The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER V

Clive’s Uncles

The dinner so hospitably offered by the Colonel was gladly accepted, and followed by many more entertainments at the cost of that good-natured friend. He and an Indian chum of his lived at this time at Nerot’s Hotel, in Clifford Street, where Mr. Clive, too, found the good cheer a great deal more to his taste than the homely, though plentiful, fare at Grey Friars, at which, of course, when boys, we all turned up our noses, though many a poor fellow, in the struggles of after-life, has looked back with regret very likely to that well-spread youthful table. Thus my intimacy with the father and the son grew to be considerable, and a great deal more to my liking than my relations with Clive’s City uncles, which have been mentioned in the last chapter, and which were, in truth, exceedingly distant and awful.

If all the private accounts kept by those worthy bankers were like mine, where would have been Newcome Hall and Park Lane, Marblehead and Bryanstone Square? I used, by strong efforts of self-denial, to maintain a balance of two or three guineas untouched at the bank, so that my account might still remain open; and fancied the clerks and cashiers grinned when I went to draw for money. Rather than face that awful counter, I would send Larkins, the clerk, or Mrs. Flanagan, the laundress. As for entering the private parlour at the back, wherein behind the glazed partition I could see the bald heads of Newcome Brothers engaged with other capitalists or peering over the newspaper, I would as soon have thought of walking into the Doctor’s own library at Grey Friars, or of volunteering to take an armchair in a dentist’s studio, and have a tooth out, as of entering into that awful precinct. My good uncle, on the other hand, the late Major Pendennis, who kept naturally but a very small account with Hobsons’, would walk into the parlour and salute the two magnates who governed there with the ease and gravity of a Rothschild. “My good fellow,” the kind old gentleman would say to his nephew and pupil, “il faut se faire valoir. I tell you, sir, your bankers like to keep every gentleman’s account. And it’s a mistake to suppose they are only civil to their great moneyed clients. Look at me. I go in to them and talk to them whenever I am in the City. I hear the news of ‘Change, and carry it to our end of the town. It looks well, sir, to be well with your banker; and at our end of London, perhaps, I can do a good turn for the Newcomes.”

It is certain that in his own kingdom of Mayfair and St. James’s my revered uncle was at least the bankers’ equal. On my coming to London, he was kind enough to procure me invitations to some of Lady Anne Newcome’s evening parties in Park Lane, as likewise to Mrs. Newcome’s entertainments in Bryanstone Square; though, I confess, of these latter, after a while, I was a lax and negligent attendant. “Between ourselves, my good fellow,” the shrewd old Mentor of those days would say, “Mrs. Newcome’s parties are not altogether select; nor is she a lady of the very highest breeding; but it gives a man a good air to be seen at his banker’s house. I recommend you to go for a few minutes whenever you are asked.” And go I accordingly did sometimes, though I always fancied, rightly or wrongly, from Mrs. Newcome’s manner to me, that she knew I had but thirty shillings left at the bank. Once and again, in two or three years, Mr. Hobson Newcome would meet me, and ask me to fill a vacant place that day or the next evening at his table; which invitation I might accept or otherwise. But one does not eat a man’s salt, as it were, at these dinners. There is nothing sacred in this kind of London hospitality. Your white waistcoat fills a gap in a man’s table, and retires filled for its service of the evening. “Gad,” the dear old Major used to say, “if we were not to talk freely of those we dine with, how mum London would be! Some of the pleasantest evenings I have ever spent have been when we have sate after a great dinner, en petit comite, and abused the people who are gone. You have your turn, mon cher; but why not? Do you suppose I fancy my friends haven’t found out my little faults and peculiarities? And as I can’t help it, I let myself be executed, and offer up my oddities de bonne grace. Entre nous, Brother Hobson Newcome is a good fellow, but a vulgar fellow; and his wife — his wife exactly suits him.”

Once a year Lady Anne Newcome (about whom my Mentor was much more circumspect; for I somehow used to remark that as the rank of persons grew higher, Major Pendennis spoke of them with more caution and respect)— once or twice in a year Lady Anne Newcome opened her saloons for a concert and a ball, at both of which the whole street was crowded with carriages, and all the great world, and some of the small, were present. Mrs. Newcome had her ball too, and her concert of English music, in opposition to the Italian singers of her sister-inlaw. The music of her country, Mrs. N. said, was good enough for her.

The truth must be told, that there was no love lost between the two ladies. Bryanstone Square could not forget the superiority of Park Lane’s rank; and the catalogue of grandees at dear Anne’s parties filled dear Maria’s heart with envy. There are people upon whom rank and worldly goods make such an impression, that they naturally fall down on their knees and worship the owners; there are others to whom the sight of Prosperity is offensive, and who never see Dives’ chariot but to growl and hoot at it. Mrs. Newcome, as far as my humble experience would lead me to suppose, is not only envious, but proud of her envy. She mistakes it for honesty and public spirit. She will not bow down to kiss the hand of a haughty aristocracy. She is a merchant’s wife and an attorney’s daughter. There is no pride about her. Her brother-inlaw, poor dear Brian — considering everybody knows everything in London, was there ever such a delusion as his? — was welcome, after banking-hours, to forsake his own friends for his wife’s fine relations, and to dangle after lords and ladies in Mayfair. She had no such absurd vanity — not she. She imparted these opinions pretty liberally to all her acquaintances in almost all her conversations. It was clear that the two ladies were best apart. There are some folks who will see insolence in persons of rank, as there are others who will insist; that all clergymen are hypocrites, all reformers villains, all placemen plunderers, and so forth; and Mrs. Newcome never, I am sure, imagined that she had a prejudice, or that she was other than an honest, independent, high-spirited woman. Both of the ladies had command over their husbands, who were of soft natures easily led by woman, as, in truth, are all the males of this family. Accordingly, when Sir Brian Newcome voted for the Tory candidate in the City, Mr. Hobson Newcome plumped for the Reformer. While Brian, in the House of Commons, sat among the mild Conservatives, Hobson unmasked traitors and thundered at aristocratic corruption, so as to make the Marylebone Vestry thrill with enthusiasm. When Lady Anne, her husband, and her flock of children fasted in Lent, and declared for the High Church doctrines, Mrs. Hobson had paroxysms of alarm regarding the progress of Popery, and shuddered out of the chapel where she had a pew, because the clergyman there, for a very brief season, appeared to preach in a surplice.

Poor bewildered Honeyman! it was a sad day for you, when you appeared in your neat pulpit with your fragrant pocket-handkerchief (and your sermon likewise all millefleurs), in a trim, prim, freshly mangled surplice, which you thought became you! How did you look aghast, and pass your jewelled hand through your curls, as you saw Mrs. Newcome, who had been as good as five-and-twenty pounds a year to you, look up from her pew, seize hold of Mr. Newcome, fling open the pew-door, drive out with her parasol her little flock of children, bewildered but not ill-pleased to get away from the sermon, and summon John from the back seats to bring away the bag of prayer-books! Many a good dinner did Charles Honeyman lose by assuming that unlucky ephod. Why did the high-priest of his diocese order him to put it on? It was delightful to view him afterwards, and the airs of martyrdom which he assumed. Had they been going to tear him to pieces with wild beasts next day, he could scarcely have looked more meek, or resigned himself more pathetically to the persecutors. But I am advancing matters. At this early time of which I write, a period not twenty years since, surplices were not even thought of in conjunction with sermons: clerical gentlemen have appeared in them, and under the heavy hand of persecution have sunk down in their pulpits again, as Jack pops back into his box. Charles Honeyman’s elegant discourses were at this time preached in a rich silk Master of Arts’ gown, presented to him, along with a teapot full of sovereigns, by his affectionate congregation at Leatherhead.

But that I may not be accused of prejudice in describing Mrs. Newcome and her family, and lest the reader should suppose that some slight offered to the writer by this wealthy and virtuous banker’s lady was the secret reason for this unfavourable sketch of her character, let me be allowed to report, as accurately as I can remember them, the words of a kinsman of her own, —— Giles, Esquire, whom I had the honour of meeting at her table, and who, as we walked away from Bryanstone Square, was kind enough to discourse very freely about the relatives whom he had just left.

“That was a good dinner, sir,” said Mr. Giles, puffing the cigar which I offered to him, and disposed to be very social and communicative. “Hobson Newcome’s table is about as good a one as any I ever put my legs under. You didn’t have twice of turtle, sir, I remarked that — I always do, at that house especially, for I know where Newcome gets it. We belong to the same livery in the City, Hobson and I, the Oystermongers’ Company, sir, and we like our turtle good, I can tell you — good, and a great deal of it, you say. Hay, hay, not so bad!

“I suppose you’re a young barrister, sucking lawyer, or that sort of thing. Because you was put at the end of the table and nobody took notice of you. That’s my place too; I’m a relative and Newcome asks me if he has got a place to spare. He met me in the City today, and says, ‘Tom,’ says he, ‘there’s some dinner in the Square at half-past seven: I wish you would go and fetch Louisa, whom we haven’t seen this ever so long.’ Louisa is my wife, sir — Maria’s sister — Newcome married that gal from my house. ‘No, no,’ says I, ‘Hobson; Louisa’s engaged nursing number eight’ — that’s our number, sir. The truth is, between you and me, sir, my missis won’t come any more at no price. She can’t stand it; Mrs. Newcome’s dam patronising airs is enough to choke off anybody. ‘Well, Hobson, my boy,’ says I, ‘a good dinner’s a good dinner; and I’ll come though Louisa won’t, that is, can’t.’”

While Mr. Giles, who was considerably enlivened by claret, was discoursing thus candidly, his companion was thinking how he, Mr. Arthur Pendennis, had been met that very afternoon on the steps of the Megatherium Club by Mr. Newcome, and had accepted that dinner which Mrs. Giles, with more spirit, had declined. Giles continued talking —“I’m an old stager, I am. I don’t mind the rows between the women. I believe Mrs. Newcome and Lady Newcome’s just as bad too; I know Maria is always driving at her one way or the other, and calling her proud and aristocratic, and that; and yet my wife says Maria, who pretends to be such a Radical, never asks us to meet the Baronet and his lady. ‘And why should she, Loo, my dear?’ says I. ‘I don’t want to meet Lady Newcome, nor Lord Kew, nor any of ’em.’ Lord Kew, ain’t it an odd name? Tearing young swell, that Lord Kew: tremendous wild fellow.”

“I was a clerk in that house, sir, as a young man; I was there in the old woman’s time, and Mr. Newcome’s — the father of these young men — as good a man as ever stood on ‘Change.” And then Mr. Giles, warming with his subject, enters at large into the history of the house. “You see, sir,” says he, “the banking-house of Hobson Brothers, or Newcome Brothers, as the partners of the firm really are, is not one of the leading banking firms of the City of London, but a most respectable house of many years’ standing, and doing a most respectable business, especially in the Dissenting connection.” After the business came into the hands of the Newcome Brothers, Hobson Newcome, Esq., and Sir Brian Newcome, Bart., M.P., Mr. Giles shows how a considerable West End connection was likewise established, chiefly through the aristocratic friends and connections of the above-named Bart.

But the best man of business, according to Mr. Giles, whom the firm of Hobson Brothers ever knew, better than her father and uncle, better than her husband Sir T. Newcome, better than her sons and successors above mentioned, was the famous Sophia Alethea Hobson, afterwards Newcome — of whom might be said what Frederick the Great said of his sister, that she was sexu foemina, vir ingenio — in sex a woman, and in mind a man. Nor was she, my informant told me, without even manly personal characteristics: she had a very deep and gruff voice, and in her old age a beard which many a young man might envy; and as she came into the bank out of her carriage from Clapham, in her dark green pelisse with fur trimmings, in her grey beaver hat, beaver gloves, and great gold spectacles, not a clerk in that house did not tremble before her, and it was said she only wanted a pipe in her mouth considerably to resemble the late Field-Marshal Prince Blucher.

Her funeral was one of the most imposing sights ever witnessed in Clapham. There was such a crowd you might have thought it was a Derby-day. The carriages of some of the greatest City firms, and the wealthiest Dissenting houses; several coaches full of ministers of all denominations, including the Established Church; the carriage of the Right Honourable the Earl of Kew, and that of his daughter, Lady Anne Newcome, attended that revered lady’s remains to their final resting-place. No less than nine sermons were preached at various places of public worship regarding her end. She fell upstairs at a very advanced age, going from the library to the bedroom, after all the household was gone to rest, and was found by the maids in the morning, inarticulate, but still alive, her head being cut frightfully with the bedroom candle with which she was retiring to her apartment. “And,” said Mr. Giles with great energy, “besides the empty carriages at that funeral, and the parson in black, and the mutes and feathers and that, there were hundreds and hundreds of people who wore no black, and who weren’t present; and who wept for their benefactress, I can tell you. She had her faults, and many of ’em; but the amount of that woman’s charities are unheard of, sir — unheard of — and they are put to the credit side of her account up yonder.

“The old lady had a will of her own,” my companion continued. “She would try and know about everybody’s business out of business hours: got to know from the young clerks what chapels they went to, and from the clergymen whether they attended regular; kept her sons, years after they were grown men, as if they were boys at school — and what was the consequence? They had a quarrel with Sir Thomas Newcome’s own son, a harum-scarum lad, who ran away, and then was sent to India; and, between ourselves, Mr. Hobson and Mr. Brian both, the present Baronet, though at home they were as mum as Quakers at a meeting, used to go out on the sly, sir, and be off to the play, sir, and sowed their wild oats like any other young men, sir, like any other young men. Law bless me, once, as I was going away from the Haymarket, if I didn’t see Mr. Hobson coming out of the Opera, in tights and an opera-hat, sir, like ‘Froggy would wooing go,’ of a Saturday-night, too, when his ma thought him safe in bed in the City! I warrant he hadn’t his opera-hat on when he went to chapel with her ladyship the next morning — that very morning, as sure as my name’s John Giles.

“When the old lady was gone, Mr. Hobson had no need of any more humbugging, but took his pleasure freely. Fighting, tandems, four-inhand, anything. He and his brother — his elder brother by a quarter of an hour — were always very good friends; but after Mr. Brian married, and there was only court-cards at his table, Mr. Hobson couldn’t stand it. They weren’t of his suit, he said; and for some time he said he wasn’t a marrying man — quite the contrary; but we all come to our fate, you know, and his time came as mine did. You know we married sisters? It was thought a fine match for Polly Smith, when she married the great Mr. Newcome; but I doubt whether my old woman at home hasn’t had the best of it, after all; and if ever you come Bernard Street way on a Sunday, about six o’clock, and would like a slice of beef and a glass of port, I hope you’ll come and see us.”

Do not let us be too angry with Colonel Newcome’s two most respectable brothers, if for some years they neglected their Indian relative, or held him in slight esteem. Their mother never pardoned him, or at least by any actual words admitted his restoration to favour. For many years, as far as they knew, poor Tom was an unrepentant prodigal, wallowing in bad company, and cut off from all respectable sympathy. Their father had never had the courage to acquaint them with his more true, and kind, and charitable version of Tom’s story. So he passed at home for no better than a black sheep; his marriage with a penniless young lady did not tend to raise him in the esteem of his relatives at Clapham; it was not until he was a widower, until he had been mentioned several times in the Gazette for distinguished military service, until they began to speak very well of him in Leadenhall Street, where the representatives of Hobson Brothers were of course East India proprietors, and until he remitted considerable sums of money to England, that the bankers his brethren began to be reconciled to him.

I say, do not let us be hard upon them. No people are so ready to give a man a bad name as his own kinsfolk; and having made him that present, they are ever most unwilling to take it back again. If they give him nothing else in the days of his difficulty, he may be sure of their pity, and that he is held up as an example to his young cousins to avoid. If he loses his money they call him poor fellow, and point morals out of him. If he falls among thieves, the respectable Pharisees of his race turn their heads aside and leave him penniless and bleeding. They clap him on the back kindly enough when he returns, after shipwreck, with money in his pocket. How naturally Joseph’s brothers made salaams to him, and admired him, and did him honour, when they found the poor outcast a prime minister, and worth ever so much money! Surely human nature is not much altered since the days of those primeval Jews. We would not thrust brother Joseph down a well and sell him bodily, but — but if he has scrambled out of a well of his own digging, and got out of his early bondage into renown and credit, at least we applaud him and respect him, and are proud of Joseph as a member of the family.

Little Clive was the innocent and lucky object upon whom the increasing affection of the Newcomes for their Indian brother was exhibited. When he was first brought home a sickly child, consigned to his maternal aunt, the kind old maiden lady at Brighton, Hobson Brothers scarce took any notice of the little man, but left him to the entire superintendence of his own family. Then there came a large remittance from his father, and the child was asked by Uncle Newcome at Christmas. Then his father’s name was mentioned in general orders, and Uncle Hobson asked little Clive at Midsummer. Then Lord H., a late Governor-General, coming home, and meeting the brothers at a grand dinner at the Albion, given by the Court of Directors to his late Excellency, spoke to the bankers about that most distinguished officer their relative; and Mrs. Hobson drove over to see his aunt, where the boy was; gave him a sovereign out of her purse, and advised strongly that he should be sent to Timpany’s along wit her own boy. Then Clive went from one uncle’s house to another; and was liked at both; and much preferred ponies to ride, going out after rabbits with the keeper, money in his pocket (charge to the debit of Lieut.-Col. T. Newcome), and clothes from the London tailor, to the homely quarters and conversation of poor kind old Aunt Honeyman at Brighton. Clive’s uncles were not unkind; they liked each other; their wives, who hated each other, united in liking Clive when they knew him, and petting the wayward handsome boy: they were only pursuing the way of the world, which huzzas all prosperity, and turns away from misfortune as from some contagious disease. Indeed, how can we see a man’s brilliant qualities if he is what we call in the shade?

The gentlemen, Clive’s uncles, who had their affairs to mind during the day, society and the family to occupy them of evenings and holidays, treated their young kinsman, the Indian Colonel’s son, as other wealthy British uncles treat other young kinsmen. They received him in his vacations kindly enough. They tipped him when he went to school; when he had the hooping-cough, a confidential young clerk went round by way of Grey Friars Square to ask after him; the sea being recommended to him, Mrs. Newcome gave him change of air in Sussex, and transferred him to his maternal aunt at Brighton. Then it was bonjour. As the lodge-gates closed upon him, Mrs. Newcome’s heart shut up too and confined itself within the firs, laurels, and palings which bound the home precincts. Had not she her own children and affairs? her brood of fowls, her Sunday-school, her melon-beds, her rose-garden, her quarrel with the parson, etc., to attend to? Mr. Newcome, arriving on a Saturday night; hears he is gone, says “Oh!” and begins to ask about the new gravel-walk along the cliff, and whether it is completed, and if the China pig fattens kindly upon the new feed.

Clive, in the avuncular gig, is driven over the downs to Brighton to his maternal aunt there; and there he is a king. He has the best bedroom, Uncle Honeyman turning out for him sweetbreads for dinner; no end of jam for breakfast; excuses from church on the plea of delicate health; his aunt’s maid to see him to bed; his aunt to come smiling in when he rings his bell of a morning. He is made much of, and coaxed, and dandled and fondled, as if he were a young duke. So he is to Miss Honeyman. He is the son of Colonel Newcome, C.B., who sends her shawls, ivory chessmen, scented sandalwood workboxes and kincob scarfs; who, as she tells Martha the maid, has fifty servants in India; at which Martha constantly exclaims, “Lor’, mum, what can he do with ’em, mum?” who, when in consequence of her misfortunes she resolved on taking a house at Brighton, and letting part of the same furnished, sent her an order for a hundred pounds towards the expenses thereof; who gave Mr. Honeyman, her brother, a much larger sum of money at the period of his calamity. Is it gratitude for past favours? is it desire for more? is it vanity of relationship? is it love for the dead sister — or tender regard for her offspring which makes Mrs. Martha Honeyman so fond of her nephew? I never could count how many causes went to produce any given effect or action in a person’s life, and have been for my own part many a time quite misled in my own case, fancying some grand, some magnanimous, some virtuous reason, for an act of which I was proud, when lo! some pert little satirical monitor springs up inwardly, upsetting the fond humbug which I was cherishing — the peacock’s tail wherein my absurd vanity had clad itself — and says, “Away with this boasting! I am the cause of your virtue, my lad. You are pleased that yesterday at dinner you refrained from the dry champagne? My name is Worldly Prudence, not Self-denial, and I caused you to refrain. You are pleased because you gave a guinea to Diddler? I am Laziness, not Generosity, which inspired you. You hug yourself because you resisted other temptation? Coward! it was because you dared not run the risk of the wrong. Out with your peacock’s plumage! walk off in the feathers which Nature gave you, and thank Heaven they are not altogether black.” In a word, Aunt Honeyman was a kind soul, and such was the splendour of Clive’s father, of his gifts, his generosity, his military services, and companionship of the battles, that the lad did really appear a young duke to her. And Mrs. Newcome was not unkind: and if Clive had been really a young duke, I am sure he would have had the best bedroom at Marble Hill, and not one of the far-off little rooms in the boys’ wing; I am sure he would have had jellies and Charlottes Russes, instead of mere broth, chicken, and batter-pudding, as fell to his lot; and when he was gone (in the carriage, mind you, not in the gig driven by a groom), I am sure Mrs. Newcome would have written a letter that night to Her Grace the Duchess Dowager his mamma, full of praise of the dear child, his graciousness, his beauty, and his wit, and declaring that she must love him henceforth and for ever after as a son of her own. You toss down the page with scorn, and say, “It is not true. Human nature is not so bad as this cynic would have it to be. You would make no difference between the rich and the poor.” Be it so. You would not. But own that your next-door neighbour would. Nor is this, dear madam, addressed to you; no, no, we are not so rude as to talk about you to your face; but if we may not speak of the lady who has just left the room, what is to become of conversation and society?

We forbear to describe the meeting between the Colonel and his son — the pretty boy from whom he had parted more than seven years before with such pangs of heart; and of whom he had thought ever since with such a constant longing affection. Half an hour after the father left the boy, and in his grief and loneliness was rowing back to shore, Clive was at play with a dozen of other children on the sunny deck of the ship. When two bells rang for their dinner, they were all hurrying to the cuddy table, and busy over their meal. What a sad repast their parents had that day! How their hearts followed the careless young ones home across the great ocean! Mothers’ prayers go with them. Strong men, alone on their knees, with streaming eyes and broken accents, implore Heaven for those little ones, who were prattling at their sides but a few hours since. Long after they are gone, careless and happy, recollections of the sweet past rise up and smite those who remain: the flowers they had planted in their little gardens, the toys they played with, the little vacant cribs they slept in as fathers’ eyes looked blessings down on them. Most of us who have passed a couple of score of years in the world, have had such sights as these to move us. And those who have will think none the worse of my worthy Colonel for his tender and faithful heart.

With that fidelity which was an instinct of his nature, this brave man thought ever of his absent child, and longed after him. He never forsook the native servants and nurses who had had charge of the child, but endowed them with money sufficient (and indeed little was wanted by people of that frugal race) to make all their future lives comfortable. No friends went to Europe, nor ship departed, but Newcome sent presents and remembrances to the boy, and costly tokens of his love and thanks to all who were kind to his son. What a strange pathos seems to me to accompany all our Indian story! Besides that official history which fills Gazettes, and embroiders banners with names of victory; which gives moralists and enemies cause to cry out at English rapine; and enables patriots to boast of invincible British valour — besides the splendour and conquest, the wealth and glory, the crowned ambition, the conquered danger, the vast prize, and the blood freely shed in winning it — should not one remember the tears, too? Besides the lives of myriads of British men, conquering on a hundred fields, from Plassey to Meanee, and bathing them cruore nostro: think of the women, and the tribute which they perforce must pay to those victorious achievements. Scarce a soldier goes to yonder shores but leaves a home and grief in it behind him. The lords of the subject province find wives there; but their children cannot live on the soil. The parents bring their children to the shore, and part from them. The family must be broken up — keep the flowers of your home beyond a certain time, and the sickening buds wither and die. In America it is from the breast of a poor slave that a child is taken. In India it is from the wife, and from under the palace, of a splendid proconsul.

The experience of this grief made Newcome’s naturally kind heart only the more tender, and hence he had a weakness for children which made him the laughing-stock of old maids, old bachelors, and sensible persons; but the darling of all nurseries, to whose little inhabitants he was uniformly kind: were they the collectors’ progeny in their palanquins, or the sergeants’ children tumbling about the cantonment, or the dusky little heathens in the huts of his servants round his gate.

It is known that there is no part of the world where ladies are more fascinating than in British India. Perhaps the warmth of the sun kindles flames in the hearts of both sexes, which would probably beat quite coolly in their native air: else why should Miss Brown be engaged ten days after her landing at Calcutta? or why should Miss Smith have half a dozen proposals before she has been a week at the station? And it is not only bachelors on whom the young ladies confer their affections; they will take widowers without any difficulty; and a man so generally liked as Major Newcome, with such a good character, with a private fortune of his own, so chivalrous, generous, good-looking, eligible in a word, you may be sure would have found a wife easily enough, had he any mind for replacing the late Mrs. Casey.

The Colonel, as has been stated, had an Indian chum or companion, with whom he shared his lodgings; and from many jocular remarks of this latter gentleman (who loved good jokes, and uttered not a few) I could gather that the honest widower Colonel Newcome had been often tempted to alter his condition, and that the Indian ladies had tried numberless attacks upon his bereaved heart, and devised endless schemes of carrying it by assault, treason, or other mode of capture. Mrs. Casey (his defunct wife) had overcome it by sheer pity and helplessness. He had found her so friendless, that he took her into the vacant place, and installed her there as he would have received a traveller into his bungalow. He divided his meal with her, and made her welcome to his best. “I believe Tom Newcome married her,” sly Mr. Binnie used to say, “in order that he might have permission to pay her milliner’s bills;” and in this way he was amply gratified until the day of her death. A feeble miniature of the lady, with yellow ringlets and a guitar, hung over the mantelpiece of the Colonel’s bedchamber, where I have often seen that work of art; and subsequently, when he and Mr. Binnie took a house, there was hung up in the spare bedroom a companion portrait to the miniature — that of the Colonel’s predecessor, Jack Casey, who in life used to fling plates at his Emma’s head, and who perished from a fatal attachment to the bottle. I am inclined to think that Colonel Newcome was not much cast down by the loss of his wife, and that they lived but indifferently together. Clive used to say in his artless way that his father scarcely ever mentioned his mother’s name; and no doubt the union was not happy, although Newcome continued piously to acknowledge it, long after death had brought it to a termination, by constant benefactions and remembrances to the departed lady’s kindred.

Those widows or virgins who endeavoured to fill Emma’s place found the door of Newcombe’s heart fast and barred, and assailed it in vain. Miss Billing sat down before it with her piano, and, as the Colonel was a practitioner on the flute, hoped to make all life one harmonious duet with him; but she played her most brilliant sonatas and variations in vain; and, as everybody knows, subsequently carried her grand piano to Lieutenant and Adjutant Hodgkin’s house, whose name she now bears. The lovely widow Wilkins, with two darling little children, stopped at Newcome’s hospitable house, on her way to Calcutta; and it was thought she might never leave it; but her kind host, as was his wont, crammed her children with presents and good things, consoled and entertained the fair widow, and one morning, after she had remained three months at the station, the Colonel’s palanquins and bearers made their appearance, and Elvira Wilkins went away weeping as a widow should. Why did she abuse Newcome ever after at Calcutta, Bath, Cheltenham, and wherever she went, calling him selfish, pompous, Quixotic, and a Bahawder? I could mention half a dozen other names of ladies of most respectable families connected with Leadenhall Street, who, according to Colonel Newcome’s chum — that wicked Mr. Binnie — had all conspired more or less to give Clive Newcome a stepmother.

But he had had an unlucky experience in his own case; and thought within himself, “No, I won’t give Clive a stepmother. As Heaven has taken his own mother from him, why, I must try to be father and mother too to the lad.” He kept the child as long as ever the climate would allow of his remaining, and then sent him home. Then his aim was to save money for the youngster. He was of a nature so uncontrollably generous, that to be sure he spent five rupees where another would save them, and make a fine show besides; but it is not a man’s gifts or hospitalities that generally injure his fortune. It is on themselves that prodigals spend most. And as Newcome had no personal extravagances, and the smallest selfish wants; could live almost as frugally as a Hindoo; kept his horses not to race but to ride; wore his old clothes and uniforms until they were the laughter of his regiment; did not care for show, and had no longer an extravagant wife; he managed to lay by considerably out of his liberal allowances, and to find himself and Clive growing richer every year.

“When Clive has had five or six years at school”— that was his scheme — “he will be a fine scholar, and have at least as much classical learning as a gentleman in the world need possess. Then I will go to England, and we will pass three or four years together, in which he will learn to be intimate with me, and, I hope, to like me. I shall be his pupil for Latin and Greek, and try and make up for lost time. I know there is nothing like a knowledge of the classics to give a man good breeding — Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollunt mores, nec sinuisse feros. I shall be able to help him with my knowledge of the world, and to keep him out of the way of sharpers and a pack of rogues who commonly infest young men. I will make myself his companion, and pretend to no superiority; for, indeed, isn’t he my superior? Of course he is, with his advantages. He hasn’t been an idle young scamp as I was. And we will travel together, first through England, Scotland, and Ireland, for every man should know his own country, and then we will make the grand tour. Then, by the time he is eighteen, he will be able to choose his profession. He can go into the army, and emulate the glorious man after whom I named him; or if he prefers the church, or the law, they are open to him; and when he goes to the university, by which time I shall be in all probability a major-general, I can come back to India for a few years, and return by the time he has a wife and a home for his old father; or if I die I shall have done the best for him, and my boy will be left with the best education, a tolerable small fortune, and the blessing of his old father.”

Such were the plans of our kind schemer. How fondly he dwelt on them, how affectionately he wrote of them to his boy! How he read books of travels and looked over the maps of Europe! and said, “Rome, sir, glorious Rome; it won’t be very long, Major, before my boy and I see the Colosseum, and kiss the Pope’s toe. We shall go up the Rhine to Switzerland, and over the Simplon, the work of the great Napoleon. By Jove, sir, think of the Turks before Vienna, and Sobieski clearing eighty thousand of ’em off the face of the earth! How my boy will rejoice in the picture-galleries there, and in Prince Eugene’s prints! You know, I suppose, that Prince Eugene, one of the greatest generals in the world, was also one of the greatest lovers of the fine arts. Ingenuas didicisse, hey, Doctor! you know the rest — emollunt mores nec ——”

“Emollunt mores! Colonel,” says Doctor McTaggart, who perhaps was too canny to correct the commanding officer’s Latin. “Don’t ye noo that Prence Eugene was about as savage a Turrk as iver was? Have ye niver rad the mimores of the Prants de Leen?”

“Well, he was a great cavalry officer,” answers the Colonel, “and he left a great collection of prints — that you know. How Clive will delight in them! The boy’s talent for drawing is wonderful, sir, wonderful. He sent me a picture of our old school — the very actual thing, sir; the cloisters, the school, the head gown-boy going in with the rods, and the Doctor himself. It would make you die of laughing!”

He regaled the ladies of the regiment with Clive’s letters, and those of Miss Honeyman, which contained an account of the boy. He even bored some of his bearers with this prattle; and sporting young men would give or take odds that the Colonel would mention Clive’s name, once before five minutes, three times in ten minutes, twenty-five times in the course of dinner, and so on. But they who laughed at the Colonel laughed very kindly; and everybody who knew him, loved him; everybody, that is, who loved modesty, and generosity, and honour.

At last the happy time came for which the kind father had been longing more passionately than any prisoner for liberty, or schoolboy for holiday. Colonel Newcome has taken leave of his regiment, leaving Major Tomkinson, nothing loth, in command. He has travelled to Calcutta; and the Commander-inChief, in general orders, has announced that in giving to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Newcome, C.B., of the Bengal Cavalry, leave for the first time, after no less than thirty-four years’ absence from home, “he (Sir George Hustler) cannot refrain from expressing his sense of the great and meritorious services of this most distinguished officer, who has left his regiment in a state of the highest discipline and efficiency.” And now the ship has sailed, the voyage is over, and once more, after so many long years, the honest soldier’s foot is on his native shore.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter5.html

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