The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VII

In which Mr. Clive’s School-days are over

Our good Colonel had luckily to look forward to a more pleasant meeting with his son, than that unfortunate interview with his other near relatives. He dismissed his cab at Ludgate Hill, and walked thence by the dismal precincts of Newgate, and across the muddy pavement of Smithfield, on his way back to the old school where his son was, a way which he had trodden many a time in his own early days. There was Cistercian Street, and the Red Cow of his youth: there was the quaint old Grey Friars Square, with its blackened trees and garden, surrounded by ancient houses of the build of the last century, now slumbering like pensioners in the sunshine.

Under the great archway of the hospital he could look at the old Gothic building: and a black-gowned pensioner or two crawling over the quiet square, or passing from one dark arch to another. The boarding-houses of the school were situated in the square, hard by the more ancient buildings of the hospital. A great noise of shouting, crying, clapping forms and cupboards, treble voices, bass voices, poured out of the schoolboys’ windows: their life, bustle, and gaiety contrasted strangely with the quiet of those old men creeping along in their black gowns under the ancient arches yonder, whose struggle of life was over, whose hope and noise and bustle had sunk into that grey calm. There was Thomas Newcome arrived at the middle of life, standing between the shouting boys and the tottering seniors, and in a situation to moralise upon both, had not his son Clive, who has espied him from within Mr. Hopkinson’s, or let us say at once Hopkey’s house, come jumping down the steps to greet his sire. Clive was dressed in his very best; not one of those four hundred young gentlemen had a better figure, a better tailor, or a neater boot. Schoolfellows, grinning through the bars, envied him as he walked away; senior boys made remarks on Colonel Newcome’s loose clothes and long mustachios, his brown hands and unbrushed hat. The Colonel was smoking a cheroot as he walked; and the gigantic Smith, the cock of the school, who happened to be looking majestically out of window, was pleased to say that he thought Newcome’s governor was a fine manly-looking fellow.

“Tell me about your uncles, Clive,” said the Colonel, as they walked on arm in arm.

“What about them, sir?” asks the boy. “I don’t think I know much.”

“You have been to stay with them. You wrote about them. Were they kind to you?”

“Oh, yes, I suppose they are very kind. They always tipped me: only you know when I go there I scarcely ever see them. Mr. Newcome asks me the oftenest — two or three times a quarter when he’s in town, and gives me a sovereign regular.”

“Well, he must see you to give you the sovereign,” says Clive’s father, laughing.

The boy blushed rather.

“Yes. When it’s time to go back to Smithfield on a Sunday night, I go into the dining-room to shake hands, and he gives it me; but he don’t speak to me much, you know, and I don’t care about going to Bryanstone Square, except for the tip, of course that’s important, because I am made to dine with the children, and they are quite little ones; and a great cross French governess, who is always crying and shrieking after them, and finding fault with them. My uncle generally has his dinner-parties on Saturday, or goes out; and aunt gives me ten shillings and sends me to the play; that’s better fun than a dinner-party.” Here the lad blushed again. “I used,” says he, “when I was younger, to stand on the stairs and prig things out of the dishes when they came out from dinner, but I’m past that now. Maria (that’s my cousin) used to take the sweet things and give ’em to the governess. Fancy! she used to put lumps of sugar into her pocket and eat them in the schoolroom! Uncle Hobson don’t live in such good society as Uncle Newcome. You see, Aunt Hobson, she’s very kind, you know, and all that, but I don’t think she’s what you call comme il faut.”

“Why, how are you to judge?” asks the father, amused at the lad’s candid prattle, “and where does the difference lie?”

“I can’t tell you what it is, or how it is,” the boy answered, “only one can’t help seeing the difference. It isn’t rank and that; only somehow there are some men gentlemen and some not, and some women ladies and some not. There’s Jones now, the fifth form master, every man sees he’s a gentleman, though he wears ever so old clothes; and there’s Mr. Brown, who oils his hair, and wears rings, and white chokers — my eyes! such white chokers! — and yet we call him the handsome snob! And so about Aunt Maria, she’s very handsome and she’s very finely dressed, only somehow she’s not — she’s not the ticket, you see.”

“Oh, she’s not the ticket,” says the Colonel, much amused.

“Well, what I mean is — but never mind,” says the boy. “I can’t tell you what I mean. I don’t like to make fun of her, you know, for after all, she is very kind to me; but Aunt Anne is different, and it seems as if what she says is more natural; and though she has funny ways of her own too, yet somehow she looks grander,”— and here the lad laughed again. “And do you know, I often think that as good a lady as Aunt Anne herself, is old Aunt Honeyman at Brighton — that is, in all essentials, you know. For she is not proud, and she is not vain, and she never says an unkind word behind anybody’s back, and she does a deal of kindness to the poor without appearing to crow over them, you know; and she is not a bit ashamed of letting lodgings, or being poor herself, as sometimes I think some of our family ——”

“I thought we were going to speak no ill of them?” says the Colonel, smiling.

“Well, it only slipped out unawares,” says Clive, laughing; “but at Newcome when they go on about the Newcomes, and that great ass, Barnes Newcome, gives himself his airs, it makes me die of laughing. That time I went down to Newcome, I went to see old Aunt Sarah, and she told me everything, and showed me the room where my grandfather — you know; and do you know I was a little hurt at first, for I thought we were swells till then. And when I came back to school, where perhaps I had been giving myself airs, and bragging about Newcome, why, you know, I thought it was right to tell the fellows.”

“That’s a man,” said the Colonel, with delight; though had he said, “That’s a boy,” he had spoken more correctly. Indeed, how many men do we know in the world without caring to know who their fathers were? and how many more who wisely do not care to tell us? “That’s a man,” cries the Colonel; “never be ashamed of your father, Clive.”

“Ashamed of my father!” says Clive, looking up to him, and walking on as proud as a peacock. “I say,” the lad resumed, after a pause —

“Say what you say,” said the father.

“Is that all true what’s in the Peerage — in the Baronetage, about Uncle Newcome and Newcome; about the Newcome who was burned at Smithfield; about the one that was at the battle of Bosworth; and the old old Newcome who was bar — that is, who was surgeon to Edward the Confessor, and was killed at Hastings? I am afraid it isn’t; and yet I should like it to be true.”

“I think every man would like to come of an ancient and honourable race,” said the Colonel, in his honest way. “As you like your father to be an honourable man, why not your grandfather, and his ancestors before him? But if we can’t inherit a good name, at least we can do our best to leave one, my boy; and that is an ambition which, please God, you and I will both hold by.”

With this simple talk the old and young gentleman beguiled their way, until they came into the western quarter of the town, where the junior member of the firm of Newcome Brothers had his house — a handsome and roomy mansion in Bryanstone Square. Colonel Newcome was bent on paying a visit to his sister-inlaw, and as he knocked at the door, where the pair were kept waiting some little time, he could remark through the opened windows of the dining-room, that a great table was laid and every preparation made for a feast.

“My brother said he was engaged to dinner today,” said the Colonel. “Does Mrs. Newcome give parties when he is away?”

“She invites all the company,” answered Clive. “My uncle never asks any one without aunt’s leave.”

The Colonel’s countenance fell. He has a great dinner, and does not ask his own brother! Newcome thought. Why, if he had come to me in India with all his family, he might have stayed for a year, and I should have been offended if he had gone elsewhere.

A hot menial, in a red waistcoat, came and opened the door; and without waiting for preparatory queries, said, “Not at home.”

“It’s my father, John,” said Clive; “my aunt will see Colonel Newcome.”

“Missis not at home,” said the man. “Missis is gone in carriage — Not at this door!-Take them things down the area steps, young man!” bawls out the domestic. This latter speech was addressed to a pastrycook’s boy, with a large sugar temple and many conical papers containing delicacies for dessert. “Mind the hice is here in time; or there’ll be a blow-up with your governor,”— and John struggled back, closing the door on the astonished Colonel.

“Upon my life, they actually shut the door in our faces,” said the poor gentleman.

“The man is very busy, sir. There’s a great dinner. I’m sure my aunt would not refuse you,” Clive interposed. “She is very kind. I suppose it’s different here to what it is in India. here are the children in the square — those are the girls in blue — that’s the French governess, the one with the mustachios and the yellow parasol. How d’ye do, Mary? How d’ye do, Fanny? This is my father — this is your uncle.”

“Mesdemoiselles! Je vous ddfends de parler a qui que ce soit hors du squar!” screams out the lady of the mustachios; and she strode forward to call back her young charges.

The Colonel addressed her in very good French. “I hope you will permit me to make acquaintance with my nieces,” he said, “and with their instructress, of whom my son has given me such a favourable account.”

“Hem!” said Mademoiselle Lebrun, remembering the last fight she and Clive had had together, and a portrait of herself (with enormous whiskers) which the young scapegrace had drawn. “Monsieur is very good. But one cannot too early inculcate retenue and decorum to young ladies in a country where demoiselles seem for ever to forget that they are young ladies of condition. I am forced to keep the eyes of lynx upon these young persons, otherwise heaven knows what would come to them. Only yesterday, my back is turned for a moment, I cast my eyes on a book, having but little time for literature, monsieur — for literature, which I adore — when a cry makes itself to hear. I turn myself, and what do I see? Mesdemoiselles, your nieces, playing at criquette, with the Messieurs Smees — sons of Doctor Smees — young galopins, monsieur!” All this was shrieked with immense volubility and many actions of the hand and parasol across the square-railings to the amused Colonel, at whom the little girls peered through the bars.

“Well, my dears, I should like to have a game at cricket with you, too,” says the kind gentleman, reaching them each a brown hand.

“You, monsieur, c’est different — a man of your age! Salute monsieur, your uncle, mesdemoiselles. You conceive, monsieur, that I also must be cautious when I speak to a man so distinguished in a public squar.” And she cast down her great eyes and hid those radiant orbs from the Colonel.

Meanwhile, Colonel Newcome, indifferent to the direction which Miss Lebrun’s eyes took, whether towards his hat or his boots, was surveying his little nieces with that kind expression which his face always wore when it was turned towards children. “Have you heard of your uncle in India?” he asked them.

“No,” says Maria.

“Yes,” says Fanny. “You know mademoiselle said” (mademoiselle at this moment was twittering her fingers, and, as it were, kissing them in the direction of a grand barouche that was advancing along the Square)—“you know mademoiselle said that if we were mechantes we should be sent to our uncle in India. I think I should like to go with you.”

“O you silly child!” cries Maria.

“Yes I should, if Clive went too,” says little Fanny.

“Behold madam, who arrives from her promenade!” Miss Lebrun exclaimed; and, turning round, Colonel Newcome had the satisfaction of beholding, for the first time, his sister-inlaw.

A stout lady, with fair hair and a fine bonnet and pelisse (who knows what were the fine bonnets and pelisses of the year 183-?), was reclining in the barouche, the scarlet-plush integuments of her domestics blazing before and behind her. A pretty little foot was on the cushion opposite to her; feathers waved in her bonnet; a book was in her lap; an oval portrait of a gentleman reposed on her voluminous bosom. She wore another picture of two darling heads, with pink cheeks and golden hair, on one of her wrists, with many more chains, bracelets, bangles, and knick-knacks. A pair of dirty gloves marred the splendour of this appearance; a heap of books from the library strewed the back seat of the carriage, and showed that her habits were literary. Springing down from his station behind his mistress, the youth clad in the nether garments of red sammit discharged thunderclaps on the door of Mrs. Newcome’s house, announcing to the whole Square that his mistress had returned to her abode. Since the fort saluted the Governor-General at —— — Colonel Newcome had never heard such a cannonading.

Clive, with a queer twinkle of his eyes, ran towards his aunt.

She bent over the carriage languidly towards him. She liked him. “What, you, Clive?” she said. “How come you away from school of a Thursday, sir?”

“It is a holiday,” says he. “My father is come; and he is come to see you.”

She bowed her head with an expression of affable surprise and majestic satisfaction. “Indeed, Clive!” she was good enough to exclaim and with an air which seemed to say, “Let him come up and be presented to me.” The honest gentleman stepped forward and took off his hat and bowed, and stood bareheaded. She surveyed him blandly, and with infinite grace put forward one of the pudgy little hands in one of the dirty gloves. Can you fancy a twopenny-halfpenny baroness of King Francis’s time patronising Bayard? Can you imagine Queen Guinever’s lady’s-maid’s lady’s maid being affable to Sir Lancelot? I protest there is nothing like the virtue of English women.

“You have only arrived today, and you came to see me? That was very kind. N’est-ce pas que c’etoit bong de Mouseer le Collonel, mademoiselle? Madamaselle Lebrun, le Collonel Newcome, mong frere.” (In a whisper, “My children’s governess and my friend, a most superior woman.”) “Was it not kind of Colonel Newcome to come to see me? Have you had a pleasant voyage? Did you come by St. Helena? Oh, how I envy you seeing the tomb of that great man! Nous parlong de Napolleong, mademoiselle, dong voter pere a ete le General favvory.”

“O Dieu! que n’ai je pu le voir,” interjaculates mademoiselle. “Lui dont parle l’univers, dont mon pere m’a si souvent parle!” but this remark passes quite unnoticed by mademoiselle’s friend, who continues:

“Clive, donnez-moi voter bras. These are two of my girls. My boys are at school. I shall be so glad to introduce them to their uncle. This naughty boy might never have seen you, but that we took him home to Marblehead, after the scarlet fever, and made him well, didn’t we, Clive? And we are all very fond of him, and you must not be jealous of his love for his aunt. We feel that we quite know you through him, and we know that you know us, and we hope you will like us. Do you think your pa will like us, Clive? Or perhaps you will like Lady Anne best? Yes; you have been to her first, of course? Not been? Oh! because she is not in town.” Leaning fondly on the arm of Clive, mademoiselle standing grouped with the children hard by while John, with his hat off, stood at the opened door, Mr Newcome slowly uttered the above remarkable remarks to the Colonel, on the threshold of her house, which she never asked him to pass.

“If you will come in to us at about ten this evening,” she then said, “you will find some men, not undistinguished, who honour me of an evening. Perhaps they will be interesting to you, Colonel Newcome, as you are newly arrived in Europe. Not men of worldly rank, necessarily, although some of them are amongst the noblest of Europe. But my maxim is, that genius is an illustration, and merit is better than any pedigree. You have heard of Professor Bodgers? Count Poski? Doctor McGuffog, who is called in his native country the Ezekiel of Clackmannan? Mr. Shaloony, the great Irish patriot? our papers have told you of him. These and some more I have been good enough to promise me a visit to-night. A stranger coming to London could scarcely have a better opportunity of seeing some of our great illustrations of science and literature. And you will meet our own family — not Sir Brian’s, who — who have other society and amusements — but mine. I hope Mr. Newcome and myself will never forget them. We have a few friends at dinner, and now I must go in and consult with Mrs. Hubbard, my housekeeper. Good-bye for the present. Mind, not later than ten, as Mr. Newcome must be up betimes in the morning, and our parties break up early. When Clive is a little older, I dare say we shall see him, too. Good-bye!” And again the Colonel was favoured with a shake of the glove, and the lady and her suite sailed up the stair, and passed in at the door.

She had not the faintest idea but that the hospitality which she was offering to her kinsman was of the most cordial and pleasant kind. She fancied everything she did was perfectly right and graceful. She invited her husband’s clerks to come through the rain at ten o’clock from Kentish Town; she asked artists to bring their sketch-books from Kensington, or luckless pianists to trudge with their music from Brompton. She rewarded them with a smile and a cup of tea, and thought they were made happy by her condescension. If, after two or three of these delightful evenings, they ceased to attend her receptions, she shook her little flaxen head, and sadly intimated that Mr. A. was getting into bad courses, or feared that Mr. B. found merely intellectual parties too quiet for him. Else, what young man in his senses could refuse such entertainment and instruction?

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