The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLVIII

In which Benedick is a Married Man

We have all heard of the dying French Duchess, who viewed her coming dissolution and subsequent fate so easily, because she said she was sure that Heaven must deal politely with a person of her quality; — I suppose Lady Kew had some such notions regarding people of rank: her long-suffering towards them was extreme; in fact, there were vices which the old lady thought pardonable, and even natural, in a young nobleman of high station, which she never would have excused in persons of vulgar condition.

Her ladyship’s little knot of associates and scandal-bearers — elderly roues and ladies of the world, whose business it was to know all sorts of noble intrigues and exalted tittle-tattle; what was happening among the devotees of the exiled court at Frobsdorf; what among the citizen princes of the Tuileries; who was the reigning favourite of the Queen Mother at Aranjuez; who was smitten with whom at Vienna or Naples; and the last particulars of the chroniques scandaleuses of Paris and London; — Lady Kew, I say, must have been perfectly aware of my Lord Farintosh’s amusements, associates, and manner of life, and yet she never, for one moment, exhibited any anger or dislike towards that nobleman. Her amiable heart was so full of kindness and forgiveness towards the young prodigal that, even without any repentance on his part, she was ready to take him to her old arms, and give him her venerable benediction. Pathetic sweetness of nature! Charming tenderness of disposition! With all his faults and wickednesses, his follies and his selfishness, there was no moment when Lady Kew would not have received the young lord, and endowed him with the hand of her darling Ethel.

But the hopes which this fond forgiving creature had nurtured for one season, and carried on so resolutely to the next, were destined to be disappointed yet a second time, by a most provoking event, which occurred in the Newcome family. Ethel was called away suddenly from Paris by her father’s third and last paralytic seizure. When she reached her home, Sir Brian could not recognise her. A few hours after her arrival, all the vanities of the world were over for him: and Sir Barnes Newcome, Baronet, reigned in his stead. The day after Sir Brian was laid in his vault at Newcome — a letter appeared in the local papers addressed to the Independent Electors of that Borough, in which his orphan son, feelingly alluding to the virtue, the services, and the political principles of the deceased, offered himself as a candidate for the seat in Parliament now vacant. Sir Barnes announced that he should speedily pay his respects in person to the friends and supporters of his lamented father. That he was a staunch friend of our admirable constitution need not be said. That he was a firm, but conscientious upholder of our Protestant religion, all who knew Barnes Newcome must be aware. That he would do his utmost to advance the interests of this great agricultural, this great manufacturing county and borough, we may be sure he avowed; as that he would be (if returned to represent Newcome in Parliament) the advocate of every rational reform, the unhesitating opponent of every reckless innovation. In fine, Barnes Newcome’s manifesto to the Electors of Newcome was as authentic a document and gave him credit for as many public virtues, as that slab over poor Sir Brian’s bones in the chancel of Newcome church, which commemorated the good qualities of the defunct, and the grief of his heir.

In spite of the virtues, personal and inherited, of Barnes, his seat for Newcome was not got without a contest. The dissenting interest and the respectable Liberals of the borough wished to set up Samuel Higg, Esq.; against Sir Barnes Newcome: and now it was that Barnes’s civilities of the previous year, aided by Madame de Moncontour’s influence over her brother, bore their fruit. Mr. Higg declined to stand against Sir Barnes Newcome, although Higg’s political principles were by no means those of the honourable Baronet; and the candidate from London, whom the Newcome extreme Radicals set up against Barnes, was nowhere on the poll when the day of election came. So Barnes had the desire of his heart; and, within two months after his father’s demise, he sate in Parliament as Member for Newcome.

The bulk of the late Baronet’s property descended, of course, to his eldest son: who grumbled, nevertheless, at the provision made for his brothers and sisters, and that the town-house should have been left to Lady Anne, who was too poor to inhabit it. But Park Lane is the best situation in London, and Lady Anne’s means were greatly improved by the annual produce of the house in Park Lane, which, as we all know, was occupied by a foreign minister for several subsequent seasons. Strange mutations of fortune: old places; new faces; what Londoner does not see and speculate upon them every day? Coelia’s boudoir, who is dead with the daisies over her at Kensal Green, is now the chamber where Delia is consulting Dr. Locock, or Julia’s children are romping: Florio’s dining-tables have now Pollio’s wine upon them: Calista, being a widow, and (to the surprise of everybody who knew Trimalchio, and enjoyed his famous dinners) left but very poorly off, lets the house, and the rich, chaste, and appropriate planned furniture, by Dowbiggin, and the proceeds go to keep her little boys at Eton. The next year, as Mr. Clive Newcome rode by the once familiar mansion (whence the hatchment had been removed, announcing that there was in Coelo Quies for the late Sir Brian Newcome, Bart.), alien faces looked from over the flowers in the balconies. He got a card for an entertainment from the occupant of the mansion, H.E. the Bulgarian minister; and there was the same crowd in the reception-room and on the stairs, the same grave men from Gunter’s distributing the refreshments in the dining-room, the same old Smee, R. A. (always in the room where the edibles were), cringing and flattering to the new occupants; and the same effigy of poor Sir Brian, in his deputy-lieutenant’s uniform, looking blankly down from over the sideboard, at the feast which his successors were giving. A dreamy old ghost of a picture. Have you ever looked at those round George IV.‘s banqueting-hall at Windsor? Their frames still hold them, but they smile ghostly smiles, and swagger in robes and velvets which are quite faint and faded: their crimson coats have a twilight tinge: the lustre of their stars has twinkled out: they look as if they were about to flicker off the wall and retire to join their originals in limbo.

* * * * * *

Nearly three years had elapsed since the good Colonel’s departure for India, and during this time certain changes had occurred in the lives of the principal actors and the writer of this history. As regards the latter, it must be stated that the dear old firm of Lamb Court had been dissolved, the junior member having contracted another partnership. The chronicler of these memoirs was a bachelor no longer. My wife and I had spent the winter at Rome (favourite resort of young married couples); and had heard from the artists there Clive’s name affectionately repeated; and many accounts of his sayings and doings, his merry supper-parties, and the talents of young Ridley, his friend. When we came to London in the spring, almost our first visit was to Clive’s apartments in Charlotte Street, whither my wife delightedly went to give her hand to the young painter.

But Clive no longer inhabited that quiet region. On driving to the house we found a bright brass plate, with the name of Mr. J. J. Ridley on the door, and it was J. J.‘s hand which I shook (his other being engaged with a great palette, and a sheaf of painting-brushes) when we entered the well-known quarters. Clive’s picture hung over the mantelpiece, where his father’s head used to hang in our time — a careful and beautifully executed portrait of the lad in a velvet coat and a Roman hat, with that golden beard which was sacrificed to the exigencies of London fashion. I showed Laura the likeness until she could become acquainted with the original. On her expressing her delight at the picture, the painter was pleased to say, in his modest blushing way, that he would be glad to execute my wife’s portrait too, nor, as I think, could any artist find a subject more pleasing.

After admiring others of Mr. Ridley’s works, our talk naturally reverted to his predecessor. Clive had migrated to much more splendid quarters. Had we not heard? he had become a rich man, a man of fashion. “I fear he is very lazy about the arts,” said J. J., with regret on his countenance; “though I begged and prayed him to be faithful to his profession. He would have done very well in it, in portrait-painting especially. Look here, and here, and here!” said Ridley, producing fine vigorous sketches of Clive’s. “He had the art of seizing the likeness, and of making all his people look like gentlemen, too. He was improving every day, when this abominable bank came in the way, and stopped him.”

What bank? I did not know the new Indian bank of which the Colonel was a director. Then, of course, I was aware that the mercantile affair in question was the Bundelcund Bank, about which the Colonel had written to me from India more than a year since, announcing that fortunes were to be made by it, and that he had reserved shares for me in the company. Laura admired all Clive’s sketches, which his affectionate brother-artist showed to her with the exception of one representing the reader’s humble servant; which, Mrs. Pendennis considered, by no means did justice to the original.

Bidding adieu to the kind J. J., and leaving him to pursue his art, in that silent serious way in which he daily laboured at it, we drove to Fitzroy Square hard by, where I was not displeased to show the good old hospitable James Binnie the young lady who bore my name. But here, too, we were disappointed. Placards wafered in the windows announced that the old house was to let. The woman who kept it brought a card in Mrs. Mackenzie’s frank handwriting, announcing Mr. James Binnie’s address was “Poste-restante, Pau, in the Pyrenees,” and that his London agents were Messrs. So-and-so. The woman said she believed the gentleman had been unwell. The house, too, looked very pale, dismal, and disordered. We drove away from the door, grieving to think that ill-health, or any other misfortunes, had befallen good old James.

Mrs. Pendennis drove back to our lodgings, Brixham’s, in Jermyn Street, while I sped to the City, having business in that quarter. It has been said that I kept a small account with Hobson Brothers, to whose bank I went, and entered the parlour with that trepidation which most poor men feel on presenting themselves before City magnates and capitalists. Mr. Hobson Newcome shook hands most jovially and good-naturedly, congratulated me on my marriage, and so forth, and presently Sir Barnes Newcome made his appearance, still wearing his mourning for his deceased father.

Nothing could be more kind, pleasant, and cordial than Sir Barnes’s manner. He seemed to know well about my affairs; complimented me on every kind of good fortune; had heard that I had canvassed the borough in which I lived; hoped sincerely to see me in Parliament and on the right side; was most anxious to become acquainted with Mrs. Pendennis, of whom Lady Rockminster said all sorts of kind things; and asked for our address, in order that Lady Clara Newcome might have the pleasure of calling on my wife. This ceremony was performed soon afterwards; and an invitation to dinner from Sir Barnes and Lady Clara Newcome speedily followed it.

Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., M.P., I need not say, no longer inhabited the small house which he had occupied immediately after his marriage: but dwelt in a much more spacious mansion in Belgravia, where he entertained his friends. Now that he had come into his kingdom, I must say that Barnes was by no means so insufferable as in the days of his bachelorhood. He had sown his wild oats, and spoke with regret and reserve of that season of his moral culture. He was grave, sarcastic, statesmanlike; did not try to conceal his baldness (as he used before his father’s death, by bringing lean wisps of hair over his forehead from the back of his head); talked a great deal about the House; was assiduous in his attendance there and in the City; and conciliating with all the world. It seemed as if we were all his constituents, and though his efforts to make himself agreeable were rather apparent, the effect succeeded pretty well. We met Mr. and Mrs. Hobson Newcome, and Clive, and Miss Ethel looking beautiful in her black robes. It was a family party, Sir Barnes said, giving us to understand, with a decorous solemnity in face and voice, that no large parties as yet could be received in that house of mourning.

To this party was added, rather to my surprise, my Lord Highgate, who under the sobriquet of Jack Belsize has been presented to the reader of this history. Lord Highgate gave Lady Clara his arm to dinner, but went and took a place next Miss Newcome, on the other side of her; that immediately by Lady Clara being reserved for a guest who had not as yet made his appearance.

Lord Highgate’s attentions to his neighbour, his laughing and talking, were incessant; so much so that Clive, from his end of the table, scowled in wrath at Jack Belsize’s assiduities: it was evident that the youth, though hopeless, was still jealous and in love with his charming cousin.

Barnes Newcome was most kind to all his guests: from Aunt Hobson to your humble servant, there was not one but the of master the house had an agreeable word for him. Even for his cousin Samuel Newcome, a gawky youth with an eruptive countenance, Barnes had appropriate words of conversation, and talked about King’s College, of which the lad was an ornament, with the utmost affability. He complimented that institution and young Samuel, and by that shot knocked not only over Sam but his mamma too. He talked to Uncle Hobson about his crops; to Clive about his pictures; to me about the great effect which a certain article in the Pall Mall Gazette had produced in the House, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly livid with fury, and Lord John bursting out laughing at the attack: in fact, nothing could be more amiable than our host on this day. Lady Clara was very pretty — grown a little stouter since her marriage; the change only became her. She was a little silent, but then she had Uncle Hobson on her left-hand side, between whom and her ladyship there could not be much in common, and the place at the right hand was still vacant. The person with whom she talked most freely was Clive, who had made a beautiful drawing of her and her little girl, for which the mother and the father too, as it appeared, were very grateful.

What had caused this change in Barnes’s behaviour? Our particular merits or his own private reform? In the two years over which this narrative has had to run in the course of as many chapters, the writer had inherited a property so small that it could not occasion a banker’s civility; and I put down Sir Barnes Newcome’s politeness to a sheer desire to be well with me. But with Lord Highgate and Clive the case was different, as you must now hear.

Lord Highgate, having succeeded to his father’s title and fortune, had paid every shilling of his debts, and had sowed his wild oats to the very last corn. His lordship’s account at Hobson Brothers was very large. Painful events of three years’ date, let us hope, were forgotten — gentlemen cannot go on being in love and despairing, and quarrelling for ever. When he came into his funds, Highgate behaved with uncommon kindness to Rooster, who was always straitened for money: and when the late Lord Dorking died and Rooster succeeded to him, there was a meeting at Chanticlere between Highgate and Barnes Newcome and his wife, which went off very comfortably. At Chanticlere the Dowager Lady Kew and Miss Newcome were also staying, when Lord Highgate announced his prodigious admiration for the young lady; and, it was said, corrected Farintosh, as a low-minded, foul-tongued young cub, for daring to speak disrespectfully of her. Nevertheless, vous concevez, when a man of the Marquis’s rank was supposed to look with the eyes of admiration upon a young lady, Lord Highgate would not think of spoiling sport, and he left Chanticlere declaring that he was always destined to be unlucky in love. When old Lady Kew was obliged to go to Vichy for her lumbago, Highgate said to Barnes, “Do ask your charming sister to come to you in London; she will bore herself to death with the old woman at Vichy, or with her mother at Rugby” (whither Lady Anne had gone to get her boys educated), and accordingly Miss Newcome came on a visit to her brother and sister, at whose house we have just had the honour of seeing her.

When Rooster took his seat in the House of Lords, he was introduced by Highgate and Kew, as Highgate had been introduced by Kew previously. Thus these three gentlemen all rode in gold coaches; had all got coronets on their heads; as you will, my respected young friend, if you are the eldest son of a peer who dies before you. And now they were rich, they were all going to be very good boys, let us hope. Kew, we know, married one of the Dorking family, that second Lady Henrietta Pulleyn, whom we described as frisking about at Baden, and not in the least afraid of him. How little the reader knew, to whom we introduced the girl in that chatty offhand way, that one day the young creature would be a countess! But we knew it all the while — and, when she was walking about with the governess, or romping with her sisters; and when she had dinner at one o’clock; and when she wore a pinafore very likely — we secretly respected her as the future Countess of Kew, and mother of the Viscount Walham.

Lord Kew was very happy with his bride, and very good to her. He took Lady Kew to Paris, for a marriage trip; but they lived almost altogether at Kewbury afterwards, where his lordship sowed tame oats now after his wild ones, and became one of the most active farmers of his county. He and the Newcomes were not very intimate friends; for Lord Kew was heard to say that he disliked Barnes more after his marriage than before. And the two sisters, Lady Clara and Lady Kew, had a quarrel on one occasion, when the latter visited London just before the dinner at which we have just assisted — nay, at which we are just assisting, took place — a quarrel about Highgate’s attentions to Ethel, very likely. Kew was dragged into it, and hot words passed between him and Jack Belsize; and Jack did not go down to Kewbury afterwards, though Kew’s little boy was christened after him. All these interesting details about people of the very highest rank, we are supposed to whisper in the reader’s ear as we are sitting at a Belgravian dinner-table. My dear Barmecide friend, isn’t it pleasant to be in such fine company?

And now we must tell how it is that Clive Newcome, Esq., whose eyes are flashing fire across the flowers of the table at Lord Highgate, who is making himself so agreeable to Miss Ethel — now we must tell how it is that Clive and his cousin Barnes have grown to be friends again.

The Bundelcund Bank, which had been established for four years, had now grown to be one of the most flourishing commercial institutions in Bengal. Founded, as the prospectus announced, at a time when all private credit was shaken by the failure of the great Agency Houses, of which the downfall had carried dismay and ruin throughout the Presidency, the B. B. had been established on the only sound principle of commercial prosperity — that is association. The native capitalists, headed by the great firm of Rummun Loll and Co., of Calcutta, had largely embarked in the B. B., and the officers of the two services and the European mercantile body of Calcutta had been invited to take shares in an institution which, to merchants, native and English, civilian and military men, was alike advantageous and indispensable. How many young men of the latter services had been crippled for life by the ruinous cost of agencies, of which the profits to the agents themselves were so enormous! The shareholders of the B. B. were their own agents; and the greatest capitalist in India as well as the youngest ensign in the service might invest at the largest and safest premium, and borrow at the smallest interest, by becoming according to his means, a shareholder in the B. B. Their correspondents were established in each presidency and in every chief city of India, as well as at Sydney, Singapore, Canton, and, of course. London. With China they did, an immense opium-trade, of which the profits were so great, that it was only in private sittings of the B. B. managing committee that the details and accounts of these operations could be brought forward. Otherwise the books of the bank were open to every shareholder; and the ensign or the young civil servant was at liberty at any time to inspect his own private account as well as the common ledger. With New South Wales they carried on a vast trade in wool, supplying that great colony with goods, which their London agents enabled them to purchase in such a way as to give them the command of the market. As if to add to their prosperity, coppermines were discovered on lands in the occupation of the B. Banking Company, which gave the most astonishing returns. And throughout the vast territories of British India, through the great native firm of Rummun Loll and Co., the Bundelcund Banking Company had possession of the native markets. The order from Birmingham for idols alone (made with their copper and paid in their wool) was enough to make the Low Church party in England cry out; and a debate upon this subject actually took place in the House of Commons, of which the effect was to send up the shares of the Bundelcund Banking Company very considerably upon the London Exchange.

The fifth half-yearly dividend was announced at twelve and a quarter per cent of the paid-up capital: the accounts from the copper-mine sent the dividend up to a still greater height, and carried the shares to an extraordinary premium. In the third year of the concern, the house of Hobson Brothers, of London, became the agents of the Bundelcund Banking Company of India and amongst our friends, James Binnie, who had prudently held out for some time and Clive Newcome, Esq., became shareholders, Clive’s good father having paid the first instalments of the lad’s shares up in Calcutta, and invested every rupee he could himself command in this enterprise. When Hobson Brothers joined it, no wonder James Binnie was convinced; Clive’s friend, the Frenchman, and through that connexion the house of Higg, of Newcome and Manchester, entered into the affair; and amongst the minor contributors in England we may mention Miss Cann, who took a little fifty-pound-note share and dear old Miss Honeyman; and J. J., and his father, Ridley, who brought a small bag of saving — all knowing that their Colonel, who was eager that his friends should participate in his good fortune, would never lead them wrong. To Clive’s surprise Mrs. Mackenzie, between whom and himself there was a considerable coolness, came to his chambers, and with a solemn injunction that the matter between them should be quite private, requested him to purchase 1500 pounds worth of Bundelcund shares for her and her darling girls, which he did, astonished to find the thrifty widow in possession of so much money. Had Mr. Pendennis’s mind not been bent at this moment on quite other subjects, he might have increased his own fortune by the Bundelcund Bank speculation; but in these two years I was engaged in matrimonial affairs (having Clive Newcome, Esq., as my groomsman on a certain interesting occasion). When we returned from our tour abroad the India Bank shares were so very high that I did not care to purchase, though I found an affectionate letter from our good Colonel (enjoining me to make my fortune) awaiting me at the agent’s, and my wife received a pair of beautiful Cashmere shawls from the same kind friend.

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