The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXVII

The Shortest and Happiest in the Whole History

In the ensuing Christmas morning I chanced to rise betimes, and entering my dressing-room, opened the windows and looked out on the soft landscape, over which mists were still lying; whilst the serene sky above, and the lawns and leafless woods in the foreground near, were still pink with sunrise. The grey had not even left the west yet, and I could see a star or two twinkling there, to vanish with that twilight.

As I looked out, I saw the not very distant lodge-gate open after a brief parley, and a lady on horseback, followed by a servant, rode rapidly up to the house. This early visitor was no other than Miss Ethel Newcome. The young lady espied me immediately. “Come down; come down to me this moment, Mr. Pendennis,” she cried out. I hastened down to her, supposing rightly that news of importance had brought her to Rosebury so early.

The news were of importance indeed. “Look here!” she said, “read this;” and she took a paper from the pocket of her habit. “When I went home last night, after Madame de Florac had been talking to us about Orme’s India, I took the volumes from the bookcase and found this paper. It is in my grandmother’s — Mrs. Newcome’s — handwriting; I know it quite well, it is dated on the very day of her death. She had been writing and reading in her study on that very night; I have often heard papa speak of the circumstance. Look and read. You are a lawyer, Mr. Pendennis; tell me about this paper.”

I seized it eagerly, and cast my eyes over it; but having read it, my countenance fell.

“My dear Miss Newcome, it is not worth a penny,” I was obliged to own.

“Yes, it is, sir, to honest people!” she cried out. “My brother and uncle will respect it as Mrs. Newcome’s dying wish. They must respect it.”

The paper in question was a letter in ink that had grown yellow from time, and was addressed by the late Mrs. Newcome, to “my dear Mr. Luce.”

“That was her solicitor, my solicitor still,” interposes Miss Ethel.

“THE HERMITAGE, March 14, 182-.

“My Dear Mr. Luce” (the defunct lady wrote)—“My late husband’s grandson has been staying with me lately, and is a most pleasing, handsome, and engaging little boy. He bears a strong likeness to his grandfather, I think; and though he has no claims upon me, and I know is sufficiently provided for by his father Lieutenant-Colonel Newcome, C.B., of the East India Company’s Service, I am sure my late dear husband will be pleased that I should leave his grandson, Clive Newcome, a token of peace and goodwill; and I can do so with the more readiness, as it has pleased Heaven greatly to increase my means since my husband was called away hence.

“I desire to bequeath a sum equal to that which Mr Newcome willed to my eldest son, Brian Newcome, Esq., to Mr. Newcome’s grandson, Clive Newcome; and furthermore, that a token of my esteem and affection, a ring, or a piece of plate, of the value of one hundred pounds, be given to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Newcome, my stepson, whose excellent conduct for many years, and whose repeated acts of gallantry in the service of his sovereign, have long obliterated the just feelings of displeasure with which I could not but view his early disobedience and misbehaviour, before he quitted England against my will, and entered the military service.

“I beg you to prepare immediately a codicil to my will providing for the above bequests; and desire that the amount of these legacies should be taken from the property bequeathed to my eldest son. You will be so good as to prepare the necessary document, and bring it with you when you come on Saturday, to yours very truly,

Sophia Alethea Newcome.

“Tuesday night.”

I gave back the paper with a sigh to the finder. “It is but a wish of Mrs. Newcome, my dear Miss Ethel,” I said. “Pardon me, if I say, I think I know your elder brother too well to supposes that he will fulfil it.”

“He will fulfil it, sir, I am sure he will,” Miss Newcome said, in a haughty manner. “He would do as much without being asked, I am certain he would, did he know the depth of my dear uncle’s misfortune. Barnes is in London now, and ——”

“And you will write to him? I know what the answer will be.”

“I will go to him this very day, Mr. Pendennis! I will go to my dear, dear uncle. I cannot bear to think of him in that place,” cried the young lady, the tears starting into her honest eyes. “It was the will of Heaven. Oh, God be thanked for it! Had we found my grandmamma’s letter earlier, Barnes would have paid the legacy immediately, and the money would have gone in that dreadful bankruptcy. I will go to Barnes today. Will you come with me? Won’t you come to your old friends? We may be at his — at Clive’s house this evening; and oh, praise be to God! there need be no more want in his family.”

“My dear friend, I will go with you round the world on such an errand,” I said, kissing her hand. How beautiful she looked; the generous colour rose in her face, her voice thrilled with happiness. The music of Christmas church bells leaped up at this moment with joyful gratulations; the face of the old house, before which we stood talking, shone out in the morning sun.

“You will come I thank you! I must run and tell Madame de Florac,” cried the happy young lady, and we entered the house together. “How came you to be kissing Ethel’s hand, sir; and what is the meaning of this early visit?” asks Mrs. Laura, as soon as I had returned to my own apartments.

“Martha, get me a carpet-bag! I am going to London in an hour,” cries Mr. Pendennis. If I had kissed Ethel’s hand jus now, delighted at the news which she brought to me, was not one a thousand times dearer to me, as happy as her friend? I know who prayed with a thankful heart that day as we sped, in the almost solitary train, towards London.

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