The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER III

Colonel Newcome’s Letter-box

I

“With the most heartfelt joy, my dear Major, I take up my pen to announce to you the happy arrival of the Ramchunder, and the dearest and handsomest little boy who, I am sure, ever came from India. Little Clive is in perfect health. He speaks English wonderfully well. He cried when he parted from Mr. Sneid, the supercargo, who most kindly brought him from Southampton in a postchaise, but these tears in childhood are of very brief duration! The voyage, Mr. Sneid states, was most favourable, occupying only four months and eleven days. How different from that more lengthened and dangerous passage of eight months, and almost perpetual sea-sickness, in which my poor dear sister Emma went to Bengal, to become the wife of the best of husbands and the mother of the dearest of little boys, and to enjoy these inestimable blessings for so brief an interval! She has quitted this wicked and wretched world for one where all is peace. The misery and ill-treatment which she endured from Captain Case her first odious husband, were, I am sure, amply repaid, my dear Colonel, by your subsequent affection. If the most sumptuous dresses which London, even Paris, could supply, jewellery the most costly, and elegant lace, and everything lovely and fashionable, could content a woman, these, I am sure, during the last four years of her life, the poor girl had. Of what avail are they when this scene of vanity is closed?

“Mr. Sneid announces that the passage was most favourable. They stayed a week at the Cape, and three days at St. Helena, where they visited Bonaparte’s tomb (another instance of the vanity of all things!), and their voyage was enlivened off Ascension by the taking of some delicious turtle!

“You may be sure that the most liberal sum which you have placed to my credit with the Messrs. Hobson and Co. shall be faithfully expended on my dear little charge. Mrs. Newcome can scarcely be called his grandmamma, I suppose; and I daresay her Methodistical ladyship will not care to see the daughter and grandson of a clergyman of the Church of England! My brother Charles took leave to wait upon her when he presented your last most generous bill at the bank. She received him most rudely, and said a fool and his money are soon parted; and when Charles said, ‘Madam, I am the brother of the late Mrs. Major Newcome,’ ‘Sir,’ says she, ‘I judge nobody; but from all accounts, you are the brother of a very vain, idle, thoughtless, extravagant woman; and Thomas Newcome was as foolish about his wife as about his money.’ Of course, unless Mrs. N. writes to invite dear Clive, I shall not think of sending him to Clapham.

“It is such hot weather that I cannot wear the beautiful shawl you have sent me, and shall keep it in lavender till next winter! My brother, who thanks you for your continuous bounty, will write next month, and report progress as to his dear pupil. Clive will add a postscript of his own, and I am, my dear Major, with a thousand thanks for your kindness to me, — Your grateful and affectionate Martha Honeyman.”

In a round hand and on lines ruled with pencil:—

“Dearest Papa i am very well i hope you are Very Well. M Sneed brought me in a postchaise i like Mr. Sneed very much. i like Aunt Martha i like Hannah. There are no ships here i am your affectionate son Clive Newcome.”

II

Rue St. Dominique, St. Germain, Paris,

Nov. 15, 1820,

“Long separated from the country which was the home of my youth, I carried from her tender recollections, and bear her always a lively gratitude. The Heaven has placed me in a position very different from that in which I knew you. I have been the mother of many children. My husband has recovered a portion of the property which the Revolution tore from us; and France, in returning to its legitimate sovereign, received once more the nobility which accompanied his august house into exile. We, however, preceded His Majesty, more happy than many of our companions. Believing further resistance to be useless; dazzled, perhaps, by the brilliancy of that genius which restored order, submitted Europe, and governed France; M. de Florac, in the first days, was reconciled to the Conqueror of Marengo and Austerlitz, and held a position in his Imperial Court. This submission, at first attributed to infidelity, has subsequently been pardoned to my husband. His sufferings during the Hundred Days made to pardon his adhesion to him who was Emperor. My husband is now an old man. He was of the disastrous campaign of Moscow, as one of the chamberlains of Napoleon. Withdrawn from the world, he gives his time to his feeble health — to his family — to Heaven.

“I have not forgotten a time before those days, when, according to promises given by my father, I became the wife of M. de Florac. Sometimes I have heard of your career. One of my parents, M. de F., who took service in the English India, has entertained me of you; he informed me how yet a young man you won laurels at Argom and Bhartpour; how you escaped to death at Laswari. I have followed them, sir, on the map. I have taken part in your victories and your glory. Ah! I am not so cold, but my heart has trembled for your dangers; not so aged, but I remember the young man who learned from the pupil of Frederick the first rudiments of war. Your great heart, your love of truth, your courage were your own. None had to teach you those qualities, of which a good God had endowed you, My good father is dead since many years. He, too, was permitted to see France before to die.

“I have read in the English journals not only that you are married, but that you have a son. Permit me to send to your wife, to your child, these accompanying tokens of an old friendship. I have seen that Mistress Newcome was widow, and am not sorry of it. My friend, I hope there was not that difference of age between your wife and you that I have known in other unions. I pray the good God to bless yours. I hold you always in my memory. As I write, the past comes back to me. I see a noble young man, who has a soft voice, and brown eyes. I see the Thames, and the smiling plains of Blackheath. I listen and pray at my chamber-door as my father talks to you in our little cabinet of studies. I look from my window, and see you depart.

“My son’s are men: one follows the profession of arms, one has embraced the ecclesiastical state; my daughter is herself a mother. I remember this was your birthday; I have made myself a little fete in celebrating it, after how many years of absence, of silence! Comtesse De Florac.

(Nee L. de Blois.)”

III

“My Dear Thomas — Mr. Sneid, supercargo of the Ramchunder, East Indiaman, handed over to us yesterday your letter, and, today, I have purchased three thousand three hundred and twenty-three pounds 6 and 8d. three per cent Consols, in our joint names (H. and B. Newcome), held for your little boy. Mr. S. gives a very favourable account of the little man, and left him in perfect health two days since, at the house of his aunt, Miss Honeyman. We have placed 200 pounds to that lady’s credit, at your desire.

“Lady Anne is charmed with the present which she received yesterday, and says the white shawl is a great deal too handsome. My mother is also greatly pleased with hers, and has forwarded, by the coach to Brighton, today, a packet of books, tracts, etc., suited for his tender age, for your little boy. She heard of you lately from the Rev. T. Sweatenham on his return from India. He spoke of your kindness — and of the hospitable manner in which you had received him at your house, and alluded to you in a very handsome way in the course of the thanksgiving that evening. I dare say my mother will ask your little boy to the Hermitage; and when we have a house of our own, I am sure Anne and I will be very happy to see him. Yours affectionately, Major Newcome. B. Newcome.”

IV

“My Dear Colonel — Did I not know the generosity of your heart, and the bountiful means which Heaven has put at your disposal in order to gratify that noble disposition; were I not certain that the small sum I required will permanently place me beyond the reach of the difficulties of life, and will infallibly be repaid before six months are over, believe me I never would have ventured upon that bold step which our friendship (carried on epistolarily as it has been), our relationship, and your admirable disposition, have induced me to venture to take.

“That elegant and commodious chapel, known as Lady Whittlesea’s, Denmark Street, Mayfair, being for sale, I have determined on venturing my all in its acquisition, and in laying, as I hope, the foundation of a competence for myself and excellent sister. What is a lodging-house at Brighton but an uncertain maintenance? The mariner on the sea before those cliffs is no more sure of wind and wave, or of fish to his laborious net, than the Brighton house-owner (bred in affluence she may have been, and used to unremitting plenty) to the support of the casual travellers who visit the city. On one day they come in shoals, it is true, but where are they on the next? For many months my poor sister’s first floor was a desert, until occupied by your noble little boy, my nephew and pupil. Clive is everything that a father’s, an uncle’s (who loves him as a father), a pastor’s, a teacher’s affections could desire. He is not one of those premature geniuses whose much-vaunted infantine talents disappear along with adolescence; he is not, I frankly own, more advanced in his classical and mathematical studies than some children even younger than himself; but he has acquired the rudiments of health; he has laid in a store of honesty and good-humour, which are not less likely to advance him in life than mere science and language, than the as in praesenti, or the pons asinorum.

“But I forget, in thinking of my dear little friend and pupil, the subject of this letter — namely, the acquisition of the proprietary chapel to which I have alluded, and the hopes, nay, certainty of a fortune, if aught below is certain, which that acquisition holds out. What is a curacy, but a synonym for starvation? If we accuse the Eremites of old of wasting their lives in unprofitable wildernesses, what shall we say to many a hermit of Protestant, and so-called civilised times, who hides his head in a solitude in Yorkshire, and buries his probably fine talents in a Lincolnshire fen? Have I genius? Am I blessed with gifts of eloquence to thrill and soothe, to arouse the sluggish, to terrify the sinful, to cheer and convince the timid, to lead the blind groping in darkness, and to trample the audacious sceptic in the dust? My own conscience, besides a hundred testimonials from places of popular, most popular worship, from reverend prelates, from distinguished clergy, tells me I have these gifts. A voice within me cries, ‘Go forth, Charles Honeyman, fight the good fight; wipe the tears of the repentant sinner; sing of hope to the agonised criminal; whisper courage, brother, courage, at the ghastly deathbed, and strike down the infidel with the lance of evidence and the shield of reason!’ In a pecuniary point of view I am confident, nay, the calculations may be established as irresistibly as an algebraic equation, that I can realise, as incumbent of Lady Whittlesea’s chapel, the sum of not less than one thousand pounds per annum. Such a sum, with economy (and without it what sum were sufficient?), will enable me to provide amply for my wants, to discharge my obligations to you, to my sister, and some other creditors, very, very unlike you, and to place Miss Honeyman in a home more worthy of her than that which she now occupies, only to vacate it at the beck of every passing stranger!

“My sister does not disapprove of my plan, into which enter some modifications which I have not, as yet, submitted to her, being anxious at first that they should be sanctioned by you. From the income of the Whittlesea chapel I propose to allow Miss Honeyman the sum of two hundred pounds per annum, paid quarterly. This, with her private property, which she has kept more thriftily than her unfortunate and confiding brother guarded his (for whenever I had a guinea a tale of distress would melt it into half a sovereign), will enable Miss Honeyman to live in a way becoming my father’s daughter.

“Comforted with this provision as my sister will be, I would suggest that our dearest young Clive should be transferred from her petticoat government, and given up to the care of his affectionate uncle and tutor. His present allowance will most liberally suffice for his expenses, board, lodging, and education while under my roof, and I shall be able to exert a paternal, a pastoral influence over his studies, his conduct, and his highest welfare, which I cannot so conveniently exercise at Brighton, where I am but Miss Honeyman’s stipendiary, and where I often have to submit in cases where I know, for dearest Clive’s own welfare, it is I, and not my sister, should be paramount.

“I have given then to a friend, the Rev. Marcus Flather a draft for two hundred and fifty pounds sterling, drawn upon you at your agent’s in Calcutta, which sum will go in liquidation of dear Clive’s first year’s board with me, or, upon my word of honour as a gentleman and clergyman, shall be paid back at three months after sight, if you will draw upon me. As I never — no, were it my last penny in the world — would dishonour your draft, I implore you, my dear Colonel, not to refuse mine. My credit in this city, where credit is everything, and the awful future so little thought of, my engagements to Mr. Flather, my own prospects in life, and the comfort of my dear sister’s declining years, all — all depend upon this bold, this eventful measure. My ruin or my earthly happiness lies entirely in your hands. Can I doubt which way your kind heart will lead you, and that you will come to the aid of your affectionate brother-inlaw? Charles Honeyman.”

“Our little Clive has been to London on a visit to his uncles and to the Hermitage, Clapham, to pay his duty to his step-grandmother, the wealthy Mrs. Newcome. I pass over words disparaging of myself which the child in his artless prattles subsequently narrated. She was very gracious to him, and presented him with a five-pound note, a copy of Kirk White’s Poems, and a work called Little Henry and his Bearer, relating to India, and the excellent Catechism of our Church. Clive is full of humour, and I enclose you a rude scrap representing the Bishopess of Clapham, as she is called — the other figure is a rude though entertaining sketch of some other droll personage.

“Lieutenant-Colonel Newcome, etc.”

V

“My Dear Colonel; — The Rev. Marcus Flather has just written me a letter at which I am greatly shocked and perplexed, informing me that my brother Charles has given him a draft upon you for two hundred and fifty pounds, when goodness knows it is not you but we who are many, many hundred pounds debtors to you. Charles has explained that he drew the bill at your desire, that you wrote to say you would be glad to serve him in any way, and that the money is wanted to make his fortune. Yet I don’t know — poor Charles is always going to make his fortune and has never done it. That school which he bought, and for which you and me between us paid the purchase-money, turned out no good, and the only pupils left at the end of the first half-year were two woolly-headed poor little mulattos, whose father was in gaol at St. Kitt’s, and whom I kept actually in my own second-floor back room whilst the lawyers were settling things, and Charles was away in France, and until my dearest little Clive came to live with me.

“Then, as he was too small for a great school, I thought Clive could not do better than stay with his old aunt and have his Uncle Charles for a tutor, who is one of the finest scholars in the world. I wish you could hear him in the pulpit. His delivery is grander and more impressive than any divine now in England. His sermons you have subscribed for, and likewise his book of elegant poems, which are pronounced to be very fine.

“When he returned from Calais, and those horrid lawyers had left off worriting him, I thought as his frame was much shattered and he was too weak to take a curacy, that he could not do better than become Clive’s tutor, and agreed to pay him out of your handsome donation of 250 pounds for Clive, a sum of one hundred pounds per year, so that, when the board of the two and Clive’s clothing are taken into consideration, I think you will see that no great profit is left to Miss Martha Honeyman.

“Charles talks to me of his new church in London, and of making me some grand allowance. The poor boy is very affectionate, and always building castles in the air, and of having Clive to live with him in London. Now this mustn’t be, and I won’t hear of it. Charles is too kind to be a schoolmaster, and Master Clive laughs at him. It was only the other day, after his return from his grandmamma’s, regarding which I wrote you, per Burrampooter, the 23rd ult., that I found a picture of Mrs. Newcome and Charles too, and of both their spectacles, quite like. I put it away, but some rogue, I suppose, has stolen it. He has done me and Hannah too. Mr. Speck, the artist, laughed and took it home, and says he is a wonder at drawing.

“Instead, then, of allowing Clive to go with Charles to London next month, where my brother is bent on going, I shall send Clivey to Dr. Timpany’s school, Marine Parade, of which I hear the best account, but I hope you will think of soon sending him to a great school. My father always said it was the best place for boys, and I have a brother to whom my poor mother spared the rod, and who, I fear, has turned out but a spoilt child.

“I am, dear Colonel, your most faithful servant, Martha Honeyman.”

“Lieutenant-Colonel Newcome, C. B.”

VI

“My Dear Brother — I hasten to inform you of a calamity which, though it might be looked for in the course of nature, has occasioned deep grief not only in our family but in this city. This morning, at half-past four o’clock, our beloved and respected mother, Sophia Alethea Newcome, expired, at the advanced age of eighty-three years. On the night of Tuesday-Wednesday, the 12-13th, having been engaged reading and writing in her library until a late hour, and having dismissed the servants, whom she never would allow to sit up for her, as well as my brother and his wife, who always are in the habit of retiring early, Mrs. Newcome extinguished the lamps, took a bedchamber candle to return to her room, and must have fallen on the landing, where she was discovered by the maids, sitting with her head reclining against the balustrades, and endeavouring to staunch a wound in her forehead, which was bleeding profusely, having struck in a fall against the stone step of the stair.

“When Mrs. Newcome was found she was speechless, but still sensible, and medical aid being sent for, she was carried to bed. Mr. Newcome and Lady Anne both hurried to her apartment, and she knew them, and took the hands of each, but paralysis had probably ensued in consequence of the shock of the fall; nor was her voice ever heard, except in inarticulate moanings, since the hour on the previous evening when she gave them her blessing and bade them good-night. Thus perished this good and excellent woman, the truest Christian, the most charitable friend to the poor and needful, the head of this great house of business, the best and most affectionate of mothers.

“The contents of her will have long been known to us, and that document was dated one month after our lamented father’s death. Mr. Thomas Newcome’s property being divided equally amongst his three sons, the property of his second wife naturally devolves upon her own issue, my brother Brian and myself. There are very heavy legacies to servants and to charitable and religious institutions, of which, in life, she was the munificent patroness; and I regret, my dear brother, that no memorial to you should have been left by my mother, because she often spoke of you latterly in terms of affection, and on the very day on which she died, commenced a letter to your little boy, which was left unfinished on the library table. My brother said that on that same day, at breakfast, she pointed to a volume of Orme’s Hindostan, the book, she said, which set poor dear Tom wild to go to India, I know you will be pleased to hear of these proofs of returning goodwill and affection in one who often spoke latterly of her early regard for you. I have no more time, under the weight of business which this present affliction entails, than to say that I am yours, dear brother, very sincerely, H. Newcome.”

“Lieutenant-Colonel Newcome, etc.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter3.html

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