The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXI

In which we are introduced to a New Newcome

No answer came to Mrs. Pendennis’s letter to Colonel Newcome at Brussels, for the Colonel was absent from that city, and at the time when Laura wrote was actually in London, whither affairs of his own had called him. A note from George Warrington acquainted me with this circumstance; he mentioned that he and the Colonel had dined together at Bays’s on the day previous, and that the Colonel seemed to be in the highest spirits. High spirits about what? This news put Laura in a sad perplexity. Should she write and tell him to get his letters from Brussels? She would in five minutes have found some other pretext for writing to Colonel Newcome, had not her husband sternly cautioned the young woman to leave the matter alone.

The more readily perhaps because he had quarrelled with his nephew Sir Barnes, Thomas Newcome went to visit his brother Hobson and his sister-inlaw; bent on showing that there was no division between him and this branch of his family. And you may suppose that the admirable woman just named had a fine occasion for her virtuous conversational powers in discoursing upon the painful event which had just happened to Sir Barnes. When we fail, how our friends cry out for us! Mrs. Hobson’s homilies must have been awful. How that outraged virtue must have groaned and lamented, gathered its children about its knees, wept over them and washed them; gone into sackcloth and ashes and tied up the knocker; confabulated with its spiritual adviser; uttered commonplaces to its husband; and bored the whole house! The punishment of worldliness and vanity, the evil of marrying out of one’s station, how these points must have been explained and enlarged on! Surely the Peerage was taken off the drawing-room table and removed to papa’s study, where it could not open, as it used naturally once, to Highgate, Baron, or Farintosh, Marquis of, being shut behind wires and closely jammed in on an upper shelf between Blackstone’s Commentaries and the Farmer’s Magazine! The breaking of the engagement with the Marquis of Farintosh was known in Bryanstone Square; and you may be sure interpreted by Mrs. Hobson in the light the most disadvantageous to Ethel Newcome. A young nobleman — with grief and pain Ethel’s aunt must own the fact — a young man of notoriously dissipated habits but of great wealth and rank, had been pursued by the unhappy Lady Kew — Mrs. Hobson would not say by her niece, that were too dreadful — had been pursued, and followed, and hunted down in the most notorious manner, and finally made to propose! Let Ethel’s conduct and punishment be a warning to my dearest girls, and let them bless Heaven they have parents who are not worldly! After all the trouble and pains, Mrs. Hobson did not say disgrace, the Marquis takes the very first pretext to break off the match, and leaves the unfortunate girl for ever!

And now we have to tell of the hardest blow which fell upon poor Ethel, and this was that her good uncle Thomas Newcome believed the charges against her. He was willing enough to listen now to anything which was said against that branch of the family. With such a traitor, double-dealer, dastard as Barnes at its head, what could the rest of the race be? When the Colonel offered to endow Ethel and Clive with every shilling he had in the world, had not Barnes, the arch-traitor, temporised and told him falsehoods, and hesitated about throwing him off until the Marquis had declared himself? Yes. The girl he and poor Clive loved so was ruined by her artful relatives, was unworthy of his affection and his boy’s, was to be banished, like her worthless brother, out of his regard for ever. And the man she had chosen in preference to his Clive! — a roue, a libertine, whose extravagances and dissipations were the talk of every club, who had no wit, nor talents, not even constancy (for had he not taken the first opportunity to throw her off?) to recommend him — only a great title and a fortune wherewith to bribe her! For shame, for shame! Her engagement to this man was a blot upon her — the rupture only a just punishment and humiliation. Poor unhappy girl! let her take care of her wretched brother’s abandoned children, give up the world, and amend her life.

This was the sentence Thomas Newcome delivered: a righteous and tender-hearted man, as we know, but judging in this case wrongly, and bearing much too hardly, as we who know her betters must think, upon one who had her faults certainly, but whose errors were not all of her own making. Who set her on the path she walked in? It was her parents’ hands which led her, and her parents’ voices which commanded her to accept the temptation set before her. What did she know of the character of the man selected to be her husband? Those who should have known better brought him to her, and vouched for him. Noble, unhappy young creature! are you the first of your sisterhood who has been bidden to traffic your beauty, to crush and slay your honest natural affections, to sell your truth and your life for rank and title? But the Judge who sees not the outward acts merely, but their causes, and views not the wrong alone, but the temptations, struggles, ignorance of erring creatures, we know has a different code to ours — to ours, who fall upon the fallen, who fawn upon the prosperous so, who administer our praises and punishments so prematurely, who now strike so hard, and, anon, spare so shamelessly.

Our stay with our hospitable friends at Rosebury was perforce coming to a close, for indeed weeks after weeks had passed since we had been under their pleasant roof; and in spite of dearest Ethel’s remonstrances it was clear that dearest Laura must take her farewell. In these last days, besides the visits which daily took place between one and other, the young messenger was put in ceaseless requisition, and his donkey must have been worn off his little legs with trotting to and fro between the two houses, Laura was quite anxious and hurt at not hearing from the Colonel; it was a shame that he did not have over his letters from Belgium and answer that one which she had honoured him by writing. By some information, received who knows how? our host was aware of the intrigue which Mrs. Pendennis was carrying on; and his little wife almost as much interested in it as my own. She whispered to me in her kind way that she would give a guinea, that she would, to see a certain couple made happy together; that they were born for one another, that they were; she was for having me go off to fetch Clive: but who was I to act as Hymen’s messenger, or to interpose in such delicate family affairs?

All this while Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., remained absent in London, attending to his banking duties there, and pursuing the dismal inquiries which ended, in the ensuing Michaelmas term, in the famous suit of Newcome v. Lord Highgate. Ethel, pursuing the plan which she had laid down for herself from the first, took entire charge of his children and house: Lady Anne returned to her own family: never indeed having been of much use in her son’s dismal household. My wife talked to me of course about her pursuits and amusements at Newcome, in the ancestral hall which we have mentioned. The children played and ate their dinner (mine often partook of his infantine mutton, in company with little Clara and the poor young heir of Newcome) in the room which had been called my lady’s own, and in which her husband had locked her, forgetting that the conservatories were open, through which the hapless woman had fled. Next to this was the baronial library, a side of which was fitted with the gloomy books from Clapham, which old Mrs. Newcome had amassed; rows of tracts, and missionary magazines, and dingy quarto volumes of worldly travel and history which that lady had admitted into her collection.

Almost on the last day of our stay at Rosebury, the two young ladies bethought them of paying a visit to the neighbouring town of Newcome, to that old Mrs. Mason who has been mentioned in a foregoing page in some yet earlier chapter of our history. She was very old now, very faithful to the recollections of her own early time, and oblivious of yesterday. Thanks to Colonel Newcome’s bounty, she had lived in comfort for many a long year past; and he was as much her boy now as in those early days of which we have given but an outline. There were Clive’s pictures of himself and his father over her little mantelpiece, near which she sat in comfort and warmth by the winter fire which his bounty supplied.

Mrs. Mason remembered Miss Newcome, prompted thereto by the hints of her little maid, who was much younger, and had a more faithful memory than her mistress. Why, Sarah Mason would have forgotten the pheasants whose very tails decorated the chimney-glass, had not Keziah, the maid, reminded her that the young lady was the donor. Then she recollected her benefactor, and asked after her father, the Baronet; and wondered, for her part, why her boy, the Colonel, was not made baronet, and why his brother had the property? Her father was a very good man; though Mrs. Mason had heard he was not much liked in those parts. “Dead and gone, was he, poor man?” (This came in reply to a hint from Keziah, the attendant, bawled in the old lady’s ears, who was very deaf.) “Well, well, we must all go; and if we were all good, like the Colonel, what was the use of staying? I hope his wife will be good. I am sure such a good man deserves one,” added Mrs. Mason.

The ladies thought the old woman doting, led thereto by the remark of Keziah, the maid, that Mrs. Mason have a lost her memory. And she asked who the other bonny lady was, and Ethel told her that Mrs. Pendennis was a friend of the Colonel’s and Clive’s.

“Oh, Clive’s friend! Well, she was a pretty lady, and he was a dear pretty boy. He drew those pictures; and he took off me in my cap, with my old cat and all — my poor old cat that’s buried this ever so long ago.”

“She has had a letter from the Colonel, miss,” cries out Keziah. “Haven’t you had a letter from the Colonel, mum? It came only yesterday.” And Keziah takes out the letter and shows it to the ladies. They read as follows:—

“London, Feb. 12, 184-.

“My Dear Old Mason — I have just heard from a friend of mine who has been staying in your neighbourhood, that you are well and happy, and that you have been making inquiries after your young scapegrace, Tom Newcome, who is well and happy too, and who proposes to be happier still before any very long time is over.

“The letter which was written to me about you was sent to me in Belgium, at Brussels, where I have been living — a town near the place where the famous Battle of Waterloo was fought; and as I had run away from Waterloo it followed me to England.

“I cannot come to Newcome just now to shake my dear old friend and nurse by the hand. I have business in London; and there are those of my name living in Newcome who would not be very happy to see me and mine.

“But I promise you a visit before very long, and Clive will come with me; and when we come I shall introduce a new friend to you, a very pretty little daughter-inlaw, whom you must promise to love very much. She is a Scotch lassie, niece of my oldest friend, James Binnie, Esquire, of the Bengal Civil Service, who will give her a pretty bit of siller, and her present name is Miss Rosa Mackenzie.

“We shall send you a wedding cake soon, and a new gown for Keziah (to whom remember me), and when I am gone, my grandchildren after me will hear what a dear friend you were to your affectionate Thomas Newcome.”

Keziah must have thought that there was something between Clive and my wife, for when Laura had read the letter she laid it down on the table, and sitting down by it, and hiding her face in her hands, burst into tears.

Ethel looked steadily at the two pictures of Clive and his father. Then she put her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Come, my dear,” she said, “it is growing late, and I must go back to my children.” And she saluted Mrs. Mason and her maid in a very stately manner, and left them, leading my wife away, who was still exceedingly overcome.

We could not stay long at Rosebury after that. When Madame de Moncontour heard the news, the good lady cried too. Mrs. Pendennis’s emotion was renewed as we passed the gates of Newcome Park on our way to the railroad.

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