The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXIV

Absit Omen

At the first of the Blackwall festivals, Hobson Newcome was present, in spite of the quarrel which had taken place between his elder brother and the chief of the firm of Hobson Brothers and Newcome. But it was the individual Barnes and the individual Thomas who had had a difference together; the Bundelcund Bank was not at variance with its chief house of commission in London; no man drank prosperity to the B. B. C., upon occasion of this festival, with greater fervour than Hobson Newcome, and the manner in which he just slightly alluded, in his own little speech of thanks, to the notorious differences between Colonel Newcome and his nephew, praying that these might cease some day, and, meanwhile, that the confidence between the great Indian establishment and its London agents might never diminish, was appreciated and admired by six-and-thirty gentlemen, all brimful of claret and enthusiasm, and in that happy state of mind in which men appreciate and admire everything.

At the second dinner, when the testimonial was presented, Hobson was not present. Nor did his name figure amongst those engraven on the trunk of Mr. Newcome’s allegorical silver cocoa-nut tree. As we travelled homewards in the omnibus, Fred Bayham noticed the circumstance to me. “I have looked over the list of names,” says he, “not merely that on the trunk, sir, but the printed list; it was rolled up and placed in one of the nests on the top of the tree. Why is Hobson’s name not there? — Ha! it mislikes me, Pendennis.”

F. B., who was now very great about City affairs, discoursed about stocks and companies with immense learning, and gave me to understand that he had transacted one or two little operations in Capel Court on his own account, with great present, and still larger prospective, advantages to himself. It is a fact that Mr. Ridley was paid, and that F. B.‘s costume, though still eccentric, was comfortable, cleanly, and variegated. He occupied the apartments once tenanted by the amiable Honeyman. He lived in ease and comfort there. “You don’t suppose,” says he, “that the wretched stipend I draw from the Pall Mall Gazette enables me to maintain this kind of thing? F. B., sir, has a station in the world; F. B. moves among moneyers and City nobs, and eats cabobs with wealthy nabobs. He may marry, sir, and settle in life.” We cordially wished every worldly prosperity to the brave F. B.

Happening to descry him one day in the Park, I remarked that his countenance wore an ominous and tragic appearance, which seemed to deepen as he neared me. I thought he had been toying affably with a nursery-maid the moment before, who stood with some of her little charges watching the yachts upon the Serpentine. Howbeit, espying my approach, F. B. strode away from the maiden and her innocent companions, and advanced to greet his old acquaintance, enveloping his face with shades of funereal gloom.

“Yon were the children of my good friend Colonel Huckaback of the Bombay Marines! Alas! unconscious of their doom, the little infants play. I was watching them at their sports. There is a pleasing young woman in attendance upon the poor children. They were sailing their little boats upon the Serpentine; racing and laughing, and making merry; and as I looked on, Master Hastings Huckaback’s boat went down! Absit omen, Pendennis! I was moved by the circumstance. F. B. hopes that the child’s father’s argosy may not meet with shipwreck!”

“You mean the little yellow-faced man whom we met at Colonel Newcome’s?” says Mr. Pendennis.

“I do, sir,” growled F. B. “You know that he is a brother director with our Colonel in the Bundelcund Bank?”

“Gracious Heavens!” I cried, in sincere anxiety, “nothin has happened, I hope, to the Bundelcund Bank?”

“No,” answers the other, “nothing has happened, the good ship is safe, sir, as yet. But she has narrowly escaped a great danger, Pendennis,” cries F. B., gripping my arm with great energy, “there was a traitor in her crew — she has weathered the storm nobly — who would have sent her on the rocks, sir, who would have scuttled her at midnight.”

“Pray drop your nautical metaphors, and tell me what you mean,” cries F. B.‘s companion, and Bayham continued his narration.

“Were you in the least conversant with City affairs,” he said, “or did you deign to visit the spot where merchants mostly congregate, you would have heard the story, which was over the whole City yesterday, and spread dismay from Threadneedle Street to Leadenhall. The story is, that the firm of Hobson Brothers and Newcome, yesterday refused acceptance of thirty thousand pounds’ worth of bills of the Bundelcund Banking Company of India.

“The news came like a thunderclap upon the London Board of Directors, who had received no notice of the intentions of Hobson Brothers, and caused a dreadful panic amongst the shareholders of the concern. The board-room was besieged by colonels and captains, widows and orphans; within an hour after protest of bills were taken up, and you will see, in the City article of the Globe this very evening, an announcement that henceforward the house of Baines and Jolly, of Job Court, will meet engagements of the Bundelcund Banking Company of India, being provided with ample funds to do honour to every possible liability of that Company. But the shares fell, sir, in consequence of the panic. I hope they will rally. I trust and believe they will rally. For our good Colonel’s sake and that of his friends, for the sake of the innocent children sporting by the Serpentine yonder.

“I had my suspicions when they gave that testimonial,” said F. B. “In my experience of life, sir, I always feel rather shy about testimonials, and when a party gets one, somehow look out to hear of his smashing the next month. Absit omen! I will say again. I like not the going down of yonder little yacht.”

The Globe sure enough contained a paragraph that evening announcing the occurrence which Mr. Bayham had described, and the temporary panic which it had occasioned, and containing an advertisement stating that Messrs. Baines and Jolly would henceforth act as agents of the Indian Company. Legal proceedings were presently threatened by the solicitors of the Company against the banking firm which had caused so much mischief. Mr. Hobson Newcome was absent abroad when the circumstance took place, and it was known that the protest of the bills was solely attributable to his nephew and partner. But after the break between the two firms, there was a rupture between Hobson’s family and Colonel Newcome. The exasperated Colonel vowed that his brother and his nephew were traitors alike, and would have no further dealings with one or the other. Even poor innocent Sam Newcome, coming up to London from Oxford, where he had been plucked, and offering a hand to Clive, was frowned away by our Colonel, who spoke in terms of great displeasure to his son for taking the least notice of the young traitor.

Our Colonel was changed, changed in his heart, changed in his whole demeanour towards the world, and above all towards his son, for whom he had made so many kind sacrifices in his old days. We have said how, ever since Clive’s marriage, a tacit strife had been growing up between father and son. The boy’s evident unhappiness was like a reproach to his father. His very silence angered the old man. His want of confidence daily chafed and annoyed him. At the head of a large fortune, which he rightly persisted in spending, he felt angry with himself because he could not enjoy it, angry with his son, who should have helped him in the administration of his new estate, and who was but a listless, useless member of the little confederacy, a living protest against all the schemes of the good man’s past life. The catastrophe in the City again brought father and son together somewhat, and the vindictiveness of both was roused by Barnes’s treason. Time was when the Colonel himself would have viewed his kinsman more charitably, but fate and circumstance had angered that originally friendly and gentle disposition; hate and suspicion had mastered him, and if it cannot be said that his new life had changed him, at least it had brought out faults for which there had hitherto been no occasion, and qualities latent before. Do we know ourselves, or what good or evil circumstance may bring from us? Did Cain know, as he and his younger brother played round their mother’s knee, that the little hand which caressed Abel should one day grow larger, and seize a brand to slay him? Thrice fortunate he, to whom circumstance is made easy: whom fate visits with gentle trial, and kindly Heaven keeps out of temptation.

In the stage which the family feud now reached, and which the biographer of the Newcomes is bound to describe, there is one gentle moralist who gives her sentence decidedly against Clive’s father; whilst on the other hand a rough philosopher and friend of mine, whose opinions used to have some weight with me, stoutly declares that they were right. “War and justice are good things,” says George Warrington, rattling his clenched fist on the table. “I maintain them, and the common sense of the world maintains them, against the preaching of all the Honeymans that ever puled from the pulpit. I have not the least objection in life to a rogue being hung. When a scoundrel is whipped I am pleased, and say, serve him right. If any gentleman will horsewhip Sir Barnes Newcome, Baronet, I shall not be shocked, but, on the contrary, go home and order an extra mutton-chop for dinner.”

“Ah! revenge is wrong, Pen,” pleads the other counsellor.

“Let alone that the wisest and best of all Judges has condemned it. It blackens the hearts of men. It distorts their views of right. It sets them to devise evil. It causes them to think unjustly of others. It is not the noblest return for injury, not even the bravest way of meeting it. The greatest courage is to bear persecution, not to answer when you are reviled, and when wrong has been done you to forgive. I am sorry for what you call the Colonel’s triumph and his enemy’s humiliation. Let Barnes be as odious as you will, he ought never to have humiliated Ethel’s brother; but he is weak. Other gentlemen as well are weak, Mr. Pen, although you are so much cleverer than women. I have no patience with the Colonel, and I beg you to tell him, whether he asks you or not that he has lost my good graces, and that I for one will not huzzah at what his friends and flatterers call his triumphs, and that I don’t think in this instance he has acted like the dear Colonel, and the good Colonel, and the good Christian that I once thought him.”

We must now tell what the Colonel and Clive had been doing, and what caused two such different opinions respecting their conduct from the two critics just named. The refusal of the London Banking House to accept the bills of the Great Indian Company of course affected very much the credit of that Company in this country. Sedative announcements were issued by the Directors in London; brilliant accounts of the Company’s affairs abroad were published; proof incontrovertible was given that the B. B. C. was never in so flourishing a state as at that time when Hobson Brothers had refused its drafts; there could be no question that the Company had received a severe wound and was deeply if not vitally injured by the conduct of the London firm.

The propensity to sell out became quite epidemic amongst the shareholders. Everybody was anxious to realise. Why, out of the thirty names inscribed on poor Mrs. Clive’s cocoa-nut tree no less than twenty deserters might be mentioned, or at least who would desert could they find an opportunity of doing so with arms and baggage. Wrathfully the good Colonel scratched the names of those faithless ones out of his daughter’s visiting-book: haughtily he met them in the street; to desert the B. B. C. at the hour of peril was, in his idea, like applying for leave of absence on the eve of an action. He would not see that the question was not one of sentiment at all, but of chances and arithmetic; he would not hear with patience of men quitting the ship, as he called it. “They may go, sir,” says he, “but let them never more be officers of mine.” With scorn and indignation he paid off one or two timid friends, who were anxious to fly, and purchased their shares out of his own pocket. But his purse was not long enough for this kind of amusement. What money he had was invested in the Company already, and his name further pledged for meeting the engagements from which their late London bankers had withdrawn.

Those gentlemen, in the meanwhile, spoke of their differences with the Indian Bank as quite natural, and laughed at the absurd charges of personal hostility which poor Thomas Newcome publicly preferred. “Here is a hot-headed old Indian dragoon,” says Sir Barnes, “who knows no more about business than I do about cavalry tactics or Hindostanee; who gets into a partnership along with other dragoons and Indian wiseacres, with some uncommonly wily old native practitioners; and they pay great dividends, and they set up a bank. Of course we will do these people’s business as long as we are covered, but I have always told their manager that we would run no risks whatever, and close the account the very moment it did not suit us to keep it: and so we parted company six weeks ago, since when there has been a panic in the Company, a panic which has been increased by Colonel Newcome’s absurd swagger and folly. He says I am his enemy; enemy indeed! So I am in private life, but what has that to do with business? In business, begad, there are no friends and no enemies at all. I leave all my sentiment on the other side of Temple Bar.”

So Thomas Newcome, and Clive the son of Thomas, had wrath in their hearts against Barnes, their kinsman, and desired to be revenged upon him, and were eager after his undoing, and longed for an opportunity when they might meet him and overcome him, and put him to shame.

When men are in this frame of mind, a certain personage is said always to be at hand to help them and give them occasion for indulging in their pretty little passion. What is sheer hate seems to the individual entertaining the sentiment so like indignant virtue, that he often indulges in the propensity to the full, nay, lauds himself for the exercise of it. I am sure if Thomas Newcome in his present desire for retaliation against Barnes, had known the real nature of his sentiments towards that worthy, his conduct would have been different, and we should have heard of no such active hostilities as ensued.

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