The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray



When the sale of Colonel Newcome’s effects took place, a friend of the family bought in for a few shillings those two swords which had hung, as we have said, in the good man’s chamber, and for which no single broker present had the heart to bid. The head of Clive’s father, painted by himself, which had always kept its place in the young man’s studio, together with a lot of his oil-sketchings, easels, and painting apparatus, were purchased by the faithful J. J., who kept them until his friend should return to London and reclaim them, and who showed the most generous solicitude in Clive’s behalf. J. J. was elected of the Royal Academy this year, and Clive, it was evident, was working hard at the profession which he had always loved; for he sent over three pictures to the Academy, and I never knew man more mortified than the affectionate J. J., when two of these unlucky pieces were rejected by the committee for the year. One pretty little piece, called “The Stranded Boat,” got a fair place on the Exhibition walls, and, you may be sure, was loudly praised by a certain critic in the Pall Mall Gazette. The picture was sold on the first day of the exhibition at the price of twenty-five pounds, which the artist demanded; and when the kind J. J. wrote to inform his friend of this satisfactory circumstance, and to say that he held the money at Clive’s disposal, the latter replied with many expressions of sincere gratitude, at the same time begging him directly to forward the money, with our old friend Thomas Newcome’s love, to Mrs. Sarah Mason, at Newcome. But J. J. never informed his friend that he himself was the purchaser of the picture; nor was Clive made acquainted with the fact until some time afterwards, when he found it hanging in Ridley’s studio.

I have said that we none of us were aware at this time what was the real state of Colonel Newcome’s finances, and hoped that, after giving up every shilling of his property which was confiscated to the creditors of the Bank, he had still, from his retiring pension and military allowances, at least enough reputably to maintain him. On one occasion, having business in the City, I there met Mr. Sherrick. Affairs had been going ill with that gentleman — he had been let in terribly, he informed me, by Lord Levant’s insolvency — having had large money transactions with his lordship. “There’s none of them so good as old Newcome,” Mr. Sherrick said with a sigh; “that was a good one — that was an honest man if ever I saw one — with no more guile, and no more idea of business than a baby. Why didn’t he take my advice, poor old cove? — he might be comfortable now. Why did he sell away that annuity, Pendennis? I got it done for him when nobody else perhaps could have got it done for him — for the security ain’t worth twopence if Newcome wasn’t an honest man; — but I know he is, and would rather starve and eat the nails off his fingers than not keep his word, the old trump. And when he came to me, a good two months before the smash of the Bank, which I knew it, sir, and saw that it must come — when he came and raised three thousand pounds to meet them d — d electioneering bills, having to pay lawyers, commission, premium, life-insurance — you know the whole game, Mr. P. — I as good as went down on my knees to him — I did — at the North and South American Coffee-house, where he was to meet the party about the money, and said, ‘Colonel, don’t raise it — I tell you, let it stand over — let it go in along with the bankruptcy that’s a-coming,’— but he wouldn’t — he went on like an old Bengal tiger, roaring about his honour; he paid the bills every shilling — infernal long bills they were, and it’s my belief that, at this minute, he ain’t got fifty pounds a year of his own to spend. I would send him back my commission — I would by Jove — only times is so bad, and that rascal Levant let me in. It went to my heart to take the old cock’s money — but it’s gone — that and ever so much more — and Lady Whittlesea’s Chapel too, Mr. P. Hang that young Levant.”

Squeezing my hand after this speech, Sherrick ran across the street after some other capitalist who was entering the Diddlesex Insurance Office, and left me very much grieved and dismayed at finding that my worst fears in regard to Thomas Newcome were confirmed. Should we confer with his wealthy family respecting the Colonel’s impoverished condition? Was his brother Hobson Newcome aware of it? As for Sir Barnes, the quarrel between him and his uncle had been too fierce to admit of hopes of relief from that quarter. Barnes had been put to very heavy expenses in the first contested election; had come forward again immediately on his uncle’s resignation, but again had been beaten by a more liberal candidate, his quondam former friend, Mr. Higg — who formally declared against Sir Barnes, and who drove him finally out of the representation of Newcome. From this gentleman it was vain of course for Colonel Newcome’s friends to expect relief.

How to aid him? He was proud — past work — nearly seventy years old. “Oh, why did those cruel Academicians refuse Clive’s pictures?” cries Laura. “I have no patience with them — had the pictures been exhibited I know who might have bought them — but that is vain now. He would suspect at once, and send her money away. Oh, Pen! why, why didn’t he come when I wrote that letter to Brussels?”

From persons so poorly endowed with money as ourselves, any help, but of the merest temporary nature, was out of the question. We knew our friends too well not to know that they would disdain to receive it. It was agreed between me and Laura that at any rate I should go and see Clive. Our friends indeed were at a very short distance from us, and, having exiled themselves from England, could yet see its coasts from their windows upon any clear day. Boulogne was their present abiding-place — refuge of how many thousands of other unfortunate Britons — and to this friendly port I betook myself speedily, having the address of Colonel Newcome. His quarters were in a quiet grass-grown old street of the Old Town. None of the family were at home when I called. There was indeed no servant to answer the bell, but the good-natured French domestic of a neighbouring lodger told me that the young monsieur went out every day to make his designs, and that I should probably find the elder gentleman upon the rampart, where he was in the custom of going every day. I strolled along by those pretty old walks and bastions, under the pleasant trees which shadow them, and the grey old gabled houses from which you look down upon the gay new city, and the busy port, and the piers stretching into the shining sea, dotted with a hundred white sails or black smoking steamers, and bounded by the friendly lines of the bright English shore. There are few prospects more charming than the familiar view from those old French walls — few places where young children may play, and ruminating old age repose more pleasantly than on those peaceful rampart gardens.

I found our dear old friend seated on one of the benches, a newspaper on his knees, and by his side a red-cheeked little French lass, upon whose lap Thomas Newcome the younger lay sleeping. The Colonel’s face flushed up when he saw me. As he advanced a step or two towards me I could see that he trembled in his walk. His hair had grown almost quite white. He looked now to be more than his age — he whose carriage last year had been so erect, whose figure had been so straight and manly. I was very much moved at meeting him, and at seeing the sad traces which pain and grief had left in the countenance of the dear old man.

“So you are come to see me, my good young friend,” cried the Colonel, with a trembling voice. “It is very, very kind of you. Is not this a pretty drawing-room to receive our friends in? We have not many of them now; Boy and I come and sit here for hours every day. Hasn’t he grown a fine boy? He can say several words now, sir, and can walk surprisingly well. Soon he will be able to walk with his grandfather, and then Marie will not have the trouble to wait upon either of us.” He repeated this sentiment in his pretty old French, and turning with a bow to Marie. The girl said monsieur knew very well that she did not desire better than to come out with baby; that it was better than staying at home, pardieu; and, the clock striking at this moment, she rose up with her child, crying out that it was time to return or madame would scold.

“Mrs. Mackenzie has rather a short temper,” the Colonel said with a gentle smile. “Poor thing, she has had a great deal to bear in consequence, Pen, of my imprudence. I am glad you never took shares in our bank. I should not be so glad to see you as I am now, if I had brought losses upon you as I have upon so many of my friends.” I, for my part, trembled to hear the good old man was under the domination of the Campaigner.

“Bayham sends me the paper regularly; he is a very kind faithful creature. How glad I am that he has got a snug berth in the City! His company really prospers, I am happy to think, unlike some companies you know of, Pen. I have read your two speeches, sir, and Clive and I liked them very much. The poor boy works all day at his pictures. You know he has sold one at the exhibition, which has given us a great deal of heart — and he has completed two or three more — and I am sitting to him now for — what do you think, sir? for Belisarius. Will you give Belisarius and the Obolus kind word?”

“My dear, dear old friend,” I said in great emotion, “if you will do me the kindness to take my Obolus or to use my services in any way, you will give me more pleasure than ever I had from your generous bounties in old days. Look, sir, I wear the watch which you gave me when you went to India. Did you not tell me then to look over Clive and serve him if I could? Can’t I serve him now?” and I went on further in this strain, asseverating with great warmth and truth that my wife’s affection and my own were most sincere for both of them, and that our pride would be to be able to help such dear friends.

The Colonel said I had a good heart, and my wife had, though — though — he did not finish this sentence, but I could interpret it without need of its completion. My wife and the two ladies of Colonel Newcome’s family never could be friends, however much my poor Laura tried to be intimate with these women. Her very efforts at intimacy caused a frigidity and hauteur which Laura could not overcome. Little Rosey and her mother set us down as two aristocratic personages; nor for our parts were we very much disturbed at this opinion of the Campaigner and little Rosa.

I talked with the Colonel for half an hour or more about his affairs, which indeed were very gloomy, and Clive’s prospects, of which he strove to present as cheering a view as possible. He was obliged to confirm the news which Sherrick had given me, and to own, in fact, that all his pension was swallowed up by a payment of interest and life insurance for sums which he had been compelled to borrow. How could he do otherwise than meet his engagements? Thank God, he had Clive’s full approval for what he had done — had communicated the circumstance to his son almost immediately after it took place, and that was a comfort to him — an immense comfort. “For the women are very angry,” said the poor Colonel; “you see they do not understand the laws of honour, at least as we understand them: and perhaps I was wrong in hiding the truth as I certainly did from Mrs. Mackenzie, but I acted for the best — I hoped against hope that some chance might turn in our favour. God knows, I had a hard task enough in wearing a cheerful face for months, and in following my little Rosa about to her parties and balls; but poor Mrs. Mackenzie has a right to be angry, only I wish my little girl did not side with her mother so entirely, for the loss of her affection gives me great pain.”

So it was as I suspected. The Campaigner ruled over this family, and added to all their distresses by her intolerable presence and tyranny. “Why, sir,” I ventured to ask, “if, as I gather from you — and I remember,” I added with a laugh, “certain battles-royal which Clive described to me in old days — if you and the Campai — Mrs. Mackenzie do not agree, why should she continue to live with you, when you would all be so much happier apart?”

“She has a right to live in the house,” says the Colonel; “It is I who have no right in it. I am a poor old pensioner, don’t you see, subsisting on Rosey’s bounty? We live on the hundred a year, secured to her at her marriage, and Mrs. Mackenzie has her forty pounds of pension which she adds to the common stock. It is I who have made away with every shilling of Rosey’s 17,000 pounds, God help me, and with 1500 pounds of her mother’s. They put their little means together, and they keep us — me and Clive. What can we do for a living? Great God! What can we do? Why, I am so useless that even when my poor boy earned 25 pounds for his picture, I felt we were bound to send it to Sarah Mason, and you may fancy when this came to Mrs. Mackenzie’s ears, what a life my boy and I led. I have never spoken of these things to any mortal soul — I even don’t speak of them with Clive — but seeing your kind and honest face has made me talk — you must pardon my garrulity — I am growing old, Arthur. This poverty and these quarrels have beaten my spirit down — there, I shall talk on this subject no more. I wish, sir, I could ask you to dine with us, but”— and here he smiled —“we must get the leave of the higher powers.”

I was determined, in spite of prohibitions and Campaigners, to see my old friend Clive, and insisted on walking back with the Colonel to his lodgings, at the door of which we met Mrs. Mackenzie and her daughter. Rosa blushed up a little — looked at her mamma — and then greeted me with a hand and a curtsey. The Campaigner also saluted me in a majestic but amicable manner, made no objection even to my entering her apartments and seeing the condition to which they were reduced: this phrase was uttered with particular emphasis and a significant look towards the Colonel, who bowed his meek head and preceded me into the lodgings, which were in truth very homely, pretty, and comfortable. The Campaigner was an excellent manager — restless, bothering, brushing perpetually. Such fugitive gimcracks as they had brought away with them decorated the little salon. Mrs. Mackenzie, who took the entire command, even pressed me to dine and partake, if so fashionable a gentleman would condescend to partake, of a humble exile’s fare. No fare was perhaps very pleasant to me in company with that woman, but I wanted to see my dear old Clive, and gladly accepted his voluble mother-inlaw’s not disinterested hospitality. She beckoned the Colonel aside; whispered to him, putting something into his hand; on which he took his hat and went away. Then Rosey was dismissed upon some other pretext, and I had the felicity to be left alone with Mrs. Captain Mackenzie.

She instantly improved the occasion; and with great eagerness and volubility entered into her statement of the present affairs and position of this unfortunate family. She described darling Rosey’s delicate state, poor thing — nursed with tenderness and in the lap of luxury — brought up with every delicacy and the fondest mother — never knowing in the least how to take care of herself, and likely to fall down and perish unless the kind Campaigner were by to prop and protect her. She was in delicate health — very delicate — ordered cod-liver oil by the doctor. Heaven knows how he could be paid for those expensive medicines out of the pittance to which the imprudence — the most culpable and designing imprudence, and extravagance, and folly of Colonel Newcome had reduced them! Looking out from the window as she spoke I saw — we both saw — the dear old gentleman sadly advancing towards the house, a parcel in his hand. Seeing his near approach, and that our interview was likely to come to an end, Mrs. Mackenzie rapidly whispered to me that she knew I had a good heart — that I had been blessed by Providence with a fine fortune, which I knew how to keep better than some folks — and that if, as no doubt was my intention — for with what other but a charitable view could I have come to see them? — and most generous and noble was it of you to come, and I always thought it of you, Mr. Pendennis, whatever other people said to the contrary. If I proposed to give them relief, which was most needful — and for which a mother’s blessings would follow me — let it be to her, the Campaigner, that my loan should be confided — for as for the Colonel, he is not fit to be trusted with a shilling, and has already flung away immense sums upon some old woman he keeps in the country, leaving his darling Rosey without the actual necessaries of life.

The woman’s greed and rapacity — the flattery with which she chose to belabour me at dinner, so choked and disgusted me, that I could hardly swallow the meal, though my poor old friend had been sent out to purchase a pate from the pastrycook’s for my especial refection. Clive was not at the dinner. He seldom returned till late at night on sketching days. Neither his wife nor his mother-inlaw seemed much to miss him; and seeing that the Campaigner engrossed the entire share of the conversation, and proposed not to leave me for five minutes alone with the Colonel, I took leave rather speedily of my entertainers, leaving a message for Clive, and a prayer that he would come and see me at my hotel.

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