The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LIX

In which Achilles loses Briseis

Although the years of the Marquis of Farintosh were few, he had spent most of them in the habit of command; and, from his childhood upwards, had been obeyed by all persons round about him. As an infant he had but to roar, and his mother and nurses were as much frightened as though he had been a Libyan lion. What he willed and ordered was law amongst his clan and family. During the period of his London and Parisian dissipations his poor mother did not venture to remonstrate with her young prodigal, but shut her eyes, not daring to open them on his wild courses. As for the friends of his person and house, many of whom were portly elderly gentlemen, their affection for the young Marquis was so extreme that there was no company into which their fidelity would not lead them to follow him; and you might see him dancing at Mabille with veteran aides-de-camp looking on, or disporting with opera-dancers at a Trois Freres banquet, which some old gentleman of his father’s age had taken the pains to order. If his lordship Count Almaviva wants a friend to carry the lanthorn or to hold the ladder; do you suppose there are not many most respectable men in society who will act Figaro? When Farintosh thought fit, in the fulness of time and the blooming pride of manhood, to select a spouse, and to elevate a marchioness to his throne, no one dared gainsay him. When he called upon his mother and sisters, and their ladyships’ hangers-on and attendants; upon his own particular kinsmen, led captains, and toadies; to bow the knee and do homage to the woman whom he delighted to honour, those duteous subjects trembled and obeyed; in fact, he thought that the position of a Marchioness of Farintosh was under heaven, and before men, so splendid, that, had he elevated a beggar-maid to that sublime rank, the inferior world was bound to worship her.

So my lord’s lady-mother, and my lord’s sisters, and his captains, and his players of billiards, and the toadies of his august person, all performed obeisance to his bride-elect, and never questioned the will of the young chieftain. What were the private comments of the ladies of the family we had no means of knowing; but it may naturally be supposed that his lordship’s gentlemen-inwaiting, Captain Henchman, Jack Todhunter, and the rest, had many misgivings of their own respecting their patrons change in life, and could not view without anxiety the advent of a mistress who might reign over him and them, who might possibly not like their company, and might exert her influence over her husband to oust these honest fellows from places in which they were very comfortable. The jovial rogues had the run of my lord’s kitchen, stables, cellars, and cigar-boxes. A new marchioness might hate hunting, smoking, jolly parties, and toad-eaters in general, or might bring into the house favourites of her own. I am sure any kind-hearted man of the world must feel for the position of these faithful, doubtful, disconsolate vassals, and have a sympathy for their rueful looks and demeanour as they eye the splendid preparations for the ensuing marriage, the grand furniture sent to my lord’s castles and houses, the magnificent plate provided for his tables — tables at which they may never have a knife and fork; castles and houses of which the poor rogues may never be allowed to pass the doors.

When, then, “the elopement in High Life,” which has been described in the previous pages, burst upon the town in the morning papers, I can fancy the agitation which the news occasioned in the faithful bosoms of the generous Todhunter, and the attached Henchman. My lord was not in his own house as yet. He and his friends still lingered on in the little house in Mayfair, the dear little bachelor’s quarters, where they had enjoyed such good dinners, such good suppers, such rare doings, such a jolly time. I fancy Hench coming down to breakfast, and reading the Morning Post. I imagine Tod dropping in from his bedroom over the way, and Hench handing the paper over to Tod, and the conversation which ensued between those worthy men. Elopement in high life — excitement in N— come, and flight of Lady Cl — N— come, daughter of the late and sister of the present Earl of D-rking, with Lord H—— gate; personal rencontre between Lord H—— gate and Sir B— nes N—— come. Extraordinary disclosures. I say, I can fancy Hench and Tod over this awful piece of news.

“Pretty news, ain’t it, Toddy?” says Henchman, looking up from a Perigord-pie, which the faithful creature is discussing.

“Always expected it,” remarks the other. “Anybody who saw them together last season must have known it. The Chief himself spoke of it to me.”

“It’ll cut him up awfully when he reads it. Is it in the Morning Post? He has the Post in his bedroom. I know he has rung his bell: I heard it. Bowman, has his lordship read his paper yet?”

Bowman, the, valet, said, “I believe you, he have read his paper. When he read it, he jumped out of bed and swore most awful. I cut as soon as I could,” continued Mr. Bowman, who was on familiar — nay contemptuous terms with the other two gentlemen.

“Enough to make any man swear,” says Toddy to Henchman; and both were alarmed in their noble souls, reflecting that their chieftain was now actually getting up and dressing himself; that he would speedily, and in course of nature, come downstairs; and, then, most probably, would begin swearing at them.

The most noble Mungo Malcolm Angus was in an awful state of mind when, at length, he appeared in the breakfast-room. “Why the dash do you make a taproom of this?” he cries. The trembling Henchman, who has begun to smoke — as he has done a hundred times before in this bachelor’s hall — flings his cigar into the fire.

“There you go — nothing like it! Why don’t you fling some more in? You can get ’em at Hudson’s for five guineas a pound.” bursts out the youthful peer.

“I understand why you are out of sorts, old boy,” says Henchman, stretching out his manly hand. A tear of compassion twinkled in his eyelid, and coursed down his mottled cheek. “Cut away at old Frank, Farintosh — a fellow who has been attached to you since before you could speak. It’s not when a fellow’s down and cut up, and riled — naturally riled — as you are — I know you are, Marquis; it’s not then that I’m going to be angry with you. Pitch into old Frank Henchman — hit away, my young one.” And Frank put himself into an attitude as of one prepared to receive a pugilistic assault. He bared his breast, as it were, and showed his scars, and said, “Strike!” Frank Henchman was a florid toady. My uncle, Major Pendennis, has often laughed with me about the fellow’s pompous flatteries and ebullient fidelity.

“You have read this confounded paragraph?” says the Marquis. “We have read it: and were deucedly cut up, too,” says Henchman, “for your sake, my dear boy.”

“I remembered what you said, last year, Marquis,” cries Todhunter (not unadroitly). “You, yourself, pointed out, in this very room, I recollect, at this very table — that night Coralie and the little Spanish dancer and her mother supped here, and there was a talk about Highgate — you, yourself, pointed out what was likely to happen. I doubted it; for I have dined at the Newcomes’, and seen Highgate and her together in society often. But though you are a younger bird, you have better eyes than I have — and you saw the thing at once — at once, don’t you remember I and Coralie said how glad she was, because Sir Barnes ill-treated her friend. What was the name of Coralie’s friend, Hench?”

“How should I know her confounded name?” Henchman briskly answers. “What do I care for Sir Barnes Newcome and his private affairs? He is no friend of mine. I never said he was a friend of mine. I never said I liked him. Out of respect for the Chief here, I held my tongue about him, and shall hold my tongue. Have some of this pate, Chief! No? Poor old boy! I know you haven’t got an appetite. I know this news cuts you up. I say nothing, and make no pretence of condolence; though I feel for you — and you know you can count on old Frank Henchman — don’t you, Malcolm?” And again he turns away to conceal his gallant sensibility and generous emotion.

“What does it matter to me?” bursts out the Marquis, garnishing his conversation with the usual expletives which adorned his eloquence when he was strongly moved. “What do I care for Barnes Newcome, and his confounded affairs and family? I never want to see him again, but in the light of a banker, when I go to the City, where he keeps my account. I say, I have nothing to do with him, or all the Newcomes under the sun. Why, one of them is a painter, and will paint my dog, Ratcatcher, by Jove! or my horse, or my groom, if I give him the order. Do you think I care for any one of the pack? It’s not the fault of the Marchioness of Farintosh that her family is not equal to mine. Besides two others in England and Scotland, I should like to know what family is? I tell you what, Hench. I bet you five to two, that before an hour is over my mother will be here, and down on her knees to me, begging me to break off this engagement.”

“And what will you do, Farintosh?” asks Henchman, slowly, “Will you break it off?”

“No!” shouts the Marquis. “Why shall I break off with the finest girl in England — and the best-plucked one, and the cleverest and wittiest, and the most beautiful creature, by Jove, that ever stepped, for no fault of hers, and because her sister-inlaw leaves her brother, who I know treated her infernally? We have talked this matter over at home before. I wouldn’t dine with the fellow; though he was always asking me; nor meet, except just out of civility, any of his confounded family. Lady Anne is different. She is a lady, she is. She is a good woman: and Kew is a most respectable man, though he is only a peer of George III.‘s creation, and you should hear how he speaks of Miss Newcome, though she refused him. I should like to know who is to prevent me marrying Lady Anne Newcome’s daughter?”

“By Jove, you are a good-plucked fellow, Farintosh — give me your hand, old boy,” says Henchman.

“Heh! am I? You would have said, give me your hand, old boy, whichever way I determined, Hench! I tell you, I ain’t intellectual, and that sort of thing. But I know my rank, and I know my place; and when a man of my station gives his word, he sticks to it, sir; and my lady, and my sisters, may go on their knees all round; and, by Jove, I won’t flinch.”

The justice of Lord Farintosh’s views was speedily proved by the appearance of his lordship’s mother, Lady Glenlivat, whose arrival put a stop to a conversation which Captain Francis Henchman has often subsequently narrated. She besought to see her son in terms so urgent, that the young nobleman could not be denied to his parent; and, no doubt, a long and interesting interview took place, in which Lord Farintosh’s mother passionately implored him to break off a match upon which he was as resolutely bent.

Was it a sense of honour, a longing desire to possess this young beauty, and call her his own, or a fierce and profound dislike to being balked in any object of his wishes, which actuated the young lord? Certainly he had borne, very philosophically, delay after delay which had taken place in the devised union; and being quite sure of his mistress, had not cared to press on the marriage, but lingered over the dregs of his bachelor cup complacently still. We all know in what an affecting farewell he took leave of the associates of his vie de garcon: the speeches made (in both languages), the presents distributed, the tears and hysterics of some of the guests assembled; the cigar-boxes given over to this friend, the ecrin of diamonds to that, et caetera, et caetera, et caetera. Don’t we know? If we don’t it is not Henchman’s fault, who has told the story of Farintosh’s betrothals a thousand and one times at his clubs, at the houses where he is asked to dine, on account of his intimacy with the nobility, among the young men of fashion, or no fashion, whom this two-bottle Mentor, and burly admirer of youth, has since taken upon himself to form. The farewell at Greenwich was so affecting that all “traversed the cart,” and took another farewell at Richmond, where there was crying too, but it was Eucharis cried because fair Calypso wanted to tear her eyes out; and where not only Telemachus (as was natural to his age), but Mentor likewise, quaffed the wine-cup too freely. You are virtuous, O reader! but there are still cakes and ale, Ask Henchman if there be not. You will find him in the Park any afternoon; he will dine with you if no better man ask him in the interval. He will tell you story upon story regarding young Lord Farintosh, and his marriage, and what happened before his marriage, and afterwards; and he will sigh, weep almost at some moments, as he narrates their subsequent quarrel, and Farintosh’s unworthy conduct, and tells you how he formed that young man. My uncle and Captain Henchman disliked each other very much, I am sorry to say — sorry to add that it was very amusing to hear either one of them speak of the other.

Lady Glenlivat, according to the Captain, then, had no success in the interview with her son; who, unmoved by the maternal tears, commands, and entreaties, swore he would marry Miss Newcome, and that no power on earth should prevent him. “As if trying to thwart that man could ever prevent his having his way!” ejaculated his quondam friend.

But on the next day, after ten thousand men in clubs and coteries had talked the news over; after the evening had repeated and improved the delightful theme of our “morning contemporaries;” after Calypso and Eucharis driving together in the Park, and reconciled now, had kissed their hands to Lord Farintosh, and made him their compliments — after a night of natural doubt, disturbance, defiance, fury — as men whispered to each other at the club where his lordship dined, and at the theatre where he took his recreation — after an awful time at breakfast in which Messrs. Bowman, valet, and Todhunter and Henchman, captains of the Farintosh bodyguard, all got their share of kicks and growling — behold Lady Glenlivat came back to the charge again; and this time with such force that poor Lord Farintosh was shaken indeed.

Her ladyship’s ally was no other than Miss Newcome herself; from whom Lord Farintosh’s mother received, by that day’s post, a letter, which she was commissioned to read to her son.

“Dear Madam” (wrote the young lady in her firmest handwriting)—“Mamma is at this moment in a state of such grief and dismay at the cruel misfortune and humiliation which has just befallen our family, that she is really not able to write to you as she ought, and this task, painful as it is, must be mine. Dear Lady Glenlivat, the kindness and confidence which I have ever received from you and yours, merit truth, and most grateful respect and regard from me. And I feel after the late fatal occurrence, what I have often and often owned to myself though I did not dare to acknowledge it, that I ought to release Lord F., at once and for ever, from an engagement which he could never think of maintaining with a family so unfortunate as ours. I thank him with all my heart for his goodness in bearing with my humours so long; if I have given him pain, as I know I have sometimes, I beg his pardon, and would do so on my knees. I hope and pray he may be happy, as I feared he never could be with me. He has many good and noble qualities; and, in bidding him farewell, I trust I may retain his friendship, and that he will believe in the esteem and gratitude of your most sincere, Ethel Newcome.”

A copy of this farewell letter was seen by a lady who happened to be a neighbour of Miss Newcome’s when the family misfortune occurred, and to whom, in her natural dismay and grief, the young lady fled for comfort and consolation. “Dearest Mrs. Pendennis,” wrote Miss Ethel to my wife, “I hear you are at Rosebury; do, do come to your affectionate E. N.” The next day, it was —“Dearest Laura — If you can, pray, pray come to Newcome this morning. I want very much to speak to you about the poor children, to consult you about something most important.” Madame de Moncontour’s pony-carriage was constantly trotting between Rosebury and Newcome in these days of calamity.

And my wife, as in duty bound, gave me full reports of all that happened in that house of mourning. On the very day of the flight, Lady Anne, her daughter, and some others of her family arrived at Newcome. The deserted little girl, Barnes’s eldest child, ran, with tears and cries of joy, to her Aunt Ethel, whom she had always loved better than her mother; and clung to her and embraced her; and, in her artless little words, told her that mamma had gone away, and that Ethel should be her mamma now. Very strongly moved by the misfortune, as by the caresses and affection of the poor orphaned creature, Ethel took the little girl to her heart, and promised to be a mother to her, and that she would not leave her; in which pious resolve I scarcely need say Laura strengthened her, when, at her young friend’s urgent summons, my wife came to her.

The household at Newcome was in a state of disorganisation after the catastrophe. Two of Lady Clara’s servants; it has been stated already, went away with her. The luckless master of the house was lying wounded in the neighbouring town. Lady Anne Newcome, his mother, was terribly agitated by the news, which was abruptly broken to her, of the flight of her daughter-inlaw and her son’s danger. Now she thought of flying to Newcome to nurse him; and then feared lest she should be ill received by the invalid — indeed, ordered by Sir Barnes to go home, and not to bother him. So at home Lady Anne remained, where the thoughts of the sufferings she had already undergone in that house, of Sir Barnes’s cruel behaviour to her at her last visit, which he had abruptly requested her to shorten, of the happy days which she had passed as mistress of that house and wife of the defunct Sir Brian; the sight of that departed angel’s picture in the dining-room and wheel-chair in the gallery; the recollection of little Barnes as a cherub of a child in that very gallery, and pulled out of the fire by a nurse in the second year of his age, when he was all that a fond mother could wish — these incidents and reminiscences so agitated Lady Anne Newcome, that she, for her part, went off in a series of hysterical fits, and acted as one distraught: her second daughter screamed in sympathy with her and Miss Newcome had to take the command of the whole of this demented household, hysterical mamma and sister, mutineering servants, and shrieking abandoned nursery, and bring young people and old to peace and quiet.

On the morrow after his little concussion Sir Barnes Newcome came home, not much hurt in body, but woefully afflicted in temper, and venting his wrath upon everybody round about him in that strong language which he employed when displeased; and under which his valet, his housekeeper, his butler, his farm-bailiff, his lawyer, his doctor, his dishevelled mother herself — who rose from her couch and her sal-volatile to fling herself round her dear boy’s knees — all had to suffer. Ethel Newcome, the Baronet’s sister, was the only person in his house to whom Sir Barnes did not utter oaths or proffer rude speeches. He was afraid of offending her or encountering that resolute spirit, and lapsed into a surly silence in her presence. Indistinct maledictions growled about Sir Barnes’s chair when he beheld my wife’s pony-carriage drive up; and he asked what brought her here? But Ethel sternly told her brother that Mrs. Pendennis came at her particular request, and asked him whether he supposed anybody could come into that house for pleasure now, or for any other motive but kindness? Upon which, Sir Barnes fairly burst out into tears, intermingled with execrations against his enemies and his own fate, and assertions that he was the most miserable beggar alive. He would not see his children: but with more tears he would implore Ethel never to leave them, and, anon, would ask what he should do when she married, and he was left alone in that infernal house?

T. Potts, Esq., of the Newcome Independent, used to say afterwards that the Baronet was in the direst terror of another meeting with Lord Highgate, and kept a policeman at the lodge-gate, and a second in the kitchen, to interpose in event of a collision. But Mr. Potts made this statement in after days, when the quarrel between his party and paper and Sir Barnes Newcome was flagrant. Five or six days after the meeting of the two rivals in Newcome market-place, Sir Barnes received a letter from the friend of Lord Highgate, informing him that his lordship, having waited for him according to promise, had now left England, and presumed that the differences between them were to be settled by their respective lawyers — infamous behaviour on a par with the rest of Lord Highgate’s villainy, the Baronet said. “When the scoundrel knew I could lift my pistol arm,” Barnes said, “Lord Highgate fled the country;"— thus hinting that death, and not damages, were what he intended to seek from his enemy.

After that interview in which Ethel communicated to Laura her farewell letter to Lord Farintosh, my wife returned to Rosebury with an extraordinary brightness and gaiety in her face and her demeanour. She pressed Madame de Moncontour’s hands with such warmth, she blushed and looked so handsome, she sang and talked so gaily, that our host was struck by her behaviour, and paid her husband more compliments regarding her beauty, amiability, and other good qualities, than need be set down here. It may be that I like Paul de Florac so much, in spite of certain undeniable faults of character, because of his admiration for my wife. She was in such a hurry to talk to me, that night, that Paul’s game and Nicotian amusements were cut short by her visit to the billiard-room; and when we were alone by the cosy dressing-room fire, she told me what had happened during the day. Why should Ethel’s refusal of Lord Farintosh have so much elated my wife?

“Ah!” cries Mrs. Pendennis, “she has a generous nature, and the world has not had time to spoil it. Do you know there are many points that she never has thought of — I would say problems that she has to work out for herself, only you, Pen, do not like us poor ignorant women to use such a learned word as problems? Life and experience force things upon her mind which others learn from their parents or those who educate them, but, for which she has never had any teachers. Nobody has ever told her, Arthur, that it was wrong to marry without love, or pronounce lightly those awful vows which we utter before God at the altar. I believe, if she knew that her life was futile, it is but of late she has thought it could be otherwise, and that she might mend it. I have read (besides that poem of Goethe of which you are so fond) in books of Indian travels of Bayaderes, dancing-girls brought up by troops round about the temples, whose calling is to dance, and wear jewels, and look beautiful; I believe they are quite respected in-in Pagoda-land. They perform before the priests in the pagodas; and the Brahmins and the Indian princes marry them. Can we cry out against these poor creatures, or against the custom of their country? It seems to me that young women in our world are bred up in a way not very different. What they do they scarcely know to be wrong. They are educated for the world, and taught to display: their mothers will give them to the richest suitor, as they themselves were given before. How can these think seriously, Arthur, of souls to be saved, weak hearts to be kept out of temptation, prayers to be uttered, and a better world to be held always in view, when the vanities of this one are all their thought and scheme? Ethel’s simple talk made me smile sometimes, do you know, and her strenuous way of imparting her discoveries. I thought of the shepherd boy who made a watch, and found on taking it into the town how very many watches there were, and how much better than his. But the poor child has had to make hers for herself, such as it is; and, indeed, is employed now in working on it. She told me very artlessly her little history, Arthur; it affected me to hear her simple talk, and — and I blessed God for our mother, my dear, and that my early days had had a better guide.

“You know that for a long time it was settled that she was to marry her cousin, Lord Kew. She was bred to that notion from her earliest youth; about which she spoke as we all can about our early days. They were spent, she said, in the nursery and schoolroom for the most part. She was allowed to come to her mother’s dressing-room, and sometimes to see more of her during the winter at Newcome. She describes her mother as always the kindest of the kind: but from very early times the daughter must have felt her own superiority, I think, though she does not speak of it. You should see her at home now in their dreadful calamity. She seems the only person of the house who keeps her head.

“She told very nicely and modestly how it was Lord Kew who parted from her, not she who had dismissed him, as you know the Newcomes used to say. I have heard that — oh — that man Sir Barnes say so myself. She says humbly that her cousin Kew was a great deal too good for her; and so is every one almost, she adds, poor thing!”

“Poor every one! Did you ask about him, Laura?” said Mr. Pendennis.

“No; I did not venture. She looked at me out of her downright eyes, and went on with her little tale. ‘I was scarcely more than a child then,’ she continued, ‘and though I liked Kew very much — who would not like such a generous honest creature? I felt somehow that I was taller than my cousin, and as if I ought not to marry him, or should make him unhappy if I did. When poor papa used to talk, we children remarked that mamma hardly listened to him; and so we did not respect him as we should, and Barnes was especially scoffing and odious with him. Why, when he was a boy, he used to sneer at papa openly before us younger ones. Now Harriet admires everything that Kew says, and that makes her a great deal happier at being with him.’ And then,” added Mrs. Pendennis, “Ethel said, ‘I hope you respect your husband, Laura: depend on it, you will be happier if you do.’ Was not that a fine discovery of Ethel’s, Mr. Pen?

“‘Clara’s terror of Barnes frightened me when I stayed in the house,’ Ethel went on. ‘I am sure I would not tremble before any man in the world as she did. I saw early that she used to deceive him, and tell him lies, Laura. I do not mean lies of words alone, but lies of looks and actions. Oh! I do not wonder at her flying from him. He was dreadful to be with: cruel, and selfish, and cold. He was made worse by marrying a woman he did not love; as she was, by that unfortunate union with him. Suppose he had found a clever woman who could have controlled him, and amused him, and whom he and his friends could have admired, instead of poor Clara, who made his home wearisome, and trembled when he entered it? Suppose she could have married that unhappy man to whom she was attached early? I was frightened, Laura, to think how ill this worldly marriage had prospered.

“‘My poor grandmother, whenever I spoke upon such a subject, would break out into a thousand gibes and sarcasms, and point to many of our friends who had made love-matches, and were quarrelling now as fiercely as though they had never loved each other. You remember that dreadful case in France Duc de — — who murdered his duchess? That was a love-match, and I can remember the sort of screech with which Lady Kew used to speak about it; and of the journal which the poor duchess kept, and in which she noted down all her husband’s ill-behaviour.’”

“Hush, Laura! Do you remember where we are? If the Princess were to put down all Florac’s culpabilities in an album, what a ledger it would be — as big as Dr. Portman’s Chrysostom!” But this was parenthetical: and after a smile, and a little respite, the young woman proceeded in her narration of her friend’s history.

“‘I was willing enough to listen,’ Ethel said, ‘to grandmamma then: for we are glad of an excuse to do what we like; and I liked admiration, and rank, and great wealth, Laura; and Lord Farintosh offered me these. I liked to surpass my companions, and I saw them so eager in pursuing him! You cannot think, Laura, what meannesses women in the world will commit — mothers and daughters too, in the pursuit of a person of his great rank. Those Miss Burrs, you should have seen them at the country-houses where we visited together, and how they followed him; how they would meet him in the parks and shrubberies; how they liked smoking though I knew it made them ill; how they were always finding pretexts for getting near him! Oh, it was odious!’”

I would not willingly interrupt the narrative, but let the reporter be allowed here to state that at this point of Miss Newcome’s story (which my wife gave with a very pretty imitation of the girl’s manner), we both burst out laughing so loud that little Madame de Moncontour put her head into the drawing-room and asked what we was a-laughing at? We did not tell our hostess that poor Ethel and her grandmother had been accused of doing the very same thing for which she found fault with the Misses Burr. Miss Newcome thought herself quite innocent, or how should she have cried out at the naughty behaviour of other people?

“‘Wherever we went, however,’ resumed my wife’s young penitent, ‘it was easy to see, I think I may say so without vanity, who was the object of Lord Farintosh’s attention. He followed us everywhere; and we could not go upon any visit in England or Scotland but he was in the same house. Grandmamma’s whole heart was bent upon that marriage, and when he proposed for me I do not disown that I was very pleased and vain.

“‘It is in these last months that I have heard about him more, and learned to know him better — him and myself too, Laura. Some one — some one you know, and whom I shall always love as a brother — reproached me in former days for a worldliness about which you talk too sometimes. But it is not worldly to give yourself up for your family, is it? One cannot help the rank in which one is born, and surely it is but natural and proper to marry in it. Not that Lord Farintosh thinks me or any one of his rank.’ (Here Miss Ethel laughed.) ‘He is the Sultan, and we, every unmarried girl in society, is his humblest slave. His Majesty’s opinions upon this subject did not suit me, I can assure you: I have no notion of such pride!

“‘But I do not disguise from you, dear Laura, that after accepting him, as I came to know him better, and heard him, and heard of him, and talked with him daily, and understood Lord Farintosh’s character, I looked forward with more and more doubt to the day when I was to become his wife. I have not learned to respect him in these months that I have known him, and during which there has been mourning in our families. I will not talk to you about him; I have no right, have I? — to hear him speak out his heart, and tell it to any friend. He said he liked me because I did not flatter him. Poor Malcolm! they all do. What was my acceptance of him, Laura, but flattery? Yes, flattery, and servility to rank, and a desire to possess it. Would I have accepted plain Malcolm Roy? I sent away a better than him, Laura.

“‘These things have been brooding in my mind for some months past. I must have been but an ill companion for him, and indeed he bore with my waywardness much more kindly than I ever thought possible; and when four days since we came to this sad house, where he was to have joined us, and I found only dismay and wretchedness, and these poor children deprived of a mother, whom I pity, God help her, for she has been made so miserable — and is now and must be to the end of her days; as I lay awake, thinking of my own future life, and that I was going to marry, as poor Clara had married, but for an establishment and a position in life; I, my own mistress, and not obedient by nature, or a slave to others as that poor creature was — I thought to myself, why shall I do this? Now Clara has left us, and is, as it were, dead to us who made her so unhappy, let me be the mother to her orphans. I love the little girl, and she has always loved me, and came crying to me that day when we arrived, and put her dear little arms round my neck, and said, ‘You won’t go away, will you, Aunt Ethel?’ in her sweet voice. And I will stay with her; and will try and learn myself that I may teach her; and learn to be good too — better than I have been. Will praying help me, Laura? I did. I am sure I was right, and that it is my duty to stay here.’”

Laura was greatly moved as she told her friend’s confession; and when the next day at church the clergyman read the opening words of the service I thought a peculiar radiance and happiness beamed from her bright face.

* * * * * *

Some subsequent occurrences in the history of this branch of the Newcome family I am enabled to report from the testimony of the same informant who has just given us an account of her own feelings and life. Miss Ethel and my wife were now in daily communication, and “my-dearesting” each other with that female fervour, which, cold men of the world as we are — not only chary of warm expressions of friendship, but averse to entertaining warm feelings at all — we surely must admire in persons of the inferior sex, whose loves grow up and reach the skies in a night; who kiss, embrace, console, call each other by Christian names, in that sweet, kindly sisterhood of Misfortune and Compassion who are always entering into partnership here in life. I say the world is full of Miss Nightingales; and we, sick and wounded in our private Scutaris, have countless nurse-tenders. I did not see my wife ministering to the afflicted family at Newcome Park; but I can fancy her there amongst the women and children, her prudent counsel, her thousand gentle offices, her apt pity and cheerfulness, the love and truth glowing in her face, and inspiring her words, movements, demeanour.

Mrs. Pendennis’s husband for his part did not attempt to console Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Baronet. I never professed to have a halfpennyworth of pity at that gentleman’s command. Florac, who owed Barnes his principality and his present comforts in life, did make some futile efforts at condolence, but was received by the Baronet with such fierceness, and evident ill-humour, that he did not care to repeat his visits, and allowed him to vent his curses and peevishness on his own immediate dependents. We used to ask Laura on her return to Rosebury from her charity visits to Newcome about the poor suffering master of the house. She faltered and stammered in describing him and what she heard of him; she smiled, I grieve to say, for this unfortunate lady cannot help having a sense of humour; and we could not help laughing outright sometimes at the idea of that discomfited wretch, that overbearing creature overborne in his turn — which laughter Mrs. Laura used to chide as very naughty and unfeeling. When we went into Newcome the landlord of the King’s Arms looked knowing and quizzical: Tom Potts grinned at me and rubbed his hands. “This business serves the paper better than Mr. Warrington’s articles,” says Mr. Potts. “We have sold no end of Independents; and if you polled the whole borough, I bet that five to one would say Sir Screwcome Screwcome was served right. By the way, what’s up about the Marquis of Farintosh, Mr. Pendennis? He arrived at the Arms last night; went over to the Park this morning, and is gone back to town by the afternoon train.”

What had happened between the Marquis of Farintosh and Miss Newcome I am enabled to know from the report of Miss Newcome’s confidante. On the receipt of that letter of conge which has been mentioned in a former chapter, his lordship must have been very much excited, for he left town straightway by that evening’s mail, and on the next morning, after a few hours of rest at his inn, was at Newcome lodge-gate demanding to see the Baronet.

On that morning it chanced that Sir Barnes had left home with Mr Speer, his legal adviser; and hereupon the Marquis asked to see Miss Newcome; nor could the lodge-keeper venture to exclude so distinguished a person from the Park. His lordship drove up to the house, and his name was taken to Miss Ethel. She turned very pale when she heard it; and my wife divined at once who was her visitor. Lady Anne had not left her room as yet. Laura Pendennis remained in command of the little conclave of children, with whom the two ladies were sitting when Lord Farintosh arrived. Little Clara wanted to go with her aunt as she rose to leave the room — the child could scarcely be got to part from her now.

At the end of an hour the carriage was seen driving away, and Ethel returned looking as pale as before, and red about the eyes. Miss Clara’s mutton-chop for dinner coming in at the same time, the child was not so presently eager for her aunt’s company. Aunt Ethel cut up the mutton-chop very neatly, and then, having seen the child comfortably seated at her meal, went with her friend into a neighbouring apartment (of course, with some pretext of showing Laura a picture, or a piece of china, or a new child’s frock, or with some other hypocritical pretence by which the ingenuous female attendants pretended to be utterly blinded), and there, I have no doubt, before beginning her story, dearest Laura embraced dearest Ethel, and vice versa.

“He is gone!” at length gasps dearest Ethel.

“Pour toujours? poor young man!” sighs dearest Laura. “Was he very unhappy, Ethel?”

“He was more angry,” Ethel answers. “He had a right to be hurt, but not to speak as he did. He lost his temper quite at last, and broke out in the most frantic reproaches. He forgot all respect and even gentlemanlike behaviour. Do you know he used words — words such as Barnes uses sometimes when he is angry! and dared this language to me! I was sorry till then, very sorry, and very much moved; but I know more than ever, now, that I was right in refusing Lord Farintosh.”

Dearest Laura now pressed for an account of all that had happened, which may be briefly told as follows. Feeling very deeply upon the subject which brought him to Miss Newcome, it was no wonder that Lord Farintosh spoke at first in a way which moved her. He said he thought her letter to his mother was very rightly written under the circumstances, and thanked her for her generosity in offering to release him from his engagement. But the affair — the painful circumstance of Highgate, and that — which had happened in the Newcome family, was no fault of Miss Newcome’s, and Lord Farintosh could not think of holding her accountable. His friends had long urged him to marry, and it was by his mother’s own wish that the engagement was formed, which he was determined to maintain. In his course through the world (of which he was getting very tired), he had never seen a woman, a lady who was so — you understand, Ethel — whom he admired so much, who was likely to make so good a wife for him as you are. “You allude,” he continued, “to differences we have had — and we have had them — but many of them, I own, have been from my fault. I have been bred up in a way different to most young men. I cannot help it if I have had temptations to which other men are not exposed; and have been placed by — by Providence — in a high rank of life; I am sure if you share it with me you will adorn it, and be in every way worthy of it, and make me much better than I have been. If you knew what a night of agony I passed after my mother read that letter to me — I know you’d pity me, Ethel — I know you would. The idea of losing you makes me wild. My mother was dreadfully alarmed when she saw the state I was in; so was the doctor — I assure you he was. And I had no rest at all, and no peace of mind, until I determined to come down to you; and say that I adored you, and you only; and that I would hold to my engagement in spite of everything — and prove to you that — that no man in the world could love you more sincerely than I do.” Here the young gentleman was so overcome that he paused in his speech, and gave way to an emotion, for which, surely no man who has been in the same condition with Lord Farintosh will blame him.

Miss Newcome was also much touched by this exhibition of natural feeling; and, I dare say, it was at this time that her eyes showed the first symptoms of that malady of which the traces were visible an hour after.

“You are very generous and kind to me, Lord Farintosh,” she said. “Your constancy honours me very much, and proves how good and loyal you are; but — but do not think hardly of me for saying that the more I have thought of what has happened here — of the wretched consequences of interested marriages; the long union growing each day so miserable, that at last it becomes intolerable and is burst asunder, as in poor Clara’s case; — the more I am resolved not to commit that first fatal step of entering into a marriage without — without the degree of affection which people who take that vow ought to feel for one another.”

“Affection! Can you doubt it? Gracious heavens, I adore you! Isn’t my being here a proof that I do?” cries the young lady’s lover.

“But I?” answered the girl. “I have asked my own heart that question before now. I have thought to myself — If he comes after all — if his affection for me survives this disgrace of our family, as it has, and every one of us should be thankful to you — ought I not to show at least gratitude for so much kindness and honour, and devote myself to one who makes such sacrifices for me? But, before all things I owe you the truth, Lord Farintosh. I never could make you happy; I know I could not: nor obey you as you are accustomed to be obeyed; nor give you such a devotion as you have a right to expect from your wife. I thought I might once. I can’t now! I know that I took you because you were rich, and had a great name; not because you were honest, and attached to me as you show yourself to be. I ask your pardon for the deceit I practised on you. — Look at Clara, poor child, and her misery! My pride, I know, would never have let me fall as far as she has done; but oh! I am humiliated to think that I could have been made to say I would take the first step in that awful career.”

“What career, in God’s name?” cries the astonished suitor. “Humiliated, Ethel? Who’s going to humiliate you? I suppose there is no woman in England who need be humiliated by becoming my wife. I should like to see the one that I can’t pretend to — or to royal blood if I like: it’s not better than mine. Humiliated, indeed! That is news. Ha! ha! You don’t suppose that your pedigree, which I know all about, and the Newcome family, with your barber-surgeon to Edward the Confessor, are equal to ——”

“To yours? No. It is not very long that I have learned to disbelieve in that story altogether. I fancy it was an odd whim of my poor father’s, and that our family were quite poor people.

“I knew it,” said Lord Farintosh. “Do you suppose there was not plenty of women to tell it me?”

“It was not because we were poor that I am ashamed,” Ethel went on. That cannot be our fault, though some of us seem think it is, as they hide the truth so. One of my uncles used to tell me that my grandfather’s father was a labourer in Newcome: but I was a child then, and liked to believe the prettiest story best.”

“As if it matters!” cries Lord Farintosh.

“As if it matters in your wife? n’est-ce pas? I never thought that it would. I should have told you, as it was my duty to tell you all. It was not my ancestors you cared for; and it is you yourself that your wife must swear before heaven to love.”

“Of course it’s me,” answers the young man, not quite understanding the train of ideas in his companion’s mind. “And I’ve given up everything — everything — and have broken off with my old habits and — and things, you know — and intend to lead a regular life — and will never go to Tattersall’s again; nor bet a shilling; nor touch another cigar if you like — that is, if you don’t like; for I love you so, Ethel — I do, with all my heart I do!”

“You are very generous and kind, Lord Farintosh,” Ethel said. “It is myself, not you, I doubt. Oh, I am humiliated to make such a confession!”

“How humiliated?” Ethel withdrew the hand which the young nobleman endeavoured to seize.

“If,” she continued, “if I found it was your birth, and your name, and your wealth that I coveted, and had nearly taken, ought I not to feel humiliated, and ask pardon of you and of God? Oh, what perjuries poor Clara was made to speak — and see what has befallen her! We stood by and heard her without being shocked. We applauded even. And to what shame and misery we brought her! Why did her parents and mine consign her to such ruin! She might have lived pure and happy but for us. With her example before me — not her flight, poor child — I am not afraid of that happening to me — but her long solitude, the misery of her wasted years — my brother’s own wretchedness and faults aggravated a hundredfold by his unhappy union with her — I must pause while it is yet time, and recall a promise which I know I should make you unhappy if I fulfilled. I ask your pardon that I deceived you, Lord Farintosh, and feel ashamed for myself that I could have consented to do so.”

“Do you mean,” cried the young Marquis, “that after my conduct to you — after my loving you, so that even this — this disgrace in your family don’t prevent my going on — after my mother has been down on her knees to me to break off, and I wouldn’t — no, I wouldn’t — after all White’s sneering at me and laughing at me, and all my friends, friends of my family, who would go to — go anywhere for me, advising me, and saying, ‘Farintosh, what a fool you are! break off this match,’— and I wouldn’t back out, because I loved you so, by Heaven, and because, as a man and a gentleman, when I give my word I keep it — do you mean that you throw me over? It’s a shame — it’s a shame!” And again there were tears of rage and anguish in Farintosh’s eyes.

“What I did was a shame, my lord,” Ethel said, humbly; “and again I ask your pardon for it. What I do now is only to tell you the truth, and to grieve with all my soul for the falsehood — yes the falsehood — which I told you, and which has given your kind heart such cruel pain.”

“Yes, it was a falsehood!” the poor lad cried out. “You follow a fellow, and you make a fool of him, and you make him frantic in love with you, and then you fling him over! I wonder you can look me in the face after such an infernal treason. You’ve done it to twenty fellows before, I know you have. Everybody said so, and warned me. You draw them on, and get them to be in love, and then you fling them away. Am I to go back to London and be made the laughing-stock of the whole town — I, who might marry any woman in Europe, and who am at the head of the nobility of England?”

“Upon my word, if you will believe me after deceiving you once,” Ethel interposed, still very humbly, “I will never say that it was I who withdrew from you, and that it was not you who refused me. What has happened here fully authorises you. Let the rupture of the engagement come from you, my lord. Indeed, indeed, I would spare you all the pain I can. I have done you wrong enough already, Lord Farintosh.”

And now the Marquis burst forth with tears and imprecations, wild cries of anger, love, and disappointment, so fierce and incoherent that the lady to whom they were addressed did not repeat them to her confidante. Only she generously charged Laura to remember, if ever she heard the matter talked of in the world, that it was Lord Farintosh’s family which broke off the marriage; but that his lordship had acted most kindly and generously throughout the whole affair.

He went back to London in such a state of fury, and raved so wildly amongst his friends against the whole Newcome family, that many men knew what the case really was. But all women averred that that intriguing worldly Ethel Newcome, the apt pupil of her wicked old grandmother, had met with a deserved rebuff; that, after doing everything in her power to catch the great parti, Lord Farintosh, who had long been tired of her, flung her over, not liking the connexion; and that she was living out of the world now at Newcome, under the pretence of taking care of that unfortunate Lady Clara’s children, but really because she was pining away for Lord Farintosh, who, as we all know, married six months afterwards.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter59.html

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