The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXI

In which Mrs. Clive Newcome’s Carriage is ordered

All the friends of the Newcome family, of course, knew the disaster which had befallen the good Colonel, and I was aware, for my own part, that not only his own, but almost the whole of Rosa Newcome’s property was involved in the common ruin. Some proposals of temporary relief were made to our friends from more quarters than one, but were thankfully rejected — and we were led to hope that the Colonel, having still his pension secured to him, which the law could not touch, might live comfortably enough the retirement to which, of course, he would betake himself, when the melancholy proceedings consequent on the bankruptcy were brought to an end. It was shown that he had been egregiously duped in the transaction — that his credulity had cost him and his family a large fortune — that he had given up every penny which belonged to him — that there could not be any sort of stain upon his honest reputation. The judge before whom he appeared spoke with feeling and regard of the unhappy gentleman — the lawyer who examined him respected the grief and fall of that simple old man. Thomas Newcome took a little room near the court where his affairs and the affairs of the company were adjudged — lived with a frugality which never was difficult to him — And once when perchance I met him in the City, avoided me, with a bow and courtesy that was quite humble, though proud and somehow inexpressibly touching to me. Fred Bayham was the only person whom he admitted. Fred always faithfully insisted upon attending him in and out of court. J. J. came to me immediately after he heard of the disaster, eager to place all his savings at the service of his friends. Laura and I came to London, and were urgent with similar offers. Our good friend declined to see any of us. F. B., again, with tears trickling on his rough cheeks, and a break in his voice, told me he feared that affairs must be very bad indeed, for the Colonel absolutely denied himself a cheroot to smoke. Laura drove to his lodgings and took him a box, which was held up to him as he came to open the door to my wife’s knock by our smiling little boy, He patted the child on his golden head and kissed him. My wife wished he would have done as much for her — but he would not — though she owned she kissed his hand. He drew it across his eyes and thanked her in a very calm and stately manner — but he did not invite her within the threshold of his door, saying simply, that such a room was not a fit place to receive a lady, “as you ought to know very well, Mrs. Smith,” he said to the landlady, who had accompanied my wife up the stairs. “He will eat scarcely anything,” the woman told us, “his meals come down untouched; his candles are burning all night, almost, as he sits poring over his papers.”

“He was bent — he who used to walk so uprightly,” Laura said. He seemed to have grown many years older, and was, indeed, quite a decrepit old man.

“I am glad they have left Clive out of the bankruptcy,” the Colonel said to Bayham; it was almost the only time when his voice exhibited any emotion. “It was very kind of them to leave out Clive, poor boy, and I have thanked the lawyers in court.” Those gentlemen, and the judge himself, were very much moved at this act of gratitude. The judge made a very feeling speech to the Colonel when he came up for his certificate. He passed very different comments on the conduct of the Manager of the Bank, when that person appeared for examination. He wished that the law had power to deal with those gentlemen who had come home with large fortunes from India, realised but a few years before the bankruptcy. Those gentlemen had known how to take care of themselves very well; and as for the Manager, is not his wife giving elegant balls at her elegant house at Cheltenham at this very day?

What weighed most upon the Colonel’s mind, F. B. imagined, was the thought that he had been the means of inducing many poor friends to embark their money in this luckless speculation. Take J. J.‘s money after he had persuaded old Ridley to place 200 pounds in Indian shares! Good God, he and his family should rather perish than he would touch a farthing of it! Many fierce words were uttered to him by Mrs. Mackenzie, for instance — by her angry daughter at Musselburgh — Josey’s husband, by Mr. Smee, R.A., and two or three Indian officers, friends of his own, who had entered into the speculation on his recommendation. These rebukes Thomas Newcome bore with an affecting meekness, as his faithful F. B. described to me, striving with many oaths and much loudness to carry off bis own emotion. But what moved the Colonel most of all, was a letter which came at this time from Honeyman in India, saying that he was doing well — that of course he knew of his benefactor’s misfortune, and that he sent a remittance which, D. V., should be annual, in payment of his debt to the Colonel, and his good sister at Brighton. “On receipt of this letter,” said F. B., “the old man was fairly beaten — the letter, with the bill in it, dropped out of his hands. He clasped them together, shaking in every limb, and his head dropped down on his breast as he said, ‘I thank my God Almighty for this!’ and he sent the cheque off to Mrs. Honeyman by the post that night, sir, every shilling of it; and he passed his old arm under mine — and we went out to Tom’s Coffee-House, and he ate some dinner the first time for ever so long, and drank a couple of glasses of port wine, and F. B. stood it, sir, and would stand his heart’s blood that dear old boy.”

It was on a Monday morning that those melancholy shutters were seen over the offices of the Bundelcund Bank in Lothbury, which were not to come down until the rooms were handed over to some other, and, let us trust, more fortunate speculators. The Indian bills had arrived, and been protested in the City on the previous Saturday. The Campaigner and Mrs. Rosey had arranged a little party to the theatre that evening, and the gallant Captain Goby had agreed to quit the delights of the Flag Club, in order to accompany the ladies. Neither of them knew what was happening in the City, or could account otherwise than by the common domestic causes, for Clive’s gloomy despondency and his father’s sad reserve. Clive had not been in the City on this day. He had spent it, as usual, in his studio, boude by his wife, and not disturbed by the messroom raillery of the Campaigner. They had dined early, in order to be in time for the theatre. Goby entertained them with the latest jokes from the smoking-room at the Flag, and was in his turn amused by the brilliant plans for the season which Rosey and her mamma sketched out the entertainments which Mrs. Clive proposed to give, the ball — she was dying for a masked ball just such a one as that was described in the Pall Mall Gazette of last week, out of that paper with the droll title, the Bengal Hurkaru, which the merchant-prince, the head of the bank, you know, in India, had given at Calcutta. “We must have a ball, too,” says Mrs. Mackenzie; “society demands it of you.” “Of course it does,” echoes Captain Goby, and he bethought him of a brilliant circle of young fellows from the Flag, whom he would bring in splendid uniform to dance with the pretty Mrs. Clive Newcome.

After the dinner — they little knew it was to be their last in that fine house — the ladies retired to give their parting kiss to baby — a parting look to the toilettes, with which they proposed to fascinate the inhabitants of the pit and the public boxes at the Olympic. Goby made vigorous play with the claret-bottle during the brief interval of potation allowed to him; he, too, little deeming that he should never drink bumper there again; Clive looking on with the melancholy and silent acquiescence which had, of late, been his part in the household. The carriage was announced — the ladies came down — pretty capotes on the lovely Campaigner, Goby vowed, looking as young and as handsome as her daughter, by Jove, and the ball door was opened to admit the two gentlemen and ladies to their carriage, when, as they were about to step in, a hansom cab drove up rapidly, in which was perceived Thomas Newcome’s anxious face. He got out of the vehicle — his own carriage making way for him — the ladies still on the steps. “Oh, the play! I forgot,” said the Colonel.

“Of course we are going to the play, papa,” cries little Rosey, with a gay little tap of her hand.

“I think you had better not,” Colonel Newcome said gravely.

“Indeed my darling child has set her heart upon it, and I would not have her disappointed for the world in her situation,” cries the Campaigner, tossing up her head.

The Colonel for reply bade his coachman drive to the stables, and come for further orders; and, turning to his daughter’s guest, expressed to Captain Goby his regret that the proposed party could not take place on that evening, as he had matter of very great importance to communicate to his family. On hearing these news, and understanding that his further company was not desirable, the Captain, a man of great presence of mind, arrested the hansom cabman, who was about to take his departure, and who blithely, knowing the Club and its inmates full well, carried off the jolly Captain to finish his evening at the Flag.

“Has it come, father?” said Clive with a sure prescience, looking in his father’s face.

The father took and grasped the hand which his son held out. “Let us go back into the dining-room,” he said. They entered it, and he filled himself a glass of wine out of the bottle still standing amidst the dessert. He bade the butler retire, who was lingering about the room and sideboard, and only wanted to know whether his master would have dinner, that was all. And, this gentleman having withdrawn, Colonel Newcome finished his glass of sherry and broke a biscuit; the Campaigner assuming an attitude of surprise and indignation, whilst Rosey had leisure to remark that papa looked very ill, and that something must have happened.

The Colonel took both her hands and drew her towards him and kissed her, whilst Rosey’s mamma, flouncing down on a chair, beat a tattoo upon the tablecloth with her fan. “Something has happened, my love,” the Colonel said very sadly; “you must show all your strength of mind, for a great misfortune has befallen us.”

“Good heavens, Colonel, what is it? don’t frighten my beloved child,” cries the Campaigner, rushing towards her darling, and enveloping her in her robust arms. “What can have happened, don’t agitate this darling child, sir,” and she looked indignantly towards the poor Colonel.

“We have received the very worst news from Calcutta, a confirmation of the news by the last mail, Clivey, my boy.”

“It is no news to me. I have always been expecting it, father,” says Clive, holding down his head.

“Expecting what? What have you been keeping back from us? In what have you been deceiving us, Colonel Newcome?” shrieks the Campaigner; and Rosa, crying out, “Oh, mamma, mamma!” begins to whimper.

“The chief of the bank in India is dead,” the Colonel went on. “He has left its affairs in worse than disorder. We are, I fear, ruined, Mrs. Mackenzie.” And the Colonel went on to tell how the bank could not open on Monday morning, and its bills to a great amount had already been protested in the City that day.

Rosey did not understand half these news, or comprehend the calamity which was to follow; but Mrs. Mackenzie, rustling in great wrath, made a speech, of which the anger gathered as he proceeded; in which she vowed and protested that her money, which the Colonel, she did not know from what motives, had induced her to subscribe, should not be sacrificed, and that have it she would, the bank shut or not, the next Monday morning — that her daughter had a fortune of her own which her poor dear brother James should have divided and would have divided much more fairly, had he not been wrongly influenced — she would not say by whom, and she commanded Colonel Newcome upon that instant, if he was, as he always pretended to be, an honourable man, to give an account of her blessed darling’s property, and to pay back her own, every sixpence of it. She would not lend it for an hour longer, and to see that that dear blessed child now sleeping unconsciously upstairs, and his dear brothers and sisters who might follow, for Rosey was a young woman, a poor innocent creature, too young to be married, and never would have been married had she listened to her mamma’s advice. She demanded that the baby, and all succeeding babies, should have their rights, and should be looked to by their grandmother, if their father’s father was so unkind, and so wicked, and so unnatural, as to give their money to rogues, and deprive them of their just bread.

Rosey began to cry more loudly than ever during the utterance of mamma’s sermon, so loudly that Clive peevishly cried out, “Hold your tongue,” on which the Campaigner, clutching her daughter to her breast again, turned on her son-inlaw, and abused him as she had abused his father before him, calling out that they were both in a conspiracy to defraud her child, and the little darling upstairs of its bread, and she would speak, yes, she would, and no power should prevent her, and her money she would have on Monday, as sure as her poor dear husband, Captain Mackenzie, was dead, and she never would have been cheated so, yes, cheated, if he had been alive.

At the word “cheated” Clive broke out with an execration — the poor Colonel with a groan of despair — the widow’s storm continued, and above that howling tempest of words rose Mrs. Clive’s piping scream, who went off into downright hysterics at last, in which she was encouraged by her mother, and in which she gasped out frantic ejaculations regarding baby; dear, darling, ruined baby, and so forth.

The sorrow-stricken Colonel had to quell the women’s tongues and shrill anger, and his son’s wrathful replies, who could not bear the weight of Mrs. Mackenzie upon him; and it was not until these three were allayed, that Thomas Newcome was able to continue his sad story, to explain what had happened, and what the actual state of the case was, and to oblige the terror-stricken women at length to hear something like reason.

He then had to tell them, to their dismay, that he would inevitably be declared a bankrupt in the ensuing week; that the whole of his property in that house, as elsewhere, would be seized and sold for the creditors’ benefit; and that his daughter had best immediately leave a home where she would be certainly subject to humiliation and annoyance. “I would have Clive, my boy, take you out of the country, and — and return to me when I have need of him, and shall send for him,” the father said fondly in reply to a rebellious look on his son’s face. “I would have you quit this house as soon as possible. Why not to-night? The law blood-hound may be upon us ere an hour is over — at this moment for what I know.”

At that moment the door-bell was heard to ring, and the women gave a scream apiece, as if the bailiffs were actually coming to take possession. Rosey went off in quite a series of screams, peevishly repressed by her husband, and always encouraged by mamma, who called her son-inlaw an unfeeling wretch. It must be confessed that Mrs. Clive Newcome did not exhibit much strength of mind, or comfort her husband much at a moment when he needed consolation.

From angry rebellion and fierce remonstrance, this pair of women now passed to an extreme terror and desire for instantaneous flight. They would go that moment — they would wrap the blessed child up in its shawls — and nurse should take it anywhere — anywhere, poor neglected thing. “My trunks,” cries Mrs. Mackenzie, “you know are ready packed — I am sure it is not the treatment which I have received — it is nothing but my duty and my religion — and the protection which I owe to this blessed unprotected — yes, unprotected, and robbed, and cheated, darling child — which have made me stay a single day in this house. I never thought I should have been robbed in it, or my darlings with their fine fortunes flung naked on the world. If my Mac was here, you never had dared to have done this, Colonel Newcome — no, never. He had his faults — Mackenzie had — but he would never have robbed his own children! Come away, Rosey, my blessed love, come let us pack your things, and let us go and hide our heads in sorrow somewhere. Ah! didn’t I tell you to beware of all painters, and that Clarence was a true gentleman, and loved you with all his heart, and would never have cheated you out of your money, for which I will have justice as sure as there is justice in England.”

During this outburst the Colonel sat utterly scared and silent, supporting his poor head between his hands. When the harem had departed he turned sadly to his son. Clive did not believe that his father was a cheat and a rogue. No, thank God! The two men embraced with tender cordiality and almost happy emotion on the one side and the other. Never for one moment could Clive think his dear old father meant wrong — though the speculations were unfortunate in which he had engaged — though Clive had not liked them; it was a relief to his mind that they were now come to an end; they should all be happier now, thank God! those clouds of distrust being removed. Clive felt not one moment’s doubt but that they should be able to meet fortune with a brave face; and that happier, much happier days were in store for him than ever they had known since the period of this confounded prosperity.

“Here’s a good end to it,” says Clive, with flashing eyes and a flushed face, “and here’s a good health till tomorrow, father!” and he filled into two glasses the wine still remaining in the flask. “Good-bye to our fortune, and bad luck go with her — I puff the prostitute away — Si celeres quatit pennas, you remember what we used to say at Grey Friars — resign quae dedit, et mea virtute me involve, probamque pauperiem sine dote quaero.” And he pledged his father, who drank his wine, his hand shaking as he raised the glass to his lips, and his kind voice trembling as he uttered the well-known old school words, with an emotion that was as sacred as a prayer. Once more, and with hearts full of love, the two men embraced. Clive’s voice would tremble now if he told the story, as it did when he spoke it to me in happier times, one calm summer evening when we sat together and talked of dear old days.

Thomas Newcome explained to his son the plan, which, to his mind, as he came away from the City after the day’s misfortunes, he thought it was best to pursue. The women and the child were clearly best out of the way. “And you too, my boy, must be on duty with them until I send for you, which I will do if your presence can be of the least service to me, or is called for by — by — our honour,” said the old man with a drop in his voice. “You must obey me in this, dear Clive, as you have done in everything, and been a good and dear, and obedient son to me. God pardon me for having trusted to my own simple old brains too much, and not to you who know so much better. You will obey me this once more, my boy — you will promise me this?” and the old man as he spoke took Clive’s hand in both his, and fondly caressed it.

Then with a shaking hand he took out of his pocket his old purse with the steel rings, which he had worn for many and many a long year. Clive remembered it, and his father’s face how it would beam with delight, when he used to take that very purse out in Clive’s boyish days and tip him just after he left school. “Here are some notes and some gold,” he said. “It is Rosey’s, honestly, Clive dear, her half-year’s dividend, for which you will give an order, please, to Sherrick. He has been very kind and good, Sherrick. All the servants were providentially paid last week — there are only the outstanding week’s bills out — we shall manage to meet those, I dare say. And you will see that Rosey only takes away such clothes for herself and her baby as are actually necessary, won’t you, dear? the plain things, you know — none of the fineries — they may be packed in a petara or two, and you will take them with you — but the pomps and vanities, you know, we will leave behind — the pearls and bracelets, and the plate, and all that rubbish — and I will make an inventory of them tomorrow when you are gone, and give them up, every rupee’s worth, sir, every anna, by Jove, to the creditors.”

The darkness had fallen by this time, and the obsequious butler entered to light the dining-room lamps. “You have been a very good and kind servant to us, Martin,” says the Colonel, making him a low bow. “I should like to shake you by the hand. We must part company now, and I have no doubt you and your fellow servants will find good places, all of you, as you merit, Martin — as you merit. Great losses have fallen upon our family — we are ruined, sir — we are ruined! The great Bundelcund Banking Company has stopped payment in India, and our branch here must stop on Monday. Thank my friends downstairs for their kindness to me and my family.” Martin bowed in silence with great respect. He and his comrades in the servants’-hall had been expecting this catastrophe, quite as long as the Colonel himself who thought he had kept his affairs so profoundly secret.

Clive went up into his women’s apartments, looking with but little regret, I dare say, round those cheerless nuptial chambers with all their gaudy fittings; the fine looking-glasses, in which poor Rosey’s little person had been reflected; the silken curtains under which he had lain by the poor child’s side, wakeful and lonely. Here he found his child’s nurse, and his wife, and wife’s mother, busily engaged with a multiplicity of boxes; with flounces, feathers, fal-lals, and finery, which they were stowing away in this trunk and that; while the baby lay on its little pink pillow breathing softly, a little pearly fist placed close to its mouth. The aspect of the tawdry vanities scattered here and there chafed and annoyed the young man. He kicked the robes over with his foot. When Mrs. Mackenzie interposed with loud ejaculations, he sternly bade her to be silent, and not wake the child. His words were not to be questioned when he spoke in that manner. “You will take nothing with you, Rosey, but what is strictly necessary — only two or three of your plainest dresses, and what is required for the boy. What is in this trunk?” Mrs. Mackenzie stepped forward and declared, and the nurse vowed upon her honour, and the lady’s-maid asserted really now upon honour too, that there was nothing but what was most strictly necessary in that trunk, to which affidavits, when Clive applied to his wife, she gave a rather timid assent.

“Where are the keys of that trunk?” Upon Mrs. Mackenzie’s exclamation of “What nonsense!” Clive, putting his foot upon the flimsy oil-covered box, vowed he would kick the lid off unless it was instantly opened. Obeying this grim summons, the fluttering women produced the keys, and the black box was opened before him.

The box was found to contain a number of objects which Clive pronounced to be by no means necessary to his wife’s and child’s existence. Trinket-boxes and favourite little gimcracks, chains, rings and pearl necklaces, the tiara poor Rosey had worn at court — the feathers and the gorgeous train which had decorated the little person — all these were found packed away in this one receptacle; and in another box, I am sorry to say, were the silver forks and spoons (the butler wisely judging that the rich and splendid electrotype ware might as well be left behind)— all the silver forks, spoons, and ladles, and our poor old friend the cocoa-nut tree, which these female robbers would have carried out of the premises.

Mr. Clive Newcome burst out into fierce laughter when he saw the cocoa-nut tree; he laughed so loud that baby woke, and his mother-inlaw called him a brute, and the nurse ran to give its accustomed quietus to the little screaming infant. Rosey’s eyes poured forth a torrent of little protests, and she would have cried yet more loudly than the other baby, had not her husband, again fiercely checking her, sworn with a dreadful oath, that unless she told him the whole truth, “By heavens she should leave the house with nothing but what covered her.” Even the Campaigner could not make head against Clive’s stern resolution; and the incipient insurrection of the maids and the mistresses was quelled by his spirit. The lady’s-maid, a flighty creature, received her wages and took her leave: but the nurse could not find it in her heart to quit her little nursling so suddenly, and accompanied Clive’s household in the journey upon which those poor folks were bound. What stolen goods were finally discovered when the family reached foreign parts were found in Mrs. Mackenzie’s trunks, not in her daughter’s: a silver filigree basket, a few teaspoons, baby’s gold coral, and a costly crimson velvet-bound copy of the Hon. Miss Grimstone’s Church Service, to which articles, having thus appropriated them, Mrs. Mackenzie henceforward laid claim as her own.

So when the packing was done a cab was called to receive the modest trunks of this fugitive family — the coachman was bidden to put his horses to again, and for the last time poor Rosey Newcome sate in her own carriage, to which the Colonel conducted her with his courtly old bow, kissing the baby as it slept once more unconscious in its nurse’s embrace, and bestowing a very grave and polite parting salute upon the Campaigner.

Then Clive and his father entered a cab on which the trunks were borne, and they drove to the Tower Stairs, where the ship lay which was to convey them out of England; and, during that journey, no doubt, they talked over their altered prospects, and I am sure Clive’s father blessed his son fondly, and committed him and his family to a good God’s gracious keeping, and thought of him with sacred love when they had parted, and Thomas Newcome had returned to his lonely house to watch and to think of his ruined fortunes, and to pray that he might have courage under them; that he might bear his own fate honourably; and that a gentle one might be dealt to those beloved beings for whom his life had been sacrificed in vain.

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