The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXIII

In which we hear a Soprano and a Contralto

The most hospitable and polite of Colonels would not hear of Mrs. Mackenzie and her daughter quitting his house when he returned to it, after six weeks’ pleasant sojourn in Paris; nor, indeed, did his fair guest show the least anxiety or intention to go away. Mrs. Mackenzie had a fine merry humour of her own. She was an old soldier’s wife, she said and knew when her quarters were good; and I suppose, since her honeymoon, when the captain took her to Harrogate and Cheltenham, stopping at the first hotels, and travelling in a chaise-and-pair the whole way, she had never been so well off as in that roomy mansion near Tottenham Court Road. Of her mother’s house at Musselburgh she gave a ludicrous but dismal account. “Eh, James,” she said, “I think if you had come to mamma, as you threatened, you would not have staid very long. It’s a wearisome place. Dr. M’Craw boards with her; and it’s sermon and psalm-singing from morning till night. My little Josey takes kindly to the life there, and I left her behind, poor little darling! It was not fair to bring three of us to take possession of your house, dear James; but my poor little Rosey was just withering away there. It’s good for the dear child to see the world a little, and a kind uncle, who is not afraid of us now he sees us, is he?” Kind Uncle James was not at all afraid of little Rosey; whose pretty face and modest manners, and sweet songs, and blue eyes, cheered and soothed the old bachelor. Nor was Rosey’s mother less agreeable and pleasant. She had married the captain (it was a love-match, against the will of her parents, who had destined her to be the third wife of old Dr. M’Mull) when very young. Many sorrows she had had, including poverty, the captain’s imprisonment for debt, and his demise; but she was of a gay and lightsome spirit. She was but three-and-thirty years old, and looked five-and-twenty. She was active, brisk, jovial, and alert; and so good-looking, that it was a wonder she had not taken a successor to Captain Mackenzie. James Binnie cautioned his friend the Colonel against the attractions of the buxom siren; and laughingly would ask Clive how he would like Mrs. Mackenzie for a mamaw?

Colonel Newcome felt himself very much at ease regarding his future prospects. He was very glad that his friend James was reconciled to his family, and hinted to Clive that the late Captain Mackenzie’s extravagance had been the cause of the rupture between him and his brother-inlaw, who had helped that prodigal captain repeatedly during his life; and, in spite of family quarrels, had never ceased to act generously to his widowed sister and her family. “But I think, Mr. Clive,” said he, “that as Miss Rosa is very pretty, and you have a spare room at your studio, you had best take up your quarters in Charlotte Street as long as the ladies are living with us.” Clive was nothing loth to be independent; but he showed himself to be a very good home-loving youth. He walked home to breakfast every morning, dined often, and spent the evenings with the family. Indeed, the house was a great deal more cheerful for the presence of the two pleasant ladies. Nothing could be prettier than to see the two ladies tripping downstairs together, mamma’s pretty arm round Rosey’s pretty waist. Mamma’s talk was perpetually of Rosey. That child was always gay, always good, always happy! That darling girl woke with a smile on her face, it was sweet to see her! Uncle James, in his dry way, said, he dared to say it was very pretty. “Go away, you droll, dear old kind Uncle James!” Rosey’s mamma would cry out. “You old bachelors are wicked old things!” Uncle James used to kiss Rosey very kindly and pleasantly. She was as modest, as gentle, as eager to please Colonel Newcome as any little girl could be. It was pretty to see her tripping across the room with his coffee-cup, or peeling walnuts for him after dinner with her white plump little fingers.

Mrs. Irons, the housekeeper, naturally detested Mrs. Mackenzie, and was jealous of her: though the latter did everything to soothe and coax the governess of the two gentlemen’s establishment. She praised her dinners, delighted in her puddings, must beg Mrs. Irons to allow her to see one of those delicious puddings made, and to write the receipt for her, that Mrs. Mackenzie might use it when she was away. It was Mrs. Irons’ belief that Mrs. Mackenzie never intended to go away. She had no ideer of ladies, as were ladies, coming into her kitchen. The maids vowed that they heard Miss Rosa crying, and mamma scolding in her bedroom for all she was so soft-spoken. How was that jug broke, and that chair smashed in the bedroom, that day there was such a awful row up there?

Mrs. Mackenzie played admirably, in the old-fashioned way, dances, reels, and Scotch and Irish tunes, the former, of which filled James Binnie’s soul with delectation. The good mother naturally desired that her darling should have a few good lessons of the piano while she was in London. Rosey was eternally strumming upon an instrument which had been taken upstairs for her special practice; and the Colonel, who was always seeking to do harmless jobs of kindness for his friends, bethought him of little Miss Cann, the governess at Ridley’s, whom he recommended as an instructress. “Anybody whom you recommend I’m sure, dear Colonel, we shall like,” said Mrs. Mackenzie, who looked as black as thunder, and had probably intended to have Monsieur Quatremains or Signor Twankeydillo; and the little governess came to her pupil. Mrs. Mackenzie treated her very gruffly and haughtily at first; but as soon as she heard Miss Cann play, the widow was pacified — nay, charmed. Monsieur Quatremains charged a guinea for three-quarters of an hour; while Miss Cann thankfully took five shillings for an hour and a half; and the difference of twenty lessons, for which dear Uncle James paid, went into Mrs. Mackenzie’s pocket, and thence probably on to her pretty shoulders and head in the shape of a fine silk dress and a beautiful French bonnet, in which Captain Goby said, upon his life, she didn’t look twenty.

The little governess trotting home after her lesson would often look in to Clive’s studio in Charlotte Street, where her two boys, as she called Clive and J. J., were at work each at his easel. Clive used to laugh, and tell us, who joked him about the widow and her daughter, what Miss Cann said about them. Mrs. Mack was not all honey, it appeared. If Rosey played incorrectly, mamma flew at her with prodigious vehemence of language, and sometimes with a slap on poor Rosey’s back. She must make Rosey wear tight boots, and stamp on her little feet if they refused to enter into the slipper. I blush for the indiscretion of Miss Cann; but she actually told J. J., that mamma insisted upon lacing her so tight, as nearly to choke the poor little lass. Rosey did not fight: Rosey always yielded; and the scolding over and the tears dried, would come simpering downstairs with mamma’s arm round her waist, and her pretty artless happy smile for the gentlemen below. Besides the Scottish songs without music, she sang ballads at the piano very sweetly. Mamma used to cry at these ditties. “That child’s voice brings tears into my eyes, Mr. Newcome,” she would say. “She has never known a moment’s sorrow yet! Heaven grant, heaven grant, she may be happy! But what shall I be when I lose her?”

“Why, my dear, when ye lose Rosey, ye’ll console yourself with Josey,” says droll Mr. Binnie from the sofa, who perhaps saw the manoeuvre of the widow.

The widow laughs heartily and really. She places a handkerchief over her mouth. She glances at her brother with a pair of eyes full of knowing mischief. “Ah, dear James,” she says, “you don’t know what it is to have a mother’s feelings.”

“I can partly understand them,” says James. “Rosey, sing me that pretty little French song.” Mrs. Mackenzie’s attention to Clive was really quite affecting. If any of his friends came to the house, she took them aside and praised Clive to them. The Colonel she adored. She had never met with such a man or seen such a manner. The manners of the Bishop of Tobago were beautiful, and he certainly had one of the softest and finest hands in the world; but not finer than Colonel Newcome’s. “Look at his foot!” (and she put out her own, which was uncommonly pretty, and suddenly withdrew it, with an arch glance meant to represent a blush)—“my shoe would fit it! When we were at Coventry Island, Sir Peregrine Blandy, who succeeded poor dear Sir Rawdon Crawley — I saw his dear boy was gazetted to a lieutenant-colonelcy in the Guards last week — Sir Peregrine, who was one of the Prince of Wales’s most intimate friends, was always said to have the finest manner and presence of any man of his day; and very grand and noble he was, but I don’t think he was equal to Colonel Newcome — I don’t really think so. Do you think so, Mr. Honeyman? What a charming discourse that was last Sunday! I know there were two pair of eyes not dry in the church. I could not see the other people just for crying myself. Oh, but I wish we could have you at Musselburgh! I was bred a Presbyterian, of course; but in much travelling through the world with my dear husband, I came to love his church. At home we sit under Dr M’Craw, of course; but he is so awfully long! Four hours every Sunday at least, morning and afternoon! It nearly kills poor Rosey. Did you hear her voice at your church? The dear girl is delighted with the chants. Rosey, were you not delighted with the chants?”

If she is delighted with the chants, Honeyman is delighted with the chantress and her mamma. He dashes the fair hair from his brow: he sits down to the piano, and plays one or two of them, warbling a faint vocal accompaniment, and looking as if he would be lifted off the screw music-stool, and flutter up to the ceiling.

“Oh, it’s just seraphic!” says the widow. “It’s just the breath of incense and the pealing of the organ at the Cathedral at Montreal. Rosey doesn’t remember Montreal. She was a wee wee child. She was born on the voyage out, and christened at sea. You remember, Goby.”

“Gad, I promised and vowed to teach her her catechism; ‘gad, but I haven’t,” says Captain Goby. “We were between Montreal and Quebec for three years with the Hundredth, and the Hundred Twentieth Highlanders, and the Thirty-third Dragoon Guards a part of the time; Fipley commanded them, and a very jolly time we had. Much better than the West Indies, where a fellow’s liver goes to the deuce with hot pickles and sangaree. Mackenzie was a dev’lish wild fellow,” whispers Captain Goby to his neighbour (the present biographer, indeed), “and Mrs. Mack was as pretty a little woman as ever you set eyes on.” (Captain Goby winks, and looks peculiarly sly as he makes this statement.) “Our regiment wasn’t on your side of India, Colonel.”

And in the interchange of such delightful remarks, and with music and song, the evening passes away. “Since the house had been adorned by the fair presence of Mrs. Mackenzie and her daughter,” Honeyman said, always gallant in behaviour and flowery in expression, “it seemed as if spring had visited it. Its hospitality was invested with a new grace; its ever welcome little reunions were doubly charming. But why did these ladies come, if they were to go away again? How — how would Mr. Binnie console himself (not to mention others) if they left him in solitude?”

“We have no wish to leave my brother James in solitude,” cries Mrs. Mackenzie, frankly laughing. “We like London a great deal better than Musselburgh.”

“Oh, that we do!” ejaculates the blushing Rosey.

“And we will stay as long as ever my brother will keep us,” continues the widow.

“Uncle James is so kind and dear,” says Rosey. “I hope he won’t send me and mamma away.”

“He were a brute — a savage, if he did!” cries Binnie, with glances of rapture towards the two pretty faces. Everybody liked them. Binnie received their caresses very good-humouredly. The Colonel liked every woman under the sun. Clive laughed and joked and waltzed alternately with Rosey and her mamma. The latter was the briskest partner of the two. The unsuspicious widow, poor dear innocent, would leave her girl at the painting-room, and go shopping herself; but little J. J. also worked there, being occupied with his second picture: and he was almost the only one of Clive’s friends whom the widow did not like. She pronounced the quiet little painter a pert, little, obtrusive, underbred creature.

In a word, Mrs. Mackenzie was, as the phrase is, “setting her cap” so openly at Clive, that none of us could avoid seeing her play: and Clive laughed at her simple manoeuvres as merrily as the rest. She was a merry little woman. We gave her and her pretty daughter a luncheon in Lamb Court, Temple; in Sibwright’s chambers — luncheon from Dick’s Coffee House — ices and dessert from Partington’s in the Strand. Miss Rosey, Mr. Sibwright, our neighbour in Lamb Court, and the Reverend Charles Honeyman sang very delightfully after lunch; there was quite a crowd of porters, laundresses, and boys to listen in the court; Mr. Paley was disgusted with the noise we made — in fact, the party was perfectly successful. We all liked the widow, and if she did set her pretty ribbons at Clive, why should not she? We all liked the pretty, fresh, modest Rosey. Why, even the grave old benchers in the Temple church, when the ladies visited it on Sunday, winked their reverend eyes with pleasure, as they looked at those two uncommonly smart, pretty, well-dressed, fashionable women. Ladies, go to the Temple church. You will see more young men, and receive more respectful attention there than in any place, except perhaps at Oxford or Cambridge. Go to the Temple church — not, of course, for the admiration which you will excite and which you cannot help; but because the sermon is excellent, the choral services beautifully performed, and the church so interesting as a monument of the thirteenth century, and as it contains the tombs of those dear Knights Templars!

Mrs. Mackenzie could be grave or gay, according to her company: nor could any woman be of more edifying behaviour when an occasional Scottish friend bringing a letter from darling Josey, or a recommendatory letter from Josey’s grandmother, paid a visit in Fitzroy Square. Little Miss Cann used to laugh and wink knowingly, saying, “You will never get back your bedroom, Mr. Clive. You may be sure that Miss Josey will come in a few months; and perhaps old Mrs. Binnie, only no doubt she and her daughter do not agree. But the widow has taken possession of Uncle James; and she will carry off somebody else if I am not mistaken. Should you like a stepmother, Mr. Clive, or should you prefer a wife?”

Whether the fair lady tried her wiles upon Colonel Newcome the present writer has no certain means of ascertaining: but I think another image occupied his heart: and this Circe tempted him no more than a score of other enchantresses who had tried their spells upon him. If she tried she failed. She was a very shrewd woman, quite frank in her talk when such frankness suited her. She said to me, “Colonel Newcome has had some great passion, once upon a time, I am sure of that, and has no more heart to give away. The woman who had his must have been a very lucky woman: though I daresay she did not value what she had; or did not live to enjoy it — or — or something or other. You see tragedies in some people’s faces. I recollect when we were in Coventry Island — there was a chaplain there — a very good man — a Mr. Bell, and married to a pretty little woman who died. The first day I saw him I said, ‘I know that man has had a great grief in life. I am sure that he left his heart in England.’ You gentlemen who write books, Mr. Pendennis, and stop at the third volume, know very well that the real story often begins afterwards. My third volume ended when I was sixteen, and was married to my poor husband. Do you think all our adventures ended then, and that we lived happy ever after? I live for my darling girls now. All I want is to see them comfortable in life. Nothing can be more generous than my dear brother James has been. I am only his half-sister, you know, and was an infant in arms when he went away. He had differences with Captain Mackenzie, who was headstrong and imprudent, and I own my poor dear husband was in the wrong. James could not live with my poor mother. Neither could by possibility suit the other. I have often, I own, longed to come and keep house for him. His home, the society he sees, of men of talents like Mr. Warrington and — and I won’t mention names, or pay compliments to a man who knows human nature so well as the author of Walter Lorraine: this house is pleasanter a thousand times than Musselburgh — pleasanter for me and my dearest Rosey, whose delicate nature shrunk and withered up in poor mamma’s society. She was never happy except in my room, the dear child! She’s all gentleness and affection. She doesn’t seem to show it: but she has the most wonderful appreciation of wit, of genius, and talent of all kinds. She always hides her feelings, except from her fond old mother. I went up into our room yesterday, and found her in tears. I can’t bear to see her eyes red or to think of her suffering. I asked her what ailed her, and kissed her. She is a tender plant, Mr. Pendennis! Heaven knows with what care I have nurtured her! She looked up smiling on my shoulder. She looked so pretty! ‘Oh, mamma,’ the darling child said, ‘I couldn’t help it. I have been crying over Walter Lorraine.’ (Enter Rosey.) Rosey, darling! I have been telling Mr. Pendennis what a naughty, naughty child you were yesterday, and how you read a book which I told you you shouldn’t read; for it is a very wicked book; and though it contains some sad sad truths, it is a great deal too misanthropic (is that the right word? I’m a poor soldier’s wife, and no scholar, you know), and a great deal too bitter; and though the reviews praise it, and the clever people — we are poor simple country people — we won’t praise it. Sing, dearest, that little song” (profuse kisses to Rosey), “that pretty thing that Mr. Pendennis likes.”

“I am sure that I will sing anything that Mr. Pendennis likes,” says Rosey, with her candid bright eyes — and she goes to the piano and warbles “Batti, Batti,” with her sweet fresh artless voice.

More caresses follow. Mamma is in a rapture. How pretty they look — the mother and daughter — two lilies twining together! The necessity of an entertainment at the Temple-lunch from Dick’s (as before mentioned), dessert from Partington’s, Sibwright’s spoons, his boy to aid ours, nay, Sib himself, and his rooms, which are so much more elegant than ours, and where there is a piano and guitar: all these thoughts pass in rapid and brilliant combination in the pleasant Mr. Pendennis’s mind. How delighted the ladies are with the proposal! Mrs. Mackenzie claps her pretty hands, and kisses Rosey again. If osculation is a mark of love, surely Mrs. Mack is the best of mothers. I may say, without false modesty, that our little entertainment was most successful. The champagne was iced to a nicety. The ladies did not perceive that our laundress, Mrs. Flanagan, was intoxicated very early in the afternoon. Percy Sibwright sang admirably, and with the greatest spirit, ditties in many languages. I am sure Miss Rosey thought him (as indeed he is) one of the most fascinating young fellows about town. To her mother’s excellent accompaniment Rosey sang her favourite songs (by the way, her stock was very small — five, I think, was the number). Then the table was moved into a corner, where the quivering moulds of jelly seemed to keep time to the music; and whilst Percy played, two couple of waltzers actually whirled round the little room. No wonder that the court below was thronged with admirers, that Paley the reading man was in a rage, and Mrs. Flanagan in a state of excitement. Ah! pleasant days, happy gold dingy chambers illuminated by youthful sunshine! merry songs and kind faces — it is pleasant to recall you. Some of those bright eyes shine no more: some of those smiling lips do not speak. Some are not less kind, but sadder than in those days: of which the memories revisit us for a moment, and sink back into the grey past. The dear old Colonel beat time with great delight to the songs; the widow lit his cigar with her own fair fingers. That was the only smoke permitted during the entertainment — George Warrington himself not being allowed to use his cutty-pipe — though the gay little widow said that she had been used to smoking in the West Indies and I dare say spoke the truth. Our entertainment lasted actually until after dark: and a particularly neat cab being called from St. Clement’s by Mr. Binnie’s boy, you may be sure we all conducted the ladies to their vehicle: and many a fellow returning from his lonely club that evening into chambers must have envied us the pleasure of having received two such beauties.

The clerical bachelor was not to be outdone by the gentlemen of the bar; and the entertainment at the Temple was followed by one at Honeyman’s lodgings, which, I must own, greatly exceeded ours in splendour, for Honeyman had his luncheon from Gunter’s; and if he had been Miss Rosey’s mother, giving a breakfast to the dear girl on her marriage, the affair could not have been more elegant and handsome. We had but two bouquets at our entertainment; at Honeyman’s there were four upon the breakfast-table, besides a great pineapple, which must have cost the rogue three or four guineas, and which Percy Sibwright delicately cut up. Rosey thought the pineapple delicious. “The dear thing does not remember the pineapples in the West Indies!” cries Mrs. Mackenzie; and she gave us many exciting narratives of entertainments at which she had been present at various colonial governors’ tables. After luncheon, our host hoped we should have a little music. Dancing, of course, could not be allowed. “That,” said Honeyman with his soft-bleating sigh, “were scarcely clerical. You know, besides, you are in a hermitage; and” (with a glance round the table) “must put up with Cenobite’s fare.” The fare was, as I have said, excellent. The wine was bad, as George, and I, and Sib agreed; and in so far we flattered ourselves that our feast altogether excelled the parson’s. The champagne especially was such stuff, that Warrington remarked on it to his neighbour, a dark gentleman, with a tuft to his chin, and splendid rings and chains.

The dark gentleman’s wife and daughter were the other two ladies invited by our host. The elder was splendidly dressed. Poor Mrs. Mackenzie’s simple gimcracks, though she displayed them to the most advantage, and could make an ormolu bracelet go as far as another woman’s emerald clasps, were as nothing compared to the other lady’s gorgeous jewellery. Her fingers glittered with rings innumerable. The head of her smelling-bottle was as big as her husband’s gold snuff box, and of the same splendid material. Our ladies, it must be confessed, came in a modest cab from Fitzroy Square; these arrived in a splendid little open carriage with white ponies, and harness all over brass, which the lady of the rings drove with a whip that was a parasol. Mrs. Mackenzie, standing at Honeyman’s window, with her arm round Rosey’s waist, viewed this arrival perhaps with envy. “My dear Mr. Honeyman, whose are those beautiful horses?” cries Rosey, with enthusiasm.

The divine says with a faint blush —“It is — ah — it is Mrs. Sherrick and Miss Sherrick who have done me the favour to come to luncheon.”

“Wine-merchant. Oh!” thinks Mrs. Mackenzie, who has seen Sherrick’s brass plate on the cellar door of Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel; and hence, perhaps, she was a trifle more magniloquent than usual, and entertained us with stories of colonial governors and their ladies, mentioning no persons but those who “had handles to their names,” as the phrase is.

Although Sherrick had actually supplied the champagne which Warrington abused to him in confidence, the wine-merchant was not wounded; on the contrary, he roared with laughter at the remark, and some of us smiled who understood the humour of the joke. As for George Warrington, he scarce knew more about the town than the ladies opposite to him; who, yet more innocent than George, thought the champagne very good. Mrs. Sherrick was silent during the meal, looking constantly up at her husband, as if alarmed and always in the habit of appealing to that gentleman, who gave her, as I thought, knowing glances and savage winks, which made me augur that he bullied her at home. Miss Sherrick was exceedingly handsome: she kept the fringed curtains of her eyes constantly down; but when she lifted them up towards Clive, who was very attentive to her (the rogue never sees a handsome woman but to this day he continues the same practice)— when she looked up and smiled, she was indeed a beautiful young creature to behold — with her pale forehead, her thick arched eyebrows, her rounded cheeks, and her full lips slightly shaded — how shall I mention the word? — slightly pencilled, after the manner of the lips of the French governess, Mademoiselle Lenoir.

Percy Sibwright engaged Miss Mackenzie with his usual grace and affability. Mrs. Mackenzie did her very utmost to be gracious, but it was evident the party was not altogether to her liking. Poor Percy, about whose means and expectations she had in the most natural way in the world asked information from me, was not perhaps a very eligible admirer for darling Rosey. She knew not that Percy can no more help gallantry than the sun can help shining. As soon as Rosey had done eating up her pineapple, artlessly confessing (to Percy Sibwright’s inquiries) that she preferred it to the rasps and hinnyblobs in her grandmamma’s garden, “Now, dearest Rosey,” cries Mrs. Mack, “now, a little song. You promised Mr. Pendennis a little song.” Honeyman whisks open the piano in a moment. The widow takes off her cleaned gloves (Mrs. Sherrick’s were new, and of the best Paris make), and little Rosey sings No. 1, followed by No. 2, with very great applause. Mother and daughter entwine as they quit the piano. “Brava! brava!” says Percy Sibwright. Does Mr. Clive Newcome say nothing? His back is turned to the piano, and he is looking with all his might into the eyes of Miss Sherrick.

Percy sings a Spanish seguidilla, or a German lied, or a French romance, or a Neapolitan canzonet, which, I am bound to say, excites very little attention. Mrs. Ridley is sending in coffee at this juncture, of which Mrs. Sherrick partakes, with lots of sugar, as she has partaken of numberless things before. Chicken, plovers’ eggs, prawns, aspics, jellies, creams, grapes, and what-not. Mr. Honeyman advances, and with deep respect asks if Mrs. Sherrick and Miss Sherrick will not be persuaded to sing? She rises and bows, and again takes off the French gloves, and shows the large white hands glittering with rings, and, summoning Emily her daughter, they go to the piano.

“Can she sing,” whispers Mrs. Mackenzie, “can she sing after eating so much?” Can she sing, indeed! Oh, you poor ignorant Mrs. Mackenzie! Why, when you were in the West Indies, if you ever read the English newspapers, you must have read of the fame of Miss Folthorpe. Mrs. Sherrick is no other than the famous artist, who, after three years of brilliant triumphs at the Scala, the Pergola, the San Carlo, the opera in England, forsook her profession, rejected a hundred suitors, and married Sherrick, who was Mr. Cox’s lawyer, who failed, as everybody knows, as manager of Drury Lane. Sherrick, like a man of spirit, would not allow his wife to sing in public after his marriage; but in private society, of course, she is welcome to perform: and now with her daughter, who possesses a noble contralto voice, she takes her place royally at the piano, and the two sing so magnificently that everybody in the room, with one single exception, is charmed and delighted; and that little Miss Cann herself creeps up the stairs, and stands with Mrs. Ridley at the door to listen to the music.

Miss Sherrick looks doubly handsome as she sings. Clive Newcome is in a rapture; so is good-natured Miss Rosey, whose little heart beats with pleasure, and who says quite unaffectedly to Miss Sherrick, with delight and gratitude beaming from her blue eyes, “Why did you ask me to sing, when you sing so wonderfully, so beautifully, yourself? Do not leave the piano, please — do sing again!” And she puts out a kind little hand towards the superior artist, and, blushing, leads her back to the instrument. “I’m sure me and Emily will sing for you as much as you like, dear,” says Mrs. Sherrick, nodding to Rosey good-naturedly. Mrs. Mackenzie, who has been biting her lips and drumming the time on a side-table, forgets at last the pain of being vanquished in admiration of the conquerors. “It was cruel of you not to tell us, Mr. Honeyman,” she says, “of the — of the treat you had in store for us. I had no idea we were going to meet professional people; Mrs. Sherrick’s singing is indeed beautiful.”

“If you come up to our place in the Regent’s Park, Mr. Newcome,” Mr. Sherrick says, “Mrs. S. and Emily will give you as many songs as you like. How do you like the house in Fitzroy Square? Anything wanting doing there? I’m a good landlord to a good tenant. Don’t care what I spend on my houses. Lose by ’em sometimes. Name a day when you’ll come to us; and I’ll ask some good fellows to meet you. Your father and Mr. Binnie came once. That was when you were a young chap. They didn’t have a bad evening, I believe. You just come and try us — I can give you as good a glass of wine as most, I think,” and he smiles, perhaps thinking of the champagne which Mr. Warrington had slighted. “I’ve ad the close carriage for my wife this evening,” he continues, looking out of window at a very handsome brougham which has just drawn up there. “That little pair of horses steps prettily together, don’t they? Fond of horses? I know you are. See you in the Park; and going by our house sometimes. The Colonel sits a horse uncommonly well: so do you, Mr. Newcome. I’ve often said, ‘Why don’t they get off their horses and say, Sherrick, we’re come for a bit of lunch and a glass of Sherry?’ Name a day, sir. Mr. P., will you be in it?”

Clive Newcome named a day, and told his father of the circumstance in the evening. The Colonel looked grave. “There was something which I did not quite like about Mr. Sherrick,” said that acute observer of human nature. “It was easy to see that the man is not quite a gentleman. I don’t care what a man’s trade is, Clive. Indeed, who are we, to give ourselves airs upon that subject? But when I am gone, my boy, and there is nobody near you who knows the world as I do, you may fall into designing hands, and rogues may lead you into mischief: keep a sharp look-out, Clive. Mr. Pendennis, here, knows that there are designing fellows abroad” (and the dear old gentleman gives a very knowing nod as he speaks). “When I am gone, keep the lad from harm’s way, Pendennis. Meanwhile Mr. Sherrick has been a very good and obliging landlord; and a man who sells wine may certainly give a friend a bottle. I am glad you had a pleasant evening, boys. Ladies, I hope you have had a pleasant afternoon. Miss Rosey, you are come back to make tea for the old gentlemen? James begins to get about briskly now. He walked to Hanover Square, Mrs. Mackenzie, without hurting his ankle in the least.”

“I am almost sorry that he is getting well,” says Mrs. Mackenzie sincerely. “He won’t want us when he is quite cured.”

“Indeed, my dear creature!” cries the Colonel, taking her pretty hand and kissing it; “he will want you, and he shall want you. James no more knows the world than Miss Rosey here; and if I had not been with him, would have been perfectly unable to take care of himself. When I am gone to India, somebody must stay with him; and — and my boy must have a home to go to,” says the kind soldier, his voice dropping. “I had been in hopes that his own relatives would have received him more, but never mind about that,” he cried more cheerfully. “Why, I may not be absent a year! I perhaps need not go at all — I am second for promotion. A couple of our old generals may drop any day; and when I get my regiment I come back to stay, to live at home. Meantime, whilst I am gone, my dear lady, you will take care of James; and you will be kind to my boy.”

“That I will!” said the widow, radiant with pleasure, and she took one of Clive’s hands and pressed it for an instant; and from Clive’s father’s kind face there beamed out that benediction which always made his countenance appear to me among the most beautiful of human faces.

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