The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VI

Newcome Brothers

Besides his own boy, whom he worshipped, this kind Colonel had a score, at least, of adopted children, to whom he chose to stand in the light of a father. He was for ever whirling away in postchaises to this school and that, to see Jack Brown’s boys, of the Cavalry; or Mrs. Smith’s girls, of the Civil Service; or poor Tom Hicks’s orphan, who had nobody to look after him now that the cholera had carried off Tom, and his wife too. On board the ship in which he returned from Calcutta were a dozen of little children, of both sexes, some of whom he actually escorted to their friends before he visited his own; and though his heart was longing for his boy at Grey Friars. The children at the schools seen, and largely rewarded out of his bounty (his loose white trousers had great pockets, always heavy with gold and silver, which he jingled when he was not pulling his mustachios — to see the way in which he tipped children made one almost long to be a boy again); and when he had visited Miss Pinkerton’s establishment, or Doctor Ramshorn’s adjoining academy at Chiswick, and seen little Tom Davis or little Fanny Holmes the honest fellow would come home and write off straightway a long letter to Tom’s or Fanny’s parents, far away in the Indian country, whose hearts he made happy by his accounts of their children, as he had delighted the children themselves by his affection and bounty. All the apple — and orange-women (especially such as had babies as well as lollipops at their stalls), all the street-sweepers on the road between Nerot’s and the Oriental, knew him, and were his pensioners. His brothers in Threadneedle Street cast up their eyes at the cheques which he drew.

One of the little people of whom the kind Newcome had taken charge luckily dwelt near Portsmouth; and when the faithful Colonel consigned Miss Fipps to her grandmother, Mrs. Admiral Fipps, at Southampton, Miss Fipps clung to her guardian, and with tears and howls was torn away from him. Not until her maiden aunts had consoled her with strawberries, which she never before had tasted, was the little Indian comforted for the departure of her dear Colonel. Master Cox, Tom Cox’s boy, of the Native Infantry, had to be carried asleep from the “George” to the mail that night. Master Cox woke up at the dawn wondering, as the coach passed through the pleasant green roads of Bromley. The good gentleman consigned the little chap to his uncle, Dr. Cox, Bloomsbury Square, before he went to his own quarters, and then on the errand on which his fond heart was bent.

He had written to his brothers from Portsmouth, announcing his arrival, and three words to Clive, conveying the same intelligence. The letter was served to the boy along with one bowl of tea and one buttered roll, of eighty such which were distributed to fourscore other boys, boarders of the same house with our young friend. How the lad’s face must have flushed, and his eyes brightened, when he read the news! When the master of the house, the Rev. Mr. Popkinson, came into the long-room, with a good-natured face, and said, “Newcome, you’re wanted,” he knows who is come. He does not heed that notorious bruiser, Old Hodge, who roars out, “Confound you, Newcome: I’ll give it you for upsetting your tea over my new trousers.” He runs to the room where the stranger is waiting for him. We will shut the door, if you please, upon that scene.

If Clive had not been as fine and handsome a young lad as any in that school or country, no doubt his fond father would have been just as well pleased, and endowed him with a hundred fanciful graces; but in truth, in looks and manners he was every thing which his parent could desire; and I hope the artist who illustrates this work will take care to do justice to his portrait. Mr. Clive himself, let that painter be assured, will not be too well pleased if his countenance and figure do not receive proper attention. He is not yet endowed with those splendid mustachios and whiskers which he has himself subsequently depicted, but he is the picture of health, strength, activity, and good-humour. He has a good forehead, shaded with a quantity of waving light hair; a complexion which ladies might envy; a mouth which seems accustomed to laughing; and a pair of blue eyes that sparkle with intelligence and frank kindness. No wonder the pleased father cannot refrain from looking at him. He is, in a word, just such a youth as has a right to be the hero of a novel.

The bell rings for second school, and Mr. Popkinson, arrayed in cap and gown, comes in to shake Colonel Newcome by the hand, and to say he supposes it’s to be a holiday for Newcome that day. He does not say a word about Clive’s scrape of the day before, and that awful row in the bedrooms, where the lad and three others were discovered making a supper off a pork-pie and two bottles of prime old port from the Red Cow public-house in Grey Friars Lane. When the bell has done ringing, and all these busy little bees have swarmed into their hive, there is a solitude in the place. The Colonel and his son walked the playground together, that gravelly flat, as destitute of herbage as the Arabian desert, but, nevertheless, in the language of the place called the green. They walk the green, and they pace the cloisters, and Clive shows his father his own name of Thomas Newcome carved upon one of the arches forty years ago. As they talk, the boy gives sidelong glances at his new friend, and wonders at the Colonel’s loose trousers, long mustachios, and yellow face. He looks very odd, Clive thinks, very odd and very kind, and he looks like a gentleman, every inch of him:— not like Martin’s father, who came to see his son lately in high-lows, and a shocking bad hat, and actually flung coppers amongst the boys for a scramble. He bursts out a-laughing at the exquisitely ludicrous idea of a gentleman of his fashion scrambling for coppers.

And now, enjoining the boy to be ready against his return (and you may be sure Mr. Clive was on the look-out long before his sire appeared), the Colonel whirled away in his cab to the City to shake hands with his brothers, whom he had not seen since they were demure little men in blue jackets, under charge of a serious tutor.

He rushed through the clerks and the banking-house, he broke into the parlour where the lords of the establishment were seated. He astonished those trim quiet gentlemen by the warmth of his greeting, by the vigour of his hand-shake, and the loud high tones of his voice, which penetrated the glass walls of the parlour, and might actually be heard by the busy clerks in the hall without. He knew Brian from Hobson at once — that unlucky little accident in the go-cart having left its mark for ever on the nose of Sir Brian Newcome, the elder of the twins. Sir Brian had a bald head and light hair, a short whisker cut to his cheek, a buff waistcoat, very neat boots and hands. He looked like the “Portrait of a Gentleman” at the Exhibition, as the worthy is represented: dignified in attitude, bland, smiling, and statesmanlike, sitting at a table unsealing letters, with a despatch-box and a silver inkstand before him, a column and a scarlet curtain behind, and a park in the distance, with a great thunderstorm lowering in the sky. Such a portrait, in fact, hangs over the great sideboard at Newcome to this day, and above the three great silver waiters, which the gratitude of as many Companies has presented to their respected director and chairman.

In face, Hobson Newcome, Esq., was like his elder brother, but was more portly in person. He allowed his red whiskers to grow wherever nature had planted them, on his cheeks and under his chin. He wore thick shoes with nails in them, or natty round-toed boots, with tight trousers and a single strap. He affected the country gentleman in his appearance. His hat had a broad brim, and the ample pockets of his cut-away coat were never destitute of agricultural produce, samples of beans or corn, which he used to bite and chew even on ‘Change, or a whip-lash, or balls for horses: in fine, he was a good old country gentleman. If it was fine in Threadneedle Street, he would say it was good weather for the hay; if it rained, the country wanted rain; if it was frosty, “No hunting today, Tomkins, my boy,” and so forth. As he rode from Bryanstone Square to the City you would take him — and he was pleased to be so taken — for a jolly country squire. He was a better man of business than his more solemn and stately brother, at whom he laughed in his jocular way; and he said rightly, that a gentleman must get up very early in the morning who wanted to take him in.

The Colonel breaks into the sanctum of these worthy gentlemen; and each receives him in a manner consonant with his peculiar nature. Sir Brian regretted that Lady Anne was away from London, being at Brighton with the children, who were all ill of the measles. Hobson said, “Maria can’t treat you to such good company as my lady could give you, but when will you take a day and come and dine with us? Let’s see, today’s Wednesday; tomorrow we’ve a party. No, we’re engaged.” He meant that his table was full, and that he did not care to crowd it; but there was no use in imparting this circumstance to the Colonel. “Friday, we dine at Judge Budge’s — queer name, Judge Budge, ain’t it? Saturday, I’m going down to Marblehead, to look after the hay. Come on Monday, Tom, and I’ll introduce you to the missus and the young ‘uns.”

“I will bring Clive,” says Colonel Newcome, rather disturbed at this reception. “After his illness my sister-inlaw was very kind to him.”

“No, hang it, don’t bring boys; there’s no good in boys; they stop the talk downstairs, and the ladies don’t want ’em in the drawing-room. Send him to dine with the children on Sunday, if you like, and come along down with me to Marblehead, and I’ll show you such a crop of hay as will make your eyes open. Are you fond of farming?”

“I have not seen my boy for years,” says the Colonel; “I had rather pass Saturday and Sunday with him, if you please, and some day we will go to Marblehead together.”

“Well, an offer’s an offer. I don’t know any pleasanter thing than getting out of this confounded City and smelling the hedges, and looking at the crops coming up, and passing the Sunday in quiet.” And his own tastes being thus agricultural, the honest gentleman thought that everybody else must delight in the same recreation.

“In the winter, I hope we shall see you at Newcome,” says the elder brother, blandly smiling. “I can’t give you any tiger-shooting, but I’ll promise you that you shall find plenty of pheasants in our jungle,” and he laughed very gently at this mild sally.

The Colonel gave him a queer look. “I shall be at Newcome before the winter. I shall be there, please God, before many days are over.”

“Indeed!” says the Baronet, with an air of great surprise. “You are going down to look at the cradle of our race. I believe the Newcomes were there before the Conqueror. It was but a village in our grandfather’s time, and it is an immense flourishing town now, for which I hope to get — I expect to get — a charter.”

“Do you?” says the Colonel. “I am going down there to see a relation.”

“A relation! What relatives have we there?” cries the Baronet. “My children, with the exception of Barnes. Barnes, this is your uncle Colonel Thomas Newcome. I have great pleasure, brother, in introducing you to my eldest son.”

A fair-haired young gentleman, languid and pale, and arrayed in the very height of fashion, made his appearance at this juncture in the parlour, and returned Colonel Newcome’s greeting with a smiling acknowledgment of his own. “Very happy to see you, I’m sure,” said the young man. “You find London very much changed since you were here? Very good time to come — the very full of the season.”

Poor Thomas Newcome was quite abashed by this strange reception. Here was a man, hungry for affection, and one relation asked him to dinner next Monday, and another invited him to shoot pheasants at Christmas. Here was a beardless young sprig, who patronised him, and vouchsafed to ask him whether he found London was changed.

“I don’t know whether it’s changed,” says the Colonel, biting his nails; “I know it’s not what I expected to find it.”

“To-day it’s really as hot as I should thing it must be in India,” says young Mr. Barnes Newcome.

“Hot!” says the Colonel, with a grin. “It seems to me you are all cool enough here.”

“Just what Sir Thomas de Boots said, sir,” says Barnes, turning round to his father. “Don’t you remember when he came home from Bombay? I recollect his saying, at Lady Featherstone’s, one dooced hot night, as it seemed to us; I recklect his saying that he felt quite cold. Did you know him in India, Colonel Newcome? He’s liked at the Horse Guards, but he’s hated in his regiment.”

Colonel Newcome here growled a wish regarding the ultimate fate of Sir Thomas de Boots, which we trust may never be realised by that distinguished cavalry officer.

“My brother says he’s going to Newcome, Barnes, next week,” said the Baronet, wishing to make the conversation more interesting to the newly arrived Colonel. “He was saying so just when you came in, and I was asking him what took him there?”

“Did you ever hear of Sarah Mason?” says the Colonel.

“Really, I never did,” the Baronet answered.

“Sarah Mason? No, upon my word, I don’t think I ever did, said the young man.

“Well, that’s a pity too,” the Colonel said, with a sneer. “Mrs. Mason is a relation of yours — at least by marriage. She is my aunt or cousin — I used to call her aunt, and she and my father and mother all worked in the same mill at Newcome together.”

“I remember — God bless my soul — I remember now!” cried the Baronet. “We pay her forty pound a year on your account — don’t you know, brother? Look to Colonel Newcome’s account — I recollect the name quite well. But I thought she had been your nurse, and — and an old servant of my father’s.”

“So she was my nurse, and an old servant of my father’s,” answered the Colonel. “But she was my mother’s cousin too and very lucky was my mother to have such a servant, or to have a servant at all. There is not in the whole world a more faithful creature or a better woman.”

Mr. Hobson rather enjoyed his brother’s perplexity, and to see when the Baronet rode the high horse, how he came down sometimes, “I am sure it does you very great credit,” gasped the courtly head of the firm, “to remember a — a humble friend and connexion of our father’s so well.”

“I think, brother, you might have recollected her too,” the Colonel growled out. His face was blushing; he was quite angry and hurt at what seemed to him Sir Brian’s hardness of heart.

“Pardon me if I don’t see the necessity,” said Sir Brian. “I have no relationship with Mrs. Mason, and do not remember ever having seen her. Can I do anything for you, brother? Can I be useful to you in any way? Pray command me and Barnes here, who after City hours will be delighted if he can be serviceable to you — I am nailed to this counter all the morning, and to the House of Commons all night; — I will be with you in one moment, Mr. Quilter. Good-bye, my dear Colonel. How well India has agreed with you! how young you look! the hot winds are nothing to what we endure in Parliament. — Hobson,” in a low voice, “you saw about that h’m, that power of attorney — and h’m and h’m will call here at twelve about that h’m. — I am sorry I must say good-bye — it seems so hard after not meeting for so many years.”

“Very,” says the Colonel.

“Mind and send for me whenever you want me, now.”

“Oh, of course,” said the elder brother, and thought when will that ever be!

“Lady Anne will be too delighted at hearing of your arrival. Give my love to Clive — a remarkable fine boy, Clive — good morning:” and the Baronet was gone, and his bald head might presently be seen alongside of Mr. Quilter’s confidential grey poll, both of their faces turned into an immense ledger.

Mr. Hobson accompanied the Colonel to the door, and shook him cordially by the hand as he got into his cab. The man asked whither be should drive? and poor Newcome hardly knew where he was or whither he should go. “Drive! a — oh — ah — damme, drive me anywhere away from this place!” was all he could say; and very likely the cabman thought he was a disappointed debtor who had asked in vain to renew a bill. In fact, Thomas Newcome had overdrawn his little account. There was no such balance of affection in that bank of his brothers, as the simple creature had expected to find there.

When he was gone, Sir Brian went back to his parlour, where sate young Barnes perusing the paper. “My revered uncle seems to have brought back a quantity of cayenne pepper from India, sir,” he said to his father.

“He seems a very kind-hearted simple man,” the Baronet said “eccentric, but he has been more than thirty years away from home. Of course you will call upon him tomorrow morning. Do everything you can to make him comfortable. Whom would he like to meet at dinner? I will ask some of the Direction. Ask him, Barnes, for next Wednesday or Saturday — no; Saturday I dine with the Speaker. But see that every attention is paid him.”

“Does he intend to have our relation up to town, sir? I should like to meet Mrs. Mason of all things. A venerable washerwoman, I daresay, or perhaps keeps a public-house,” simpered out young Barnes.

“Silence, Barnes; you jest at everything, you young men do — you do. Colonel Newcome’s affection for his old nurse does him the greatest honour,” said the Baronet, who really meant what he said.

“And I hope my mother will have her to stay a good deal at Newcome. I’m sure she must have been a washerwoman, and mangled my uncle in early life. His costume struck me with respectful astonishment. He disdains the use of straps to his trousers, and is seemingly unacquainted with gloves. If he had died in India, would my late aunt have had to perish on a funeral pile?” Here Mr. Quilter, entering with a heap of bills, put an end to these sarcastic remarks, and young Newcome, applying himself to his business (of which he was a perfect master), forgot about his uncle till after City hours, when he entertained some young gentlemen of Bays’s Club with an account of his newly arrived relative.

Towards the City, whither he wended his way whatever had been the ball or the dissipation of the night before, young Barnes Newcome might be seen walking every morning, resolutely and swiftly, with his neat umbrella. As he passed Charing Cross on his way westwards, his little boots trailed slowly over the pavement, his head hung languid (bending lower still, and smiling with faded sweetness as he doffed his hat and saluted a passing carriage), his umbrella trailed after him. Not a dandy on all the Pall Mall pavement seemed to have less to do than he.

Heavyside, a large young officer of the household troops — old Sir Thomas de Boots — and Horace Fogey, whom every one knows — are in the window of Bays’s, yawning as widely as that window itself. Horses under the charge of men in red jackets are pacing up and down St. James’s Street. Cabmen on the stand are regaling with beer. Gentlemen with grooms behind them pass towards the Park. Great dowager barouches roll along emblazoned with coronets, and driven by coachmen in silvery wigs. Wistful provincials gaze in at the clubs. Foreigners chatter and show their teeth, and look at the ladies in the carriages, and smoke and spit refreshingly round about. Policeman X slouches along the pavement. It is five o’clock, the noon in Pall Mall.

“Here’s little Newcome coming,” says Mr. Horace Fogey. “He and the muffin-man generally make their appearance in public together.”

“Dashed little prig,” says Sir Thomas de Boots, “why the dash did they ever let him in here? If I hadn’t been in India, by dash — he should have been blackballed twenty times over, by dash.” Only Sir Thomas used words far more terrific than dash, for this distinguished cavalry officer swore very freely.

“He amuses me; he’s such a mischievous little devil,” says good-natured Charley Heavyside.

“It takes very little to amuse you,” remarks Fogey.

“You don’t, Fogey,” answers Charley. “I know every one of your demd old stories, that are as old as my grandmother. How-dy-do, Barney?” (Enter Barnes Newcome.) “How are the Three per Cents, you little beggar? I wish you’d do me a bit of stiff; and just tell your father, if I may overdraw my account I’ll vote with him — hanged if I don’t.”

Barnes orders absinthe-and-water, and drinks: Heavyside resuming his elegant raillery. “I say, Barney, your name’s Barney, and you’re a banker. You must be a little Jew, hey? Vell, how mosh vill you to my little pill for?”

“Do hee-haw in the House of Commons, Heavyside,” says the young man with a languid air. “That’s your place: you’re returned for it.” (Captain the Honourable Charles Heavyside is a member of the legislature, and eminent in the House for asinine imitations which delight his own, and confuse the other party.) “Don’t bray here. I hate the shop out of shop hours.”

“Dash the little puppy,” growls Sir de Boots, swelling in his waistband.

“What do they say about the Russians in the City?” says Horace Fogey, who has been in the diplomatic service. “Has the fleet left Cronstadt, or has it not?”

“How should I know?” asks Barney. “Ain’t it all in the evening paper?”

“That is very uncomfortable news from India, General,” resumes Fogey — “there’s Lady Doddington’s carriage, how well she looks — that movement of Runjeet-Singh on Peshawur: that fleet on the Irrawaddy. It looks doocid queer, let me tell you, and Penguin is not the man to be Governor-General of India in a time of difficulty.”

“And Hustler’s not the man to be Commander-inChief: dashder old fool never lived: a dashed old psalm-singing, blundering old woman,” says Sir Thomas, who wanted the command himself.

“You ain’t in the psalm-singing line, Sir Thomas,” says Mr. Barnes; “quite the contrary.” In fact, Sir de Boots in his youth used to sing with the Duke of York, and even against Captain Costigan, but was beaten by that superior bacchanalian artist.

Sir Thomas looks as if to ask what the dash is that to you? but wanting still to go to India again, and knowing how strong the Newcomes are in Leadenhall Street, he thinks it necessary to be civil to the young cub, and swallows his wrath once more into his waistband.

“I’ve got an uncle come home from India — upon my word I have,” says Barnes Newcome. “That is why I am so exhausted. I am going to buy him a pair of gloves, number fourteen — and I want a tailor for him — not a young man’s tailor. Fogey’s tailor rather. I’d take my father’s; but he has all his things made in the country — all — in the borough, you know — he’s a public man.”

“Is Colonel Newcome, of the Bengal Cavalry, your uncle?” asks Sir Thomas de Boots.

“Yes; will you come and meet him at dinner next Wednesday week, Sir Thomas? and, Fogey, you come; you know you like a good dinner. You don’t know anything against my uncle, do you, Sir Thomas? Have I any Brahminical cousins? Need we be ashamed of him?”

“I tell you what, young man, if you were more like him it wouldn’t hurt you. He’s an odd man; they call him Don Quixote in India; I suppose you’ve read Don Quixote?”

“Never heard of it, upon my word; and why do you wish I should be more like him? I don’t wish to be like him at all, thank you.”

“Why, because he is one of the bravest officers that ever lived,” roared out the old soldier. “Because he’s one of the kindest fellows; because he gives himself no dashed airs, although he has reason to be proud if he chose. That’s why, Mr. Newcome.”

“A topper for you, Barney, my boy,” remarks Charles Heavyside, as the indignant General walks away gobbling and red. Barney calmly drinks the remains of his absinthe.

“I don’t know what that old muff means,” he says innocently, when he has finished his bitter draught. “He’s always flying out at me, the old turkey-cock. He quarrels with my play at whist, the old idiot, and can no more play than an old baby. He pretends to teach me billiards, and I’ll give him fifteen in twenty and beat his old head off. Why do they let such fellows into clubs? Let’s have a game at piquet till dinner, Heavyside. Hallo! That’s my uncle, that tall man with the mustachios and the short trousers, walking with that boy of his. I dare say they are going to dine in Covent Garden, and going to the play. How-dy-do, Nunky?”— and so the worthy pair went up to the card-room, where they sate at piquet until the hour of sunset and dinner arrived.

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