wan cheeks. She knows the dear Colonel amongst a thousand horsemen. If Ethel makes for her uncle purses, guard-chains, antimacassars, and the like beautiful and useful articles, I believe it is in reality Miss Quigley who does four-fifths of the work, as she sits alone in the schoolroom, high, high up in that lone house, when the little ones are long since asleep, before her dismal little tea-tray, and her little desk containing her mother’s letters and her mementos of home.

There are, of course, numberless fine parties in Park Lane, where the Colonel knows he would be very welcome. But if there be grand assemblies, he does not care to come. “I like to go to the club best,” he says to Lady Anne. “We talk there as you do here about persons, and about Jack marrying, and Tom dying, and so forth. But we have known Jack and Tom all our lives, and so are interested in talking about them. Just as you are in speaking of your own friends and habitual society. They are people whose names I have sometimes read in the newspaper, but whom I never thought of meeting until I came to your house. What has an old fellow like me to say to your young dandies or old dowagers?”

“Mamma is very odd and sometimes very captious, my dear Colonel,” said Lady Anne, with a blush; “she suffers so frightfully from tic that we are all bound to pardon her.”

Truth to tell, old Lady Kew had been particularly rude to Colonel Newcome and Clive. Ethel’s birthday befell in the spring, on which occasion she was wont to have a juvenile assembly, chiefly of girls of her own age and condition; who came, accompanied by a few governesses, and they played and sang their little duets and choruses together, and enjoyed a gentle refection of sponge-cakes, jellies, tea, and the like. — The Colonel, who was invited to this little party, sent a fine present to his favourite Ethel; and Clive and his friend J. J. made a funny series of drawings, representing the life of a young lady as they imagined it, and drawing her progress from her cradle upwards: now engaged with her doll, then with her dancing-master; now marching in her back-board; now crying over her German lessons: and dressed for her first ball finally, and bestowing her hand upon a dandy, of preternatural ugliness, who was kneeling at her feet as the happy man. This picture was the delight of the laughing happy girls; except, perhaps, the little cousins from Bryanstone Square, who were invited to Ethel’s party, but were so overpowered by the prodigious new dresses in which their mamma had attired them, that they could admire nothing but their rustling pink frocks, their enormous sashes, their lovely new silk stockings.

Lady Kew coming to London attended on the party, and presented her granddaughter with a sixpenny pincushion. The Colonel had sent Ethel a beautiful little gold watch and chain. Her aunt had complimented her with that refreshing work, Alison’s History of Europe, richly bound. — Lady Kew’s pincushion made rather a poor figure among the gifts, whence probably arose her ladyship’s ill-humour.

Ethel’s grandmother became exceedingly testy when, the Colonel arriving, Ethel ran up to him and thanked him for the beautiful watch, in return for which she gave him a kiss, which, I dare say, amply repaid Colonel Newcome; and shortly after him Mr. Clive arrived, looking uncommonly handsome, with that smart little beard and mustachio with which nature had recently gifted him. As he entered, all the girls, who had been admiring his pictures, began to clap their hands. Mr. Clive Newcome blushed, and looked none the worse for that indication of modesty.

Lady Kew had met Colonel Newcome a half-dozen times at her daughter’s house: but on this occasion she had quite forgotten him, for when the Colonel made her a bow, her ladyship regarded him steadily, and beckoning her daughter to her, asked who the gentleman was who has just kissed Ethel? Trembling as she always did before her mother, Lady Anne explained. Lady Kew said “Oh!” and left Colonel Newcome blushing and rather embarrasse de sa personne — before her.

With the clapping of hands that greeted Clive’s arrival, the Countess was by no means more good-humoured. Not aware of her wrath, the young fellow, who had also previously been presented to her, came forward presently to make her his compliments. “Pray, who are you?” she said, looking at him very earnestly in the face. He told her his name.

“Hm,” said Lady Kew, “I have heard of you, and I have heard very little good of you.”

“Will your ladyship please to give me your informant?” cried out Colonel Newcome.

Barnes Newcome, who had condescended to attend his sister’s little fete, and had been languidly watching the frolics of the young people, looked very much alarmed.

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