The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER XLIX

Contains at least six more Courses and two Desserts

The banker’s dinner-party over, we returned to our apartments, having dropped Major Pendennis at his lodgings, and there, as the custom is amongst most friendly married couples, talked over the company and the dinner. I thought my wife would naturally have liked Sir Barnes Newcome, who was very attentive to her, took her to dinner as the bride, and talked ceaselessly to her during the whole entertainment.

Laura said No — she did not know why — could there be any better reason? There was a tone about Sir Barnes Newcome she did not like — especially in his manner to women.

I remarked that he spoke sharply and in a sneering manner to his wife, and treated one or two remarks which she made as if she was an idiot.

Mrs. Pendennis flung up her head as much as to say, “and so she is.”

Mr. Pendennis. What, the wife too, my dear Laura! I should have thought such a pretty, simple, innocent young woman, with just enough good looks to make her pass muster, who is very well bred and not brilliant at all, — I should have thought such a one might have secured a sister’s approbation.

Mrs. Pendennis. You fancy we are all jealous of one another. No protests of ours can take that notion out of your heads. My dear Pen, I do not intend to try. We are not jealous of mediocrity: we are not patient of it. I dare say we are angry because we see men admire it so. You gentlemen, who pretend to be our betters, give yourselves such airs of protection, and profess such a lofty superiority over us, prove it by quitting the cleverest woman in the room for the first pair of bright eyes and dimpled cheeks that enter. It was those charms which attracted you in Lady Clara, sir.

Pendennis. I think she is very pretty, and very innocent, and artless.

Mrs. P. Not very pretty, and perhaps not so very artless.

Pendennis. How can you tell, you wicked woman? Are you such a profound deceiver yourself, that you can instantly detect artifice in others? O Laura!

Mrs. P. We can detect all sorts of things. The inferior animals have instincts, you know. (I must say my wife is always very satirical upon this point of the relative rank of the sexes.) One thing I am sure of is, that she is not happy; and oh, Pen! that she does not care much for her little girl.

Pendennis. How do you know that, my dear?

Mrs. P. We went upstairs to see the child after dinner. It was at my wish. The mother did not offer to go. The child was awake and crying. Lady Clara did not offer to take it. Ethel — Miss Newcome took it, rather to my surprise, for she seems very haughty; and the nurse, who I suppose was at supper, came running up at the noise, and then the poor little thing was quiet.

Pendennis. I remember we heard the music as the dining-room door was open; and Newcome said, “That is what you will have to expect, Pendennis.”

Mrs. P. Hush, sir! If my baby cries, I think you must expect me to run out of the room. I liked Miss Newcome after seeing her with the poor little thing. She looked so handsome as she walked with it! I longed to have it myself.

Pendennis. Tout vient a fin, a qui sait ——

Mrs. P. Don’t be silly. What a dreadful dreadful place this great world of yours is, Arthur; where husbands do not seem to care for their wives; where mothers do not love their children; where children love their nurses best; where men talk what they call gallantry!

Pendennis. What?

Mrs. P. Yes, such as that dreary, languid, pale, bald, cadaverous, leering man whispered to me. Oh, how I dislike him! I am sure he is unkind to his wife. I am sure he has a bad temper; and if there is any excuse for ——

Pendennis. For what?

Mrs. P. For nothing. But you heard yourself that he had a bad temper, and spoke sneeringly to his wife. What could make her marry him?

Pendennis. Money, and the desire of papa and mamma. For the same reason Clive’s flame, poor Miss Newcome, was brought out today; that vacant seat at her side was for Lord Farintosh. who did not come. And the Marquis not being present, the Baron took his innings. Did you not see how tender he was to her, and how fierce poor Clive looked?

Mrs. P. Lord Highgate was very attentive to Miss Newcome, was he?

Pendennis. And some years ago, Lord Highgate was breaking his heart about whom do you think? about Lady Clara Pulleyn, our hostess of last night. He was Jack Belsize then, a younger son, plunged over head and ears in debt; and of course there could be no marriage. Clive was present at Baden when a terrible scene took place, and carried off poor Jack to Switzerland and Italy, where he remained till his father died, and he came into the title in which he rejoices. And now he is off with the old love, Laura, and on with the new. Why do you look at me so? Are you thinking that other people have been in love two or three times too?

Mrs. P. I am thinking that I should not like to live in London, Arthur.

And this was all that Mrs. Laura could be brought to say. When this young woman chooses to be silent, there is no power that can extract a word from her. It is true that she is generally in the right; but that is only the more aggravating. Indeed, what can be more provoking, after a dispute with your wife, than to find it is you, and not she, who has been in the wrong?

Sir Barnes Newcome politely caused us to understand that the entertainment of which we had just partaken was given in honour of the bride. Clive must needs not be outdone in hospitality; and invited us and others to a fine feast at the Star and Garter at Richmond, where Mrs. Pendennis was placed at his right hand. I smile as I think how much dining has been already commemorated in these veracious pages; but the story is an everyday record; and does not dining form a certain part of the pleasure and business of every day? It is at that pleasant hour that our set has the privilege of meeting the other. The morning man and woman alike devote to business; or pass mainly in the company of their own kind. John has his office; Jane her household, her nursery, her milliner, her daughters and their masters. In the country he has his hunting, his fishing, his farming, his letters; she her schools, her poor, her garden, or what not. Parted through the shining hours, and improving them, let us trust, we come together towards sunset only, we make merry and amuse ourselves. We chat with our pretty neighbour, or survey the young ones sporting; we make love and are jealous; we dance, or obsequiously turn over the leaves of Cecilia’s music-book; we play whist, or go to sleep in the arm-chair, according to our ages and conditions. Snooze gently in thy arm-chair, thou easy bald-head! play your whist, or read your novel, or talk scandal over your work, ye worthy dowagers and fogies! Meanwhile the young ones frisk about, or dance, or sing, or laugh; or whisper behind curtains in moonlit windows; or shirk away into the garden, and come back smelling of cigars; nature having made them so to do.

Nature at this time irresistibly impelled Clive Newcome towards love-making. It was pairing-season with him. Mr. Clive was now some three-and-twenty years old: enough has been said about his good looks, which were in truth sufficient to make him a match for the young lady on whom he had set his heart, and from whom, during this entertainment which he gave to my wife, he could never keep his eyes away for three minutes. Laura’s did not need to be so keen as they were in order to see what poor Clive’s condition was. She did not in the least grudge the young fellow’s inattention to herself; or feel hurt that he did not seem to listen when she spoke; she conversed with J. J., her neighbour, who was very modest and agreeable; while her husband, not so well pleased, had Mrs. Hobson Newcome for his partner during the chief part of the entertainment. Mrs. Hobson and Lady Clara were the matrons who gave the sanction of their presence to this bachelor-party. Neither of their husbands could come to Clive’s little fete; had they not the City and the House of Commons to attend? My uncle, Major Pendennis, was another of the guests; who for his part found the party was what you young fellows call very slow. Dreading Mrs. Hobson and her powers of conversation, the old gentleman nimbly skipped out of her neighbourhood, and fell by the side of Lord Highgate, to whom the Major was inclined to make himself very pleasant. But Lord Highgate’s broad back was turned upon his neighbour, who was forced to tell stories to Captain Crackthorpe, which had amused dukes and marquises in former days, and were surely quite good enough for any baron in this realm. “Lord Highgate sweet upon la belle Newcome, is he?” said the testy Major afterwards. “He seemed to me to talk to Lady Clara the whole time. When I awoke in the garden after dinner, as Mrs. Hobson was telling one of her confounded long stories, I found her audience was diminished to one. Crackthorpe, Lord Highgate, and Lady Clara. we had all been sitting there when the bankeress cut in (in the mid of a very good story I was telling them, which entertained them very much), and never ceased talking till I fell off into a doze. When I roused myself, begad, she was still going on. Crackthorpe was off, smoking a cigar on the terrace: my Lord and Lady Clara were nowhere; and you four, with the little painter, were chatting cosily in another arbour. Behaved himself very well, the little painter. Doosid good dinner Ellis gave us. But as for Highgate being aux soins with la belle Banquiere, trust me, my boy, he is — upon my word, my dear, it seemed to me his thoughts went quite another way. To be sure, Lady Clara is a belle Banquiere too now. He, he, he! How could he say he had no carriage to go home in? He came down in Crackthorpe’s cab, who passed us just now, driving back young What-dye-call the painter.”

Thus did the Major discourse, as we returned towards the City. I could see in the open carriage which followed us (Lady Clara Newcome’s) Lord Highgate’s white hat, by Clive’s on the back seat.

Laura looked at her husband. The same thought may have crossed their minds, though neither uttered it; but although Sir Barnes and Lady Clara Newcome offered us other civilities during our stay in London, no inducements could induce Laura to accept the proffered friendship of that lady. When Lady Clara called, my wife was not at home; when she invited us, Laura pleaded engagements. At first she bestowed on Miss Newcome, too, a share of this haughty dislike, and rejected the advances which that young lady, who professed to like my wife very much, made towards an intimacy. When I appealed to her (for Newcome’s house was after all a very pleasant one, and you met the best people there), my wife looked at me with an expression of something like scorn, and said: “Why don’t I like Miss Newcome? Of course because I am jealous of her — all women, you know, Arthur, are jealous of such beauties.” I could get for a long while no better explanation than these sneers, for my wife’s antipathy towards this branch of the Newcome family; but an event presently came which silenced my remonstrances, and showed to me, that Laura had judged Barnes and his wife only too well.

Poor Mrs. Hobson Newcome had reason to be sulky at the neglect which all the Richmond party showed her, for nobody, not even Major Pendennis, as we have seen, would listen to her intellectual conversation; nobody, not even Lord Highgate, would drive back to town in her carriage, though the vehicle was large and empty, and Lady Clara’s barouche, in which his lordship chose to take a place, had already three occupants within it:— but in spite of these rebuffs and disappointments the virtuous lady of Bryanstone Square was bent upon being good-natured and hospitable; and I have to record, in the present chapter, yet one more feast of which Mr. and Mrs. Pendennis partook at the expense of the most respectable Newcome family.

Although Mrs. Laura here also appeared, and had the place of honour in her character of bride, I am bound to own my opinion that Mrs. Hobson only made us the pretext of her party, and that in reality it was given to persons of a much more exalted rank. We were the first to arrive, our good old Major, the most punctual of men, bearing us company. Our hostess was arrayed in unusual state and splendour; her fat neck was ornamented with jewels, rich bracelets decorated her arms, and this Bryanstone Square Cornelia had likewise her family jewels distributed round her, priceless male and female Newcome gems, from the King’s College youth, with whom we have made a brief acquaintance, and his elder sister, now entering into the world, down to the last little ornament of the nursery, in a prodigious new sash, with ringlets hot and crisp from the tongs of a Marylebone hairdresser, We had seen the cherub faces of some of these darlings pressed against the drawing-room windows as our carriage drove up to the door; when, after a few minutes’ conversation, another vehicle arrived, away they dashed to the windows again, the innocent little dears crying out, “Here’s the Marquis;” and in sadder tones, “No, it isn’t the Marquis,” by which artless expressions they showed how eager they were to behold an expected guest of a rank only inferior to Dukes in this great empire.

Putting two and two together, as the saying is, it was not difficult for me to guess who the expected Marquis was — and, indeed, the King’s College youth set that question at once to rest, by wagging his head at me, and winking his eye, and saying, “We expect Farintosh.”

“Why, my dearest children,” Matronly Virtue exclaimed, “this anxiety to behold the young Marquis of Farintosh, whom we expect at our modest table, Mrs. Pendennis, today? Twice you have been at the window in your eagerness to look for him. Louisa, you silly child, do you imagine that his lordship will appear in his robes and coronet? Rodolf, you absurd boy, do you think that a Marquis is other than a man? I have never admired aught but intellect, Mrs. Pendennis; that, let us be thankful, is the only true title to distinction in our country nowadays.”

“Begad, sir,” whispers the old Major to me, “intellect may be a doosid fine thing, but in my opinion, a Marquisate and eighteen or twenty thousand a year — I should say the Farintosh property, with the Glenlivat estate and the Roy property in England, must be worth nineteen thousand a year at the very lowest figure and I remember when this young man’s father was only Tom Roy, of the 42nd, with no hope of succeeding to the title, and doosidly out at elbows too — I say what does the bankeress mean by chattering about intellect? Hang me, a Marquis is a Marquis; and Mrs. Newcome knows it as well as I do.” My good Major was growing old, and was not unnaturally a little testy at the manner in which his hostess received him. Truth to tell, she hardly took any notice of him and cut down a couple of the old gentleman’s stories before he had been five minutes in the room.

To our party presently comes the host in a flurried countenance, with a white waistcoat, holding in his hand an open letter, towards which his wife looks with some alarm. “How dy’ doo, Lady Clara, how dy’ doo, Ethel?” he says, saluting those ladies, whom the second carriage had brought to us. “Sir Barnes is not coming, that’s one place vacant; that, Lady Clara, you won’t mind, you see him at home: but here’s a disappointment for yon, Miss Newcome, Lord Farintosh can’t come.”

At this, two of the children cry out “Oh! oh!” with such a melancholy accent that Miss Newcome and Lady Clara burst out laughing.

“Got a dreadful toothache,” said Mr. Hobson; “here’s his letter.”

“Hang it, what a bore!” cries artless young King’s College.

“Why a bore, Samuel? A bore, as you call it, for Lord Farintosh, I grant; but do you suppose that the high in station are exempt from the ills of mortality? I know nothing more painful than a toothache,” exclaims a virtuous matron, using the words of philosophy, but showing the countenance of anger.

“Hang it, why didn’t he have it out?” says Samuel.

Miss Ethel laughed. “Lord Farintosh would not have that tooth out for the world, Samuel,” she cried, gaily. “He keeps it in on purpose, and it always aches when be does not want to go out to dinner.”

“I know one humble family who will never ask him again,” Mrs. Hobson exclaims, rustling in all her silks, and tapping her fan and her foot. The eclipse, however, passes off her countenance and light is restored; when at this moment, a cab having driven up during the period of darkness, the door is flung open, and Lord Highgate is announced by a loud-voiced butler.

My wife, being still the bride on this occasion, had the honour of being led to the dinner-table by our banker and host. Lord Highgate was reserved for Mrs. Hobson, who, in an engaging manner, requested poor Clive to conduct his cousin Maria to dinner, handing over Miss Ethel to another guest. Our Major gave his arm to Lady Clara, and I perceived that my wife looked very grave as he passed the place where she sat, and seated Lady Clara in the next chair to that which Lord Highgate chanced to occupy. Feeling himself en vein, and the company being otherwise rather mum and silent, my uncle told a number of delightful anecdotes about the beau-monde of his time, about the Peninsular war, the Regent, Brummell, Lord Steyne, Pea Green Payne, and so forth. He said the evening was very pleasant, though some others of the party, as it appeared to me, scarcely seemed to think so. Clive had not a word for his cousin Maria, but looked across the table at Ethel all dinner-time. What could Ethel have to say to her partner, old Colonel Sir Donald M’Craw, who gobbled and drank, as his wont is, and if he had a remark to make, imparted it to Mrs. Hobson, at whose right hand he was sitting, and to whom, during the whole course, or courses, of the dinner, my Lord Highgate scarcely uttered one single word?

His lordship was whispering all the while into the ringlets of Lady Clara; they were talking a jargon which their hostess scarcely understood, of people only known to her by her study of the Peerage. When we joined the ladies after dinner, Lord Highgate again made way towards Lady Clara, and at an order from her, as I thought, left her ladyship, and strove hard to engage in a conversation with Mrs. Newcome. I hope he succeeded in smoothing the frowns in that round little face. Mrs. Laura, I own, was as grave as a judge all the evening; very grave even and reserved with my uncle, when the hour for parting came, and we took him home.

“He, he!” said the old man, coughing, and nodding his old head and laughing in his senile manner, when I saw him on the next day; “that was a pleasant evening we had yesterday; doosid pleasant, and I think my two neighbours seemed to be uncommonly pleased with each other; not an amusing fellow, that young painter of yours, though he is good-looking enough, but there’s no conversation in him. Do you think of giving a little dinner, Arthur, in return for these hospitalities? Greenwich, hey, or something of that sort? I’ll go you halves, sir, and we’ll ask the young banker and bankeress — not yesterday’s Amphitryon nor his wife; no, no, hang it! but Barnes Newcome is a devilish clever, rising man, and moves in about as good society as any in London. We’ll ask him and Lady Clara and Highgate, and one or two more, and have a pleasant party.”

But to this proposal, when the old man communicated it to her, in a very quiet, simple, artful way, Laura, with a flushing face said No quite abruptly, and quitted the room, rustling in her silks, and showing at once dignity and indignation.

Not many more feasts was Arthur Pendennis, senior, to have in this world. Not many more great men was he to flatter, nor schemes to wink at, nor earthly pleasures to enjoy. His long days were well-nigh ended: on his last couch, which Laura tended so affectionately, with his last breath almost, he faltered out to me. “I had other views for you, my boy, and once hoped to see you in a higher position in life; but I begin to think now, Arthur, that I was wrong; and as for that girl, sir, I am sure she is an angel.”

May I not inscribe the words with a grateful heart? Blessed he — blessed though maybe undeserving — who has the love of a good woman.

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