The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXIII

Mrs. Clive at Home

Clive and his father did not think fit to conceal their opinions regarding their kinsman, Barnes Newcome, and uttered them in many public places when Sir Barnes’s conduct was brought into question, we may be sure that their talk came to the Baronet’s ears, and did not improve his already angry feeling towards those gentlemen. For a while they had the best of the attack. The Colonel routed Barnes out of his accustomed club at Bays’s; where also the gallant Sir George Tufto expressed himself pretty openly with respect to the poor Baronet’s want of courage: the Colonel had bullied and browbeaten Barnes in the parlour of his own bank, and the story was naturally well known in the City; where it certainly was not pleasant for Sir Barnes, as he walked to ‘Change, to meet sometimes the scowls of the angry man of war, his uncle, striding down to the offices of the Bundelcund Bank, and armed with that terrible bamboo cane.

But though his wife had undeniably run away after notorious ill-treatment from her husband; though he had shown two white feathers in those unpleasant little affairs with his uncle and cousin; though Sir Barnes Newcome was certainly neither amiable nor popular in the City of London, his reputation as a most intelligent man of business still stood; the credit of his house was deservedly high, and people banked with him, and traded with him, in spite of faithless wives and hostile colonels.

When the outbreak between Colonel Newcome and his nephew took place, it may be remembered that Mr. Hobson Newcome, the other partner of the firm of Hobson Brothers, waited upon Colonel Newcome, as one of the principal English directors of the B. B. C., and hoped that although private differences would, of course, oblige Thomas Newcome to cease all personal dealings with the bank of Hobson, the affairs of the Company in which he was interested ought not to suffer on this account; and that the Indian firm should continue dealing with Hobsons on the same footing as before. Mr. Hobson Newcome represented to the Colonel, in his jolly frank way, that whatever happened between the latter and his nephew Barnes, Thomas Newcome had still one friend in the house; that the transactions between it and the Indian Company were mutually advantageous; finally, that the manager of the Indian bank might continue to do business with Hobsons as before. So the B. B. C. sent its consignments to Hobson Brothers, and drew its bills, which were duly honoured by that firm.

More than one of Colonel Newcome’s City acquaintances, among them his agent, Mr. Jolly, and his ingenuous friend, Mr. Sherrick, especially, hinted to Thomas Newcome to be very cautious in his dealings with Hobson Brothers, and keep a special care lest that house should play him an evil turn. They both told him that Barnes Newcome had said more than once, in answer to reports of the Colonel’s own speeches against Barnes. “I know that hot-headed, blundering Indian uncle of mine is furious against me, on account of an absurd private affair and misunderstanding, which he is too obstinate to see in the proper light. What is my return for the abuse and rant which he lavishes against me? I cannot forget that he is my grandfather’s son, an old man, utterly ignorant both of society and business here; and as he is interested in this Indian Banking Company, which must be preciously conducted when it appointed him as the guardian and overseer of its affairs in England, I do my very best to serve the Company, and I can tell you, its blundering, muddleheaded managers, black and white, owe no little to the assistance which they have had from our house. If they don’t like us, why do they go on dealing with us? We don’t want them and their bills. We were a leading house fifty years before they were born, and shall continue to be so long after they come to an end.” Such was Barnes’s case, as stated by himself. It was not a very bad one, or very unfairly stated, considering the advocate. I believe he has always persisted in thinking that he never did his uncle any wrong.

Mr. Jolly and Mr. Sherrick, then, both entreated Thomas Newcome to use his best endeavours, and bring the connexion of the B. B. C. and Hobson Brothers to a speedy end. But Jolly was an interested party; he and his friends would have had the agency of the B. B. C., and the profits thereof, which Hobsons had taken from them. Mr. Sherrick was an outside practitioner, a guerilla amongst regular merchants. The opinions of one and the other, though submitted by Thomas Newcome duly to his co-partners, the managers and London board of directors of the Bundelcund Banking Company, were overruled by that assembly.

They had their establishment and apartments in the City; they had their clerks and messengers, their managers’ room and board-room, their meetings, where no doubt great quantities of letters were read, vast ledgers produced; where Tom Newcome was voted into the chair, and voted out with thanks; where speeches were made, and the affairs of the B. B. C. properly discussed. These subjects are mysterious, terrifying, unknown to me. I cannot pretend to describe them. Fred Bayham, I remember, used to be great in his knowledge of the affairs of the Bundelcund Banking Company. He talked of cotton, wool, copper, opium, indigo, Singapore, Manilla, China, Calcutta, Australia, with prodigious eloquence and fluency. His conversation was about millions. The most astounding paragraphs used to appear in the Pall Mall Gazette, regarding the annual dinner at Blackwall, which the directors gave, and to which he, and George, and I, as friends of the court, were invited. What orations were uttered, what flowing bumpers emptied in the praise of this great Company; what quantities of turtle and punch did Fred devour at its expense! Colonel Newcome was the kindly old chairman at these banquets; the prince, his son, taking but a modest part in the ceremonies, and sitting with us, his old cronies.

All the gentlemen connected with the board, all those with whom the B. B. C. traded in London, paid Thomas Newcome extraordinary respect. His character for wealth was deservedly great, and of course multiplied by the tongue of Rumour. F. B. knew to a few millions of rupees, more or less, what the Colonel possessed, and what Clive would inherit. Thomas Newcome’s distinguished military services, his high bearing, lofty courtesy, simple but touching garrulity; — for the honest man talked much more now than he had been accustomed to do in former days, and was not insensible to the flattery which his wealth brought him — his reputation as a keen man of business, who had made his own fortune by operations equally prudent and spirited, and who might make the fortunes of hundreds of other people, brought the worthy Colonel a number of friends, and I promise you that the loudest huzzahs greeted his health when it was proposed at the Blackwall dinners. At the second annual dinner after Clive’s marriage some friends presented Mrs. Clive Newcome with a fine testimonial. There was a superb silver cocoa-nut tree, whereof the leaves were dexterously arranged for holding candle and pickles; under the cocoa-nut was an Indian prince on a camel, giving his hand to a cavalry officer on horseback — a howitzer, a plough, a loom, a bale of cotton, on which were the East India Company’s arms, a Brahmin, Britannia, and Commerce with a cornucopia were grouped round the principal figures: and if you would see a noble account of this chaste and elegant specimen of British art, you are referred to the pages of the Pall Mall Gazette of that year, as well as to Fred Bayham’s noble speech in the course of the evening, when it was exhibited. The East and its wars, and its heroes, Assaye and Seringapatam (“and Lord Lake and Laswaree too,” calls out the Colonel greatly elated), tiger-hunting, palanquins, Juggernaut, elephants, the burning of widows — all passed before us in F. B.‘s splendid oration. He spoke of the product of the Indian forest, the palm-tree, the cocoa-nut tree, the banyan-tree. Palms the Colonel had already brought back with him, the palms of valour, won in the field of war (cheers). Cocoa-nut trees he had never seen, though he had heard wonders related regarding the milky contents of their fruit. Here at any rate was one tree of the kind, under the branches of which he humbly trusted often to repose — and, if he might be so bold as to carry on the Eastern metaphor, he would say, knowing the excellence of the Colonel’s claret and the splendour of his hospitality, that he would prefer a cocoa-nut day at the Colonel’s to a banyan day anywhere else. Whilst F. B.‘s speech went on, I remember J. J. eyeing the trophy, and the queer expression of his shrewd face. The health of British Artists was drunk a propos of this splendid specimen of their skill, and poor J. J. Ridley, Esq., A.R.A., had scarce a word to say in return. He and Clive sat by one another, the latter very silent and gloomy. When J. J. and I met in the world, we talked about our friend, and it was easy for both of us to see that neither was satisfied with Clive’s condition.

The fine house in Tyburnia was completed by this time, as gorgeous as money could make it. How different it was from the old Fitzroy Square mansion with its ramshackle furniture, and spoils of brokers’ shops, and Tottenham Court Road odds and ends! An Oxford Street upholsterer had been let loose in the yet virgin chambers; and that inventive genius had decorated them with all the wonders his fancy could devise. Roses and cupids quivered on the ceilings, up to which golden arabesques crawled from the walls; your face (handsome or otherwise) was reflected by countless looking-glasses, so multiplied and arranged as, as it were, to carry you into the next street. You trod on velvet, pausing with respect in the centre of the carpet, where Rosey’s cypher was worked in the sweet flowers which bear her name. What delightful crooked legs the chairs had! What corner cupboards there were filled with Dresden gimcracks, which it was a part of this little woman’s business in life to purchase! What etageres, and bonbonnieres, and chiffonnieres! What awfully bad pastels there were on the walls! What frightful Boucher and Lancret shepherds and shepherdesses leered over the portieres! What velvet-bound volumes, mother-of-pearl albums, inkstands representing beasts of the field, prie-dieu chairs, and wonderful knick-knacks I can recollect! There was the most magnificent piano, though Rosey seldom sang any of her six songs now; and when she kept her couch at a certain most interesting period, the good Colonel, ever anxious to procure amusement for his darling, asked whether she would not like a barrel-organ grinding fifty or sixty favourite pieces, which a bearer could turn? And he mentioned how Windus, of their regiment, who loved music exceedingly, had a very fine instrument of this kind out to Barrackpore in the year 1810, and relays of barrels by each ship with all the new tunes from Europe. The Testimonial took its place in the centre of Mrs. Clive’s table, surrounded by satellites of plate. The delectable parties were constantly gathered together, the grand barouche rolling in the Park, or stopping at the principal shops. Little Rosey bloomed in millinery, and was still the smiling little pet of her father-inlaw, and poor Clive, in the midst of all these splendours, was gaunt, and sad, and silent; listless at most times, bitter and savage at others, pleased only when he was out of the society which bored him, and in the company of George and J. J., the simple friends of his youth.

His careworn look and altered appearance mollified my wife towards him — who had almost taken him again into favour. But she did not care for Mrs. Clive, and the Colonel, somehow, grew cool towards us, and to look askance upon the little band of Clive’s friends. It seemed as if there were two parties in the house. There was Clive’s set — J. J., the shrewd, silent little painter; Warrington, the cynic; and the author of the present biography, who was, I believe, supposed to give himself contemptuous airs; and to have become very high and mighty since his marriage. Then there was the great, numerous, and eminently respectable set, whose names were all registered in little Rosey’s little visiting-book, and to whose houses she drove round, duly delivering the cards of Mr. and Mrs. Clive Newcome, and Colonel Newcome; — the generals and colonels, the judges and the fogies. The only man who kept well with both sides of the house was F. Bayham, Esq., who, having got into clover, remained in the enjoyment of that welcome pasture; who really loved Clive and the Colonel too, and had a hundred pleasant things and funny stories (the droll old creature!) to tell to the little lady for whom we others could scarcely find a word. The old friends of the student-days were not forgotten, but they did not seem to get on in the new house. The Miss Gandishes came to one of Mrs. Clive’s balls, still in blue crape, still with ringlets on their wizened old foreheads, accompanying papa, with his shirt-collars turned down — who gazed in mute wonder on the splendid scene. Warrington actually asked Miss Gandish to dance, making woeful blunders, however, in the quadrille, while Clive, with something like one of his old smiles on his face, took out Miss Zoe Gandish, her sister. We made Gandish overeat and overdrink himself in the supper-room, and Clive cheered him by ordering a full length of Mrs. Clive Newcome from his distinguished pencil. Never was seen a grander exhibition of white satin and jewels. Smee, R.A., was furious at the preference shown to his rival.

We had Sandy M’Collop, too, at the party, who had returned from Rome, with his red beard, and his picture of the murder of the Red Comyn, which made but a dim effect in the Octagon Room of the Royal Academy, where the bleeding agonies of the dying warrior were veiled in an unkind twilight. On Sandy and his brethren little Rosey looked rather coldly. She tossed up her little head in conversation with me, and gave me to understand that this party was only an omnium gatherum, not one of the select parties, from which Heaven defend us. “We are Poins, and Nym, and Pistol,” growled out George Warrington, as he strode away to finish the evening in Clive’s painting — and smoking-room. “Now Prince Hal is married, and shares the paternal throne, his Princess is ashamed of his brigand associates of former days.” She came and looked at us with a feeble little smile, as we sat smoking, and let the daylight in on us from the open door, and hinted to Mr. Clive that it was time to go to bed.

So Clive Newcome lay in a bed of down and tossed and tumbled there. He went to fine dinners, and sat silent over them; rode fine horses, and black Care jumped up behind the moody horseman. He was cut off in a great measure from the friends of his youth, or saw them by a kind of stealth and sufferance; was a very lonely, poor fellow, I am afraid, now that people were testimonialising his wife, and many an old comrade growling at his haughtiness and prosperity.

In former days, when his good father recognised the difference which fate, and time, and temper, had set between him and his son, we have seen with what a gentle acquiescence the old man submitted to his inevitable fortune, and how humbly he bore that stroke of separation which afflicted the boy lightly enough, but caused the loving sire so much pain. Then there was no bitterness between them, in spite of the fatal division; but now, it seemed as if there was anger on Thomas Newcome’s part, because, though come together again, they were not united, though with every outward appliance of happiness Clive was not happy. What young man on earth could look for more? a sweet young wife, a handsome home, of which the only encumbrance was an old father, who would give his last drop of blood in his son’s behalf. And it was to bring about this end that Thomas Newcome had toiled and had amassed a fortune. Could not Clive, with his talents and education, go down once or twice a week to the City and take a decent part in the business by which his wealth was secured? He appeared at the various board-rooms and City conclaves, yawned at the meetings, and drew figures on the blotting-paper of the Company; had no interest in its transactions, no heart in its affairs; went away and galloped his horse alone; or returned to his painting-room, put on his old velvet jacket, and worked with his palettes and brushes. Palettes and brushes! Could he not give up these toys when he was called to a much higher station in the world? Could he not go talk with Rosey; — drive with Rosey, kind little soul, whose whole desire was to make him happy? Such thoughts as these, no doubt, darkened the Colonel’s mind, and deepened the furrows round his old eyes. So it is, we judge men by our own standards; judge our nearest and dearest often wrong.

Many and many a time did Clive try and talk with the little Rosey, who chirped and prattled so gaily to his father. Many a time would she come and sit by his easel, and try her little powers to charm him, bring him little tales about their acquaintances, stories about this ball and that concert, practise artless smiles upon him, gentle little bouderies, tears, perhaps, followed by caresses and reconciliation. At the end of which he would return to his cigar; and she, with a sigh and a heavy heart, to the good old man who had bidden her to go and talk with him. He used to feel that his father had sent her; the thought came across him in their conversations, and straightway his heart would shut up and his face grew gloomy. They were not made to mate with one another. This was the truth; the shoe was a very pretty little shoe, but Clive’s foot was too big for it.

Just before the testimonial, Mr. Clive was in constant attendance at home, and very careful and kind and happy with his wife, and the whole family party went very agreeably. Doctors were in constant attendance at Mrs. Clive Newcome’s door; prodigious care was taken by the good Colonel in wrapping her and in putting her little feet on sofas, and in leading her to her carriage. The Campaigner came over in immense flurry from Edinburgh (where Uncle James was now very comfortably lodged in Picardy Place with the most agreeable society round about him), and all this circle was in a word very close and happy and intimate; but woe is me, Thomas Newcome’s fondest hopes were disappointed this time: his little grandson lived but to see the light and leave it: and sadly, sadly, those preparations were put away, those poor little robes and caps, those delicate muslins and cambrics over which many a care had been forgotten, many a fond prayer thought, if not uttered. Poor little Rosey! she felt the grief very keenly; but she rallied from it very soon. In a very few months, her cheeks were blooming and dimpling with smiles again, and she was telling us how her party was an omnium gatherum.

The Campaigner had ere this returned to the scene of her northern exploits; not, I believe, entirely of the worthy woman’s own free will. Assuming the command of the household, whilst her daughter kept her sofa, Mrs. Mackenzie had set that establishment into uproar and mutiny. She had offended the butler, outraged the housekeeper, wounded the sensibilities of the footmen, insulted the doctor, and trampled on the inmost corns of the nurse. It was surprising what a change appeared in the Campaigner’s conduct, and how little, in former days, Colonel Newcome had known her. What the Emperor Napoleon the First said respecting our Russian enemies, might be applied to this lady, Grattez-la, and she appeared a Tartar. Clive and his father had a little comfort and conversation in conspiring against her. The old man never dared to try, but was pleased with the younger’s spirit and gallantry in the series of final actions which, commencing over poor little Rosey’s prostrate body in the dressing-room, were continued in the drawing-room, resumed with terrible vigour on the enemy’s part in the dining-room, and ended, to the triumph of the whole establishment, at the outside of the hall-door.

When the routed Tartar force had fled back to its native north, Rosey made a confession, which Clive told me afterwards, bursting with bitter laughter. “You and papa seem to be very much agitated,” she said. (Rosey called the Colonel papa in the absence of the Campaigner.) “I do not mind it a bit, except just at first, when it made me a little nervous. Mamma used always to be so; she used to scold and scold all day, both me and Josey, in Scotland, till grandmamma sent her away; and then in Fitzroy Square, and then in Brussels, she used to box my ears, and go into such tantrums; and I think,” adds Rosey, with one of her sweetest smiles, “she had quarrelled with Uncle James before she came to us.”

“She used to box Rosey’s ears,” roars out poor Clive, “and go into such tantrums, in Fitzroy Square and Brussels afterwards, and the pair would come down with their arms round each other’s waists, smirking and smiling as if they had done nothing but kiss each other all their mortal lives! This is what we know about women — this is what we get, and find years afterwards, when we think we have married a smiling, artless young creature! Are you all such hypocrites, Mrs. Pendennis?” and he pulled his mustachios in his wrath.

“Poor Clive!” says Laura, very kindly. “You would not have had her tell tales of her mother, would you?”

“Oh, of course not,” breaks out Clive; “that is what you all say, and so you are hypocrites out of sheer virtue.”

It was the first time Laura had called him Clive for many a day. She was becoming reconciled to him. We had our own opinion about the young fellow’s marriage.

And, to sum up all, upon a casual rencontre with the young gentleman in question, whom we saw descending from a hansom at the steps of the Flag, Pall Mall, I opined that dark thoughts of Hoby had entered into Clive Newcome’s mind. Othello-like, he scowled after that unconscious Cassio as the other passed into the club in his lacquered boots.

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