The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Rosa quo locorum sera moratur

Clive Newcome bore his defeat with such a courage and resolution as those who knew the young fellow’s character were sure he would display. It was whilst he bad a little lingering hope still that the poor lad was in the worst condition; as a gambler is restless and unhappy whilst his last few guineas remain with him, and he is venturing them against the overpowering chances of the bank. His last piece, however, gone, our friend rises up from that unlucky table beaten at the contest but not broken in spirit. He goes back into the world again and withdraws from that dangerous excitement; sometimes when he is alone or wakeful, tossing in his bed at nights, he may recall the fatal game, and think how he might have won it — think what a fool he was ever to have played it at all — but these cogitations Clive kept for himself. He was magnanimous enough not even to blame Ethel much, and to take her side against his father, who it must be confessed now exhibited a violent hostility against that young lady and her belongings. Slow to anger and utterly beyond deceit himself, when Thomas Newcome was once roused, or at length believed that he was cheated woe to the offender! From that day forth, Thomas believed no good of him. Every thought or action of his enemy’s life seemed treason to the worthy Colonel. If Barnes gave a dinner-party, his uncle was ready to fancy that the banker wanted to poison somebody; if he made a little speech in the House of Commons (Barnes did make little speeches in the House of Commons), the Colonel was sure some infernal conspiracy lay under the villain’s words. The whole of that branch of the Newcomes fared little better at their kinsman’s hands — they were all deceitful, sordid, heartless, worldly; — Ethel herself no better now than the people who had bred her up. People hate, as they love, unreasonably. Whether is it the more mortifying to us, to feel that we are disliked or liked undeservedly?

Clive was not easy until he had the sea between him and his misfortune: and now Thomas Newcome had the chance of making that tour with his son, which in early days had been such a favourite project with the good man. They travelled Rhineland and Switzerland together — they crossed into Italy — went from Milan to Venice (where Clive saluted the greatest painting in the world — the glorious ‘Assumption’ of Titian)— they went to Trieste and over the beautiful Styrian Alps to Vienna — they beheld Danube, and the plain where the Turk and Sobieski fought. They travelled at a prodigious fast pace. They did not speak much to one another. They were a pattern pair of English travellers: I dare say many persons whom they met smiled to observe them; and shrugged their shoulders at the aspect of ces Anglais. They did not know the care in the young traveller’s mind; and the deep tenderness and solicitude of the elder. Clive wrote to say it was a very pleasant tour, but I think I should not have liked to join it. Let us dismiss it in this single sentence. Other gentlemen have taken the same journey, and with sorrow perhaps as their silent fellow-traveller. How you remember the places afterwards, and the thoughts which pursued you! If in after days, when your grief is dead and buried, you revisit the scenes in which it was your companion, how its ghost rises and shows itself again! Suppose this part of Mr. Clive’s life were to be described at length in several chapters, and not in a single brief sentence, what dreary pages they would be! In two or three months our friends saw a number of men, cities, mountains, rivers, and what not. It was yet early autumn when they were back in France again, and September found them at Brussels, where James Binnie, Esq., and his family were established in comfortable quarters, and where we may be sure Clive and his father were very welcome.

Dragged abroad at first sorely against his will, James Binnie had found the Continental life pretty much to his liking. He had passed a winter at Pau, a summer at Vichy, where the waters had done him good. His ladies had made several charming foreign acquaintances. Mrs. Mackenzie had quite a list of counts and marchionesses among her friends. The excellent Captain Goby, wandered about the country with them. Was it to Rosey, was it to her mother, the Captain was most attached? Rosey received him as a godpapa; Mrs. Mackenzie as a wicked, odious, good-for-nothing, dangerous, delightful creature. Is it humiliating, is it consolatory, to remark, with what small wit some of our friends are amused? The jovial sallies of Goby appeared exquisite to Rosey’s mother, and to the girl probably; though that young Bahawder of a Clive Newcome chose to wear a grave face (confound his insolent airs!) at the very best of the Goby jokes.

In Goby’s train was his fervent admirer and inseparable young friend, Clarence Hoby. Captain Hoby and Captain Goby travelled the world together, visited Hombourg and Baden, Cheltenham and Leamington, Paris and Brussels, in company, belonged to the same club in London — the centre of all pleasure, fashion, and joy, for the young officer and the older campaigner. The jokes at the Flag, the dinners at the Flag, the committee of the Flag, were the theme of their constant conversation. Goby fifty years old, unattached, and with dyed moustaches, was the affable comrade of the youngest member of his club: when absent, a friend wrote him the last riddle from the smoking-room; when present, his knowledge of horses, of cookery, wines, and cigars, and military history, rendered him a most acceptable companion. He knew the history and achievements of every regiment in the army; of every general and commanding officer. He was known to have been ‘out’ more than once himself, and had made up a hundred quarrels. He was certainly not a man of an ascetic life or a profound intellectual culture: but though poor he was known to be most honourable; though more than middle-aged he was cheerful, busy, and kindly; and though the youngsters called him Old Goby, he bore his years very gaily and handsomely, and I dare say numbers of ladies besides Mrs. Mackenzie thought him delightful. Goby’s talk and rattle perhaps somewhat bored James Binnie, but Thomas Newcome found the Captain excellent company; and Goby did justice to the good qualities of the Colonel.

Clive’s father liked Brussels very well. He and his son occupied very handsome quarters, near the spacious apartments in the Park which James Binnie’s family inhabited. Waterloo was not far off, to which the Indian officer paid several visits with Captain Goby for a guide; and many of Marlborough’s battlefields were near, in which Goby certainly took but a minor interest; but on the other hand Clive beheld these with the greatest pleasure, and painted more than one dashing piece, in which Churchill and Eugene, Cutts and Cadogan, were the heroes; whose flowing periwigs, huge boots, and thundering Flemish chargers were, he thought, more novel and picturesque than the Duke’s surtout, and the French Grenadiers’ hairy caps, which so many English and French artists have portrayed.

Mr. and Mrs. Pendennis were invited by our kind Colonel to pass a month — six months if they chose — at Brussels, and were most splendidly entertained by our friends in that city. A suite of handsome rooms was set apart for us. My study communicated with Clive’s atelier. Many an hour did we pass, and many a ride and walk did we take together. I observed that Clive never mentioned Miss Newcome’s name, and Laura and I agreed that it was as well not to recall it. Only once, when we read the death of Lady Glenlivat, Lord Farintosh’s mother, in the newspaper, I remember to have said, “I suppose that marriage will be put off again.”

“Qu’est ce que cela me fait?” says Mr. Clive gloomily, over his picture — a cheerful piece representing Count Egmont going to execution; in which I have the honour to figure as a halberdier, Captain Hoby as the Count, and Captain Goby as the Duke of Alva, looking out of window.

Mrs. Mackenzie was in a state of great happiness and glory during this winter. She had a carriage, and worked that vehicle most indefatigably. She knew a great deal of good company at Brussels. She had an evening for receiving. She herself went to countless evening-parties, and had the joy of being invited to a couple of court balls, at which I am bound to say her daughter and herself both looked very handsome. The Colonel brushed up his old uniform and attended these entertainments. M. Newcome fils, as I should judge, was not the worst-looking man in the room; and, as these young people waltzed together (in which accomplishment Clive was very much more skilful than Captain Goby) I dare say many people thought he and Rosey made a pretty couple.

Most persons, my wife included, difficult as that lady is to please, were pleased with the pretty little Rosey. She sang charmingly now, and looked so while singing. If her mother would but have omitted that chorus, which she cackled perseveringly behind her daughter’s pretty back: about Rosey’s angelic temper; about the compliments Signor Polonini paid her; about Sir Horace Dash, our minister, insisting upon her singing “Batti Batti” over again, and the Archduke clapping his hands and saying, “Oh, yes!” about Count Vanderslaapen’s attentions to her, etc. etc.; but for these constant remarks of Mrs. Mack’s, I am sure no one would have been better pleased with Miss Rosey’s singing and behaviour than myself. As for Captain Hoby, it was easy to see how he was affected towards Miss Rosalind’s music and person.

And indeed few things could be pleasanter than to watch the behaviour of this pretty little maid with her Uncle James and his old chum the Colonel. The latter was soon as fond of her as James Binnie himself, whose face used to lighten with pleasure whenever it turned towards hers. She seemed to divine his wants, as she would trip across the room to fulfil them. She skipped into the carriage and covered his feet with a shawl. James was lazy and chilly now, when he took his drive. She sate opposite to him and smiled on him; and, if he dozed, quick, another handkerchief was round his neck. I do not know whether she understood his jokes, but she saluted them always with a sweet kind smile. How she kissed him, and how delighted she was if he bought her a bouquet for her ball that night! One day, upon occasion of one of these balls, James and Thomas, those two old boys, absolutely came into Mrs. Mackenzie’s drawing-room with a bouquet apiece for Miss Rosey; and there was a fine laughing.

“Oh, you little Susanna!” says James, after taking his usual payment; “now go and pay t’other elder.” Rosey did not quite understand at first, being, you see, more ready to laugh at jokes than to comprehend them: but when she did, I promise you she looked uncommonly pretty as she advanced to Colonel Newcome and put that pretty fresh cheek of hers up to his grizzled moustache.

“I protest I don’t know which of you blushes the most,” chuckles James Binnie — and the truth is, the old man and the young girl had both hung out those signals of amiable distress.

On this day, and as Miss Rosey was to be overpowered by flowers, who should come presently to dinner but Captain Hoby, with another bouquet? on which Uncle James said Rosey should go to the ball like an American Indian with her scalps at her belt.

“Scalps!” cries Mrs. Mackenzie.

“Scalps! Oh law, uncle!” exclaims Miss Rosey. “What can you mean by anything so horrid?”

Goby recalls to Mrs. Mack, Hook-ee-ma-goosh the Indian chief, whom she must have seen when the Hundred and Fiftieth were at Quebec, and who had his lodge full of them; and who used to lie about the barracks so drunk, and who used to beat his poor little European wife: and presently Mr. Clive Newcome joins this company, when the chirping, tittering, joking, laughing, cease somehow.

Has Clive brought a bouquet too? No. He has never thought about a bouquet. He is dressed in black, with long hair, a long moustache, and melancholy imperial. He looks very handsome, but as glum as an undertaker. And James Binnie says, “Egad, Tom, they used to call you the knight of the woeful countenance, and Clive has just inherited the paternal mug.” Then James calls out in a cheery voice, “Dinner, dinner!” and trots off with Mrs. Pendennis under his arm; Rosey nestles up against the Colonel; Goby and Mrs. Mack walk away arm-inarm very contentedly; and I don’t know with which of her three nosegays pretty Rosey appears at the ball.

Our stay with our friends at Brussels could not be prolonged beyond a month, for at the end of that period we were under an engagement to other friends in England, who were good enough to desire the presence of Mrs. Pendennis and her suite of baby, nurse, and husband. So we presently took leave of Rosey and the Campaigner, of the two stout elders, and our melancholy young Clive, who bore us company to Antwerp, and who won Laura’s heart by the neat way in which he took her child on board ship. Poor fellow! how sad he looked as he bowed to us and took off his hat! His eyes did not seem to be looking at us, though they and his thoughts were turned another way. He moved off immediately, with his head down, puffing his eternal cigar, and lost in his own meditations; our going or our staying was of very little importance to the lugubrious youth.

“I think it was a great pity they came to Brussels,” says Laura, as we sate on the deck, while her unconscious infant was cheerful, and while the water of the lazy Scheldt as yet was smooth.

“Who? The Colonel and Clive? They are very handsomely lodged. They have a good maitre d’hotel. Their dinners, I am sure, are excellent; and your child, madam, is as healthy as it possibly can be.”

“Blessed darling! Yes!” (Blessed darling crows, moos, jumps in his nurse’s arms, and holds out a little mottled hand for a biscuit of Savoy, which mamma supplies.) “I can’t help thinking, Arthur, that Rosey would have been much happier as Mrs. Hoby than she will be as Mrs. Newcome.”

“Who thinks of her being Mrs. Newcome?”

“Her mother, her uncle, and Clive’s father, Since the Colonel has been so rich, I think Mrs. Mackenzie sees a great deal of merit in Clive. Rosey will do anything her mother bids her. If Clive can be brought to the same obedience, Uncle James and the Colonel will be delighted. Uncle James has set his heart on this marriage. (He and his sister agree upon this point.) He told me, last night, that he would sing ‘Nunc dimittis,’ could he but see the two children happy; and that he should lie easier in purgatory if that could be brought about.”

“And what did you say, Laura?”

“I laughed, and told Uncle James I was of the Hoby faction. He is very good-natured, frank, honest, and gentlemanlike, Mr. Hoby. But Uncle James said he thought Mr. Hoby was so — well, so stupid — that his Rosey would be thrown away upon the poor Captain. So I did not tell Uncle James that, before Clive’s arrival, Rosey had found Captain Hoby far from stupid. He used to sing duets with her; he used to ride with her before Clive came. Last winter, when they were at Pau, I feel certain Miss Rosey thought Captain Hoby very pleasant indeed. She thinks she was attached to Clive formerly, and now she admires him, and is dreadfully afraid of him. He is taller and handsomer, and richer and cleverer than Captain Hoby, certainly.”

“I should think so, indeed,” breaks out Mr. Pendennis. “Why, my dear, Clive is as fine a fellow as one can see on a summer’s day. It does one good to look at him. What a frank pair of bright blue eyes he has, or used to have, till this mishap overclouded them! What a pleasant laugh he has! What a well-built, agile figure it is — what pluck, and spirit, and honour, there is about my young chap! I don’t say he is a genius of the highest order, but he is the staunchest, the bravest, the cheeriest, the most truth-telling, the kindest heart. Compare him and Hoby! Why, Clive is an eagle, and yonder little creature a mousing owl!”

“I like to hear you speak so,” cries Mrs. Laura, very tenderly. “People say that you are always sneering, Arthur; but I know my husband better. We know papa better, don’t we, baby?” (Here my wife kisses the infant Pendennis with great effusion, who has come up dancing on his nurse’s arms.) “But,” says she, coming back and snuggling by her husband’s side again —“But suppose your favourite Clive is an eagle, Arthur, don’t you think he had better have an eagle for a mate? If he were to marry little Rosey, I dare say he would be very good to her; but I think neither he nor she would be very happy. My dear, she does not care for his pursuits; she does not understand him when he talks. The two captains, and Rosey and I, and the campaigner, as you call her, laugh and talk, and prattle, and have the merriest little jokes with one another, and we all are as quiet as mice when you and Clive come in.”

“What, am I an eagle, too? I have no aquiline pretensions at all, Mrs. Pendennis.”

“No. Well, we are not afraid of you. We are not afraid of papa, are we, darling?” this young woman now calls out to the other member of her family; who, if you will calculate, has just had time to be walked twice up and down the deck of the steamer, whilst Laura has been making her speech about eagles. And soon the mother, child, and attendant descend into the lower cabins: and then dinner is announced: and Captain Jackson treats us to champagne from his end of the table and yet a short while, and we are at sea, and conversation becomes impossible: and morning sees us under the grey London sky, and amid the million of masts in the Thames.

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