The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


The Election

Having thus given his challenge, reconnoitred the enemy, and pledged himself to do battle at the ensuing election, our Colonel took leave of the town of Newcome, and returned to his banking affairs in London. His departure was as that of a great public personage; the gentlemen of the Committee followed him obsequiously down to the train. “Quick,” bawls out Mr. Potts to Mr. Brown, the station-master, “Quick, Mr. Brown, a carriage for Colonel Newcome!” Half a dozen hats are taken off as he enters into the carriage, F. Bayham and his servant after him, with portfolios, umbrellas, shawls, despatch-boxes. Clive was not there to act as his father’s aide-de-camp. After their conversation together the young man had returned to Mrs. Clive and his other duties in life.

It has been said that Mr. Pendennis was in the country, engaged in a pursuit exactly similar to that which occupied Colonel Newcome. The menaced dissolution of Parliament did not take place so soon as we expected. The Ministry still hung together, and by consequence, Sir Barnes Newcome kept the seat in the House of Commons, from which his elder kinsman was eager to oust him. Away from London, and having but few correspondents, save on affairs of business, I heard little of Clive and the Colonel, save an occasional puff of one of Colonel Newcome’s entertainments in the Pall Mall Gazette, to which journal F. Bayham still condescended to contribute; and a satisfactory announcement in a certain part of that paper, that on such a day, in Hyde Park Gardens, Mrs. Clive Newcome had presented her husband with a son. Clive wrote to me presently, to inform me of the circumstance, stating at the same time, with but moderate gratification on his own part, that the Campaigner, Mrs. Newcome’s mamma, had upon this second occasion made a second lodgment in her daughter’s house and bedchamber, and showed herself affably disposed to forget the little unpleasantries which had clouded over the sunshine of her former visit.

Laura, with a smile of some humour, said she thought now would be the time when, if Clive could be spared from his bank, he might pay us that visit at Fairoaks which had been due so long, and hinted that change of air and a temporary absence from Mrs. Mackenzie might be agreeable to my old friend.

It was, on the contrary, Mr. Pendennis’s opinion that his wife artfully chose that period of time when little Rosey was, perforce, kept at home and occupied with her delightful maternal duties, to invite Clive to see us. Mrs. Laura frankly owned that she liked our Clive better without his wife than with her, and never ceased to regret that pretty Rosey had not bestowed her little hand upon Captain Hoby, as she had been very well disposed at one time to do. Against all marriages of interest this sentimental Laura never failed to utter indignant protests; and Clive’s had been a marriage of interest, a marriage made up by the old people, a marriage which the young man had only yielded out of good-nature and obedience. She would apostrophise her unconscious young ones, and inform those innocent babies that they should never be made to marry except for love, never — an announcement which was received with perfect indifference by little Arthur on his rocking-horse, and little Helen smiling and crowing in her mother’s lap.

So Clive came down to us, careworn in appearance, but very pleased and happy, he said, to stay for a while with the friends of his youth. We showed him our modest rural lions; we got him such sport and company as our quiet neighbourhood afforded, we gave him fishing in the Brawl, and Laura in her pony-chaise drove him to Baymouth, and to Clavering Park and town, and visit the famous cathedral at Chatteris, where she was pleased to recount certain incidents of her husband’s youth.

Clive laughed at my wife’s stories; he pleased himself in our home; he played with our children, with whom he had became a great favourite; he was happier, he told me with a sigh, than he had been for many a day. His gentle hostess echoed the sigh of the poor young fellow. She was sure that his pleasure was only transitory, and was convinced that many deep cares weighed upon his mind.

Ere long my old schoolfellow made me sundry confessions, which showed that Laura’s surmises were correct. About his domestic affairs he did not treat much; the little boy was said to be a very fine little boy; the ladies had taken entire possession of him. “I can’t stand Mrs. Mackenzie any longer, I own,” says Clive; “but how resist a wife at such a moment? Rosa was sure she would die, unless her mother came to her, and of course we invited Mrs. Mack. This time she is all smiles and politeness with the Colonel: the last quarrel is laid upon me, and in so far I am easy, as the old folks get on pretty well together.” To me, considering these things, it was clear that Mr. Clive Newcome was but a very secondary personage indeed in his father’s new fine house which he inhabited, and in which the poor Colonel had hoped they were to live such a happy family.

But it was about Clive Newcome’s pecuniary affairs that I felt the most disquiet when he came to explain these to me. The Colonel’s capital and that considerable sum which Mrs. Clive had inherited from her good old uncle, were all involved in a common stock, of which Colonel Newcome took the management. “The governor understands business so well, you see,” says Clive; “is a most remarkable head for accounts: he must have inherited that from my grandfather, you know, who made his own fortune: all the Newcomes are good at accounts, except me, a poor useless devil who knows nothing but to paint a picture, and who can’t even do that.” He cuts off the head of a thistle as he speaks, bites his tawny mustachios, plunges his hands into his pockets and his soul into reverie.

“You don’t mean to say,” asks Mr. Pendennis, “that your wife’s fortune has not been settled upon herself?”

“Of course it has been settled upon herself; that is, it is entirely her own — you know the Colonel has managed all the business, he understands it better than we do.”

“Do you say that your wife’s money is not vested in the hands of trustees, and for her benefit?”

“My father is one of the trustees. I tell you he manages the whole thing. What is his property is mine and ever has been; and I might draw upon him as much as I liked: and you know it’s five times as great as my wife’s. What is his is ours, and what is ours is his, of course; for instance, the India Stock, which poor Uncle James left, that now stands in the Colonel’s name. He wants to be a Director: he will be at the next election — he must have a certain quantity of India Stock, don’t you see?”

“My dear fellow, is there then no settlement made upon your wife at all?”

“You needn’t look so frightened,” says Clive. “I made a settlement on her: with all my worldly goods I did her endow three thousand three hundred and thirty-three pounds six and eightpence, which my father sent over from India to my uncle, years ago, when I came home.”

I might well indeed be aghast at this news, and had yet further intelligence from Clive, which by no means contributed to lessen my anxiety. This worthy old Colonel, who fancied himself to be so clever a man of business, chose to conduct it in utter ignorance and defiance of law. If anything happened to the Bundelcund Bank, it was clear that not only every shilling of his own property, but every farthing bequeathed to Rosa Mackenzie would be lost; only his retiring pension, which was luckily considerable, and the hundred pounds a year which Clive had settled on his wife, would be saved out of the ruin.

And now Clive confided to me his own serious doubts and misgivings regarding the prosperity of the Bank itself. He did not know why, but he could not help fancying that things were going wrong. Those partners who had come home, having sold out of the Bank, and living in England so splendidly, why had they quitted it? The Colonel said it was a proof of the prosperity of the company, that so many gentlemen were enriched who had taken shares in it. “But when I asked my father,” Clive continued, “why he did not himself withdraw, the dear old Colonel’s countenance fell: he told me such things were not to be done every day; and ended, as usual, by saying that I do not understand anything about business. No more I do: that is the truth. I hate the whole concern, Pen! I hate that great tawdry house in which we live; and those fearfully stupid parties:— Oh, how I wish we were back in Fitzroy Square! But who can recall bygones, Arthur; or wrong steps in life? We must make the best of today, and tomorrow must take care of itself. ‘Poor little child!’ I could not help thinking, as I took it crying in my arms the other day, ‘what has life in store for you, my poor weeping baby?’ My mother-inlaw cried out that I should drop the baby, and that only the Colonel knew how to hold it. My wife called from her bed; the nurse dashed up and scolded me; and they drove me out of the room amongst them. By Jove, Pen, I laugh when some of my friends congratulate me on my good fortune! I am not quite the father of my own child, nor the husband of my own wife, nor even the master of my own easel. I am managed for, don’t you see? boarded, lodged, and done for. And here is the man they call happy. Happy! Oh!!! Why had I not your strength of mind; and why did I ever leave my art, my mistress?”

And herewith the poor lad fell to chopping thistles again; and quitted Fairoaks shortly, leaving his friends there very much disquieted about his prospects, actual and future.

The expected dissolution of Parliament came at length. All the country papers in England teemed with electioneering addresses; and the country was in a flutter with particoloured ribbons. Colonel Thomas Newcome, pursuant to his promise, offered himself to the independent electors of Newcome in the Liberal journal of the family town, whilst Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., addressed himself to his old and tried friends, and called upon the friends of the constitution to rally round him, in the Conservative print. The addresses of our friend were sent to us at Fairoaks by the Colonel’s indefatigable aide-de-camp, Mr. Frederick Bayham. During the period which had elapsed since the Colonel’s last canvassing visit and the issuing of the writs now daily expected for the new Parliament, many things of great importance had occurred in Thomas Newcome’s family — events which were kept secret from his biographer, who was, at this period also, pretty entirely occupied with his own affairs. These, however, are not the present subject of this history, which has Newcome for its business, and the parties engaged in the family quarrel there.

There were four candidates in the field for the representation of that borough. That old and tried member of Parliament, Mr. Bunce, was considered to be secure; and the Baronet’s seat was thought to be pretty safe on account of his influence in the place. Nevertheless, Thomas Newcome’s supporters were confident for their champion, and that when the parties came to the poll, the extreme Liberals of the borough would divide their votes between him and the fourth candidate, the uncompromising Radical, Mr. Barker.

In due time the Colonel and his staff arrived at Newcome, and resumed the active canvass which they had commenced some months previously. Clive was not in his father’s suite this time, nor Mr. Warrington, whose engagements took him elsewhere. The lawyer, the editor of the Independent, and F. B., were the Colonel’s chief men. His headquarters (which F. B. liked very well) were at the hotel where we last saw him, and whence issuing with his aide-de-camp at his heels, the Colonel went round to canvass personally, according to his promise, every free and independent elector of the borough. Barnes too was canvassing eagerly on his side, and was most affable and active; the two parties would often meet nose to nose in the same street, and their retainers exchange looks of defiance. With Mr. Potts of the Independent, a big man, on his left; with Mr. Frederick, a still bigger man, on his right; his own trusty bamboo cane in his hand, before which poor Barnes had shrunk abashed ere now, Colonel Newcome had commonly the best of these street encounters, and frowned his nephew Barnes, and Barnes’s staff, off the pavement. With the non-electors the Colonel was a decided favourite; the boys invariably hurrayed him; whereas they jeered and uttered ironical cries after poor Barnes, asking, “Who beat his wife? Who drove his children to the workhouse?” and other unkind personal questions. The man upon whom the libertine Barnes had inflicted so cruel an injury in his early days, was now the Baronet’s bitterest enemy. He assailed him with curses and threats when they met, and leagued his brother-workmen against him. The wretched Sir Barnes owned with contrition that the sins of his youth pursued him; his enemy scoffed at the idea of Barnes’s repentance; he was not moved at the grief, the punishment in his own family, the humiliation and remorse which the repentant prodigal piteously pleaded. No man was louder in his cries of mea culpa than Barnes: no man professed a more edifying repentance. He was hat in hand to every black-coat, established or dissenting. Repentance was to his interest, to be sure, but yet let us hope it was sincere. There is some hypocrisy, of which one does not like even to entertain the thought; especially that awful falsehood which trades with divine truth, and takes the name of Heaven in vain.

The Roebuck Inn at Newcome stands in the market-place, directly facing the King’s Arms, where, as we know, Colonel Newcome and uncompromising toleration held their headquarters. Immense banners of blue and yellow floated from every window of the King’s Arms, and decorated the balcony from which the Colonel and the assistants were in the habit of addressing the multitude. Fiddlers and trumpeters, arrayed in his colours, paraded the town and enlivened it with their melodious strains. Other trumpeters and fiddlers, bearing the true-blue cockades and colours of Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., would encounter the Colonel’s musicians, on which occasions of meeting, it is to be feared, small harmony was produced. They banged each other with their brazen instruments. The warlike drummers thumped each other’s heads in lieu of the professional sheepskin. The townboys and street-blackguards rejoiced in these combats, and exhibited their valour on one side or the other. The Colonel had to pay a long bill for broken brass when he settled the little accounts of the election.

In after times, F. B. was pleased to describe the circumstances of a contest in which he bore a most distinguished part. It was F. B.‘s opinion that his private eloquence brought over many waverers to the Colonel’s side, and converted numbers of the benighted followers of Sir Barnes Newcome. Bayham’s voice was indeed magnificent, and could be heard from the King’s Arm’s balcony above the shout and roar of the multitude, the gongs and bugles of the opposition bands. He was untiring in his oratory — undaunted in the presence of the crowds below. He was immensely popular, F. B. Whether he laid his hand upon his broad chest, took off his hat and waved it, or pressed his blue and yellow ribbons to his bosom, the crowd shouted, “Hurra: silence! bravo! Bayham for ever!” “They would have carried me in triumph,” said F. B.; “if I had but the necessary qualification I might be member for Newcome this day or any other I chose.”

I am afraid in this conduct of the Colonel’s election Mr. Bayham resorted to acts of which his principal certainly would disapprove, and engaged auxiliaries whose alliance was scarcely creditable. Whose was the hand which flung the potato which struck Sir Barnes Newcome, Bart., on the nose as he was haranguing the people from the Roebuck? How came it that whenever Sir Barnes and his friends essayed to speak, such an awful yelling and groaning took place in the crowd below, that the words of those feeble orators were inaudible? Who smashed all the front windows of the Roebuck? Colonel Newcome had not words to express his indignation at proceedings so unfair. When Sir Barnes and staff were hustled in the market-place and most outrageously shoved, jeered, and jolted, the Colonel from the King’s Arms organised a rapid sally, which he himself headed with his bamboo cane; cut out Sir Barnes and his followers from the hands of the mob, and addressed those ruffians in a noble speech, of which bamboo-cane — Englishman — shame — fair-play, were the most emphatic expressions. The mob cheered Old Tom as they called him — they made way for Sir Barnes, who shrunk pale and shuddering back into his hotel again — who always persisted in saying that that old villain of a dragoon had planned both the assault and the rescue.

“When the dregs of the people — the scum of the rabble, sir, banded together by the myrmidons of Sir Barnes Newcome, attacked us at the King’s Arms, and smashed ninety-six pounds’ worth of glass at one volley, besides knocking off the gold unicorn head and the tail of the British lion; it was fine, sir,” F. B. said, “to see how the Colonel came forward, and the coolness of the old boy in the midst of the action. He stood there in front, sir, with his old hat off, never so much as once bobbing his old head, and I think he spoke rather better under fire than he did when there was no danger. Between ourselves, he ain’t much of a speaker, the old Colonel; he hems and haws, and repeats himself a good deal. He hasn’t the gift of natural eloquence which some men have, Pendennis. You should have heard my speech, sir, on the Thursday in the Town Hall — that was something like a speech. Potts was jealous of it, and always reported me most shamefully.”

In spite of his respectful behaviour to the gentlemen in black coats, his soup-tickets and his flannel-tickets, his own pathetic lectures and his sedulous attendance at other folk’s sermons, poor Barnes could not keep up his credit with the serious interest at Newcome, and the meeting-houses and their respective pastors and frequenters turned their backs upon him. The case against him was too flagrant: his enemy, the factory-man, worked it with an extraordinary skill, malice, and pertinacity. Not a single man, woman, or child in Newcome but was made acquainted with Sir Barnes’s early peccadillo. Ribald ballads were howled through the streets describing his sin, and his deserved punishment. For very shame, the reverend dissenting gentlemen were obliged to refrain from voting for him; such as ventured, believing in the sincerity of his repentance, to give him their voices, were yelled away from the polling-places. A very great number who would have been his friends, were compelled to bow to decency and public opinion, and supported the Colonel.

Hooted away from the hustings, and the public places whence the rival candidates addressed the free and independent electors, this wretched and persecuted Sir Barnes invited his friends and supporters to meet him at the Athenaeum Room — scene of his previous eloquent performances. But, though this apartment was defended by tickets, the people burst into it; and Nemesis, in the shape of the persevering factory-man, appeared before the scared Sir Barnes and his puzzled committee. The man stood up and bearded the pale Baronet. He had a good cause, and was in truth a far better master of debate than our banking friend, being a great speaker amongst his brother-operatives, by whom political questions are discussed, and the conduct of political men examined, with a ceaseless interest and with an ardour and eloquence which are often unknown in what is called superior society. This man and his friends round about him fiercely silenced the clamour of “Turn him out,” with which his first appearance was assailed by Sir Barnes’s hangers-on. He said, in the name of justice he would speak up; if they were fathers of families and loved their wives and daughters he dared them to refuse him a hearing. Did they love their wives and their children? it was a shame that they should take such a man as that yonder for their representative in Parliament. But the greatest sensation he made was when, in the middle of his speech, after inveighing against Barnes’s cruelty and parental ingratitude, he asked, “Where were Barnes’s children?” and actually thrust forward two, to the amazement of the committee and the ghastly astonishment of the guilty Baronet himself.

“Look at them,” says the man: “they are almost in rags, they have to put up with scanty and hard food; contrast them with his other children, whom you see lording in gilt carriages, robed in purple and fine linen, and scattering mud from their wheels over us humble people as we walk the streets; ignorance and starvation is good enough for these, for those others nothing can be too fine or too dear. What can a factory-girl expect from such a fine, high-bred, white-handed, aristocratic gentleman as Sir Barnes Newcome, Baronet, but to be cajoled, and seduced, and deserted, and left to starve! When she has served my lord’s pleasure, her natural fate is to be turned into the street; let her go and rot there and her children beg in the gutter.

“This is the most shameful imposture,” gasps out Sir Barnes, “these children are not — are not ——”

The man interrupted him with a bitter laugh. “No,” he says; “they are not his; that’s true enough, friends. Its Tom Martin’s girl and boy, a precious pair of lazy little scamps. But, at least he thought they were his children. See how much he knows about them! He hasn’t seen his children for years; he would have left them and their mother to starve, and did, but for shame and fear. The old man, his father, pensioned them, and he hasn’t the heart to stop their wages now. Men of Newcome, will you have this man to represent you in Parliament?” And the crowd roared “No;” and Barnes and his shamefaced committee slunk out of the place, and no wonder the dissenting clerical gentlemen were shy of voting for him.

A brilliant and picturesque diversion in Colonel Newcome’s favour was due to the inventive genius of his faithful aide-de-camp, F. B. On the polling-day, as the carriages full of voters came up to the market-place, there appeared nigh to the booths an open barouche, covered all over with ribbon, and containing Frederick Bayham, Esq., profusely decorated with the Colonel’s colours, and a very old woman and her female attendant, who were similarly ornamented. It was good old Mrs. Mason, who was pleased with the drive and the sunshine, though she scarcely understood the meaning of the turmoil, with her maid by her side, delighted to wear such ribbons, and sit in such a post of honour. Rising up in the carriage, F. B. took off his hat, bade his men of brass be silent, who were accustomed to bray “See the Conquering Hero come,” whenever the Colonel, or Mr. Bayham, his brilliant aide-de-camp, made their appearance; — bidding, we say, the musicians and the universe to be silent, F. B. rose, and made the citizens of Newcome a splendid speech. Good old unconscious Mrs. Mason was the theme of it, and the Colonel’s virtues and faithful gratitude in tending her. “She was his father’s old friend. She was Sir Barnes Newcome’s grandfather’s old friend. She had lived for more than forty years at Sir Barnes Newcome’s door, and how often had he been to see her? Did he go every week? No. Every month? No. Every year? No. Never in the whole course of his life had he set his foot into her doors!” (Loud yells, and cries of ‘Shame!’) “Never had he done her one single act of kindness. Whereas for years and years past, when he was away in India, heroically fighting the battles of his country, when he was distinguishing himself at Assaye, and — and — Mulligatawny, and Seringapatam, in the hottest of the fight and the fiercest of the danger, in the most terrible moment of the conflict, and the crowning glory of the victory, the good, the brave, the kind old Colonel — why should he say Colonel? why should he not say Old Tom at once?” (immense roars of applause) “always remembered his dear old nurse and friend. Look at that shawl, boys, which she has got on! My belief is that Colonel Newcome took that shawl in single combat, and on horseback, from the prime minister of Tippoo Sahib.” (Immense cheers and cries of ‘Bravo, Bayham!’) “Look at that brooch the dear old thing wears!” (he kissed her hand whilst so apostrophising her). “Tom Newcome never brags about his military achievements, he is the most modest as well as the bravest man in the world. What if I were to tell you that he cut that brooch from the throat of an Indian rajah? He’s man enough to do it.” (‘He is! he is!’ from all parts of the crowd.) “What, you want to take the horses out, do you?” (to the crowd, who were removing those quadrupeds). “I ain’t agoing to prevent you; I expected as much of you. Men of Newcome, I expected as much of you, for I know you! Sit still, old lady; don’t be frightened, ma’am: they are only going to pull you to the King’s Arms, and show you to the Colonel.”

This, indeed, was the direction in which the mob (whether inflamed by spontaneous enthusiasm, or excited by cunning agents placed amongst the populace by F. B., I cannot say), now took the barouche and its three occupants. With a myriad roar and shout the carriage was dragged up in front of the King’s Arms, from the balconies of which a most satisfactory account of the polling was already placarded. The extra noise and shouting brought out the Colonel, who looked at first with curiosity at the advancing procession, and then, as he caught sight of Sarah Mason, with a blush and a bow of his kind old head.

“Look at him, boys!” cried the enraptured F. B., pointing up to the old man. “Look at him; the dear old boy! Isn’t he an old trump? which will you have for your Member, Barnes Newcome or Old Tom?”

And as might be supposed, an immense shout of “Old Tom!” arose from the multitude; in the midst of which, blushing and bowing still, the Colonel went back to his committee-room: and the bands played “See the Conquering Hero” louder than ever; and poor Barnes in the course of his duty having to come out upon his balcony at the Roebuck opposite, was saluted with a yell as vociferous as the cheer for the Colonel had been; and old Mrs. Mason asked what the noise was about; and after making several vain efforts, in dumb show, to the crowd, Barnes slunk back into his hole again as pale as the turnip which was flung at his head: and the horses were brought, and Mrs. Mason driven home; and the day of election came to an end.

Reasons of personal gratitude, as we have stated already, prevented His Highness the Prince de Moncontour from taking a part in this family contest. His brethren of the House of Higg, however, very much to Florac’s gratification, gave their second votes to Colonel Newcome, carrying with them a very great number of electors: we know that in the present Parliament, Mr. Higg and Mr. Bunce sit for the borough of Newcome. Having had monetary transactions with Sir Barnes Newcome, and entered largely into railway speculations with him, the Messrs. Higg had found reason to quarrel with the Baronet; accuse him of sharp practices to the present day, and have long stories to tell which do not concern us about Sir Barnes’s stratagems, grasping, and extortion. They their following, deserting Sir Barnes, whom they had supported in previous elections, voted for the Colonel, although some of the opinions of that gentleman were rather too extreme for such sober persons.

Not exactly knowing what his politics were when he commenced the canvass, I can’t say to what opinions the poor Colonel did not find himself committed by the time when the election was over. The worthy gentleman felt himself not a little humiliated by what he had to say and to unsay, by having to answer questions, and submit to familiarities, to shake hands which, to say truth, he did not care for grasping at all. His habits were aristocratic; his education had been military; the kindest and simplest soul alive, he yet disliked all familiarity, and expected from common people the sort of deference which he had received from his men in the regiment. The contest saddened and mortified him; he felt that he was using wrong means to obtain an end that perhaps was not right (for so his secret conscience must have told him); he was derogating from his own honour in tampering with political opinions, submitting to familiarities, condescending to stand by whilst his agents solicited vulgar suffrages or uttered claptraps about retrenchment and reform. “I felt I was wrong,” he said to me, in after days, “though I was too proud to own my error in those times, and you and your good wife and my boy were right in protesting against that mad election.” Indeed, though we little knew what events were speedily to happen, Laura and I felt very little satisfaction when the result of the Newcome election was made known to us, and we found Sir Barnes Newcome third, and Col. Thomas Newcome second upon the poll.

Ethel was absent with her children at Brighton. She was glad, she wrote, not to have been at home during the election. Mr. and Mrs. C. were at Brighton, too. Ethel had seen Mrs. C. and her child once or twice. It was a very fine child. “My brother came down to us,” she wrote, “after all was over. He is furious against M. de Moncontour, who, he says, persuaded the Whigs to vote against him, and turned the election.”

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