The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which Mrs. Clive comes into her Fortune

Speaking of the affairs of B. B. C., Sir Barnes Newcome always took care to maintain his candid surprise relating to the proceedings of that Company. He set about evil reports against it! He endeavour to do it a wrong — absurd! If a friend were to ask him (and it was quite curious what a number did manage to ask him) whether he thought the Company was an advantageous investment, of course he would give an answer. He could not say conscientiously he thought so — never once had said so — in the time of their connexion, which had been formed solely with a view of obliging his amiable uncle. It was a quarrelsome Company; a dragoon Company; a Company of gentlemen accustomed to gunpowder, and fed on mulligatawny. He, forsooth, be hostile to it! There were some Companies that required no enemies at all, and would be pretty sure to go to the deuce their own way.

Thus, and with this amiable candour, spake Barnes, about a commercial speculation, the merits of which he had a right to canvass as well as any other citizen. As for Uncle Hobson, his conduct was characterised by a timidity which one would scarcely have expected from a gentleman of his florid, jolly countenance, active habits, and generally manly demeanour. He kept away from the cocoa-nut feast, as we have seen: he protested privily to the Colonel that his private goodwill continued undiminished but he was deeply grieved at the B. B. C. affair, which took place while he was on the Continent — confound the Continent, my wife would go — and which was entirely without his cognisance. The Colonel received his brother’s excuses, first with awful bows and ceremony, and finally with laughter. “My good Hobson,” said he, with the most insufferable kindness, “of course you intended to be friendly; of course the affair was done without your knowledge. We understand that sort of thing. London bankers have no hearts — for these last fifty years past that I have known you and your brother, and my amiable nephew, the present commanding officer, has there been anything in your conduct that has led me to suppose you had?” and herewith Colonel Newcome burst out into a laugh. It was not a pleasant laugh to hear. Worthy Hobson took his hat, and walked away, brushing it round and round, and looking very confused. The Colonel strode after him downstairs, and made him an awful bow at the hall door. Never again did Hobson Newcome set foot in that Tyburnian mansion.

During the whole of that season of the testimonial the cocoa-nut figured in an extraordinary number of banquets. The Colonel’s hospitalities were more profuse than ever, and Mrs. Clive’s toilettes more brilliant. Clive, in his confidential conversations with his friends, was very dismal and gloomy. When I asked City news of our well-informed friend F. B., I am sorry to say, his countenance became funereal. The B. B. C. shares, which had been at an immense premium twelve months since, were now slowly falling, falling.

“I wish,” said Mr. Sherrick to me, “the Colonel would realise, even now, like that Mr. Ratray who has just come out of the ship, and brought a hundred thousand pounds with him.”

“Come out of the ship! You little know the Colonel, Mr. Sherrick, if you think he will ever do that.”

Mr. Ratray, though he had returned to Europe, gave the most cheering accounts of the B. B. C. It was in the most flourishing state. Shares sure to get up again. He had sold out entirely on account of his liver. Must come home — the doctor said so.

Some months afterwards, another director, Mr. Hedges, came home. Both of these gentlemen, as we know, entertained the fashionable world, got seats in Parliament, purchased places in the country, and were greatly respected. Mr. Hedges came out, but his wealthy partner, Mr. M’Gaspey, entered into the B. B. C. The entry of Mr. M’Gaspey into the affairs of the Companyt did not seem to produce very great excitement in England. The shares slowly fell. However, there was a prodigious indigo crop. The London manager was in perfect good-humour. In spite of this and that, of defections, of unpleasantries, of unfavourable whispers, and doubtful friends — Thomas Newcome kept his head high, and his face was always kind and smiling, except when certain family enemies were mentioned, and he frowned like Jove in anger.

We have seen how very fond little Rosey was of her mamma, of her uncle, James Binnie, and now of her papa, as she affectionately styled Thomas Newcome. This affection, I am sure, the two gentlemen returned with all their hearts, and but that they were much too generous and simple-minded to entertain such a feeling. It may be wondered that the two good old boys were not a little jealous of one another. Howbeit it does not appear that they entertained such a feeling; at least it never interrupted the kindly friendship between them, and Clive was regarded in the light of a son by both of them, and each contented himself with his moiety of the smiling little girl’s affection.

As long as they were with her, the truth is, little Mrs. Clive was very fond of people, very docile, obedient, easily pleased, brisk, kind, and good-humoured. She charmed her two old friends with little songs, little smiles — little kind offices, little caresses; and having administered Thomas Newcome’s cigar to him in the daintiest, prettiest way, she would trip off to drive with James Binnie, or sit at his dinner, if he was indisposed, and be as gay, neat-handed, watchful, and attentive a child as any old gentleman could desire.

She did not seem to be very sorry to part with mamma, a want of feeling which that lady bitterly deplored in her subsequent conversation with her friends about Mrs. Clive Newcome. Possibly there were reasons why Rosey should not be very much vexed at quitting mamma; but surely she might have dropped a little tear as she took leave of kind, good old James Binnie. Not she. The gentleman’s voice faltered, but hers did not in the least. She kissed him on the face, all smiles, blushes, and happiness, and tripped into the railway carriage with her husband and father-inlaw, leaving the poor old uncle very sad. Our women said, I know not why, that little Rosey had no heart at all. Women are accustomed to give such opinions respecting the wives of their newly married friends. I am bound to add (and I do so during Mr. Clive Newcome’s absence from England, otherwise I should not like to venture upon the statement), that some men concur with the ladies’ opinion of Mrs. Clive. For instance, Captains Goby and Hoby declare that her treatment of the latter, her encouragement, and desertion of him when Clive made his proposals, were shameful.

At this time Rosey was in a pupillary state. A good, obedient little girl, her duty was to obey the wishes of her dear mamma. How show her sense of virtue and obedience better than by promptly and cheerfully obeying mamma, and at the orders of that experienced Campaigner, giving up Bobby Hoby, and going to England to a fine house, to be presented at Court, to have all sorts of pleasure with a handsome young husband and a kind father-inlaw by her side? No wonder Rosey was not in a very active state of grief at parting from Uncle James. He strove to console himself with these considerations when he had returned to the empty house, where she had danced, and smiled, and warbled; and he looked at the chair she sat in; and at the great mirror which had so often reflected her fresh pretty face; — the great callous mirror, which now only framed upon its shining sheet the turban, and the ringlets, and the plump person, and the resolute smile of the old Campaigner.

After that parting with her uncle at the Brussels railway, Rosey never again beheld him. He passed into the Campaigner’s keeping, from which alone he was rescued by the summons of pallid death. He met that summons like a philosopher; rejected rather testily all the mortuary consolations which his nephew-inlaw, Josey’s husband, thought proper to bring to his bedside; and uttered opinions which scandalised that divine. But as he left Mrs. M’Craw only 500 pounds, thrice that sum to his sister, and the remainder of his property to his beloved niece, Rosa Mackenzie, now Rosa Newcome, let us trust that Mr. M’Craw, hurt and angry at the ill-favour shown to his wife, his third young wife, his best-beloved Josey, at the impatience with which the deceased had always received his, Mr. M’Craw’s, own sermons; — let us hope, I say, that the reverend gentleman was mistaken in his views respecting the present position of Mr. James Binnie’s soul; and that Heaven may have some regions yet accessible to James, which Mr. M’Craw’s intellect has not yet explored. Look, gentlemen! Does a week pass without the announcement of the discovery of a new comet in the sky, a new star in the heaven, twinkling dimly out of a yet farther distance, and only now becoming visible to human ken though existent for ever and ever? So let us hope divine truths may be shining, and regions of light and love extant, which Geneva glasses cannot yet perceive, and are beyond the focus of Roman telescopes.

I think Clive and the Colonel were more affected by the news of James’s death than Rosey, concerning whose wonderful strength of mind good Thomas Newcome discoursed to my Laura and me, when, fancying that my friend’s wife needed comfort and consolation, Mrs. Pendennis went to visit her. “Of course we shall have no more parties this year,” sighed Rosey. She looked very pretty in her black dress. Clive, in his hearty way, said a hundred kind feeling things about the departed friend. Thomas Newcome’s recollections of him, and regret, were no less tender and sincere. “See,” says he, “how that dear child’s sense of duty makes her hide her feelings! Her grief is most deep, but she wears a calm countenance. I see her looking sad in private, but I no sooner speak than she smiles.” “I think,” said Laura, as we came away, “that Colonel Newcome performs all the courtship part in the marriage, and Clive, poor Clive, though he spoke very nobly and generously about Mr. Binnie, I am sure it is not his old friend’s death merely, which makes him so unhappy.”

Poor Clive, by right of his wife, was now rich Clive; the little lady having inherited from her kind relative no inconsiderable sum of money. In a very early part of this story, mention has been made of a small sum producing one hundred pounds a year, which Clive’s father had made over to the lad when he sent him from India. This little sum Mr. Clive had settled upon his wife before his marriage, being indeed all he had of his own; for the famous bank shares which his father presented to him, were only made over formally when the young man came to London after his marriage, and at the paternal request and order appeared as a most inefficient director of the B. B. C. Now Mrs. Newcome, of her inheritance, possessed not only B. B. C. shares, but moneys in bank, and shares in East India Stock, so that Clive in the right of his wife had a seat in the assembly of East India shareholders, and a voice in the election of directors of that famous company. I promise you Mrs. Clive was a personage of no little importance. She carried her little head with an aplomb and gravity which amused some of us. F. B. bent his most respectfully down before her; she sent him on messages, and deigned to ask him to dinner. He once more wore a cheerful countenance; the clouds which gathered o’er the sun of Newcome were in the bosom of the ocean buried, Bayham said, by James Binnie’s brilliant behaviour to his niece.

Clive was a proprietor of East India Stock, and had a vote in electing the directors of that Company; and who so fit to be a director of his affairs as Thomas Newcome, Esq., Companion of the Bath, and so long a distinguished officer in its army? To hold this position of director, used, up to very late days, to be the natural ambition of many East Indian gentlemen. Colonel Newcome had often thought of offering himself as a candidate, and now openly placed himself on the lists, and publicly announced his intention. His interest was rather powerful through the Indian bank, of which he was a director, and many of the shareholders of which were proprietors of the East India Company. To have a director of the B. B. C. also a member of the parliament in Leadenhall Street, would naturally be beneficial to the former institution. Thomas Newcome’s prospectuses were issued accordingly, and his canvass received with tolerable favour.

Within a very short time another candidate appeared in the field — a retired Bombay lawyer, of considerable repute and large means — and at the head of this gentleman’s committee appeared the names of Hobson Brothers and Newcome, very formidable personages at the East India House, with which the bank of Hobson Brothers have had dealings for half a century past, and where the old lady, who founded or consolidated that family, had had three stars before her own venerable name, which had descended upon her son Sir Brian, and her grandson, Sir Barnes.

War was thus openly declared between Thomas Newcome and his nephew. The canvass on both sides was very hot and eager. The number of promises was pretty equal. The election was not to come off yet for a while; for aspirants to the honourable office of director used to announce their wishes years before they could be fulfilled, and returned again and again to the contest before they finally won it. Howbeit, the Colonel’s prospects were very fair, and a prodigious indigo crop came in to favour the B. B. C., with the most brilliant report from the board at Calcutta. The shares, still somewhat sluggish, rose again, the Colonel’s hopes with them, and the courage of gentlemen at home who had invested their money in the transaction.

We were sitting one day round the Colonel’s dinner-table; it was not one of the cocoa-nut-tree days; that emblem was locked up in the butler’s pantry, and only beheld the lamps on occasions of state. It was a snug family party in the early part of the year, When scarcely anybody was in town; only George Warrington, and F. B., and Mr. and Mrs. Pendennis; and the ladies having retired, We were having such a talk as we used to enjoy in quiet old days, before marriages and cares and divisions had separated us.

F. B. led the conversation. The Colonel received his remarks with great gravity, and thought him an instructive personage. Others considered him rather as amusing than instructive, and so his eloquence was generally welcome. The canvass for the directorship was talked over. The improved affairs of a certain great Banking Company, which shall be nameless, but one which F. B. would take the liberty to state, would, in his opinion, for ever unite the mother country to our great Indian possessions; — the prosperity of this great Company was enthusiastically drunk by Mr. Bayham in some of the very best claret. The conduct of the enemies of that Company was characterised in terms of bitter, but not undeserved, satire. F. B. rather liked to air his oratory, and neglected few opportunities for making speeches after dinners.

The Colonel admired his voice and sentiments not the less, perhaps, because the latter were highly laudatory of the good man. And not from interest, at least, as far as he himself knew — not from any mean or selfish motives, did F. B. speak. He called Colonel Newcome his friend, his benefactor: kissed the hem of his garment: he wished fervently that he could have been the Colonel’s son: he expressed, repeatedly, a desire that some one would speak ill of the Colonel, so that he, F. B., might have the opportunity of polishing that individual off in about two seconds. He covered the Colonel with all his heart; nor is any gentleman proof altogether against this constant regard and devotion from another.

The Colonel used to wag his head wisely, and say Mr. Bayham’s suggestions were often exceedingly valuable, as indeed the fact was, though his conduct was no more of a piece with his opinions than those of some other folks occasionally are.

“What the Colonel ought to do, sir, to help him in the direction,” says F. B., “is to get into Parliament. The House of Commons would aid him into the Court of Directors, and the Court of Directors would help him in the House of Commons.”

“Most wisely said,” says Warrington.

The Colonel declined. “I have long had the House of Commons in my eye,” he said; “but not for me. I wanted my boy to go there. It would be a proud day for me if I could see him there.”

“I can’t speak,” says Clive, from his end of the table. “I don’t understand about parties, like F. B. here.”

“I believe I do know a thing or two,” Mr. Bayham here interposes.

“And politics do not interest me in the least,” Clive sighs out, drawing pictures with his fork on his napkin, and not heeding the other’s interruption.

“I wish I knew what would interest him,” his father whispers to me, who happened to be at his side. “He never cares to be out of his painting-room; and he doesn’t seem to be very happy even in there. I wish to God, Pen, I knew what had come over the boy.” I thought I knew; but what was the use of telling, now there was no remedy?

“A dissolution is expected every day,” continued F. B. “The papers are full of it. Ministers cannot go on with this majority — cannot possibly go on, sir. I have it on the best authority; and men who are anxious about their seats are writing to their constituents, or are subscribing at missionary meetings, or are gone down to lecturing at Athenaeums, and that sort of thing.”

Here Warrington burst out into a laughter much louder than the occasion of the speech of F. B. seemed to warrant; and the Colonel, turning round with some dignity, asked the cause of George’s amusement.

“What do you think your darling, Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, has been doing during the recess?” cries Warrington. “I had a letter this morning, from my liberal and punctual employer, Thomas Potts, Esquire, of the Newcome Independent, who states, in language scarcely respectful, that Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome is trying to come the religious dodge, as Mr. Potts calls it. He professes to be stricken down by grief on account of late family circumstances; wears black, and puts on the most piteous aspect, and asks ministers of various denominations to tea with him; and the last announcement is the most stupendous of all. Stop, I have it in my greatcoat;” and, ringing the bell, George orders a servant to bring him a newspaper from his great-coat pocket. “Here it is, actually in print,” Warrington continues, and reads to us:—”‘Newcome Athenaeum. 1, for the benefit of the Newcome Orphan Children’s Home, and 2, for the benefit of the Newcome Soup Association, without distinction of denomination. Sir Barnes Newcome Newcome, Bart., proposes to give two lectures, on Friday the 23rd, and Friday the 30th, instant. No. 1, The Poetry of Childhood: Doctor Watts, Mrs. Barbauld, Jane Taylor, No. 2, The Poetry of Womanhood, and the Affections: Mrs. Hemans, L. E. L. Threepence will be charged at the doors, which will go to the use of the above two admirable Societies.’ Potts wants me to go down and hear him. He has an eye to business. He has had a quarrel with Sir Barnes, and wants me to go down and hear him, and smash him, he kindly says. Let us go down, Clive. You shall draw your cousin as you have drawn his villainous little mug a hundred times before; and I will do the smashing part, and we will have some fun out of the transaction.”

“Besides, Florac will be in the country; going to Rosebury is a journey worth the taking, I can tell you; and we have old Mrs. Mason to go and see, who sighs after you, Colonel. My wife went to see her,” remarks Mr. Pendennis, “and ——”

“And Miss Newcome, I know,” says the Colonel.

“She is away at Brighton, with her little charges, for sea air. My wife heard from her today.”

“Oh, indeed. Mrs. Pendennis corresponds with her?” says our host, darkling under his eyebrows; and, at this moment, my neighbour, F. B., is kind enough to scrunch my foot under the table with the weight of his heel, as much as to warn me, by an appeal to my own corns, to avoid treading on so delicate a subject in that house. “Yes,” said I, in spite, perhaps in consequence, of this interruption. “My wife does correspond with Miss Ethel, who is a noble creature, and whom those who know her know how to love and admire. She is very much changed since you knew her, Colonel Newcome; since the misfortunes in Sir Barnes’s family, and the differences between you and him. Very much changed and very much improved. Ask my wife about her, who knows her most intimately, and hears from her constantly.”

“Very likely, very likely,” cried the Colonel, hurriedly, “I hope she is improved, with all my heart. I am sure there was room for it. Gentlemen, shall we go up to the ladies and have some coffee?” And herewith the colloquy ended, and the party ascended to the drawing-room.

The party ascended to the drawing-room, where no doubt both the ladies were pleased by the invasion which ended their talk. My wife and the Colonel talked apart, and I saw the latter looking gloomy, and the former pleading very eagerly, and using a great deal of action, as the little hands are wont to do, when the mistress’s heart is very much moved. I was sure she was pleading Ethel’s cause with her uncle.

So indeed she was. And Mr. George, too, knew what her thoughts were. “Look at her!” he said to me. “Don’t you see what she is doing? She believes in that girl whom you all said Clive took a fancy to before he married his present little placid wife; a nice little simple creature, who is worth a dozen Ethels.”

“Simple certainly,” says Mr. P., with a shrug of the shoulders.

“A simpleton of twenty is better than a roue of twenty. It is better not to have thought at all, than to have thought such things as must go through a girl’s mind whose life is passed in jilting and being jilted; whose eyes, as soon as they are opened, are turned to the main chance, and are taught to leer at earl, to languish at a marquis, and to grow blind before a commoner. I don’t know much about fashionable life. Heaven help us (you young Brummell! I see the reproach in your face!) Why, sir, it absolutely appears to me as if this little hop-o’-my-thumb of a creature has begun to give herself airs since her marriage and her carriage. Do you know, I rather thought she patronised me? Are all women spoiled by their contact with the world, and their bloom rubbed off in the market? I know one who seems to me to remain pure! to be sure, I only know her, and this little person, and Mrs. Flanagan our laundress, and my sisters at home, who don’t count. But that Miss Newcome to whom once you introduced me? Oh, the cockatrice! only that poison don’t affect your wife, the other would kill her. I hope the Colonel will not believe a word which Laura says.” And my wife’s tete-a-tete with our host coming to an end about this time, Mr. Warrington in high spirits goes up to the ladies, recapitulates the news of Barnes’s lecture, recites “How doth the little busy bee,” and gives a quasi-satirical comment upon that well-known poem, which bewilders Mrs. Clive, until, set on by the laughter of the rest of the audience, she laughs very freely at that odd man, and calls him “you droll satirical creature you!” and says “she never was so much amused in her life. Were you, Mrs. Pendennis?”

Meanwhile Clive, who has been sitting apart moodily biting his nails, not listening to F. B.‘s remarks, has broken into a laugh once or twice, and gone to a writing-book, on which, whilst George is still disserting, Clive is drawing.

At the end of the other’s speech, F. B. goes up to the draughtsman, looks over his shoulder, makes one or two violent efforts as of inward convulsion, and finally explodes in an enormous guffaw. “It’s capital! By Jove, it’s capital! Sir Barnes would never dare to face his constituents with that picture of him hung up in Newcome!”

And F. B. holds up the drawing, at which we all laugh except Laura. As for the Colonel, he paces up and down the room, holding the sketch close to his eyes, holding it away from him, patting it, clapping his son delightedly on the shoulder. “Capital! capital! We’ll have the picture printed, by Jove, sir; show vice it’s own image; and shame the viper in his own nest, sir. That’s what we will.”

Mrs. Pendennis came away with rather a heavy heart from this party. She chose to interest herself about the right or wrong of her friends; and her mind was disturbed by the Colonel’s vindictive spirit. On the subsequent day we had occasion to visit our friend J. J. (who was completing the sweetest little picture, No. 263 in the Exhibition, “Portrait of a Lady and Child”), and we found that Clive had been with the painter that morning likewise; and that J. J. was acquainted with his scheme. That he did not approve of it we could read in the artist’s grave countenance. “Nor does Clive approve of it either!” cried Ridley, with greater eagerness than he usually displayed, and more openness than he was accustomed to exhibit in judging unfavourably of his friends.

“Among them they have taken him away from his art,” Ridley said. “They don’t understand him when he talks about it; they despise him for pursuing it. Why should I wonder at that? my parents despised it too, and my father was not a grand gentleman like the Colonel, Mrs. Pendennis. Ah! why did the Colonel ever grow rich? Why had not Clive to work for his bread as have? He would have done something that was worthy of him then; now his time must be spent in dancing attendance at balls land operas, and yawning at City board-rooms. They call that business: they think he is idling when he comes here, poor fellow! As if life was long enough for our art; and the best labour we can give, good enough for it! He went away groaning this morning, and quite saddened in spirits. The Colonel wants to set up himself for Parliament, or to set Clive up; but he says he won’t. I hope he won’t; do not you, Mrs. Pendennis?”

The painter turned as he spoke; and the bright northern light which fell upon the sitter’s head was intercepted, and lighted up his own as he addressed us. Out of that bright light looked his pale thoughtful face, and long locks and eager brown eyes. The palette on his arm was a great shield painted of many colours: he carried his mall-stick and a sheaf of brushes along with the weapons of his glorious but harmless war. With these he achieves conquests, wherein none are wounded save the envious: with that he shelters him against how much idleness, ambition, temptations! Occupied over that consoling work, idle thoughts cannot gain mastery over him: selfish wishes or desires are kept at bay. Art is truth: and truth is religion: and its study and practice a daily work of pious duty. What are the world’s struggles, brawls, successes, to that calm recluse pursuing his calling? See, twinkling in the darkness round his chamber, numberless beautiful trophies of the graceful victories which he has won:— sweet flowers of fancy reared by him:— kind shapes of beauty which he has devised and moulded. The world enters into the artist’s studio, and scornfully bids him a price for his genius, or makes dull pretence to admire it. What know you of his art? You cannot read the alphabet of that sacred book, good old Thomas Newcome! What can you tell of its glories, joys, secrets, consolations? Between his two best-beloved mistresses, poor Clive’s luckless father somehow interposes; and with sorrowful, even angry protests. In place of Art the Colonel brings him a ledger; and in lieu of first love, shows him Rosey.

No wonder that Clive hangs his head; rebels sometimes, desponds always: he has positively determined to refuse to stand for Newcome, Ridley says. Laura is glad of his refusal, and begins to think of him once more as of the Clive of old days.

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