The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Mr. and Mrs. Clive Newcome

The friendship between Ethel and Laura, which the last narrated sentimental occurrences had so much increased, subsists very little impaired up to the present day. A lady with many domestic interests and increasing family, etc. etc., cannot be supposed to cultivate female intimacies out of doors with that ardour and eagerness which young spinsters exhibit in their intercourse; but Laura, whose kind heart first led her to sympathise with her young friend in the latter’s days of distress and misfortune, has professed ever since a growing esteem for Ethel Newcome, and says, that the trials and perhaps grief which the young lady now had to undergo have brought out the noblest qualities of her disposition. She is a very different person from the giddy and worldly girl who compelled our admiration of late in the days of her triumphant youthful beauty, of her wayward generous humour, of her frivolities and her flirtations.

Did Ethel shed tears in secret over the marriage which had caused Laura’s gentle eyes to overflow? We might divine the girl’s grief, but we respected it. The subject was never mentioned by the ladies between themselves, and even in her most intimate communications with her husband that gentleman is bound to say his wife maintained a tender reserve upon the point, nor cared to speculate upon a subject which her friend held sacred. I could not for my part but acquiesce in this reticence; and, if Ethel felt regret and remorse, admire the dignity of her silence, and the sweet composure of her now changed and saddened demeanour.

The interchange of letters between the two friends was constant, and in these the younger lady described at length the duties, occupations, and pleasures of her new life. She had quite broken with the world, and devoted herself entirely to the nurture and education of her brother’s orphan children. She educated herself in order to teach them. Her letters contain droll yet touching confessions of her own ignorance and her determination to overcome it. There was no lack of masters of all kinds in Newcome. She set herself to work like a schoolgirl. The little piano in the room near the conservatory was thumped by Aunt Ethel until it became quite obedient to her, and yielded the sweetest music under her fingers. When she came to pay us a visit at Fairoaks some two years afterwards she played for our dancing children (our third is named Ethel, our second Helen, after one still more dear), and we were in admiration of her skill. There must have been the labour of many lonely nights when her little charges were at rest, and she and her sad thoughts sat up together, before she overcame the difficulties of the instrument so as to be able to soothe herself and to charm and delight her children.

When the divorce was pronounced, which came in due form, though we know that Lady Highgate was not much happier than the luckless Lady Clara Newcome had been, Ethel’s dread was lest Sir Barnes should marry again, and by introducing a new mistress into his house should deprive her of the care of her children.

Miss Newcome judged her brother rightly in that he would try to marry, but a noble young lady to whom he offered himself rejected him, to his surprise and indignation, for a beggarly clergyman with a small living, on which she elected to starve; and the wealthy daughter of a neighbouring manufacturer whom he next proposed to honour with his gracious hand, fled from him with horror to the arms of her father, wondering how such a man as that should ever dare to propose marriage to an honest girl. Sir Barnes Newcome was much surprised at this outbreak of anger; he thought himself a very ill-used and unfortunate man, a victim of most cruel persecutions, which we may be sure did not improve his temper or tend to the happiness of his circle at home. Peevishness, and selfish rage, quarrels with servants and governesses, and other domestic disquiet, Ethel had of course to bear from her brother, but not actual personal ill-usage. The fiery temper of former days was subdued in her, but the haughty resolution remained, which was more than a match for her brother’s cowardly tyranny: besides, she was the mistress of sixty thousand pounds, and by many wily hints and piteous appeals to his sister Sir Barnes sought to secure this desirable sum of money for his poor dear unfortunate children.

He professed to think that she was ruining herself for her younger brothers, whose expenses the young lady was defraying, this one at college, that in the army, and whose maintenance he thought might be amply defrayed out of their own little fortunes and his mother’s jointure: and, by ingeniously proving that a vast number of his household expenses were personal to Miss Newcome and would never have been incurred but for her residence in his house, he subtracted for his own benefit no inconsiderable portion of her income. Thus the carriage-horses were hers, for what need had he, a miserable bachelor, of anything more than a riding-horse and a brougham? A certain number of the domestics were hers, and as he could get no scoundrel of his own to stay with him, he took Miss Newcome’s servants. He would have had her pay the coals which burned in his grate, and the taxes due to our sovereign lady the Queen; but in truth, at the end of the year, with her domestic bounties and her charities round about Newcome, which daily increased as she became acquainted with her indigent neighbours, Miss Ethel, the heiress, was as poor as many poorer persons.

Her charities increased daily with her means of knowing the people round about her. She gave much time to them and thought; visited from house to house, without ostentation; was awestricken by that spectacle of the poverty which we have with us always, of which the sight rebukes our selfish griefs into silence, the thought compels us to charity, humility, and devotion. The priests of our various creeds, who elsewhere are doing battle together continually, lay down their arms in its presence and kneel before it; subjugated by that overpowering master. Death, never dying out; hunger always crying; and children born to it day after day — our young London lady, flying from the splendours and follies in which her life had been past, found herself in the presence of these; threading darkling alleys which swarmed with wretched life; sitting by naked beds, whither by God’s blessing she was sometimes enabled to carry a little comfort and consolation; or whence she came heart-stricken by the overpowering misery, or touched by the patient resignation of the new friends to whom fate had directed her. And here she met the priest upon his shrift, the homely missionary bearing his words of consolation, the quiet curate pacing his round; and was known to all these, and enabled now and again to help their people in trouble. “Oh! what good there is in this woman!” my wife would say to me, as she laid one of Miss Ethel’s letters aside; “who would have thought this was the girl of your glaring London ballroom? If she has had grief to bear, how it has chastened and improved her!”

And now I have to confess that all this time, whilst Ethel Newcome has been growing in grace with my wife, poor Clive has been lapsing sadly out of favour. She has no patience with Clive. She drubs her little foot when his name is mentioned and turns the subject. Whither are all the tears and pities fled now? Mrs. Laura has transferred all her regard to Ethel, and when that lady’s ex-suitor writes to his old friend, or other news is had of him, Laura flies out in her usual tirades against the world, the horrid wicked selfish world, which spoils everybody who comes near it. What has Clive done, in vain his apologist asks, that an old friend should be so angry with him?

She is not angry with him — not she. She only does not care about him. She wishes him no manner of harm — not the least, only she has lost all interest in him. And the Colonel too, the poor good old Colonel, was actually in Mrs. Pendennis’ black books, and when he sent her the Brussels veil which we have heard of, she did not think it was a bargain at all — not particularly pretty, in fact, rather dear at the money. When we met Mr. and Mrs. Clive Newcome in London, whither they came a few months after their marriage, and where Rosey appeared as pretty, happy, good-humoured a little blushing bride as eyes need behold, Mrs. Pendennis’s reception of her was quite a curiosity of decorum. “I, not receive her well?” cried Laura. “How on earth would you have me receive her? I talked to her about everything, and she only answered yes or no. I showed her the children, and she did not seem to care. Her only conversation was about millinery and Brussels balls, and about her dress at the drawing-room. The drawing-room! What business has she with such follies?”

The fact is, that the drawing-room was Tom Newcome’s affair, not his son’s, who was heartily ashamed of the figure he cut in that astounding costume, which English private gentlemen are made to sport when they bend the knee before their gracious Sovereign.

Warrington roasted poor Clive upon the occasion, and complimented him with his usual gravity, until the young fellow blushed and his father somewhat testily signified to our friend that his irony was not agreeable. “I suppose,” says the Colonel, with great hauteur, “that there is nothing ridiculous in an English gentleman entertaining feelings of loyalty and testifying his respect to his Queen: and I presume that Her Majesty knows best, and has a right to order in what dress her subjects shall appear before her and I don’t think it’s kind of you, George, I say, I don’t think it’s kind of you to quiz my boy for doing his duty to his Queen and to his father too, sir — for it was at my request that Clive went, and we went together, sir — to the levee and then to the drawing-room afterwards with Rosey, who was presented by the lady of my old friend, Sir George Tufto, a lady of rank herself, and the wife of as brave an officer as ever drew a sword.”

Warrington stammered an apology for his levity, but no explanations were satisfactory, and it was clear George had wounded the feelings of our dear simple old friend.

After Clive’s marriage, which was performed at Brussels, Uncle James and the lady, his sister, whom we have sometimes flippantly ventured to call the Campaigner, went off to perform that journey to Scotland which James had meditated for ten years past; and, now little Rosey was made happy for life, to renew acquaintance with little Josey. The Colonel and his son and daughter-inlaw came to London, not to the bachelor quarters, where we have seen them, but to an hotel, which they occupied until their new house could be provided for them, a sumptuous mansion in the Tyburnian district, and one which became people of their station.

We have been informed already what the Colonel’s income was, and have the gratification of knowing that it was very considerable. The simple gentleman who would dine off a crust, and wear a coat for ten years, desired that his children should have the best of everything: ordered about upholsterers, painters, carriage-makers, in his splendid Indian way; presented pretty Rosey with brilliant jewels for her introduction at Court, and was made happy by the sight of the blooming young creature decked in these magnificences, and admired by all his little circle. The old boys, the old generals, the old colonels, the old qui-his from the club, came and paid her their homage; the directors’ ladies, and the generals’ ladies, called upon her, and feasted her at vast banquets served on sumptuous plate. Newcome purchased plate and gave banquets in return for these hospitalities. Mrs. Clive had a neat close carriage for evenings, and a splendid barouche to drive in the Park. It was pleasant to see this equipage at four o’clock of an afternoon, driving up to Bays’s, with Rosey most gorgeously attired reclining within; and to behold the stately grace of the old gentleman as he stepped out to welcome his daughter-inlaw, and the bow he made before he entered her carriage. Then they would drive round the Park; round and round and round; and the old generals, and the old colonels, and old fogies, and their ladies and daughters, would nod and smile out of their carriages as they crossed each other upon this charming career of pleasure.

I confess that a dinner at the Colonel’s, now he appeared in all his magnificence, was awfully slow. No peaches could look fresher than Rosey’s cheeks — no damask was fairer than her pretty little shoulders. No one, I am sure, could be happier than she, but she did not impart her happiness to her friends; and replied chiefly by smiles to the conversation of the gentlemen at her side. It is true that these were for the most part elderly dignitaries, distinguished military officers with blue-black whiskers, retired old Indian judges, and the like, occupied with their victuals, and generally careless to please. But that solemn happiness of the Colonel, who shall depict it:— that look of affection with which he greeted his daughter as she entered, flounced to the waist, twinkling with innumerable jewels, holding a dainty pocket-handkerchief, with smiling eyes, dimpled cheeks, and golden ringlets! He would take her hand, or follow her about from group to group, exchanging precious observations about the weather, the Park, the exhibition, nay, the opera, for the old man actually went to the opera with his little girl, and solemnly snoozed by her side in a white waistcoat.

Very likely this was the happiest period of Thomas Newcome’s life. No woman (save one perhaps fifty years ago) had ever seemed so fond of him as that little girl. What pride he had in her, and what care he took of her! If she was a little ailing, what anxiety and hurrying for doctors! What droll letters came from James Binnie, and how they laughed over them: with what respectful attention he acquainted Mrs. Mack with everything that took place: with what enthusiasm that Campaigner replied! Josey’s husband called a special blessing upon his head in the church at Musselburgh; and little Jo herself sent a tinful of Scotch bun to her darling sister, with a request from her husband that he might have a few shares in the famous Indian Company.

The Company was in a highly flourishing condition, as you may suppose, when one of its directors, who at the same time was one of the honestest men alive, thought it was his duty to live in the splendour in which we now behold him. Many wealthy City men did homage to him. His brother Hobson, though the Colonel had quarrelled with the chief of the firm, yet remained on amiable terms with Thomas Newcome, and shared and returned his banquets for a while. Charles Honeyman we may be sure was present at many of them, and smirked a blessing over the plenteous meal. The Colonel’s influence was such with Mr. Sherrick that he pleaded Charles’s cause with that gentleman, and actually brought to a successful termination that little love-affair in which we have seen Miss Sherrick and Charles engaged. Mr. Sherrick was not disposed to part with much money during his lifetime — indeed, he proved to Colonel Newcome that he was not so rich as the world supposed him. But, by the Colonel’s interest, the chaplaincy of Boggley Wollah was procured for the Rev. C. Honeyman, who now forms the delight of that flourishing station.

All this while we have said little about Clive, who in truth was somehow in the background in this flourishing Newcome group. To please the best father in the world; the kindest old friend who endowed his niece with the best part of his savings; to settle that question about marriage and have an end of it; — Clive Newcome had taken a pretty and fond young girl, who respected and admired him beyond all men, and who heartily desired to make him happy. To do as much would not his father have stripped his coat from his back — have put his head under Juggernaut’s chariot-wheel, have sacrificed any ease, comfort, or pleasure for the youngster’s benefit? One great passion he had had and closed the account of it: a worldly ambitious girl — how foolishly worshipped and passionately beloved no matter — had played with him for years; had flung him away when a dissolute suitor with a great fortune and title had offered himself. Was he to whine and despair because a jilt had fooled him? He had too much pride and courage for any such submission; he would accept the lot in life which was offered to him, no undesirable one surely; he would fulfil the wish of his father’s heart, and cheer his kind declining years. In this way the marriage was brought about. It was but a whisper to Rosey in the drawing-room, a start and a blush from the little girl as he took the little willing hand, a kiss for her from her delighted old father-inlaw, a twinkle in good old James’s eyes, and double embrace from the Campaigner as she stood over them in a benedictory attitude; — expressing her surprise at an event for which she had been jockeying ever since she set eyes on young Newcome; and calling upon Heaven to bless her children. So, as a good thing when it is to be done had best be done quickly, these worthy folks went off almost straightway to a clergyman, and were married out of hand — to the astonishment of Captains Hoby and Goby when they came to hear of the event. Well, my gallant young painter and friend of my boyhood! if my wife chooses to be angry at your marriage, shall her husband not wish you happy?

Suppose we had married our first loves, others of us, were we the happier now? Ask Mr. Pendennis, who sulked in his tents when his Costigan, his Briseis, was ravished from him. Ask poor George Warrington, who had his own way, Heaven help him! There was no need why Clive should turn monk because number one refused him; and, that charmer removed, why he should not take to his heart number two. I am bound to say, that when I expressed these opinions to Mrs. Laura, she was more angry and provoked than ever.

It is in the nature of such a simple soul as Thomas Newcome, to see but one side of a question, and having once fixed Ethel’s worldliness in his mind, and her brother’s treason, to allow no argument of advocates of the other side to shake his displeasure. Hence the one or two appeals which Laura ventured to make on behalf of her friend, were checked by the good Colonel with a stern negation. If Ethel was not guiltless, she could not make him see at least that she was not guilty. He dashed away all excuses and palliations. Exasperated as he was, he persisted in regarding the poor girl’s conduct in its most unfavourable light. “She was rejected, and deservedly rejected, by the Marquis of Farintosh,” he broke out to me once, who was not indeed authorised to tell all I knew regarding the story; “the whole town knows it; all the clubs ring with it. I blush, sir, to think that my brother’s child should have brought such a stain upon our name.” In vain, I told him that my wife, who knew all the circumstances much better, judged Miss Newcome far more favourably, and indeed greatly esteemed and loved her. “Pshaw! sir,” breaks out the indignant Colonel, “your wife is an innocent creature, who does not know the world as we men of experience do — as I do, sir;” and would have no more of the discussion. There is no doubt about it, there was a coolness between my old friend’s father and us.

As for Barnes Newcome, we gave up that worthy, and the Colonel showed him no mercy. He recalled words used by Warrington, which I have recorded in a former page, and vowed that he only watched for an opportunity to crush the miserable reptile. He hated Barnes as a loathsome traitor, coward, and criminal; he made no secret of his opinion; and Clive, with the remembrance of former injuries, of dreadful heart-pangs; the inheritor of his father’s blood, his honesty of nature, and his impetuous enmity against wrong; shared to the full his sire’s antipathy against his cousin, and publicly expressed his scorn and contempt for him. About Ethel he would not speak. “Perhaps what you say, Pen, is true,” he said. “I hope it is. Pray God it is.” But his quivering lips and fierce countenance, when her name was mentioned or her defence attempted, showed that he too had come to think ill of her. “As for her brother, as for that scoundrel,” he would say, clenching his fist, “if ever I can punish him I will. I shouldn’t have the soul of a dog, if ever I forgot the wrongs that have been done me by that vagabond. Forgiveness? Pshaw! Are you dangling to sermons, Pen, at your wife’s leading-strings? Are you preaching that cant? There are some injuries that no honest man should forgive, and I shall be a rogue on the day I shake hands with that villain.”

“Clive has adopted the Iroquois ethics,” says George Warrington, smoking his pipe sententiously, “rather than those which are at present received among us. I am not sure that something is not to be said, as against the Eastern, upon the Western, or Tomahawk, or Ojibbeway side of the question. I should not like,” he added, “to be in a vendetta or feud, and to have you, Clive, and the old Colonel engaged against me.”

“I would rather,” I said, “for my part, have half a dozen such enemies as Clive and the Colonel, than one like Barnes. You never know where or when that villain may hit you.” And before a very short period was over, Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., hit his two hostile kinsmen such a blow, as one might expect from such a quarter.

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