The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XXVIII

In which Clive begins to see the World

In the company assembled at Baden, Clive found one or two old acquaintances; among them his friend of Paris, M. de Florac, not in quite so brilliant a condition as when Newcome had last met him on the Boulevard. Florac owned that Fortune had been very unkind to him at Baden; and, indeed, she had not only emptied his purse, but his portmanteaus, jewel-box, and linen-closet — the contents of all of which had ranged themselves on the red and black against Monsieur Benazet’s crown-pieces: whatever side they took was, however, the unlucky one. “This campaign has been my Moscow, mon cher,” Florac owned to Clive. “I am conquered by Benazet; I have lost in almost every combat. I have lost my treasure, my baggage, my ammunition of war, everything but my honour, which, au reste, Mons. Benazet will not accept as a stake; if he would, there are plenty here, believe me, who would set it on the trente-et-quarante. Sometimes I have had a mind to go home; my mother, who is an angel all forgiveness, would receive her prodigal, and kill the fatted veal for me. But what will you? He annoys me — the domestic veal. Besides, my brother the Abbe, though the best of Christians, is a Jew upon certain matters; a Benazet who will not troquer absolution except against repentance; and I have not for a sou of repentance in my pocket! I have been sorry, yes — but it was because odd came up in place of even, or the reverse. The accursed apres has chased me like a remorse, and when black has come up I have wished myself converted to red. Otherwise I have no repentance — I am joueur — nature has made me so, as she made my brother devot. The Archbishop of Strasbourg is of our parents; I saw his grandeur when I went lately to Strasbourg, on my last pilgrimage to the Mont de Piete. I owned to him that I would pawn his cross and ring to go play: the good prelate laughed, and said his chaplain should keep an eye on them. Will you dine with me? The landlord of my hotel was the intendant of our cousin, the Duc d’Ivry, and will give me credit to the day of judgment. I do not abuse his noble confidence. My dear! there are covers of silver put upon my table every day with which I could retrieve my fortune, did I listen to the suggestions of Satanas; but I say to him, Vade retro. Come and dine with me — Duluc’s kitchen is very good.”

These easy confessions were uttered by a gentleman who was nearly forty years of age, and who had indeed played the part of a young man in Paris and the great European world so long, that he knew or chose to perform no other. He did not want for abilities; had the best temper in the world; was well bred and gentlemanlike always; and was gay even after Moscow. His courage was known, and his character for bravery and another kind of gallantry probably exaggerated by his bad reputation. Had his mother not been alive, perhaps he would have believed in the virtue of no woman. But this one he worshipped, and spoke with tenderness and enthusiasm of her constant love and patience and goodness. “See her miniature!” he said, “I never separate myself from it — oh, never! It saved my life in an affair about — about a woman who was not worth the powder which poor Jules and I burned for her. His ball struck me here, upon the waistcoat, bruising my rib and sending me to my bed, which I never should have left alive but for this picture. Oh, she is an angel, my mother! I am sure that Heaven has nothing to deny that saint, and that her tears wash out my sins.”

Olive smiled. “I think Madame de Florac must weep a good deal,” he said.

“Enormement, my friend! My faith! I do not deny it! I give her cause, night and evening. I am possessed by demons! This little Affenthaler wine of this country has a little smack which is most agreeable. The passions tear me, my young friend! Play is fatal, but play is not so fatal as woman. Pass me the ecrevisses, they are most succulent. Take warning by me, and avoid both. I saw you roder round the green tables, and marked your eyes as they glistened over the heaps of gold, and looked at some of our beauties of Baden. Beware of such sirens, young man! and take me for your Mentor; avoiding what I have done — that understands itself. You have not played as yet? Do not do so; above all avoid a martingale, if you do. Play ought not to be an affair of calculation, but of inspiration. I have calculated infallibly, and what has been the effect? Gousset empty, tiroirs empty, necessaire parted for Strasbourg! Where is my fur pelisse, Frederic?”

“Parbleu, vous le savez bien, Monsieur le Vicomte,” says Frederic, the domestic, who was waiting on Clive and his friend.

“A pelisse lined with true sable, and, worth three thousand francs, that I won of a little Russian at billiards. That pelisse at Strasbourg (where the infamous worms of the Mount of Piety are actually gnawing her). Two hundred francs and this reconnaissance, which Frederic receive, are all that now represent the pelisse. How many chemises have I, Frederic?”

“Eh, parbleu, Monsieur le Vicomte sait bien que nous avons toujours vingt-quatre chemises,” says Frederic, grumbling.

Monsieur le Vicomte springs up shrieking from the dinner-table. “Twenty-four shirts,” says he, “and I have been a week without a louis in my pocket! Belitre! Nigaud!” He flings open one drawer after another, but there are no signs of that — superfluity of linen of which the domestic spoke, whose countenance now changes from a grim frown to a grim smile.

“Ah, my faithful Frederic, I pardon thee! Mr. Newcome will understand my harmless supercherie. Frederic was in my company of the Guard, and remains with me since. He is Caleb Balderstone and I am Ravenswood. Yes, I am Edgard. Let us have coffee and a cigar, Balderstone.”

“Plait-il, Monsieur le Vicomte?” says the French Caleb.

“Thou comprehendest not English. Thou readest not Valtare Scott, thou!” cries the master. “I was recounting to Monsieur Newcome thy history and my misfortunes. Go seek coffee for us, nigaud.” And as the two gentlemen partake of that exhilarating liquor, the elder confides gaily to his guest the reason why he prefers taking coffee at the hotel to the coffee at the great Cafe of the Redoute, with a duris urgens in rebus egestass! pronounced in the true French manner.

Clive was greatly amused by the gaiety of the Viscount after his misfortunes and his Moscow; and thought that one of Mr. Baines’s circular notes might not be ill laid out in succouring this hero. It may have been to this end that Florac’s confessions tended; though, to do him justice, the incorrigible young fellow would confide his adventures to any one who would listen; and the exact state of his wardrobe, and the story of his pawned pelisse, dressing-case, rings and watches, were known to all Baden.

“You tell me to marry and range myself,” said Clive (to whom the Viscount was expatiating upon the charms of the superbe young Anglaise with whom he had seen Clive walking on the promenade). “Why do you not marry and range yourself too?”

“Eh, my dear! I am married already. You do not know it? I am married since the Revolution of July. Yes. We were poor in those days, as poor we remain. My cousins the Duc d’Ivry’s sons and his grandson were still alive. Seeing no other resource and pursued by the Arabs, I espoused the Vicomtesse de Florac. I gave her my name, you comprehend, in exchange for her own odious one. She was Miss Higg. Do you know the family Higg of Manchesterre in the comte of Lancastre? She was then a person of a ripe age. The Vicomtesse is now — ah! it is fifteen years since, and she dies not. Our union was not happy, my friend — Madame Paul de Florac is of the reformed religion — not of the Anglican Church, you understand — but a dissident I know not of what sort. We inhabited the Hotel de Florac for a while after our union, which was all of convenience, you understand. She filled her salon with ministers to make you die. She assaulted my poor father in his garden-chair, whence he could not escape her. She told my sainted mother that she was an idolatress — she who only idolatrises her children! She called us other poor Catholics who follow the rites of our fathers, des Romishes; and Rome, Babylon; and the Holy Father — a scarlet — eh! a scarlet abomination. She outraged my mother, that angel; essayed to convert the antechamber and the office; put little books in the Abbe’s bedroom. Eh, my friend! what a good king was Charles IX., and his mother what a wise sovereign! I lament that Madame de Florac should have escaped the St. Barthelemi, when no doubt she was spared on account of her tender age. We have been separated for many years; her income was greatly exaggerated. Beyond the payment of my debts I owe her nothing. I wish I could say as much of all the rest of the world. Shall we take a turn of promenade? Mauvais sujet! I see you are longing to be at the green table.”

Clive was not longing to be at the green table: but his companion was never easy at it or away from it. Next to winning, losing, M. de Florac said, was the best sport — next to losing, looking on. So he and Clive went down to the Redoute, where Lord Kew was playing with a crowd of awestruck amateurs and breathless punters admiring his valour and fortune; and Clive, saying that he knew nothing about the game, took out five Napoleons from his purse, and besought Florac to invest them in the most profitable manner at roulette. The other made some faint attempts at a scruple: but the money was speedily laid on the table, where it increased and multiplied amazingly too; so that in a quarter of an hour Florac brought quite a handful of gold pieces to his principal. Then Clive, I dare say blushing as he made the proposal, offered half the handful of Napoleons to M. de Florac, to be repaid when he thought fit. And fortune must have been very favourable to the husband of Miss Higg that night; for in the course of an hour he insisted on paying back Clive’s loan; and two days afterwards appeared with his shirt-studs (of course with his shirts also), released from captivity, his watch, rings, and chains, on the parade; and was observed to wear his celebrated fur pelisse as he drove back in a britzska from Strasbourg. “As for myself,” wrote Clive, “I put back into my purse the five Napoleons with which I had begun; and laid down the whole mass of winnings on the table, where it was doubled and then quadrupled, and then swept up by the croupiers, greatly to my ease of mind. And then Lord Kew asked me to supper and we had a merry night.”

This was Mr. Clive’s first and last appearance as a gambler. J. J. looked very grave when he heard of these transactions. Clive’s French friend did not please his English companion at all, nor the friends of Clive’s French friend, the Russians, the Spaniards, the Italians, of sounding titles and glittering decorations, and the ladies who belonged to their society. He saw by chance Ethel, escorted by her cousin Lord Kew, passing through a crowd of this company one day. There was not one woman there who was not the heroine of some discreditable story. It was the Comtesse Calypso who had been jilted by the Duc Ulysse. It was the Marquise Ariane to whom the Prince Thesee had behaved so shamefully, and who had taken to Bacchus as a consolation. It was Madame Medee, who had absolutely killed her old father by her conduct regarding Jason: she had done everything for Jason: she had got him the toison d’or from the Queen Mother, and now had to meet him every day with his little blonde bride on his arm! J. J. compared Ethel, moving in the midst of these folks, to the Lady amidst the rout of Comus. There they were the Fauns and Satyrs: there they were, the merry Pagans: drinking and dancing, dicing and sporting; laughing out jests that never should be spoken; whispering rendezvous to be written in midnight calendars; jeering at honest people who passed under their palace windows — jolly rebels and repealers of the law. Ah, if Mrs. Brown, whose children are gone to bed at the hotel, knew but the history of that calm dignified-looking gentleman who sits under her, and over whose patient back she frantically advances and withdraws her two-franc piece, whilst his own columns of louis d’or are offering battle to fortune — how she would shrink away from the shoulder which she pushes! That man so calm and well bred, with a string of orders on his breast, so well dressed, with such white hands, has stabbed trusting hearts; severed family ties; written lying vows; signed false oaths; torn up pitilessly tender appeals for redress, and tossed away into the fire supplications blistered with tears; packed cards and cogged dice; or used pistol or sword as calmly and dexterously as he now ranges his battalions of gold pieces.

Ridley shrank away from such lawless people with the delicacy belonging to his timid and retiring nature, but it must be owned that Mr. Clive was by no means so squeamish. He did not know, in the first place, the mystery of their iniquities; and his sunny kindly spirit, undimmed by any of the cares which clouded it subsequently, was disposed to shine upon all people alike. The world was welcome to him: the day a pleasure: all nature a gay feast: scarce any dispositions discordant with his own (for pretension only made him laugh, and hypocrisy he will never be able to understand if he lives to be a hundred years old): the night brought him a long sleep, and the morning a glad waking. To those privileges of youth what enjoyments of age are comparable? what achievements of ambition? what rewards of money and fame? Clive’s happy friendly nature shone out of his face; and almost all who beheld it felt kindly towards him. As those guileless virgins of romance and ballad, who walk smiling through dark forests charming off dragons and confronting lions, the young man as yet went through the world harmless; no giant waylaid him as yet; no robbing ogre fed on him: and (greatest danger of all for one of his ardent nature) no winning enchantress or artful siren coaxed him to her cave, or lured him into her waters — haunts into which we know so many young simpletons are drawn, where their silly bones are picked and their tender flesh devoured.

The time was short which Clive spent at Baden, for it has been said the winter was approaching, and the destination of our young artists was Rome; but he may have passed some score of days here, to which he and another person in that pretty watering-place possibly looked back afterwards, as not the unhappiest period of their lives. Among Colonel Newcome’s papers to which the family biographer has had subsequent access, there are a couple of letters from Clive, dated Baden, at this time, and full of happiness, gaiety, and affection. Letter No. 1 says, “Ethel is the prettiest girl here. At the assemblies all the princes, counts, dukes, Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, are dying to dance with her. She sends her dearest love to her uncle.” By the side of the words “prettiest girl,” was written in a frank female hand the monosyllable “Stuff;” and as a note to the expression “dearest love,” with a star to mark the text and the note, are squeezed, in the same feminine characters, at the bottom of Clive’s page, the words, “That I do. E. N.”

In letter No. 2, the first two pages are closely written in Clive’s handwriting, describing his pursuits and studies, and giving amusing details of the life at Baden, and the company whom he met there — narrating his rencontre with their Paris friend, M. de Florac, and the arrival of the Duchesse d’Ivry, Florac’s cousin, whose titles the Vicomte will probably inherit. Not a word about Florac’s gambling propensities are mentioned in the letter; but Clive honestly confesses that he has staked five Napoleons, doubled them, quadrupled them, won ever so much, lost it all back again, and come away from the table with his original five pounds in his pocket — proposing never to play any more. “Ethel,” he concluded, “is looking over my shoulder. She thinks me such a delightful creature that she is never easy without me. She bids me to say that I am the best of sons and cousins, and am, in a word, a darling du —” The rest of this important word is not given, but goose is added in the female hand. In the faded ink, on the yellow paper that may have crossed and recrossed oceans, that has lain locked in chests for years, and buried under piles of family archives, while your friends have been dying and your head has grown white — who has not disinterred mementos like these — from which the past smiles at you so sadly, shimmering out of Hades an instant but to sink back again into the cold shades, perhaps with a faint, faint sound as of a remembered tone — a ghostly echo of a once familiar laughter? I was looking of late at a wall in the Naples Museum, whereon a boy of Herculaneum eighteen hundred years ago had scratched with a nail the figure of a soldier. I could fancy the child turning round and smiling on me after having done his etching. Which of us that is thirty years old has not had his Pompeii? Deep under ashes lies the Life of Youth — the careless Sport, the Pleasure and Passion, the darling Joy. You open an old letter-box and look at your own childish scrawls, or your mother’s letters to you when you were at school; and excavate your heart. Oh me, for the day when the whole city shall be bare and the chambers unroofed — and every cranny visible to the Light above, from the Forum to the Lupanar!

Ethel takes up the pen. “My dear uncle,” she says, “while Clive is sketching out of window, let me write you a line or two on his paper, though I know you like to hear no one speak but him. I wish I could draw him for you as he stands yonder, looking the picture of good health, good spirits, and good humour. Everybody likes him. He is quite unaffected; always gay; always pleased. He draws more and more beautifully every day; and his affection for young Mr. Ridley, who is really a most excellent and astonishing young man, and actually a better artist than Clive himself, is most romantic, and does your son the greatest credit. You will order Clive not to sell his pictures, won’t you? I know it is not wrong, but your son might look higher than to be an artist. It is a rise for Mr. Ridley, but a fall for him. An artist, an organist, a pianist, all these are very good people, but you know not de notre monde, and Clive ought to belong to it.

“We met him at Bonn on our way to a great family gathering here; where, I must tell you, we are assembled for what I call the Congress of Baden! The chief of the house of Kew is here, and what time he does not devote to skittles, to smoking cigars, to the jeu in the evenings, to Madame d’Ivry, to Madame de Cruchecassee, and the foreign people (of whom there are a host here of the worst kind, as usual), he graciously bestows on me. Lord and Lady Dorking are here, with their meek little daughter, Clara Pulleyn; and Barnes is coming. Uncle Hobson has returned to Lombard Street to relieve guard. I think you will hear before very long of Lady Clara Newcome. Grandmamma, who was to have presided at the Congress of Baden, and still, you know, reigns over the house of Kew, has been stopped at Kissingen with an attack of rheumatism; I pity poor Aunt Julia, who can never leave her. Here are all our news. I declare I have filled the whole page; men write closer than we do. I wear the dear brooch you gave me, often and often; I think of you always, dear, kind uncle, as your affectionate Ethel.”

Besides roulette and trente-et-quarante, a number of amusing games are played at Baden, which are not performed, so to speak, sur table. These little diversions and jeux de societe can go on anywhere; in an alley in the park; in a picnic to this old schloss, or that pretty hunting-lodge; at a tea-table in a lodging-house or hotel; in a ball at the Redoute; in the play-rooms behind the backs of the gamblers, whose eyes are only cast upon rakes and rouleaux, and red and black; or on the broad walk in front of the conversation rooms, where thousands of people are drinking and chattering, lounging and smoking, whilst the Austrian brass band, in the little music pavilion, plays the most delightful mazurkas and waltzes. Here the widow plays her black suit and sets her bright eyes against the rich bachelor, elderly or young as may be. Here the artful practitioner, who has dealt in a thousand such games, engages the young simpleton with more money than wit; and knowing his weakness and her skill, we may safely take the odds, and back rouge et couleur to win. Here mamma, not having money, perhaps, but metal more attractive, stakes her virgin daughter against Count Fettacker’s forests and meadows; or Lord Lackland plays his coronet, of which the jewels have long since been in pawn, against Miss Bags’ three-per-cents. And so two or three funny little games were going on at Baden amongst our immediate acquaintance; besides that vulgar sport round the green table, at which the mob, with whom we have little to do, was elbowing each other. A hint of these domestic prolusions has been given to the reader in the foregoing extract from Miss Ethel Newcome’s letter: likewise some passions have been in play, of which a modest young English maiden could not be aware. Do not, however, let us be too prematurely proud of our virtue. That tariff of British virtue is wonderfully organised. Heaven help the society which made its laws! Gnats are shut out of its ports, or not admitted without scrutiny and repugnance, whilst herds of camels are let in. The law professes to exclude some goods (or bads shall we call them?)— well, some articles of baggage, which are yet smuggled openly under the eyes of winking officers, and worn every day without shame. Shame! What is shame? Virtue is very often shameful according to the English social constitution, and shame honourable. Truth, if yours happens to differ from your neighbour’s, provokes your friend’s coldness, your mother’s tears, the world’s persecution. Love is not to be dealt in, save under restrictions which kill its sweet, healthy, free commerce. Sin in man is so light, that scarce the fine of a penny is imposed; while for woman it is so heavy that no repentance can wash it out. Ah! yes; all stories are old. You proud matrons in your Mayfair markets, have you never seen a virgin sold, or sold one? Have you never heard of a poor wayfarer fallen among robbers, and not a Pharisee to help him? of a poor woman fallen more sadly yet, abject in repentance and tears, and a crowd to stone her? I pace this broad Baden walk as the sunset is gilding the hills round about, as the orchestra blows its merry tunes, as the happy children laugh and sport in the alleys, as the lamps of the gambling-palace are lighted up, as the throngs of pleasure-hunters stroll, and smoke, and flirt, and hum: and wonder sometimes, is it the sinners who are the most sinful? Is it poor Prodigal yonder amongst the bad company, calling black and red and tossing the champagne; or brother Straitlace that grudges his repentance? Is it downcast Hagar that slinks away with poor little Ishmael in her hand; or bitter old virtuous Sarah, who scowls at her from my demure Lord Abraham’s arm?

One day of the previous May, when of course everybody went to visit the Water-colour Exhibitions, Ethel Newcome was taken to see the pictures by her grandmother, that rigorous old Lady Kew, who still proposed to reign over all her family. The girl had high spirit, and very likely hot words had passed between the elder and the younger lady; such as I am given to understand will be uttered in the most polite families. They came to a piece by Mr. Hunt, representing one of those figures which he knows how to paint with such consummate truth and pathos — a friendless young girl cowering in a doorway, evidently without home or shelter. The exquisite fidelity of the details, and the plaintive beauty of the expression of the child, attracted old Lady Kew’s admiration, who was an excellent judge of works of art; and she stood for some time looking at the drawing, with Ethel by her side. Nothing, in truth, could be more simple or pathetic; Ethel laughed, and her grandmother looking up from her stick on which she hobbled about, saw a very sarcastic expression in the girl’s eyes.

“You have no taste for pictures, only for painters, I suppose,” said Lady Kew.

“I was not looking at the picture,” said Ethel, still with a smile, “but at the little green ticket in the corner.”

“Sold,” said Lady Kew. “Of course it is sold; all Mr. Hunt’s pictures are sold. There is not one of them here on which you won’t see the green ticket. He is a most admirable artist. I don’t know whether his comedy or tragedy are the most excellent.”

“I think, grandmamma,” Ethel said, “we young ladies in the world, when we are exhibiting, ought to have little green tickets pinned on our backs, with ‘Sold’ written on them; it would prevent trouble and any future haggling, you know. Then at the end of the season the owner would come to carry us home.”

Grandmamma only said, “Ethel, you are a fool,” and hobbled on to Mr. Cattermole’s picture hard by. “What splendid colour; what a romantic gloom; what a flowing pencil and dexterous hand!” Lady Kew could delight in pictures, applaud good poetry, and squeeze out a tear over a good novel too. That afternoon, young Dawkins, the rising water-colour artist, who used to come daily to the gallery and stand delighted before his own piece, was aghast to perceive that there was no green ticket in the corner of his frame, and he pointed out the deficiency to the keeper of the pictures. His landscape, however, was sold and paid for, so no great mischief occurred. On that same evening, when the Newcome family assembled at dinner in Park Lane, Ethel appeared with a bright green ticket pinned in the front of her white muslin frock, and when asked what this queer fancy meant, she made Lady Kew a curtsey, looking her full in the face, and turning round to her father, said, “I am a tableau-vivant, papa. I am Number 46 in the Exhibition of the Gallery of Painters in Water-colours.”

“My love, what do you mean?” says mamma; and Lady Kew, jumping up on her crooked stick with immense agility, tore the card out of Ethel’s bosom, and very likely would have boxed her ears, but that her parents were present and Lord Kew announced.

Ethel talked about pictures the whole evening, and would talk of nothing else. Grandmamma went away furious. “She told Barnes, and when everybody was gone there was a pretty row in the building,” said Madam Ethel, with an arch look, when she narrated the story. “Barnes was ready to kill me and eat me; but I never was afraid of Barnes.” And the biographer gathers from this little anecdote, narrated to him, never mind by whom, at a long subsequent period, that there had been great disputes in Sir Brian Newcome’s establishment, fierce drawing-room battles, whereof certain pictures of a certain painter might have furnished the cause, and in which Miss Newcome had the whole of the family forces against her. That such battles take place in other domestic establishments, who shall say or shall not say? Who, when he goes out to dinner, and is received by a bland host with a gay shake of the hand, and a pretty hostess with a gracious smile of welcome, dares to think that Mr. Johnson upstairs, half an hour before, was swearing out of his dressing-room at Mrs. Johnson, for having ordered a turbot instead of a salmon, or that Mrs. Johnson now talking to Lady Jones so nicely about their mutual darling children, was crying her eyes out as her maid was fastening her gown, as the carriages were actually driving up? The servants know these things, but not we in the dining-room. Hark with what a respectful tone Johnson begs the clergyman present to say grace!

Whatever these family quarrels may have been, let bygones be bygones, and let us be perfectly sure, that to whatever purpose Miss Ethel Newcome, for good or for evil, might make her mind up, she had quite spirit enough to hold her own. She chose to be Countess of Kew because she chose to be Countess of Kew; had she set her heart on marrying Mr. Kuhn, she would have had her way, and made the family adopt it, and called him dear Fritz, as by his godfathers and godmothers, in his baptism, Mr. Kuhn was called. Clive was but a fancy, if he had even been so much as that, not a passion, and she fancied a pretty four-pronged coronet still more.

So that the diatribe wherein we lately indulged, about the selling of virgins, by no means applies to Lady Anne Newcome, who signed the address to Mrs Stowe, the other day, along with thousands more virtuous British matrons; but should the reader haply say, “Is thy fable, O Poet, narrated concerning Tancred Pulleyn, Earl of Dorking, and Sigismunda, his wife?” the reluctant moralist is obliged to own that the cap does fit those noble personages, of whose lofty society you will, however, see but little.

For though I would like to go into an Indian Brahmin’s house, and see the punkahs, and the purdahs and tattys, and the pretty brown maidens with great eyes, and great nose-rings, and painted foreheads, and slim waists cased in Cashmir shawls, Kincob scarfs, curly slippers, gilt trousers, precious anklets and bangles; and have the mystery of Eastern existence revealed to me (as who would not who has read the Arabian Nights in his youth?), yet I would not choose the moment when the Brahmin of the house was dead, his women howling, his priests doctoring his child of a widow, now frightening her with sermons, now drugging her with bang, so as to push her on his funeral pile at last, and into the arms of that carcase, stupefied, but obedient and decorous. And though I like to walk, even in fancy, in an earl’s house, splendid, well ordered, where there are feasts and fine pictures and fair ladies and endless books and good company; yet there are times when the visit is not pleasant; and when the parents in that fine house are getting ready their daughter for sale, and frightening away her tears with threats, and stupefying her grief with narcotics, praying her and imploring her, and dramming her and coaxing her, and blessing her, and cursing her perhaps, till they have brought her into such a state as shall fit the poor young thing for that deadly couch upon which they are about to thrust her. When my lord and lady are so engaged I prefer not to call at their mansion, Number 1000 in Grosvenor Square, but to partake of a dinner of herbs rather than of that stalled ox which their cook is roasting whole. There are some people who are not so squeamish. The family comes, of course; the Most Reverend the Lord Arch-Brahmin of Benares will attend the ceremony; there will be flowers and lights and white favours; and quite a string of carriages up to the pagoda; and such a breakfast afterwards; and music in the street and little parish boys hurrahing; and no end of speeches within and tears shed (no doubt), and His Grace the Arch-Brahmin will make a highly appropriate speech, just with a faint scent of incense about it as such a speech ought to have; and the young person will slip away unperceived, and take off her veils, wreaths, orange-flowers, bangles and finery, and will put on a plain dress more suited for the occasion, and the house-door will open — and there comes the SUTTEE in company of the body: yonder the pile is waiting on four wheels with four horses, the crowd hurrahs and the deed is done.

This ceremony amongst us is so stale and common that to be sure there is no need to describe its rites, and as women sell themselves for what you call an establishment every day; to the applause of themselves, their parents, and the world, why on earth should a man ape at originality and pretend to pity them? Never mind about the lies at the altar, the blasphemy against the godlike name of love, the sordid surrender, the smiling dishonour. What the deuce does a mariage de convenance mean but all this, and are not such sober Hymeneal torches more satisfactory often than the most brilliant love matches that ever flamed and burnt out? Of course. Let us not weep when everybody else is laughing: let us pity the agonised duchess when her daughter, Lady Atalanta, runs away with the doctor — of course, that’s respectable; let us pity Lady Iphigenia’s father when that venerable chief is obliged to offer up his darling child; but it is over her part of the business that a decorous painter would throw the veil now. Her ladyship’s sacrifice is performed, and the less said about it the better.

Such was the case regarding an affair which appeared in due subsequence in the newspapers not long afterwards under the fascinating title of “Marriage in High Life,” and which was in truth the occasion of the little family Congress of Baden which we are now chronicling. We all know — everybody at least who has the slightest acquaintance with the army list — that, at the commencement of their life, my Lord Kew, my Lord Viscount Rooster, the Earl of Dorking’s eldest son, and the Honourable Charles Belsize, familiarly called Jack Belsize, were subaltern officers in one of His Majesty’s regiments of cuirassier guards. They heard the chimes at midnight like other young men, they enjoyed their fun and frolics as gentlemen of spirit will do; sowing their wild oats plentifully, and scattering them with boyish profusion. Lady Kew’s luck had blessed him with more sacks of oats than fell to the lot of his noble young companions. Lord Dorking’s house is known to have been long impoverished; an excellent informant, Major Pendennis, has entertained me with many edifying accounts of the exploits of Lord Rooster’s grandfather “with the wild Prince and Poins,” of his feats in the hunting-field, over the bottle, over the dice-box. He played two nights and two days at a sitting with Charles Fox, when they both lost sums awful to reckon. He played often with Lord Steyne, and came away, as all men did, dreadful sufferers from those midnight encounters. His descendants incurred the penalties of the progenitor’s imprudence, and Chanticlere, though one of the finest castles in England, is splendid but for a month in the year. The estate is mortgaged up to the very castle windows. “Dorking cannot cut a stick or kill a buck in his own park,” the good old Major used to tell with tragic accents, “he lives by his cabbages, grapes, and pineapples, and the fees which people give for seeing the place and gardens, which are still the show of the county, and among the most splendid in the island. When Dorking is at Chanticlere, Ballard, who married his sister, lends him the plate and sends three men with it. Four cooks inside, and four maids and six footmen on the roof, with a butler driving, come down from London in a trap, and wait the month. And as the last carriage of the company drives away, the servants’ coach is packed, and they all bowl back to town again. It’s pitiable, sir, pitiable.”

In Lord Kew’s youth, the names of himself and his two noble friends appeared on innumerable slips of stamped paper, conveying pecuniary assurances of a promissory nature; all of which promises, my Lord Kew singly and most honourably discharged. Neither of his two companions-inarms had the means of meeting these engagements. Ballard, Rooster’s uncle, was said to make his lordship some allowance. As for Jack Belsize: how he lived; how he laughed; how he dressed himself so well, and looked so fat and handsome; how he got a shilling to pay for a cab or a cigar; what ravens fed him; was a wonder to all. The young men claimed kinsmanship with one another, which those who are learned in the peerage may unravel.

When Lord Dorking’s eldest daughter married the Honourable and Venerable Dennis Gallowglass, Archdeacon of Bullintubber (and at present Viscount Gallowglass and Killbrogue, and Lord Bishop of Ballyshannon), great festivities took place at Chanticlere, whither the relatives of the high contracting parties were invited. Among them came poor Jack Belsize, and hence the tears which are dropping at Baden at this present period of our history. Clara Pulleyn was then a pretty little maiden of sixteen, and Jack a handsome guardsman of six or seven and twenty. As she had been especially warned against Jack as a wicked young rogue, whose antecedents were wofully against him; as she was never allowed to sit near him at dinner, or to walk with him, or to play at billiards with him, or to waltz with him; as she was scolded if he spoke a word to her, or if he picked up her glove, or touched her hand in a round game, or caught him when they were playing at blindman’s-buff; as they neither of them had a penny in the world, and were both very good-looking, of course Clara was always catching Jack at blindman’s-buff; constantly lighting upon him in the shrubberies or corridors, etc. etc. etc. She fell in love (she was not the first) with Jack’s broad chest and thin waist; she thought his whiskers as indeed they were, the handsomest pair in all His Majesty’s Brigade of Cuirassiers.

We know not what tears were shed in the vast and silent halls of Chanticlere, when the company were gone, and the four cooks, and four maids, six footmen, and temporary butler had driven back in their private trap to the metropolis, which is not forty miles distant from that splendid castle. How can we tell? The guests departed, the lodge-gates shut; all is mystery:— darkness with one pair of wax candles blinking dismally in a solitary chamber; all the rest dreary vistas of brown hollands, rolled Turkey carpets, gaunt ancestors on the walls scowling out of the twilight blank. The imagination is at liberty to depict his lordship, with one candle, over his dreadful endless tapes and papers; her ladyship with the other, and an old, old novel, wherein perhaps, Mrs. Radcliffe describes a castle as dreary as her own; and poor little Clara sighing and crying in the midst of these funereal splendours, as lonely and heart-sick as Oriana in her moated grange:— poor little Clara!

Lord Kew’s drag took the young men to London; his lordship driving, and the servants sitting inside. Jack sat behind with the two grooms, and tooted on a cornet-a-piston in the most melancholy manner. He partook of no refreshment on the road. His silence at his clubs was remarked: smoking, billiards, military duties, and this and that, roused him a little, and presently Jack was alive again. But then came the season, Lady Clara Pulleyn’s first season in London, and Jack was more alive than ever. There was no ball he did not go to; no opera (that is to say, no opera of certain operas) which he did not frequent. It was easy to see by his face, two minutes after entering a room, whether the person he sought was there or absent; not difficult for those who were in the secret to watch in another pair of eyes the bright kindling signals which answered Jack’s fiery glances. Ah! how beautiful he looked on his charger on the birthday, all in a blaze of scarlet, and bullion, and steel. O Jack! tear her out of yon carriage, from the side of yonder livid, feathered, painted, bony dowager! place her behind you on the black charger; cut down the policeman, and away with you! The carriage rolls in through St. James’s Park; Jack sits alone with his sword dropped to the ground, or only atra cura on the crupper behind him; and Snip, the tailor, in the crowd, thinks it is for fear of him Jack’s head droops. Lady Clara Pulleyn is presented by her mother, the Countess of Dorking; and Jack is arrested that night as he is going out of White’s to meet her at the Opera.

Jack’s little exploits are known in the Insolvent Court, where he made his appearances as Charles Belsize, commonly called the Honourable Charles Belsize, whose dealings were smartly chronicled by the indignant moralists of the press of those days. The Scourge flogged him heartily. The Whip (of which the accomplished editor was himself in Whitecross Street prison) was especially virtuous regarding him; and the Penny Voice of Freedom gave him an awful dressing. I am not here to scourge sinners; I am true to my party; it is the other side this humble pen attacks; let us keep to the virtuous and respectable, for as for poor sinners they get the whipping-post every day. One person was faithful to poor Jack through all his blunders and follies and extravagance and misfortunes, and that was the pretty young girl of Chanticlere, round whose young affections his luxuriant whiskers had curled. And the world may cry out at Lord Kew for sending his brougham to the Queen’s Bench prison, and giving a great feast at Grignon’s to Jack on the day of his liberation, but I for one will not quarrel with his lordship. He and many other sinners had a jolly night. They said Kew made a fine speech, in hearing and acknowledging which Jack Belsize wept copiously. Barnes Newcome was in a rage at Jack’s manumission, and sincerely hoped Mr. Commissioner would give him a couple of years longer; and cursed and swore with a great liberality on hearing of his liberty.

That this poor prodigal should marry Clara Pulleyn, and by way of a dowry lay his schedule at her feet, was out of the question. His noble father, Lord Highgate, was furious against him; his eldest brother would not see him; he had given up all hopes of winning his darling prize long ago, and one day there came to him a great packet bearing the seal of Chanticlere, containing a wretched little letter signed C. P., and a dozen sheets of Jack’s own clumsy writing, delivered who knows how, in what crush-rooms, quadrilles, bouquets, balls, and in which were scrawled Jack’s love and passion and ardour. How many a time had he looked into the dictionary at White’s, to see whether eternal was spelt with an e, and adore with one a or two! There they were, the incoherent utterances of his brave longing heart; and those two wretched, wretched lines signed C., begging that C.‘s little letters might too be returned or destroyed. To do him justice, he burnt them loyally every one along with his own waste paper. He kept not one single little token which she had given him or let him take. The rose, the glove, the little handkerchief which she had dropped to him, how he cried over them! The ringlet of golden hair — he burnt them all, all in his own fire in the prison, save a little, little bit of the hair, which might be any one’s, which was the colour of his sister’s. Kew saw the deed done; perhaps he hurried away when Jack came to the very last part of the sacrifice, and flung the hair into the fire, where he would have liked to fling his heart and his life too.

So Clara was free, and the year when Jack came out of prison and went abroad, she passed the season in London dancing about night after night, and everybody said she was well out of that silly affair with Jack Belsize. It was then that Barnes Newcome, Esq., a partner of the wealthy banking firm of Hobson Brothers and Newcome, son and heir of Sir Brian Newcome, of Newcome, Bart., and M. P., descended in right line from Bryan de Newcomyn, slain at Hastings, and barber-surgeon to Edward the Confessor, etc. etc., cast the eyes of regard on the Lady Clara Pulleyn, who was a little pale and languid certainly, but had blue eyes, a delicate skin, and a pretty person, and knowing her previous history as well as you who have just perused it, deigned to entertain matrimonial intentions towards her ladyship.

Not one of the members of these most respectable families, excepting poor little Clara perhaps, poor little fish (as if she had any call but to do her duty, or to ask a quelle sauce elle serait mangee), protested against this little affair of traffic; Lady Dorking had a brood of little chickens to succeed Clara. There was little Hennie, who was sixteen, and Biddy, who was fourteen, and Adelaide, and who knows how many more? How could she refuse a young man, not very agreeable it is true, nor particularly amiable, nor of good birth, at least on his father’s side, but otherwise eligible, and heir to so many thousands a year? The Newcomes, on their side, think it a desirable match. Barnes, it must be confessed, is growing rather selfish, and has some bachelor ways which a wife will reform. Lady Kew is strongly for the match. With her own family interest, Lord Steyne and Lord Kew, her nephews, and Barnes’s own father-inlaw, Lord Dorking, in the Peers, why shall not the Newcomes sit there too, and resume the old seat which all the world knows they had in the time of Richard III.? Barnes and his father had got up quite a belief about a Newcome killed at Bosworth, along with King Richard, and hated Henry VII. as an enemy of their noble race. So all the parties were pretty well agreed. Lady Anne wrote rather a pretty little poem about welcoming the white Fawn to the Newcome bowers, and “Clara” was made to rhyme with “fairer,” and “timid does and antlered deer to dot the glades of Chanticlere,” quite in a picturesque way. Lady Kew pronounced that the poem was very pretty indeed.

The year after Jack Belsize made his foreign tour he returned to London for the season. Lady Clara did not happen to be there; her health was a little delicate, and her kind parents took her abroad; so all things went on very smoothly and comfortably indeed.

Yes, but when things were so quiet and comfortable, when the ladies of the two families had met at the Congress of Baden, and liked each other so much, when Barnes and his papa the Baronet, recovered from his illness, were actually on their journey from Aix-la-Chapelle, and Lady Kew in motion from Kissingen to the Congress of Baden, why on earth should Jack Belsize, haggard, wild, having been winning great sums, it was said, at Hombourg, forsake his luck there, and run over frantically to Baden? He wore a great thick beard, a great slouched hat — he looked like nothing more or less than a painter or an Italian brigand. Unsuspecting Clive, remembering the jolly dinner which Jack had procured for him at the Guards’ mess in St. James’s, whither Jack himself came from the Horse Guards — simple Clive, seeing Jack enter the town, hailed him cordially, and invited him to dinner, and Jack accepted, and Clive told him all the news he had of the place; how Kew was there, and Lady Anne Newcome, and Ethel; and Barnes was coming. “I am not very fond of him either,” says Clive, smiling, when Belsize mentioned his name. So Barnes was coming to marry that pretty little Lady Clara Pulleyn. The knowing youth! I dare say he was rather pleased with his knowledge of the fashionable world, and the idea that Jack Belsize would think he, too, was somebody.

Jack drank an immense quantity of champagne, and the dinner over, as they could hear the band playing from Clive’s open windows in the snug clean little Hotel de France, Jack proposed they should go on the promenade. M. de Florac was of the party; he had been exceedingly jocular when Lord Kew’s name was mentioned, and said, “Ce petit Kiou! M. le Duc d’Ivry, mon oncle, l’honore d’une amitie toute particuliere.” These three gentlemen walked out; the promenade was crowded, the was band playing “Home, sweet Home” very sweetly, and the very first persons they met on the walk were the Lords of Kew and Dorking, on the arm of which latter venerable peer his daughter Lady Clara was hanging.

Jack Belsize, in a velvet coat, with a sombrero slouched over his face, with a beard reaching to his waist, was, no doubt, not recognised at first by the noble lord of Dorking, for he was greeting the other two gentlemen with his usual politeness and affability; when, of a sudden, Lady Clara looking up, gave a little shriek and fell down lifeless on the gravel walk. Then the old earl recognised Mr. Belsize, and Clive heard him say, “You villain, how dare you come here?”

Belsize had flung himself down to lift up Clara, calling her frantically by her name, when old Dorking sprang to seize him.

“Hands off, my lord,” said the other, shaking the old man from his back. “Confound you, Jack, hold your tongue,” roars out Kew. Clive runs for a chair, and a dozen were forthcoming. Florac skips back with a glass of water. Belsize runs towards the awakening girl: and the father, for an instant losing all patience and self-command, trembling in every limb, lifts his stick, and says again, “Leave her, you ruffian.” “Lady Clara has fainted again, sir,” says Captain Belsize. “I am staying at the Hotel de France. If you touch me, old man” (this in a very low voice), “by Heaven I shall kill you. I wish you good morning;” and taking a last long look at the lifeless girl, he lifts his hat and walks away. Lord Dorking mechanically takes his hat off, and stands stupidly gazing after him. He beckoned Clive to follow him, and a crowd of the frequenters of the place are by this time closed round the fainting young lady.

Here was a pretty incident in the Congress of Baden!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter28.html

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