The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which M. de Florac is promoted

However much Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry was disposed to admire and praise her own conduct in the affair which ended so unfortunately for poor Lord Kew, between whom and the Gascon her grace vowed that she had done everything in her power to prevent a battle, the old Duke, her lord, was, it appeared, by no means delighted with his wife’s behaviour, nay, visited her with his very sternest displeasure. Miss O’Grady, the Duchesse’s companion, and her little girl’s instructress, at this time resigned her functions in the Ivry family; it is possible that in the recriminations consequent upon the governess’s dismissal, the Miss Irlandaise, in whom the family had put so much confidence, divulged stories unfavourable to her patroness, and caused the indignation of the Duke, her husband. Between Florac and the Duchesse there was also open war and rupture. He had been one of Kew’s seconds in the latter’s affair with the Vicomte’s countryman. He had even cried out for fresh pistols, and proposed to engage Castillonnes, when his gallant principal fell; and though a second duel was luckily averted as murderous and needless, M. de Florac never hesitated afterwards, and in all companies, to denounce with the utmost virulence the instigator and the champion of the odious original quarrel. He vowed that the Duchesse had shot le petit Kiou as effectually as if she had herself fired the pistol at his breast. Murderer, poisoner, Brinvilliers, a hundred more such epithets he used against his kinswoman, regretting that the good old times were past — that there was no Chambre Ardente to try her, and no rack and wheel to give her her due.

The biographer of the Newcomes has no need (although he possesses the fullest information) to touch upon the Duchesse’s doings, further than as they relate to that most respectable English family. When the Duke took his wife into the country, Florac never hesitated to say that to live with her was dangerous for the old man, and to cry out to his friends of the Boulevards or the Jockey Club, “Ma parole d’honneur, cette femme le tuera!”

Do you know, O gentle and unsuspicious readers, or have you ever reckoned as you have made your calculation of society, how many most respectable husbands help to kill their wives — how many respectable wives aid in sending their husbands to Hades? The wife of a chimney-sweep or a journeyman butcher comes shuddering before a police magistrate — her head bound up — her body scarred and bleeding with wounds, which the drunken ruffian, her lord, has administered: a poor shopkeeper or mechanic is driven out of his home by the furious ill-temper of the shrill virago his wife — takes to the public-house — to evil courses — to neglecting his business — to the gin-bottle — to delirium tremens — to perdition. Bow Street, and policemen, and the newspaper reporters, have cognisance and a certain jurisdiction over these vulgar matrimonial crimes; but in politer company how many murderous assaults are there by husband or wife — where the woman is not felled by the actual fist, though she staggers and sinks under blows quite as cruel and effectual; where, with old wounds yet unhealed, which she strives to hide under a smiling face from the world, she has to bear up and to be stricken down and to rise to her feet again, under fresh daily strokes of torture; where the husband, fond and faithful, has to suffer slights, coldness, insult, desertion, his children sneered away from their love for him, his friends driven from his door by jealousy, his happiness strangled, his whole life embittered, poisoned, destroyed! If you were acquainted with the history of every family in your street, don’t you know that in two or three of the houses there such tragedies have been playing? Is not the young mistress of Number 20 already pining at her husband’s desertion? The kind master of Number 30 racking his fevered brains and toiling through sleepless nights to pay for the jewels on his wife’s neck, and the carriage out of which she ogles Lothario in the Park? The fate under which man or woman falls, blow of brutal tyranny, heartless desertion, weight of domestic care too heavy to bear — are not blows such as these constantly striking people down? In this long parenthesis we are wandering ever so far away from M. le Duc and Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry, and from the vivacious Florac’s statement regarding his kinsman, that that woman will kill him.

There is this at least to be said, that if the Duc d’Ivry did die he was a very old gentleman, and had been a great viveur for at least threescore years of his life. As Prince de Moncontour in his father’s time before the Revolution, during the Emigration, even after the Restoration, M. le Duc had vecu with an extraordinary vitality. He had gone through good and bad fortune: extreme poverty, display and splendour, affairs of love — affairs of honour — and of one disease or another a man must die at the end. After the Baden business — and he had dragged off his wife to Champagne — the Duke became greatly broken; he brought his little daughter to a convent at Paris, putting the child under the special guardianship of Madame de Florac, with whom and with whose family in these latter days the old chief of the house effected a complete reconciliation. The Duke was now for ever coming to Madame de Florac; he poured all his wrongs and griefs into her ear with garrulous senile eagerness. “That little Duchesse is a monstre, a femme d’Eugene Sue,” the Vicomte used to say; “the poor old Duke he cry — ma parole d’honneur, he cry and I cry too when he comes to recount to my poor mother, whose sainted heart is the asile of all griefs, a real Hotel Dieu, my word the most sacred, with beds for all the afflicted, with sweet words, like Sisters of Charity, to minister to them:— I cry, mon bon Pendennis, when this vieillard tells his stories about his wife and tears his white hairs to the feet of my mother.”

When the little Antoinette was separated by her father from her mother, the Duchesse d’Ivry, it might have been expected that that poetess would have dashed off a few more cris de l’ame, shrieking according to her wont, and baring and beating that shrivelled maternal bosom of hers, from which her child had been just torn. The child skipped and laughed to go away to the convent. It was only when she left Madame de Florac that she used to cry; and when urged by that good lady to exhibit a little decorous sentiment in writing to her mamma, Antoinette would ask, in her artless way, “Pourquoi? Mamma used never to speak to me except sometimes before the world, before ladies, that understands itself. When her gentleman came, she put me to the door; then she gave me tapes, o oui, she gave me tapes! I cry no more; she has so much made to cry M. le Duc, that it is quite enough of one in a family.” So Madame la Duchesse d’Ivry did not weep, even in print, for the loss of her pretty little Antoinette; besides, she was engaged, at that time, by other sentimental occupations. A young grazier of their neighbouring town, of an aspiring mind and remarkable poetic talents, engrossed the Duchesse’s platonic affections at this juncture. When he had sold his beasts at market, he would ride over and read Rousseau and Schiller with Madame la Duchesse, who formed him. His pretty young wife was rendered miserable by all these readings, but what could the poor little ignorant countrywoman know of Platonism? Faugh! there is more than one woman we see in society smiling about from house to house, pleasant and sentimental and formosa superne enough; but I fancy a fish’s tail is flapping under her fine flounces, and a forked fin at the end of it!

Finer flounces, finer bonnets, more lovely wreaths, more beautiful lace, smarter carriages, bigger white bows, larger footmen, were not seen, during all the season of 18 — than appeared round about St. George’s, Hanover Square, in the beautiful month of June succeeding that September when so many of our friends the Newcomes were assembled at Baden. Those flaunting carriages, powdered and favoured footmen, were in attendance upon members of the Newcome family and their connexions, who were celebrating what is called a marriage in high life in the temple within. Shall we set down a catalogue of the dukes, marquises, earls, who were present; cousins of the lovely bride? Are they not already in the Morning Herald and Court Journal, as well as in the Newcome Chronicle and Independent, and the Dorking Intelligencer and Chanticleer Weekly Gazette? There they are, all printed at full length sure enough; the name of the bride, Lady Clara Pulleyn, the lovely and accomplished daughter of the Earl and Countess of Dorking; of the beautiful bridesmaids, the Ladies Henrietta, Belinda, Adelaide Pulleyn, Miss Newcome, Miss Alice Newcome, Miss Maude Newcome, Miss Anna Maria (Hobson) Newcome; and all the other persons engaged in the ceremony. It was performed by the Right Honourable Viscount Gallowglass, Bishop of Ballyshannon, brother-inlaw to the bride, assisted by the Honourable and Reverend Hercules O’Grady, his lordship’s chaplain, and the Reverend John Bulders, Rector of St. Mary’s, Newcome. Then follow the names of all the nobility who were present, and of the noble and distinguished personages who signed the book. Then comes an account of the principal dresses, chefs-d’oeuvre of Madame Crinoline; of the bride’s coronal of brilliants, supplied by Messrs. Morr and Stortimer; — of the veil of priceless Chantilly lace, the gift of the Dowager Countess of Kew. Then there is a description of the wedding-breakfast at the house of the bride’s noble parents, and of the cake, decorated by Messrs. Gunter with the most delicious taste and the sweetest hymeneal allusions.

No mention was made by the fashionable chronicler of a slight disturbance which occurred at St. George’s, and which was indeed out of the province of such a genteel purveyor of news. Before the marriage service began, a woman of vulgar appearance and disorderly aspect, accompanied by two scared children who took no part in the disorder occasioned by their mother’s proceeding, except by their tears and outcries to augment the disquiet, made her appearance in one of the pews of the church, was noted there by persons in the vestry, was requested to retire by a beadle, and was finally induced to quit the sacred precincts of the building by the very strongest persuasion of a couple of policemen; X and Y laughed at one another, and nodded their heads knowingly as the poor wretch with her whimpering boys was led away. They understood very well who the personage was who had come to disturb the matrimonial ceremony; it did not commence until Mrs. De Lacy (as this lady chose to be called) had quitted this temple of Hymen. She slunk through the throng of emblazoned carriages, and the press of footmen arrayed as splendidly as Solomon in his glory. John jeered at Thomas, William turned his powdered head, and signalled Jeames, who answered with a corresponding grin, as the woman with sobs, and wild imprecations, and frantic appeals, made her way through the splendid crowd escorted by her aides-de-camp in blue. I dare say her little history was discussed at many a dinner-table that day in the basement story of several fashionable houses. I know that at clubs in St. James’s the facetious little anecdote was narrated. A young fellow came to Bays’s after the marriage breakfast and mentioned the circumstance with funny comments; although the Morning Post, in describing this affair in high life, naturally omitted all mention of such low people as Mrs. De Lacy and her children.

Those people who knew the noble families whose union had been celebrated by such a profusion of grandees, fine equipages, and footmen, brass bands, brilliant toilets, and wedding favours, asked how it was that Lord Kew did not assist at Barnes Newcome’s marriage; other persons in society inquired waggishly why Jack Belsize was not present to give Lady Clara away.

As for Jack Belsize, his clubs had not been ornamented by his presence for a year past. It was said he had broken the bank at Hombourg last autumn; had been heard of during the winter at Milan, Venice, and Vienna; and when, a few months after the marriage of Barnes Newcome and Lady Clara, Jack’s elder brother died, and he himself became the next in succession to the title and estates of Highgate, many folks said it was a pity little Barney’s marriage had taken place so soon. Lord Kew was not present, because Kew was still abroad; he had had a gambling duel with a Frenchman, and a narrow squeak for his life. He had turned Roman Catholic, some men said; others vowed that he had joined the Methodist persuasion. At all events Kew had given up his wild courses, broken with the turf, and sold his stud off; he was delicate yet, and his mother was taking care of him; between whom and the old dowager of Kew, who had made up Barney’s marriage, as everybody knew, there was no love lost.

Then who was the Prince de Moncontour, who, with his princess, figured at this noble marriage? There was a Moncontour, the Duc d’Ivry’s son, but he died at Paris before the revolution of ‘30: one or two of the oldsters at Bays’s, Major Pendennis, General Tufto, old Cackleby — the old fogies, in a word — remembered the Duke of Ivry when he was here during the Emigration, and when he was called Prince de Moncontour, the title of the eldest son of the family. Ivry was dead, having buried his son before him, and having left only a daughter by that young woman whom he married, and who led him such a life. Who was this present Moncontour?

He was a gentleman to whom the reader has already been presented, though when we lately saw him at Baden he did not enjoy so magnificent a title. Early in the year of Barnes Newcome’s marriage, there came to England, and to our modest apartment in the Temple, a gentleman bringing a letter of recommendation from our dear young Clive, who said that the bearer, the Vicomte de Florac, was a great friend of his, and of the Colonel’s, who had known his family from boyhood. A friend of our Clive and our Colonel was sure of a welcome in Lamb Court; we gave him the hand of hospitality, the best cigar in the box, the easy-chair with only one broken leg; the dinner in chambers and at the club, the banquet at Greenwich (where, ma foi, the little whites baits elicited his profound satisfaction); in a word, did our best to honour that bill which our young Clive had drawn upon us. We considered the young one in the light of a nephew of our own; we took a pride in him, and were fond of him; and as for the Colonel, did we not love and honour him; would we not do our utmost in behalf of any stranger who came recommended to us by Thomas Newcome’s good word? So Florac was straightway admitted to our companionship. We showed him the town, and some of the modest pleasures thereof; we introduced him to the Haunt, and astonished him by the company which he met there. Between Brent’s “Deserter” and Mark Wilder’s “Garryowen,” Florac sang —

Tiens voici ma pipe, voila mon bri — quet;
Et quand la Tulipe fait le noir tra — jet
Que tu sois la seule dans le regi — ment
Avec la brule-gueule de ton cher z’a — mant;

to the delight of Tom Sarjent, who, though he only partially comprehended the words of the song, pronounced the singer to be a rare gentleman, full of most excellent differences. We took our Florac to the Derby; we presented him in Fitzroy Square, whither we still occasionally went, for Clive’s and our dear Colonel’s sake.

The Vicomte pronounced himself strongly in favour of the blanche misse little Rosey Mackenzie, of whom we have lost sight for some few chapters. Mrs. Mac he considered, my faith, to be a woman superb. He used to kiss the tips of his own fingers, in token of his admiration for the lovely widow; he pronounced her again more pretty than her daughter; and paid her a thousand compliments, which she received with exceeding good-humour. If the Vicomte gave us to understand presently that Rosey and her mother were both in love with him, but that for all the world he would not meddle with the happiness of his dear little Clive, nothing unfavourable to the character or constancy of the before-mentioned ladies must be inferred from M. de Florac’s speech; his firm conviction being, that no woman could pass many hours in his society without danger to her subsequent peace of mind.

For some little time we had no reason to suspect that our French friend was not particularly well furnished with the current coin of the realm. Without making any show of wealth, he would, at first, cheerfully engage in our little parties: his lodgings in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, though dingy, were such as many noble foreign exiles have inhabited. It was not until he refused to join some pleasure-trip which we of Lamb Court proposed, honestly confessing his poverty, that we were made aware of the Vicomte’s little temporary calamity; and, as we became more intimate with him, he acquainted us, with great openness, with the history of all his fortunes. He described energetically that splendid run of luck which had set in at Baden with Clive’s loan: his winnings, at that fortunate period, had carried him through the winter with considerable brilliancy, but bouillotte and Mademoiselle Atala, of the Varietes (une ogresse, mon cher, who devours thirty of our young men every year in her cavern, in the Rue de Breda), had declared against him, and the poor Vicomte’s pockets were almost empty when he came to London.

He was amiably communicative regarding himself, and told us his virtues and his faults (if indeed a passion for play and for women could be considered as faults in a gay young fellow of two or three and forty), with a like engaging frankness. He would weep in describing his angel mother: he would fly off again into tirades respecting the wickedness, the wit, the extravagance, the charms of the young lady of the Varietes. He would then (in conversation) introduce us to Madame de Florac, nee Higg, of Manchesterre. His prattle was incessant, and to my friend Mr. Warrington especially he was an object of endless delight and amusement and wonder. He would roll and smoke countless paper cigars, talking unrestrainedly when we were not busy, silent when we were engaged; he would only rarely partake of our meals, and altogether refused all offers of pecuniary aid. He disappeared at dinner-time into the mysterious purlieus of Leicester Square, and dark ordinaries only frequented by Frenchmen. As we walked with him in the Regent Street precincts, he would exchange marks of recognition with many dusky personages, smoking bravos; and whiskered refugees of his nation.

“That gentleman,” he would say, “who has done me the honour to salute me, is a coiffeur of the most celebrated; he forms the deuces of our table-d’hote. ‘Bon jour, mon cher monsieur!’ We are friends, though not of the same opinion. Monsieur is a republican of the most distinguished; conspirator of profession, and at this time engaged in constructing an infernal machine to the address of His Majesty, Louis Philippe, King of the French.” “Who is my friend with the scarlet beard and the white paletot? My good Warrington! you do not move in the world; you make yourself a hermit, my dear! Not know monsieur! — monsieur is secretary to Mademoiselle Caracoline, the lovely rider at the circus of Astley; I shall be charmed to introduce you to this amiable society some day at our table-d’hote.”

Warrington vowed that the company of Florac’s friends would be infinitely more amusing than the noblest society ever chronicled in the Morning Post; but we were neither sufficiently familiar with the French language to make conversation in that tongue as pleasant to us as talking in our own; and so were content with Florac’s description of his compatriots, which the Vicomte delivered in that charming French-English of which he was a master.

However threadbare in his garments, poor in purse, and eccentric in morals our friend was, his manners were always perfectly gentlemanlike, and he draped himself in his poverty with the grace of a Spanish grandee. It must be confessed, that the grandee loved the estaminet where he could play billiards with the first comer; that he had a passion for the gambling-house; that he was a loose and disorderly nobleman: but, in whatever company he found himself, a certain kindness, simplicity, and politeness distinguished him always. He bowed to the damsel who sold him a penny cigar, as graciously as to a duchess; he crushed a manant’s impertinence or familiarity as haughtily as his noble ancestors ever did at the Louvre, at Marli, or Versailles. He declined to obtemperer to his landlady’s request to pay his rent, but he refused with a dignity which struck the woman with awe; and King Alfred, over the celebrated muffin (on which Gandish and other painters have exercised their genius), could not have looked more noble than Florac in a robe-de-chambre, once gorgeous, but shady now as became its owner’s clouded fortunes; toasting his bit of bacon at his lodgings, when the fare even of his table-d’hote had grown too dear for him.

As we know from Gandish’s work, that better times were in store for the wandering monarch, and that the officers came acquainting him that his people demanded his presence a grands cris, when of course King Alfred laid down the toast and resumed the sceptre; so in the case of Florac, two humble gentlemen, inhabitants of Lamb Court, and members of the Upper temple, had the good luck to be the heralds as it were, nay indeed, the occasion, of the rising fortunes of the Prince de Moncontour. Florac had informed us of the death of his cousin the Duc d’Ivry, by whose demise the Vicomte’s father, the old Count de Florac, became the representative of the house of Ivry, and possessor, through his relative’s bequest, of an old chateau still more gloomy and spacious than the count’s own house in the Faubourg St. Germain — a chateau, of which the woods, domains, and appurtenances had been lopped off by the Revolution. “Monsieur le Comte,” Florac says, “has not wished to change his name at his age; he has shrugged his old shoulder, and said it was not the trouble to make to engrave a new card; and for me,” the philosophical Vicomte added, “of what good shall be a title of prince in the position where I find myself?” It is wonderful for us who inhabit a country where rank is worshipped with so admirable a reverence, to think that there are many gentlemen in France who actually have authentic titles and do not choose to bear them.

Mr. George Warrington was hugely amused with this notion of Florac’s ranks and dignities. The idea of the Prince purchasing penny cigars; of the Prince mildly expostulating with his landlady regarding the rent; of his punting for half-crowns at a neighbouring hall in Air Street, whither the poor gentleman desperately ran when he had money in his pocket, tickled George’s sense of humour. It was Warrington who gravely saluted the Vicomte, and compared him to King Alfred, on that afternoon when we happened to call upon him and found him engaged in cooking his modest dinner.

We were bent upon an excursion to Greenwich, and on having our friend’s company on that voyage, and we induced the Vicomte to forgo his bacon, and be our guest for once. George Warrington chose to indulge in a great deal of ironical pleasantry in the course of the afternoon’s excursion. As we went down the river, he pointed out to Florac the very window in the Tower where the captive Duke of Orleans used to sit when he was an inhabitant of that fortress. At Greenwich, which palace Florac informed us was built by Queen Elizabeth, George showed the very spot where Raleigh laid his cloak down to enable Her Majesty to step over a puddle. In a word, he mystified M. de Florac; such was Mr. Warrington’s reprehensible spirit.

It happened that Mr. Barnes Newcome came to dine at Greenwich on the same day when our little party took place. He had come down to meet Rooster and one or two other noble friends whose names he took care to give us, cursing them at the same time for having thrown him over. Having missed his own company, Mr. Barnes condescended to join ours, Warrington gravely thanking him for the great honour which he conferred upon us by volunteering to take a place at our table. Barnes drank freely, and was good enough to resume his acquaintance with Monsieur de Florac, whom he perfectly well recollected at Baden, but had thought proper to forget on the one or two occasions when they had met in public since the Vicomte’s arrival in this country. There are few men who can drop and resume an acquaintance with such admirable self-possession as Barnes Newcome. When, over our dessert, by which time all tongues were unloosed and each man talked gaily, George Warrington feelingly thanked Barnes in a little mock speech, for his great kindness in noticing us, presenting him at the same time to Florac as the ornament of the City, the greatest banker of his age, the beloved kinsman of their friend Clive, who was always writing about him; Barnes said, with one of his accustomed curses, he did not know whether Mr. Warrington was “chaffing” him or not, and indeed could never make him out. Warrington replied that he never could make himself out: and if ever Mr. Barnes could, George would thank him for information on that subject.

Florac, like most Frenchmen very sober in his potations, left us for a while over ours, which were conducted after the more liberal English manner, and retired to smoke his cigar on the terrace. Barnes then freely uttered his sentiments regarding him, which were not more favourable than those which the young gentleman generally emitted respecting gentlemen whose backs were turned. He had known a little of Florac the year before at Baden: he had been mixed up with Kew in that confounded row in which Kew was hit; he was an adventurer, a pauper, a blackleg, a regular Greek; he had heard Florac was of old family, that was true; but what of that? He was only one of those d ——— French counts; everybody was a count in France confound ’em! The claret was beastly — not fit for a gentleman to drink! — He swigged off a great bumper as he was making the remark: for Barnes Newcome abuses the men and things which he uses, and perhaps is better served than more grateful persons.

“Count!” cries Warrington, “what do you mean by talking about beggarly counts? Florac’s family is one of the noblest and most ancient in Europe. It is more ancient than your illustrious friend, the barber-surgeon; it was illustrious before the house, ay, or the pagoda of Kew was in existence.” And he went on to describe how Florac by the demise of his kinsman, was now actually Prince de Moncontour, though he did not choose to assume that title. Very likely the noble Gascon drink in which George had been indulging, imparted a certain warmth and eloquence to his descriptions of Florac’s good qualities, high birth, and considerable patrimony; Barnes looked quite amazed and scared at these announcements, then laughed and declared once more that Warrington was chaffing him.

“As sure as the Black Prince was lord of Acquitaine — as sure as the English were masters of Bordeaux — and why did we ever lose the country?” cries George, filling himself a bumper — “every word I have said about Florac is true;” and Florac coming in at this juncture havin just finished his cigar, George turned round and made him a fine speech in the French language, in which he lauded his constancy and good-humour under evil fortune, paid him two or three more cordial compliments, and finished by drinking another great bumper to his good health.

Florac took a little wine, replied “with effusion” to the toast which his excellent, his noble friend had just carried. We rapped our glasses at the end of the speech. The landlord himself seemed deeply touched by it as he stood by with a fresh bottle. “It is good wine — it is honest wine — it is capital wine” says George, “and honni soit qui mal y pence! What business have you, you little beggar, to abuse it? My ancestor drank the wine and wore the motto round his leg long before a Newcome ever showed his pale face in Lombard Street.” George Warrington never bragged about his pedigree except under certain influences. I am inclined to think that on this occasion he really did find the claret very good.

“You don’t mean to say,” says Barnes, addressing Florac in French, on which he piqued himself, “que vous avez un tel manche a votre nom, et que vous ne l’usez pas?”

Florac shrugged his shoulders; he at first did not understand that familiar figure of English speech, or what was meant by “having a handle to your name.” “Moncontour cannot dine better than Florac,” he said. “Florac has two louis in his pocket, and Moncontour exactly forty shillings. Florac’s proprietor will ask Moncontour tomorrow for five weeks’ rent; and as for Florac’s friends, my dear, they will burst out laughing to Moncontour’s nose!” “How droll you English are!” this acute French observer afterwards said, laughing, and recalling the incident. Did you not see how that little Barnes, as soon as he knew my title of Prince, changed his manner and became all respect towards me? This, indeed, Monsieur de Florac’s two friends remarked with no little amusement. Barnes began quite well to remember their pleasant days at Baden, and talked of their acquaintance there: Barnes offered the Prince the vacant seat in his brougham, and was ready to set him down anywhere that he wished in town.

“Bah!” says Florac; “we came by the steamer, and I prefer the peniboat.” But the hospitable Barnes, nevertheless, called upon Florac the next day. And now having partially explained how the Prince de Moncontour was present at Mr. Barnes Newcome’s wedding, let us show how it was that Barnes’s first-cousin, the Earl of Kew, did not attend that ceremony.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00