The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER LXXIX

In which Old Friends come together

We made the descent of Snowhill, we passed by the miry pens of Smithfield; we travel through the street of St. John, and presently reach the ancient gateway, in Cistercian Square, where lies the old Hospital of Grey Friars. I passed through the gate, my fair young companion on my arm, and made my way to the rooms occupied by brother Newcome.

As we traversed the court the Poor Brothers were coming from dinner. A couple of score, or more, of old gentlemen in black gowns, issued from the door of their refectory, and separated over the court, betaking themselves to their chambers. Ethel’s arm trembled under mine as she looked at one and another, expecting to behold her dear uncle’s familiar features. But he was not among the brethren. We went to his chamber, of which the door was open: a female attendant was arranging the room; she told us Colonel Newcome was out for the day, and thus our journey had been made in vain.

Ethel went round the apartment and surveyed its simple decorations; she looked at the pictures of Clive and his boy; the two sabres crossed over the mantelpiece, the Bible laid on the table, by the old latticed window. She walked slowly up to the humble bed, and sat down on a chair near it. No doubt her heart prayed for him who slept there; she turned round where his black pensioner’s cloak was hanging on the wall, and lifted up the homely garment, and kissed it. The servant looked on admiring, I should think, her melancholy and her gracious beauty. I whispered to the woman that the young lady was the Colonel’s niece. “He has a son who comes here, and is very handsome, too,” said the attendant.

The two women spoke together for a while. “Oh, miss!” cried the elder and humbler, evidently astonished at some gratuity which Miss Newcome bestowed upon her, “I didn’t want this to be good to him. Everybody here loves him for himself; and I would sit up for him for weeks — that I would.”

My companion took a pencil from her bag, and wrote “Ethel” on a piece of paper, and laid the paper on the Bible. Darkness had again fallen by this time, feeble lights were twinkling in the chamber windows of the Poor Brethren as we issued into the courts; — feeble lights illumining a dim, grey, melancholy old scene. Many a career, once bright, was flickering out here in the darkness; many a night was closing in. We went away silently from that quiet place; and in another minute were in the flare and din and tumult of London.

“The Colonel is most likely gone to Clive’s,” I said. Would not Miss Newcome follow him thither? We consulted whether she should go. She took heart and said yes. “Drive, cabman, to Howland Street!” The horse was, no doubt, tired, for the journey seemed extraordinarily long; I think neither of us spoke a word on the way.

I ran upstairs to prepare our friends for the visit. Clive, his wife, his father, and his mother-inlaw were seated by a dim light in Mrs. Clive’s sitting-room. Rosey on the sofa, as usual; the little boy on his grandfather’s knees.

I hardly made a bow to the ladies, so eager was I to communicate with Colonel Newcome. “I have just been to your quarters at Grey Friars, sir,” said I. “That is ——”

“You have been to the Hospital, sir! You need not be ashamed to mention it, as Colonel Newcome is not ashamed to go there,” cried out the Campaigner. “Pray speak in your own language, Clive, unless there is something not fit for ladies to hear.” Clive was growling out to me in German that there had just been a terrible scene, his father having, a quarter of an hour previously, let slip the secret about Grey Friars.

“Say at once, Clive!” the Campaigner cried, rising in her might, and extending a great strong arm over her helpless child, “that Colonel Newcome owns that he has gone to live as a pauper in a hospital! He who has squandered his own money. He who has squandered my money. He who has squandered the money of that darling helpless child — compose yourself, Rosey my love! — has completed the disgrace of the family, by his present mean and unworthy — yes, I say, mean and unworthy and degraded conduct. Oh, my child, my blessed child! to think that your husband’s father should have come to a workhouse!” Whilst this maternal agony bursts over her, Rosa, on the sofa, bleats and whimpers amongst the faded chintz cushions.

I took Clive’s hand, which was cast up to his head striking his forehead with mad impotent rage, whilst this fiend of a woman lashed his good father. The veins of his great fist were swollen, his whole body was throbbing and trembling with the helpless pain under which he writhed. “Colonel Newcome’s friends, ma’am,”, I said, “think very differently from you; and that he is a better judge than you, or any one else, of his own honour. We. all, who loved him in his prosperity, love and respect him more than ever for the manner in which he bears his misfortune. Do you suppose that his noble friend, the Earl of H— — would have counselled him to a step unworthy of a gentleman; that the Prince de Moncontour would applaud his conduct as he does, if he did not think it admirable?” I can hardly say with what scorn I used this argument, or what depth of contempt I felt for the woman whom I knew it would influence. “And at this minute,” I added, “I have come from visiting the Gray Friars with one of the Colonel’s relatives, whose love and respect for him is boundless; who longs to be reconciled to him, and who is waiting below, eager to shake his hand, and embrace Clive’s wife.”

“Who is that?” says the Colonel, looking gently up, as he pats Boy’s head.

“Who is it, Pen?” says Clive. I said in a low voice, “Ethel;” and starting up and crying “Ethel! Ethel!” he ran from the room.

Little Mrs. Rosa started up too on her sofa, clutching hold of the table-cover with her lean hand, and the two red spots on her cheeks burning more fiercely than ever. I could see what passion was beating in that poor little heart. Heaven help us! what a resting-place had friends and parents prepared for it! for shame!”

“Miss Newcome, is it? My darling Rosa, get on your shawl!” cried the Campaigner, a grim smile lighting her face.

“It is Ethel; Ethel is my niece. I used to love her when she was quite a little girl,” says the Colonel, patting Boy on the head; “and she is a very good, beautiful little child — a very good child.” The torture had been too much for that kind old heart: there were times when Thomas Newcome passed beyond it. What still maddened Clive, excited his father no more; the pain yonder woman inflicted, only felled and stupefied him.

As the door opened, the little white-headed child trotted forward towards the visitor, and Ethel entered on Clive’s arm, who was as haggard and pale as death. Little Boy, looking up at the stately lady, still followed beside her, as she approached her uncle, who remained sitting, his head bent to the ground. His thoughts were elsewhere. Indeed he was following the child, and about to caress it again.

“Here is a friend, father!” says Clive, laying a hand on the old man’s shoulder. “It is I, Ethel, uncle! “the young lady said, taking his hand; and kneeling down between his knees, she flung her arms round him, and kissed him, and wept on his shoulder.

His consciousness had quite returned ere an instant was over. He embraced her with the warmth of his old affection, uttering many brief words of love, kindness, and tenderness, such as men speak when strongly moved.

The little boy had come wondering up to the chair whilst this embrace took place, and Clive’s tall figure bent over the three. Rosa’s eyes were not good to look at, as she stared at the group with a ghastly smile. Mrs. Mackenzie surveyed the scene in haughty state, from behind the sofa cushions. She tried to take one of Rosa’s lean hot hands. The poor child tore it away, leaving her rings behind her; lifted her hands to her face: and cried, cried as if her little heart would break. Ah me! what a story was there! what an outburst of pent-up feeling! what a passion of pain! The ring had fallen to the ground; the little boy crept towards it, and picked it up, and came towards his mother, fixing on her his large wondering eyes. “Mamma crying. Mamma’s ring!” he said, holding up the circle of gold. With more feeling than I had ever seen her exhibit, she clasped the boy in her wasted arms. Great Heaven! what passion, jealousy, grief, despair, were tearing and trying all these hearts, that but for fate might have been happy?

Clive went round, and with the utmost sweetness and tenderness hanging round his child and wife, soothed her with words of consolation, that in truth I scarce heard, being ashamed almost of being present at this sudden scene. No one, however, took notice of the witnesses; and even Mrs. Mackenzie’s voice was silent for the moment. I dare say Clive’s words were incoherent; but women have more presence of mind; and now Ethel, with a noble grace which I cannot attempt to describe, going up to Rosa, seated herself by her, spoke of her long grief at the differences between her dearest uncle and herself; of her early days, when he had been as a father to her; of her wish, her hope that Rosa should love her as a sister; and of her belief that better days and happiness were in store for them all. And she spoke to the mother about her boy so beautiful and intelligent, and told her how she had brought up her brother’s children, and hoped that this one too would call her Aunt Ethel. She would not stay now, might she come again? Would Rosa come to her with her little boy? Would he kiss her? He did so with a very good grace; but when Ethel at parting embraced the child’s mother, Rosa’s face wore a smile ghastly to look at, and the lips that touched Ethel’s cheeks, were quite white.

“I shall come and see you again tomorrow, uncle, may I not? I saw your room today, sir, and your housekeeper; such a nice old lady, and your black gown. And you shall put it on tomorrow, and walk with me, and show me the beautiful old buildings of that old hospital. And I shall come and make tea for you, the housekeeper says I may. Will you come down with me to my carriage? No, Mr. Pendennis must come;” and she quitted the room, beckoning me after her. “You will speak to Clive now, won’t you?” she said, “and come to me this evening, and tell me all before you go to bed?” I went back, anxious in truth to the messenger of good tidings to my dear old friends.

Brief as my absence had been, Mrs. Mackenzie had taken advantage of that moment again to outrage Clive and his father, and to announce that Rosa might go to see this Miss Newcome, whom people respected because she was rich, but whom she would never visit; no, never! “An insolent, proud, impertinent thing! Does she take me for a housemaid?” Mrs. Mackenzie had inquired.

“Am I dust to be trampled beneath her feet? Am I a dog that she can’t throw me a word?” Her arms were stretched out, and she was making this inquiry as to her own canine qualities as I re-entered the room, and remembered that Ethel had never once addressed a single word to Mrs. Mackenzie in the course of her visit.

I affected not to perceive the incident, and presently said that I wanted to speak to Clive in his studio. Knowing that I had brought my friend one or two commissions for drawings, Mrs. Mackenzie was civil to me, and did not object to our colloquies.

“Will you come too, and smoke a pipe, father?” says Clive.

“Of course your father intends to stay to dinner?” says the Campaigner, with a scornful toss of her head. Clive groaned out as we were on the stair, “that he could not bear this much longer, by heavens he could not.”

“Give the Colonel his pipe, Clive,” said I. “Now, sir, down with you in the sitter’s chair, and smoke the sweetest cheroot you ever smoked in your life! My dear, dear old Clive! you need not bear with the Campaigner any longer; you may go to bed without this nightmare to-night if you like; you may have your father back under your roof again.”

“My dear Arthur! I must be back at ten, sir, back at ten, military time; drum beats; no — bell tolls at ten, and gates close;” and he laughed and shook his old head. “Besides, I am to see a young lady, sir; and she is coming to make tea for me, and I must speak to Mrs. Jones to have all things ready — all things ready;” and again the old man laughed as he spoke.

His son looked at him and then at me with eyes full of sad meaning. “How do you mean, Arthur,” Clive said, “that he can come and stay with me, and that that woman can go?”

Then feeling in my pocket for Mr. Luce’s letter, I grasped my dear Clive by the hand and bade him prepare for good news. I told him how providentially, two days since, Ethel, in the library at Newcome, looking into Orme’s History of India, a book which old Mrs. Newcome had been reading on the night of her death, had discovered a paper, of which the accompanying letter enclosed a copy, and I gave my friend the letter.

He opened it, and read it through. I cannot say that I saw any particular expression of wonder in his countenance, for somehow, all the while Clive perused this document, I was looking at the Colonel’s sweet kind face. “It — it is Ethel’s doing,” said Clive, in a hurried voice. “There was no such letter.”

“Upon my honour,” I answered, “there was. We came up to London with it last night, a few hours after she had found it. We showed it to Sir Barnes Newcome, who — who could not disown it. We took it to Mr. Luce, who recognised it at once, who was old Mrs. Newcome’s man of business, and continues to be the family lawyer, and the family recognises the legacy and has paid it, and you may draw for it tomorrow, as you see. What a piece of good luck it is that it did not come before the B. B. C. time! That confounded Bundelcund Bank would have swallowed up this like all the rest.”

“Father! father! do you remember Orme’s History of India?” cries Clive.

“Orme’s History! of course I do, I could repeat whole pages of it when I was a boy,” says the old man, and began forthwith. “‘The two battalions advanced against each other cannonading, until the French, coming to a hollow way, imagined that the English would not venture to pass it. But Major Lawrence ordered the sepoys and artillery — the sepoys and artillery to halt and defend the convoy against the Morattoes”— Morattoes Orme calls ’em. Ho! ho! I could repeat whole pages, sir.”

“It is the best book that ever was written,” calls out Clive. The Colonel said he had not read it, but he was informed Mr. Mill’s was a very learned history; he intended to read it. “Eh! there is plenty of time now,” said the good Colonel. “I have all day long at Grey Friars — after chapel, you know. Do you know, sir, when I was a boy I used what they call to tib out and run down to a public-house in Cistercian Lane — the Red Cowl sir — and buy rum there? I was a terrible wild boy, Clivy. You weren’t so, sir, thank Heaven! A terrible wild boy, and my poor father flogged me, though I think it was very hard on me. It wasn’t the pain, you know: it wasn’t the pain, but ——” Here tears came into his eyes and he dropped his head on his hand, and the cigar from it fell on to the floor, burnt almost out, and scattering white ashes.

Clive looked sadly at me. “He was often so at Boulogne, Arthur,” he whispered; “after a scene with that — that woman yonder, his head would go: he never replied to her taunts; he bore her infernal cruelty without an unkind word — Oh! I pay her back, thank God I can pay her! But who shall pay her,” he said, trembling in every limb, “for what she has made that good man suffer?”

He turned to his father, who still sate lost in his meditations. “You need never go back to Grey Friars, father!” he cried out.”

“Not go back, Clivy? Must go back, boy, to say Adsum, when my name is called. Newcome! Adsum! Hey! that is what we used to say — we used to say!”

“You need not go back, except to pack your things, and return and live with me and Boy,” Clive continued, and he told Colonel Newcome rapidly the story of the legacy. The old man seemed hardly to comprehend it. When he did, the news scarcely elated him; when Clive said “they could now pay Mrs. Mackenzie,” the Colonel replied, “Quite right, quite right,” and added up the sum, principal and interest, in which they were indebted to her — he knew it well enough, the good old man. “Of course we shall pay her, Clivy, when we can!” But in spite of what Clive had said he did not appear to understand the fact that the debt to Mrs. Mackenzie was now actually to be paid.

As we were talking, a knock came to the studio door, and that summons was followed by the entrance of the maid, who said to Clive, “If you please, sir, Mrs. Mackenzie says, how long are you a-going to keep the dinner waiting?”

“Come, father, come to dinner!” cries Clive; “and, Pen, you will come too, won’t you?” he added; “it may be the last time you dine in such pleasant company. Come along,” he whispered hurriedly. “I should like you to be there, it will keep her tongue quiet.” As we proceeded to the dining-room, I gave the Colonel my arm; and the good man prattled to me something about Mrs. Mackenzie having taken shares in the Bundelcund Banking Company, and about her not being a woman of business, and fancying we had spent her money. “And I have always felt a wish that Clivy should pay her, and he will pay her, I know he will,” says the Colonel; “and then we shall lead a quiet life, Arthur; for, between ourselves, some women are the deuce when they are angry, sir.” And again he laughed, as he told me this sly news, and he bowed meekly his gentle old head as we entered the dining-room.

That apartment was occupied by little Boy already seated in his high chair, and by the Campaigner only, who stood at the mantelpiece in a majestic attitude. On parting with her, before we adjourned to Clive’s studio, I had made my bow and taken my leave in form, not supposing that I was about to enjoy her hospitality yet once again. My return did not seem to please her. “Does Mr. Pendennis favour us with his company to dinner again, Clive?” she said, turning to her son-inlaw. Clive curtly said, Yes, he had asked Mr. Pendennis to stay.

“You might at least have been so kind as to give me notice,” says the Campaigner, still majestic, but ironical. “You will have but a poor meal, Mr. Pendennis; and one such as I’m not accustomed to give my guests.”

“Cold beef! what the deuce does it matter;” says Clive, beginning to carve the joint, which, hot, had served our yesterday’s Christmas table.

“It does matter, sir! I am not accustomed to treat my guests in this way Maria! who had been cutting that beef? Three pounds of that beef have been cut away since one o’clock today,” and with flashing eyes, and a finger twinkling all over with rings, she pointed towards the guilty joint.

Whether Maria had been dispensing secret charities, or kept company with an occult policeman partial to roast-beef, I do not know; but she looked very much alarmed, and said, Indeed, and indeed, mum, she had not touched a morsel of it! — not she.

“Confound the beef!” says Clive, carving on.

“She has been cutting it!” cries the Campaigner, bringing her fist down with a thump upon the table. “Mr. Pendennis! you saw the beef yesterday; eighteen pounds it weighed, and this is what comes up of it! As if there was not already ruin enough in the house!”

“D— n the beef!” cries out Clive.

“No! no! Thank God for our good dinner! Benedicti benedicamus, Clivy my boy,” says the Colonel, in a tremulous voice.

“Swear on, sir! let the child hear your oaths! Let my blessed child, who is too ill to sit at table and picks her bite! sweetbread on her sofa — which her poor mother prepares for her, Mr. Pendennis — which I cooked it, and gave it to her with these hands — let her hear your curses and blasphemies, Clive Newcome! They are loud enough.”

“Do let us have a quiet life,” groans out Clive; and for me, I must confess, I kept my eyes steadily down upon my plate, nor dared to lift them until my portion of cold beef had vanished.

No further outbreak took place until the appearance of the second course, which consisted, as the ingenious reader may suppose, of the plum-pudding, now in a grilled state, and the remanent of mince-pies from yesterday’s meal. Maria, I thought, looked particularly guilty as these delicacies were placed on the table: she set them down hastily, and was for operating an instant retreat.

But the Campaigner shrieked after her, “Who has eaten that pudding? I insist upon knowing who has eaten it. I saw it at two o’clock when I went down to the kitchen and fried a bit for my darling child, and there’s pounds of it gone since then! There were five mince-pies! Mr. Pendennis! you saw yourself there were five that went away from table yesterday — where’s the other two Maria? You leave the house this night, you thieving, wicked wretch — and I’ll thank you to come back to me afterwards for a character. Thirteen servants have we had in nine months, Mr. Pendennis, and this girl is the worst of them all, and the greatest liar and the greatest thief.”

At this charge the outraged Maria stood up in arms, and as the phrase is, gave the Campaigner as good as she got. Go! wouldn’t she go? Pay her her wages, and let her go out of that ell upon hearth, was Maria’s prayer. “It isn’t you, sir,” she said, turning to Clive. “You are good enough, and works hard enough to git the guineas which you give out to pay that doctor; and she don’t pay him — and I see five of them in her purse wrapped up in paper, myself I did, and she abuses you to him — and I heard her, and Jane Black, who was here before, told me she heard her. Go! won’t I just go, I dispises your puddens and pies!” and with a laugh of scorn this rude Maria snapped her black fingers in the immediate vicinity of the Campaigner’s nose.

“I will pay her her wages, and she shall go this instant!” says Mrs. Mackenzie, taking her purse out.

“Pay me with them suvverings that you have got in it, wrapped up in paper. See if she haven’t, Mr. Newcome,” the refractory waiting-woman cried out, and again she laughed a strident laugh.

Mrs. Mackenzie briskly shut her portemonnaie, and rose up from table, quivering with indignant virtue. “Go!” she exclaimed, “go and pack your trunks this instant! you quit the house this night, and a policeman shall see to your boxes before you leave it!”

Whilst uttering this sentence against the guilty Maria, the Campaigner had intended, no doubt, to replace her purse in her pocket — a handsome filagree gimcrack of poor Ross’s, one of the relics of former splendours — but, agitated by Maria’s insolence, the trembling hand missed the mark, and the purse fell to the ground.

Maria dashed at the purse in a moment, with a scream of laughter shook its contents upon the table, and sure enough, five little packets wrapped in paper rolled out upon the cloth, besides bank-notes and silver and golden coin. “I’m to go, am I? I’m a thief, am I?” screamed the girl, clapping her hands. “I sor ’em yesterday when I was a-lacing of her; and thought of that pore young man working night and day to get the money; — me a thief, indeed! — I despise you, and I give you warning.”

“Do you wish to see me any longer insulted by this woman, Clive? Mr. Pendennis, I am shocked that you should witness such horrible vulgarity,” cries the Campaigner, turning to her guest. “Does the wretched creature suppose that I, I who have given thousands, I who have denied myself everything, I who have spent my all in support of this house; and Colonel Newcome knows whether I have given thousands or not, and who has spent them, and who has been robbed, I say, and ——”

“Here! you! Maria! go about your business,” shouted out Clive Newcome, starting up; “go and pack your trunks if you like, and pack this woman’s trunks too. Mrs. Mackenzie, I can bear you no more; go in peace, and if you wish to see your daughter she shall come to you; but I will never, so help me God! sleep under the same roof with you; or break the same crust with you; or bear your infernal cruelty; or sit to hear my father insulted; or listen to your wicked pride and folly more. There has not been a day since you thrust your cursed foot into our wretched house, but you have tortured one and all of us. Look here, at the best gentleman, and the kindest heart in all the world, you fiend! and see to what a condition you have brought him! Dearest father! she is going, do you hear? She leaves us, and you will come back to me, won’t you? Great God, woman,” he gasped out, “do you know what you have made me suffer — what you have done to this good man? Pardon, father, pardon!”— and he sank down by his father’s side, sobbing with passionate emotion. The old man even now did not seem to comprehend the scene. When he heard that woman’s voice in anger, a sort of stupor came over him.

“I am a fiend, am I?” cries the lady. “You hear, Mr. Pendennis, this is the language to which I am accustomed; I am a widow, and I trusted my child and my all to that old man; he robbed me and my darling of almost every farthing we had; and what has been my return for such baseness? I have lived in this house and toiled like a slave; I have acted as servant to my blessed child; night after night I have sat with her; and month after month, when her husband has been away, I have nursed that poor innocent; and the father having robbed me, the son turns me out of doors!”

A sad thing it was to witness, and a painful proof how frequent were these battles, that, as this one raged, the poor little boy sat almost careless, whilst his bewildered grandfather stroked his golden head. “It is quite clear to me, madam,” I said, turning to Mrs. Mackenzie, “that you and your son-inlaw are better apart; and I came to tell him today of a most fortunate legacy, which has been left to him, and which will enable him to pay you tomorrow morning every shilling, every shilling which he does NOT owe you?”

“I will not leave this house until I am paid every shilling of which I have been robbed,” hissed out Mrs. Mackenzie; and she sat down, folding her arms across her chest.

“I am sorry,” groaned out Clive, wiping the sweat off his brow, I used a harsh word; I will never sleep under the same roof with you. To-morrow I will pay you what you claim; and the best chance I have of forgiving you the evil which you have done me, is that we never should meet again. Will you give me a bed at your house, Arthur? Father, will you come out and walk? Good night, Mrs. Mackenzie; Pendennis will settle with you in the morning. You will not be here, if you please, when I return; and so God forgive you, and farewell.”

Mrs. Mackenzie in a tragic manner dashed aside the hand which poor Clive held out to her, and disappeared from the scene of this dismal dinner. Boy presently fell a-crying; in spite of all the battle and fury, there was sleep in his eyes.

“Maria is too busy, I suppose, to put him to bed,” said Clive, with a sad smile; “shall we do it, father? Come, Tommy, my son!” and he folded his arms round the child, and walked with him to the upper regions. The old man’s eyes lighted up; his seared thoughts returned to him; he followed his two children up the stairs, and saw his grandson in his little bed; and, as we walked home with him, he told me how sweetly Boy said “Our Father,” and prayed God bless all those who loved him, as they laid him to rest.

So these three generations had joined in that supplication: the strong man, humbled by trial and grief, whose loyal heart was yet full of love; — the child, of the sweet age of those little ones whom the Blessed Speaker of the prayer first bade to come unto Him; — and the old man, whose heart was well-nigh as tender and as innocent; and whose day was approaching, when he should be drawn to the bosom of the Eternal Pity.

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