Part 11 out of 16
intervals these exclamations of rage and grief. The cook looked at
the housemaid, the housemaid looked knowingly at the footman--the
awful kitchen inquisition which sits in judgement in every house and
knows everything--sat on Rebecca at that moment.
After this incident, the mother's dislike increased to hatred; the
consciousness that the child was in the house was a reproach and a
pain to her. His very sight annoyed her. Fear, doubt, and
resistance sprang up, too, in the boy's own bosom. They were
separated from that day of the boxes on the ear.
Lord Steyne also heartily disliked the boy. When they met by
mischance, he made sarcastic bows or remarks to the child, or glared
at him with savage-looking eyes. Rawdon used to stare him in the
face and double his little fists in return. He knew his enemy, and
this gentleman, of all who came to the house, was the one who
angered him most. One day the footman found him squaring his fists
at Lord Steyne's hat in the hall. The footman told the circumstance
as a good joke to Lord Steyne's coachman; that officer imparted it
to Lord Steyne's gentleman, and to the servants' hall in general.
And very soon afterwards, when Mrs. Rawdon Crawley made her
appearance at Gaunt House, the porter who unbarred the gates, the
servants of all uniforms in the hall, the functionaries in white
waistcoats, who bawled out from landing to landing the names of
Colonel and Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, knew about her, or fancied they
did. The man who brought her refreshment and stood behind her chair,
had talked her character over with the large gentleman in motley-
coloured clothes at his side. Bon Dieu! it is awful, that servants'
inquisition! You see a woman in a great party in a splendid saloon,
surrounded by faithful admirers, distributing sparkling glances,
dressed to perfection, curled, rouged, smiling and happy--Discovery
walks respectfully up to her, in the shape of a huge powdered man
with large calves and a tray of ices--with Calumny (which is as
fatal as truth) behind him, in the shape of the hulking fellow
carrying the wafer-biscuits. Madam, your secret will be talked over
by those men at their club at the public-house to-night. Jeames
will tell Chawles his notions about you over their pipes and pewter
beer-pots. Some people ought to have mutes for servants in Vanity
Fair--mutes who could not write. If you are guilty, tremble. That
fellow behind your chair may be a Janissary with a bow-string in his
plush breeches pocket. If you are not guilty, have a care of
appearances, which are as ruinous as guilt.
"Was Rebecca guilty or not?" the Vehmgericht of tho servants' hall
had pronounced against her.
And, I shame to say, she would not have got credit had they not
believed her to be guilty. It was the sight of the Marquis of
Steyne's carriage-lamps at her door, contemplated by Raggles,
burning in the blackness of midnight, "that kep him up," as he
afterwards said, that even more than Rebecca's arts and coaxings.
And so--guiltless very likely--she was writhing and pushing onward
towards what they call "a position in society," and the servants
were pointing at her as lost and ruined. So you see Molly, the
housemaid, of a morning, watching a spider in the doorpost lay his
thread and laboriously crawl up it, until, tired of the sport, she
raises her broom and sweeps away the thread and the artificer.
A day or two before Christmas, Becky, her husband and her son made
ready and went to pass the holidays at the seat of their ancestors
at Queen's Crawley. Becky would have liked to leave the little brat
behind, and would have done so but for Lady Jane's urgent
invitations to the youngster, and the symptoms of revolt and
discontent which Rawdon manifested at her neglect of her son. "He's
the finest boy in England," the father said in a tone of reproach to
her, "and you don't seem to care for him, Becky, as much as you do
for your spaniel. He shan't bother you much; at home he will be
away from you in the nursery, and he shall go outside on the coach
"Where you go yourself because you want to smoke those filthy
cigars," replied Mrs. Rawdon.
"I remember when you liked 'em though," answered the husband.
Becky laughed; she was almost always good-humoured. "That was when I
was on my promotion, Goosey," she said. "Take Rawdon outside with
you and give him a cigar too if you like."
Rawdon did not warm his little son for the winter's journey in this
way, but he and Briggs wrapped up the child in shawls and
comforters, and he was hoisted respectfully onto the roof of the
coach in the dark morning, under the lamps of the White Horse
Cellar; and with no small delight he watched the dawn rise and made
his first journey to the place which his father still called home.
It was a journey of infinite pleasure to the boy, to whom the
incidents of the road afforded endless interest, his father
answering to him all questions connected with it and telling him who
lived in the great white house to the right, and whom the park
belonged to. His mother, inside the vehicle, with her maid and her
furs, her wrappers, and her scent bottles, made such a to-do that
you would have thought she never had been in a stage-coach before--
much less, that she had been turned out of this very one to make
room for a paying passenger on a certain journey performed some
half-score years ago.
It was dark again when little Rawdon was wakened up to enter his
uncle's carriage at Mudbury, and he sat and looked out of it
wondering as the great iron gates flew open, and at the white trunks
of the limes as they swept by, until they stopped, at length, before
the light windows of the Hall, which were blazing and comfortable
with Christmas welcome. The hall-door was flung open--a big fire
was burning in the great old fire-place--a carpet was down over the
chequered black flags--"It's the old Turkey one that used to be in
the Ladies' Gallery," thought Rebecca, and the next instant was
kissing Lady Jane.
She and Sir Pitt performed the same salute with great gravity; but
Rawdon, having been smoking, hung back rather from his sister-in-
law, whose two children came up to their cousin; and, while Matilda
held out her hand and kissed him, Pitt Binkie Southdown, the son and
heir, stood aloof rather and examined him as a little dog does a big
Then the kind hostess conducted her guests to the snug apartments
blazing with cheerful fires. Then the young ladies came and knocked
at Mrs. Rawdon's door, under the pretence that they were desirous to
be useful, but in reality to have the pleasure of inspecting the
contents of her band and bonnet-boxes, and her dresses which, though
black, were of the newest London fashion. And they told her how
much the Hall was changed for the better, and how old Lady Southdown
was gone, and how Pitt was taking his station in the county, as
became a Crawley in fact. Then the great dinner-bell having rung,
the family assembled at dinner, at which meal Rawdon Junior was
placed by his aunt, the good-natured lady of the house, Sir Pitt
being uncommonly attentive to his sister-in-law at his own right
Little Rawdon exhibited a fine appetite and showed a gentlemanlike
"I like to dine here," he said to his aunt when he had completed his
meal, at the conclusion of which, and after a decent grace by Sir
Pitt, the younger son and heir was introduced, and was perched on a
high chair by the Baronet's side, while the daughter took possession
of the place and the little wine-glass prepared for her near her
mother. "I like to dine here," said Rawdon Minor, looking up at his
relation's kind face.
"Why?" said the good Lady Jane.
"I dine in the kitchen when I am at home," replied Rawdon Minor, "or
else with Briggs." But Becky was so engaged with the Baronet, her
host, pouring out a flood of compliments and delights and raptures,
and admiring young Pitt Binkie, whom she declared to be the most
beautiful, intelligent, noble-looking little creature, and so like
his father, that she did not hear the remarks of her own flesh and
blood at the other end of the broad shining table.
As a guest, and it being the first night of his arrival, Rawdon the
Second was allowed to sit up until the hour when tea being over, and
a great gilt book being laid on the table before Sir Pitt, all the
domestics of the family streamed in, and Sir Pitt read prayers. It
was the first time the poor little boy had ever witnessed or heard
of such a ceremonial.
The house had been much improved even since the Baronet's brief
reign, and was pronounced by Becky to be perfect, charming,
delightful, when she surveyed it in his company. As for little
Rawdon, who examined it with the children for his guides, it seemed
to him a perfect palace of enchantment and wonder. There were long
galleries, and ancient state bedrooms, there were pictures and old
China, and armour. There were the rooms in which Grandpapa died,
and by which the children walked with terrified looks. "Who was
Grandpapa?" he asked; and they told him how he used to be very old,
and used to be wheeled about in a garden-chair, and they showed him
the garden-chair one day rotting in the out-house in which it had
lain since the old gentleman had been wheeled away yonder to the
church, of which the spire was glittering over the park elms.
The brothers had good occupation for several mornings in examining
the improvements which had been effected by Sir Pitt's genius and
economy. And as they walked or rode, and looked at them, they could
talk without too much boring each other. And Pitt took care to tell
Rawdon what a heavy outlay of money these improvements had
occasioned, and that a man of landed and funded property was often
very hard pressed for twenty pounds. "There is that new lodge-gate,"
said Pitt, pointing to it humbly with the bamboo cane, "I can no
more pay for it before the dividends in January than I can fly."
"I can lend you, Pitt, till then," Rawdon answered rather ruefully;
and they went in and looked at the restored lodge, where the family
arms were just new scraped in stone, and where old Mrs. Lock, for
the first time these many long years, had tight doors, sound roofs,
and whole windows.
Between Hampshire and London
Sir Pitt Crawley had done more than repair fences and restore
dilapidated lodges on the Queen's Crawley estate. Like a wise man he
had set to work to rebuild the injured popularity of his house and
stop up the gaps and ruins in which his name had been left by his
disreputable and thriftless old predecessor. He was elected for the
borough speedily after his father's demise; a magistrate, a member
of parliament, a county magnate and representative of an ancient
family, he made it his duty to show himself before the Hampshire
public, subscribed handsomely to the county charities, called
assiduously upon all the county folk, and laid himself out in a word
to take that position in Hampshire, and in the Empire afterwards, to
which he thought his prodigious talents justly entitled him. Lady
Jane was instructed to be friendly with the Fuddlestones, and the
Wapshots, and the other famous baronets, their neighbours. Their
carriages might frequently be seen in the Queen's Crawley avenue
now; they dined pretty frequently at the Hall (where the cookery was
so good that it was clear Lady Jane very seldom had a hand in it),
and in return Pitt and his wife most energetically dined out in all
sorts of weather and at all sorts of distances. For though Pitt did
not care for joviality, being a frigid man of poor hearth and
appetite, yet he considered that to be hospitable and condescending
was quite incumbent on-his station, and every time that he got a
headache from too long an after-dinner sitting, he felt that he was
a martyr to duty. He talked about crops, corn-laws, politics, with
the best country gentlemen. He (who had been formerly inclined to be
a sad free-thinker on these points) entered into poaching and game
preserving with ardour. He didn't hunt; he wasn't a hunting man; he
was a man of books and peaceful habits; but he thought that the
breed of horses must be kept up in the country, and that the breed
of foxes must therefore be looked to, and for his part, if his
friend, Sir Huddlestone Fuddlestone, liked to draw his country and
meet as of old the F. hounds used to do at Queen's Crawley, he
should be happy to see him there, and the gentlemen of the
Fuddlestone hunt. And to Lady Southdown's dismay too he became more
orthodox in his tendencies every day; gave up preaching in public
and attending meeting-houses; went stoutly to church; called on the
Bishop and all the Clergy at Winchester; and made no objection when
the Venerable Archdeacon Trumper asked for a game of whist. What
pangs must have been those of Lady Southdown, and what an utter
castaway she must have thought her son-in-law for permitting such a
godless diversion! And when, on the return of the family from an
oratorio at Winchester, the Baronet announced to the young ladies
that he should next year very probably take them to the "county
balls," they worshipped him for his kindness. Lady Jane was only
too obedient, and perhaps glad herself to go. The Dowager wrote off
the direst descriptions of her daughter's worldly behaviour to the
authoress of the Washerwoman of Finchley Common at the Cape; and her
house in Brighton being about this time unoccupied, returned to that
watering-place, her absence being not very much deplored by her
children. We may suppose, too, that Rebecca, on paying a second
visit to Queen's Crawley, did not feel particularly grieved at the
absence of the lady of the medicine chest; though she wrote a
Christmas letter to her Ladyship, in which she respectfully recalled
herself to Lady Southdown's recollection, spoke with gratitude of
the delight which her Ladyship's conversation had given her on the
former visit, dilated on the kindness with which her Ladyship had
treated her in sickness, and declared that everything at Queen's
Crawley reminded her of her absent friend.
A great part of the altered demeanour and popularity of Sir Pitt
Crawley might have been traced to the counsels of that astute little
lady of Curzon Street. "You remain a Baronet--you consent to be a
mere country gentleman," she said to him, while he had been her
guest in London. "No, Sir Pitt Crawley, I know you better. I know
your talents and your ambition. You fancy you hide them both, but
you can conceal neither from me. I showed Lord Steyne your pamphlet
on malt. He was familiar with it, and said it was in the opinion of
the whole Cabinet the most masterly thing that had appeared on the
subject. The Ministry has its eye upon you, and I know what you
want. You want to distinguish yourself in Parliament; every one
says you are the finest speaker in England (for your speeches at
Oxford are still remembered). You want to be Member for the County,
where, with your own vote and your borough at your back, you can
command anything. And you want to be Baron Crawley of Queen's
Crawley, and will be before you die. I saw it all. I could read
your heart, Sir Pitt. If I had a husband who possessed your
intellect as he does your name, I sometimes think I should not be
unworthy of him--but--but I am your kinswoman now," she added with a
laugh. "Poor little penniless, I have got a little interest--and
who knows, perhaps the mouse may be able to aid the lion." Pitt
Crawley was amazed and enraptured with her speech. "How that woman
comprehends me!" he said. "I never could get Jane to read three
pages of the malt pamphlet. She has no idea that I have commanding
talents or secret ambition. So they remember my speaking at Oxford,
do they? The rascals! Now that I represent my borough and may sit
for the county, they begin to recollect me! Why, Lord Steyne cut me
at the levee last year; they are beginning to find out that Pitt
Crawley is some one at last. Yes, the man was always the same whom
these people neglected: it was only the opportunity that was
wanting, and I will show them now that I can speak and act as well
as write. Achilles did not declare himself until they gave him the
sword. I hold it now, and the world shall yet hear of Pitt
Therefore it was that this roguish diplomatist has grown so
hospitable; that he was so civil to oratorios and hospitals; so kind
to Deans and Chapters; so generous in giving and accepting dinners;
so uncommonly gracious to farmers on market-days; and so much
interested about county business; and that the Christmas at the Hall
was the gayest which had been known there for many a long day.
On Christmas Day a great family gathering took place. All the
Crawleys from the Rectory came to dine. Rebecca was as frank and
fond of Mrs. Bute as if the other had never been her enemy; she was
affectionately interested in the dear girls, and surprised at the
progress which they had made in music since her time, and insisted
upon encoring one of the duets out of the great song-books which
Jim, grumbling, had been forced to bring under his arm from the
Rectory. Mrs. Bute, perforce, was obliged to adopt a decent
demeanour towards the little adventuress--of course being free to
discourse with her daughters afterwards about the absurd respect
with which Sir Pitt treated his sister-in-law. But Jim, who had sat
next to her at dinner, declared she was a trump, and one and all of
the Rector's family agreed that the little Rawdon was a fine boy.
They respected a possible baronet in the boy, between whom and the
title there was only the little sickly pale Pitt Binkie.
The children were very good friends. Pitt Binkie was too little a
dog for such a big dog as Rawdon to play with; and Matilda being
only a girl, of course not fit companion for a young gentleman who
was near eight years old, and going into jackets very soon. He took
the command of this small party at once--the little girl and the
little boy following him about with great reverence at such times as
he condescended to sport with them. His happiness and pleasure in
the country were extreme. The kitchen garden pleased him hugely,
the flowers moderately, but the pigeons and the poultry, and the
stables when he was allowed to visit them, were delightful objects
to him. He resisted being kissed by the Misses Crawley, but he
allowed Lady Jane sometimes to embrace him, and it was by her side
that he liked to sit when, the signal to retire to the drawing-room
being given, the ladies left the gentlemen to their claret--by her
side rather than by his mother. For Rebecca, seeing that tenderness
was the fashion, called Rawdon to her one evening and stooped down
and kissed him in the presence of all the ladies.
He looked her full in the face after the operation, trembling and
turning very red, as his wont was when moved. "You never kiss me at
home, Mamma," he said, at which there was a general silence and
consternation and a by no means pleasant look in Becky's eyes.
Rawdon was fond of his sister-in-law, for her regard for his son.
Lady Jane and Becky did not get on quite so well at this visit as on
occasion of the former one, when the Colonel's wife was bent upon
pleasing. Those two speeches of the child struck rather a chill.
Perhaps Sir Pitt was rather too attentive to her.
But Rawdon, as became his age and size, was fonder of the society of
the men than of the women, and never wearied of accompanying his
sire to the stables, whither the Colonel retired to smoke his cigar
--Jim, the Rector's son, sometimes joining his cousin in that and
other amusements. He and the Baronet's keeper were very close
friends, their mutual taste for "dawgs" bringing them much together.
On one day, Mr. James, the Colonel, and Horn, the keeper, went and
shot pheasants, taking little Rawdon with them. On another most
blissful morning, these four gentlemen partook of the amusement of
rat-hunting in a barn, than which sport Rawdon as yet had never seen
anything more noble. They stopped up the ends of certain drains in
the barn, into the other openings of which ferrets were inserted,
and then stood silently aloof, with uplifted stakes in their hands,
and an anxious little terrier (Mr. James's celebrated "dawg"
Forceps, indeed) scarcely breathing from excitement, listening
motionless on three legs, to the faint squeaking of the rats below.
Desperately bold at last, the persecuted animals bolted above-
ground--the terrier accounted for one, the keeper for another;
Rawdon, from flurry and excitement, missed his rat, but on the other
hand he half-murdered a ferret.
But the greatest day of all was that on which Sir Huddlestone
Fuddlestone's hounds met upon the lawn at Queen's Crawley.
That was a famous sight for little Rawdon. At half-past ten, Tom
Moody, Sir Huddlestone Fuddlestone's huntsman, was seen trotting up
the avenue, followed by the noble pack of hounds in a compact body--
the rear being brought up by the two whips clad in stained scarlet
frocks--light hard-featured lads on well-bred lean horses,
possessing marvellous dexterity in casting the points of their long
heavy whips at the thinnest part of any dog's skin who dares to
straggle from the main body, or to take the slightest notice, or
even so much as wink, at the hares and rabbits starting under their
Next comes boy Jack, Tom Moody's son, who weighs five stone,
measures eight-and-forty inches, and will never be any bigger. He
is perched on a large raw-boned hunter, half-covered by a capacious
saddle. This animal is Sir Huddlestone Fuddlestone's favourite
horse the Nob. Other horses, ridden by other small boys, arrive from
time to time, awaiting their masters, who will come cantering on
Tom Moody rides up to the door of the Hall, where he is welcomed by
the butler, who offers him drink, which he declines. He and his
pack then draw off into a sheltered corner of the lawn, where the
dogs roll on the grass, and play or growl angrily at one another,
ever and anon breaking out into furious fight speedily to be quelled
by Tom's voice, unmatched at rating, or the snaky thongs of the
Many young gentlemen canter up on thoroughbred hacks, spatter-dashed
to the knee, and enter the house to drink cherry-brandy and pay
their respects to the ladies, or, more modest and sportsmanlike,
divest themselves of their mud-boots, exchange their hacks for their
hunters, and warm their blood by a preliminary gallop round the
lawn. Then they collect round the pack in the corner and talk with
Tom Moody of past sport, and the merits of Sniveller and Diamond,
and of the state of the country and of the wretched breed of foxes.
Sir Huddlestone presently appears mounted on a clever cob and rides
up to the Hall, where he enters and does the civil thing by the
ladies, after which, being a man of few words, he proceeds to
business. The hounds are drawn up to the hall-door, and little
Rawdon descends amongst them, excited yet half-alarmed by the
caresses which they bestow upon him, at the thumps he receives from
their waving tails, and at their canine bickerings, scarcely
restrained by Tom Moody's tongue and lash.
Meanwhile, Sir Huddlestone has hoisted himself unwieldily on the
Nob: "Let's try Sowster's Spinney, Tom," says the Baronet, "Farmer
Mangle tells me there are two foxes in it." Tom blows his horn and
trots off, followed by the pack, by the whips, by the young gents
from Winchester, by the farmers of the neighbourhood, by the
labourers of the parish on foot, with whom the day is a great
holiday, Sir Huddlestone bringing up the rear with Colonel Crawley,
and the whole cortege disappears down the avenue.
The Reverend Bute Crawley (who has been too modest to appear at the
public meet before his nephew's windows), whom Tom Moody remembers
forty years back a slender divine riding the wildest horses, jumping
the widest brooks, and larking over the newest gates in the country--
his Reverence, we say, happens to trot out from the Rectory Lane on
his powerful black horse just as Sir Huddlestone passes; he joins
the worthy Baronet. Hounds and horsemen disappear, and little
Rawdon remains on the doorsteps, wondering and happy.
During the progress of this memorable holiday, little Rawdon, if he
had got no special liking for his uncle, always awful and cold and
locked up in his study, plunged in justice-business and surrounded
by bailiffs and farmers--has gained the good graces of his married
and maiden aunts, of the two little folks of the Hall, and of Jim of
the Rectory, whom Sir Pitt is encouraging to pay his addresses to
one of the young ladies, with an understanding doubtless that he
shall be presented to the living when it shall be vacated by his
fox-hunting old sire. Jim has given up that sport himself and
confines himself to a little harmless duck- or snipe-shooting, or a
little quiet trifling with the rats during the Christmas holidays,
after which he will return to the University and try and not be
plucked, once more. He has already eschewed green coats, red
neckcloths, and other worldly ornaments, and is preparing himself
for a change in his condition. In this cheap and thrifty way Sir
Pitt tries to pay off his debt to his family.
Also before this merry Christmas was over, the Baronet had screwed
up courage enough to give his brother another draft on his bankers,
and for no less a sum than a hundred pounds, an act which caused Sir
Pitt cruel pangs at first, but which made him glow afterwards to
think himself one of the most generous of men. Rawdon and his son
went away with the utmost heaviness of heart. Becky and the ladies
parted with some alacrity, however, and our friend returned to
London to commence those avocations with which we find her occupied
when this chapter begins. Under her care the Crawley House in Great
Gaunt Street was quite rejuvenescent and ready for the reception of
Sir Pitt and his family, when the Baronet came to London to attend
his duties in Parliament and to assume that position in the country
for which his vast genius fitted him.
For the first session, this profound dissembler hid his projects and
never opened his lips but to present a petition from Mudbury. But
he attended assiduously in his place and learned thoroughly the
routine and business of the House. At home he gave himself up to
the perusal of Blue Books, to the alarm and wonder of Lady Jane, who
thought he was killing himself by late hours and intense
application. And he made acquaintance with the ministers, and the
chiefs of his party, determining to rank as one of them before many
years were over.
Lady Jane's sweetness and kindness had inspired Rebecca with such a
contempt for her ladyship as the little woman found no small
difficulty in concealing. That sort of goodness and simplicity
which Lady Jane possessed annoyed our friend Becky, and it was
impossible for her at times not to show, or to let the other divine,
her scorn. Her presence, too, rendered Lady Jane uneasy. Her
husband talked constantly with Becky. Signs of intelligence seemed
to pass between them, and Pitt spoke with her on subjects on which
he never thought of discoursing with Lady Jane. The latter did not
understand them, to be sure, but it was mortifying to remain silent;
still more mortifying to know that you had nothing to say, and hear
that little audacious Mrs. Rawdon dashing on from subject to
subject, with a word for every man, and a joke always pat; and to
sit in one's own house alone, by the fireside, and watching all the
men round your rival.
In the country, when Lady Jane was telling stories to the children,
who clustered about her knees (little Rawdon into the bargain, who
was very fond of her), and Becky came into the room, sneering with
green scornful eyes, poor Lady Jane grew silent under those baleful
glances. Her simple little fancies shrank away tremulously, as
fairies in the story-books, before a superior bad angel. She could
not go on, although Rebecca, with the smallest inflection of sarcasm
in her voice, besought her to continue that charming story. And on
her side gentle thoughts and simple pleasures were odious to Mrs.
Becky; they discorded with her; she hated people for liking them;
she spurned children and children-lovers. "I have no taste for
bread and butter," she would say, when caricaturing Lady Jane and
her ways to my Lord Steyne.
"No more has a certain person for holy water," his lordship replied
with a bow and a grin and a great jarring laugh afterwards.
So these two ladies did not see much of each other except upon those
occasions when the younger brother's wife, having an object to gain
from the other, frequented her. They my-loved and my-deared each
other assiduously, but kept apart generally, whereas Sir Pitt, in
the midst of his multiplied avocations, found daily time to see his
On the occasion of his first Speaker's dinner, Sir Pitt took the
opportunity of appearing before his sister-in-law in his uniform--
that old diplomatic suit which he had worn when attache to the
Becky complimented him upon that dress and admired him almost as
much as his own wife and children, to whom he displayed himself
before he set out. She said that it was only the thoroughbred
gentleman who could wear the Court suit with advantage: it was only
your men of ancient race whom the culotte courte became. Pitt
looked down with complacency at his legs, which had not, in truth,
much more symmetry or swell than the lean Court sword which dangled
by his side--looked down at his legs, and thought in his heart that
he was killing.
When he was gone, Mrs. Becky made a caricature of his figure, which
she showed to Lord Steyne when he arrived. His lordship carried off
the sketch, delighted with the accuracy of the resemblance. He had
done Sir Pitt Crawley the honour to meet him at Mrs. Becky's house
and had been most gracious to the new Baronet and member. Pitt was
struck too by the deference with which the great Peer treated his
sister-in-law, by her ease and sprightliness in the conversation,
and by the delight with which the other men of the party listened to
her talk. Lord Steyne made no doubt but that the Baronet had only
commenced his career in public life, and expected rather anxiously
to hear him as an orator; as they were neighbours (for Great Gaunt
Street leads into Gaunt Square, whereof Gaunt House, as everybody
knows, forms one side) my lord hoped that as soon as Lady Steyne
arrived in London she would have the honour of making the
acquaintance of Lady Crawley. He left a card upon his neighbour in
the course of a day or two, having never thought fit to notice his
predecessor, though they had lived near each other for near a
In the midst of these intrigues and fine parties and wise and
brilliant personages Rawdon felt himself more and more isolated
every day. He was allowed to go to the club more; to dine abroad
with bachelor friends; to come and go when he liked, without any
questions being asked. And he and Rawdon the younger many a time
would walk to Gaunt Street and sit with the lady and the children
there while Sir Pitt was closeted with Rebecca, on his way to the
House, or on his return from it.
The ex-Colonel would sit for hours in his brother's house very
silent, and thinking and doing as little as possible. He was glad
to be employed of an errand; to go and make inquiries about a horse
or a servant, or to carve the roast mutton for the dinner of the
children. He was beat and cowed into laziness and submission.
Delilah had imprisoned him and cut his hair off, too. The bold and
reckless young blood of ten-years back was subjugated and was turned
into a torpid, submissive, middle-aged, stout gentleman.
And poor Lady Jane was aware that Rebecca had captivated her
husband, although she and Mrs. Rawdon my-deared and my-loved each
other every day they met.
Struggles and Trials
Our friends at Brompton were meanwhile passing their Christmas after
their fashion and in a manner by no means too cheerful.
Out of the hundred pounds a year, which was about the amount of her
income, the Widow Osborne had been in the habit of giving up nearly
three-fourths to her father and mother, for the expenses of herself
and her little boy. With #120 more, supplied by Jos, this family of
four people, attended by a single Irish servant who also did for
Clapp and his wife, might manage to live in decent comfort through
the year, and hold up their heads yet, and be able to give a friend
a dish of tea still, after the storms and disappointments of their
early life. Sedley still maintained his ascendency over the family
of Mr. Clapp, his ex-clerk. Clapp remembered the time when, sitting
on the edge of the chair, he tossed off a bumper to the health of
"Mrs. S--, Miss Emmy, and Mr. Joseph in India," at the merchant's
rich table in Russell Square. Time magnified the splendour of those
recollections in the honest clerk's bosom. Whenever he came up from
the kitchen-parlour to the drawing-room and partook of tea or gin-
and-water with Mr. Sedley, he would say, "This was not what you was
accustomed to once, sir," and as gravely and reverentially drink the
health of the ladies as he had done in the days of their utmost
prosperity. He thought Miss 'Melia's playing the divinest music
ever performed, and her the finest lady. He never would sit down
before Sedley at the club even, nor would he have that gentleman's
character abused by any member of the society. He had seen the
first men in London shaking hands with Mr. S--; he said, "He'd known
him in times when Rothschild might be seen on 'Change with him any
day, and he owed him personally everythink."
Clapp, with the best of characters and handwritings, had been able
very soon after his master's disaster to find other employment for
himself. "Such a little fish as me can swim in any bucket," he used
to remark, and a member of the house from which old Sedley had
seceded was very glad to make use of Mr. Clapp's services and to
reward them with a comfortable salary. In fine, all Sedley's
wealthy friends had dropped off one by one, and this poor ex-
dependent still remained faithfully attached to him.
Out of the small residue of her income which Amelia kept back for
herself, the widow had need of all the thrift and care possible in
order to enable her to keep her darling boy dressed in such a manner
as became George Osborne's son, and to defray the expenses of the
little school to which, after much misgiving and reluctance and many
secret pangs and fears on her own part, she had been induced to send
the lad. She had sat up of nights conning lessons and spelling over
crabbed grammars and geography books in order to teach them to
Georgy. She had worked even at the Latin accidence, fondly hoping
that she might be capable of instructing him in that language. To
part with him all day, to send him out to the mercy of a
schoolmaster's cane and his schoolfellows' roughness, was almost
like weaning him over again to that weak mother, so tremulous and
full of sensibility. He, for his part, rushed off to the school
with the utmost happiness. He was longing for the change. That
childish gladness wounded his mother, who was herself so grieved to
part with him. She would rather have had him more sorry, she
thought, and then was deeply repentant within herself for daring to
be so selfish as to wish her own son to be unhappy.
Georgy made great progress in the school, which was kept by a friend
of his mother's constant admirer, the Rev. Mr. Binny. He brought
home numberless prizes and testimonials of ability. He told his
mother countless stories every night about his school-companions:
and what a fine fellow Lyons was, and what a sneak Sniffin was, and
how Steel's father actually supplied the meat for the establishment,
whereas Golding's mother came in a carriage to fetch him every
Saturday, and how Neat had straps to his trowsers--might he have
straps?--and how Bull Major was so strong (though only in Eutropius)
that it was believed he could lick the Usher, Mr. Ward, himself. So
Amelia learned to know every one of the boys in that school as well
as Georgy himself, and of nights she used to help him in his
exercises and puzzle her little head over his lessons as eagerly as
if she was herself going in the morning into the presence of the
master. Once, after a certain combat with Master Smith, George came
home to his mother with a black eye, and bragged prodigiously to his
parent and his delighted old grandfather about his valour in the
fight, in which, if the truth was known he did not behave with
particular heroism, and in which he decidedly had the worst. But
Amelia has never forgiven that Smith to this day, though he is now a
peaceful apothecary near Leicester Square.
In these quiet labours and harmless cares the gentle widow's life
was passing away, a silver hair or two marking the progress of time
on her head and a line deepening ever so little on her fair
forehead. She used to smile at these marks of time. "What matters
it," she asked, "For an old woman like me?" All she hoped for was to
live to see her son great, famous, and glorious, as he deserved to
be. She kept his copy-books, his drawings, and compositions, and
showed them about in her little circle as if they were miracles of
genius. She confided some of these specimens to Miss Dobbin, to
show them to Miss Osborne, George's aunt, to show them to Mr.
Osborne himself--to make that old man repent of his cruelty and ill
feeling towards him who was gone. All her husband's faults and
foibles she had buried in the grave with him: she only remembered
the lover, who had married her at all sacrifices, the noble husband,
so brave and beautiful, in whose arms she had hung on the morning
when he had gone away to fight, and die gloriously for his king.
From heaven the hero must be smiling down upon that paragon of a boy
whom he had left to comfort and console her. We have seen how one of
George's grandfathers (Mr. Osborne), in his easy chair in Russell
Square, daily grew more violent and moody, and how his daughter,
with her fine carriage, and her fine horses, and her name on half
the public charity-lists of the town, was a lonely, miserable,
persecuted old maid. She thought again and again of the beautiful
little boy, her brother's son, whom she had seen. She longed to be
allowed to drive in the fine carriage to the house in which he
lived, and she used to look out day after day as she took her
solitary drive in the park, in hopes that she might see him. Her
sister, the banker's lady, occasionally condescended to pay her old
home and companion a visit in Russell Square. She brought a couple
of sickly children attended by a prim nurse, and in a faint genteel
giggling tone cackled to her sister about her fine acquaintance, and
how her little Frederick was the image of Lord Claud Lollypop and
her sweet Maria had been noticed by the Baroness as they were
driving in their donkey-chaise at Roehampton. She urged her to make
her papa do something for the darlings. Frederick she had determined
should go into the Guards; and if they made an elder son of him (and
Mr. Bullock was positively ruining and pinching himself to death to
buy land), how was the darling girl to be provided for? "I expect
YOU, dear," Mrs. Bullock would say, "for of course my share of our
Papa's property must go to the head of the house, you know. Dear
Rhoda McMull will disengage the whole of the Castletoddy property as
soon as poor dear Lord Castletoddy dies, who is quite epileptic; and
little Macduff McMull will be Viscount Castletoddy. Both the Mr.
Bludyers of Mincing Lane have settled their fortunes on Fanny
Bludyer's little boy. My darling Frederick must positively be an
eldest son; and--and do ask Papa to bring us back his account in
Lombard Street, will you, dear? It doesn't look well, his going to
Stumpy and Rowdy's." After which kind of speeches, in which fashion
and the main chance were blended together, and after a kiss, which
was like the contact of an oyster--Mrs. Frederick Bullock would
gather her starched nurslings and simper back into her carriage.
Every visit which this leader of ton paid to her family was more
unlucky for her. Her father paid more money into Stumpy and
Rowdy's. Her patronage became more and more insufferable. The poor
widow in the little cottage at Brompton, guarding her treasure
there, little knew how eagerly some people coveted it.
On that night when Jane Osborne had told her father that she had
seen his grandson, the old man had made her no reply, but he had
shown no anger--and had bade her good-night on going himself to his
room in rather a kindly voice. And he must have meditated on what
she said and have made some inquiries of the Dobbin family regarding
her visit, for a fortnight after it took place, he asked her where
was her little French watch and chain she used to wear?
"I bought it with my money, sir," she said in a great fright.
"Go and order another like it, or a better if you can get it," said
the old gentleman and lapsed again into silence.
Of late the Misses Dobbin more than once repeated their entreaties
to Amelia, to allow George to visit them. His aunt had shown her
inclination; perhaps his grandfather himself, they hinted, might be
disposed to be reconciled to him. Surely, Amelia could not refuse
such advantageous chances for the boy. Nor could she, but she
acceded to their overtures with a very heavy and suspicious heart,
was always uneasy during the child's absence from her, and welcomed
him back as if he was rescued out of some danger. He brought back
money and toys, at which the widow looked with alarm and jealousy;
she asked him always if he had seen any gentleman--"Only old Sir
William, who drove him about in the four-wheeled chaise, and Mr.
Dobbin, who arrived on the beautiful bay horse in the afternoon--in
the green coat and pink neck-cloth, with the gold-headed whip, who
promised to show him the Tower of London and take him out with the
Surrey hounds." At last, he said, "There was an old gentleman, with
thick eyebrows, and a broad hat, and large chain and seals." He came
one day as the coachman was lunging Georgy round the lawn on the
gray pony. "He looked at me very much. He shook very much. I said
'My name is Norval' after dinner. My aunt began to cry. She is
always crying." Such was George's report on that night.
Then Amelia knew that the boy had seen his grandfather; and looked
out feverishly for a proposal which she was sure would follow, and
which came, in fact, in a few days afterwards. Mr. Osborne formally
offered to take the boy and make him heir to the fortune which he
had intended that his father should inherit. He would make Mrs.
George Osborne an allowance, such as to assure her a decent
competency. If Mrs. George Osborne proposed to marry again, as Mr.
O. heard was her intention, he would not withdraw that allowance.
But it must be understood that the child would live entirely with
his grandfather in Russell Square, or at whatever other place Mr. O.
should select, and that he would be occasionally permitted to see
Mrs. George Osborne at her own residence. This message was brought
or read to her in a letter one day, when her mother was from home
and her father absent as usual in the City.
She was never seen angry but twice or thrice in her life, and it was
in one of these moods that Mr. Osborne's attorney had the fortune to
behold her. She rose up trembling and flushing very much as soon
as, after reading the letter, Mr. Poe handed it to her, and she tore
the paper into a hundred fragments, which she trod on. "I marry
again! I take money to part from my child! Who dares insult me by
proposing such a thing? Tell Mr. Osborne it is a cowardly letter,
sir--a cowardly letter--I will not answer it. I wish you good
morning, sir--and she bowed me out of the room like a tragedy
Queen," said the lawyer who told the story.
Her parents never remarked her agitation on that day, and she never
told them of the interview. They had their own affairs to interest
them, affairs which deeply interested this innocent and unconscious
lady. The old gentleman, her father, was always dabbling in
speculation. We have seen how the wine company and the coal company
had failed him. But, prowling about the City always eagerly and
restlessly still, he lighted upon some other scheme, of which he
thought so well that he embarked in it in spite of the remonstrances
of Mr. Clapp, to whom indeed he never dared to tell how far he had
engaged himself in it. And as it was always Mr. Sedley's maxim not
to talk about money matters before women, they had no inkling of the
misfortunes that were in store for them until the unhappy old
gentleman was forced to make gradual confessions.
The bills of the little household, which had been settled weekly,
first fell into arrear. The remittances had not arrived from India,
Mr. Sedley told his wife with a disturbed face. As she had paid her
bills very regularly hitherto, one or two of the tradesmen to whom
the poor lady was obliged to go round asking for time were very
angry at a delay to which they were perfectly used from more
irregular customers. Emmy's contribution, paid over cheerfully
without any questions, kept the little company in half-rations
however. And the first six months passed away pretty easily, old
Sedley still keeping up with the notion that his shares must rise
and that all would be well.
No sixty pounds, however, came to help the household at the end of
the half year, and it fell deeper and deeper into trouble--Mrs.
Sedley, who was growing infirm and was much shaken, remained silent
or wept a great deal with Mrs. Clapp in the kitchen. The butcher
was particularly surly, the grocer insolent: once or twice little
Georgy had grumbled about the dinners, and Amelia, who still would
have been satisfied with a slice of bread for her own dinner, could
not but perceive that her son was neglected and purchased little
things out of her private purse to keep the boy in health.
At last they told her, or told her such a garbled story as people in
difficulties tell. One day, her own money having been received, and
Amelia about to pay it over, she, who had kept an account of the
moneys expended by her, proposed to keep a certain portion back out
of her dividend, having contracted engagements for a new suit for
Then it came out that Jos's remittances were not paid, that the
house was in difficulties, which Amelia ought to have seen before,
her mother said, but she cared for nothing or nobody except Georgy.
At this she passed all her money across the table, without a word,
to her mother, and returned to her room to cry her eyes out. She had
a great access of sensibility too that day, when obliged to go and
countermand the clothes, the darling clothes on which she had set
her heart for Christmas Day, and the cut and fashion of which she
had arranged in many conversations with a small milliner, her
Hardest of all, she had to break the matter to Georgy, who made a
loud outcry. Everybody had new clothes at Christmas. The others
would laugh at him. He would have new clothes. She had promised
them to him. The poor widow had only kisses to give him. She
darned the old suit in tears. She cast about among her little
ornaments to see if she could sell anything to procure the desired
novelties. There was her India shawl that Dobbin had sent her. She
remembered in former days going with her mother to a fine India shop
on Ludgate Hill, where the ladies had all sorts of dealings and
bargains in these articles. Her cheeks flushed and her eyes shone
with pleasure as she thought of this resource, and she kissed away
George to school in the morning, smiling brightly after him. The
boy felt that there was good news in her look.
Packing up her shawl in a handkerchief (another of the gifts of the
good Major), she hid them under her cloak and walked flushed and
eager all the way to Ludgate Hill, tripping along by the park wall
and running over the crossings, so that many a man turned as she
hurried by him and looked after her rosy pretty face. She
calculated how she should spend the proceeds of her shawl--how,
besides the clothes, she would buy the books that he longed for, and
pay his half-year's schooling; and how she would buy a cloak for her
father instead of that old great-coat which he wore. She was not
mistaken as to the value of the Major's gift. It was a very fine
and beautiful web, and the merchant made a very good bargain when he
gave her twenty guineas for her shawl.
She ran on amazed and flurried with her riches to Darton's shop, in
St. Paul's Churchyard, and there purchased the Parents' Assistant
and the Sandford and Merton Georgy longed for, and got into the
coach there with her parcel, and went home exulting. And she
pleased herself by writing in the fly-leaf in her neatest little
hand, "George Osborne, A Christmas gift from his affectionate-
mother." The books are extant to this day, with the fair delicate
She was going from her own room with the books in her hand to place
them on George's table, where he might find them on his return from
school, when in the passage, she and her mother met. The gilt
bindings of the seven handsome little volumes caught the old lady's
"What are those?" she said.
"Some books for Georgy," Amelia replied--I--I promised them to him
"Books!" cried the elder lady indignantly, "Books, when the whole
house wants bread! Books, when to keep you and your son in luxury,
and your dear father out of gaol, I've sold every trinket I had, the
India shawl from my back even down to the very spoons, that our
tradesmen mightn't insult us, and that Mr. Clapp, which indeed he is
justly entitled, being not a hard landlord, and a civil man, and a
father, might have his rent. Oh, Amelia! you break my heart with
your books and that boy of yours, whom you are ruining, though part
with him you will not. Oh, Amelia, may God send you a more dutiful
child than I have had! There's Jos, deserts his father in his old
age; and there's George, who might be provided for, and who might be
rich, going to school like a lord, with a gold watch and chain round
his neck--while my dear, dear old man is without a sh--shilling."
Hysteric sobs and cries ended Mrs. Sedley's speech--it echoed
through every room in the small house, whereof the other female
inmates heard every word of the colloquy.
"Oh, Mother, Mother!" cried poor Amelia in reply. "You told me
nothing--I--I promised him the books. I--I only sold my shawl this
morning. Take the money--take everything"--and with quivering hands
she took out her silver, and her sovereigns--her precious golden
sovereigns, which she thrust into the hands of her mother, whence
they overflowed and tumbled, rolling down the stairs.
And then she went into her room, and sank down in despair and utter
misery. She saw it all now. Her selfishness was sacrificing the
boy. But for her he might have wealth, station, education, and his
father's place, which the elder George had forfeited for her sake.
She had but to speak the words, and her father was restored to
competency and the boy raised to fortune. Oh, what a conviction it
was to that tender and stricken heart!
All the world knows that Lord Steyne's town palace stands in Gaunt
Square, out of which Great Gaunt Street leads, whither we first
conducted Rebecca, in the time of the departed Sir Pitt Crawley.
Peering over the railings and through the black trees into the
garden of the Square, you see a few miserable governesses with wan-
faced pupils wandering round and round it, and round the dreary
grass-plot in the centre of which rises the statue of Lord Gaunt,
who fought at Minden, in a three-tailed wig, and otherwise habited
like a Roman Emperor. Gaunt House occupies nearly a side of the
Square. The remaining three sides are composed of mansions that have
passed away into dowagerism--tall, dark houses, with window-frames
of stone, or picked out of a lighter red. Little light seems to be
behind those lean, comfortless casements now, and hospitality to
have passed away from those doors as much as the laced lacqueys and
link-boys of old times, who used to put out their torches in the
blank iron extinguishers that still flank the lamps over the steps.
Brass plates have penetrated into the square--Doctors, the Diddlesex
Bank Western Branch--the English and European Reunion, &c.--it has a
dreary look--nor is my Lord Steyne's palace less dreary. All I have
ever seen of it is the vast wall in front, with the rustic columns
at the great gate, through which an old porter peers sometimes with
a fat and gloomy red face--and over the wall the garret and bedroom
windows, and the chimneys, out of which there seldom comes any smoke
now. For the present Lord Steyne lives at Naples, preferring the
view of the Bay and Capri and Vesuvius to the dreary aspect of the
wall in Gaunt Square.
A few score yards down New Gaunt Street, and leading into Gaunt Mews
indeed, is a little modest back door, which you would not remark
from that of any of the other stables. But many a little close
carriage has stopped at that door, as my informant (little Tom
Eaves, who knows everything, and who showed me the place) told me.
"The Prince and Perdita have been in and out of that door, sir," he
had often told me; "Marianne Clarke has entered it with the Duke of
------. It conducts to the famous petits appartements of Lord Steyne
--one, sir, fitted up all in ivory and white satin, another in ebony
and black velvet; there is a little banqueting-room taken from
Sallust's house at Pompeii, and painted by Cosway--a little private
kitchen, in which every saucepan was silver and all the spits were
gold. It was there that Egalite Orleans roasted partridges on the
night when he and the Marquis of Steyne won a hundred thousand from
a great personage at ombre. Half of the money went to the French
Revolution, half to purchase Lord Gaunt's Marquisate and Garter--and
the remainder--" but it forms no part of our scheme to tell what
became of the remainder, for every shilling of which, and a great
deal more, little Tom Eaves, who knows everybody's affairs, is ready
Besides his town palace, the Marquis had castles and palaces in
various quarters of the three kingdoms, whereof the descriptions may
be found in the road-books--Castle Strongbow, with its woods, on the
Shannon shore; Gaunt Castle, in Carmarthenshire, where Richard II
was taken prisoner--Gauntly Hall in Yorkshire, where I have been
informed there were two hundred silver teapots for the breakfasts of
the guests of the house, with everything to correspond in splendour;
and Stillbrook in Hampshire, which was my lord's farm, an humble
place of residence, of which we all remember the wonderful furniture
which was sold at my lord's demise by a late celebrated auctioneer.
The Marchioness of Steyne was of the renowned and ancient family of
the Caerlyons, Marquises of Camelot, who have preserved the old
faith ever since the conversion of the venerable Druid, their first
ancestor, and whose pedigree goes far beyond the date of the arrival
of King Brute in these islands. Pendragon is the title of the
eldest son of the house. The sons have been called Arthurs, Uthers,
and Caradocs, from immemorial time. Their heads have fallen in many
a loyal conspiracy. Elizabeth chopped off the head of the Arthur of
her day, who had been Chamberlain to Philip and Mary, and carried
letters between the Queen of Scots and her uncles the Guises. A
cadet of the house was an officer of the great Duke and
distinguished in the famous Saint Bartholomew conspiracy. During
the whole of Mary's confinement, the house of Camelot conspired in
her behalf. It was as much injured by its charges in fitting out an
armament against the Spaniards, during the time of the Armada, as by
the fines and confiscations levied on it by Elizabeth for harbouring
of priests, obstinate recusancy, and popish misdoings. A recreant
of James's time was momentarily perverted from his religion by the
arguments of that great theologian, and the fortunes of the family
somewhat restored by his timely weakness. But the Earl of Camelot,
of the reign of Charles, returned to the old creed of his family,
and they continued to fight for it, and ruin themselves for it, as
long as there was a Stuart left to head or to instigate a rebellion.
Lady Mary Caerlyon was brought up at a Parisian convent; the
Dauphiness Marie Antoinette was her godmother. In the pride of her
beauty she had been married--sold, it was said--to Lord Gaunt, then
at Paris, who won vast sums from the lady's brother at some of
Philip of Orleans's banquets. The Earl of Gaunt's famous duel with
the Count de la Marche, of the Grey Musqueteers, was attributed by
common report to the pretensions of that officer (who had been a
page, and remained a favourite of the Queen) to the hand of the
beautiful Lady Mary Caerlyon. She was married to Lord Gaunt while
the Count lay ill of his wound, and came to dwell at Gaunt House,
and to figure for a short time in the splendid Court of the Prince
of Wales. Fox had toasted her. Morris and Sheridan had written
songs about her. Malmesbury had made her his best bow; Walpole had
pronounced her charming; Devonshire had been almost jealous of her;
but she was scared by the wild pleasures and gaieties of the society
into which she was flung, and after she had borne a couple of sons,
shrank away into a life of devout seclusion. No wonder that my Lord
Steyne, who liked pleasure and cheerfulness, was not often seen
after their marriage by the side of this trembling, silent,
superstitious, unhappy lady.
The before-mentioned Tom Eaves (who has no part in this history,
except that he knew all the great folks in London, and the stories
and mysteries of each family) had further information regarding my
Lady Steyne, which may or may not be true. "The humiliations," Tom
used to say, "which that woman has been made to undergo, in her own
house, have been frightful; Lord Steyne has made her sit down to
table with women with whom I would rather die than allow Mrs. Eaves
to associate--with Lady Crackenbury, with Mrs. Chippenham, with
Madame de la Cruchecassee, the French secretary's wife (from every
one of which ladies Tom Eaves--who would have sacrificed his wife
for knowing them--was too glad to get a bow or a dinner) with the
REIGNING FAVOURITE in a word. And do you suppose that that woman,
of that family, who are as proud as the Bourbons, and to whom the
Steynes are but lackeys, mushrooms of yesterday (for after all, they
are not of the Old Gaunts, but of a minor and doubtful branch of the
house); do you suppose, I say (the reader must bear in mind that it
is always Tom Eaves who speaks) that the Marchioness of Steyne, the
haughtiest woman in England, would bend down to her husband so
submissively if there were not some cause? Pooh! I tell you there
are secret reasons. I tell you that, in the emigration, the Abbe de
la Marche who was here and was employed in the Quiberoon business
with Puisaye and Tinteniac, was the same Colonel of Mousquetaires
Gris with whom Steyne fought in the year '86--that he and the
Marchioness met again--that it was after the Reverend Colonel was
shot in Brittany that Lady Steyne took to those extreme practices of
devotion which she carries on now; for she is closeted with her
director every day--she is at service at Spanish Place, every
morning, I've watched her there--that is, I've happened to be
passing there--and depend on it, there's a mystery in her case.
People are not so unhappy unless they have something to repent of,"
added Tom Eaves with a knowing wag of his head; "and depend on it,
that woman would not be so submissive as she is if the Marquis had
not some sword to hold over her."
So, if Mr. Eaves's information be correct, it is very likely that
this lady, in her high station, had to submit to many a private
indignity and to hide many secret griefs under a calm face. And let
us, my brethren who have not our names in the Red Book, console
ourselves by thinking comfortably how miserable our betters may be,
and that Damocles, who sits on satin cushions and is served on gold
plate, has an awful sword hanging over his head in the shape of a
bailiff, or an hereditary disease, or a family secret, which peeps
out every now and then from the embroidered arras in a ghastly
manner, and will be sure to drop one day or the other in the right
In comparing, too, the poor man's situation with that of the great,
there is (always according to Mr. Eaves) another source of comfort
for the former. You who have little or no patrimony to bequeath or
to inherit, may be on good terms with your father or your son,
whereas the heir of a great prince, such as my Lord Steyne, must
naturally be angry at being kept out of his kingdom, and eye the
occupant of it with no very agreeable glances. "Take it as a rule,"
this sardonic old Laves would say, "the fathers and elder sons of
all great families hate each other. The Crown Prince is always in
opposition to the crown or hankering after it. Shakespeare knew the
world, my good sir, and when he describes Prince Hal (from whose
family the Gaunts pretend to be descended, though they are no more
related to John of Gaunt than you are) trying on his father's
coronet, he gives you a natural description of all heirs apparent.
If you were heir to a dukedom and a thousand pounds a day, do you
mean to say you would not wish for possession? Pooh! And it stands
to reason that every great man, having experienced this feeling
towards his father, must be aware that his son entertains it towards
himself; and so they can't but be suspicious and hostile.
"Then again, as to the feeling of elder towards younger sons. My
dear sir, you ought to know that every elder brother looks upon the
cadets of the house as his natural enemies, who deprive him of so
much ready money which ought to be his by right. I have often heard
George Mac Turk, Lord Bajazet's eldest son, say that if he had his
will when he came to the title, he would do what the sultans do, and
clear the estate by chopping off all his younger brothers' heads at
once; and so the case is, more or less, with them all. I tell you
they are all Turks in their hearts. Pooh! sir, they know the
world." And here, haply, a great man coming up, Tom Eaves's hat
would drop off his head, and he would rush forward with a bow and a
grin, which showed that he knew the world too--in the Tomeavesian
way, that is. And having laid out every shilling of his fortune on
an annuity, Tom could afford to bear no malice to his nephews and
nieces, and to have no other feeling with regard to his betters but
a constant and generous desire to dine with them.
Between the Marchioness and the natural and tender regard of mother
for children, there was that cruel barrier placed of difference of
faith. The very love which she might feel for her sons only served
to render the timid and pious lady more fearful and unhappy. The
gulf which separated them was fatal and impassable. She could not
stretch her weak arms across it, or draw her children over to that
side away from which her belief told her there was no safety.
During the youth of his sons, Lord Steyne, who was a good scholar
and amateur casuist, had no better sport in the evening after dinner
in the country than in setting the boys' tutor, the Reverend Mr.
Trail (now my Lord Bishop of Ealing) on her ladyship's director,
Father Mole, over their wine, and in pitting Oxford against St.
Acheul. He cried "Bravo, Latimer! Well said, Loyola!" alternately;
he promised Mole a bishopric if he would come over, and vowed he
would use all his influence to get Trail a cardinal's hat if he
would secede. Neither divine allowed himself to be conquered, and
though the fond mother hoped that her youngest and favourite son
would be reconciled to her church--his mother church--a sad and
awful disappointment awaited the devout lady--a disappointment which
seemed to be a judgement upon her for the sin of her marriage.
My Lord Gaunt married, as every person who frequents the Peerage
knows, the Lady Blanche Thistlewood, a daughter of the noble house
of Bareacres, before mentioned in this veracious history. A wing of
Gaunt House was assigned to this couple; for the head of the family
chose to govern it, and while he reigned to reign supreme; his son
and heir, however, living little at home, disagreeing with his wife,
and borrowing upon post-obits such moneys as he required beyond the
very moderate sums which his father was disposed to allow him. The
Marquis knew every shilling of his son's debts. At his lamented
demise, he was found himself to be possessor of many of his heir's
bonds, purchased for their benefit, and devised by his Lordship to
the children of his younger son.
As, to my Lord Gaunt's dismay, and the chuckling delight of his
natural enemy and father, the Lady Gaunt had no children--the Lord
George Gaunt was desired to return from Vienna, where he was engaged
in waltzing and diplomacy, and to contract a matrimonial alliance
with the Honourable Joan, only daughter of John Johnes, First Baron
Helvellyn, and head of the firm of Jones, Brown, and Robinson, of
Threadneedle Street, Bankers; from which union sprang several sons
and daughters, whose doings do not appertain to this story.
The marriage at first was a happy and prosperous one. My Lord George
Gaunt could not only read, but write pretty correctly. He spoke
French with considerable fluency; and was one of the finest waltzers
in Europe. With these talents, and his interest at home, there was
little doubt that his lordship would rise to the highest dignities
in his profession. The lady, his wife, felt that courts were her
sphere, and her wealth enabled her to receive splendidly in those
continental towns whither her husband's diplomatic duties led him.
There was talk of appointing him minister, and bets were laid at the
Travellers' that he would be ambassador ere long, when of a sudden,
rumours arrived of the secretary's extraordinary behaviour. At a
grand diplomatic dinner given by his chief, he had started up and
declared that a pate de foie gras was poisoned. He went to a ball
at the hotel of the Bavarian envoy, the Count de Springbock-
Hohenlaufen, with his head shaved and dressed as a Capuchin friar.
It was not a masked ball, as some folks wanted to persuade you. It
was something queer, people whispered. His grandfather was so. It
was in the family.
His wife and family returned to this country and took up their abode
at Gaunt House. Lord George gave up his post on the European
continent, and was gazetted to Brazil. But people knew better; he
never returned from that Brazil expedition--never died there--never
lived there--never was there at all. He was nowhere; he was gone
out altogether. "Brazil," said one gossip to another, with a grin--
"Brazil is St. John's Wood. Rio de Janeiro is a cottage surrounded
by four walls, and George Gaunt is accredited to a keeper, who has
invested him with the order of the Strait-Waistcoat." These are the
kinds of epitaphs which men pass over one another in Vanity Fair.
Twice or thrice in a week, in the earliest morning, the poor mother
went for her sins and saw the poor invalid. Sometimes he laughed at
her (and his laughter was more pitiful than to hear him cry);
sometimes she found the brilliant dandy diplomatist of the Congress
of Vienna dragging about a child's toy, or nursing the keeper's
baby's doll. Sometimes he knew her and Father Mole, her director
and companion; oftener he forgot her, as he had done wife, children,
love, ambition, vanity. But he remembered his dinner-hour, and used
to cry if his wine-and-water was not strong enough.
It was the mysterious taint of the blood; the poor mother had
brought it from her own ancient race. The evil had broken out once
or twice in the father's family, long before Lady Steyne's sins had
begun, or her fasts and tears and penances had been offered in their
expiation. The pride of the race was struck down as the first-born
of Pharaoh. The dark mark of fate and doom was on the threshold--
the tall old threshold surmounted by coronets and caned heraldry.
The absent lord's children meanwhile prattled and grew on quite
unconscious that the doom was over them too. First they talked of
their father and devised plans against his return. Then the name of
the living dead man was less frequently in their mouth--then not
mentioned at all. But the stricken old grandmother trembled to
think that these too were the inheritors of their father's shame as
well as of his honours, and watched sickening for the day when the
awful ancestral curse should come down on them.
This dark presentiment also haunted Lord Steyne. He tried to lay
the horrid bedside ghost in Red Seas of wine and jollity, and lost
sight of it sometimes in the crowd and rout of his pleasures. But
it always came back to him when alone, and seemed to grow more
threatening with years. "I have taken your son," it said, "why not
you? I may shut you up in a prison some day like your son George. I
may tap you on the head to-morrow, and away go pleasure and honours,
feasts and beauty, friends, flatterers, French cooks, fine horses
and houses--in exchange for a prison, a keeper, and a straw mattress
like George Gaunt's." And then my lord would defy the ghost which
threatened him, for he knew of a remedy by which he could baulk his
So there was splendour and wealth, but no great happiness perchance,
behind the tall caned portals of Gaunt House with its smoky coronets
and ciphers. The feasts there were of the grandest in London, but
there was not overmuch content therewith, except among the guests
who sat at my lord's table. Had he not been so great a Prince very
few possibly would have visited him; but in Vanity Fair the sins of
very great personages are looked at indulgently. "Nous regardons a
deux fois" (as the French lady said) before we condemn a person of
my lord's undoubted quality. Some notorious carpers and squeamish
moralists might be sulky with Lord Steyne, but they were glad enough
to come when he asked them.
"Lord Steyne is really too bad," Lady Slingstone said, "but
everybody goes, and of course I shall see that my girls come to no
harm." "His lordship is a man to whom I owe much, everything in
life," said the Right Reverend Doctor Trail, thinking that the
Archbishop was rather shaky, and Mrs. Trail and the young ladies
would as soon have missed going to church as to one of his
lordship's parties. "His morals are bad," said little Lord
Southdown to his sister, who meekly expostulated, having heard
terrific legends from her mamma with respect to the doings at Gaunt
House; "but hang it, he's got the best dry Sillery in Europe!" And
as for Sir Pitt Crawley, Bart.--Sir Pitt that pattern of decorum,
Sir Pitt who had led off at missionary meetings--he never for one
moment thought of not going too. "Where you see such persons as the
Bishop of Ealing and the Countess of Slingstone, you may be pretty
sure, Jane," the Baronet would say, "that we cannot be wrong. The
great rank and station of Lord Steyne put him in a position to
command people in our station in life. The Lord Lieutenant of a
County, my dear, is a respectable man. Besides, George Gaunt and I
were intimate in early life; he was my junior when we were attaches
at Pumpernickel together."
In a word everybody went to wait upon this great man--everybody who
was asked, as you the reader (do not say nay) or I the writer hereof
would go if we had an invitation.
In Which the Reader Is Introduced to the Very Best of Company
At last Becky's kindness and attention to the chief of her husband's
family were destined to meet with an exceeding great reward, a
reward which, though certainly somewhat unsubstantial, the little
woman coveted with greater eagerness than more positive benefits.
If she did not wish to lead a virtuous life, at least she desired to
enjoy a character for virtue, and we know that no lady in the
genteel world can possess this desideratum, until she has put on a
train and feathers and has been presented to her Sovereign at Court.
From that august interview they come out stamped as honest women.
The Lord Chamberlain gives them a certificate of virtue. And as
dubious goods or letters are passed through an oven at quarantine,
sprinkled with aromatic vinegar, and then pronounced clean, many a
lady, whose reputation would be doubtful otherwise and liable to
give infection, passes through the wholesome ordeal of the Royal
presence and issues from it free from all taint.
It might be very well for my Lady Bareacres, my Lady Tufto, Mrs.
Bute Crawley in the country, and other ladies who had come into
contact with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley to cry fie at the idea of the
odious little adventuress making her curtsey before the Sovereign,
and to declare that, if dear good Queen Charlotte had been alive,
she never would have admitted such an extremely ill-regulated
personage into her chaste drawing-room. But when we consider that
it was the First Gentleman in Europe in whose high presence Mrs.
Rawdon passed her examination, and as it were, took her degree in
reputation, it surely must be flat disloyalty to doubt any more
about her virtue. I, for my part, look back with love and awe to
that Great Character in history. Ah, what a high and noble
appreciation of Gentlewomanhood there must have been in Vanity Fair,
when that revered and august being was invested, by the universal
acclaim of the refined and educated portion of this empire, with the
title of Premier Gentilhomme of his Kingdom. Do you remember, dear
M--, oh friend of my youth, how one blissful night five-and-twenty
years since, the "Hypocrite" being acted, Elliston being manager,
Dowton and Liston performers, two boys had leave from their loyal
masters to go out from Slaughter-House School where they were
educated and to appear on Drury Lane stage, amongst a crowd which
assembled there to greet the king. THE KING? There he was.
Beefeaters were before the august box; the Marquis of Steyne (Lord
of the Powder Closet) and other great officers of state were behind
the chair on which he sat, HE sat--florid of face, portly of person,
covered with orders, and in a rich curling head of hair--how we sang
God save him! How the house rocked and shouted with that
magnificent music. How they cheered, and cried, and waved
handkerchiefs. Ladies wept; mothers clasped their children; some
fainted with emotion. People were suffocated in the pit, shrieks
and groans rising up amidst the writhing and shouting mass there of
his people who were, and indeed showed themselves almost to be,
ready to die for him. Yes, we saw him. Fate cannot deprive us of
THAT. Others have seen Napoleon. Some few still exist who have
beheld Frederick the Great, Doctor Johnson, Marie Antoinette, &c.--
be it our reasonable boast to our children, that we saw George the
Good, the Magnificent, the Great.
Well, there came a happy day in Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's existence when
this angel was admitted into the paradise of a Court which she
coveted, her sister-in-law acting as her godmother. On the
appointed day, Sir Pitt and his lady, in their great family carriage
(just newly built, and ready for the Baronet's assumption of the
office of High Sheriff of his county), drove up to the little house
in Curzon Street, to the edification of Raggles, who was watching
from his greengrocer's shop, and saw fine plumes within, and
enormous bunches of flowers in the breasts of the new livery-coats
of the footmen.
Sir Pitt, in a glittering uniform, descended and went into Curzon
Street, his sword between his legs. Little Rawdon stood with his
face against the parlour window-panes, smiling and nodding with all
his might to his aunt in the carriage within; and presently Sir Pitt
issued forth from the house again, leading forth a lady with grand
feathers, covered in a white shawl, and holding up daintily a train
of magnificent brocade. She stepped into the vehicle as if she were
a princess and accustomed all her life to go to Court, smiling
graciously on the footman at the door and on Sir Pitt, who followed
her into the carriage.
Then Rawdon followed in his old Guards' uniform, which had grown
woefully shabby, and was much too tight. He was to have followed
the procession and waited upon his sovereign in a cab, but that his
good-natured sister-in-law insisted that they should be a family
party. The coach was large, the ladies not very big, they would hold
their trains in their laps--finally, the four went fraternally
together, and their carriage presently joined the line of royal
equipages which was making its way down Piccadilly and St. James's
Street, towards the old brick palace where the Star of Brunswick was
in waiting to receive his nobles and gentlefolks.
Becky felt as if she could bless the people out of the carriage
windows, so elated was she in spirit, and so strong a sense had she
of the dignified position which she had at last attained in life.
Even our Becky had her weaknesses, and as one often sees how men
pride themselves upon excellences which others are slow to perceive:
how, for instance, Comus firmly believes that he is the greatest
tragic actor in England; how Brown, the famous novelist, longs to be
considered, not a man of genius, but a man of fashion; while
Robinson, the great lawyer, does not in the least care about his
reputation in Westminster Hall, but believes himself incomparable
across country and at a five-barred gate--so to be, and to be
thought, a respectable woman was Becky's aim in life, and she got up
the genteel with amazing assiduity, readiness, and success. We have
said, there were times when she believed herself to be a fine lady
and forgot that there was no money in the chest at home--duns round
the gate, tradesmen to coax and wheedle--no ground to walk upon, in
a word. And as she went to Court in the carriage, the family
carriage, she adopted a demeanour so grand, self-satisfied,
deliberate, and imposing that it made even Lady Jane laugh. She
walked into the royal apartments with a toss of the head which would
have befitted an empress, and I have no doubt had she been one, she
would have become the character perfectly.
We are authorized to state that Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's costume de
cour on the occasion of her presentation to the Sovereign was of the
most elegant and brilliant description. Some ladies we may have
seen--we who wear stars and cordons and attend the St. James's
assemblies, or we, who, in muddy boots, dawdle up and down Pall Mall
and peep into the coaches as they drive up with the great folks in
their feathers--some ladies of fashion, I say, we may have seen,
about two o'clock of the forenoon of a levee day, as the laced-
jacketed band of the Life Guards are blowing triumphal marches
seated on those prancing music-stools, their cream-coloured
chargers--who are by no means lovely and enticing objects at that
early period of noon. A stout countess of sixty, decolletee,
painted, wrinkled with rouge up to her drooping eyelids, and
diamonds twinkling in her wig, is a wholesome and edifying, but not
a pleasant sight. She has the faded look of a St. James's Street
illumination, as it may be seen of an early morning, when half the
lamps are out, and the others are blinking wanly, as if they were
about to vanish like ghosts before the dawn. Such charms as those
of which we catch glimpses while her ladyship's carriage passes
should appear abroad at night alone. If even Cynthia looks haggard
of an afternoon, as we may see her sometimes in the present winter
season, with Phoebus staring her out of countenance from the
opposite side of the heavens, how much more can old Lady
Castlemouldy keep her head up when the sun is shining full upon it
through the chariot windows, and showing all the chinks and crannies
with which time has marked her face! No. Drawing-rooms should be
announced for November, or the first foggy day, or the elderly
sultanas of our Vanity Fair should drive up in closed litters,
descend in a covered way, and make their curtsey to the Sovereign
under the protection of lamplight.
Our beloved Rebecca had no need, however, of any such a friendly
halo to set off her beauty. Her complexion could bear any sunshine
as yet, and her dress, though if you were to see it now, any present
lady of Vanity Fair would pronounce it to be the most foolish and
preposterous attire ever worn, was as handsome in her eyes and those
of the public, some five-and-twenty years since, as the most
brilliant costume of the most famous beauty of the present season.
A score of years hence that too, that milliner's wonder, will have
passed into the domain of the absurd, along with all previous
vanities. But we are wandering too much. Mrs. Rawdon's dress was
pronounced to be charmante on the eventful day of her presentation.
Even good little Lady Jane was forced to acknowledge this effect, as
she looked at her kinswoman, and owned sorrowfully to herself that
she was quite inferior in taste to Mrs. Becky.
She did not know how much care, thought, and genius Mrs. Rawdon had
bestowed upon that garment. Rebecca had as good taste as any
milliner in Europe, and such a clever way of doing things as Lady
Jane little understood. The latter quickly spied out the
magnificence of the brocade of Becky's train, and the splendour of
the lace on her dress.
The brocade was an old remnant, Becky said; and as for the lace, it
was a great bargain. She had had it these hundred years.
"My dear Mrs. Crawley, it must have cost a little fortune," Lady
Jane said, looking down at her own lace, which was not nearly so
good; and then examining the quality of the ancient brocade which
formed the material of Mrs. Rawdon's Court dress, she felt inclined
to say that she could not afford such fine clothing, but checked
that speech, with an effort, as one uncharitable to her kinswoman.
And yet, if Lady Jane had known all, I think even her kindly temper
would have failed her. The fact is, when she was putting Sir Pitt's
house in order, Mrs. Rawdon had found the lace and the brocade in
old wardrobes, the property of the former ladies of the house, and
had quietly carried the goods home, and had suited them to her own
little person. Briggs saw her take them, asked no questions, told
no stories; but I believe quite sympathised with her on this matter,
and so would many another honest woman.
And the diamonds--"Where the doose did you get the diamonds, Becky?"
said her husband, admiring some jewels which he had never seen
before and which sparkled in her ears and on her neck with
brilliance and profusion.
Becky blushed a little and looked at him hard for a moment. Pitt
Crawley blushed a little too, and looked out of window. The fact
is, he had given her a very small portion of the brilliants; a
pretty diamond clasp, which confined a pearl necklace which she
wore--and the Baronet had omitted to mention the circumstance to his
Becky looked at her husband, and then at Sir Pitt, with an air of
saucy triumph--as much as to say, "Shall I betray you?"
"Guess!" she said to her husband. "Why, you silly man," she
continued, "where do you suppose I got them?--all except the little
clasp, which a dear friend of mine gave me long ago. I hired them,
to be sure. I hired them at Mr. Polonius's, in Coventry Street.
You don't suppose that all the diamonds which go to Court belong to
the wearers; like those beautiful stones which Lady Jane has, and
which are much handsomer than any which I have, I am certain."
"They are family jewels," said Sir Pitt, again looking uneasy. And
in this family conversation the carriage rolled down the street,
until its cargo was finally discharged at the gates of the palace
where the Sovereign was sitting in state.
The diamonds, which had created Rawdon's admiration, never went back
to Mr. Polonius, of Coventry Street, and that gentleman never
applied for their restoration, but they retired into a little
private repository, in an old desk, which Amelia Sedley had given
her years and years ago, and in which Becky kept a number of useful
and, perhaps, valuable things, about which her husband knew nothing.
To know nothing, or little, is in the nature of some husbands. To
hide, in the nature of how many women? Oh, ladies! how many of you
have surreptitious milliners' bills? How many of you have gowns and
bracelets which you daren't show, or which you wear trembling?--
trembling, and coaxing with smiles the husband by your side, who
does not know the new velvet gown from the old one, or the new
bracelet from last year's, or has any notion that the ragged-looking
yellow lace scarf cost forty guineas and that Madame Bobinot is
writing dunning letters every week for the money!
Thus Rawdon knew nothing about the brilliant diamond ear-rings, or
the superb brilliant ornament which decorated the fair bosom of his
lady; but Lord Steyne, who was in his place at Court, as Lord of the
Powder Closet, and one of the great dignitaries and illustrious
defences of the throne of England, and came up with all his stars,
garters, collars, and cordons, and paid particular attention to the
little woman, knew whence the jewels came and who paid for them.
As he bowed over her he smiled, and quoted the hackneyed and
beautiful lines from The Rape of the Lock about Belinda's diamonds,
"which Jews might kiss and infidels adore."
"But I hope your lordship is orthodox," said the little lady with a
toss of her head. And many ladies round about whispered and talked,
and many gentlemen nodded and whispered, as they saw what marked
attention the great nobleman was paying to the little adventuress.
What were the circumstances of the interview between Rebecca
Crawley, nee Sharp, and her Imperial Master, it does not become such
a feeble and inexperienced pen as mine to attempt to relate. The
dazzled eyes close before that Magnificent Idea. Loyal respect and
decency tell even the imagination not to look too keenly and
audaciously about the sacred audience-chamber, but to back away
rapidly, silently, and respectfully, making profound bows out of the
This may be said, that in all London there was no more loyal heart
than Becky's after this interview. The name of her king was always
on her lips, and he was proclaimed by her to be the most charming of
men. She went to Colnaghi's and ordered the finest portrait of him
that art had produced, and credit could supply. She chose that
famous one in which the best of monarchs is represented in a frock-
coat with a fur collar, and breeches and silk stockings, simpering
on a sofa from under his curly brown wig. She had him painted in a
brooch and wore it--indeed she amused and somewhat pestered her
acquaintance with her perpetual talk about his urbanity and beauty.
Who knows! Perhaps the little woman thought she might play the part
of a Maintenon or a Pompadour.
But the finest sport of all after her presentation was to hear her
talk virtuously. She had a few female acquaintances, not, it must
be owned, of the very highest reputation in Vanity Fair. But being
made an honest woman of, so to speak, Becky would not consort any
longer with these dubious ones, and cut Lady Crackenbury when the
latter nodded to her from her opera-box, and gave Mrs. Washington
White the go-by in the Ring. "One must, my dear, show one is
somebody," she said. "One mustn't be seen with doubtful people. I
pity Lady Crackenbury from my heart, and Mrs. Washington White may
be a very good-natured person. YOU may go and dine with them, as
you like your rubber. But I mustn't, and won't; and you will have
the goodness to tell Smith to say I am not at home when either of
The particulars of Becky's costume were in the newspapers--feathers,
lappets, superb diamonds, and all the rest. Lady Crackenbury read
the paragraph in bitterness of spirit and discoursed to her
followers about the airs which that woman was giving herself. Mrs.
Bute Crawley and her young ladies in the country had a copy of the
Morning Post from town, and gave a vent to their honest indignation.
"If you had been sandy-haired, green-eyed, and a French rope-
dancer's daughter," Mrs. Bute said to her eldest girl (who, on the
contrary, was a very swarthy, short, and snub-nosed young lady),
"You might have had superb diamonds forsooth, and have been
presented at Court by your cousin, the Lady Jane. But you're only a
gentlewoman, my poor dear child. You have only some of the best
blood in England in your veins, and good principles and piety for
your portion. I, myself, the wife of a Baronet's younger brother,
too, never thought of such a thing as going to Court--nor would
other people, if good Queen Charlotte had been alive." In this way
the worthy Rectoress consoled herself, and her daughters sighed and
sat over the Peerage all night.
A few days after the famous presentation, another great and
exceeding honour was vouchsafed to the virtuous Becky. Lady
Steyne's carriage drove up to Mr. Rawdon Crawley's door, and the
footman, instead of driving down the front of the house, as by his
tremendous knocking he appeared to be inclined to do, relented and
only delivered in a couple of cards, on which were engraven the
names of the Marchioness of Steyne and the Countess of Gaunt. If
these bits of pasteboard had been beautiful pictures, or had had a
hundred yards of Malines lace rolled round them, worth twice the
number of guineas, Becky could not have regarded them with more
pleasure. You may be sure they occupied a conspicuous place in the
china bowl on the drawing-room table, where Becky kept the cards of
her visitors. Lord! lord! how poor Mrs. Washington White's card and
Lady Crackenbury's card--which our little friend had been glad
enough to get a few months back, and of which the silly little
creature was rather proud once--Lord! lord! I say, how soon at the
appearance of these grand court cards, did those poor little
neglected deuces sink down to the bottom of the pack. Steyne!
Bareacres, Johnes of Helvellyn! and Caerylon of Camelot! we may be
sure that Becky and Briggs looked out those august names in the
Peerage, and followed the noble races up through all the
ramifications of the family tree.
My Lord Steyne coming to call a couple of hours afterwards, and
looking about him, and observing everything as was his wont, found
his ladies' cards already ranged as the trumps of Becky's hand, and
grinned, as this old cynic always did at any naive display of human
weakness. Becky came down to him presently; whenever the dear girl
expected his lordship, her toilette was prepared, her hair in
perfect order, her mouchoirs, aprons, scarfs, little morocco
slippers, and other female gimcracks arranged, and she seated in
some artless and agreeable posture ready to receive him--whenever
she was surprised, of course, she had to fly to her apartment to
take a rapid survey of matters in the glass, and to trip down again
to wait upon the great peer.
She found him grinning over the bowl. She was discovered, and she
blushed a little. "Thank you, Monseigneur," she said. "You see
your ladies have been here. How good of you! I couldn't come
before--I was in the kitchen making a pudding."
"I know you were, I saw you through the area-railings as I drove
up," replied the old gentleman.
"You see everything," she replied.
"A few things, but not that, my pretty lady," he said good-
naturedly. "You silly little fibster! I heard you in the room
overhead, where I have no doubt you were putting a little rouge on--
you must give some of yours to my Lady Gaunt, whose complexion is
quite preposterous--and I heard the bedroom door open, and then you
"Is it a crime to try and look my best when YOU come here?" answered
Mrs. Rawdon plaintively, and she rubbed her cheek with her
handkerchief as if to show there was no rouge at all, only genuine
blushes and modesty in her case. About this who can tell? I know
there is some rouge that won't come off on a pocket-handkerchief,
and some so good that even tears will not disturb it.
"Well," said the old gentleman, twiddling round his wife's card,
"you are bent on becoming a fine lady. You pester my poor old life
out to get you into the world. You won't be able to hold your own
there, you silly little fool. You've got no money."
"You will get us a place," interposed Becky, "as quick as possible."
"You've got no money, and you want to compete with those who have.
You poor little earthenware pipkin, you want to swim down the stream
along with the great copper kettles. All women are alike.
Everybody is striving for what is not worth the having! Gad! I
dined with the King yesterday, and we had neck of mutton and
turnips. A dinner of herbs is better than a stalled ox very often.
You will go to Gaunt House. You give an old fellow no rest until
you get there. It's not half so nice as here. You'll be bored
there. I am. My wife is as gay as Lady Macbeth, and my daughters
as cheerful as Regan and Goneril. I daren't sleep in what they call
my bedroom. The bed is like the baldaquin of St. Peter's, and the
pictures frighten me. I have a little brass bed in a dressing-room,
and a little hair mattress like an anchorite. I am an anchorite.
Ho! ho! You'll be asked to dinner next week. And gare aux femmes,
look out and hold your own! How the women will bully you!" This was
a very long speech for a man of few words like my Lord Steyne; nor
was it the first which he uttered for Becky's benefit on that day.
Briggs looked up from the work-table at which she was seated in the
farther room and gave a deep sigh as she heard the great Marquis
speak so lightly of her sex.
"If you don't turn off that abominable sheep-dog," said Lord Steyne,
with a savage look over his shoulder at her, "I will have her
"I always give my dog dinner from my own plate," said Rebecca,
laughing mischievously; and having enjoyed for some time the
discomfiture of my lord, who hated poor Briggs for interrupting his
tete-a-tete with the fair Colonel's wife, Mrs. Rawdon at length had
pity upon her admirer, and calling to Briggs, praised the fineness
of the weather to her and bade her to take out the child for a walk.
"I can't send her away," Becky said presently, after a pause, and in
a very sad voice. Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke, and she
turned away her head.
"You owe her her wages, I suppose?" said the Peer.
"Worse than that," said Becky, still casting down her eyes; "I have
"Ruined her? Then why don't you turn her out?" the gentleman asked.
"Men do that," Becky answered bitterly. "Women are not so bad as
you. Last year, when we were reduced to our last guinea, she gave
us everything. She shall never leave me, until we are ruined
utterly ourselves, which does not seem far off, or until I can pay
her the utmost farthing."
"------ it, how much is it?" said the Peer with an oath. And Becky,
reflecting on the largeness of his means, mentioned not only the sum
which she had borrowed from Miss Briggs, but one of nearly double
This caused the Lord Steyne to break out in another brief and
energetic expression of anger, at which Rebecca held down her head
the more and cried bitterly. "I could not help it. It was my only
chance. I dare not tell my husband. He would kill me if I told him
what I have done. I have kept it a secret from everybody but you--
and you forced it from me. Ah, what shall I do, Lord Steyne? for I
am very, very unhappy!"
Lord Steyne made no reply except by beating the devil's tattoo and
biting his nails. At last he clapped his hat on his head and flung
out of the room. Rebecca did not rise from her attitude of misery
until the door slammed upon him and his carriage whirled away. Then
she rose up with the queerest expression of victorious mischief
glittering in her green eyes. She burst out laughing once or twice
to herself, as she sat at work, and sitting down to the piano, she
rattled away a triumphant voluntary on the keys, which made the
people pause under her window to listen to her brilliant music.
That night, there came two notes from Gaunt House for the little
woman, the one containing a card of invitation from Lord and Lady
Steyne to a dinner at Gaunt House next Friday, while the other
enclosed a slip of gray paper bearing Lord Steyne's signature and
the address of Messrs. Jones, Brown, and Robinson, Lombard Street.
Rawdon heard Becky laughing in the night once or twice. It was only
her delight at going to Gaunt House and facing the ladies there, she
said, which amused her so. But the truth was that she was occupied
with a great number of other thoughts. Should she pay off old
Briggs and give her her conge? Should she astonish Raggles by
settling his account? She turned over all these thoughts on her
pillow, and on the next day, when Rawdon went out to pay his morning
visit to the Club, Mrs. Crawley (in a modest dress with a veil on)
whipped off in a hackney-coach to the City: and being landed at
Messrs. Jones and Robinson's bank, presented a document there to the
authority at the desk, who, in reply, asked her "How she would take
She gently said "she would take a hundred and fifty pounds in small
notes and the remainder in one note": and passing through St.
Paul's Churchyard stopped there and bought the handsomest black silk
gown for Briggs which money could buy; and which, with a kiss and
the kindest speeches, she presented to the simple old spinster.
Then she walked to Mr. Raggles, inquired about his children
affectionately, and gave him fifty pounds on account. Then she went
to the livery-man from whom she jobbed her carriages and gratified
him with a similar sum. "And I hope this will be a lesson to you,
Spavin," she said, "and that on the next drawing-room day my
brother, Sir Pitt, will not be inconvenienced by being obliged to
take four of us in his carriage to wait upon His Majesty, because my
own carriage is not forthcoming." It appears there had been a
difference on the last drawing-room day. Hence the degradation
which the Colonel had almost suffered, of being obliged to enter the
presence of his Sovereign in a hack cab.
These arrangements concluded, Becky paid a visit upstairs to the
before-mentioned desk, which Amelia Sedley had given her years and
years ago, and which contained a number of useful and valuable
little things--in which private museum she placed the one note which
Messrs. Jones and Robinson's cashier had given her.
In Which We Enjoy Three Courses and a Dessert
When the ladies of Gaunt House were at breakfast that morning, Lord
Steyne (who took his chocolate in private and seldom disturbed the
females of his household, or saw them except upon public days, or
when they crossed each other in the hall, or when from his pit-box
at the opera he surveyed them in their box on the grand tier) his
lordship, we say, appeared among the ladies and the children who
were assembled over the tea and toast, and a battle royal ensued
apropos of Rebecca.
"My Lady Steyne," he said, "I want to see the list for your dinner
on Friday; and I want you, if you please, to write a card for
Colonel and Mrs. Crawley."
"Blanche writes them," Lady Steyne said in a flutter. "Lady Gaunt
"I will not write to that person," Lady Gaunt said, a tall and
stately lady, who looked up for an instant and then down again after
she had spoken. It was not good to meet Lord Steyne's eyes for
those who had offended him.
"Send the children out of the room. Go!" said he pulling at the
bell-rope. The urchins, always frightened before him, retired:
their mother would have followed too. "Not you," he said. "You
"My Lady Steyne," he said, "once more will you have the goodness to
go to the desk and write that card for your dinner on Friday?"
"My Lord, I will not be present at it," Lady Gaunt said; "I will go
"I wish you would, and stay there. You will find the bailiffs at
Bareacres very pleasant company, and I shall be freed from lending
money to your relations and from your own damned tragedy airs. Who
are you to give orders here? You have no money. You've got no
brains. You were here to have children, and you have not had any.
Gaunt's tired of you, and George's wife is the only person in the
family who doesn't wish you were dead. Gaunt would marry again if
"I wish I were," her Ladyship answered with tears and rage in her
"You, forsooth, must give yourself airs of virtue, while my wife,
who is an immaculate saint, as everybody knows, and never did wrong
in her life, has no objection to meet my young friend Mrs. Crawley.
My Lady Steyne knows that appearances are sometimes against the best
of women; that lies are often told about the most innocent of them.
Pray, madam, shall I tell you some little anecdotes about my Lady
Bareacres, your mamma?"
"You may strike me if you like, sir, or hit any cruel blow," Lady
Gaunt said. To see his wife and daughter suffering always put his
Lordship into a good humour.
"My sweet Blanche," he said, "I am a gentleman, and never lay my
hand upon a woman, save in the way of kindness. I only wish to
correct little faults in your character. You women are too proud,
and sadly lack humility, as Father Mole, I'm sure, would tell my
Lady Steyne if he were here. You mustn't give yourselves airs; you
must be meek and humble, my blessings. For all Lady Steyne knows,
this calumniated, simple, good-humoured Mrs. Crawley is quite
innocent--even more innocent than herself. Her husband's character
is not good, but it is as good as Bareacres', who has played a
little and not paid a great deal, who cheated you out of the only
legacy you ever had and left you a pauper on my hands. And Mrs.
Crawley is not very well-born, but she is not worse than Fanny's
illustrious ancestor, the first de la Jones."
"The money which I brought into the family, sir," Lady George cried
"You purchased a contingent reversion with it," the Marquis said
darkly. "If Gaunt dies, your husband may come to his honours; your
little boys may inherit them, and who knows what besides? In the
meanwhile, ladies, be as proud and virtuous as you like abroad, but
don't give ME any airs. As for Mrs. Crawley's character, I shan't
demean myself or that most spotless and perfectly irreproachable
lady by even hinting that it requires a defence. You will be
pleased to receive her with the utmost cordiality, as you will
receive all persons whom I present in this house. This house?" He
broke out with a laugh. "Who is the master of it? and what is it?
This Temple of Virtue belongs to me. And if I invite all Newgate or
all Bedlam here, by ------ they shall be welcome."
After this vigorous allocution, to one of which sort Lord Steyne
treated his "Hareem" whenever symptoms of insubordination appeared
in his household, the crestfallen women had nothing for it but to
obey. Lady Gaunt wrote the invitation which his Lordship required,
and she and her mother-in-law drove in person, and with bitter and
humiliated hearts, to leave the cards on Mrs. Rawdon, the reception
of which caused that innocent woman so much pleasure.
There were families in London who would have sacrificed a year's
income to receive such an honour at the hands of those great ladies.
Mrs. Frederick Bullock, for instance, would have gone on her knees
from May Fair to Lombard Street, if Lady Steyne and Lady Gaunt had
been waiting in the City to raise her up and say, "Come to us next
Friday"--not to one of the great crushes and grand balls of Gaunt
House, whither everybody went, but to the sacred, unapproachable,
mysterious, delicious entertainments, to be admitted to one of which
was a privilege, and an honour, and a blessing indeed.
Severe, spotless, and beautiful, Lady Gaunt held the very highest
rank in Vanity Fair. The distinguished courtesy with which Lord
Steyne treated her charmed everybody who witnessed his behaviour,
caused the severest critics to admit how perfect a gentleman he was,
and to own that his Lordship's heart at least was in the right
The ladies of Gaunt House called Lady Bareacres in to their aid, in
order to repulse the common enemy. One of Lady Gaunt's carriages
went to Hill Street for her Ladyship's mother, all whose equipages
were in the hands of the bailiffs, whose very jewels and wardrobe,
it was said, had been seized by those inexorable Israelites.
Bareacres Castle was theirs, too, with all its costly pictures,
furniture, and articles of vertu--the magnificent Vandykes; the
noble Reynolds pictures; the Lawrence portraits, tawdry and
beautiful, and, thirty years ago, deemed as precious as works of
real genius; the matchless Dancing Nymph of Canova, for which Lady
Bareacres had sat in her youth--Lady Bareacres splendid then, and
radiant in wealth, rank, and beauty--a toothless, bald, old woman
now--a mere rag of a former robe of state. Her lord, painted at the
same time by Lawrence, as waving his sabre in front of Bareacres
Castle, and clothed in his uniform as Colonel of the Thistlewood
Yeomanry, was a withered, old, lean man in a greatcoat and a Brutus
wig, slinking about Gray's Inn of mornings chiefly and dining alone
at clubs. He did not like to dine with Steyne now. They had run
races of pleasure together in youth when Bareacres was the winner.
But Steyne had more bottom than he and had lasted him out. The
Marquis was ten times a greater man now than the young Lord Gaunt of
'85, and Bareacres nowhere in the race--old, beaten, bankrupt, and
broken down. He had borrowed too much money of Steyne to find it
pleasant to meet his old comrade often. The latter, whenever he
wished to be merry, used jeeringly to ask Lady Gaunt why her father
had not come to see her. "He has not been here for four months,"
Lord Steyne would say. "I can always tell by my cheque-book
afterwards, when I get a visit from Bareacres. What a comfort it
is, my ladies, I bank with one of my sons' fathers-in-law, and the
other banks with me!"
Of the other illustrious persons whom Becky had the honour to
encounter on this her first presentation to the grand world, it does
not become the present historian to say much. There was his
Excellency the Prince of Peterwaradin, with his Princess--a nobleman
tightly girthed, with a large military chest, on which the plaque of
his order shone magnificently, and wearing the red collar of the
Golden Fleece round his neck. He was the owner of countless flocks.
"Look at his face. I think he must be descended from a sheep,"
Becky whispered to Lord Steyne. Indeed, his Excellency's
countenance, long, solemn, and white, with the ornament round his
neck, bore some resemblance to that of a venerable bell-wether.
There was Mr. John Paul Jefferson Jones, titularly attached to the
American Embassy and correspondent of the New York Demagogue, who,
by way of making himself agreeable to the company, asked Lady
Steyne, during a pause in the conversation at dinner, how his dear
friend, George Gaunt, liked the Brazils? He and George had been most
intimate at Naples and had gone up Vesuvius together. Mr. Jones
wrote a full and particular account of the dinner, which appeared
duly in the Demagogue. He mentioned the names and titles of all the
guests, giving biographical sketches of the principal people. He
described the persons of the ladies with great eloquence; the
service of the table; the size and costume of the servants;
enumerated the dishes and wines served; the ornaments of the
sideboard; and the probable value of the plate. Such a dinner he
calculated could not be dished up under fifteen or eighteen dollars
per head. And he was in the habit, until very lately, of sending
over proteges, with letters of recommendation to the present Marquis
of Steyne, encouraged to do so by the intimate terms on which he had
lived with his dear friend, the late lord. He was most indignant
that a young and insignificant aristocrat, the Earl of Southdown,
should have taken the pas of him in their procession to the dining-
room. "Just as I was stepping up to offer my hand to a very
pleasing and witty fashionable, the brilliant and exclusive Mrs.
Rawdon Crawley,"--he wrote--"the young patrician interposed between
me and the lady and whisked my Helen off without a word of apology.
I was fain to bring up the rear with the Colonel, the lady's
husband, a stout red-faced warrior who distinguished himself at
Waterloo, where he had better luck than befell some of his brother
redcoats at New Orleans."
The Colonel's countenance on coming into this polite society wore as
many blushes as the face of a boy of sixteen assumes when he is
confronted with his sister's schoolfellows. It has been told before
that honest Rawdon had not been much used at any period of his life
to ladies' company. With the men at the Club or the mess room, he
was well enough; and could ride, bet, smoke, or play at billiards
with the boldest of them. He had had his time for female
friendships too, but that was twenty years ago, and the ladies were
of the rank of those with whom Young Marlow in the comedy is
represented as having been familiar before he became abashed in the
presence of Miss Hardcastle. The times are such that one scarcely
dares to allude to that kind of company which thousands of our young
men in Vanity Fair are frequenting every day, which nightly fills
casinos and dancing-rooms, which is known to exist as well as the
Ring in Hyde Park or the Congregation at St. James's--but which the
most squeamish if not the most moral of societies is determined to
ignore. In a word, although Colonel Crawley was now five-and-forty
years of age, it had not been his lot in life to meet with a half
dozen good women, besides his paragon of a wife. All except her and
his kind sister Lady Jane, whose gentle nature had tamed and won
him, scared the worthy Colonel, and on occasion of his first dinner
at Gaunt House he was not heard to make a single remark except to
state that the weather was very hot. Indeed Becky would have left
him at home, but that virtue ordained that her husband should be by
her side to protect the timid and fluttering little creature on her
first appearance in polite society.
On her first appearance Lord Steyne stepped forward, taking her
hand, and greeting her with great courtesy, and presenting her to
Lady Steyne, and their ladyships, her daughters. Their ladyships
made three stately curtsies, and the elder lady to be sure gave her
hand to the newcomer, but it was as cold and lifeless as marble.
Becky took it, however, with grateful humility, and performing a
reverence which would have done credit to the best dancer-master,
put herself at Lady Steyne's feet, as it were, by saying that his
Lordship had been her father's earliest friend and patron, and that
she, Becky, had learned to honour and respect the Steyne family from
the days of her childhood. The fact is that Lord Steyne had once
purchased a couple of pictures of the late Sharp, and the
affectionate orphan could never forget her gratitude for that
The Lady Bareacres then came under Becky's cognizance--to whom the
Colonel's lady made also a most respectful obeisance: it was
returned with severe dignity by the exalted person in question.
"I had the pleasure of making your Ladyship's acquaintance at
Brussels, ten years ago," Becky said in the most winning manner. "I
had the good fortune to meet Lady Bareacres at the Duchess of
Richmond's ball, the night before the Battle of Waterloo. And I
recollect your Ladyship, and my Lady Blanche, your daughter, sitting
in the carriage in the porte-cochere at the Inn, waiting for horses.
I hope your Ladyship's diamonds are safe."
Everybody's eyes looked into their neighbour's. The famous diamonds
had undergone a famous seizure, it appears, about which Becky, of
course, knew nothing. Rawdon Crawley retreated with Lord Southdown
into a window, where the latter was heard to laugh immoderately, as
Rawdon told him the story of Lady Bareacres wanting horses and
"knuckling down by Jove," to Mrs. Crawley. "I think I needn't be
afraid of THAT woman," Becky thought. Indeed, Lady Bareacres
exchanged terrified and angry looks with her daughter and retreated
to a table, where she began to look at pictures with great energy.
When the Potentate from the Danube made his appearance, the
conversation was carried on in the French language, and the Lady
Bareacres and the younger ladies found, to their farther
mortification, that Mrs. Crawley was much better acquainted with
that tongue, and spoke it with a much better accent than they.
Becky had met other Hungarian magnates with the army in France in
1816-17. She asked after her friends with great interest The
foreign personages thought that she was a lady of great distinction,
and the Prince and the Princess asked severally of Lord Steyne and
the Marchioness, whom they conducted to dinner, who was that petite
dame who spoke so well?