by William Makepeace Thackeray
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
William Makepeace Thackeray was born on July 18, 1811, at Calcutta, where his father was in the service of the East India Company. He was educated at Charterhouse School, then situated in Smithfield, and spent two years at Trinity College, Cambridge. After travelling on the continent as an artist, he returned to London, and wrote for the "Examiner" and "Fraser's Magazine," subsequently joining the staff of "Punch."
The Gray Friars School in 'The Newcomes' is the Charterhouse where Thackeray was at school.
For more works by William Makepeace Thackeray, see The Index
I. - The "Cave of Harmony"
It was in the days of my youth, when, having been to the play with some young fellows of my own age, we became naturally hungry at twelve o'clock at night, and a desire for welsh-rarebits and good old glee singing led us to the "Cave of Harmony," then kept by the celebrated Hoskins, among whose friends we were proud to count.
It happened that there was a very small attendance at the "cave" that night, and we were all more sociable and friendly because the company was select. The songs were chiefly of the sentimental class; such ditties were much in vogue at the time of which I speak.
There came into the "cave" a gentleman with a lean brown face and long black mustachios, and evidently a stranger to the place. At least he had not visited it for a long time. He was pointing out changes to a lad who was in his company; and, calling for sherry-and-water, he listened to the music and twirled his mustachios with great enthusiasm.
At the very first glimpse of me the boy jumped up from the table, ran to me with his hands out, and, blushing, said, "Don't you know me?"
It was little Newcome, my schoolfellow, whom I had not seen for six years, grown a fine tall young stripling now, with the same bright blue eyes which I remembered when he was quite a little boy.
"What the deuce brings you here?" said I.
He laughed and looked roguish. "My father - that's my father - would come. He's just come back from India. He says all the wits used to come here. I told him your name, and that you used to be very kind to me when I first went to Smithfield. I've left now: I'm to have a private tutor."
Here the whiskered gentleman, Newcome's father, strode across the room to the table where we sat, and held out his hand to me.
"I have heard of your kindness, sir," says he, "to my boy. And whoever is kind to him is kind to me. Will you allow me to sit down by you? and may I beg of you to try my cheroots."
We were friends in a minute - young Newcome snuggling by my side, and his father opposite.
It was worth a guinea to see the simple Colonel, and his delight at the music. He became quite excited over his sherry-and-water. He joined in all the choruses with an exceedingly sweet voice; and when Hoskins sang (as he did admirably) "The Old English Gentleman," and described the death of that venerable aristocrat, tears trickled down the honest warrior's cheek.
And now Mr. Hoskins asking if any gentleman would volunteer a song, what was our amazement when the simple Colonel offered to sing himself. Poor Clive Newcome blushed as red as a peony, and I thought what my own sensations would have been if, in that place, my own uncle Major Pendennis had suddenly proposed to exert his lyrical powers.
The Colonel selected the ditty of "Wapping Old Stairs," and gave his heart and soul to the simple ballad. When the song was over, Clive held up his head too, and looked round with surprise and pleasure in his eyes. The Colonel bowed and smiled with good nature at our plaudits. "I learnt that song forty years ago," he said, turning round to his boy. "I used to slip out from Grey Friars to hear it. Lord! Lord! how the time passes!"
Whilst he was singing his ballad, there had reeled into the room my friend Captain Costizan, in his usual condition at this hour of the night.
"Captain Costizan, will you take something to drink?"
"Bedad I will," says the Captain, "and I'll sing ye a song too."
Having procured a glass of whisky and water, the unlucky wretch, who scarcely knew what he was doing or saying, selected one of the most outrageous of what he called his prime songs, and began his music. At the end of the second verse, the Colonel started up, and looking as ferocious as though he had been going to do battle with a Pindaree, roared out "Silence!"
"Do you dare, sir," cries the Colonel, trembling with anger, "to call yourself a gentleman, and to say that you hold the king's commission, and to sit down amongst Christians and men of honour, and defile the ears of young boys with this wicked balderdash?"
"Why do you bring young boys here, old man?" cries a malcontent.
"Why? Because I thought I was coming to a society of gentlemen. I never could have believed that Englishmen could meet together and allow an old man so to disgrace himself. For shame! Go home to your bed, you hoary old sinner! And for my part, I'm not sorry that my son should see for once in his life to what degradation, drunkenness, and whisky may bring a man. Never mind the change, sir!" says the Colonel, to the amazed waiter. "Keep it till you see me in this place again, which will be never - by George, never!" And shouldering his stick, and scowling round at the company, the indignant gentleman stalked away, his boy after him.
Clive seemed rather shamefaced; but I fear the rest of the company looked still more foolish.
II. - Clive Newman in Love
The Colonel, in conjunction with an Indian friend of his, Mr. Binnie, took a house in London, No. 120, Fitzroy Square, and there was fine amusement for Clive and his father and Mr. Binnie in the purchase of furniture for the new mansion. It was like nobody else's house. What cosy pipes did we not smoke in the dining room, in the drawing room, or where we would!
Clive had a tutor, whom we recommended to him, and with whom the young gentleman did not fatigue his brains very much; but his great forte decidedly lay in drawing. He sketched the horses, he drew the dogs. He drew his father in all postures - asleep, on foot, on horseback; and jolly little Mr. Binnie, with his plump legs on a chair, or jumping briskly on the back of a cob which he rode.
"Oh," says Clive, if you talk to him now about those early days, "it was a jolly time! I do not believe there was any young fellow in London so happy." And there hangs up in his painting-room now a head, with hair touched with grey, with a large moustache, and melancholy eyes. And Clive shows that portrait of their grandfather to his children, and tells them that the whole world never saw a nobler gentleman.
Of course our young man commenced as an historical painter, deeming that the highest branch of art. He painted a prodigious battle-piece of Assaye, and will it be believed that the Royal Academicians rejected this masterpiece? Clive himself, after a month's trip to Paris with his father, declared the thing was rubbish.
It was during this time, when Clive and his father were in Paris, that Mr. Binnie, laid up with a wrenched ankle, was consoled by a visit from his sister, Mrs. Mackenzie, a brisk, plump little widow, and her daughter, Miss Rosey, a blue-eyed, fair-haired lass, with a very sweet voice.
Of course the most hospitable and polite of colonels would not hear of Mrs. Mackenzie and her daughter quitting his house when he returned to it, after the pleasant sojourn in Paris; nor indeed, did his fair guest show the least anxiety or intention to go away. Certainly, the house was a great deal more cheerful for the presence of the two pleasant ladies. Everybody liked them. Binnie received their caresses very good-humouredly. The Colonel liked every woman under the sun. Clive laughed and joked and waltzed alternately with Rosey and her mamma. None of us could avoid seeing that Mrs. Mackenzie was, as the phrase is, "setting her cap" openly at Clive; and Clive laughed at her simple manoeuvres as merrily as the rest.
Some months after the arrival of Mr. Binnie's niece and sister in Fitzroy Square, Mrs. Newcome, wife of Hobson Newcome, banker, the Colonel's brother, gave a dinner party at her house in Bryanstone Square. "It is quite a family party," whispered the happy Mrs. Newcome, when we recognised Lady Ann Newcome's carriage, and saw her ladyship, her mother - old Lady Kew, her daughter, Ethel, and her husband, Sir Brian, (Hobson's twin brother and partner in the banking firm of Hobson Brothers and Newcome), descend from the vehicle. The whole party from St. Pancras were already assembled - Mr. Binnie, the Colonel and his son, Mrs. Mackenzie and Miss Rosey.
Everybody was bent upon being happy and gracious. Miss Newcome ran up to the Colonel with both hands out, and with no eyes for anyone else, until Clive advancing, those bright eyes become brighter still with surprise and pleasure as she beholds him. And, as she looks, Miss Ethel sees a very handsome fellow, while the blushing youth casts down his eyes before hers.
"Upon my word, my dear Colonel," says old Lady Kew, nodding her head shrewdly, "I think we were right."
"No doubt right in everything your ladyship does, but in what particularly?" asks the Colonel.
"Right to keep him out of the way. Ethel has been disposed of these ten years. Did not Ann tell you? How foolish of her! But all mothers like to have young men dying for their daughters. Your son is really the handsomest boy in London. Ethel, my dear! Colonel Newcome must present us to Mrs. Mackenzie and Miss Mackenzie;" and Ethel, giving a nod to Clive, with whom she had talked for a minute or two, again puts her hand into her uncle's and walks towards Mrs. Mackenzie.
Let the artist give us a likeness of Ethel. She is seventeen years old, rather taller than the majority of women. Youth looks out of her bright eyes and flashes scorn or denial, perhaps too readily, when she encounters flattery or meanness. Her smile, when it lights up her face and eyes, is as beautiful as spring sunshine. Her countenance somewhat grave and haughty, on occasion brightens with humour or beams with kindliness and affection.
That night in the drawing room we found the two young ladies engaged over an album, containing a number of Clive's drawings made in the time of his very early youth, and Miss Ethel seemed to be very much pleased with these performances.
Old Major Pendennis, whom I met earlier in the day, made some confidential remarks concerning Miss Ethel and her relatives, which I set down here. "Your Indian Colonel," says he, "seems a worthy man. He don't seem to know much of the world and we are not very intimate. They say he wanted to marry your friend Clive to Lady Ann's daughter, an exceedingly fine girl; one of the prettiest girls come out this season. And that shows how monstrous ignorant of the world Colonel Newcome is. His son could no more get that girl than he could marry one of the royal princesses. These banker fellows are wild after grand marriages. Mark my words, they intend Miss Newcome for some man of high rank. Old Lady Kew is a monstrous clever woman. Nothing could show a more deplorable ignorance of the world than poor Newcome supposing his son could make such a match as that with his cousin. Is it true that he is going to make his son an artist? I don't know what the deuce the world is coming to. An artist! By Gad, in my time a fellow would as soon have thought of making his son a hairdresser, or a pastrycook, by Gad."
Lady Kew carried off her granddaughter Ethel, the Colonel returned to India, and Clive, endowed with a considerable annual sum from his father, went abroad with an apparatus of easels and painting boxes. Clive found Lady Ann, with Ethel and her other children, at Bount on their way to Baden Baden, and the old Countess being away for the time, it seemed to Clive that the barrier between himself and the family was withdrawn. He was glad enough to go with his cousins, and travel in the orbit of Ethel Newcome - who is now grown up and has been presented at Court.
At Baden Baden was Lady Kew; and Clive learning that Ethel was about to be betrothed, and that his suit was hopeless, retreated, with his paint boxes across the Alps to Rome.
III. - Clive is Married
It was announced that Miss Newcome was engaged to the Marquis Fairntosh, but for all that no marriage took place. First the death of Lady Kew made an inevitable postponement, and then Ethel herself shrunk from the loveless match, and, in spite of Lord Fairntosh's protests, dismissed the noble marquis.
But the announcement drove Clive to marry pretty little Rose Mackenzie. The Colonel was back in England again, and for good - a rich man, thanks to the success of the Bundeleund Bank, Bengal, in which his savings were invested, and heavily displeased with Ethel's treatment of his son.
Clive's marriage was performed in Brussels, where Mr. James Binnie, who longed to see Rosey wedded, and his sister, whom we flippantly ventured to call the Campaigner, had been staying that summer. After the marriage they went off to Scotland, and the Colonel and his son and daughter-in-law came to London - not to the old bachelor quarters in Fitzroy Square, but to a sumptuous mansion in the Tyburnian district - and one which became people of their station. To this house came Mrs. Mackenzie when the baby was born, and there she stayed.
In a pique with the woman he loved, and from that generous weakness which led him to acquiesce in most wishes of his good father, the young man had gratified the darling wish of the Colonel's heart, and taken the wife whom his old friends brought to him. Rosey, who was also of a very obedient and docile nature, had acquiesced gladly enough in her mamma's opinion, that she was in love with the rich and handsome young Clive, and accepted him for better or worse.
If Clive was gloomy and discontented even when the honeymoon had scarce waned, what was the young man's condition in poverty, when they had no love along with a silent dinner of herbs; when his mother-in-law grudged each morsel which his poor old father ate - when a vulgar, coarse-minded woman - as Mrs. Mackenzie was - pursued with brutal sarcasm one of the tenderest and noblest gentlemen in the world; when an ailing wife, always under some one's domination, received him with helpless hysterical cries and reproaches!
For a ghastly bankruptcy overwhelmed the Bundeleund Bank, and with its failure went all Colonel Newcome's savings, and all Mrs. Mackenzie's money and her daughter's. Even the Colonel's pension and annuities were swallowed up in the general ruin, for the old man would pay every shilling of his debts.
When I ventured to ask the Colonel why Mrs. Mackenzie should continue to live with them - "She has a right to live in the house," he said, "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. 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?"
But Clive was getting on tolerably well, at his painting, and many sitters came to him from amongst his old friends; he had work, scantily paid it is true, but work sufficient. "I am pretty easy in my mind, since I have become acquainted with a virtuous dealer," the painter assured me one day. "I sell myself to him, body and soul, for some half dozen pounds a week. I know I can get my money, and he is regularly supplied with his pictures. But for Rosey's illness we might carry on well enough."
Rosey's illness? I was sorry to hear of that; and poor Clive, entering into particulars, told me how he had spent upon doctors rather more than a fourth of his year's earnings.
IV. - The Colonel Says "Adsum" When His Name is Called
Mention has been made of the Grey Friars school - where the Colonel and Clive and I had been brought up, an ancient foundation still subsisting at Smithfield.
On the 12th of December, the Founder's Day, a goodly company of old Cistercians is generally brought together, to hear a sermon in chapel; after which we adjourn to a great dinner, where old condisciples meet, and speeches are made. In the chapel sit some three-score old gentlemen pensioners of the hospital, listening to the prayers and the psalms.
The service for Founder's Day is a special one, and we hear -
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord
upholdeth him with his hand.
I have been young, and now am old, yet have I not seen the
righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread.
As we came to this verse in the psalms I chanced to look up from my book towards the black-coated pensioners, and amongst them - amongst them - sat Thomas Newcome.
There was no mistaking him. He wore the black gown of the pensioners of the Hospital of Grey Friars. The steps of this good man had been ordered hither by heaven's decree to this alms-house!
The organ played us out of chapel, and I waited until the pensioners took their turn to quit it. The wan face of my dear old friend flushed up when he saw me, and his hand shook in mine, "I have found a home, Arthur," said he. "My good friend Lord H., who is a Cistercian like ourselves, and has just been appointed a governor, gave me his first nomination. Don't be agitated, Arthur, my boy; I am very happy. I have good quarters, good food, good light and fire, and good friends. Why, sir, I am as happy as the day is long."
We walked through the courts of the building towards his room, which in truth I found neat and comfortable, with a brisk fire on the hearth, a little tea-table laid out, and over the mantelpiece a drawing of his grandson by Clive.
"You may come and see me here, sir, whenever you like - but you must not stay now. You must go back to your dinner."
Of course I came to him on the very next day, and I had the happiness of bringing Clive and his little boy to Thomas Newcome that evening. Clive thought his father was in Scotland with Lord H.
It was at Xmas that Miss Ethel found an old unposted letter of her grandmother's, Mrs. Newcome, asking her lawyer to add a codicil to her will leaving a legacy of £6000 to Clive. The letter, of course, had no legal value, but Ethel was a rich woman, and insisted that the money should be sent, as from the family.
The old Colonel seemed hardly to comprehend it, and when Clive told him the story of the legacy, and said they could now pay Mrs. Mackenzie, "Quite right, quite right; of course we shall pay her, Clivy, when we can!" was all he said.
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, had been too strong for him, and Thomas Newcome was stricken down. Our Colonel was no more our friend of old days. 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.
Two more days and I had to take two advertisements to the Times 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, Rosaline, wife of Clive Newcome, Esq." So this poor little flower had bloomed for its little day, and pined and withered.
The days went on, and our hopes for the Colonel's recovery, 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.
Weeks passed away. Our old friend's mind was gone at intervals, but would rally feebly; and with his consciousness returned his love, his simplicity, his sweetness. The circumstances of Clive's legacy he never understood, but Ethel was almost always with him.
One afternoon in early spring, Thomas Newcome began to wander more and more. He talked louder; he gave the word of command, spoke Hindustanee as if to his men. Ethel and Clive were with him, and presently his voice sank into faint murmurs.
At the usual evening hour the chapel bell began to toll, and Thomas Newcome's hands feebly beat 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 his name, and stood in the presence of The Master.
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