The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LX

In which we write to the Colonel

Deeming that her brother Barnes had cares enough of his own presently at hand, Ethel did not think fit to confide to him the particulars of her interview with Lord Farintosh; nor even was poor Lady Anne informed that she had lost a noble son-inlaw. The news would come to both of them soon enough, Ethel thought; and indeed, before many hours were over, it reached Sir Barnes Newcome in a very abrupt and unpleasant way. He had dismal occasion now to see his lawyers every day; and on the day after Lord Farintosh’s abrupt visit and departure, Sir Barnes, going into Newcome upon his own unfortunate affairs, was told by his attorney, Mr. Speers, how the Marquis of Farintosh had slept for a few hours at the King’s Arms, and returned to town the same evening by the train. We may add, that his lordship had occupied the very room in which Lord Highgate had previously slept; and Mr. Taplow recommends the bed accordingly, and shows pride it with to this very day.

Much disturbed by this intelligence, Sir Barnes was making his way to his cheerless home in the evening, when near his own gate he overtook another messenger. This was the railway porter, who daily brought telegraphic messages from his uncle and the London bank. The message of that day was — “Consols, so-and-so. French Rentes, so much. Highgate’s and Farintosh’s accounts withdrawn.” The wretched keeper of the lodge owned, with trembling, in reply to the curses and queries of his employer, that a gentleman, calling himself the Marquis of Farintosh, had gone up to the house the day before, and come away an hour afterwards — did not like to speak to Sir Barnes when he came home, Sir Barnes looked so bad like.

Now, of course, there could be no concealment from her brother, and Ethel and Barnes had a conversation, in which the latter expressed himself with that freedom of language which characterised the head of the house of Newcome. Madame de Moncontour’s pony-chaise was in waiting at the hall door, when the owner of the house entered it; and my wife was just taking leave of Ethel and her little people when Sir Barnes Newcome entered the lady’s sitting-room.

The livid scowl with which Barnes greeted my wife surprised that lady, though it did not induce her to prolong her visit to her friend. As Laura took leave, she heard Sir Barnes screaming to the nurses to “take those little beggars away,” and she rightly conjectured that some more unpleasantries had occurred to disturb this luckless gentleman’s temper.

On the morrow, dearest Ethel’s usual courier, one of the boys from the lodge, trotted over on his donkey to dearest Laura at Rosebury, with one of those missives which were daily passing between the ladies. This letter said:—

“Barnes m’a fait une scene terrible hier. I was obliged to tell him everything about Lord F., and to use the plainest language. At first, he forbade you the house. He thinks that you have been the cause of F.‘s dismissal, and charged me, most unjustly, with a desire to bring back poor C. N. I replied as became me, and told him fairly I would leave the house if odious insulting charges were made against me, if my friends were not received. He stormed, he cried, he employed his usual language, — he was in a dreadful state. He relented and asked pardon. He goes to town to-night by the mail-train. Of course you come as usual, dear, dear Laura. I am miserable without you; and you know I cannot leave poor mamma. Clarykin sends a thousand kisses to little Arty; and I am his mother’s always affectionate — E. N.

“Will the gentlemen like to shoot our pheasants? Please ask the Prince to let Warren know when. I sent a brace to poor dear old Mrs. Mason, and had such a nice letter from her!”

“And who is poor dear Mrs. Mason” asks Mr. Pendennis, as yet but imperfectly acquainted with the history of the Newcomes.

And Laura told me — perhaps I had heard before, and forgotten — that Mrs. Mason was an old nurse and pensioner of the Colonel’s, and how he had been to see her for the sake of old times; and how she was a great favourite with Ethel; and Laura kissed her little son, and was exceedingly bright, cheerful, and hilarious that evening, in spite of the affliction under which her dear friends at Newcome were labouring.

People in country-houses should be exceedingly careful about their blotting-paper. They should bring their own portfolios with them. If any kind readers will bear this simple little hint in mind, how much mischief may they save themselves — nay, enjoy possibly, by looking at the pages of the next portfolio in the next friend’s bedroom in which they sleep. From such a book I once cut out, in Charles Slyboots’ well-known and perfectly clear handwriting, the words, “Miss Emily Hartington, James Street, Backingham Gate, London,” and produced as legibly on the blotting-paper as on the envelope which the postman delivered. After showing the paper round to the company, I enclosed it in a note and sent it to Mr. Slyboots, who married Miss Hartington three months afterwards. In such a book at the club I read, as plainly as you may read this page, a holograph page of the Right Honourable the Earl of Bareacres, which informed the whole club of a painful and private circumstance, and said, “My dear Green — I am truly sorry that I shall not be able to take up the bill for eight hundred and fifty-six pounds, which becomes due next Tu ——” and upon such a book, going to write a note in Madame de Moncontour’s drawing-room at Rosebury, what should I find but proofs that my own wife was engaged in a clandestine correspondence with a gentleman residing abroad!

“Colonel Newcome, C.B., Montagne de la Cour, Brussels,” I read, in this young woman’s handwriting; and asked, turning round upon Laura, who entered the room just as I discovered her guilt: “What have you been writing to Colonel Newcome about, miss?”

“I wanted him to get me some lace,” she said.

“To lace some nightcaps for me, didn’t you, my dear? He is such a fine judge of lace! If I had known you had been writing, I would have asked you to send him a message. I want something from Brussels. Is the letter — ahem — gone?” (In this artful way, you see, I just hinted that I should like to see letter.).

“The letter is — ahem — gone,” says Laura. “What do you want from Brussels, Pen?”

“I want some Brussels sprouts, my love — they are so fine in their native country.”

“Shall I write to him to send the letter back?” palpitates poor little Laura; for she thought her husband was offended, by using the ironic method.

“No, you dear little woman! You need not send for letter the back: and you need not tell me what was in it: and I will bet you a hundred yards of lace to a cotton nightcap — and you know whether I, madam, am a man a bonnet-de-coton — I will let you that I know what you have been writing about, under pretence of a message about lace, to our Colonel.”

“He promised to send it me. He really did. Lady Rockminster gave me twenty pounds ——” gasps Laura.

“Under pretence of lace, you have been sending over a love-message. You want to see whether Clive is still of his old mind. You think the coast is now clear, and that dearest Ethel may like him. You think Mrs. Mason is growing very old and infirm, and the sight of her dear boy would ——”

“Pen! Pen! did you open my letter?” cries Laura; and a laugh which could afford to be good-humoured (followed by yet another expression of the lips) ended this colloquy. No; Mr Pendennis did not see the letter — but he knew the writer; — flattered himself that he knew women in general.

“Where did you get your experience of them, sir?” asks Mrs. Laura. Question answered in the same manner as the previous demand.

“Well, my dear; and why should not the poor boy be made happy?” Laura continues, standing very close up to her husband. “It is evident to me that Ethel is fond of him. I would rather see her married to a good young man whom she loves, than the mistress of a thousand palaces and coronets. Suppose — suppose you had married Miss Amory, sir, what a wretched worldly creature you would have been by this time; whereas now ——”

“Now that I am the humble slave of a good woman there is some chance for me,” cries this model of husbands. “And all good women are match-makers, as we know very well; and you have had this match in your heart ever since you saw the two young people together. Now; madam, since I did not see your letter to the Colonel — though I have guessed part of it — tell me, what have you said in it? Have you by any chance told the Colonel that the Farintosh alliance was broken off?”

Laura owned that she had hinted as much.

“You have not ventured to say that Ethel is well inclined to Clive?”

“Oh, no — oh dear, no!” But after much cross-examining and a little blushing on Laura’s part, she is brought to confess that she has asked the Colonel whether he will not come and see Mrs. Mason, who is pining to see him, and is growing very old. And I find out that she has been to see this Mrs. Mason; that she and Miss Newcome visited the old lady the day before yesterday; and Laura thought from the manner in which Ethel looked at Clive’s picture, hanging up in the parlour of his father’s old friend, that she really was very much, etc. etc. So, the letter being gone, Mrs. Pendennis is most eager about the answer to it, and day after day examines the bag, and is provoked that it brings no letter bearing the Brussels post-mark.

Madame de Moncontour seems perfectly well to know what Mrs. Laura has been doing and is hoping. “What, no letters again today? Ain’t it provoking?” she cries. She is in the conspiracy too; and presently Florac is one of the initiated. “These women wish to bacler a marriage between the belle miss and le petit Claive,” Florac announces to me. He pays the highest compliments to Miss Newcome’s person, as he speaks regarding the marriage. “I continue to adore your Anglaises,” he is pleased to say. “What of freshness, what of beauty, what roses! And then they are so adorably good! Go, Pendennis, thou art a happy coquin!” Mr. Pendennis does not say No. He has won the twenty-thousand-pound prize; and we know there are worse blanks in that lottery.

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