The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXVI

In which the Colonel and the Newcome Athenaeum are both lectured

At breakfast with his family, on the morning after the little entertainment to which we were bidden, in the last chapter, Colonel Newcome was full of the projected invasion of Barnes’s territories, and delighted to think that there was an opportunity of at last humiliating that rascal.

“Clive does not think he is a rascal at all, papa,” cries Rosey, from behind her tea-urn; “that is, you said you thought papa judged him too harshly; you know you did, this morning!” And from her husband’s angry glances, she flies to his father’s for protection. Those were even fiercer than Clive’s. Revenge flashed from beneath Thomas Newcome’s grizzled eyebrows, and glanced in the direction where Clive sat. Then the Colonel’s face flushed up, and he cast his eyes down towards his tea-cup, which he lifted with a trembling hand. The father and son loved each other so, that each was afraid of the other. A war between two such men is dreadful; pretty little pink-faced Rosey, in a sweet little morning cap and ribbons, her pretty little fingers twinkling with a score of rings, sat simpering before her silver tea-urn, which reflected her pretty little pink baby face. Little artless creature! what did she know of the dreadful wounds which her little words inflicted in the one generous breast and the other?

“My boy’s heart is gone from me,” thinks poor Thomas Newcome; “our family is insulted, our enterprises ruined, by that traitor, and my son is not even angry! he does not care for the success of our plans — for the honour of our name even; I make him a position of which any young man in England might be proud, and Clive scarcely deigns to accept it.”

“My wife appeals to my father,” thinks poor Clive; “it is from him she asks counsel, and not from me. Be it about the ribbon in her cap, or any other transaction in our lives, she takes her colour from his opinion, and goes to him for advice, and I have to wait till it is given, and conform myself to it. If I differ from the dear old father, I wound him; if I yield up my opinion, as I do always, it is with a bad grace, and I wound him still. With the best intentions in the world, what a slave’s life it is that he has made for me!”

“How interested you are in your papers!” resumes the sprightly nosey. “What can you find in those horrid politics?” Both gentlemen are looking at their papers with all their might, and no doubt cannot see one single word which those brilliant and witty leading articles contain.

“Clive is like you, Rosey,” says the Colonel, laying his paper down, “and does not care for politics.”

“He only cares for pictures, papa,” says Mrs. Clive. “He would not drive with me yesterday in the Park, but spent hours in his room, while you were toiling in the City, poor papa! — spent hours painting a horrid beggar-man dressed up as a monk. And this morning, he got up quite early, quite early, and has been out ever so long, and only came in for breakfast just now! just before the bell rung.”

“I like a ride before breakfast,” says Clive.

“A ride! I know where you have been, sir! He goes away morning after morning, to that little Mr. Ridley’s — his chums, papa, and he comes back with his hands all over horrid paint. He did this morning; you know you did, Clive.”

“I did not keep any one waiting, Rosa,” says Clive. “I like to have two or three hours at my painting when I can spare time.” Indeed, the poor fellow used so to run away of summer meetings for Ridley’s instructions, and gallop home again, so as to be in time for the family meal.

“Yes,” cries Rosey, tossing up the cap and ribbons, “he gets up so early in the morning, that at night he falls asleep after dinner; very pleasant and polite, isn’t he, papa?”

“I am up betimes too, my dear,” says the Colonel (many and many a time he must have heard Clive as he left the house); “I have a great many letters to write, affairs of the greatest importance to examine and conduct. Mr. Betts from the City is often with me for hours before I come down to your breakfast-table. A man who has the affairs of such a great bank as ours to look to, must be up with the lark. We are all early risers in India.”

“You dear kind papa!” says little Rosey, with unfeigned admiration; and she puts out one of the plump white little jewelled hands, and pats the lean brown paw of the Colonel which is nearest to her.

“Is Ridley’s picture getting on well, Clive?” asks the Colonel, trying to interest himself about Ridley and his picture.

“Very well; it is beautiful; he has sold it for a great price; they must make him an Academician next year,” replies Clive.

“A most industrious and meritorious young man; he deserves every honour that may happen to him,” says the old soldier. “Rosa, my dear, it is time that you should ask Mr. Ridley to dinner, and Mr. Smee, and some of those gentlemen. We will drive this afternoon and see your portrait.”

“Clive does not go to sleep after dinner when Mr. Ridley comes here,” cries Rosa.

“No; I think it is my turn then,” says the Colonel, with a glance of kindness. The anger has disappeared from under his brows; at that moment the menaced battle is postponed.

“And yet I know that it must come,” says poor Clive, telling me the story as he hangs on my arm, and we pace through the Park. “The Colonel and I are walking on a mine, and that poor little wife of mine is perpetually flinging little shells to fire it. I sometimes wish it were blown up, and I were done for, Pen. I don’t think my widow would break her heart about me. No; I have no right to say that; it’s a shame to say that; she tries her very best to please me, poor little dear. It’s the fault of my temper, perhaps, that she can’t. But they neither understand me, don’t you see? the Colonel can’t help thinking I am a degraded being, because I am fond of painting. Still, dear old boy, he patronises Ridley; a man of genius, whom those sentries ought to salute, by Jove, sir, when he passes. Ridley patronised by an old officer of Indian dragoons, a little bit of a Rosey, and a fellow who is not fit to lay his palette for him! I want sometimes to ask J. J.‘s pardon, after the Colonel has been talking to him in his confounded condescending way, uttering some awful bosh about the fine arts. Rosey follows him, and trips round J. J.‘s studio, and pretends to admire, and says, ‘How soft; how sweet!’ recalling some of mamma-inlaw’s dreadful expressions, which make me shudder when I hear them. If my poor old father had a confidant into whose arm he could hook his own, and whom he could pester with his family griefs as I do you, the dear old boy would have his dreary story to tell too. I hate banks, bankers, Bundelcund, indigo, cotton, and the whole business. I go to that confounded board, and never hear one syllable that the fellows are talking about. I sit there because he wishes me to sit there; don’t you think he sees that my heart is out of the business; that I would rather be at home in my painting-room? We don’t understand each other, but we feel each other, as it were by instinct. Each thinks in his own way, but knows what the other is thinking. We fight mute battles, don’t you see, and, our thoughts, though we don’t express them, are perceptible to one another, and come out from our eyes, or pass out from us somehow, and meet, and fight, and strike, and wound.”

Of course Clive’s confidant saw how sore and unhappy the poor fellow was, and commiserated his fatal but natural condition. The little ills of life are the hardest to bear, as we all very well know. What would the possession of a hundred thousand a year, or fame, and the applause of one’s countrymen, or the loveliest and best-beloved woman — of any glory, and happiness, or good-fortune avail to a gentleman, for instance, who was allowed to enjoy them only with the condition of wearing a shoe with a couple of nails or sharp pebbles inside it? All fame and happiness would disappear, and plunge down that shoe. All life would rankle round those little nails. I strove, by such philosophic sedatives as confidants are wont to apply on these occasions, to soothe my poor friend’s anger and pain; and I dare say the little nails hurt the patient just as much as before.

Clive pursued his lugubrious talk through the Park, and continued it as far as the modest-furnished house which we then occupied in the Pimlico region. It so happened that the Colonel and Mrs. Clive also called upon us that day, and found this culprit in Laura’s drawing-room, when they entered it, descending out of that splendid barouche in which we have already shown Mrs. Clive to the public.

“He has not been here for months before; nor have you Rosa; nor have you, Colonel; though we have smothered our indignation, and been to dine with you, and to call, ever so many times!” cries Laura.

The Colonel pleaded his business engagements; Rosa, that little woman of the world, had a thousand calls to make, and who knows how much to do? since she came out. She had been to fetch papa, at Bays’s, and the porter had told the Colonel that Mr. Clive and Mr. Pendennis had just left the club together.

“Clive scarcely ever drives with me,” says Rosa; “papa almost always does.”

“Rosey’s is such a swell carriage, that I feel ashamed,” says Clive.

“I don’t understand you young men. I don’t see why you need be ashamed to go on the Course with your wife in her carriage, Clive,” remarks the Colonel.

“The Course! the Course is at Calcutta, papa!” cries Rosey. We drive in the Park.”

“We have a park at Barrackpore too, my dear,” says papa.

“And he calls his grooms saices! He said he was going to send away a saice for being tipsy, and I did not know in the least what he could mean, Laura!”

“Mr. Newcome! you must go and drive on the Course with Rosa now; and the Colonel must sit and talk with me, whom he has not been to see for such a long time.” Clive presently went off in state by Rosey’s side, and then Laura showed Colonel Newcome his beautiful white Cashmere shawl round a successor of that little person who had first been wrapped in that web, now a stout young gentleman whose noise could be clearly heard in the upper regions.

“I wish you could come down with us, Arthur, upon our electioneering visit.”

“That of which you were talking last night? Are you bent upon it?”

“Yes, I am determined on it.”

Laura heard a child’s cry at this moment, and left the room with a parting glance at her husband, who in fact had talked over the matter with Mrs. Pendennis, and agreed with her in opinion.

As the Colonel had opened the question, I ventured to make a respectful remonstrance against the scheme. Vindictiveness on the part of a man so simple and generous, so fair and noble in all his dealings as Thomas Newcome, appeared in my mind unworthy of him. Surely his kinsman had sorrow and humiliation enough already at home. Barnes’s further punishment, we thought, might be left to time, to remorse, to the Judge of right and wrong; Who better understands than we can do, our causes and temptations towards evil actions, Who reserves the sentence for His own tribunal. But when angered, the best of us mistake our own motives, as we do those of the enemy who inflames us. What may be private revenge, we take to be indignant virtue and just revolt against wrong. The Colonel would not hear of counsels of moderation, such as I bore him from a sweet Christian pleader. “Remorse!” he cried out with a laugh, “that villain will never feel it until he is tied up and whipped at the cart’s tail! Time change that rogue! Unless he is wholesomely punished, he will grow a greater scoundrel every year. I am inclined to think, sir,” says he, his honest brows darkling as he looked towards me, “that you too are spoiled by this wicked world, and these heartless, fashionable, fine people. You wish to live well with the enemy, and with us too, Pendennis. It can’t be. He who is not with us is against us. I very much fear, sir, that the women, the women, you understand, have been talking you over. Do not let us speak any more about this subject, for I don’t wish that my son, and my son’s old friend, should have a quarrel.” His face became red, his voice quivered with agitation, and he looked with glances which I was pained to behold in those kind old eyes: not because his wrath and suspicion visited myself, but because an impartial witness, nay, a friend to Thomas Newcome in that family quarrel, I grieved to think that a generous heart was led astray, and to see a good man do wrong. So with no more thanks for his interference than a man usually gets who meddles in domestic strifes, the present luckless advocate ceased pleading.

To be sure, the Colonel and Clive had other advisers, who did not take the peaceful side. George Warrington was one of these; he was for war a l’outrance with Barnes Newcome; for keeping no terms with such a villain. He found a pleasure in hunting him, and whipping him. “Barnes ought to be punished,” George said, “for his poor wife’s misfortune; it was Barnes’s infernal cruelty, wickedness, selfishness, which had driven her into misery and wrong.” Mr. Warrington went down to Newcome, and was present at that lecture whereof mention has been made in a previous chapter. I am afraid his behaviour was very indecorous; he laughed at the pathetic allusions of the respected Member for Newcome; he sneered at the sublime passages; he wrote an awful critique in the Newcome Independent two days after, whereof the irony was so subtle, that half the readers of the paper mistook his grave scorn for respect, and his gibes for praise.

Clive, his father, and Frederick Bayham, their faithful aide-de-camp, were at Newcome likewise when Sir Barnes’s oration was delivered. At first it was given out at Newcome that the Colonel visited the place for the purpose of seeing his dear old friend and pensioner, Mrs. Mason, who was now not long to enjoy his bounty, and so old, as scarcely to know her benefactor. Only after her sleep, or when the sun warmed her and the old wine with which he supplied her, was the good old woman able to recognise her Colonel. She mingled father and son together in her mind. A lady who now often came in to her, thought she was wandering in her talk, when the poor old woman spoke of a visit she had had from her boy; and then the attendant told Miss Newcome that such a visit had actually taken place, and that but yesterday Clive and his father had been in that room, and occupied the chair where she sat. “The young lady was taken quite ill, and seemed ready to faint almost,” Mrs. Mason’s servant and spokeswoman told Colonel Newcome when that gentleman arrived shortly after Ethel’s departure, to see his old nurse. “Indeed! he was very sorry.” The maid told many stories about Miss Newcome’s goodness and charity; how she was constantly visiting the poor now; how she was for ever engaged in good works for the young, the sick, and the aged. She had had a dreadful misfortune in love; she was going to be married to a young marquis; richer even than Prince de Moncontour down at Rosebury; but it was all broke off on account of that dreadful affair at the Hall.

Was she very good to the poor? did she come often to see her grandfather’s old friend? it was no more than she ought “to do,” Colonel Newcome said; without, however, thinking fit to tell his informant that he had himself met his niece Ethel, five minutes before he had entered Mrs. Mason’s door.

The poor thing was in discourse with Mr. Harris, the surgeon, and talking (as best she might, for no doubt the news which she had just heard had agitated her), talking about blankets, and arrowroot, wine, and medicaments for her poor, when she saw her uncle coming towards her. She tottered a step or two forwards to meet him; held both her hands out, and called his name; but he looked her sternly in the face, took off his hat and bowed, and passed on. He did not think fit to mention the meeting even to his son, Clive; but we may be sure Mr. Harris, the surgeon, spoke of the circumstance that night after the lecture, at the club, where a crowd of gentlemen were gathered together, smoking their cigars, and enjoying themselves according to their custom, and discussing Sir Barnes Newcome’s performance.

According to established usage in such cases, our esteemed representative was received by the committee of the Newcome Athenaeum, assembled in their committee-room, and thence marshalled by the chairman and vice-chairman to his rostrum in the lecture-hall, round about which the magnates of the institution and the notabilities of the town were rallied on this public occasion. The Baronet came in some state from his own house, arriving at Newcome in his carriage with four horses, accompanied by my lady his mother, and Miss Ethel his beautiful sister, who now was mistress at the Hall. His little girl was brought — five years old now; she sate on her aunt’s knee, and slept during a greater part of the performance. A fine bustle, we may be sure, was made on the introduction of these personages to their reserved seats on the platform, where they sate encompassed by others of the great ladies of Newcome, to whom they and the lecturer were especially gracious at this season. Was not Parliament about to be dissolved, and were not the folks at Newcome Park particularly civil at that interesting period? So Barnes Newcome mounts his pulpit, bows round to the crowded assembly in acknowledgment of their buzz of applause or recognition, passes his lily-white pocket-handkerchief across his thin lips, and dashes off into his lecture about Mrs. Hemans and the poetry of the affections. A public man, a commercial man as we well know, yet his heart is in his home, and his joy in his affections; the presence of this immense assembly here this evening; of the industrious capitalists; of the intelligent middle class; of the pride and mainstay of England, the operatives of Newcome; these, surrounded by their wives and their children (a graceful bow to the bonnets to the right of the platform), show that they too have hearts to feel, and homes to cherish; that they, too, feel the love of women, the innocence of children, the love of song! Our lecturer then makes a distinction between man’s poetry and woman’s poetry, charging considerably in favour of the latter. We show that to appeal to the affections is after all the true office of the bard; to decorate the homely threshold, to wreathe flowers round the domestic hearth, the delightful duty of the Christian singer. We glance at Mrs. Hemans’s biography, and state where she was born, and under what circumstances she must have at first, etc. etc. Is this a correct account of Sir Barnes Newcome’s lecture? I was not present, and did not read the report. Very likely the above may be a reminiscence of that mock lecture which Warrington delivered in anticipation of the Baronet’s oration.

After he had read for about five minutes, it was remarked the Baronet suddenly stopped and became exceedingly confused over his manuscript: betaking himself to his auxiliary glass of water before he resumed his discourse, which for a long time was languid, low, and disturbed in tone. This period of disturbance, no doubt, must have occurred when Sir Barnes saw before him F. Bayham and Warrington seated in the amphitheatre; and, by the side of those fierce scornful countenances, Clive Newcome’s pale face.

Clive Newcome was not looking at Barnes. His eyes were fixed upon the lady seated not far from the lecturer — upon Ethel, with her arm round her little niece’s shoulder, and her thick black ringlets drooping down over a face paler than Clive’s own.

Of course she knew that Clive was present. She was aware of him as she entered the hall; saw him at the very first moment; saw nothing but him, I dare say, though her eyes were shut and her head was turned now towards her mother, and now bent down on the little niece’s golden curls. And the past and its dear histories, and youth and its hopes and passions, and tones and looks for ever echoing in the heart, and present in the memory — these, no doubt, poor Clive saw and heard as he looked across the great gulf of time, and parting, and grief, and beheld the woman he had loved for many years. There she sits; the same, but changed: as gone from him as if she were dead; departed indeed into another sphere, and entered into a kind of death. If there is no love more in yonder heart, it is but a corpse unburied. Strew round it the flowers of youth. Wash it with tears of passion. Wrap it and envelop it with fond devotion. Break heart, and fling yourself on the bier, and kiss her cold lips and press her hand! It falls back dead on the cold breast again. The beautiful lips have never a blush or a smile. Cover them and lay them in the ground, and so take thy hatband off, good friend, and go to thy business. Do you suppose you are the only man who has had to attend such a funeral? You will find some men smiling and at work the day after. Some come to the grave now and again out of the world, and say a brief prayer, and a “God bless her!” With some men, she gone, and her viduous mansion your heart to let, her successor, the new occupant, poking in all the drawers and corners, and cupboards of the tenement, finds her miniature and some of her dusty old letters hidden away somewhere, and says — Was this the face he admired so? Why, allowing even for the painter’s flattery, it is quite ordinary, and the eyes certainly do not look straight. Are these the letters you thought so charming? Well, upon my word, I never read anything more commonplace in my life! See, here’s a line half blotted out. Oh, I suppose she was crying then — some of her tears, idle tears — Hark, there is Barnes Newcome’s eloquence still plapping on like water from a cistern — and our thoughts, where have they wandered? far away from the lecture — as far away as Clive’s almost. And now the fountain ceases to trickle; the mouth from which issued that cool and limpid flux ceases to smile; the figure is seen to bow and retire; a buzz, a hum, a whisper, a scuffle, a meeting of bonnets and wagging of feathers and rustling of silks ensues. “Thank you! delightful, I am sure!” “I really was quite overcome;” “Excellent;” “So much obliged,” are rapid phrases heard amongst the polite on the platform. While down below, “Yaw! quite enough of that;” “Mary Jane, cover your throat up, and don’t kitch cold, and don’t push me, please, sir;” “Arry! coom along and ave a pint a ale,” etc., are the remarks heard, or perhaps not heard, by Clive Newcome, as he watches at the private entrance of the Athenaeum, where Sir Barnes’s carriage is waiting with its flaming lamps, and domestics in state liveries. One of them comes out of the building bearing the little girl in his arms, and lays her in the carriage. Then Sir Barnes, and Lady Anne, and the Mayor; then Ethel issues forth, and as she passes under the lamps, beholds Clive’s face as pale and sad as her own.

Shall we go visit the lodge-gates of Newcome Park the moon shining on their carving? Is there any pleasure in walking by miles of grey paling, and endless palisades of firs? Oh, you fool, what do you hope to see behind that curtain? Absurd fugitive, whither would you run? Can you burst the tether of fate: and is not poor dear little Rosey Mackenzie sitting yonder waiting for you by the stake? Go home, sir; and don’t catch cold. So Mr. Clive returns to the King’s Arms, and goes up to his bedroom, and he hears Mr. F. Bayham’s deep voice as he passes by the Boscawen Room, where the Jolly Britons are as usual assembled.

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