The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXV

Is passed in a Public-house

I had no more conversation with Miss Newcome that night, who had forgotten her curiosity about the habits of authors. When she had ended her talk with Miss Mackenzie, she devoted the rest of the evening to her uncle, Colonel Newcome; and concluded by saying, “And now you will come and ride with me tomorrow, uncle, won’t you?” which the Colonel faithfully promised to do. And she shook hands with Clive very kindly: and with Rosey very frankly, but as I thought with rather a patronising air: and she made a very stately bow to Mrs. Mackenzie, and so departed with her father and mother. Lady Kew had gone away earlier. Mrs. Mackenzie informed us afterwards that the Countess had gone to sleep after her dinner. If it was at Mrs. Mack’s story about the Governor’s ball at Tobago, and the quarrel for precedence between the Lord Bishop’s lady, Mrs. Rotchet, and the Chief Justice’s wife, Lady Barwise, I should not be at all surprised.

A handsome fly carried off the ladies to Fitzroy Square, and the two worthy Indian gentlemen in their company; Clive and I walking, with the usual Havannah to light us home. And Clive remarked that he supposed there had been some difference between his father and the bankers: for they had not met for ever so many months before, and the Colonel always had looked very gloomy when his brothers were mentioned. “And I can’t help thinking,” says the astute youth, “that they fancied I was in love with Ethel (I know the Colonel would have liked me to make up to her), and that may have occasioned the row. Now, I suppose, they think I am engaged to Rosey. What the deuce are they in such a hurry to marry me for?”

Clive’s companion remarked, “that marriage was a laudable institution: and an honest attachment an excellent conservator of youthful morals.” On which Clive replied, “Why don’t you marry yourself?”

This it was justly suggested was no argument, but a merely personal allusion foreign to the question, which was, that marriage was laudable, etc.

Mr. Clive laughed. “Rosey is as good a little creature as can be,” he said. “She is never out of temper, though I fancy Mrs. Mackenzie tries her. I don’t think she is very wise: but she is uncommonly pretty, and her beauty grows on you. As for Ethel, anything so high and mighty I have never seen since I saw the French giantess. Going to Court, and about to parties every night where a parcel of young fools flatter her, has perfectly spoiled her. By Jove, how handsome she is! How she turns with her long neck, and looks at you from under those black eyebrows! If I painted her hair, I think I should paint it almost blue, and then glaze over with lake. It is blue. And how finely her head is joined on to her shoulders!”— And he waves in the air an imaginary line with his cigar. “She would do for Judith, wouldn’t she? Or how grand she would look as Herodias’s daughter sweeping down a stair — in a great dress of cloth-of-gold like Paul Veronese — holding a charger before her with white arms, you know — with the muscles accented like that glorious Diana at Paris — a savage smile on her face and a ghastly solemn gory head on the dish. I see the picture, sir, I see the picture!” and he fell to curling his mustachios just like his brave old father.

I could not help laughing at the resemblance, and mentioning it to my friend. He broke, as was his wont, into a fond eulogium of his sire, wished he could be like him — worked himself up into another state of excitement, in which he averred “that if his father wanted him to marry, he would marry that instant. And why not Rosey? She is a dear little thing. Or why not that splendid Miss Sherrick? What ahead! — a regular Titian! I was looking at the difference of their colour at Uncle Honeyman’s that day of the dejeuner. The shadows in Rosey’s face, sir, are all pearly-tinted. You ought to paint her in milk, sir!” cries the enthusiast. “Have you ever remarked the grey round her eyes, and the sort of purple bloom of her cheek? Rubens could have done the colour: but I don’t somehow like to think of a young lady and that sensuous old Peter Paul in company. I look at her like a little wild-flower in a field — like a little child at play, sir. Pretty little tender nursling! If I see her passing in the street, I feel as if I would like some fellow to be rude to her, that I might have the pleasure of knocking him down. She is like a little songbird, sir — a tremulous, fluttering little linnet that you would take into your hand, pavidam quaerentem matrem, and smooth its little plumes, and let it perch on your finger and sing. The Sherrick creates quite a different sentiment — the Sherrick is splendid, stately, sleepy ——”

“Stupid,” hints Clive’s companion.

“Stupid! Why not? Some women ought to be stupid. What you call dulness I call repose. Give me a calm woman, a slow woman — a lazy, majestic woman. Show me a gracious virgin bearing a lily: not a leering giggler frisking a rattle. A lively woman would be the death of me. Look at Mrs. Mack, perpetually nodding, winking, grinning, throwing out signals which you are to be at the trouble to answer! I thought her delightful for three days; I declare I was in love with her — that is, as much as I can be after — but never mind that, I feel I shall never be really in love again. Why shouldn’t the Sherrick be stupid, I say? About great beauty there should always reign a silence. As you look at the great stars, the great ocean, any great scene of nature: you hush, sir. You laugh at a pantomime, but you are still in a temple. When I saw the great Venus of the Louvre, I thought — Wert thou alive, O goddess, thou shouldst never open those lovely lips but to speak lowly, slowly: thou shouldst never descend from that pedestal but to walk stately to some near couch, and assume another attitude of beautiful calm. To be beautiful is enough. If a woman can do that well: who shall demand more from her? You don’t want a rose to sing. And I think wit is out of place where there’s great beauty; as I wouldn’t have a Queen to cut jokes on her throne. I say, Pendennis,”— here broke off the enthusiastic youth — “have you got another cigar? Shall we go into Finch’s, and have a game at billiards? Just one — it’s quite early yet. Or shall we go in the Haunt? It’s Wednesday night, you know, when all the boys go.” We tap at a door in an old, old street in Soho: an old maid with a kind, comical face opens the door, and nods friendly, and says, “How do, sir? ain’t seen you this ever so long. How do, Mr. Noocom?” “Who’s here?” “Most everybody’s here.” We pass by a little snug bar, in which a trim elderly lady is seated by a great fire, on which boils an enormous kettle; while two gentlemen are attacking a cold saddle of mutton and West India pickles: hard by Mrs. Nokes the landlady’s elbow — with mutual bows — we recognise Hickson, the sculptor, and Morgan, the intrepid Irish chieftain, chief of the reporters of the Morning Press newspaper. We pass through a passage into a back room, and are received with a roar of welcome from a crowd of men, almost invisible in the smoke.

“I am right glad to see thee, boy!” cries a cheery voice (that will never troll a chorus more). “We spake anon of thy misfortune, gentle youth! and that thy warriors of Assaye have charged the Academy in vain. Mayhap thou frightenedst the courtly school with barbarous visages of grisly war. — Pendennis, thou dost wear a thirsty look! Resplendent swell! untwine thy choker white, and I will either stand a glass of grog, or thou shalt pay the like for me, my lad, and tell us of the fashionable world.” Thus spake the brave old Tom Sarjent — also one of the Press, one of the old boys: a good old scholar with a good old library of books, who had taken his seat any time these forty years by the chimney-fire in this old Haunt: where painters, sculptors, men of letters, actors, used to congregate, passing pleasant hours in rough kindly communion, and many a day seeing the sunrise lighting the rosy street ere they parted, and Betsy put the useless lamp out and closed the hospitable gates of the Haunt.

The time is not very long since, though today is so changed. As we think of it, the kind familiar faces rise up, and we hear the pleasant voices and singing. There are they met, the honest hearty companions. In the days when the Haunt was a haunt, stage-coaches were not yet quite over. Casinos were not invented: clubs were rather rare luxuries: there were sanded floors, triangular sawdust-boxes, pipes, and tavern parlours. Young Smith and Brown, from the Temple, did not go from chambers to dine at the Polyanthus, or the Megatherium, off potage a la Bisque, turbot au gratin, cotelettes a la What-do-you-call-’em, and a pint of St. Emilion; but ordered their beefsteak and pint of port from the “plump head-waiter at the Cock;” did not disdain the pit of the theatre; and for a supper a homely refection at the tavern. How delightful are the suppers in Charles Lamb to read of even now! — the cards — the punch — the candles to be snuffed — the social oysters — the modest cheer! Whoever snuffs a candle now? What man has a domestic supper whose dinner-hour is eight o’clock? Those little meetings, in the memory of many of us yet, are gone quite away into the past. Five-and-twenty years ago is a hundred years off — so much has our social life changed in those five lustres. James Boswell himself, were he to revisit London, would scarce venture to enter a tavern. He would find scarce a respectable companion to enter its doors with him. It is an institution as extinct as a hackney-coach. Many a grown man who peruses this historic page has never seen such a vehicle, and only heard of rum-punch as a drink which his ancestors used to tipple.

Cheery old Tom Sarjent is surrounded at the Haunt by a dozen of kind boon companions. They toil all day at their avocations of art, or letters, or law, and here meet for a harmless night’s recreation and converse. They talk of literature, or politics, or pictures, or plays; socially banter one another over their cheap cups: sing brave old songs sometimes when they are especially jolly kindly ballads in praise of love and wine; famous maritime ditties in honour of Old England. I fancy I hear Jack Brent’s noble voice rolling out the sad, generous refrain of “The Deserter,” “Then for that reason and for a season we will be merry before we go,” or Michael Percy’s clear tenor carolling the Irish chorus of “What’s that to any one, whether or no!” or Mark Wilder shouting his bottle-song of “Garryowen na gloria.” These songs were regarded with affection by the brave old frequenters of the Haunt. A gentleman’s property in a song was considered sacred. It was respectfully asked for: it was heard with the more pleasure for being old. Honest Tom Sarjent! how the times have changed since we saw thee! I believe the present chief of the reporters of the newspaper (which responsible office Tom filled) goes to Parliament in his brougham, and dines with the Ministers of the Crown.

Around Tom are seated grave Royal Academicians, rising gay Associates; writers of other journals besides the Pall Mall Gazette; a barrister maybe, whose name will be famous some day: a hewer of marble perhaps: a surgeon whose patients have not come yet; and one or two men about town who like this queer assembly better than haunts much more splendid. Captain Shandon has been here, and his jokes are preserved in the tradition of the place. Owlet, the philosopher, came once and tried, as his wont is, to lecture; but his metaphysics were beaten down by a storm of banter. Slatter, who gave himself such airs because he wrote in the ——— Review, tried to air himself at the Haunt, but was choked by the smoke, and silenced by the unanimous pooh-poohing of the assembly. Dick Walker, who rebelled secretly at Sarjent’s authority, once thought to give himself consequence by bringing a young lord from the Blue Posts, but he was so unmercifully “chaffed” by Tom, that even the young lord laughed at him. His lordship has been heard to say he had been taken to a monsus queeah place, queeah set of folks, in a tap somewhere, though he went away quite delighted with Tom’s affability, but he never came again. He could not find the place, probably. You might pass the Haunt in the daytime, and not know it in the least. “I believe,” said Charley Ormond (A.R.A. he was then)—“I believe in the day there’s no such place at all: and when Betsy turns the gas off at the door-lamp as we go away, the whole thing vanishes: the door, the house, the bar, the Haunt, Betsy, the beer-boy, Mrs. Nokes and all.” It has vanished: it is to be found no more: neither by night nor by day — unless the ghosts of good fellows still haunt it.

As the genial talk and glass go round, and after Clive and his friend have modestly answered the various queries put to them by good old Tom Sarjent, the acknowledged Praeses of the assembly and Sachem of this venerable wigwam, the door opens and another well-known figure is recognised with shouts as it emerges through the smoke. “Bayham, all hail!” says Tom. “Frederick, I am right glad to see thee!”

Bayham says he is disturbed in spirit, and calls for a pint of beer to console him.

“Hast thou flown far, thou restless bird of night?” asks Father Tom, who loves speaking in blank verses.

“I have come from Cursitor Street,” says Bayham, in a low groan. “I have just been to see a poor devil in quod there. Is that you, Pendennis? You know the man — Charles Honeyman.”

“What!” cries Clive, starting up.

“O my prophetic soul, my uncle!” growls Bayham. “I did not see the young one; but ’tis true.”

The reader is aware that more than the three years have elapsed, of which time the preceding pages contain the harmless chronicle; and while Thomas Newcome’s leave has been running out and Clive’s mustachios growing, the fate of other persons connected with our story has also had its development, and their fortune has experienced its natural progress, its increase or decay. Our tale, such as it has hitherto been arranged, has passed leisurely in scenes wherein the present tense is perforce adopted; the writer acting as chorus to the drama, and occasionally explaining, by hints or more open statements, what has occurred during the intervals of the acts; and how it happens that the performers are in such or such a posture. In the modern theatre, as the play-going critic knows, the explanatory personage is usually of quite a third-rate order. He is the two walking-gentlemen friends of Sir Harry Courtly, who welcome the young baronet to London, and discourse about the niggardliness of Harry’s old uncle, the Nabob; and the depth of Courtly’s passion for Lady Annabel the premiere amoureuse. He is the confidant in white linen to the heroine in white satin. He is “Tom, you rascal,” the valet or tiger, more or less impudent and acute — that well-known menial in top-boots and a livery frock with red cuffs and collar, whom Sir Harry always retains in his service, addresses with scurrilous familiarity, and pays so irregularly: or he is Lucetta, Lady Annabel’s waiting-maid, who carries the billets-doux and peeps into them; knows all about the family affairs; pops the lover under the sofa; and sings a comic song between the scenes. Our business now is to enter into Charles Honeyman’s privacy, to peer into the secrets of that reverend gentleman, and to tell what has happened to him during the past months, in which he has made fitful though graceful appearances on our scene.

While his nephew’s whiskers have been budding, and his brother-inlaw has been spending his money and leave, Mr. Honeyman’s hopes have been withering, his sermons growing stale, his once blooming popularity drooping and running to seed. Many causes have contributed to bring him to his present melancholy strait. When you go to Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel now, it is by no means crowded. Gaps are in the pews: there is not the least difficulty in getting a snug place near the pulpit, whence the preacher can look over his pocket-handkerchief and see Lord Dozeley no more: his lordship has long gone to sleep elsewhere and a host of the fashionable faithful have migrated too. The incumbent can no more cast his fine eyes upon the French bonnets of the female aristocracy and see some of the loveliest faces in Mayfair regarding his with expressions of admiration. Actual dowdy tradesmen of the neighbourhood are seated with their families in the aisles: Ridley and his wife and son have one of the very best seats. To be sure Ridley looks like a nobleman, with his large waistcoat, bald head, and gilt book: J. J. has a fine head; but Mrs. Ridley! cook and housekeeper is written on her round face. The music is by no means of its former good quality. That rebellious and ill-conditioned basso Bellew has seceded, and seduced the four best singing boys, who now perform glees at the Cave of Harmony. Honeyman has a right to speak of persecution, and to compare himself to a hermit in so far that he preaches in a desert. Once, like another hermit, St. Hierome, he used to be visited by lions. None such come to him now. Such lions as frequent the clergy are gone off to lick the feet of other ecclesiastics. They are weary of poor Honeyman’s old sermons.

Rivals have sprung up in the course of these three years — have sprung up round about Honeyman and carried his flock into their folds. We know how such simple animals will leap one after another, and that it is the sheepish way. Perhaps a new pastor has come to the church of St. Jacob’s hard by — bold, resolute, bright, clear, a scholar and no pedant: his manly voice is thrilling in their ears, he speaks of life and conduct, of practice as well as faith; and crowds of the most polite and most intelligent, and best informed, and best dressed, and most selfish people in the world come and hear him twice at least. There are so many well-informed and well-dressed etc. etc. people in the world that the succession of them keeps St. Jacob’s full for a year or more. Then, it may be, a bawling quack, who has neither knowledge, nor scholarship, nor charity, but who frightens the public with denunciations and rouses them with the energy of his wrath, succeeds in bringing them together for a while till they tire of his din and curses. Meanwhile the good quiet old churches round about ring their accustomed bell: open their Sabbath gates: receive their tranquil congregations and sober priest, who has been busy all the week, at schools and sick-beds, with watchful teaching, gentle counsel, and silent alms.

Though we saw Honeyman but seldom, for his company was not altogether amusing, and his affectation, when one became acquainted with it, very tiresome to witness, Fred Bayham, from his garret at Mrs. Ridley’s, kept constant watch over the curate, and told us of his proceedings from time to time. When we heard the melancholy news first announced, of course the intelligence damped the gaiety of Clive and his companion; and F. B., conducted all the affairs of life with great gravity, telling Tom Sarjent that he had news of importance for our private ear, Tom with still more gravity than F. B.‘s, said, “Go, my children, you had best discuss this topic in a separate room, apart from the din and fun of a convivial assembly;” and ringing the bell he bade Betsy bring him another glass of rum-and-water, and one for Mr. Desborough, to be charged to him.

We adjourned to another parlour then, where gas was lighted up: and F. B. over a pint of beer narrated poor Honeyman’s mishap. “Saving your presence, Clive,” said Bayham, “and with every regard for the youthful bloom of your young heart’s affections, your uncle Charles Honeyman, sir, is a bad lot. I have known him these twenty years, when I was at his father’s as a private tutor. Old Miss Honeyman is one of those cards which we call trumps — so was old Honeyman a trump; but Charles and his sister ——”

I stamped on F. B.‘s foot under the table. He seemed to have forgotten that he was about to speak of Clive’s mother.

“Hem! of your poor mother, I— hem — I may say vidi tantum. I scarcely knew her. She married very young: as I was when she left Borhambury. But Charles exhibited his character at a very early age — and it was not a charming one — no, by no means a model of virtue. He always had a genius for running into debt. He borrowed from every one of the pupils — I don’t know how he spent it except in hardbake and alycompaine — and even from old Nosey’s groom — pardon me, we used to call your grandfather by that playful epithet (boys will be boys, you know) — even from the doctor’s groom he took money, and I recollect thrashing Charles Honeyman for that disgraceful action.

“At college, without any particular show, he was always in debt and difficulties. Take warning by him, dear youth! By him and by me, if you like. See me — me, F. Bayham, descended from the ancient kings that long the Tuscan sceptre swayed, dodge down a street to get out of sight of a boot-shop, and my colossal frame tremble if a chap puts his hand on my shoulder, as you did, Pendennis, the other day in the Strand, when I thought a straw might have knocked me down! I have had my errors, Clive. I know ’em. I’ll take another pint of beer, if you please. Betsy, has Mrs. Nokes any cold meat in the bar? and an accustomed pickle? Ha! Give her my compliments, and say F. B. is hungry. I resume my tale. Faults F. B. has, and knows it. Humbug he may have been sometimes; but I’m not such a complete humbug as Honeyman.”

Clive did not know how to look at this character of his relative, but Clive’s companion burst into a fit of laughter, at which F. B. nodded gravely, and resumed his narrative. “I don’t know how much money he has had from your governor, but this I can say, the half of it would make F. B. a happy man. I don’t know out of how much the reverend party has nobbled his poor old sister at Brighton. He has mortgaged his chapel to Sherrick, I suppose you know, who is master of it, and could turn him out any day. I don’t think Sherrick is a bad fellow. I think he’s a good fellow; I have known him do many a good turn to a chap in misfortune. He wants to get into society: what more natural? That was why you were asked to meet him the other day, and why he asked you to dinner. I hope you had a good one. I wish he’d ask me.

“Then Moss has got his bills, and Moss’s brother-inlaw in Cursitor Street has taken possession of his revered person. He’s very welcome. One Jew has the chapel, another Hebrew has the clergyman. It’s singular, ain’t it? Sherrick might turn Lady Whittlesea into a synagogue and have the Chief Rabbi into the pulpit, where my uncle the Bishop has given out the text.

“The shares of that concern ain’t at a premium. I have had immense fun with Sherrick about it. I like the Hebrew, sir. He maddens with rage when F. B. goes and asks him whether any more pews are let overhead. Honeyman begged and borrowed in order to buy out the last man. I remember when the speculation was famous, when all the boxes (I mean the pews) were taken for the season, and you couldn’t get a place, come ever so early. Then Honeyman was spoilt, and gave his sermons over and over again. People got sick of seeing the old humbug cry, the old crocodile! Then we tried the musical dodge. F. B. came forward, sir, there. That was a coup: I did it, sir. Bellew wouldn’t have sung for any man but me — and for two-and-twenty months I kept him as sober as Father Mathew. Then Honeyman didn’t pay him: there was a row in the sacred building, and Bellew retired. Then Sherrick must meddle in it. And having heard a chap out Hampstead way who Sherrick thought would do, Honeyman was forced to engage him, regardless of expense. You recollect the fellow, sir? The Reverend Simeon Rawkins, the lowest of the Low Church, sir — a red-haired dumpy man, who gasped at his h’s and spoke with a Lancashire twang — he’d no more do for Mayfair than Grimaldi for Macbeth. He and Honeyman used to fight like cat and dog in the vestry: and he drove away a third part of the congregation. He was an honest man and an able man too, though not a sound Churchman” (F. B. said this with a very edifying gravity): “I told Sherrick this the very day I heard him. And if he had spoken to me on the subject I might have saved him a pretty penny — a precious deal more than the paltry sum which he and I had a quarrel about at that time — a matter of business, sir — a pecuniary difference about a small three months’ thing which caused a temporary estrangement between us. As for Honeyman, he used to cry about it. Your uncle is great in the lachrymatory line, Clive Newcome. He used to go with tears in his eyes to Sherrick, and implore him not to have Rawkins, but he would. And I must say for poor Charles that the failure of Lady Whittlesea’s has not been altogether Charles’s fault; and that Sherrick has kicked down that property.

“Well, then, sir, poor Charles thought to make it all right by marrying Mrs. Brumby; — and she was very fond of him and the thing was all but done, in spite of her sons, who were in a rage as you may fancy. But Charley, sir, has such a propensity for humbug that he will tell lies when there is no earthly good in lying. He represented his chapel at twelve hundred a year, his private means as so-and-so; and when he came to book up with Briggs the lawyer, Mrs. Brumby’s brother, it was found that he lied and prevaricated so, that the widow in actual disgust would have nothing more to do with him. She was a good woman of business, and managed the hat-shop for nine years, whilst poor Brumby was at Dr. Tokelys. A first-rate shop it was, too. I introduced Charles to it. My uncle the Bishop had his shovels there: and they used for a considerable period to cover this humble roof with tiles,” said F. B., tapping his capacious forehead; “I am sure he might have had Brumby,” he added, in his melancholy tones, “but for those unlucky lies. She didn’t want money. She had plenty. She longed to get into society, and was bent on marrying a gentleman.

“But what I can’t pardon in Honeyman is the way in which he has done poor old Ridley and his wife. I took him there, you know, thinking they would send their bills in once a month: that he was doing a good business: in fact, that I had put ’em into a good thing. And the fellow has told me a score of times that he and the Ridleys were all right. But he has not only not paid his lodgings, but he has had money of them: he has given dinners: he has made Ridley pay for wine. He has kept paying lodgers out of the house, and he tells me all this with a burst of tears, when he sent for me to Lazarus’s to-night, and I went to him, sir, because he was in distress — went into the lion’s den, sir!” says F. B., looking round nobly. “I don’t know how much he owes them: because of course you know the sum he mentions ain’t the right one. He never does tell the truth — does Charles. But think of the pluck of those good Ridleys never saying a single word to F. B. about the debt! ‘We are poor, but we have saved some money and can lie out of it. And we think Mr. Honeyman will pay us,’ says Mrs. Ridley to me this very evening. And she thrilled my heart-strings, sir; and I took her in my arms, and kissed the old woman,” says Bayham; “and I rather astonished little Miss Cann, and young J. J., who came in with a picture under his arm. But she said she had kissed Master Frederick long before J. J. was born — and so she had: that good and faithful servant — and my emotion in embracing her was manly, sir, manly.”

Here old Betsy came in to say that the supper was a-waitin’ for Mr. Bayham and it was a-getting’ very late; and we left F. B. to his meal; and bidding adieu to Mrs. Nokes, Clive and I went each to our habitation.

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