The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLVII

Contains two or three Acts of a Little Comedy

All this story is told by one, who, if he was not actually present at the circumstances here narrated, yet had information concerning them, and could supply such a narrative of facts and conversations as is, indeed, not less authentic than the details we have of other histories. How can I tell the feelings in a young lady’s mind; the thoughts in a young gentleman’s bosom? — As Professor Owen or Professor Agassiz takes a fragment of a bone, and builds an enormous forgotten monster out of it, wallowing in primeval quagmires, tearing down leaves and branches of plants that flourished thousands of years ago, and perhaps may be coal by this time — so the novelist puts this and that together: from the footprint finds the foot; from the foot, the brute who trod on it; from the brute, the plant he browsed on, the marsh in which he swam — and thus in his humble way a physiologist too, depicts the habits, size, appearance of the beings whereof he has to treat; — traces this slimy reptile through the mud, and describes his habits filthy and rapacious; prods down this butterfly with a pin, and depicts his beautiful coat and embroidered waistcoat; points out the singular structure of yonder more important animal, the megatherium of his history.

Suppose then, in the quaint old garden of the Hotel de Florac, two young people are walking up and down in an avenue of lime-trees, which are still permitted to grow in that ancient place. In the centre of that avenue is a fountain, surmounted by a Triton so grey and moss-eaten, that though he holds his conch to his swelling lips, curling his tail in the arid basin, his instrument has had a sinecure for at least fifty years; and did not think fit even to play when the Bourbons, in whose time he was erected, came back from their exile. At the end of the lime-tree avenue is a broken-nosed damp Faun, with a marble panpipe, who pipes to the spirit ditties which I believe never had any tune. The perron of the hotel is at the other end of the avenue; a couple of Caesars on either side of the door-window, from which the inhabitants of the hotel issue into the garden — Caracalla frowning over his mouldy shoulder at Nerva, on to whose clipped hair the roofs of the grey chateau have been dribbling for ever so many long years. There are more statues gracing this noble place. There is Cupid, who has been at the point of kissing Psyche this half-century at least, though the delicious event has never come off, through all those blazing summers and dreary winters: there is Venus and her Boy under the damp little dome of a cracked old temple. Through the alley of this old garden, in which their ancestors have disported in hoops and powder, Monsieur de Florac’s chair is wheeled by St. Jean, his attendant; Madame de Preville’s children trot about, and skip, and play at cache-cache. The R. P. de Florac (when at home) paces up and down and meditates his sermons; Madame de Florac sadly walks sometimes to look at her roses; and Clive and Ethel Newcome are marching up and down; the children, and their bonne of course being there, jumping to and fro; and Madame de Florac, having just been called away to Monsieur le Comte, whose physician has come to see him.

Ethel says, “How charming and odd this solitude is: and how pleasant to hear the voices of the children playing in the neighbouring Convent garden,” of which they can see the new chapel rising over the trees.

Clive remarks that “the neighbouring hotel has curiously changed its destination. One of the members of the Directory had it; and, no doubt, in the groves of its garden, Madame Tallien, and Madame Recamier, and Madame Beauharnais have danced under the lamps. Then a Marshal of the Empire inhabited it. Then it was restored to its legitimate owner, Monsieur le Marquis de Bricquabracque, whose descendants, having a lawsuit about the Bricquabracque succession, sold the hotel to the Convent.”

After some talk about nuns, Ethel says, “There were convents in England. She often thinks she would like to retire to one;” and she sighs as if her heart were in that scheme.

Clive, with a laugh, says, “Yes. If you could retire after the season, when you were very weary of the balls, a convent would be very nice. At Rome he had seen San Pietro in Montorio and Sant Onofrio, that delightful old place where Tasso died: people go and make a retreat there. In the ladies’ convents, the ladies do the same thing — and he doubts whether they are much more or less wicked after their retreat, than gentlemen and ladies in England or France.”

Ethel. Why do you sneer at all faith? Why should not a retreat do people good? Do you suppose the world is so satisfactory, that those who are in it never wish for a while to leave it’d (She heaves a sigh and looks down towards a beautiful new dress of many flounces, which Madame de Flouncival, the great milliner, has sent her home that very day.)

Clive. I do not know what the world is, except from afar off. I am like the Peri who looks into Paradise and sees angels within it. I live in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square: which is not within the gates of Paradise. I take the gate to be somewhere in Davies Street, leading out of Oxford Street into Grosvenor Square. There’s another gate in Hay Hill: and another in Bruton Street, Bond ——

Ethel. Don’t be a goose.

Clive. Why not? It is as good to be a goose, as to be a lady — no, a gentleman of fashion. Suppose I were a Viscount, an Earl, a Marquis, a Duke, would you say Goose? No, you would say Swan.

Ethel. Unkind and unjust! — ungenerous to make taunts which common people make: and to repeat to me those silly sarcasms which your low Radical literary friends are always putting in their books! Have I ever made any difference to you? Would I not sooner see you than the fine people? Would I talk with you, or with the young dandies most willingly? Are we not of the same blood, Clive; and of all the grandees I see about, can there be a grander gentleman than your dear old father? You need not squeeze my hand so. — Those little imps are look — that has nothing to do with the question. Viens, Leonore! Tu connois bien, monsieur, n’est-ce pas? qui te fait de si jolis dessins?

Leonore. Ah, oui! Vous m’en ferez toujours, n’est-ce pas Monsieur Clive? des chevaux, et puis des petites filles avec leurs gouvernantes, et puis des maisons — et puis — et puis des maisons encore — ou est bonne maman?

[Exit little LEONORE down an alley.

Ethel. Do you remember when we were children, and you used to make drawings for us? I have some now that you did — in my geography book, which I used to read and read with Miss Quigley.

Clive. I remember all about our youth, Ethel.

Ethel. Tell me what you remember?

Clive. I remember one of the days, when I first saw you, I had been reading the Arabian Nights at school — and you came in in a bright dress of shot silk, amber, and blue — and I thought you were like that fairy-princess who came out of the crystal box — because ——

Ethel. Because why?

Clive. Because I always thought that fairy somehow must be the most beautiful creature in all the world — that is “why and because.” Do not make me Mayfair curtsies. You know whether you are good-looking or not: and how long I have thought you so. I remember when I thought I would like to be Ethel’s knight, and that if there was anything she would have me do, I would try and achieve it in order to please her. I remember when I was so ignorant I did not know there was any difference in rank between us.

Ethel. Ah, Clive!

Clive. Now it is altered. Now I know the difference between a poor painter and a young lady of the world. Why haven’t I a title and a great fortune? Why did I ever see you, Ethel; or, knowing the distance which it seems fate has placed between us, why have I seen you again?

Ethel (innocently). Have I ever made any difference between us? Whenever I may see you, am I not too glad? Don’t I see you sometimes when I should not — no — I do not say when I should not; but when others, whom I am bound to obey, forbid me? What harm is there in my remembering old days? Why should I be ashamed of our relationship? — no, not ashamed — shy should I forget it? Don’t do that, sir; we have shaken hands twice already. Leonore! Xavier!

Clive. At one moment you like me: and at the next you seem to repent it. One day you seem happy when I come; and another day you are ashamed of me. Last Tuesday, when you came with those fine ladies to the Louvre, you seemed to blush when you saw me copying at my picture; and that stupid young lord looked quite alarmed because you spoke to me. My lot in life is not very brilliant; but I would not change it against that young man’s — no, not with all his chances.

Ethel. What do you mean with all his chances?

Clive. You know very well. I mean I would not be as selfish or as dull, or as ill educated — I won’t say worse of him — not to be as handsome, or as wealthy, or as noble as he is. I swear I would not now change my place against his, or give up being Clive Newcome to be my Lord Marquis of Farintosh, with all his acres and titles of nobility.

Ethel. Why are you for ever harping about Lord Farintosh and his titles? I thought it was only women who were jealous — you gentlemen say so. — (Hurriedly.) I am going to-night with grandmamma to the Minister of the Interior, and then to the Russian ball; and tomorrow to the Tuileries. We dine at the Embassy first; and on Sunday, I suppose, we shall go to the Rue d’Aguesseau. I can hardly come here before Mon ——. Madam de Florac! Little Leonore is very like you — resembles you very much. My cousin says he longs to make a drawing of her.

Madame de Florac. My husband always likes that I should be present at his dinner. Pardon me, young people, that I have been away from you for a moment.

[Exeunt CLIVE, ETHEL, and Madame DE F. into the house.

CONVERSATION II.-SCENE I

Miss Newcome arrives in Lady Kew’s carriage, which enters the court of the Hotel de Florac.

Saint Jean. Mademoiselle — Madame la Comtesse is gone out but madame has charged me to say, that she will be at home to the dinner of M. le Comte, as to the ordinary.

Miss Newcome. Madame de Preville is at home?

Saint Jean. Pardon me, madame is gone out with M. le Baron, and M. Xavier, and Mademoiselle de Preville. They are gone, miss, I believe, to visit the parents of Monsieur le Baron; of whom it is probably today the fete: for Mademoiselle Leonore carried a bouquet — no doubt for her grandpapa. Will it please mademoiselle to enter? I think Monsieur the Count sounds me. (Bell rings.)

Miss Newcome. Madame la Prince — Madame la Vicomtesse is at home, Monsieur St. Jean?

Saint Jean. I go to call the people of Madame la Vicomtesse.

[Exit Old SAINT JEAN to the carriage: a Lackey comes presently in a gorgeous livery, with buttons like little cheese plates.

The Lackey. The Princess is at home, miss, and will be most appy to see you, miss. (Miss trips up the great stair: a gentleman out of livery has come forth to the landing, and introduces her to the apartments of Madame la Princesse.)

The Lackey to the Servants on the box. Good morning, Thomas. How dy’ do, old Backystopper?

Backystopper. How de do, Jim? I say, you couldn’t give a feller a drink of beer, could yer, Muncontour? It was precious wet last night, I can tell you. ‘Ad to stop for three hours at the Napolitum Embassy, when we was a dancing. Me and some chaps went into Bob Parsom’s and had a drain. Old Cat came out and couldn’t find her carriage, not by no means, could she, Tommy? Blest if I didn’t nearly drive her into a wegetable-cart. I was so uncommon scruey! Who’s this a-hentering at your pot-coshare? Billy, my fine feller!

Clive Newcome (by the most singular coincidence). Madame la Princesse?

Lackey. We, munseer. (He rings a bell: the gentleman in black appears as before on the landing-place up the stair.)

[Exit Clive.

Backystopper. I say, Bill: is that young chap often a-coming about here? They’d run pretty in a curricle, wouldn’t they? Miss N. and Master N. Quiet, old woman! Jest look to that mare’s ead, will you, Billy? He’s a fine young feller, that is. He gave me a covering the other night. Whenever I sor him in the Park, he was always riding an ansum hanimal. What is he? They said in our ‘all he was a hartis. I can ‘ardly think that. Why, there used to be a hartis come to our club, and painted two or three of my ‘osses, and my old woman too.

Lackey. There’s hartises and hartises, Backystopper. Why, there’s some on ’em comes here with more stars on their coats than Dukes has got. Have you never ‘eard of Mossyer Verny, or Mossyer Gudang?

Backystopper. They say this young gent is sweet on Miss N.; which, I guess, I wish he may git it.

Tommy. He! he! he!

Backystopper. Brayvo, Tommy. Tom ain’t much of a man for conversation, but he’s a precious one to drink. Do you think the young gent is sweet on her, Tommy? I sor him often prowling about our ’ouse in Queen Street, when we was in London.

Tommy. I guess he wasn’t let in in Queen Street. I guess hour little Buttons was very near turned away for saying we was at home to him — I guess a footman’s place is to keep his mouth hopen — no, his heyes hopen — and his mouth shut. (He lapses into silence.)

Lackey. I think Thomis is in love, Thomis is. Who was that young woman I saw you a-dancing of at the Showmier, Thomis? How the young Marquis was a-cuttin’ of it about there! The pleace was obliged to come up and stop him dancing. His man told old Buzfuz upstairs, that the Marquis’s goings on is hawful. Up till four or five every morning; blind hookey, shampaign, the dooce’s own delight. That party have had I don’t know how much in diamonds — and they quarrel and swear at each other, and fling plates: it’s tremendous.

Tommy. Why doesn’t the Marquis man mind his own affairs? He’s a supersellious beast: and will no more speak to a man, except he’s out-a-livery, than he would to a chimbly-swip. He! Cuss him, I’d fight ’im for ‘alf-a-crown.

Lackey. And we’d back you, Tommy. Buzfuz upstairs ain’t supersellious; nor is the Prince’s walet nether. That old Sangjang’s a rum old guvnor. He was in England with the Count, fifty years ago — in the hemigration — in Queen Hann’s time, you know. He used to support the old Count. He says he remembers a young Musseer Newcome then, that used to take lessons from the Shevallier, the Countess’ father — there’s my bell.

[Exit Lackey.

Backystopper. Not a bad chap that. Sports his money very free — sings an uncommon good song.

Thomas. Pretty voice, but no cultiwation.

Lackey (who re-enters). Be here at two o’clock for Miss N. Take anything? Come round the corner. — There’s a capital shop round the corner.

[Exeunt Servants.

SCENE II

Ethel. I can’t think where Madame de Moncontour has gone. How very odd it was that you should come here — that we should both come here today! How surprised I was to see you at the Minister’s! Grandmamma was so angry! “That boy pursues us wherever we go,” she said. I am sure I don’t know why we shouldn’t meet, Clive. It seems to be wrong even my seeing you by chance here. Do you know, sir, what a scolding I had about — about going to Brighton with you? My grandmother did not hear of it till we were in Scotland, when that foolish maid of mine talked of it to her maid; and, there was oh, such a tempest! If there were a Bastile here, she would like to lock you into it. She says that you are always upon our way — I don’t know how, I am sure. She says, but for you I should have been — you know what I should have been: but I am thankful that I wasn’t, and Kew has got a much nicer wife in Henrietta Pulleyn, than I could ever have been to him. She will be happier than Clara, Clive. Kew is one of the kindest creatures in the world — not very wise; not very strong: but he is just such a kind, easy, generous little man, as will make a girl like Henrietta quite happy.

Clive. But not you, Ethel?

Ethel. No, nor I him. My temper is difficult, Clive, and I fear few men would bear with me. I feel, somehow, always very lonely. How old am I? Twenty — I feel sometimes as if I was a hundred; and in the midst of all these admirations and fetes and flatteries, so tired, oh, so tired! And yet if I don’t have them, I miss them. How I wish I was religious like Madame de Florac: there is no day that she does not go to church. She is for ever busy with charities, clergymen, conversions; I think the Princess will be brought over ere long — that dear old Madame de Florac! and yet she is no happier than the rest of us. Hortense is an empty little thing, who thinks of her prosy fat Camille with spectacles, and of her two children, and of nothing else in the world besides. Who is happy? Clive!

Clive. You say Barnes’s wife is not.

Ethel. We are like brother and sister, so I may talk to you. Barnes is very cruel to her. At Newcome, last winter, poor Clara used to come into my room with tears in her eyes morning after morning. He calls her a fool; and seems to take a pride in humiliating her before company. My poor father has luckily taken a great liking to her: and before him, for he has grown very very hot-tempered since his illness, Barnes leaves poor Clara alone. We were in hopes that the baby might make matters better, but as it is a little girl, Barnes chooses to be very much disappointed. He wants papa to give up his seat in Parliament, but he clings to that more than anything. Oh, dear me! who is happy in the world? What a pity Lord Highgate’s father had not died sooner! He and Barnes have been reconciled. I wonder my brother’s spirit did not revolt against it. The old lord used to keep a great sum of money at the bank, I believe: and the present one does so still: he has paid all his debts off: and Barnes is actually friends with him. He is always abusing the Dorkings, who want to borrow money from the bank, he says. This eagerness for money is horrible. If I had been Barnes I would never have been reconciled with Mr. Belsize, never, never! And yet they say he was quite right: and grandmamma is even pleased that Lord Highgate should be asked to dine in Park Lane. Poor papa is there: come to attend his parliamentary duties as he thinks. He went to a division the other night; and was actually lifted out of his carriage and wheeled into the lobby in a chair. The ministers thanked him for coming. I believe he thinks he will have his peerage yet. Oh, what a life of vanity ours is!

Enter Madame de Moncontour. What are you young folks a-talkin’ about — balls and operas? When first I was took to the opera I did not like it — and fell asleep. But now, oh, it’s ‘eavenly to hear Grisi sing!

The Clock. Ting, ting!

Ethel. Two o’clock already! I must run back to grandmamma. Good-bye, Madame de Moncontour; I am so sorry I have not been able to see dear Madame de Florac. I will try and come to her on Thursday — please tell her. Shall we meet you at the American minister’s to-night, or at Madame de Brie’s tomorrow? Friday is your own night — I hope grandmamma will bring me. How charming your last music was! Good-bye, mon cousin! You shall not come downstairs with me, I insist upon it, sir: and had much best remain here, and finish your drawing of Madame de Moncontour.

Princess. I’ve put on the velvet, you see, Clive — though it’s very ‘ot in May. Good-bye, my dear.

[Exit ETHEL

As far as we can judge from the above conversation, which we need not prolong — as the talk between Madame de Moncontour and Monsieur Clive, after a few complimentary remarks about Ethel, had nothing to do with the history of the Newcomes — as far as we can judge, the above little colloquy took place on Monday: and about Wednesday, Madame la Comtesse de Florac received a little note from Clive, in which he said, that one day when she came to the Louvre, where he was copying, she had admired a picture of a Virgin and Child, by Sasso Ferrato, since when he had been occupied in making a water-colour drawing after the picture, and hoped she would be pleased to accept the copy from her affectionate and grateful servant, Clive Newcome. The drawing would be done the next day, when he would call with it in his hand. Of course Madame de Florac received this announcement very kindly; and sent back by Clive’s servant a note of thanks to that young gentleman.

Now on Thursday morning, about one o’clock, by one of those singular coincidences which, etc. etc., who should come to the Hotel de Florac but Miss Ethel Newcome? Madame la Comtesse was at home, waiting to receive Clive and his picture: but Miss Ethel’s appearance frightened the good lady, so much so that she felt quite guilty at seeing the girl, whose parents might think — I don’t know what they might not think — that Madame de Florac was trying to make a match between the young people. Hence arose the words uttered by the Countess, after a while, in-

CONVERSATION III

Madame de Florac (at work). And so you like to quit the world and to come to our triste old hotel. After today you will find it still more melancholy, my poor child.

Ethel. And why?

Madame de F. Some one who has been here to egager our little meetings will come no more.

Ethel. Is the Abbe de Florac going to quit Paris, madam?

Madame de F. It is not of him that I speak, thou knowest it very well, my daughter. Thou hast seen my poor Clive twice here. He will come once again, and then no more. My conscience reproaches me that I have admitted him at all. But he is like a son to me, and was so confided to me by his father. Five years ago, when we met, after an absence — of how many years! — Colonel Newcome told me what hopes he had cherished for his boy. You know well, my daughter, with whom those hopes were connected. Then he wrote me that family arrangements rendered his plans impossible — that the hand of Miss Newcome was promised elsewhere. When I heard from my son Paul how these negotiations were broken, my heart rejoiced, Ethel, for my friend’s sake. I am an old woman now, who have seen the world, and all sorts of men. Men more brilliant no doubt I have known, but such a heart as his, such a faith as his, such a generosity and simplicity as Thomas Newcome’s — never!

Ethel (smiling). Indeed, dear lady, I think with you.

Madame de F. I understand thy smile, my daughter. I can say to thee, that when we were children almost, I knew thy good uncle. My poor father took the pride of his family into exile with him. Our poverty only made his pride the greater. Even before the emigration a contract had been passed between our family and the Count de Florac. I could not be wanting to the word given by my father. For how many long years have I kept it? But when I see a young girl who may be made the victim — the subject of a marriage of convenience, as I was — my heart pities her. And if I love her, as I love you, I tell her my thoughts. Better poverty, Ethel: better a cell in a convent: than a union without love. Is it written eternally that men are to make slaves of us? Here in France, above all, our fathers sell us every day. And what a society ours is! Thou wilt know this when thou art married. There are some laws so cruel that nature revolts against theme, and breaks them — or we die in keeping them. You smile. I have been nearly fifty years dying — n’est-ce pas? — and am here an old woman, complaining to a young girl. It is because our recollections of youth are always young: and because I have suffered so, that I would spare those I love a like grief. Do you know that the children of those who do not love in marriage seem to bear an hereditary coldness, and do not love their parents as other children do? They witness our differences and our indifferences, hear our recriminations, take one side or the other in our disputes, and are partisans for father or mother. We force ourselves to be hypocrites, and hide our wrongs from them; we speak of a bad father with false praises; we wear feint smiles over our tears, and deceive our children — deceive them, do we? Even from the exercise of that pious deceit there is no woman but suffers in the estimation of her sons. They may shield her as champions against their father’s selfishness or cruelty. In this case, what a war! What a home, where the son sees a tyrant in the father, and in the mother but a trembling victim! I speak not for myself — whatever may have been the course of our long wedded life, I have not to complain of these ignoble storms. But when the family chief neglects his wife, or prefers another to her, the children too, courtiers as we are, will desert her. You look incredulous about domestic love. Tenez, my child, if I may so surmise, I think you cannot have seen it.

Ethel (blushing, and thinking, perhaps, how she esteems her father, how her mother, and how much they esteem each other). My father and mother have been most kind to all their children, madame; and no one can say that their marriage has been otherwise than happy. My mother is the kindest and most affectionate mother, and —(Here a vision of Sir Brian alone in his room, and nobody really caring for him so much as his valet, who loves him to the extent of fifty pounds a year and perquisites; or, perhaps, Miss Cann, who reads to him, and plays a good deal of evenings, much to Sir Brian’s liking — here this vision, we say, comes, and stops Miss Ethel’s sentence.)

Madame de F. Your father, in his infirmity — and yet he is five years younger than Colonel Newcome — is happy to have such a wife and such children. They comfort his age; they cheer his sickness; they confide their griefs and pleasures to him — is it not so? His closing days are soothed by their affection.

Ethel. Oh, no, no! And yet it is not his fault or ours that he is a stranger to us. He used to be all day at the bank, or at night in the House of Commons, or he and mamma went to parties, and we young ones remained with the governess. Mamma is very kind. I have never, almost, known her angry; never with us; about us, sometimes, with the servants. As children, we used to see papa and mamma at breakfast; and then when she was dressing to go out. Since he has been ill, she has given up all parties. I wanted to do so too. I feel ashamed in the world, sometimes, when I think of my poor father at home, alone. I wanted to stay, but my mother and my grandmother forbade me. Grandmamma has a fortune, which she says I am to have: since then they have insisted on my being with her. She is very clever you know: she is kind too in her way; but she cannot live out of society. And I, who pretend to revolt, I like it too; and I, who rail and scorn flatterers — oh, I like admiration! I am pleased when the women hate me, and the young men leave them for me. Though I despise many of these, yet I can’t help drawing them towards me. One or two of them I have seen unhappy about me, and I like it; and if they are indifferent I am angry, and never tire till they come back. I love beautiful dresses; I love jewels; I love a great name and a fine house — oh, I despise myself, when I think of these things! When I lie in bed and say I have been heartless and a coquette, I cry with humiliation; and then rebel and say, Why not? — and to-night — yes, to-night — after leaving you, I shall be wicked, I know I shall.

Madame de F. (sadly). One will pray for thee, my child.

Ethel (sadly). I thought I might be good once. I used to say my own prayers then. Now I speak them but by rote, and feel ashamed — yes, ashamed to speak them. Is it not horrid to say them, and next morning to be no better than you were last night? Often I revolt at these as at other things, and am dumb. The Vicar comes to see us at Newcome, and eats so much dinner, and pays us such court, and “Sir Brians” papa, and “Your Ladyship’s” mamma. With grandmamma I go to hear a fashionable preacher — Clive’s uncle, whose sister lets lodgings at Brighton; such a queer, bustling, pompous, honest old lady. Do you know that Clive’s aunt lets lodgings at Brighton?

Madame de F. My father was an usher in a school. Monsieur de Florac gave lessons in the emigration. Do you know in what?

Ethel. Oh, the old nobility! that is different, you know. That Mr. Honeyman is so affected that I have no patience with him!

Madame de F. (with a sigh). I wish you could attend the services of a better church. And when was it you thought you might be good, Ethel?

Ethel. When I was a girl. Before I came out. When I used to take long rides with my dear Uncle Newcome; and he used to talk to me in his sweet simple way; and he said I reminded him of some one he once knew.

Madame de F. Who — who was that, Ethel?

Ethel (looking up at Gerard’s picture of the Countess de Florac). What odd dresses you wore in the time of the Empire, Madame de Florac! How could you ever have such high waists, and such wonderful fraises!

(MADAME DE FLORAC kisses ETHEL. Tableau.)

Enter SAINT JEAN, preceding a gentleman with a drawing-board under his arm.

Saint Jean. Monsieur Claive! [Exit SAINT JEAN.

Clive. How do you do, Madame la Comtesse? Mademoiselle, j’ai l’honneur de vous souhaiter le bon jour.

Madame de F. Do you come from the Louvre? Have you finished that beautiful copy, mon ami?

Clive. I have brought it for you. It is not very good. There are always so many petites demoiselles copying that Sasso Ferrato; and they chatter about it so, and hop from one easel to another; and the young artists are always coming to give them advice — so that there is no getting a good look at the picture. But I have brought you the sketch; and am so pleased that you asked for it.

Madame de F. (surveying the sketch). It is charming — charming! What shall we give to our painter for his chef-d’oeuvre?

Clive (kisses her hand). There is my pay! And you will be glad to hear that two of my portraits have been received at the Exhibition. My uncle, the clergyman, and Mr. Butts, of the Life Guards.

Ethel. Mr. Butts — quel nom! Je ne connois aucun M. Butts!

Clive. He has a famous head to draw. They refused Crackthorpe and — and one or two other heads I sent in.

Ethel (tossing up hers). Miss Mackenzie’s, I suppose!

Clive. Yes, Miss Mackenzie’s. It is a sweet little face; too delicate for my hand, though.

Ethel. So is a wax-doll’s a pretty face. Pink cheeks; china-blue eyes; and hair the colour of old Madame Hempenfeld’s — not her last hair — her last but one. (She goes to a window that looks into the court.)

Clive (to the Countess). Miss Mackenzie speaks more respectfully of other people’s eyes and hair. She thinks there is nobody in the world to compare to Miss Newcome.

Madame de F. (aside). And you, mon ami? This is the last time, entendez-vous? You must never come here again. If M. le Comte knew it he never would pardon me. Encore? (He kisses her ladyship’s hand again.)

Clive. A good action gains to be repeated. Miss Newcome, does the view of the courtyard please you? The old trees and the garden are better. That dear old Faun without a nose! I must have a sketch of him: the creepers round the base are beautiful.

Miss N. I was looking to see if the carriage had come for me. It is time that I return home.

Clive. That is my brougham. May I carry you anywhere? I hire him by the hour: and I will carry you to the end of the world.

Miss N. Where are you going, Madame de Floras? — to show that sketch to M. le Comte? Dear me! I don’t fancy that M. de Florac can care for such things! I am sure I have seen many as pretty on the quays for twenty-five sous. I wonder the carriage is not come for me.

Clive. You can take mine without my company, as that seems not to please you.

Miss N. Your company is sometimes very pleasant — when you please. Sometimes, as last night, for instance, when you particularly lively.

Clive. Last night, after moving heaven and earth to get an invitation to Madame de Brie — I say, heaven and earth, that is a French phrase — I arrive there; I find Miss Newcome engaged for almost every dance, waltzing with M. de Klingenspohr, galloping with Count de Capri, galloping and waltzing with the most noble the Marquis of Farintosh. She will scarce speak to me during the evening; and when I wait till midnight, her grandmamma whisks her home, and I am left alone for my pains. Lady Kew is in one of her high moods, and the only words she condescends to say to me are, “Oh, I thought you had returned to London,” with which she turns her venerable back upon me.

Miss N. A fortnight ago you said you were going to London. You said the copies you were about here would not take you another week, and that was three weeks since.

Clive. It were best I had gone.

Miss N. If you think so, I cannot but think so.

Clive. Why do I stay and hover about you, and follow you know — I follow you? Can I live on a smile vouchsafed twice a week, and no brighter than you give to all the world? What I do I get, but to hear your beauty praised, and to see you, night after night, happy and smiling and triumphant, the partner of other men? Does it add zest to your triumph, to think that I behold it? I believe you would like a crowd of us to pursue you.

Miss N. To pursue me; and if they find me alone, by chance to compliment me with such speeches as you make? That would be pleasure indeed! Answer me here in return, Clive. Have I ever disguised from any of my friends the regard I have for you? Why should I? Have not I taken your part when you were maligned? In former days, when — when Lord Kew asked me, as he had a right to do then — I said it was as a brother I held you; and always would. If I have been wrong, it has been for two or three times in seeing you at all — or seeing you thus; in letting you speak to me as you do — injure me as you do. Do you think I have not hard enough words said to me about you, but that you must attack me too in turn? Last night only, because you were at the ball — it was very, very wrong of me to tell you I was going there — as we went home, Lady Kew — Go, sir. I never thought you would have seen in me this humiliation.

Clive. Is it possible that I should have made Ethel Newcome shed tears? Oh, dry them, dry them. Forgive me, Ethel, forgive me! I have no right to jealousy, or to reproach you — I know that. If others admire you, surely I ought to know that they — they do but as I do: I should be proud, not angry, that they admire my Ethel — my sister, if you can be no more.

Ethel. I will be that always, whatever harsh things you think or say of me. There, sir, I am not going to be so foolish as to cry again. Have you been studying very hard? Are your pictures good at the Exhibition? I like you with your mustachios best, and order you not to cut them off again. The young men here wear them. I hardly knew Charles Beardmore when he arrived from Berlin the other day, like a sapper and miner. His little sisters cried out, and were quite frightened by his apparition. Why are you not in diplomacy? That day, at Brighton, when Lord Farintosh asked whether you were in the army, I thought to myself, why is he not?

Clive. A man in the army may pretend to anything, n’est-ce pas? He wears a lovely uniform. He may be a General, a K.C.B., a Viscount, an Earl. He may be valiant in arms, and wanting a leg, like the lover in the song. It is peace-time, you say? so much the worse career for a soldier. My father would not have me, he said, for ever dangling in barracks, or smoking in country billiard-rooms. I have no taste for law: and as for diplomacy, I have no relations in the Cabinet, and no uncles in the House of Peers. Could my uncle, who is in Parliament, help me much, do you think? or would he, if he could? — or Barnes, his noble son and heir, after him?

Ethel (musing). Barnes would not, perhaps, but papa might even still, and you have friends who are fond of you.

Clive. No — no one can help me: and my art, Ethel, is not only my choice and my love, but my honour too. I shall never distinguish myself in it: I may take smart likenesses, but that is all. I am not fit to grind my friend Ridley’s colours for him. Nor would my father, who loves his own profession so, make a good general probably. He always says so. I thought better of myself when I began as a boy; and was a conceited youngster, expecting to carry it all before me. But as I walked the Vatican, and looked at Raphael, and at the great Michael — I knew I was but a poor little creature; and in contemplating his genius, shrunk up till I felt myself as small as a man looks under the dome of St. Peter’s. Why should I wish to have a great genius? — Yes, there is one reason why I should like to have it.

Ethel. And that is?

Clive. To give it you, if it pleased you, Ethel. But I might wish for the roc’s egg: there is no way of robbing the bird. I must take a humble place, and you want a brilliant one. A brilliant one! Oh, Ethel, what a standard we folks measure fame by! To have your name in the Morning Post, and to go to three balls every night. To have your dress described at the Drawing-Room; and your arrival, from a round of visits in the country, at your town-house; and the entertainment of the Marchioness of Farin ——

Ethel. Sir, if you please, no calling names.

Clive. I wonder at it. For you are in the world, and you love the world, whatever you may say. And I wonder that one of your strength of mind should so care for it. I think my simple old father is much finer than all your grandees: his single-mindedness more lofty than all their bowing, and haughtiness, and scheeming. What are you thinking of, as you stand in that pretty attitude — like Mnemosyne — with your finger on your chin?

Ethel. Mnemosyne! who was she? I think I like you best when you are quiet and gentle, and not when you are flaming out and sarcastic, sir. And so you think you will never be a famous painter? They are quite in society here. I was so pleased, because two of them dined at the Tuileries when grandmamma was there; and she mistook one, who was covered all over with crosses, for an ambassador, I believe, till the Queen call him Monsieur Delaroche. She says there is no knowing people in this country. And do you think you will never be able to paint as well as M. Delaroche?

Clive. No — never.

Ethel. And — and — you will never give up painting?

Clive. No — never. That would be like leaving your friend who was poor; or deserting your mistress because you were disappointed about her money. They do those things in the great world, Ethel.

Ethel (with a sigh). Yes.

Clive. If it is so false, and base, and hollow, this great world — if its aims are so mean, its successes so paltry, the sacrifices it asks of you so degrading, the pleasures it gives you so wearisome, shameful even, why does Ethel Newcome cling to it? Will you be fairer, dear, with any other name than your own? Will you be happier, after a month, at bearing a great title, with a man whom you can’t esteem, tied for ever to you, to be the father of Ethel’s children, and the lord and master of her life and actions? The proudest woman in the world consents to bend herself to this ignominy, and own that a coronet is a bribe sufficient for her honour! What is the end of a Christian life, Ethel; a girl’s pure nurture? — it can’t be this! Last week, as we walked in the garden here, and heard the nuns singing in their chapel, you said how hard it was that poor women should be imprisoned so, and were thankful that in England we had abolished that slavery. Then you cast your eyes to the ground, and mused as you paced the walk; and thought, I know, that perhaps their lot was better than some others.

Ethel. Yes, I did. I was thinking that almost all women are made slaves one way or other, and that these poor nuns perhaps were better off than we are.

Clive. I never will quarrel with nun or matron for following her vocation. But for our women, who are free, why should they rebel against Nature, shut their hearts up, sell their lives for rank and money, and forgo the most precious right of their liberty? Look, Ethel, dear. I love you so, that if I thought another had your heart, an honest man, a loyal gentleman, like — like him of last year even, I think I could go back with a God bless you, and take to my pictures again, and work on in my own humble way. You seem like a queen to me, somehow; and I am but a poor, humble fellow, who might be happy, I think, if you were. In those balls, where I have seen you surrounded by those brilliant young men, noble and wealthy, admirers like me, I have often thought, “How could I aspire to such a creature, and ask her to forgo a palace to share the crust of a poor painter?”

Ethel. You spoke quite scornfully of palaces just now, Clive. I won’t say a word about the — the regard which you express for me. I think you have it. Indeed, I do. But it were best not said, Clive; best for me, perhaps, not to own that I know it. In your speeches, my poor boy — and you will please not to make any more, or I never can see you or speak to you again, never — you forgot one part of a girl’s duty: obedience to her parents. They would never agree to my marrying any one below — any one whose union would not be advantageous in a worldly point of view. I never would give such pain to the poor father, or to the kind soul who never said a harsh word to me since I was born. My grandmamma is kind, too, in her way. I came to her of my own free will. When she said she would leave me her fortune, do you think it was for myself alone that I was glad? My father’s passion was to make an estate, and all my brothers and sisters will be but slenderly portioned. Lady Kew said she would help them if I came to her — and — it is the welfare of those little people that depends upon me, Clive. Now, do you see, brother, why you must speak to me so no more? There is the carriage. God bless you, dear Clive.

(Clive sees the carriage drive away after Miss Newcome has entered it without once looking up to the window where he stands. When it is gone he goes to the opposite windows of the salon, which are open, towards the garden. The chapel music begins to play from the Convent, next door. As he hears it he sinks down, his head in his hands.)

Enter Madame de Florac (She goes to him with anxious looks.). What hast thou, my child? Hast thou spoken?

Clive (very steadily). Yes.

Madame de F. And she loves thee? I know she loves thee.

Clive. You hear the organ of the convent?

Madame de F. Qu’as tu?

Clive. I might as well hope to marry one of the sisters of yonder convent, dear lady. (He sinks down again, and she kisses him.)

Clive. I never had a mother; but you seem like one.

Madame de F. Mon fils! Oh, mon fils!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter47.html

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