The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLIII

Returns to some Old Friends

The haggard youth burst into my chambers, in the Temple, on the very next morning, and confided to me the story which has been just here narrated. When he had concluded it, with many ejaculations regarding the heroine of the tale, “I saw her, sir,” he added, “walking with the children and Miss Cann as I drove round in the fly to the station — and didn’t even bow to her.”

“Why did you go round by the cliff?” asked Clive’s friend.

“That is not the way from the Steyne Arms to the railroad.”

“Hang it,” says Clive, turning very red, “I wanted to pass just under her windows, and if I saw her, not to see her: and that’s what I did.”

“Why did she walk on the cliff?” mused Clive’s friend, “at that early hour? Not to meet Lord Farintosh, I should think, he never gets up before twelve. It must have been to see you. Didn’t you tell her you were going away in the morning?”

“I tell you what she does with me,” continues Mr. Clive. “Sometimes she seems to like me, and then she leaves me. Sometimes she is quite kind — kind she always is — I mean, you know, Pen — you know what I mean; and then up comes the old Countess, or a young Marquis, or some fellow with a handle to his name, and she whistles me off till the next convenient opportunity.”

“Women are like that, my ingenuous youth,” says Clive’s counsellor.

“I won’t stand it. I won’t be made a fool of!” he continues. “She seems to expect everybody to bow to her, and moves through the world with her imperious airs. Oh, how confoundedly handsome she is with them! I tell you what. I feel inclined to tumble down and feel one of her pretty little feet on my neck and say, There! Trample my life out. Make a slave of me. Let me get a silver collar and mark ‘Ethel’ on it, and go through the world with my badge.”

“And a blue ribbon for a footman to hold you by; and a muzzle to wear in the dog-days. Bow! wow!” says Mr. Pendennis.

(At this noise Mr. Warrington puts his head in from the neighbouring bedchamber, and shows a beard just lathered for shaving. “We are talking sentiment! Go back till you are wanted!” says Mr. Pendennis. Exit he of the soap-suds.)

“Don’t make fun of a fellow,” Clive continues, laughing ruefully. “You see I must talk about it to somebody. I shall die if I don’t. Sometimes, sir, I rise up in my might and I defy her lightning. The sarcastic dodge is the best: I have borrowed that from you Pen, old boy. That puzzles her: that would beat her if I could but go on with it. But there comes a tone of her sweet voice, a look out of those killing grey eyes, and all my frame is in a thrill and a tremble. When she was engaged to Lord Kew I did battle with the confounded passion — and I ran away from it like an honest man, and the gods rewarded me with ease of mind after a while. But now the thing rages worse than ever. Last night, I give you my honour, I heard every one of the confounded hurs toll, except the last, when I was dreaming of my father, and the chambermaid woke me with a hot water jug.”

“Did she scald you? What a cruel chambermaid! I see you have shaven the mustachios off.”

“Farintosh asked me whether I was going in the army,” said Clive, “and she laughed. I thought I had best dock them. Oh, I would like to cut my head off as well as my hair!”

“Have you ever asked her to marry you?” asked Clive’s friend.

“I have seen her but five times since my return from abroad,” the lad went on; “there has been always somebody by. Who am I? a painter with five hundred a year for an allowance. Isn’t she used to walk up on velvet and dine upon silver; and hasn’t she got marquises and barons, and all sorts of swells, in her train? I daren’t ask her ——”

Here his friend hummed Montrose’s lines —“He either fears his fate too much, or his desert is small, who dares not put it to the touch, and win or lose it all.”

“I own I dare not ask her. If she were to refuse me, I know I should never ask again. This isn’t the moment, when all Swelldom is at her feet, for me to come forward and say, ‘Maiden, I have watched thee daily, and I think thou lovest me well.’ I read that ballad to her at Baden, sir. I drew a picture of the Lord of Burleigh wooing the maiden, and asked what she would have done?”

“Oh, you did? I thought, when we were at Baden, we were so modest that we did not even whisper our condition?”

“A fellow can’t help letting it be seen and hinting it,” says Clive, with another blush. “They can read it in our looks fast enough; and what is going on in our minds, hang them! I recollect she said, in her grave, cool way, that after all the Lord and Lady of Burleigh did not seem to have made a very good marriage, and that the lady would have been much happier in marrying one of her own degree.”

“That was a very prudent saying for a young lady of eighteen,” remarks Clive’s friend.

“Yes; but it was not an unkind one. Say Ethel thought — thought what was the case; and being engaged herself, and knowing how friends of mine had provided a very pretty little partner for me — she is a dear, good little girl, little Rosey; and twice as good, Pen, when her mother is away — knowing this and that, I say, suppose Ethel wanted to give me a hint to keep quiet, was she not right in the counsel she gave me? She is not fit to be a poor man’s wife. Fancy Ethel Newcome going into the kitchen and making pies like Aunt Honeyman!”

“The Circassian beauties don’t sell under so many thousand purses,” remarked Mr. Pendennis. “If there’s a beauty in a well-regulated Georgian family, they fatten her; they feed her with the best Racahout des Arabes. They give her silk robes, and perfumed baths; have her taught to play on the dulcimer and dance and sing; and when she is quite perfect, send her down to Constantinople for the Sultan’s inspection. The rest of the family think never of grumbling, but eat coarse meat, bathe in the river, wear old clothes, and praise Allah for their sister’s elevation. Bah! Do you suppose the Turkish system doesn’t obtain all over the world? My poor Clive, this article in the Mayfair Market is beyond your worship’s price. Some things in this world are made for our betters, young man. Let Dives say grace for his dinner, and the dogs and Lazarus be thankful for the crumbs. Here comes Warrington, shaven and smart as if he was going out a-courting.”

Thus it will be seen, that in his communication with certain friends who approached nearer to his own time of life, Clive was much more eloquent and rhapsodical than in the letter which he wrote to his father, regarding his passion for Miss Ethel. He celebrated her with pencil and pen. He was for ever drawing the outline of her head, the solemn eyebrow, the nose (that wondrous little nose), descending from the straight forehead, the short upper lip, and chin sweeping in a full curve to the neck, etc. etc. A frequenter of his studio might see a whole gallery of Ethels there represented: when Mrs. Mackenzie visited that place, and remarked one face and figure repeated on a hundred canvases and papers, grey, white, and brown, I believe she was told that the original was a famous Roman model, from whom Clive had studied a great deal during his residence in Italy; on which Mrs. Mack gave it as her opinion that Clive was a sad wicked young fellow. The widow thought rather the better of him for being a sad wicked young fellow; and as for Miss Rosey, she, was of course of mamma’s way of thinking. Rosey went through the world constantly smiling at whatever occurred. She was good-humoured through the dreariest long evenings at the most stupid parties; sate good-humouredly for hours at Shoolbred’s whilst mamma was making purchases; heard good-humouredly those old old stories of her mother’s day after day; bore an hour’s joking or an hour’s scolding with equal good-humour; and whatever had been the occurrences of her simple day, whether there was sunshine or cloudy weather, or flashes of lightning and bursts of rain, I fancy Miss Mackenzie slept after them quite undisturbedly, and was sure to greet the morrow’s dawn with a smile.

Had Clive become more knowing in his travels, had Love or Experience opened his eyes, that they looked so differently now upon objects which before used well enough to please them? It is a fact that, until he went abroad, he thought widow Mackenzie a dashing, lively, agreeable woman: he used to receive her stories about Cheltenham, the colonies, the balls at Government House, the observations which the bishop made, and the peculiar attention of the Chief Justice to Mrs. Major M’Shane, with the Major’s uneasy behaviour — all these to hear at one time did Clive not ungraciously incline. “Our friend, Mrs. Mack,” the good old Colonel used to say, “is a clever woman of the world, and has seen a great deal of company.” That story of Sir Thomas Sadman dropping a pocket-handkerchief in his court at Colombo, which the Queen’s Advocate O’Goggarty picked up, and on which Laura MacS. was embroidered, whilst the Major was absolutely in the witness-box giving evidence against a native servant who had stolen one of his cocked-hats — that story always made good Thomas Newcome laugh, and Clive used to enjoy it too, and the widow’s mischievous fun in narrating it; and now, behold, one day when Mrs. Mackenzie recounted the anecdote in her best manner to Messrs. Pendennis and Warrington, and Frederick Bayham, who had been invited to meet Mr. Clive in Fitzroy Square — when Mr. Binnie chuckled, when Rosey, as in duty bound, looked discomposed and said, “Law, mamma!”— not one sign of good-humour, not one ghost of a smile, made its apparition on Clive’s dreary face. He painted imaginary portraits with a strawberry stalk; he looked into his water-glass as though he would plunge and drown there; and Bayham had to remind him that the claret jug was anxious to have another embrace from its constant friend, F. B. When Mrs. Mack went away distributing smiles, Clive groaned out, “Good heavens! how that story does bore me!” and lapsed into his former moodiness, not giving so much as a glance to Rosey, whose sweet face looked at him kindly for a moment, as she followed in the wake of her mamma.

“The mother’s the woman for my money,” I heard F. B. whisper to Warrington. “Splendid figure-head, sir — magnificent build, sir, from bows to stern — I like ’em of that sort. Thank you, Mr. Binnie, I will take a back-hander, as Clive don’t seem to drink. The youth, sir, has grown melancholy with his travels; I’m inclined to think some noble Roman has stolen the young man’s heart. Why did you not send us over a picture of the charmer, Clive? Young Ridley, Mr. Binnie, you will be happy to hear, is bidding fair to take a distinguished place in the world of arts. His picture has been greatly admired; and my good friend Mrs. Ridley tells me that Lord Todmorden has sent him over an order to paint him a couple of pictures at a hundred guineas apiece.”

“I should think so. J. J.‘s pictures will be worth five times a hundred guineas ere five years are over,” says Clive.

“In that case it wouldn’t be a bad speculation for our friend Sherrick,” remarked F. B., “to purchase a few of the young man’s works. I would, only I haven’t the capital to spare. Mine has been vested in an Odessa venture, sir, in a large amount of wild oats, which up to the present moment make me no return. But it will always be a consolation to me to think that I have been the means — the humble means — of furthering that deserving young man’s prospects in life.”

“You, F. B.! and how?” we asked.

“By certain humble contributions of mine to the press,” answered Bayham, majestically. “Mr. Warrington, the claret happens to stand with you; and exercise does it good, sir. Yes, the articles, trifling as they may appear, have attracted notice,” continued F. B., sipping his wine with great gusto. “They are noticed, Pendennis, give me leave to say, by parties who don’t value so much the literary or even the political part of the Pall Mall Gazette, though both, I am told by those who read them, are conducted with considerable — consummate ability. John Ridley sent a hundred pounds over to his father, the other day, who funded it in his son’s name. And Ridley told the story to Lord Todmorden, when the venerable nobleman congratulated him on having such a child. I wish F. B. had one of the same sort, sir.” In which sweet prayer we all of us joined with a laugh.

One of us had told Mrs. Mackenzie (let the criminal blush to own that quizzing his fellow-creatures used at one time to form part of his youthful amusement) that F. B. was the son of a gentleman of most ancient family and vast landed possessions, and as Bayham was particularly attentive to the widow, and grandiloquent in his remarks, she was greatly pleased by his politeness, and pronounced him a most distinque man — reminding her, indeed, of General Hopkirk, who commanded in Canada. And she bade Rosey sing for Mr. Bayham, who was in a rapture at the young lady’s performances, and said no wonder such an accomplished daughter came from such a mother, though how such a mother could have a daughter of such an age he, F. B., was at a loss to understand. Oh, sir! Mrs. Mackenzie was charmed and overcome at this novel compliment. Meanwhile the little artless Rosey warbled on her pretty ditties.

“It is a wonder,” growled out Mr. Warrington, “that that sweet girl can belong to such a woman. I don’t understand much about women, but that one appears to me to be — hum!”

“What, George?” asked Warrington’s friend.

“Well, an ogling, leering, scheming, artful old campaigner,” grumbled the misogynist. “As for the little girl, I should like to have her to sing to me all night long. Depend upon it she would make a much better wife for Clive than that fashionable cousin of his he is hankering after. I heard him bellowing about her the other day in chambers, as I was dressing. What the deuce does the boy want with a wife at all?” And Rosey’s song being by this time finished, Warrington went up with a blushing face and absolutely paid a compliment to Miss Mackenzie — an almost unheard-of effort on George’s part.

“I wonder whether it is every young fellow’s lot,” quoth George, as we trudged home together, “to pawn his heart away to some girl that’s not worth the winning? Psha! it’s all mad rubbish this sentiment. The women ought not to be allowed to interfere with us: married if a man must be, a suitable wife should be portioned out to him, and there an end of it. Why doesn’t the young man marry this girl, and get back to his business and paint his pictures? Because his father wishes it — and the old Nabob yonder, who seems a kindly-disposed, easy-going, old heathen philosopher. Here’s a pretty little girl: money I suppose in sufficiency — everything satisfactory, except, I grant you, the campaigner. The lad might daub his canvases, christen a child a year, and be as happy as any young donkey that browses on this common of ours — but he must go and heehaw after a zebra forsooth! a lusus naturae is she! I never spoke to a woman of fashion, thank my stars — I don’t know the nature of the beast; and since I went to our race-balls, as a boy, scarcely ever saw one; as I don’t frequent operas and parties in London like you young flunkeys of the aristocracy. I heard you talking about this one; I couldn’t help it, as my door was open and the young one was shouting like a madman. What! does he choose to hang on on sufferance and hope to be taken, provided Miss can get no better? Do you mean to say that is the genteel custom, and that women in your confounded society do such things every day? Rather than have such a creature I would take a savage woman, who should nurse my dusky brood; and rather than have a daughter brought up to the trade I would bring her down from the woods and sell her in Virginia.” With which burst of indignation our friend’s anger ended for that night.

Though Mr. Clive had the felicity to meet his cousin Ethel at a party or two in the ensuing weeks of the season, every time he perused the features of Lady Kew’s brass knocker in Queen Street, no result came of the visit. At one of their meetings in the world Ethel fairly told him that her grandmother would not receive him. “You know, Clive, I can’t help myself: nor would it be proper to make you signs out of the window. But you must call for all that: grandmamma may become more good-humoured: or if you don’t come she may suspect I told you not to come: and to battle with her day after day is no pleasure, sir, I assure you. Here is Lord Farintosh coming to take me to dance. You must not speak to me all the evening, mind that, sir,” and away goes the young lady in a waltz with the Marquis.

On the same evening — as he was biting his nails, or cursing his fate, or wishing to invite Lord Farintosh into the neighbouring garden of Berkeley Square, whence the policeman might carry to the station-house the corpse of the survivor — Lady Kew would bow to him with perfect graciousness; on other nights her ladyship would pass and no more recognise him than the servant who opened the door.

If she was not to see him at her grandmother’s house, and was not particularly unhappy at his exclusion, why did Miss Newcome encourage Mr. Clive so that he should try and see her? If Clive could not get into the little house in Queen Street, why was Lord Farintosh’s enormous cab-horse looking daily into the first-floor windows of that street? Why were little quiet dinners made for him, before the opera, before going to the play, upon a half-dozen occasions, when some of the old old Kew port was brought out of the cellar, where cobwebs had gathered round it ere Farintosh was born? The dining-room was so tiny that not more than five people could sit at the little round table: that is, not more than Lady Kew and her granddaughter, Miss Crochet, the late vicar’s daughter, at Kewbury, one of the Miss Toadins, and Captain Walleye, or Tommy Henchman, Farintosh’s kinsman, and admirer, who were of no consequence, or old Fred Tiddler, whose wife was an invalid, and who was always ready at a moment’s notice? Crackthorpe once went to one of these dinners, but that young soldier being a frank and high-spirited youth, abused the entertainment and declined more of them. “I tell you what I was wanted for,” the Captain told his mess and Clive at the Regent’s Park barracks afterwards, “I was expected to go as Farintosh’s Groom of the Stole, don’t you know, to stand, or if I could sit, in the back seat of the box, whilst his Royal Highness made talk with the Beauty; to go out and fetch the carriage, and walk downstairs with that d ——— crooked old dowager, that looks as if she usually rode on a broomstick, by Jove, or else with that bony old painted sheep-faced companion, who’s raddled like an old bell-wether. I think, Newcome, you seem rather hit by the Belle Cousine — so was I last season; so were ever so many of the fellows. By Jove, sir! there’s nothing I know more comfortable or inspiritin’ than a younger son’s position, when a marquis cuts in with fifteen thousand a year! We fancy we’ve been making running, and suddenly we find ourselves nowhere. Miss Mary, or Miss Lucy, or Miss Ethel, saving your presence, will no more look at us, than my dog will look at a bit of bread, when I offer her this cutlet. Will you — old woman! no, you old slut, that you won’t!” (to Mag, an Isle of Skye terrier, who, in fact, prefers the cutlet, having snuffed disdainfully at the bread)—“that you won’t, no more than any of your sex. Why, do you suppose, if Jack’s eldest brother had been dead — Barebones Belsize they used to call him (I don’t believe he was a bad fellow, though he was fond of psalm-singing)— do you suppose that Lady Clara would have looked at that cock-tail Barney Newcome? Beg your pardon, if he’s your cousin — but a more odious little snob I never saw.”

“I give you up Barnes,” said Clive, laughing; “anybody may shy at him and I shan’t interfere.”

“I understand, but at nobody else of the family. Well, what I mean is, that that old woman is enough to spoil any young girl she takes in hand. She dries ’em up, and poisons ’em, sir; and I was never more glad than when I heard that Kew had got out of her old clutches. Frank is a fellow that will always be led by some woman or another; and I’m only glad it should be a good one. They say his mother’s serious, and that; but why shouldn’t she bet?” continues honest Crackthorpe, puffing his cigar with great energy. “They say the old dowager doesn’t believe in God nor devil: but that she’s in such a funk to be left in the dark that she howls, and raises the doose’s own delight if her candle goes out. Toppleton slept next room to her at Groningham, and heard her; didn’t you, Top?”

“Heard her howling like an old cat on the tiles,” says Toppleton — “thought she was at first. My man told me that she used to fling all sorts of things — boot-jacks and things, give you my honour — at her maid, and that the woman was all over black and blue.”

“Capital head that is Newcome has done of Jack Belsize!” says Crackthorpe, from out of his cigar.

“And Kew’s too — famous likeness! I say, Newcome, if you have ’em printed the whole brigade’ll subscribe. Make your fortune, see if you won’t,” cries Toppleton.

“He’s such a heavy swell, he don’t want to make his fortune,” ejaculates Butts.

“Butts, old boy, he’ll paint you for nothing, and send you to the Exhibition, where some widow will fall in love with you, and you shall be put as frontispiece for the ‘Book of Beauty,’ by Jove,” cries another military satirist — to whom Butts:

“You hold your tongue, you old Saracen’s Head; they’re going to have you done on the bear’s-grease pots. I say, I suppose Jack’s all right now. When did he write to you last, Cracky?”

“He wrote from Palermo — a most jolly letter from him and Kew. He hasn’t touched a card for nine months; is going to give up play. So is Frank, too, grown quite a good boy. So will you, too, Butts, you old miscreant, repent of your sins, pay your debts, and do something handsome for that poor deluded milliner in Albany Street. Jack says Kew’s mother has written over to Lord Highgate a beautiful letter — and the old boy’s relenting, and they’ll come together again — Jack’s eldest son now, you know. Bore for Lady Susan only having girls.”

“Not a bore for Jack, though,” cries another. And what a good fellow Jack was; and what a trump Kew is; how famously he stuck by him: went to see him in prison and paid him out! and what good fellows we all are, in general, became the subject of the conversation, the latter part of which took place in the smoking-room of the Regent’s Park Barracks, then occupied by that regiment of Life Guards of which Lord Kew and Mr. Belsize had been members. Both were still fondly remembered by their companions; and it was because Belsize had spoken very warmly of Clive’s friendliness to him that Jack’s friend the gallant Crackthorpe had been interested in our hero, and found an opportunity of making his acquaintance.

With these frank and pleasant young men Clive soon formed a considerable intimacy: and if any of his older and peaceful friends chanced to take their afternoon airing in the Park, and survey the horsemen there, we might have the pleasure of beholding Mr. Newcome in Rotten Row, riding side by side with other dandies who had mustachios blonde or jet, who wore flowers in their buttons (themselves being flowers of spring), who rode magnificent thoroughbred horses, scarcely touching their stirrups with the tips of their varnished boots, and who kissed the most beautiful primrose-coloured kid gloves to lovely ladies passing them in the Ride. Clive drew portraits of half the officers of the Life Guards Green; and was appointed painter in ordinary to that distinguished corps. His likeness of the Colonel would make you die with laughing: his picture of the Surgeon was voted a masterpiece. He drew the men in the saddle, in the stable, in their flannel dresses, sweeping their flashing swords about, receiving lancers, repelling infantry — nay, cutting — a sheep in two, as some of the warriors are known to be able to do at one stroke. Detachments of Life Guardsmen made their appearance in Charlotte Street, which was not very distant from their barracks; the most splendid cabs were seen prancing before his door; and curly-whiskered youths, of aristocratic appearance, smoking cigars out of his painting-room window. How many times did Clive’s next-door neighbour, little Mr Finch, the miniature-painter, run to peep through his parlour blinds, hoping that a sitter was coming, and “a carriage-party” driving up! What wrath Mr. Scowler, A.R.A., was in, because a young hop-o’-my-thumb dandy, who wore gold chains and his collars turned down, should spoil the trade and draw portraits for nothing! Why did none of the young men come to Scowler? Scowler was obliged to own that Mr. Newcome had considerable talent, and a good knack at catching a likeness. He could not paint a bit, to be sure, but his heads in black-and-white were really tolerable; his sketches of horses very vigorous and lifelike. Mr. Gandish said if Clive would come for three or four years into his academy he could make something of him. Mr. Smee shook his head, and said he was afraid, that kind of loose, desultory study, that keeping of aristocratic company, was anything but favourable to a young artist — Smee, who would walk five miles to attend an evening party of ever so little a great man!

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