The Newcomes, by William Makepeace Thackeray


In which the Colonel says “Adsum” when his Name is called

The vow which Clive had uttered, never to share bread with his mother-inlaw, or sleep under the same roof with her, was broken on the very next day. A stronger will than the young man’s intervened, and he had to confess the impotence of his wrath before that superior power. In the forenoon of the day following that unlucky dinner, I went with my friend to the banking-house whither Mr. Luce’s letter directed us, and carried away with me the principal sum, in which the Campaigner said Colonel Newcome was indebted to her, with the interest accurately computed and reimbursed. Clive went off with a pocketful of money to the dear old Poor Brother of Grey Friars; and he promised to return with his father, and dine with my wife in Queen Square. I had received a letter from Laura by the morning’s post, announcing her return by the express train from Newcome, and desiring that a spare bedroom should be got ready for a friend who accompanied her.

On reaching Howland Street, Clive’s door was opened, rather to my surprise, by the rebellious maid-servant who had received her dismissal on the previous night; and the doctor’s carriage drove up as she was still speaking to me. The polite practitioner sped upstairs to Mrs. Newcome’s apartment. Mrs. Mackenzie, in a robe-de-chambre and cap very different from yesterday’s, came out eagerly to meet the physician on the landing. Ere they had been a quarter of an hour together, arrived a cab, which discharged an elderly person with her bandbox and bundles; I had no difficulty in recognising a professional nurse in the new-comer. She too disappeared into the sick-room, and left me sitting in the neighbouring chamber, the scene of the last night’s quarrel.

Hither presently came to me Maria, the maid. She said she had not the heart to go away now she was wanted; that they had passed a sad night, and that no one had been to bed. Master Tommy was below, and the landlady taking care of him: the landlord had gone out for the nurse. Mrs. Clive had been taken bad after Mr. Clive went away the night before. Mrs. Mackenzie had gone to the poor young thing, and there she went on, crying, and screaming, and stamping, as she used to do in her tantrums, which was most cruel of her, and made Mrs. Clive so ill. And presently the young lady began: my informant told me. She came screaming into the sitting-room, her hair over her shoulders, calling out she was deserted, deserted, and would like to die. She was like a mad woman for some time. She had fit after fit of hysterics: and there was her mother, kneeling, and crying, and calling out to her darling child to calm herself; — which it was all her own doing, and she had much better have held her own tongue, remarked the resolute Maria. I understood only too well from the girl’s account what had happened, and that Clive, if resolved to part with his mother-inlaw, should not have left her, even for twelve hours, in possession of his house. The wretched woman, whose Self was always predominant, and who, though she loved her daughter after her own fashion, never forgot her own vanity or passion, had improved the occasion of Clive’s absence: worked upon her child’s weakness, jealousy, ill-health, and driven her, no doubt, into the fever which yonder physician was called to quell.

The doctor presently enters to write a prescription, followed by Clive’s mother-inlaw, who had cast Rosa’s fine Cashmere shawl over her shoulders, to hide her disarray. “You here still, Mr. Pendennis!” she exclaims. She knew I was there. Had not she changed her dress in order to receive me?

“I have to speak to you for two minutes on important business, and then I shall go,” I replied gravely.

“Oh, sir! to what a scene you have come! To what a state has Clive’s conduct last night driven my darling child!”

As the odious woman spoke so, the doctor’s keen eyes, looking up from the prescription, caught mine. “I declare before Heaven, madam,” I said hotly, “I believe you yourself are the cause of your daughter’s present illness, as you have been of the misery of my friends.”

“Is this, sir,” she was breaking out, “is this language to be used to ——?”

“Madam, will you be silent?” I said. “I am come to bid you farewell on the part of those whom your temper has driven into infernal torture. I am come to pay you every halfpenny of the sum which my friends do not owe you, but which they restore. Here is the account, and here is the money to settle it. And I take this gentleman to witness, to whom, no doubt, you have imparted what you call your wrongs” (the doctor smiled, and shrugged his shoulders) “that now you are paid.”

“A widow — a poor, lonely, insulted widow!” cries the Campaigner, with trembling hands taking possession of the notes.

“And I wish to know,” I continued, “when my friend’s house will be free to him, and he can return in peace.”

Here Rosa’s voice was heard from the inner apartment, screaming, “Mamma, mamma!”

“I go to my child, sir,” she said. “If Captain Mackenzie had been alive, you would not have dared to insult me so.” And carrying off her money, she left us.

“Cannot she be got out of the house?” I said to the doctor. “My friend will never return until she leaves it. It is my belief she is the cause of her daughter’s present illness.”

“Not altogether, my dear sir. Mrs. Newcome was in a very, very delicate state of health. Her mother is a lady of impetuous temper, who expresses herself very strongly — too strongly, I own. In consequence of unpleasant family discussions, which no physician can prevent, Mrs. Newcome has been wrought up to a state of — of agitation. Her fever is, in fact, at present very high. You know her condition. I am apprehensive of ulterior consequences. I have recommended an excellent and experienced nurse to her. Mr. Smith, the medical man at the corner, is a most able practitioner. I shall myself call again in a few hours, and I trust that, after the event which I apprehend, everything will go well.

“Cannot Mrs. Mackenzie leave the house, sir?” I asked.

“Her daughter cries out for her at every moment. Mrs. Mackenzie is certainly not a judicious nurse, but in Mrs. Newcome’s present state I cannot take upon myself to separate them. Mr. Newcome may return, and I do think and believe that his presence may tend to impose silence and restore tranquillity.”

I had to go back to Clive with these gloomy tidings. The poor fellow must put up a bed in his studio, and there await the issue of his wife’s illness. I saw Thomas Newcome could not sleep under his son’s roof that night. That dear meeting, which both so desired, was delayed, who could say for how long?

“The Colonel may come to us,” I thought; “our old house is big enough.” I guessed who was the friend coming in my wife’s company; and pleased myself by thinking that two friends so dear should meet in our home. Bent upon these plans, I repaired to Grey Friars, and to Thomas Newcome’s chamber there.

Bayham opened the door when I knocked, and came towards me with a finger on his lip, and a sad, sad countenance. He closed the door gently behind him, and led me into the court. “Clive is with him, and Miss Newcome. He is very ill. He does not know them,” said Bayham with a sob. “He calls out for both of them: they are sitting there and he does not know them.”

In a brief narrative, broken by more honest tears, Fred Bayham, as we paced up and down the court, told me what had happened. The old man must have passed a sleepless night, for on going to his chamber in the morning, his attendant found him dressed in his chair, and his bed undisturbed. He must have sat all through the bitter night without a fire: but his hands were burning hot, and he rambled in his talk. He spoke of some one coming to drink tea with him, pointed to the fire, and asked why it was not made; he would not go to bed, though the nurse pressed him. The bell began to ring for morning chapel; he got up and went towards his gown, groping towards it as though he could hardly see, and put it over his shoulders, and would go out, but he would have fallen in the court if the good nurse had not given him her arm; and the physician of the hospital, passing fortunately at this moment, who had always been a great friend of Colonel Newcome’s, insisted upon leading him back to his room again, and got him to bed. “When the bell stopped, he wanted to rise once more; he fancied he was a boy at school again,” said the nurse, “and that he was going in to Dr. Raine, who was schoolmaster here ever so many years ago.” So it was, that when happier days seemed to be dawning for the good man, that reprieve came too late. Grief, and years, and humiliation, and care, and cruelty had been too strong for him, and Thomas Newcome was stricken down.

Bayham’s story told, I entered the room, over which the twilight was falling, and saw the figures of Clive and Ethel seated at each end of the bed. The poor old man within it was calling incoherent sentences. I had to call Clive from the present grief before him, with intelligence of further sickness awaiting him at home. Our poor patient did not heed what I said to his son. “You must go home to Rosa,” Ethel said. “She will be sure to ask for her husband, and forgiveness is best, dear Clive. I will stay with uncle. I will never leave him. Please God, he will be better in the morning when you come back.” So Clive’s duty called him to his own sad home; and, the bearer of dismal tidings, I returned to mine. The fires were lit there and the table spread; and kind hearts were waiting to welcome the friend who never more was to enter my door.

It may be imagined that the intelligence which I brought alarmed and afflicted my wife and Madame de Florac, our guest. Laura immediately went away to Rosa’s house to offer her services if needed. The accounts which she brought thence were very bad: Clive came to her for a minute or two, but Mr. Mackenzie could not see her. Should she not bring the little boy home to her children? Laura asked; and Clive thankfully accepted that offer. The little man slept in our nursery that night, and was at play with our young ones on the morrow — happy and unconscious of the fate impending over his home.

* * * * * *

Yet two more days passed, and I had to take two advertisements to The Times newspaper on the part of poor Clive. Among the announcements of Births was printed, “On the 28th, in Howland Street, Mrs. Clive Newcome of a son, still-born.” And a little lower, in the third division of the same column, appeared the words, “On the 29th, in Howland Street, aged 26, Rosa, wife of Clive Newcome, Esq.” So, one day, shall the names of all of us be written there; to be deplored by how many? — to be remembered how long? — to occasion what tears, praises, sympathy, censure? — yet for a day or two, while the busy world has time to recollect us who have passed beyond it. So this poor little flower had bloomed for its little day, and pined, and withered, and perished. There was only one friend by Clive’s side following the humble procession which laid poor Rosa and her child out of sight of a world that had been but unkind to her. Not many tears were there to water her lonely little grave. A grief that was akin to shame and remorse humbled him as he knelt over her. Poor little harmless lady! no more childish triumphs and vanities, no more hidden griefs are you to enjoy or suffer; and earth closes over your simple pleasures and tears! The snow was falling and whitening the coffin as they lowered it into the ground. It was at the same cemetery in which Lady Kew was buried. I dare say the same clergyman read the same service over the two graves, as he will read it for you or any of us tomorrow, and until his own turn comes. Come away from the place, poor Clive! Come sit with your orphan little boy; and bear him on your knee, and hug him to your heart. He seems yours now, and all a father’s love may pour out upon him. Until this hour, Fate uncontrollable and homely tyranny had separated him from you.

It was touching to see the eagerness and tenderness with which the great strong man now assumed the guardianship of the child, and endowed him with his entire wealth of affection. The little boy now ran to Clive whenever he came in, and sat for hours prattling to him. He would take the boy out to walk, and from our windows we could see Clive’s black figure striding over the snow in St. James’s Park, the little man trotting beside him, or perched on his father’s shoulder. My wife and I looked at them one morning as they were making their way towards the City.

“He has inherited that loving heart from his father,” Laura said; “and he is paying over the whole property to his son.”

Clive, and the boy sometimes with him, used to go daily to Grey Friars, where the Colonel still lay ill. After some days the fever which had attacked him left him, but left him so weak and enfeebled that he could only go from his bed to the chair by his fireside. The season was exceedingly bitter, the chamber which he inhabited was warm and spacious; it was considered unadvisable to move him until he had attained greater strength, and till warmer weather. The medical men of the House hoped he might rally in spring. My friend, Dr. Goodenough, came to him; he hoped too: but not with a hopeful face. A chamber, luckily vacant, hard by the Colonel’s, was assigned to his friends, where we sate when we were too many for him. Besides his customary attendant, he had two dear and watchful nurses, who were almost always with him — Ethel and Madame de Florac, who had passed many a faithful year by an old man’s bedside; who would have come, as to a work of religion, to any sick couch, much more to this one, where he lay for whose life she would once gladly have given her own.

But our Colonel, we all were obliged to acknowledge, was no more our friend of old days. He knew us again, and was good to every one round him, as his wont was; especially when Boy came, his old eyes lighted up with simple happiness, and, with eager trembling hands, he would seek under his bedclothes, or the pockets of his dressing-gown, for toys or cakes, which he had caused to be purchased for his grandson. There was a little laughing, red-cheeked, white-headed gown-boy of the school, to whom the old man had taken a great fancy. One of the symptoms of his returning consciousness and recovery, as we hoped, was his calling for this child, who pleased our friend by his archness and merry ways; and who, to the old gentleman’s unfailing delight, used to call him, “Codd Colonel.” “Tell little F— — that Codd Colonel wants to see him;” and the little gown-boy was brought to him; and the Colonel would listen to him for hours; and hear all about his lessons and his play; and prattle almost as childishly about Dr. Raine, and his own early school-days. The boys of the school, it must be said, had heard the noble old gentleman’s touching history, and had all got to know and love him. They came every day to hear news of him; sent him in books and papers to amuse him; and some benevolent young souls — God’s blessing on all honest boys, say I — painted theatrical characters, and sent them in to Codd Colonel’s grandson. The little fellow was made free of gown-boys, and once came thence to his grandfather in a little gown, which delighted the old man hugely. Boy said he would like to be a little gown-boy; and I make no doubt, when he is old enough, his father will get him that post, and put him under the tuition of my friend Dr. Senior.

So, weeks passed away, during which our dear old friend still remained with us. His mind was gone at intervals, but would rally feebly; and with his consciousness returned his love, his simplicity, his sweetness. He would talk French with Madame de Florac, at which time, his memory appeared to awaken with surprising vividness, his cheek flushed, and he was a youth again — a youth all love and hope — a stricken old man, with a beard as white as snow covering the noble careworn face. At such times he called her by her Christian name of Leonore; he addressed courtly old words of regard and kindness to the aged lady; anon he wandered in his talk, and spoke to her as if they still were young. Now, as in those early days, his heart was pure; no anger remained in it; no guile tainted it; only peace and goodwill dwelt in it.

Rosa’s death had seemed to shock him for a while when the unconscious little boy spoke of it. Before that circumstance, Clive had even forbore to wear mourning, lest the news should agitate his father. The Colonel remained silent and was very much disturbed all that day, but he never appeared to comprehend the fact quite; and, once or twice afterwards, asked, why she did not come to see him? She was prevented, he supposed — she was prevented, he said, with a look of terror: he never once otherwise alluded to that unlucky tyrant of his household, who had made his last years so unhappy.

The circumstance of Clive’s legacy he never understood: but more than once spoke of Barnes to Ethel, and sent his compliments to him, and said he should like to shake him by the hand. Barnes Newcome never once offered to touch that honoured hand, though his sister bore her uncle’s message to him. They came often from Bryanstone Square; Mrs. Hobson even offered to sit with the Colonel, and read to him, and brought him books for his improvement. But her presence disturbed him; he cared not for her books; the two nurses whom he loved faithfully watched him; and my wife and I were admitted to him sometimes, both of whom he honoured with regard and recognition. As for F. B., in order to be near his Colonel, did not that good fellow take up his lodging in Cistercian Lane, at the Red Cow? He is one whose errors, let us hope, shall be pardoned, quia multum amavit. I am sure he felt ten times more joy at hearing of Clive’s legacy, than if thousands had been bequeathed to himself. May good health and good fortune speed him!

The days went on, and our hopes, raised sometimes, began to flicker and fail. One evening the Colonel left his chair for his bed in pretty good spirits, but passed a disturbed night, and the next morning was too weak to rise. Then he remained in his bed, and his friends visited him there. One afternoon he asked for his little gown-boy, and the child was brought to him, and sate by the bed with a very awestricken face; and then gathered courage, and tried to amuse him by telling him how it was a half-holiday, and they were having a cricket-match with the St. Peter’s boys in the green, and Grey Friars was in and winning. The Colonel quite understood about it; he would like to see the game; he had played many a game on that green when he was a boy. He grew excited; Clive dismissed his father’s little friend, and put a sovereign into his hand; and away he ran to say that Codd Colonel had come into a fortune, and to buy tarts, and to see the match out. I, curre, little white-haired gown-boy! Heaven speed you, little friend!

After the child had gone, Thomas Newcome began to wander more and more. He talked louder; he gave the word of command, spoke Hindustanee as if to his men. Then he spoke words in French rapidly, seizing a hand that was near him and crying, “Toujours, toujours!” But it was Ethel’s hand which he took.

Ethel and Clive and the nurse were in the room with him; the latter came to us, who were sitting in the adjoining apartment; Madame de Florac was there, with my wife and Bayham.

At the look in the woman’s countenance Madame de Florac started up. “He is very bad, he wanders a great deal,” the nurse whispered. The French lady fell instantly on her knees, and remained rigid in prayer.

Some time afterwards Ethel came in with a scared face to our pale group. “He is calling for you again, dear lady,” she said, going up to Madame de Florac, who was still kneeling; “and just now he said he wanted Pendennis to take care of his boy. He will not know you.” She hid her tears as she spoke.

She went into the room, where Clive was at the bed’s foot; the old man within it talked on rapidly for a while: then again he would sigh and be still: once more I heard him say hurriedly, “Take care of him while I’m in India;” and then with a heart-rending voice he called out, “Leonore, Leonore!” She was kneeling by his side now. The patient’s voice sank into faint murmurs; only a moan now and then announced that he was not asleep.

At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome’s hands outside the bed feebly beat a time. And just as the last bell struck, a peculiar sweet smile shone over his face, and he lifted up his head a little, and quickly said, “Adsum!” and fell back. It was the word we used at school, when names were called; and lo, he, whose heart was as that of a little child, had answered to his name, and stood in the presence of The Master.

* * * * * *

Two years ago, walking with my children in some pleasant fields, near to Berne in Switzerland, I strayed from them into a little wood; and, coming out of it presently, told them how the story had been revealed to me somehow, which for three-and-twenty months the reader has been pleased to follow. As I write the last line with a rather sad heart, Pendennis and Laura, and Ethel and Clive, fade away into Fable-land. I hardly know whether they are not true: whether they do not live near us somewhere. They were alive, and I heard their voices, but five minutes since was touched by their grief. And have we parted with them here on a sudden, and without so much as a shake of the hand? Is yonder line (——) which I drew with my own pen, a barrier between me and Hades as it were, across which I can see those figures retreating and only dimly glimmering? Before taking leave of Mr. Arthur Pendennis, might he not have told us whether Miss Ethel married anybody finally? It was provoking that he should retire to the shades without answering that sentimental question.

But though he has disappeared as irrevocably as Eurydice, these minor questions may settle the major one above mentioned. How could Pendennis have got all that information about Ethel’s goings-on at Baden, and with Lord Kew, unless she had told somebody — her husband, for instance, who, having made Pendennis an early confidant in his amour, gave him the whole story? Clive, Pendennis writes expressly, is travelling abroad with his wife. Who is that wife? By a most monstrous blunder, Mr. Pendennis killed Lord Farintosh’s mother at one page and brought her to life again at another; but Rosey, who is so lately consigned to Kensal Green, it is not surely with her that Clive is travelling, for then Mrs. Mackenzie would probably be with them to a live certainty, and the tour would be by no means pleasant. How could Pendennis have got all those private letters, etc., but that the Colonel kept them in a teak box, which Clive inherited and made over to his friend? My belief then is, that in Fable-land somewhere Ethel and Clive are living most comfortably together: that she is immensely fond of his little boy, and a great deal happier now than they would have been had they married at first, when they took a liking to each other as young people. That picture of J. J.‘s of Mrs. Clive Newcome (in the Crystal Palace Exhibition in Fable-land), is certainly not in the least like Rosey, who we read was fair; but it represents a tall, handsome, dark lady, who must be Mrs. Ethel.

Again, why did Pendennis introduce J. J. with such a flourish, giving us, as it were, an overture, and no piece to follow it? J. J.‘s history, let me confidentially state, has been revealed to me too, and may be told some of these fine summer months, or Christmas evenings, when the kind reader has leisure to hear.

What about Sir Barnes Newcome ultimately? My impression is that he is married again, and it is my fervent hope that his present wife bullies him. Mrs. Mackenzie cannot have the face to keep that money which Clive paid over to her, beyond her lifetime; and will certainly leave it and her savings to little Tommy. I should not be surprised if Madame de Moncontour left a smart legacy to the Pendennis children; and Lord Kew stood godfather in case — in case Mr. and Mrs. Clive wanted such an article. But have they any children? I, for my part, should like her best without, and entirely devoted to little Tommy. But for you, dear friend, it is as you like. You may settle your Fable-land in your own fashion. Anything you like happens in Fable-land. Wicked folks die a propos (for instance, that death of Lady Kew was most artful, for if she had not died, don’t you see that Ethel would have married Lord Farintosh the next week?)— annoying folks are got out of the way; the poor are rewarded — the upstarts are set down in Fable-land — the frog bursts with wicked rage, the fox is caught in his trap, the lamb is rescued from the wolf, and so forth, just in the nick of time. And the poet of Fable-land rewards and punishes absolutely. He splendidly deals out bags of sovereigns, which won’t buy anything; belabours wicked backs with awful blows, which do not hurt; endows heroines with preternatural beauty, and creates heroes, who, if ugly sometimes, yet possess a thousand good qualities, and usually end by being immensely rich; makes the hero and heroine happy at last, and happy ever after. Ah, happy, harmless Fable-land, where these things are! Friendly reader! may you and the author meet there on some future day. He hopes so; as he yet keeps a lingering hold of your hand, and bids you farewell with a kind heart.

Paris, 28th June 1855.

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