Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER LI.

AN OLD FRIEND. T MIGHT open the present chapter, as a contemporary writer of 1 Romance is occasionally in the habit of commencing his tales of Chivalry, by a description of a November afternoon, with falling leaves, tawny forests, gathering storms, and other autumnal phenomena; and two horsemen winding up the romantic road which leads from---from Richmond Bridge to the “Star and Garter." The one rider is youthful, and has a blonde mustachio: the cheek of the other has been browned by foreign suns; it is easy to see by the manner in which he bestrides his powerful charger that he has followed the profession of arms. He looks as if he had faced his country's enemies on many a field of Eastern battle. The cavaliers alight before the gate of a cottage on Richmond Hill, where a gentleman receives them with eager welcome. Their steeds are accommodated at a neighbouring hostelry -I pause in the midst of the description, for the reader has made the acquaintance of our two horsemen long since. It is Clive returned from Malta, from Gibraltar, from Seville, from Cadiz, and with him our dear old friend the Colonel. His campaigns are over, his sword is hung up, he leaves Eastern suns and battles to warm young blood. Welcome back to England, dear Colonel and kind friend! How quickly the years have passed since he has been gone! There is a streak or two more silver in his hair. The wrinkles about his honest eyes are somewhat deeper, but their look is as steadfast and kind as in the early, almost boyish days when we first knew them.

We talk awhile about the Colonel's voyage home, the pleasures of the Spanish journey, the handsome new quarters in which Clive has installed his father and himself, my own altered condition in life, and what not. During the conversation a little querulous voice makes itself audible abovestairs, at which noise Mr. Clive begins to laugh, and the Colonel to smile. It is for the first time in his life Mr. Clive listens to the little voice; indeed, it is only since about six weeks that that small organ has been heard in the world at all. Laura Pendennis believes its tones to be the sweetest, the most interesting, the most mirth-inspiring,. the most pitiful and pathetic, that ever baby uttered; which opinions, of course, are backed by Mrs. Hokey, the confidential nurse. Laura's husband is not so rapturous; but, let us trust, behaves in a way becoming a man and a father. We forego the description of his feelings as not pertaining to the history at present under consideration. A little while before the dinner is served, the lady of the cottage comes down to greet her husband's old friends.

And here I am sorely tempted to a third description, which has nothing to do with the story to be sure, but which, if properly hit off, might fill half a page very prettily. For is not a young mother one of the sweetest sights which life shows us? If she has been beautiful before, does not her present pure joy give a character of refinement and sacredness almost to her beauty, touch her sweet cheeks with fairer blushes, and impart I know not what serene brightness to her eyes ?

When Sir Charles Grandison stepped up and made his very beautifullest bow to Miss Byron, I am sure his gracious dignity never exceeded that of Colonel Newcome's first greeting to Mrs. Pendennis. Of course from the very moment they beheld one another they became friends. Are not most of our likings thus instantaneous ? Before she came down to see him, Laura had put on one of the Colonel's shawls -the crimson one, with the red palm-leaves and the border of many colours. As for the white one, the priceless, the gossamer, the fairy web, which might pass through a ring, that, every lady must be aware, was already appropriated to cover the cradle, or what I believe is called the bassinet, of Master Pendennis. . So we all became the very best of friends; and during the winter months, whilst we still resided at Richmond, the Colonel was my wife's constant visitor. He often came without Clive. He did not care for the world which the young gentleman frequented, and was more pleased and at home by my wife's fireside than at more noisy and splendid entertainments. And, Laura being a sentimental person interested in pathetic novels and all unhappy attachments, of course she and the Colonel talked a great deal about Mr. Clive's little affair, over which they would have such deep confabulations that even when the master of the house appeared, Paterfamilias, the man whom, in the presence of the Rev. Dr. Portman, Mrs. Laura had sworn to love, honour, &c., these two guilty ones would be silent, or change the subject of conversation, not caring to admit such an unsympathizing person as myself into their conspiracy..

From many a talk which they have had together since the Colonel and his son embraced at Malta, Clive's father had been led to see how strongly the passion which our friend had once fought and mastered, had now taken possession of the young man, The unsatisfied longing left him indifferent to all other objects of previous desire or ambition. The misfortune darkened the sunshine of his spirit, and clouded the world before his eyes. He passed hours in his paintingroom, though, he tore up what he did there. He forsook his usual haunts, or appeared amongst his old comrades moody and silent. From cigar-smoking, which I own to be a reprehensible practice, he plunged into still deeper and darker dissipation; for I am sorry to say he took to pipes and the strongest tobacco, for which there is no excuse. Our young man was changed. During the last fifteen or twenty months the malady had been increasing on him, of which we have not chosen to describe at length the stages; knowing very well that the reader (the male reader at least) does not care a fig about other people's sentimental perplexities, and is not rapt up heart and soul in Clive's affairs like his father, whose rest was disturbed if the boy had a headache, or who would have stripped the coat off his back to keep his darling's feet warm.

The object of this hopeless passion had, meantime, returned to the custody of the dark old duenna, from which she had been liberated for awhile. Lady Kew had got her health again, by means of the prescriptions of some doctors, or by the efficacy of some baths; and was again on foot and in the world, tramping about in her grim pursuit of pleasure. Lady Julia, we are led to believe, had retired upon halfpay, and into an inglorious exile at Brussels, with her sister, the outlaw's wife, by whose bankrupt fireside she was perfectly happy. Miss Newcome was now her grandmother's companion, and they had been on a tour of visits in Scotland, and were journeying from countryhouse to country-house about the time when our good Colonel returned to his native shores.

The Colonel loved his nephew Barnes no better than before perhaps, though we must say, that since his return from India the young Baronet's conduct had been particularly friendly. “No doubt marriage had improved him ; Lady Clara seemed a good-natured young woman enough; besides," says the Colonel, wagging his good old head knowingly, “ Tom Newcome, of the Bundelcund Bank, is a personage to be conciliated; whereas Tom Newcome of the Bengal Cavalry was not worth Master Barnes's attention. He has been very good and kind on the whole; so have his friends been uncommonly civil. There was Clive's acquaintance, Mr. Belsize that was, Lord Highgate who is now, entertained our whole family sumptuously last week; wants us and Barnes and his wife to go to his country-house at Christmas; is as hospitable, my dear Mrs. Pendennis, as man can be. He met you at Barnes's, and as soon as we are alone,” says the Colonel, turning round to Laura's husband, “ I will tell you in what terms Lady Clara speaks of your wife. Yes. She is a good-natured kind little woman, that Lady Clara." Here Laura's face assumed that gravity and severeness NEWCOMES. which it always wore when Lady Clara's name was mentioned, and. the conversation took another turn.

Returning home from London one afternoon, I met the Colonel, who hailed me on the omnibus and rode on his way towards the City. I knew, of course, that he had been colloguing with my wife ; and taxed that young woman with these continued flirtations. “Two or three times a week, Mrs. Laura, you dare to receive a Colonel of Dragoons. You sit for hours closeted with the young fellow of sixty; you change the conversation when your own injured husband enters the room, and pretend to talk about the weather or the baby. You little arch-hypocrite, you know you do.-Don't try to humbug me, Miss; what will Richmond, what will society, what will Mrs. Grundy in general say to such atrocious behaviour ?"

“Oh, Pen," says my wife, closing my mouth in a way which I do not choose farther to particularise; “ that man is the best, the dearest, the kindest creature. I never knew such a good man; you ought to put him into a book. Do you know, sir, that I felt the very greatest desire to give him a kiss when he went away; and that one which you had just now was intended for him."

66 Take back thy gift, false girl!” says Mr. Pendennis; and then, finally, we come to the particular circumstance which had occasioned so much enthusiasm on Mrs. Laura's part.

Colonel Newcome had summoned heart of grace, and in Clive's. behalf had regularly proposed him to Barnes, as a suitor to Ethel ; taking an artful advantage of his nephew Barnes Newcome, and inviting that Baronet to a private meeting, where they were to talk about the affairs of the Bundelcund Banking Company.

Now this Bundelcund Banking Company, in the Colonel's eyes, was in reality his son Clive. But for Clive there might have been a hundred banking companies established, yielding a hundred per cent., in as many districts of India, and Thomas Newcome, who had plenty of money for his own wants, would never have thought of speculation. His desire was to see his boy endowed with all the possible gifts of fortune. Had he built a palace for Clive, and been informed that a roc's egg was required to complete the decoration of the edifice, Tom. Newcome would have travelled to the world's end in search of the wanting article. To see Prince Clive ride in a gold coach with a princess beside him, was the kind old Colonel's ambition; that done, he would be content to retire to a garret in the prince's castle, and smoke his cheroot there in peace. So the world is made. The strong and eager covet honour and enjoyment for themselves; the gentle and disappointed (once they may have been strong and eager too) desire these gifts for their children. I think Clive's father never liked or understood the lad's choice of a profession. He acquiesced in it, as

he would in any of his son's wishes. But, not being a poet himself, he could not see the nobility of that calling; and felt secretly that his son was demeaning himself by pursuing the art of painting. “Had he been a soldier now," thought Thomas Newcome, “ (though I prevented that,) had he been richer than he is, he might have married Ethel, instead of being unhappy as he now is, God help him! I remember my own time of grief well enough, and what years it took before my wound was scarred over.

| So, with these things occupying his brain, Thomas Newcome artfully invited Barnes, his nephew, to dinner, under pretence of talking of the affairs of the great B. B. C. With the first glass of wine at dessert, and according to the Colonel's good old-fashioned custom of proposing toasts, they drank the health of the B. B. C. Barnes drank the toast with all his generous heart. The B. B. C. sent to Hobson Brothers & Newcome a great deal of business, was in a most prosperous, condition, kept a great balance at the bank,-a balance that would not be overdrawn, as Sir Barnes Newcome very well knew. Barnes was for having more of these bills, provided there were remittances to meet the same. Barnes was ready to do any amount of business with the Indian bank, or with any bank, or with any individual, Christian or heathen, white or black, who could do good to the firm of Hobson Brothers & Newcome. · He spoke upon this subject with great archness and candour: of course, as a City man he would be glad to do a profitable business anywhere, and the B. B. C.'s business was profitable. But the interested motive, which he admitted frankly as a man of the world, did not prevent other sentiments more agreeable. “My dear Colonel,” says Barnes, “I am happy, most happy, to think that our house and our name should have been useful, as I know they have been, in the establishment of a concern in which one of our family is interested; one whom we all so sincerely respect and regard.” And he touched his glass with his lips, and blushed a little, as he bowed towards his uncle. 'He found himself making a little speech, indeed; and to do so before one single person seems rather odd. Had there been a large company present, Barnes would not have blushed at all, but have tossed off his glass, struck his waistcoat possibly, and looked straight in the face of his uncle as the chairman; well, he did very likely believe that he respected and regarded the Colonel.

The Colonel said—“Thank you, Barnes, with all my heart. It is always good for men to be friends, much more for blood relations, as we are.

“A relationship which honours me, I'm sure!” says Barnes, with a tone of infinite affability. You see he believed that Heaven had made him the Colonel's superior.

« AnteriorContinuar »