The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LIV

Has a Tragical Ending

Clive presently answered the question which his father put to him in the last chapter, by producing from the ledge of his easel a crumpled paper, full of Cavendish now, but on which was written Sir Barnes Newcome’s reply to his cousin’s polite invitation. Sir Barnes Newcome wrote, “that he thought a reference to a friend was quite unnecessary, in the most disagreeable and painful dispute in which Mr. Clive desired to interfere as a principal; that the reasons which prevented Sir Barnes from taking notice of Colonel Newcome’s shameful and ungentlemanlike conduct applied equally, as Mr. Clive Newcome very well knew, to himself; that if further insult was offered, or outrage attempted, Sir Barnes should resort to the police for protection; that he was about to quit London, and certainly should not delay his departure on account of Mr. Clive Newcome’s monstrous proceedings; and that he desired to take leave of an odious subject, as of an individual whom he had striven to treat with kindness, but from whom, from youth upwards, Sir Barnes Newcome had received nothing but insolence, enmity, and ill-will.”

“He is an ill man to offend,” remarked Mr. Pendennis. “I don’t think he has ever forgiven that claret, Clive.”

“Pooh! the feud dates from long before that,” said Clive; “Barnes wanted to lick me when I was a boy, and I declined: in fact, I think he had rather the worst of it; but then I operated freely on his shins, and that wasn’t fair in war, you know.”

“Heaven forgive me,” cries the Colonel; “I have always felt the fellow was my enemy: and my mind is relieved now war is declared. It has been a kind of hypocrisy with me to shake his hand and eat his dinner. When I trusted him it was against my better instinct; and I have been struggling against it these ten years, thinking it was a wicked prejudice, and ought to be overcome.”

“Why should we overcome such instincts?” asks Mr. Warrington. “Why shouldn’t we hate what is hateful in people and scorn what is mean? From what friend Pen has described to me, and from some other accounts which have come to my ears, your respectable nephew is about as loathsome a little villain as crawls on the earth. Good seems to be out of his sphere, and away from his contemplation. He ill-treats every one he comes near; or, if, gentle to them, it is that they may serve some base purpose. Since my attention has been drawn to the creature, I have been contemplating his ways with wonder and curiosity. How much superior Nature’s rogues are, Pen, to the villains you novelists put into your books! This man goes about his life business with a natural propensity to darkness and evil — as a bug crawls, and stings, and stinks. I don’t suppose the fellow feels any more remorse than a cat that runs away with a mutton-chop. I recognise the Evil Spirit, sir, and do honour to Ahrimanes, in taking off my hat to this young man. He seduced a poor girl in his father’s country town — is it not natural? Deserted her and her children — don’t you recognise the beast? married for rank — could you expect otherwise from him? invites my Lord Highgate to his house in consideration of his balance at the bank; — sir, unless somebody’s heel shall crunch him on the way, there is no height to which this aspiring vermin mayn’t crawl. I look to see Sir Barnes Newcome prosper more and more. I make no doubt he will die an immense capitalist, and an exalted Peer of this realm. He will have a marble monument, and a pathetic funeral sermon. There is a divine in your family, Clive, that shall preach it. I will weep respectful tears over the grave of Baron Newcome, Viscount Newcome, Earl Newcome; and the children whom he has deserted, and who, in the course of time, will be sent by a grateful nation to New South Wales, will proudly say to their brother convicts — ‘Yes, the Earl was our honoured father.’”

“I fear he is no better than he should be, Mr. Warrington,” says the Colonel, shaking his head. “I never heard the story about the deserted children.”

“How should you, O you guileless man!” cries Warrington.

“I am not in the ways of scandal-hearing myself much: but this tale I had from Sir Barnes Newcome’s own country. Mr. Batters of the Newcome Independent is my esteemed client. I write leading articles for his newspaper, and when he was in town last spring he favoured me with the anecdote; and proposed to amuse the Member for Newcome by publishing it in his journal. This kind of writing is not much in my line: and, out of respect to you and your young one, I believe — I strove with Mr. Batters, and — entreated him and prevailed with him, not to publish the story. That is how I came to know it.”

I sate with the Colonel in the evening, when he commented on Warrington’s story and Sir Barnes’s adventures in his simple way. He said his brother Hobson had been with him the morning after the dispute, reiterating Barnes’s defence of his conduct: and professing on his own part nothing but goodwill towards his brother. “Between ourselves the young Baronet carries matters with rather a high hand sometimes, and I am not sorry that you gave him a little dressing. But you were too hard upon him, Colonel — really you were.” “Had I known that child-deserting story I would have given it harder still, sir,” says Thomas Newcome, twirling his mustachios: “but my brother had nothing to do with the quarrel, and very rightly did not wish to engage in it. He has an eye to business, has Master Hobson too,” my friend continued: “for he brought me a cheque for my private account, which of course, he said, could not remain after my quarrel with Barnes. But the Indian bank account, which is pretty large, he supposed need not be taken away? and indeed why should it? So that, which is little business of mine, remains where it was; and brother Hobson and I remain perfectly good friends.

“I think Clive is much better since he has been quite put out of his suspense. He speaks with a great deal more kindness and good-nature about the marriage than I am disposed to feel regarding it: and depend on it has too high a spirit to show that he is beaten. But I know he is a good deal cut up, though he says nothing; and he agreed willingly enough to take a little journey, Arthur, and be out of the way when this business takes place. We shall go to Paris: I don’t know where else besides. These misfortunes do good in one way, hard as they are to bear: they unite people who love each other. It seems to me my boy has been nearer to me, and likes his old father better than he has done of late.” And very soon after this talk our friends departed.

The Crimean minister having been recalled, and Lady Anne Newcome’s house in park Lane being vacant, her ladyship and her family came to occupy the mansion for this eventful season, and sate once more in the dismal dining-room under the picture of the defunct Sir Brian. A little of the splendour and hospitality of old days was revived in the house: entertainments were given by Lady Anne: and amongst other festivities a fine ball took place, when pretty Miss Alice, Miss Ethel’s younger sister, made her first appearance in the world, to which she was afterwards to be presented by the Marchioness of Farintosh. All the little sisters were charmed, no doubt, that the beautiful Ethel was to become a beautiful Marchioness, who, as they came up to womanhood one after another, would introduce them severally to amiable young earls, dukes, and marquises, when they would be married off and wear coronets and diamonds of their own right. At Lady Anne’s ball I saw my acquaintance, young Mumford, who was going to Oxford next October, and about to leave Rugby, where he was at the head of the school, looking very dismal as Miss Alice whirled round the room dancing in Viscount Bustington’s arms; — Miss Alice, with whose mamma he used to take tea at Rugby, and for whose pretty sake Mumford did Alfred Newcome’s verses for him and let him off his thrashings. Poor Mumford! he dismally went about under the protection of young Alfred, a fourth-form boy — not one soul did he know in that rattling London ballroom; his young face — as white as the large white tie, donned two hours since at the Tavistock with such nervousness and beating of heart!

With these lads, and decorated with a tie equally splendid, moved about young Sam Newcome, who was shirking from his sister and his mamma. Mrs. Hobson had actually assumed clean gloves for this festive occasion. Sam stared at all the “Nobs:” and insisted upon being introduced to “Farintosh,” and congratulated his lordship with much graceful ease: and then pushed about the rooms perseveringly hanging on to Alfred’s jacket. “I say, I wish you wouldn’t call me Al’,” I heard Mr. Alfred say to his cousin. Seeing my face, Mr. Samuel ran up to claim acquaintance. He was good enough to say he thought Farintosh seemed devilish haughty. Even my wife could not help saying, that Mr. Sam was an odious little creature.

So it was for young Alfred, and his brothers and sisters, who would want help and protection in the world, that Ethel was about to give up her independence, her inclination perhaps, and to bestow her life on yonder young nobleman. Looking at her as a girl devoting herself to her family, her sacrifice gave her a melancholy interest in our eyes. My wife and I watched her, grave and beautiful, moving through the rooms, receiving and returning a hundred greetings, bending to compliments, talking with this friend and that, with my lord’s lordly relations, with himself, to whom she listened deferentially; faintly smiling as he spoke now and again; doing the honours of her mother’s house. Lady after lady of his lordship’s clan and kinsfolk complimented the girl and her pleased mother. Old Lady Kew was radiant (if one can call radiance the glances of those darkling old eyes). She sate in a little room apart, and thither people went to pay their court to her. Unwillingly I came in on this levee with my wife on my arm: Lady Kew scowled at me over her crutch, but without a sign of recognition. “What an awful countenance that old woman has!” Laura whispered as we retreated out of that gloomy presence.

And Doubt (as its wont is) whispered too a question in my ear, “Is it for her brothers and sisters only that Miss Ethel is sacrificing herself? Is it not for the coronet, and the triumph, and the fine houses?” “When two motives may actuate a friend, we surely may try and believe in the good one,” says Laura. “But, but I am glad Clive does not marry her — poor fellow — he would not have been happy with her. She belongs to this great world: she has spent all her life in it: Clive would have entered into it very likely in her train; and you know, sir, it is not good that we should be our husbands’ superiors,” adds Mrs. Laura, with a curtsey.

She presently pronounced that the air was very hot in the rooms, and in fact wanted to go home to see her child. As we passed out, we saw Sir Barnes Newcome, eagerly smiling, smirking, bowing, and in the fondest conversation with his sister and Lord Farintosh. By Sir Barnes presently brushed Lieutenant-General Sir George Tufto, K.C.B., who, when he saw on whose foot he had trodden, grunted out, “H’m, beg your pardon!” and turning his back on Barnes, forthwith began complimenting Ethel and the Marquis. “Served with your lordship’s father in Spain; glad to make your lordship’s acquaintance,” says Sir George. Ethel bows to us as we pass out of the rooms, and we hear no more of Sir George’s conversation.

In the cloak-room sits Lady Clara Newcome, with a gentleman bending over her, just in such an attitude as the bride is in Hogarth’s “Marriage a la Mode” as the counsellor talks to her. Lady Clara starts up as a crowd of blushes come into her wan face, and tries to smile, and rises to greet my wife, and says something about its being so dreadfully hot in the upper rooms, and so very tedious waiting for the carriages. The gentleman advances towards me with a military stride, and says, “How do you do, Mr. Pendennis? How’s our young friend, the painter?” I answer Lord Highgate civilly enough, whereas my wife will scarce speak a word in reply to Lady Clara Newcome.

Lady Clara asked us to her ball, which my wife declined altogether to attend. Sir Barnes published a series of quite splendid entertainments on the happy occasion of his sister’s betrothal. We read the names of all the clan Farintosh in the Morning Post, as attending these banquets. Mr. and Mrs. Hobson Newcome, in Bryanstone Square, gave also signs of rejoicing at their niece’s marriage. They had a grand banquet followed by a tea, to which latter amusement the present biographer was invited. Lady Anne, and Lady Kew and her granddaughter, and the Baronet and his wife, and my Lord Highgate and Sir George Tufto attended the dinner; but it was rather a damp entertainment. “Farintosh,” whispers Sam Newcome, “sent word just before dinner that he had a sore throat, and Barnes was as sulky as possible. Sir George wouldn’t speak to him, and the Dowager wouldn’t speak to Lord Highgate. Scarcely anything was drank,” concluded Mr. Sam, with a slight hiccup. “I say, Pendennis, how sold Clive will be!” And the amiable youth went off to commune with others of his parents’ guests.

Thus the Newcomes entertained the Farintoshes, and the Farintoshes entertained the Newcomes. And the Dowager Countess of Kew went from assembly to assembly every evening, and to jewellers and upholsterers and dressmakers every morning; and Lord Farintosh’s town-house was splendidly re-decorated in the newest fashion; and he seemed to grow more and more attentive as the happy day approached, and he gave away all his cigars to his brother Rob; and his sisters were delighted with Ethel, and constantly in her company, and his mother was pleased with her, and thought a girl of her spirit and resolution would make a good wife for her son: and select crowds flocked to see the service of plate at Handyman’s, and the diamonds which were being set for the lady; and Smee, R.A., painted her portrait, as a souvenir for mamma when Miss Newcome should be Miss Newcome no more; and Lady Kew made a will leaving all she could leave to her beloved granddaughter, Ethel, daughter of the late Sir Brian Newcome, Baronet; and Lord Kew wrote an affectionate letter to his cousin, congratulating her, and wishing her happiness with all his heart; and I was glancing over The Times newspaper at breakfast one morning; when I laid it down with an exclamation which caused my wife to start with surprise.

“What is it?” cries Laura, and I read as follows:—

“‘Death of the Countess Dowager of Kew. — We regret to have to announce the awfully sudden death of this venerable lady. Her ladyship, who had been at several parties of the nobility the night before last, seemingly in perfect health, was seized with a fit as she was waiting for her carriage, and about to quit Lady Pallgrave’s assembly. Immediate medical assistance was procured, and her ladyship was carried to her own house, in Queen Street, Mayfair. But she never rallied, or, we believe, spoke, after the first fatal seizure, and sank at eleven o’clock last evening, The deceased, Louisa Joanna Gaunt, widow of Frederic, first Earl of Kew, was daughter of Charles, Earl of Gaunt, and sister of the late and aunt of the present Marquis of Steyne. The present Earl of Kew is her ladyship’s grandson, his lordship’s father, Lord Walham, having died before his own father, the first earl. Many noble families are placed in mourning by this sad event. Society has to deplore the death of a lady who has been its ornament for more than half a century, and who was known, we may say, throughout Europe for her remarkable sense, extraordinary memory, and brilliant wit.’”

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