The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray

CHAPTER VIII

Mrs. Newcome at Home (a Small Early Party)

To push on in the crowd, every male or female struggler must use his shoulders. If a better place than yours presents itself just beyond your neighbour, elbow him and take it. Look how a steadily purposed man or woman at court, at a ball, or exhibition, wherever there is a competition and a squeeze, gets the best place; the nearest the sovereign, if bent on kissing the royal hand; the closest to the grand stand, if minded to go to Ascot; the best view and hearing of the Rev. Mr. Thumpington, when all the town is rushing to hear that exciting divine; the largest quantity of ice, champagne, and seltzer, cold pate, or other his or her favourite flesh-pot, if gluttonously minded, at a supper whence hundreds of people come empty away. A woman of the world will marry her daughter and have done with her; get her carriage and be at home and asleep in bed; whilst a timid mamma has still her girl in the nursery, or is beseeching the servants in the cloakroom to look for her shawls, with which some one else has whisked away an hour ago. What a man has to do in society is to assert himself. Is there a good place at table? Take it. At the Treasury or the Home Office? Ask for it. Do you want to go to a party to which you are not invited? Ask to be asked. Ask A., ask B., ask Mrs. C., ask everybody you know: you will be thought a bore; but you will have your way. What matters if you are considered obtrusive, provided that you obtrude? By pushing steadily, nine hundred and ninety-nine people in a thousand will yield to you. Only command persons, and you may be pretty sure that a good number will obey. How well your money will have been laid out, O gentle reader, who purchase this; and, taking the maxim to heart, follow it through life! You may be sure of success. If your neighbour’s foot obstructs you, stamp on it; and do you suppose he won’t take it away?

The proofs of the correctness of the above remarks I show in various members of the Newcome family. Here was a vulgar little woman, not clever nor pretty, especially; meeting Mr. Newcome casually, she ordered him to marry her, and he obeyed; as he obeyed her in everything else which she chose to order through life. Meeting Colonel Newcome on the steps of her house, she orders him to come to her evening party; and though he has not been to an evening party for five-and-thirty years — though he has not been to bed the night before — though he has no mufti-coat except one sent him out by Messrs. Stultz to India in the year 1821 — he never once thinks of disobeying Mrs. Newcome’s order, but is actually at her door at five minutes past ten, having arrayed himself to the wonderment of Clive, and left the boy to talk with his friend and fellow-passenger, Mr. Binnie, who has just arrived from Portsmouth, who has dined with him, and who, by previous arrangement, has taken up his quarters at the same hotel.

This Stultz coat, a blue swallow-tail, with yellow buttons, now wearing a tinge of their native copper, a very high velvet collar on a level with the tips of the Captain’s ears, with a high waist, indicated by two lapelles, and a pair of buttons high up in the wearer’s back, a white waistcoat and scarlet under-waistcoat, and a pair of the never-failing duck trousers, complete Thomas Newcome’s costume, along with the white hat in which we have seen him in the morning, and which was one of two dozen purchased by him some years since at public outcry, Burrumtollah. We have called him Captain purposely, while speaking of his coat, for he held that rank when the garment came out to him; and having been in the habit of considering it a splendid coat for twelve years past, he has not the least idea of changing his opinion.

The Doctor McGuffog, Professor Bodgers, Count Poski, and all the lions present at Mrs. Newcome’s reunion that evening, were completely eclipsed by Colonel Newcome. The worthy soul, who cared not the least about adorning himself, had a handsome diamond brooch of the year 1801 — given him by poor Jack Cutler, who was knocked over by his side at Argaum — and wore this ornament in his desk for a thousand days and nights at a time; in his shirt-frill, on such parade evenings as he considered Mrs. Newcome’s to be. The splendour of this jewel, and of his flashing buttons, caused all eyes to turn to him. There were many pairs of mustachios present, those of Professor Schnurr, a very corpulent martyr, just escaped from Spandau, and of Maximilien Tranchard, French exile and apostle of liberty, were the only whiskers in the room capable of vying in interest with Colonel Newcome’s. Polish chieftains were at this time so common in London, that nobody (except one noble Member for Marylebone, once a year, the Lord Mayor) took any interest in them. The general opinion was, that the stranger was the Wallachian Boyar, whose arrival at Mivart’s the Morning Post had just announced. Mrs. Miles, whose delicious every other Wednesdays in Montague Square are supposed by some to be rival entertainments to Mrs. Newcome’s alternate Thursdays in Bryanstone Square, pinched her daughter Mira, engaged in a polyglot conversation with Herr Schnurr, nor Carabossi, the guitarist, and Monsieur Pivier, the celebrated French chess-player, to point out the Boyar. Mira Miles wished she knew a little Moldavian, not so much that she might speak it, but that she might be heard to speak it. Mrs. Miles, who had not had the educational advantages of her daughter, simpered up with “Madame Newcome pas ici — votre excellence nouvellement arrive — avez-vous fait ung bong voyage? Je recois chez moi Mercredi prochaing; lonnure de vous voir — Madamasel Miles ma fille;” and, Mira, now reinforcing her mamma, poured in a glib little oration in French, somewhat to the astonishment of the Colonel, who began to think, however, that perhaps French was the language of the polite world, into which he was now making his very first entree.

Mrs. Newcome had left her place at the door of her drawing-room, to walk through her rooms with Rummun Loll, the celebrated Indian merchant, otherwise His Excellency Rummun Loll, otherwise his Highness Rummun Loll, the chief proprietor of the diamond-mines in Golconda, with a claim of three millions and a-half upon the East India Company — who smoked his hookah after dinner when the ladies were gone, and in whose honour (for his servants always brought a couple or more of hookahs with them) many English gentlemen made themselves sick, while trying to emulate the same practice. Mr. Newcome had been obliged to go to bed himself in consequence of the uncontrollable nausea produced by the chillum; and Doctor McGuffog, in hopes of converting His Highness, had puffed his till he was as black in the face as the interesting Indian — and now, having hung on his arm — always in the dirty gloves — flirting a fan whilst His Excellency consumed betel out of a silver box; and having promenaded him and his turban, and his shawls, and his kincab pelisse, and his lacquered moustache, and keen brown face; and opal eyeballs, through her rooms, the hostess came back to her station at the drawing-room door.

As soon as His Excellency saw the Colonel, whom he perfectly well knew, His Highness’s princely air was exchanged for one of the deepest humility. He bowed his head and put his two hands before his eyes, and came creeping towards him submissively, to the wonderment of Mrs. Miles; who was yet more astonished when the Moldavian magnate exclaimed in perfectly good English, “What, Rummun, you here?”

The Rummun, still bending and holding his hands before him, uttered a number of rapid sentences in the Hindustani language, which Colonel Newcome received twirling his mustachios with much hauteur. He turned on his heel rather abruptly and began to speak to Mrs. Newcome, who smiled and thanked him for coming on his first night after his return.

The Colonel said, “To whose house should he first come but to his brother’s?” How Mrs. Newcome wished she could have had room for him at dinner! And there was room after all, for Mr. Shaloony was detained at the House. The most interesting conversation. The Indian Prince was so intelligent!

“The Indian what?” asks Colonel Newcome. The heathen gentleman had gone off, and was seated by one of the handsomest young women in the room, whose fair face was turned towards him, whose blond ringlets touched his shoulder, and who was listening to him as eagerly as Desdemona listened to Othello.

The Colonel’s rage was excited as he saw the Indian’s behaviour. He curled his mustachios up to his eyes in his wrath. “You don’t mean that that man calls himself a Prince? That a fellow who wouldn’t sit down in an officer’s presence is ——”

“How do you do, Mr. Honeyman? — Eh, bong soir, Monsieur — You are very late, Mr. Pressly. — What, Barnes! is it possible that you do me the honour to come all the way from Mayfair to Marylebone? I thought you young men of fashion never crossed Oxford Street. Colonel Newcome, this is your nephew.”

“How do you do, sir?” says Barnes, surveying the Colonel’s costume with inward wonder, but without the least outward manifestation of surprise. “I suppose you dined here to meet the black Prince. I came to ask him and my uncle to meet you at dinner on Wednesday. Where’s my uncle, ma’am?”

“Your uncle is gone to bed ill. He smoked one of those hookahs which the Prince brings, and it has made him very unwell indeed, Barnes. How is Lady Anne? Is Lord Kew in London? Is your sister better for Brighton air? I see your cousin is appointed Secretary of Legation. Have you good accounts of your aunt Lady Fanny?”

“Lady Fanny is as well as can be expected, and the baby is going on perfectly well, thank you,” Barnes said drily; and his aunt, obstinately gracious with him, turned away to some other new comet.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, sir,” says Barnes, turning to the Colonel, “to see such union in families? Whenever I come here, my aunt trots out all my relations; and I send a man round in the mornin to ask how they all are. So Uncle Hobson is gone to bed sick with a hookah? I know there was a deuce of a row made when I smoked at Marblehead. You are promised to us for Wednesday, please. Is there anybody you would like to meet? Not our friend the Rummun? How the girls crowd round him! By Gad, a fellow who’s rich in London may have the pick of any gal — not here — not in this sort of thing; I mean in society, you know,” says Barnes confidentially, “I’ve seen the old dowagers crowdin round that fellow, and the girls snugglin up to his india-rubber face. He’s known to have two wives already in India; but, by Gad, for a settlement, I believe some of ’em here would marry — I mean of the girls in society.”

“But isn’t this society?” asked the Colonel.

“Oh, of course. It’s very good society and that sort of thing — but it’s not, you know — you understand. I give you my honour there are not three people in the room one meets anywhere, except the Rummun. What is he at home, sir? I know he ain’t a Prince, you know, any more than I am.”

“I believe he is a rich man now,” said the Colonel. “He began from very low beginnings, and odd stories are told about the origin of his fortune.”

“That may be,” says the young man; “of course, as businessmen, that’s not our affair. But has he got the fortune? He keeps a large account with us; and, I think, wants to have larger dealings with us still. As one of the family we may ask you to stand by us, and tell us anything you know. My father has asked him down to Newcome, and we’ve taken him up; wisely or not I can’t say. I think otherwise; but I’m quite young in the house, and of course the elders have the chief superintendence.” The young man of business had dropped his drawl or his languor, and was speaking quite unaffectedly; good-naturedly, and selfishly. Had you talked to him for a week, you could not have made him understand the scorn and loathing with which the Colonel regarded him. Here was a young fellow as keen as the oldest curmudgeon; a lad with scarce a beard to his chin, that would pursue his bond as rigidly as Shylock. “If he is like this at twenty, what will he be at fifty?” groaned the Colonel. “I’d rather Clive were dead than have him such a heartless woriding as this.” And yet the young man was not ungenerous, not untruth-telling, not unserviceable. He thought his life was good enough. It was as good as that of other folks he lived with. You don’t suppose he had any misgivings, provided he was in the City early enough in the morning; or slept badly, unless he indulged too freely over-night; or twinges of conscience that his life was misspent? He thought his life a most lucky and reputable one. He had a share in a good business, and felt that he could increase it. Some day he would marry a good match, with a good fortune; meanwhile he could take his pleasure decorously, and sow his wild oats as some of the young Londoners sow them, not broadcast after the fashion of careless scatter-brained youth, but trimly and neatly, in quiet places, where the crop can come up unobserved, and be taken in without bustle or scandal. Barnes Newcome never missed going to church, or dressing for dinner. He never kept a tradesman waiting for his money. He never drank too much, except when other fellows did, and in good company. He never was late for business, or huddled over his toilet, however brief had been his sleep, or severe his headache. In a word, he was as scrupulously whited as any sepulchre in the whole bills of mortality.

Whilst young Barnes and his uncle were thus holding parley, a slim gentleman of bland aspect, with a roomy forehead, or what his female admirers called “a noble brow,” and a neat white neckcloth tied with clerical skill, was surveying Colonel Newcome through his shining spectacles, and waiting for an opportunity to address him. The Colonel remarked the eagerness with which the gentleman in black regarded him, and asked Mr. Barnes who was the padre? Mr. Barnes turned his eyeglass towards the spectacles, and said “he didn’t know any more than the dead; he didn’t know two people in the room.” The spectacles nevertheless made the eyeglass a bow, of which the latter took no sort of cognisance. The spectacles advanced; Mr. Newcome fell back with a peevish exclamation of “Confound the fellow, what is he coming to speak to me for?” He did not choose to be addressed by all sorts of persons in all houses.

But he of the spectacles, with an expression of delight in his pale blue eyes, and smiles dimpling his countenance, pressed onwards with outstretched hands, and it was towards the Colonel he turned these smiles and friendly salutations. “Did I hear aright, sir, from Mrs. Miles,” he said, “and have I the honour of speaking to Colonel Newcome?”

“The same, sir,” says the Colonel; at which the other, tearing off a glove of lavender-coloured kid, uttered the words, “Charles Honeyman,” and seized the hand of his brother-inlaw. “My poor sister’s husband,” he continued; “my own benefactor; Clive’s father. How strange are these meetings in the mighty world! How I rejoice to see you, and know you!”

“You are Charles, are you?” cries the other. “I am very glad, indeed, to shake you by the hand, Honeyman. Clive and I should have beat up your quarters today, but we were busy until dinnertime. You put me in mind of poor Emma, Charles,” he added, sadly. Emma had not been a good wife to him; a flighty silly little woman, who had caused him when alive many a night of pain and day of anxiety.

“Poor, poor Emma!” exclaimed the ecclesiastic, casting his eyes towards the chandelier, and passing a white cambric pocket-handkerchief gracefully before them. No man in London understood the ring business or the pocket-handkerchief business better, or smothered his emotion more beautifully. “In the gayest moments, in the giddiest throng of fashion, the thoughts of the past will rise; the departed will be among us still. But this is not the strain wherewith to greet the friend newly arrived on our shores. How it rejoices me to behold you in old England! How you must have joyed to see Clive!”

“D—— the humbug,” muttered Barnes, who knew him perfectly well. “The fellow is always in the pulpit.”

The incumbent of Lady Whittlesea’s chapel smiled and bowed to him. “You do not recognise me, sir; I have had the honour of seeing you in your public capacity in the City, when I have called at the bank, the bearer of my brother-inlaw’s generous ——”

“Never mind that, Honeyman!” cried the Colonel.

“But I do mind, my dear Colonel,” answers Mr. Honeyman. “I should be a very bad man, and a very ungrateful brother, if I ever forgot your kindness.”

“For God’s sake leave my kindness alone.”

“He’ll never leave it alone as long as he can use it,” muttered Mr. Barnes in his teeth; and turning to his uncle, “May I take you home, sir? my cab is at the door, and I shall be glad to drive you.” But the Colonel said he must talk to his brother-inlaw for a while, and Mr. Barnes, bowing very respectfully to him, slipped under a dowager’s arm in the doorway, and retreated silently downstairs.

Newcome was now thrown entirely upon the clergyman, and the latter described the personages present to the stranger, who was curious to know how the party was composed. Mrs. Newcome herself would have been pleased had she heard Honeyman’s discourse regarding her guests and herself. Charles Honeyman so spoke of most persons that you might fancy they were listening over his shoulder. Such an assemblage of learning, genius, and virtue, might well delight and astonish a stranger. “That lady in the red turban, with the handsome daughters, is Lady Budge, wife of the eminent judge of that name — everybody was astonished that he was not made Chief Justice, and elevated to the Peerage — the only objection (as I have heard confidentially) was on the part of a late sovereign, who said he never could consent to have a peer of the name of Budge. Her ladyship was of humble, I have heard even menial, station originally, but becomes her present rank, dispenses the most elegant hospitality at her mansion in Connaught Terrace, and is a pattern as a wife and a mother. The young man talking to her daughter is a young barrister, already becoming celebrated as a contributor to some of our principal reviews.”

“Who is that cavalry officer in a white waistcoat talking to the Jew with the beard?” asks the Colonel.

“He, he! That cavalry officer is another literary man of celebrity, and by profession an attorney. But he has quitted the law for the Muses, and it would appear that the Nine are never wooed except by gentlemen with mustachios.”

“Never wrote a verse in my life,” says the Colonel, laughing, and stroking his own.

“For I remark so many literary gentlemen with that decoration. The Jew with the beard, as you call him, is Herr von Lungen, the eminent hautboy-player. The three next gentlemen are Mr. Smee, of the Royal Academy (who is shaved as you perceive), and Mr. Moyes and Mr. Cropper, who are both very hairy about the chin. At the piano, singing, accompanied by Mademoiselle Lebrun, is Signor Mezzocaldo, the great barytone from Rome. Professor Quartz and Baron Hammerstein, celebrated geologists from Germany, are talking with their illustrious confrere, Sir Robert Craxton, in the door. Do you see yonder that stout gentleman with stuff on his shirt? the eloquent Dr. McGuffog, of Edinburgh, talking to Dr. Ettore, who lately escaped from the Inquisition at Rome in the disguise of a washerwoman, after undergoing the question several times, the rack and the thumbscrew. They say that he was to have been burned in the Grand Square the next morning; but between ourselves, my dear Colonel, I mistrust these stories of converts and martyrs. Did you ever see a more jolly-looking man than Professor Schnurr, who was locked up in Spielberg, and got out up a chimney, and through a window? Had he waited a few months there are very few windows he could have passed through. That splendid man in the red fez is Kurbash Pasha — another renegade, I deeply lament to say — a hairdresser from Marseilles, by name Monsieur Ferehaud, who passed into Egypt, and laid aside the tongs for a turban. He is talking with Mr. Palmer, one of our most delightful young poets, and with Desmond O’Tara, son of the late revered Bishop of Ballinafad, who has lately quitted ours for the errors of the Church of Rome. Let me whisper to you that your kinswoman is rather a searcher after what we call here notabilities. I heard talk of one I knew in better days — of one who was the comrade of my youth, and the delight of Oxford — poor Pidge of Brasenose, who got the Newdigate in my third year, and who, under his present name of Father Bartolo, was to have been here in his capuchin dress, with a beard and bare feet; but I presume he could not get permission from his Superior. That is Mr. Huff, the political economist, talking with Mr. Macduff, the Member for Glenlivat. That is the coroner for Middlesex conversing with the great surgeon Sir Cutler Sharp, and that pretty laughing girl talking with them is no other than the celebrated Miss Pinnnifer, whose novel of Ralph the Resurrectionist created such a sensation after it was abused in the Trimestrial Review. It was a little bold certainly — I just looked at it at my club — after hours devoted to parish duty a clergyman is sometimes allowed, you know, desipere in loco — there are descriptions in it certainly startling — ideas about marriage not exactly orthodox; but the poor child wrote the book actually in the nursery, and all England was ringing with it before Dr. Pinnifer, her father, knew who was the author. That is the Doctor asleep in the corner by Miss Rudge, the American authoress, who I dare say is explaining to him the difference between the two Governments. My dear Mrs. Newcome, I am giving my brother-inlaw a little sketch of some of the celebrities who are crowding your salon to-night. What a delightful evening you have given us!”

“I try to do my best, Colonel Newcome,” said the lady of the house. “I hope many a night we may see you here; and, as I said this morning, Clive, when he is of an age to appreciate this kind of entertainment. Fashion I do not worship. You may meet that amongst other branches of our family; but genius and talent I do reverence. And if I can be the means — the humble means — to bring men of genius together — mind to associate with mind — men of all nations to mingle in friendly unison — I shall not have lived altogether in vain. They call us women of the world frivolous, Colonel Newcome. So some may be; I do not say there are not in our own family persons who worship mere worldly rank, and think but of fashion and gaiety; but such, I trust, will never be the objects in life of me and my children. We are but merchants; we seek to be no more. If I can look around me and see as I do”-(she waves her fan round, and points to the illustrations scintillating round the room)—“and see as I do now — a Poski, whose name is ever connected with Polish history — an Ettore, who has exchanged a tonsure and a rack for our own free country — a Hammerstein, and a Quartz, a Miss Rudge, our Transatlantic sister (who I trust will not mention this modest salon in her forthcoming work on Europe), and Miss Pinnifer, whose genius I acknowledge, though I deplore her opinions; if I can gather together travellers, poets, and painters, princes and distinguished soldiers from the East, and clergymen remarkable for their eloquence, my humble aim is attained, and Maria Newcome is not altogether useless in her generation. Will you take a little refreshment? Allow your sister to go down to the dining-room supported by your gallant arm.” She looked round to the admiring congregation, whereof Honeyman, as it were acted as clerk, and flirting her fan, and flinging up her little head. Consummate Virtue walked down on the arm of the Colonel.

The refreshment was rather meagre. The foreign artists generally dashed downstairs, and absorbed all the ices, creams, etc. To those coming late there were chicken-bones, table-cloths puddled with melted ice, glasses hazy with sherry, and broken bits of bread. The Colonel said he never supped; and he and Honeyman walked away together, the former to bed, the latter, I am sorry to say, to his club; for he was a dainty feeder, and loved lobster, and talk late at night, and a comfortable little glass of something wherewith to conclude the day.

He agreed to come to breakfast with the Colonel, who named eight or nine for the meal. Nine Mr. Honeyman agreed to with a sigh. The incumbent of Lady Whittlesea’s chapel seldom rose before eleven. For, to tell the truth, no French abbot of Louis XV. was more lazy and luxurious, and effeminate, than our polite bachelor preacher.

One of Colonel Newcome’s fellow-passengers from India was Mr. James Binnie of the Civil Service, a jolly young bachelor of two — or three-and-forty, who, having spent half of his past life in Bengal, was bent upon enjoying the remainder in Britain or in Europe, if a residence at home should prove agreeable to him. The Nabob of books and tradition is a personage no longer to be found among us. He is neither as wealthy nor as wicked as the jaundiced monster of romances and comedies, who purchases the estates of broken-down English gentlemen, with rupees tortured out of bleeding rajahs, who smokes a hookah in public, and in private carries about a guilty conscience, diamonds of untold value, and a diseased liver; who has a vulgar wife, with a retinue of black servants whom she maltreats, and a gentle son and daughter with good impulses and an imperfect education, desirous to amend their own and their parents’ lives, and thoroughly ashamed of the follies of the old people. If you go to the house of an Indian gentleman now, he does not say, “Bring more curricles,” like the famous Nabob of Stanstead Park. He goes to Leadenhall Street in an omnibus, and walks back from the City for exercise. I have known some who have had maid-servants to wait on them at dinner. I have met scores who look as florid and rosy as any British squire who has never left his paternal beef and acres. They do not wear nankeen jackets in summer. Their livers are not out of order any more; and as for hookahs, I dare swear there are not two now kept alight within the bills of mortality; and that retired Indians would as soon think of smoking them, as their wives would of burning themselves on their husbands’ bodies at the cemetery, Kensal Green, near to the Tyburnian quarter of the city which the Indian world at present inhabits. It used to be Baker Street and Harley Street; it used to be Portland Place, and in more early days Bedford Square, where the Indian magnates flourished; districts which have fallen from their pristine state of splendour now, even as Agra, and Benares, and Lucknow, and Tippoo Sultan’s city are fallen.

After two-and-twenty years’ absence from London, Mr. Binnie returned to it on the top of the Gosport coach with a hatbox and a little portmanteau, a pink fresh-shaven face, a perfect appetite, a suit of clothes like everybody else’s, and not the shadow of a black servant. He called a cab at the White Horse Cellar, and drove to Nerot’s Hotel, Clifford Street; and he gave the cabman eightpence, making the fellow, who grumbled, understand that Clifford Street was not two hundred yards from Bond Street, and that he was paid at the rate of five shillings and fourpence per mile — calculating the mile at only sixteen hundred yards. He asked the waiter at what time Colonel Newcome had ordered dinner, and finding there was an hour on his hands before the meal, walked out to examine the neighbourhood for a lodging where he could live more quietly than in a hotel. He called it a hotel. Mr. Binnie was a North Briton, his father having been a Writer to the Signet, in Edinburgh, who had procured his son a writership in return for electioneering services done to an East Indian Director. Binnie had his retiring pension, and, besides, had saved half his allowances ever since he had been in India. He was a man of great reading, no small ability, considerable accomplishment, excellent good sense and good humour. The ostentatious said he was a screw; but he gave away more money than far more extravagant people: he was a disciple of David Hume (whom he admired more than any other mortal), and the serious denounced him as a man of dangerous principles, though there were, among the serious, men much more dangerous than James Binnie.

On returning to his hotel, Colonel Newcome found this worthy gentleman installed in his room in the best arm-chair sleeping cosily; the evening paper laid decently over his plump waistcoat, and his little legs placed on an opposite chair. Mr. Binnie woke up briskly when the Colonel entered. “It is you, you gad-about, is it?” cried the civilian. “How has the beau monde of London treated the Indian Adonis? Have you made a sensation, Newcome? Gad, Tom, I remember you a buck of bucks when that coat first came out to Calcutta — just a Barrackpore Brummell — in Lord Minto’s reign, was it, or when Lord Hastings was satrap over us?”

“A man must have one good coat,” says the Colonel; “I don’t profess to be a dandy; but get a coat from a good tailor, and then have done with it.” He still thought his garment was as handsome as need be.

“Done with it — ye’re never done with it!” cries the civilian.

“An old coat is an old friend, old Binnie. I don’t want to be rid of one or the other. How long did you and my boy sit up together — isn’t he a fine lad, Binnie? I expect you are going to put him down for something handsome in your will.”

“See what it is to have a real friend now, Colonel! I sate up for ye, or let us say more correctly, I waited for you — because I knew you would want to talk about that scapegrace of yours. And if I had gone to bed, I should have had you walking up to No. 28, and waking me out of my first rosy slumber. Well, now confess; avoid not. Haven’t ye fallen in love with some young beauty on the very first night of your arrival in your sister’s salong, and selected a mother-inlaw for young Scapegrace?”

“Isn’t he a fine fellow, James?” says the Colonel, lighting a cheroot as he sits on the table. Was it joy, or the bedroom candle with which he lighted his cigar, which illuminated his honest features so, and made them so to shine?

“I have been occupied, sir, in taking the lad’s moral measurement: and have pumped him as successfully as ever I cross-examined a rogue in my court. I place his qualities thus:— Love of approbation sixteen. Benevolence fourteen. Combativeness fourteen. Adhesiveness two. Amativeness is not yet of course fully developed, but I expect will be prodeegiously strong. The imaginative and reflective organs are very large — those, of calculation weak. He may make a poet or a painter, or you may make a sojer of him, though worse men than him’s good enough for that — but a bad merchant, a lazy lawyer, and a miserable mathematician. He has wit and conscientiousness, so ye mustn’t think of making a clergyman of him.”

“Binnie!” says the Colonel gravely, “you are always sneering at the cloth.”

“When I think that, but for my appointment to India, I should have been a luminary of the faith and a pillar of the church! grappling with the ghostly enemy in the pulpit, and giving out the psawm. Eh, sir, what a loss Scottish Divinity has had in James Binnie!” cries the little civilian with his most comical face. “But that is not the question. My opinion, Colonel, is, that young Scapegrace will give you a deal of trouble; or would, only you are so absurdly proud of him that you think everything he does is perfaction. He’ll spend your money for you: he’ll do as little work as need be. He’ll get into scrapes with the sax. He’s almost as simple as his father, and that is to say that any rogue will cheat him; and he seems to me to have got your obstinate habit of telling the truth, Colonel, which may prevet his getting on in the world, but on the other hand will keep him from going very wrong. So that, though there is every fear for him, there’s some hope and some consolation.”

“What do you think of his Latin and Greek?” asks the Colonel. Before going out to his party, Newcome had laid a deep scheme with Binnie, and it had been agreed that the latter should examine the young fellow in his humanities.

“Wall,” cries the Scot, “I find that the lad knows as much about Greek and Latin as I knew myself when I was eighteen years of age.”

“My dear Binnie, is it possible? You, the best scholar in all India!”

“And which amounted to exactly nothing. He has acquired in five years, and by the admirable seestem purshood at your public schools, just about as much knowledge of the ancient languages as he could get by three months’ application at home. Mind ye, I don’t say he would apply; it is most probable he would do no such thing. But at the cost of — how much? two hundred pounds annually — for five years — he has acquired about five-and-twenty guineas’ worth of classical leeterature — enough, I dare say, to enable him to quote Horace respectably through life, and what more do ye want from a young man of his expectations? I think I should send him into the army, that’s the best place for him — there’s the least to do, and the handsomest clothes to wear. Acce segnum!” says the little wag, daintily taking up the tail of his friend’s coat.

“There’s never any knowing whether you are in jest or in earnest, Binnie,” the puzzled Colonel said.

“How should you know, when I don’t know myself?” answered the Scotchman. “In earnest now, Tom Newcome, I think your boy is as fine a lad as I ever set eyes on. He seems to have intelligence and good temper. He carries his letter of recommendation in his countenance; and with the honesty — and the rupees, mind ye — which he inherits from his father, the deuce is in it if he can’t make his way. What time’s the breakfast? Eh, but it was a comfort this morning not to hear the holystoning on the deck. We ought to go into lodgings, and not fling our money out of the window of this hotel. We must make the young chap take us about and show us the town in the morning, Tom. I had but three days of it five-and-twenty years ago, and I propose to reshoome my observations tomorrow after breakfast. We’ll just go on deck and see how’s her head before we turn in, eh, Colonel?” and with this the jolly gentleman nodded over his candle to his friend, and trotted off to bed.

The Colonel and his friend were light sleepers and early risers, like most men that come from the country where they had both been so long sojourning, and were awake and dressed long before the London waiters had thought of quitting their beds. The housemaid was the only being stirring in the morning when little Mr. Binnie blundered over her pail as she was washing the deck. Early as he was, his fellow-traveller had preceded him. Binnie found the Colonel in his sitting-room arrayed in what are called in Scotland his stocking-feet, already puffing the cigar, which in truth was seldom out of his mouth at any hour of the day.

He had a couple of bedrooms adjacent to this sitting-room, and when Binnie, as brisk and rosy about the gills as chanticleer, broke out in a morning salutation, “Hush,” says the Colonel, putting a long finger up to his mouth, and advancing towards him as noiselessly as a ghost.

“What’s in the wind now?” asks the little Scot; “and what for have ye not got your shoes on?”

“Clive’s asleep,” says the Colonel, with a countenance full of extreme anxiety.

“The darling boy slumbers, does he?” said the wag; “mayn’t I just step in and look at his beautiful countenance whilst he’s asleep, Colonel?”

“You may if you take off those confounded creaking shoes,” the other answered, quite gravely; and Binnie turned away to hide his jolly round face, which was screwed up with laughter.

“Have ye been breathing a prayer over your rosy infant’s slumbers, Tom?” asks Mr. Binnie.

“And if I have, James Binnie,” the Colonel said gravely, and his sallow face blushing somewhat, “if I have, I hope I’ve done no harm. The last time I saw him asleep was nine years ago, a sickly little pale-faced boy in his little cot, and now, sir, that I see him again, strong and handsome, and all that a fond father can wish to see a boy, I should be an ungrateful villain, James, if I didn’t — if I didn’t do what you said just now, and thank God Almighty for restoring him to me.”

Binnie did not laugh any more. “By George, Tom Newcome,” said he, “you’re just one of the saints of the earth. If all men were like you there’d be an end of both our trades; there would be no fighting and no soldiering, no rogues and no magistrates to catch them.” The Colonel wondered at his friend’s enthusiasm, who was not used to be complimentary; indeed what so usual with him as that simple act of gratitude and devotion about which his comrade spoke to him? To ask a blessing for his boy was as natural to him as to wake with the sunrise, or to go to rest when the day was over. His first and his last thought was always the child.

The two gentlemen were home in time enough to find Clive dressed, and his uncle arrived for breakfast. The Colonel said a grace over that meal: the life was begun which he had longed and prayed for, and the son smiling before his eyes who had been in his thoughts for so many fond years.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/newcomes/chapter8.html

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