Part 12 out of 16
Finally, the procession being formed in the order described by the
American diplomatist, they marched into the apartment where the
banquet was served, and which, as I have promised the reader he
shall enjoy it, he shall have the liberty of ordering himself so as
to suit his fancy.
But it was when the ladies were alone that Becky knew the tug of war
would come. And then indeed the little woman found herself in such
a situation as made her acknowledge the correctness of Lord Steyne's
caution to her to beware of the society of ladies above her own
sphere. As they say, the persons who hate Irishmen most are
Irishmen; so, assuredly, the greatest tyrants over women are women.
When poor little Becky, alone with the ladies, went up to the fire-
place whither the great ladies had repaired, the great ladies
marched away and took possession of a table of drawings. When Becky
followed them to the table of drawings, they dropped off one by one
to the fire again. She tried to speak to one of the children (of
whom she was commonly fond in public places), but Master George
Gaunt was called away by his mamma; and the stranger was treated
with such cruelty finally, that even Lady Steyne herself pitied her
and went up to speak to the friendless little woman.
"Lord Steyne," said her Ladyship, as her wan cheeks glowed with a
blush, "says you sing and play very beautifully, Mrs. Crawley--I
wish you would do me the kindness to sing to me."
"I will do anything that may give pleasure to my Lord Steyne or to
you," said Rebecca, sincerely grateful, and seating herself at the
piano, began to sing.
She sang religious songs of Mozart, which had been early favourites
of Lady Steyne, and with such sweetness and tenderness that the
lady, lingering round the piano, sat down by its side and listened
until the tears rolled down her eyes. It is true that the
opposition ladies at the other end of the room kept up a loud and
ceaseless buzzing and talking, but the Lady Steyne did not hear
those rumours. She was a child again--and had wandered back through
a forty years' wilderness to her convent garden. The chapel organ
had pealed the same tones, the organist, the sister whom she loved
best of the community, had taught them to her in those early happy
days. She was a girl once more, and the brief period of her
happiness bloomed out again for an hour--she started when the
jarring doors were flung open, and with a loud laugh from Lord
Steyne, the men of the party entered full of gaiety.
He saw at a glance what had happened in his absence, and was
grateful to his wife for once. He went and spoke to her, and called
her by her Christian name, so as again to bring blushes to her pale
face--"My wife says you have been singing like an angel," he said to
Becky. Now there are angels of two kinds, and both sorts, it is
said, are charming in their way.
Whatever the previous portion of the evening had been, the rest of
that night was a great triumph for Becky. She sang her very best,
and it was so good that every one of the men came and crowded round
the piano. The women, her enemies, were left quite alone. And Mr.
Paul Jefferson Jones thought he had made a conquest of Lady Gaunt by
going up to her Ladyship and praising her delightful friend's first-
Contains a Vulgar Incident
The Muse, whoever she be, who presides over this Comic History must
now descend from the genteel heights in which she has been soaring
and have the goodness to drop down upon the lowly roof of John
Sedley at Brompton, and describe what events are taking place there.
Here, too, in this humble tenement, live care, and distrust, and
dismay. Mrs. Clapp in the kitchen is grumbling in secret to her
husband about the rent, and urging the good fellow to rebel against
his old friend and patron and his present lodger. Mrs. Sedley has
ceased to visit her landlady in the lower regions now, and indeed is
in a position to patronize Mrs. Clapp no longer. How can one be
condescending to a lady to whom one owes a matter of forty pounds,
and who is perpetually throwing out hints for the money? The Irish
maidservant has not altered in the least in her kind and respectful
behaviour; but Mrs. Sedley fancies that she is growing insolent and
ungrateful, and, as the guilty thief who fears each bush an officer,
sees threatening innuendoes and hints of capture in all the girl's
speeches and answers. Miss Clapp, grown quite a young woman now, is
declared by the soured old lady to be an unbearable and impudent
little minx. Why Amelia can be so fond of her, or have her in her
room so much, or walk out with her so constantly, Mrs. Sedley cannot
conceive. The bitterness of poverty has poisoned the life of the
once cheerful and kindly woman. She is thankless for Amelia's
constant and gentle bearing towards her; carps at her for her
efforts at kindness or service; rails at her for her silly pride in
her child and her neglect of her parents. Georgy's house is not a
very lively one since Uncle Jos's annuity has been withdrawn and the
little family are almost upon famine diet.
Amelia thinks, and thinks, and racks her brain, to find some means
of increasing the small pittance upon which the household is
starving. Can she give lessons in anything? paint card-racks? do
fine work? She finds that women are working hard, and better than
she can, for twopence a day. She buys a couple of begilt Bristol
boards at the Fancy Stationer's and paints her very best upon them--
a shepherd with a red waistcoat on one, and a pink face smiling in
the midst of a pencil landscape--a shepherdess on the other,
crossing a little bridge, with a little dog, nicely shaded. The man
of the Fancy Repository and Brompton Emporium of Fine Arts (of whom
she bought the screens, vainly hoping that he would repurchase them
when ornamented by her hand) can hardly hide the sneer with which he
examines these feeble works of art. He looks askance at the lady
who waits in the shop, and ties up the cards again in their envelope
of whitey-brown paper, and hands them to the poor widow and Miss
Clapp, who had never seen such beautiful things in her life, and had
been quite confident that the man must give at least two guineas for
the screens. They try at other shops in the interior of London,
with faint sickening hopes. "Don't want 'em," says one. "Be off,"
says another fiercely. Three-and-sixpence has been spent in vain--
the screens retire to Miss Clapp's bedroom, who persists in thinking
She writes out a little card in her neatest hand, and after long
thought and labour of composition, in which the public is informed
that "A Lady who has some time at her disposal, wishes to undertake
the education of some little girls, whom she would instruct in
English, in French, in Geography, in History, and in Music--address
A. O., at Mr. Brown's"; and she confides the card to the gentleman
of the Fine Art Repository, who consents to allow it to lie upon the
counter, where it grows dingy and fly-blown. Amelia passes the door
wistfully many a time, in hopes that Mr. Brown will have some news
to give her, but he never beckons her in. When she goes to make
little purchases, there is no news for her. Poor simple lady,
tender and weak--how are you to battle with the struggling violent
She grows daily more care-worn and sad, fixing upon her child
alarmed eyes, whereof the little boy cannot interpret the
expression. She starts up of a night and peeps into his room
stealthily, to see that he is sleeping and not stolen away. She
sleeps but little now. A constant thought and terror is haunting
her. How she weeps and prays in the long silent nights--how she
tries to hide from herself the thought which will return to her,
that she ought to part with the boy, that she is the only barrier
between him and prosperity. She can't, she can't. Not now, at
least. Some other day. Oh! it is too hard to think of and to bear.
A thought comes over her which makes her blush and turn from
herself--her parents might keep the annuity--the curate would marry
her and give a home to her and the boy. But George's picture and
dearest memory are there to rebuke her. Shame and love say no to
the sacrifice. She shrinks from it as from something unholy, and
such thoughts never found a resting-place in that pure and gentle
The combat, which we describe in a sentence or two, lasted for many
weeks in poor Amelia's heart, during which she had no confidante;
indeed, she could never have one, as she would not allow to herself
the possibility of yielding, though she was giving way daily before
the enemy with whom she had to battle. One truth after another was
marshalling itself silently against her and keeping its ground.
Poverty and misery for all, want and degradation for her parents,
injustice to the boy--one by one the outworks of the little citadel
were taken, in which the poor soul passionately guarded her only
love and treasure.
At the beginning of the struggle, she had written off a letter of
tender supplication to her brother at Calcutta, imploring him not to
withdraw the support which he had granted to their parents and
painting in terms of artless pathos their lonely and hapless
condition. She did not know the truth of the matter. The payment
of Jos's annuity was still regular, but it was a money-lender in the
City who was receiving it: old Sedley had sold it for a sum of
money wherewith to prosecute his bootless schemes. Emmy was
calculating eagerly the time that would elapse before the letter
would arrive and be answered. She had written down the date in her
pocket-book of the day when she dispatched it. To her son's
guardian, the good Major at Madras, she had not communicated any of
her griefs and perplexities. She had not written to him since she
wrote to congratulate him on his approaching marriage. She thought
with sickening despondency, that that friend--the only one, the one
who had felt such a regard for her--was fallen away.
One day, when things had come to a very bad pass--when the creditors
were pressing, the mother in hysteric grief, the father in more than
usual gloom, the inmates of the family avoiding each other, each
secretly oppressed with his private unhappiness and notion of wrong
--the father and daughter happened to be left alone together, and
Amelia thought to comfort her father by telling him what she had
done. She had written to Joseph--an answer must come in three or
four months. He was always generous, though careless. He could not
refuse, when he knew how straitened were the circumstances of his
Then the poor old gentleman revealed the whole truth to her--that
his son was still paying the annuity, which his own imprudence had
flung away. He had not dared to tell it sooner. He thought
Amelia's ghastly and terrified look, when, with a trembling,
miserable voice he made the confession, conveyed reproaches to him
for his concealment. "Ah!" said he with quivering lips and turning
away, "you despise your old father now!"
"Oh, papal it is not that," Amelia cried out, falling on his neck
and kissing him many times. "You are always good and kind. You did
it for the best. It is not for the money--it is--my God! my God!
have mercy upon me, and give me strength to bear this trial"; and
she kissed him again wildly and went away.
Still the father did not know what that explanation meant, and the
burst of anguish with which the poor girl left him. It was that she
was conquered. The sentence was passed. The child must go from
her--to others--to forget her. Her heart and her treasure--her joy,
hope, love, worship--her God, almost! She must give him up, and
then--and then she would go to George, and they would watch over the
child and wait for him until he came to them in Heaven.
She put on her bonnet, scarcely knowing what she did, and went out
to walk in the lanes by which George used to come back from school,
and where she was in the habit of going on his return to meet the
boy. It was May, a half-holiday. The leaves were all coming out,
the weather was brilliant; the boy came running to her flushed with
health, singing, his bundle of school-books hanging by a thong.
There he was. Both her arms were round him. No, it was impossible.
They could not be going to part. "What is the matter, Mother?" said
he; "you look very pale."
"Nothing, my child," she said and stooped down and kissed him.
That night Amelia made the boy read the story of Samuel to her, and
how Hannah, his mother, having weaned him, brought him to Eli the
High Priest to minister before the Lord. And he read the song of
gratitude which Hannah sang, and which says, who it is who maketh
poor and maketh rich, and bringeth low and exalteth--how the poor
shall be raised up out of the dust, and how, in his own might, no
man shall be strong. Then he read how Samuel's mother made him a
little coat and brought it to him from year to year when she came up
to offer the yearly sacrifice. And then, in her sweet simple way,
George's mother made commentaries to the boy upon this affecting
story. How Hannah, though she loved her son so much, yet gave him
up because of her vow. And how she must always have thought of him
as she sat at home, far away, making the little coat; and Samuel,
she was sure, never forgot his mother; and how happy she must have
been as the time came (and the years pass away very quick) when she
should see her boy and how good and wise he had grown. This little
sermon she spoke with a gentle solemn voice, and dry eyes, until she
came to the account of their meeting--then the discourse broke off
suddenly, the tender heart overflowed, and taking the boy to her
breast, she rocked him in her arms and wept silently over him in a
sainted agony of tears.
Her mind being made up, the widow began to take such measures as
seemed right to her for advancing the end which she proposed. One
day, Miss Osborne, in Russell Square (Amelia had not written the
name or number of the house for ten years--her youth, her early
story came back to her as she wrote the superscription) one day Miss
Osborne got a letter from Amelia which made her blush very much and
look towards her father, sitting glooming in his place at the other
end of the table.
In simple terms, Amelia told her the reasons which had induced her
to change her mind respecting her boy. Her father had met with fresh
misfortunes which had entirely ruined him. Her own pittance was so
small that it would barely enable her to support her parents and
would not suffice to give George the advantages which were his due.
Great as her sufferings would be at parting with him she would, by
God's help, endure them for the boy's sake. She knew that those to
whom he was going would do all in their power to make him happy.
She described his disposition, such as she fancied it--quick and
impatient of control or harshness, easily to be moved by love and
kindness. In a postscript, she stipulated that she should have a
written agreement, that she should see the child as often as she
wished--she could not part with him under any other terms.
"What? Mrs. Pride has come down, has she?" old Osborne said, when
with a tremulous eager voice Miss Osborne read him the letter.
"Reg'lar starved out, hey? Ha, ha! I knew she would." He tried to
keep his dignity and to read his paper as usual--but he could not
follow it. He chuckled and swore to himself behind the sheet.
At last he flung it down and, scowling at his daughter, as his wont
was, went out of the room into his study adjoining, from whence he
presently returned with a key. He flung it to Miss Osborne.
"Get the room over mine--his room that was--ready," he said. "Yes,
sir," his daughter replied in a tremble. It was George's room. It
had not been opened for more than ten years. Some of his clothes,
papers, handkerchiefs, whips and caps, fishing-rods and sporting
gear, were still there. An Army list of 1814, with his name written
on the cover; a little dictionary he was wont to use in writing; and
the Bible his mother had given him, were on the mantelpiece, with a
pair of spurs and a dried inkstand covered with the dust of ten
years. Ah! since that ink was wet, what days and people had passed
away! The writing-book, still on the table, was blotted with his
Miss Osborne was much affected when she first entered this room with
the servants under her. She sank quite pale on the little bed.
"This is blessed news, m'am--indeed, m'am," the housekeeper said;
"and the good old times is returning, m'am. The dear little feller,
to be sure, m'am; how happy he will be! But some folks in May Fair,
m'am, will owe him a grudge, m'am"; and she clicked back the bolt
which held the window-sash and let the air into the chamber.
"You had better send that woman some money," Mr. Osborne said,
before he went out. "She shan't want for nothing. Send her a
"And I'll go and see her to-morrow?" Miss Osborne asked.
"That's your look out. She don't come in here, mind. No, by ------,
not for all the money in London. But she mustn't want now. So look
out, and get things right." With which brief speeches Mr. Osborne
took leave of his daughter and went on his accustomed way into the
"Here, Papa, is some money," Amelia said that night, kissing the old
man, her father, and putting a bill for a hundred pounds into his
hands. "And--and, Mamma, don't be harsh with Georgy. He--he is not
going to stop with us long." She could say nothing more, and walked
away silently to her room. Let us close it upon her prayers and her
sorrow. I think we had best speak little about so much love and
Miss Osborne came the next day, according to the promise contained
in her note, and saw Amelia. The meeting between them was friendly.
A look and a few words from Miss Osborne showed the poor widow that,
with regard to this woman at least, there need be no fear lest she
should take the first place in her son's affection. She was cold,
sensible, not unkind. The mother had not been so well pleased,
perhaps, had the rival been better looking, younger, more
affectionate, warmer-hearted. Miss Osborne, on the other hand,
thought of old times and memories and could not but be touched with
the poor mother's pitiful situation. She was conquered, and laying
down her arms, as it were, she humbly submitted. That day they
arranged together the preliminaries of the treaty of capitulation.
George was kept from school the next day, and saw his aunt. Amelia
left them alone together and went to her room. She was trying the
separation--as that poor gentle Lady Jane Grey felt the edge of the
axe that was to come down and sever her slender life. Days were
passed in parleys, visits, preparations. The widow broke the matter
to Georgy with great caution; she looked to see him very much
affected by the intelligence. He was rather elated than otherwise,
and the poor woman turned sadly away. He bragged about the news
that day to the boys at school; told them how he was going to live
with his grandpapa his father's father, not the one who comes here
sometimes; and that he would be very rich, and have a carriage, and
a pony, and go to a much finer school, and when he was rich he would
buy Leader's pencil-case and pay the tart-woman. The boy was the
image of his father, as his fond mother thought.
Indeed I have no heart, on account of our dear Amelia's sake, to go
through the story of George's last days at home.
At last the day came, the carriage drove up, the little humble
packets containing tokens of love and remembrance were ready and
disposed in the hall long since--George was in his new suit, for
which the tailor had come previously to measure him. He had sprung
up with the sun and put on the new clothes, his mother hearing him
from the room close by, in which she had been lying, in speechless
grief and watching. Days before she had been making preparations
for the end, purchasing little stores for the boy's use, marking his
books and linen, talking with him and preparing him for the change--
fondly fancying that he needed preparation.
So that he had change, what cared he? He was longing for it. By a
thousand eager declarations as to what he would do, when he went to
live with his grandfather, he had shown the poor widow how little
the idea of parting had cast him down. "He would come and see his
mamma often on the pony," he said. "He would come and fetch her in
the carriage; they would drive in the park, and she should have
everything she wanted." The poor mother was fain to content herself
with these selfish demonstrations of attachment, and tried to
convince herself how sincerely her son loved her. He must love her.
All children were so: a little anxious for novelty, and--no, not
selfish, but self-willed. Her child must have his enjoyments and
ambition in the world. She herself, by her own selfishness and
imprudent love for him had denied him his just rights and pleasures
I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and
self-humiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not
the man who is guilty; how she takes all the faults on her side; how
she courts in a manner punishment for the wrongs which she has not
committed and persists in shielding the real culprit! It is those
who injure women who get the most kindness from them--they are born
timid and tyrants and maltreat those who are humblest before them.
So poor Amelia had been getting ready in silent misery for her son's
departure, and had passed many and many a long solitary hour in
making preparations for the end. George stood by his mother,
watching her arrangements without the least concern. Tears had
fallen into his boxes; passages had been scored in his favourite
books; old toys, relics, treasures had been hoarded away for him,
and packed with strange neatness and care--and of all these things
the boy took no note. The child goes away smiling as the mother
breaks her heart. By heavens it is pitiful, the bootless love of
women for children in Vanity Fair.
A few days are past, and the great event of Amelia's life is
consummated. No angel has intervened. The child is sacrificed and
offered up to fate, and the widow is quite alone.
The boy comes to see her often, to be sure. He rides on a pony with
a coachman behind him, to the delight of his old grandfather,
Sedley, who walks proudly down the lane by his side. She sees him,
but he is not her boy any more. Why, he rides to see the boys at
the little school, too, and to show off before them his new wealth
and splendour. In two days he has adopted a slightly imperious air
and patronizing manner. He was born to command, his mother thinks,
as his father was before him.
It is fine weather now. Of evenings on the days when he does not
come, she takes a long walk into London--yes, as far as Russell
Square, and rests on the stone by the railing of the garden opposite
Mr. Osborne's house. It is so pleasant and cool. She can look up
and see the drawing-room windows illuminated, and, at about nine
o'clock, the chamber in the upper story where Georgy sleeps. She
knows--he has told her. She prays there as the light goes out,
prays with an humble heart, and walks home shrinking and silent.
She is very tired when she comes home. Perhaps she will sleep the
better for that long weary walk, and she may dream about Georgy.
One Sunday she happened to be walking in Russell Square, at some
distance from Mr. Osborne's house (she could see it from a distance
though) when all the bells of Sabbath were ringing, and George and
his aunt came out to go to church; a little sweep asked for charity,
and the footman, who carried the books, tried to drive him away; but
Georgy stopped and gave him money. May God's blessing be on the
boy! Emmy ran round the square and, coming up to the sweep, gave
him her mite too. All the bells of Sabbath were ringing, and she
followed them until she came to the Foundling Church, into which she
went. There she sat in a place whence she could see the head of the
boy under his father's tombstone. Many hundred fresh children's
voices rose up there and sang hymns to the Father Beneficent, and
little George's soul thrilled with delight at the burst of glorious
psalmody. His mother could not see him for awhile, through the mist
that dimmed her eyes.
In Which a Charade Is Acted Which May or May Not Puzzle the Reader
After Becky's appearance at my Lord Steyne's private and select
parties, the claims of that estimable woman as regards fashion were
settled, and some of the very greatest and tallest doors in the
metropolis were speedily opened to her--doors so great and tall that
the beloved reader and writer hereof may hope in vain to enter at
them. Dear brethren, let us tremble before those august portals. I
fancy them guarded by grooms of the chamber with flaming silver
forks with which they prong all those who have not the right of the
entree. They say the honest newspaper-fellow who sits in the hall
and takes down the names of the great ones who are admitted to the
feasts dies after a little time. He can't survive the glare of
fashion long. It scorches him up, as the presence of Jupiter in
full dress wasted that poor imprudent Semele--a giddy moth of a
creature who ruined herself by venturing out of her natural
atmosphere. Her myth ought to be taken to heart amongst the
Tyburnians, the Belgravians--her story, and perhaps Becky's too.
Ah, ladies!--ask the Reverend Mr. Thurifer if Belgravia is not a
sounding brass and Tyburnia a tinkling cymbal. These are vanities.
Even these will pass away. And some day or other (but it will be
after our time, thank goodness) Hyde Park Gardens will be no better
known than the celebrated horticultural outskirts of Babylon, and
Belgrave Square will be as desolate as Baker Street, or Tadmor in
Ladies, are you aware that the great Pitt lived in Baker Street?
What would not your grandmothers have given to be asked to Lady
Hester's parties in that now decayed mansion? I have dined in it--
moi qui vous parle, I peopled the chamber with ghosts of the mighty
dead. As we sat soberly drinking claret there with men of to-day,
the spirits of the departed came in and took their places round the
darksome board. The pilot who weathered the storm tossed off great
bumpers of spiritual port; the shade of Dundas did not leave the
ghost of a heeltap. Addington sat bowing and smirking in a ghastly
manner, and would not be behindhand when the noiseless bottle went
round; Scott, from under bushy eyebrows, winked at the apparition of
a beeswing; Wilberforce's eyes went up to the ceiling, so that he
did not seem to know how his glass went up full to his mouth and
came down empty; up to the ceiling which was above us only
yesterday, and which the great of the past days have all looked at.
They let the house as a furnished lodging now. Yes, Lady Hester
once lived in Baker Street, and lies asleep in the wilderness.
Eothen saw her there--not in Baker Street, but in the other
It is all vanity to be sure, but who will not own to liking a little
of it? I should like to know what well-constituted mind, merely
because it is transitory, dislikes roast beef? That is a vanity, but
may every man who reads this have a wholesome portion of it through
life, I beg: aye, though my readers were five hundred thousand.
Sit down, gentlemen, and fall to, with a good hearty appetite; the
fat, the lean, the gravy, the horse-radish as you like it--don't
spare it. Another glass of wine, Jones, my boy--a little bit of the
Sunday side. Yes, let us eat our fill of the vain thing and be
thankful therefor. And let us make the best of Becky's aristocratic
pleasures likewise--for these too, like all other mortal delights,
were but transitory.
The upshot of her visit to Lord Steyne was that His Highness the
Prince of Peterwaradin took occasion to renew his acquaintance with
Colonel Crawley, when they met on the next day at the Club, and to
compliment Mrs. Crawley in the Ring of Hyde Park with a profound
salute of the hat. She and her husband were invited immediately to
one of the Prince's small parties at Levant House, then occupied by
His Highness during the temporary absence from England of its noble
proprietor. She sang after dinner to a very little comite. The
Marquis of Steyne was present, paternally superintending the
progress of his pupil.
At Levant House Becky met one of the finest gentlemen and greatest
ministers that Europe has produced--the Duc de la Jabotiere, then
Ambassador from the Most Christian King, and subsequently Minister
to that monarch. I declare I swell with pride as these august names
are transcribed by my pen, and I think in what brilliant company my
dear Becky is moving. She became a constant guest at the French
Embassy, where no party was considered to be complete without the
presence of the charming Madame Ravdonn Cravley. Messieurs de
Truffigny (of the Perigord family) and Champignac, both attaches of
the Embassy, were straightway smitten by the charms of the fair
Colonel's wife, and both declared, according to the wont of their
nation (for who ever yet met a Frenchman, come out of England, that
has not left half a dozen families miserable, and brought away as
many hearts in his pocket-book?), both, I say, declared that they
were au mieux with the charming Madame Ravdonn.
But I doubt the correctness of the assertion. Champignac was very
fond of ecarte, and made many parties with the Colonel of evenings,
while Becky was singing to Lord Steyne in the other room; and as for
Truffigny, it is a well-known fact that he dared not go to the
Travellers', where he owed money to the waiters, and if he had not
had the Embassy as a dining-place, the worthy young gentleman must
have starved. I doubt, I say, that Becky would have selected either
of these young men as a person on whom she would bestow her special
regard. They ran of her messages, purchased her gloves and flowers,
went in debt for opera-boxes for her, and made themselves amiable in
a thousand ways. And they talked English with adorable simplicity,
and to the constant amusement of Becky and my Lord Steyne, she would
mimic one or other to his face, and compliment him on his advance in
the English language with a gravity which never failed to tickle the
Marquis, her sardonic old patron. Truffigny gave Briggs a shawl by
way of winning over Becky's confidante, and asked her to take charge
of a letter which the simple spinster handed over in public to the
person to whom it was addressed, and the composition of which amused
everybody who read it greatly. Lord Steyne read it, everybody but
honest Rawdon, to whom it was not necessary to tell everything that
passed in the little house in May Fair.
Here, before long, Becky received not only "the best" foreigners (as
the phrase is in our noble and admirable society slang), but some of
the best English people too. I don't mean the most virtuous, or
indeed the least virtuous, or the cleverest, or the stupidest, or
the richest, or the best born, but "the best,"--in a word, people
about whom there is no question--such as the great Lady Fitz-Willis,
that Patron Saint of Almack's, the great Lady Slowbore, the great
Lady Grizzel Macbeth (she was Lady G. Glowry, daughter of Lord Grey
of Glowry), and the like. When the Countess of Fitz-Willis (her
Ladyship is of the Kingstreet family, see Debrett and Burke) takes
up a person, he or she is safe. There is no question about them any
more. Not that my Lady Fitz-Willis is any better than anybody else,
being, on the contrary, a faded person, fifty-seven years of age,
and neither handsome, nor wealthy, nor entertaining; but it is
agreed on all sides that she is of the "best people." Those who go
to her are of the best: and from an old grudge probably to Lady
Steyne (for whose coronet her ladyship, then the youthful Georgina
Frederica, daughter of the Prince of Wales's favourite, the Earl of
Portansherry, had once tried), this great and famous leader of the
fashion chose to acknowledge Mrs. Rawdon Crawley; made her a most
marked curtsey at the assembly over which she presided; and not only
encouraged her son, St. Kitts (his lordship got his place through
Lord Steyne's interest), to frequent Mrs. Crawley's house, but asked
her to her own mansion and spoke to her twice in the most public and
condescending manner during dinner. The important fact was known
all over London that night. People who had been crying fie about
Mrs. Crawley were silent. Wenham, the wit and lawyer, Lord Steyne's
right-hand man, went about everywhere praising her: some who had
hesitated, came forward at once and welcomed her; little Tom Toady,
who had warned Southdown about visiting such an abandoned woman, now
besought to be introduced to her. In a word, she was admitted to be
among the "best" people. Ah, my beloved readers and brethren, do
not envy poor Becky prematurely--glory like this is said to be
fugitive. It is currently reported that even in the very inmost
circles, they are no happier than the poor wanderers outside the
zone; and Becky, who penetrated into the very centre of fashion and
saw the great George IV face to face, has owned since that there too
We must be brief in descanting upon this part of her career. As I
cannot describe the mysteries of freemasonry, although I have a
shrewd idea that it is a humbug, so an uninitiated man cannot take
upon himself to portray the great world accurately, and had best
keep his opinions to himself, whatever they are.
Becky has often spoken in subsequent years of this season of her
life, when she moved among the very greatest circles of the London
fashion. Her success excited, elated, and then bored her. At first
no occupation was more pleasant than to invent and procure (the
latter a work of no small trouble and ingenuity, by the way, in a
person of Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's very narrow means)--to procure, we
say, the prettiest new dresses and ornaments; to drive to fine
dinner parties, where she was welcomed by great people; and from the
fine dinner parties to fine assemblies, whither the same people came
with whom she had been dining, whom she had met the night before,
and would see on the morrow--the young men faultlessly appointed,
handsomely cravatted, with the neatest glossy boots and white
gloves--the elders portly, brass-buttoned, noble-looking, polite,
and prosy--the young ladies blonde, timid, and in pink--the mothers
grand, beautiful, sumptuous, solemn, and in diamonds. They talked
in English, not in bad French, as they do in the novels. They
talked about each others' houses, and characters, and families--just
as the Joneses do about the Smiths. Becky's former acquaintances
hated and envied her; the poor woman herself was yawning in spirit.
"I wish I were out of it," she said to herself. "I would rather be
a parson's wife and teach a Sunday school than this; or a sergeant's
lady and ride in the regimental waggon; or, oh, how much gayer it
would be to wear spangles and trousers and dance before a booth at a
"You would do it very well," said Lord Steyne, laughing. She used to
tell the great man her ennuis and perplexities in her artless way--
they amused him.
"Rawdon would make a very good Ecuyer--Master of the Ceremonies--
what do you call him--the man in the large boots and the uniform,
who goes round the ring cracking the whip? He is large, heavy, and
of a military figure. I recollect," Becky continued pensively, "my
father took me to see a show at Brookgreen Fair when I was a child,
and when we came home, I made myself a pair of stilts and danced in
the studio to the wonder of all the pupils."
"I should have liked to see it," said Lord Steyne.
"I should like to do it now," Becky continued. "How Lady Blinkey
would open her eyes, and Lady Grizzel Macbeth would stare! Hush!
silence! there is Pasta beginning to sing." Becky always made a
point of being conspicuously polite to the professional ladies and
gentlemen who attended at these aristocratic parties--of following
them into the corners where they sat in silence, and shaking hands
with them, and smiling in the view of all persons. She was an
artist herself, as she said very truly; there was a frankness and
humility in the manner in which she acknowledged her origin, which
provoked, or disarmed, or amused lookers-on, as the case might be.
"How cool that woman is," said one; "what airs of independence she
assumes, where she ought to sit still and be thankful if anybody
speaks to her!" "What an honest and good-natured soul she is!" said
another. "What an artful little minx" said a third. They were all
right very likely, but Becky went her own way, and so fascinated the
professional personages that they would leave off their sore throats
in order to sing at her parties and give her lessons for nothing.
Yes, she gave parties in the little house in Curzon Street. Many
scores of carriages, with blazing lamps, blocked up the street, to
the disgust of No. 100, who could not rest for the thunder of the
knocking, and of 102, who could not sleep for envy. The gigantic
footmen who accompanied the vehicles were too big to be contained in
Becky's little hall, and were billeted off in the neighbouring
public-houses, whence, when they were wanted, call-boys summoned
them from their beer. Scores of the great dandies of London squeezed
and trod on each other on the little stairs, laughing to find
themselves there; and many spotless and severe ladies of ton were
seated in the little drawing-room, listening to the professional
singers, who were singing according to their wont, and as if they
wished to blow the windows down. And the day after, there appeared
among the fashionable reunions in the Morning Post a paragraph to
the following effect:
"Yesterday, Colonel and Mrs. Crawley entertained a select party at
dinner at their house in May Fair. Their Excellencies the Prince
and Princess of Peterwaradin, H. E. Papoosh Pasha, the Turkish
Ambassador (attended by Kibob Bey, dragoman of the mission), the
Marquess of Steyne, Earl of Southdown, Sir Pitt and Lady Jane
Crawley, Mr. Wagg, &c. After dinner Mrs. Crawley had an assembly
which was attended by the Duchess (Dowager) of Stilton, Duc de la
Gruyere, Marchioness of Cheshire, Marchese Alessandro Strachino,
Comte de Brie, Baron Schapzuger, Chevalier Tosti, Countess of
Slingstone, and Lady F. Macadam, Major-General and Lady G.
Macbeth, and (2) Miss Macbeths; Viscount Paddington, Sir Horace
Fogey, Hon. Sands Bedwin, Bobachy Bahawder," and an &c., which the
reader may fill at his pleasure through a dozen close lines of small
And in her commerce with the great our dear friend showed the same
frankness which distinguished her transactions with the lowly in
station. On one occasion, when out at a very fine house, Rebecca
was (perhaps rather ostentatiously) holding a conversation in the
French language with a celebrated tenor singer of that nation, while
the Lady Grizzel Macbeth looked over her shoulder scowling at the
"How very well you speak French," Lady Grizzel said, who herself
spoke the tongue in an Edinburgh accent most remarkable to hear.
"I ought to know it," Becky modestly said, casting down her eyes.
"I taught it in a school, and my mother was a Frenchwoman."
Lady Grizzel was won by her humility and was mollified towards the
little woman. She deplored the fatal levelling tendencies of the
age, which admitted persons of all classes into the society of their
superiors, but her ladyship owned that this one at least was well
behaved and never forgot her place in life. She was a very good
woman: good to the poor; stupid, blameless, unsuspicious. It is not
her ladyship's fault that she fancies herself better than you and
me. The skirts of her ancestors' garments have been kissed for
centuries; it is a thousand years, they say, since the tartans of
the head of the family were embraced by the defunct Duncan's lords
and councillors, when the great ancestor of the House became King of
Lady Steyne, after the music scene, succumbed before Becky, and
perhaps was not disinclined to her. The younger ladies of the house
of Gaunt were also compelled into submission. Once or twice they
set people at her, but they failed. The brilliant Lady Stunnington
tried a passage of arms with her, but was routed with great
slaughter by the intrepid little Becky. When attacked sometimes,
Becky had a knack of adopting a demure ingenue air, under which she
was most dangerous. She said the wickedest things with the most
simple unaffected air when in this mood, and would take care
artlessly to apologize for her blunders, so that all the world
should know that she had made them.
Mr. Wagg, the celebrated wit, and a led captain and trencher-man of
my Lord Steyne, was caused by the ladies to charge her; and the
worthy fellow, leering at his patronesses and giving them a wink, as
much as to say, "Now look out for sport," one evening began an
assault upon Becky, who was unsuspiciously eating her dinner. The
little woman, attacked on a sudden, but never without arms, lighted
up in an instant, parried and riposted with a home-thrust, which
made Wagg's face tingle with shame; then she returned to her soup
with the most perfect calm and a quiet smile on her face. Wagg's
great patron, who gave him dinners and lent him a little money
sometimes, and whose election, newspaper, and other jobs Wagg did,
gave the luckless fellow such a savage glance with the eyes as
almost made him sink under the table and burst into tears. He
looked piteously at my lord, who never spoke to him during dinner,
and at the ladies, who disowned him. At last Becky herself took
compassion upon him and tried to engage him in talk. He was not
asked to dinner again for six weeks; and Fiche, my lord's
confidential man, to whom Wagg naturally paid a good deal of court,
was instructed to tell him that if he ever dared to say a rude thing
to Mrs. Crawley again, or make her the butt of his stupid jokes,
Milor would put every one of his notes of hand into his lawyer's
hands and sell him up without mercy. Wagg wept before Fiche and
implored his dear friend to intercede for him. He wrote a poem in
favour of Mrs. R. C., which appeared in the very next number of the
Harum-scarum Magazine, which he conducted. He implored her good-
will at parties where he met her. He cringed and coaxed Rawdon at
the club. He was allowed to come back to Gaunt House after a while.
Becky was always good to him, always amused, never angry.
His lordship's vizier and chief confidential servant (with a seat in
parliament and at the dinner table), Mr. Wenham, was much more
prudent in his behaviour and opinions than Mr. Wagg. However much
he might be disposed to hate all parvenus (Mr. Wenham himself was a
staunch old True Blue Tory, and his father a small coal-merchant in
the north of England), this aide-de-camp of the Marquis never showed
any sort of hostility to the new favourite, but pursued her with
stealthy kindnesses and a sly and deferential politeness which
somehow made Becky more uneasy than other people's overt
How the Crawleys got the money which was spent upon the
entertainments with which they treated the polite world was a
mystery which gave rise to some conversation at the time, and
probably added zest to these little festivities. Some persons
averred that Sir Pitt Crawley gave his brother a handsome allowance;
if he did, Becky's power over the Baronet must have been
extraordinary indeed, and his character greatly changed in his
advanced age. Other parties hinted that it was Becky's habit to
levy contributions on all her husband's friends: going to this one
in tears with an account that there was an execution in the house;
falling on her knees to that one and declaring that the whole family
must go to gaol or commit suicide unless such and such a bill could
be paid. Lord Southdown, it was said, had been induced to give many
hundreds through these pathetic representations. Young Feltham, of
the --th Dragoons (and son of the firm of Tiler and Feltham, hatters
and army accoutrement makers), and whom the Crawleys introduced into
fashionable life, was also cited as one of Becky's victims in the
pecuniary way. People declared that she got money from various
simply disposed persons, under pretence of getting them confidential
appointments under Government. Who knows what stories were or were
not told of our dear and innocent friend? Certain it is that if she
had had all the money which she was said to have begged or borrowed
or stolen, she might have capitalized and been honest for life,
whereas,--but this is advancing matters.
The truth is, that by economy and good management--by a sparing use
of ready money and by paying scarcely anybody--people can manage,
for a time at least, to make a great show with very little means:
and it is our belief that Becky's much-talked-of parties, which were
not, after all was said, very numerous, cost this lady very little
more than the wax candles which lighted the walls. Stillbrook and
Queen's Crawley supplied her with game and fruit in abundance. Lord
Steyne's cellars were at her disposal, and that excellent nobleman's
famous cooks presided over her little kitchen, or sent by my lord's
order the rarest delicacies from their own. I protest it is quite
shameful in the world to abuse a simple creature, as people of her
time abuse Becky, and I warn the public against believing one-tenth
of the stories against her. If every person is to be banished from
society who runs into debt and cannot pay--if we are to be peering
into everybody's private life, speculating upon their income, and
cutting them if we don't approve of their expenditure--why, what a
howling wilderness and intolerable dwelling Vanity Fair would be!
Every man's hand would be against his neighbour in this case, my
dear sir, and the benefits of civilization would be done away with.
We should be quarrelling, abusing, avoiding one another. Our houses
would become caverns, and we should go in rags because we cared for
nobody. Rents would go down. Parties wouldn't be given any more.
All the tradesmen of the town would be bankrupt. Wine, wax-lights,
comestibles, rouge, crinoline-petticoats, diamonds, wigs, Louis-
Quatorze gimcracks, and old china, park hacks, and splendid high-
stepping carriage horses--all the delights of life, I say,--would go
to the deuce, if people did but act upon their silly principles and
avoid those whom they dislike and abuse. Whereas, by a little
charity and mutual forbearance, things are made to go on pleasantly
enough: we may abuse a man as much as we like, and call him the
greatest rascal unhanged--but do we wish to hang him therefore? No.
We shake hands when we meet. If his cook is good we forgive him and
go and dine with him, and we expect he will do the same by us. Thus
trade flourishes--civilization advances; peace is kept; new dresses
are wanted for new assemblies every week; and the last year's
vintage of Lafitte will remunerate the honest proprietor who reared
At the time whereof we are writing, though the Great George was on
the throne and ladies wore gigots and large combs like tortoise-
shell shovels in their hair, instead of the simple sleeves and
lovely wreaths which are actually in fashion, the manners of the
very polite world were not, I take it, essentially different from
those of the present day: and their amusements pretty similar. To
us, from the outside, gazing over the policeman's shoulders at the
bewildering beauties as they pass into Court or ball, they may seem
beings of unearthly splendour and in the enjoyment of an exquisite
happiness by us unattainable. It is to console some of these
dissatisfied beings that we are narrating our dear Becky's
struggles, and triumphs, and disappointments, of all of which,
indeed, as is the case with all persons of merit, she had her share.
At this time the amiable amusement of acting charades had come among
us from France, and was considerably in vogue in this country,
enabling the many ladies amongst us who had beauty to display their
charms, and the fewer number who had cleverness to exhibit their
wit. My Lord Steyne was incited by Becky, who perhaps believed
herself endowed with both the above qualifications, to give an
entertainment at Gaunt House, which should include some of these
little dramas--and we must take leave to introduce the reader to
this brilliant reunion, and, with a melancholy welcome too, for it
will be among the very last of the fashionable entertainments to
which it will be our fortune to conduct him.
A portion of that splendid room, the picture gallery of Gaunt House,
was arranged as the charade theatre. It had been so used when
George III was king; and a picture of the Marquis of Gaunt is still
extant, with his hair in powder and a pink ribbon, in a Roman shape,
as it was called, enacting the part of Cato in Mr. Addison's tragedy
of that name, performed before their Royal Highnesses the Prince of
Wales, the Bishop of Osnaburgh, and Prince William Henry, then
children like the actor. One or two of the old properties were drawn
out of the garrets, where they had lain ever since, and furbished up
anew for the present festivities.
Young Bedwin Sands, then an elegant dandy and Eastern traveller, was
manager of the revels. An Eastern traveller was somebody in those
days, and the adventurous Bedwin, who had published his quarto and
passed some months under the tents in the desert, was a personage of
no small importance. In his volume there were several pictures of
Sands in various oriental costumes; and he travelled about with a
black attendant of most unprepossessing appearance, just like
another Brian de Bois Guilbert. Bedwin, his costumes, and black
man, were hailed at Gaunt House as very valuable acquisitions.
He led off the first charade. A Turkish officer with an immense
plume of feathers (the Janizaries were supposed to be still in
existence, and the tarboosh had not as yet displaced the ancient and
majestic head-dress of the true believers) was seen couched on a
divan, and making believe to puff at a narghile, in which, however,
for the sake of the ladies, only a fragrant pastille was allowed to
smoke. The Turkish dignitary yawns and expresses signs of weariness
and idleness. He claps his hands and Mesrour the Nubian appears,
with bare arms, bangles, yataghans, and every Eastern ornament--
gaunt, tall, and hideous. He makes a salaam before my lord the Aga.
A thrill of terror and delight runs through the assembly. The ladies
whisper to one another. The black slave was given to Bedwin Sands
by an Egyptian pasha in exchange for three dozen of Maraschino. He
has sewn up ever so many odalisques in sacks and tilted them into
"Bid the slave-merchant enter," says the Turkish voluptuary with a
wave of his hand. Mesrour conducts the slave-merchant into my
lord's presence; he brings a veiled female with him. He removes the
veil. A thrill of applause bursts through the house. It is Mrs.
Winkworth (she was a Miss Absolom) with the beautiful eyes and hair.
She is in a gorgeous oriental costume; the black braided locks are
twined with innumerable jewels; her dress is covered over with gold
piastres. The odious Mahometan expresses himself charmed by her
beauty. She falls down on her knees and entreats him to restore her
to the mountains where she was born, and where her Circassian lover
is still deploring the absence of his Zuleikah. No entreaties will
move the obdurate Hassan. He laughs at the notion of the Circassian
bridegroom. Zuleikah covers her face with her hands and drops down
in an attitude of the most beautiful despair. There seems to be no
hope for her, when--when the Kislar Aga appears.
The Kislar Aga brings a letter from the Sultan. Hassan receives and
places on his head the dread firman. A ghastly terror seizes him,
while on the Negro's face (it is Mesrour again in another costume)
appears a ghastly joy. "Mercy! mercy!" cries the Pasha: while the
Kislar Aga, grinning horribly, pulls out--a bow-string.
The curtain draws just as he is going to use that awful weapon.
Hassan from within bawls out, "First two syllables"--and Mrs. Rawdon
Crawley, who is going to act in the charade, comes forward and
compliments Mrs. Winkworth on the admirable taste and beauty of her
The second part of the charade takes place. It is still an Eastern
scene. Hassan, in another dress, is in an attitude by Zuleikah, who
is perfectly reconciled to him. The Kislar Aga has become a peaceful
black slave. It is sunrise on the desert, and the Turks turn their
heads eastwards and bow to the sand. As there are no dromedaries at
hand, the band facetiously plays "The Camels are coming." An
enormous Egyptian head figures in the scene. It is a musical one--
and, to the surprise of the oriental travellers, sings a comic song,
composed by Mr. Wagg. The Eastern voyagers go off dancing, like
Papageno and the Moorish King in The Magic Flute. "Last two
syllables," roars the head.
The last act opens. It is a Grecian tent this time. A tall and
stalwart man reposes on a couch there. Above him hang his helmet
and shield. There is no need for them now. Ilium is down.
Iphigenia is slain. Cassandra is a prisoner in his outer halls.
The king of men (it is Colonel Crawley, who, indeed, has no notion
about the sack of Ilium or the conquest of Cassandra), the anax
andron is asleep in his chamber at Argos. A lamp casts the broad
shadow of the sleeping warrior flickering on the wall--the sword and
shield of Troy glitter in its light. The band plays the awful music
of Don Juan, before the statue enters.
Aegisthus steals in pale and on tiptoe. What is that ghastly face
looking out balefully after him from behind the arras? He raises his
dagger to strike the sleeper, who turns in his bed, and opens his
broad chest as if for the blow. He cannot strike the noble
slumbering chieftain. Clytemnestra glides swiftly into the room like
an apparition--her arms are bare and white--her tawny hair floats
down her shoulders--her face is deadly pale--and her eyes are
lighted up with a smile so ghastly that people quake as they look at
A tremor ran through the room. "Good God!" somebody said, "it's
Mrs. Rawdon Crawley."
Scornfully she snatches the dagger out of Aegisthus's hand and
advances to the bed. You see it shining over her head in the
glimmer of the lamp, and--and the lamp goes out, with a groan, and
all is dark.
The darkness and the scene frightened people. Rebecca performed her
part so well, and with such ghastly truth, that the spectators were
all dumb, until, with a burst, all the lamps of the hall blazed out
again, when everybody began to shout applause. "Brava! brava!" old
Steyne's strident voice was heard roaring over all the rest. "By--,
she'd do it too," he said between his teeth. The performers were
called by the whole house, which sounded with cries of "Manager!
Clytemnestra!" Agamemnon could not be got to show in his classical
tunic, but stood in the background with Aegisthus and others of the
performers of the little play. Mr. Bedwin Sands led on Zuleikah and
Clytemnestra. A great personage insisted on being presented to the
charming Clytemnestra. "Heigh ha? Run him through the body. Marry
somebody else, hay?" was the apposite remark made by His Royal
"Mrs. Rawdon Crawley was quite killing in the part," said Lord
Steyne. Becky laughed, gay and saucy looking, and swept the
prettiest little curtsey ever seen.
Servants brought in salvers covered with numerous cool dainties, and
the performers disappeared to get ready for the second charade-
The three syllables of this charade were to be depicted in
pantomime, and the performance took place in the following wise:
First syllable. Colonel Rawdon Crawley, C.B., with a slouched hat
and a staff, a great-coat, and a lantern borrowed from the stables,
passed across the stage bawling out, as if warning the inhabitants
of the hour. In the lower window are seen two bagmen playing
apparently at the game of cribbage, over which they yawn much. To
them enters one looking like Boots (the Honourable G. Ringwood),
which character the young gentleman performed to perfection, and
divests them of their lower coverings; and presently Chambermaid
(the Right Honourable Lord Southdown) with two candlesticks, and a
warming-pan. She ascends to the upper apartment and warms the bed.
She uses the warming-pan as a weapon wherewith she wards off the
attention of the bagmen. She exits. They put on their night-caps
and pull down the blinds. Boots comes out and closes the shutters
of the ground-floor chamber. You hear him bolting and chaining the
door within. All the lights go out. The music plays Dormez,
dormez, chers Amours. A voice from behind the curtain says, "First
Second syllable. The lamps are lighted up all of a sudden. The
music plays the old air from John of Paris, Ah quel plaisir d'etre
en voyage. It is the same scene. Between the first and second
floors of the house represented, you behold a sign on which the
Steyne arms are painted. All the bells are ringing all over the
house. In the lower apartment you see a man with a long slip of
paper presenting it to another, who shakes his fists, threatens and
vows that it is monstrous. "Ostler, bring round my gig," cries
another at the door. He chucks Chambermaid (the Right Honourable
Lord Southdown) under the chin; she seems to deplore his absence, as
Calypso did that of that other eminent traveller Ulysses. Boots (the
Honourable G. Ringwood) passes with a wooden box, containing silver
flagons, and cries "Pots" with such exquisite humour and naturalness
that the whole house rings with applause, and a bouquet is thrown to
him. Crack, crack, crack, go the whips. Landlord, chambermaid,
waiter rush to the door, but just as some distinguished guest is
arriving, the curtains close, and the invisible theatrical manager
cries out "Second syllable."
"I think it must be 'Hotel,'" says Captain Grigg of the Life Guards;
there is a general laugh at the Captain's cleverness. He is not
very far from the mark.
While the third syllable is in preparation, the band begins a
nautical medley--"All in the Downs," "Cease Rude Boreas," "Rule
Britannia," "In the Bay of Biscay O!"--some maritime event is about
to take place. A ben is heard ringing as the curtain draws aside.
"Now, gents, for the shore!" a voice exclaims. People take leave of
each other. They point anxiously as if towards the clouds, which
are represented by a dark curtain, and they nod their heads in fear.
Lady Squeams (the Right Honourable Lord Southdown), her lap-dog, her
bags, reticules, and husband sit down, and cling hold of some ropes.
It is evidently a ship.
The Captain (Colonel Crawley, C.B.), with a cocked hat and a
telescope, comes in, holding his hat on his head, and looks out; his
coat tails fly about as if in the wind. When he leaves go of his
hat to use his telescope, his hat flies off, with immense applause.
It is blowing fresh. The music rises and whistles louder and
louder; the mariners go across the stage staggering, as if the ship
was in severe motion. The Steward (the Honourable G. Ringwood)
passes reeling by, holding six basins. He puts one rapidly by Lord
Squeams--Lady Squeams, giving a pinch to her dog, which begins to
howl piteously, puts her pocket-handkerchief to her face, and rushes
away as for the cabin. The music rises up to the wildest pitch of
stormy excitement, and the third syllable is concluded.
There was a little ballet, "Le Rossignol," in which Montessu and
Noblet used to be famous in those days, and which Mr. Wagg
transferred to the English stage as an opera, putting his verse, of
which he was a skilful writer, to the pretty airs of the ballet. It
was dressed in old French costume, and little Lord Southdown now
appeared admirably attired in the disguise of an old woman hobbling
about the stage with a faultless crooked stick.
Trills of melody were heard behind the scenes, and gurgling from a
sweet pasteboard cottage covered with roses and trellis work.
"Philomele, Philomele," cries the old woman, and Philomele comes
More applause--it is Mrs. Rawdon Crawley in powder and patches, the
most ravissante little Marquise in the world.
She comes in laughing, humming, and frisks about the stage with all
the innocence of theatrical youth--she makes a curtsey. Mamma says
"Why, child, you are always laughing and singing," and away she
THE ROSE UPON MY BALCONY
The rose upon my balcony the morning air perfuming
Was leafless all the winter time and pining for the spring;
You ask me why her breath is sweet and why her cheek is blooming,
It is because the sun is out and birds begin to sing.
The nightingale, whose melody is through the greenwood ringing,
Was silent when the boughs were bare and winds were blowing keen:
And if, Mamma, you ask of me the reason of his singing,
It is because the sun is out and all the leaves are green.
Thus each performs his part, Mamma, the birds have found their voices,
The blowing rose a flush, Mamma, her bonny cheek to dye;
And there's sunshine in my heart, Mamma, which wakens and rejoices,
And so I sing and blush, Mamma, and that's the reason why.
During the intervals of the stanzas of this ditty, the good-natured
personage addressed as Mamma by the singer, and whose large whiskers
appeared under her cap, seemed very anxious to exhibit her maternal
affection by embracing the innocent creature who performed the
daughter's part. Every caress was received with loud acclamations
of laughter by the sympathizing audience. At its conclusion (while
the music was performing a symphony as if ever so many birds were
warbling) the whole house was unanimous for an encore: and applause
and bouquets without end were showered upon the Nightingale of the
evening. Lord Steyne's voice of applause was loudest of all.
Becky, the nightingale, took the flowers which he threw to her and
pressed them to her heart with the air of a consummate comedian.
Lord Steyne was frantic with delight. His guests' enthusiasm
harmonized with his own. Where was the beautiful black-eyed Houri
whose appearance in the first charade had caused such delight? She
was twice as handsome as Becky, but the brilliancy of the latter had
quite eclipsed her. All voices were for her. Stephens, Caradori,
Ronzi de Begnis, people compared her to one or the other, and agreed
with good reason, very likely, that had she been an actress none on
the stage could have surpassed her. She had reached her culmination:
her voice rose trilling and bright over the storm of applause, and
soared as high and joyful as her triumph. There was a ball after
the dramatic entertainments, and everybody pressed round Becky as
the great point of attraction of the evening. The Royal Personage
declared with an oath that she was perfection, and engaged her again
and again in conversation. Little Becky's soul swelled with pride
and delight at these honours; she saw fortune, fame, fashion before
her. Lord Steyne was her slave, followed her everywhere, and
scarcely spoke to any one in the room beside, and paid her the most
marked compliments and attention. She still appeared in her
Marquise costume and danced a minuet with Monsieur de Truffigny,
Monsieur Le Duc de la Jabotiere's attache; and the Duke, who had all
the traditions of the ancient court, pronounced that Madame Crawley
was worthy to have been a pupil of Vestris, or to have figured at
Versailles. Only a feeling of dignity, the gout, and the strongest
sense of duty and personal sacrifice prevented his Excellency from
dancing with her himself, and he declared in public that a lady who
could talk and dance like Mrs. Rawdon was fit to be ambassadress at
any court in Europe. He was only consoled when he heard that she
was half a Frenchwoman by birth. "None but a compatriot," his
Excellency declared, "could have performed that majestic dance in
such a way."
Then she figured in a waltz with Monsieur de Klingenspohr, the
Prince of Peterwaradin's cousin and attache. The delighted Prince,
having less retenue than his French diplomatic colleague, insisted
upon taking a turn with the charming creature, and twirled round the
ball-room with her, scattering the diamonds out of his boot-tassels
and hussar jacket until his Highness was fairly out of breath.
Papoosh Pasha himself would have liked to dance with her if that
amusement had been the custom of his country. The company made a
circle round her and applauded as wildly as if she had been a Noblet
or a Taglioni. Everybody was in ecstacy; and Becky too, you may be
sure. She passed by Lady Stunnington with a look of scorn. She
patronized Lady Gaunt and her astonished and mortified sister-in-
law--she ecrased all rival charmers. As for poor Mrs. Winkworth,
and her long hair and great eyes, which had made such an effect at
the commencement of the evening--where was she now? Nowhere in the
race. She might tear her long hair and cry her great eyes out, but
there was not a person to heed or to deplore the discomfiture.
The greatest triumph of all was at supper time. She was placed at
the grand exclusive table with his Royal Highness the exalted
personage before mentioned, and the rest of the great guests. She
was served on gold plate. She might have had pearls melted into her
champagne if she liked--another Cleopatra--and the potentate of
Peterwaradin would have given half the brilliants off his jacket for
a kind glance from those dazzling eyes. Jabotiere wrote home about
her to his government. The ladies at the other tables, who supped
off mere silver and marked Lord Steyne's constant attention to her,
vowed it was a monstrous infatuation, a gross insult to ladies of
rank. If sarcasm could have killed, Lady Stunnington would have
slain her on the spot.
Rawdon Crawley was scared at these triumphs. They seemed to
separate his wife farther than ever from him somehow. He thought
with a feeling very like pain how immeasurably she was his superior.
When the hour of departure came, a crowd of young men followed her
to her carriage, for which the people without bawled, the cry being
caught up by the link-men who were stationed outside the tall gates
of Gaunt House, congratulating each person who issued from the gate
and hoping his Lordship had enjoyed this noble party.
Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's carriage, coming up to the gate after due
shouting, rattled into the illuminated court-yard and drove up to
the covered way. Rawdon put his wife into the carriage, which drove
off. Mr. Wenham had proposed to him to walk home, and offered the
Colonel the refreshment of a cigar.
They lighted their cigars by the lamp of one of the many link-boys
outside, and Rawdon walked on with his friend Wenham. Two persons
separated from the crowd and followed the two gentlemen; and when
they had walked down Gaunt Square a few score of paces, one of the
men came up and, touching Rawdon on the shoulder, said, "Beg your
pardon, Colonel, I vish to speak to you most particular." This
gentleman's acquaintance gave a loud whistle as the latter spoke, at
which signal a cab came clattering up from those stationed at the
gate of Gaunt House--and the aide-de-camp ran round and placed
himself in front of Colonel Crawley.
That gallant officer at once knew what had befallen him. He was in
the hands of the bailiffs. He started back, falling against the man
who had first touched him.
"We're three on us--it's no use bolting," the man behind said.
"It's you, Moss, is it?" said the Colonel, who appeared to know his
interlocutor. "How much is it?"
"Only a small thing," whispered Mr. Moss, of Cursitor Street,
Chancery Lane, and assistant officer to the Sheriff of Middlesex--
"One hundred and sixty-six, six and eight-pence, at the suit of Mr.
"Lend me a hundred, Wenham, for God's sake," poor Rawdon said--"I've
got seventy at home."
"I've not got ten pounds in the world," said poor Mr. Wenham--"Good
night, my dear fellow."
"Good night," said Rawdon ruefully. And Wenham walked away--and
Rawdon Crawley finished his cigar as the cab drove under Temple Bar.
In Which Lord Steyne Shows Himself in a Most Amiable Light
When Lord Steyne was benevolently disposed, he did nothing by
halves, and his kindness towards the Crawley family did the greatest
honour to his benevolent discrimination. His lordship extended his
good-will to little Rawdon: he pointed out to the boy's parents the
necessity of sending him to a public school, that he was of an age
now when emulation, the first principles of the Latin language,
pugilistic exercises, and the society of his fellow-boys would be of
the greatest benefit to the boy. His father objected that he was
not rich enough to send the child to a good public school; his
mother that Briggs was a capital mistress for him, and had brought
him on (as indeed was the fact) famously in English, the Latin
rudiments, and in general learning: but all these objections
disappeared before the generous perseverance of the Marquis of
Steyne. His lordship was one of the governors of that famous old
collegiate institution called the Whitefriars. It had been a
Cistercian Convent in old days, when the Smithfield, which is
contiguous to it, was a tournament ground. Obstinate heretics used
to be brought thither convenient for burning hard by. Henry VIII,
the Defender of the Faith, seized upon the monastery and its
possessions and hanged and tortured some of the monks who could not
accommodate themselves to the pace of his reform. Finally, a great
merchant bought the house and land adjoining, in which, and with the
help of other wealthy endowments of land and money, he established a
famous foundation hospital for old men and children. An extern
school grew round the old almost monastic foundation, which subsists
still with its middle-age costume and usages--and all Cistercians
pray that it may long flourish.
Of this famous house, some of the greatest noblemen, prelates, and
dignitaries in England are governors: and as the boys are very
comfortably lodged, fed, and educated, and subsequently inducted to
good scholarships at the University and livings in the Church, many
little gentlemen are devoted to the ecclesiastical profession from
their tenderest years, and there is considerable emulation to
procure nominations for the foundation. It was originally intended
for the sons of poor and deserving clerics and laics, but many of
the noble governors of the Institution, with an enlarged and rather
capricious benevolence, selected all sorts of objects for their
bounty. To get an education for nothing, and a future livelihood and
profession assured, was so excellent a scheme that some of the
richest people did not disdain it; and not only great men's
relations, but great men themselves, sent their sons to profit by
the chance--Right Rev. prelates sent their own kinsmen or the sons
of their clergy, while, on the other hand, some great noblemen did
not disdain to patronize the children of their confidential
servants--so that a lad entering this establishment had every
variety of youthful society wherewith to mingle.
Rawdon Crawley, though the only book which he studied was the Racing
Calendar, and though his chief recollections of polite learning were
connected with the floggings which he received at Eton in his early
youth, had that decent and honest reverence for classical learning
which all English gentlemen feel, and was glad to think that his son
was to have a provision for life, perhaps, and a certain opportunity
of becoming a scholar. And although his boy was his chief solace
and companion, and endeared to him by a thousand small ties, about
which he did not care to speak to his wife, who had all along shown
the utmost indifference to their son, yet Rawdon agreed at once to
part with him and to give up his own greatest comfort and benefit
for the sake of the welfare of the little lad. He did not know how
fond he was of the child until it became necessary to let him go
away. When he was gone, he felt more sad and downcast than he cared
to own--far sadder than the boy himself, who was happy enough to
enter a new career and find companions of his own age. Becky burst
out laughing once or twice when the Colonel, in his clumsy,
incoherent way, tried to express his sentimental sorrows at the
boy's departure. The poor fellow felt that his dearest pleasure and
closest friend was taken from him. He looked often and wistfully at
the little vacant bed in his dressing-room, where the child used to
sleep. He missed him sadly of mornings and tried in vain to walk in
the park without him. He did not know how solitary he was until
little Rawdon was gone. He liked the people who were fond of him,
and would go and sit for long hours with his good-natured sister
Lady Jane, and talk to her about the virtues, and good looks, and
hundred good qualities of the child.
Young Rawdon's aunt, we have said, was very fond of him, as was her
little girl, who wept copiously when the time for her cousin's
departure came. The elder Rawdon was thankful for the fondness of
mother and daughter. The very best and honestest feelings of the
man came out in these artless outpourings of paternal feeling in
which he indulged in their presence, and encouraged by their
sympathy. He secured not only Lady Jane's kindness, but her sincere
regard, by the feelings which he manifested, and which he could not
show to his own wife. The two kinswomen met as seldom as possible.
Becky laughed bitterly at Jane's feelings and softness; the other's
kindly and gentle nature could not but revolt at her sister's
It estranged Rawdon from his wife more than he knew or acknowledged
to himself. She did not care for the estrangement. Indeed, she did
not miss him or anybody. She looked upon him as her errand-man and
humble slave. He might be ever so depressed or sulky, and she did
not mark his demeanour, or only treated it with a sneer. She was
busy thinking about her position, or her pleasures, or her
advancement in society; she ought to have held a great place in it,
that is certain.
It was honest Briggs who made up the little kit for the boy which he
was to take to school. Molly, the housemaid, blubbered in the
passage when he went away--Molly kind and faithful in spite of a
long arrear of unpaid wages. Mrs. Becky could not let her husband
have the carriage to take the boy to school. Take the horses into
the City!--such a thing was never heard of. Let a cab be brought.
She did not offer to kiss him when he went, nor did the child
propose to embrace her; but gave a kiss to old Briggs (whom, in
general, he was very shy of caressing), and consoled her by pointing
out that he was to come home on Saturdays, when she would have the
benefit of seeing him. As the cab rolled towards the City, Becky's
carriage rattled off to the park. She was chattering and laughing
with a score of young dandies by the Serpentine as the father and
son entered at the old gates of the school--where Rawdon left the
child and came away with a sadder purer feeling in his heart than
perhaps that poor battered fellow had ever known since he himself
came out of the nursery.
He walked all the way home very dismally, and dined alone with
Briggs. He was very kind to her and grateful for her love and
watchfulness over the boy. His conscience smote him that he had
borrowed Briggs's money and aided in deceiving her. They talked
about little Rawdon a long time, for Becky only came home to dress
and go out to dinner--and then he went off uneasily to drink tea
with Lady Jane, and tell her of what had happened, and how little
Rawdon went off like a trump, and how he was to wear a gown and
little knee-breeches, and how young Blackball, Jack Blackball's son,
of the old regiment, had taken him in charge and promised to be kind
In the course of a week, young Blackball had constituted little
Rawdon his fag, shoe-black, and breakfast toaster; initiated him
into the mysteries of the Latin Grammar; and thrashed him three or
four times, but not severely. The little chap's good-natured honest
face won his way for him. He only got that degree of beating which
was, no doubt, good for him; and as for blacking shoes, toasting
bread, and fagging in general, were these offices not deemed to be
necessary parts of every young English gentleman's education?
Our business does not lie with the second generation and Master
Rawdon's life at school, otherwise the present tale might be carried
to any indefinite length. The Colonel went to see his son a short
time afterwards and found the lad sufficiently well and happy,
grinning and laughing in his little black gown and little breeches.
His father sagaciously tipped Blackball, his master, a sovereign,
and secured that young gentleman's good-will towards his fag. As a
protege of the great Lord Steyne, the nephew of a County member, and
son of a Colonel and C.B., whose name appeared in some of the most
fashionable parties in the Morning Post, perhaps the school
authorities were disposed not to look unkindly on the child. He had
plenty of pocket-money, which he spent in treating his comrades
royally to raspberry tarts, and he was often allowed to come home on
Saturdays to his father, who always made a jubilee of that day. When
free, Rawdon would take him to the play, or send him thither with
the footman; and on Sundays he went to church with Briggs and Lady
Jane and his cousins. Rawdon marvelled over his stories about
school, and fights, and fagging. Before long, he knew the names of
all the masters and the principal boys as well as little Rawdon
himself. He invited little Rawdon's crony from school, and made
both the children sick with pastry, and oysters, and porter after
the play. He tried to look knowing over the Latin grammar when
little Rawdon showed him what part of that work he was "in." "Stick
to it, my boy," he said to him with much gravity, "there's nothing
like a good classical education! Nothing!"
Becky's contempt for her husband grew greater every day. "Do what
you like--dine where you please--go and have ginger-beer and sawdust
at Astley's, or psalm-singing with Lady Jane--only don't expect me
to busy myself with the boy. I have your interests to attend to, as
you can't attend to them yourself. I should like to know where you
would have been now, and in what sort of a position in society, if I
had not looked after you." Indeed, nobody wanted poor old Rawdon at
the parties whither Becky used to go. She was often asked without
him now. She talked about great people as if she had the fee-simple
of May Fair, and when the Court went into mourning, she always wore
Little Rawdon being disposed of, Lord Steyne, who took such a
parental interest in the affairs of this amiable poor family,
thought that their expenses might be very advantageously curtailed
by the departure of Miss Briggs, and that Becky was quite clever
enough to take the management of her own house. It has been
narrated in a former chapter how the benevolent nobleman had given
his protegee money to pay off her little debt to Miss Briggs, who
however still remained behind with her friends; whence my lord came
to the painful conclusion that Mrs. Crawley had made some other use
of the money confided to her than that for which her generous patron
had given the loan. However, Lord Steyne was not so rude as to
impart his suspicions upon this head to Mrs. Becky, whose feelings
might be hurt by any controversy on the money-question, and who
might have a thousand painful reasons for disposing otherwise of his
lordship's generous loan. But he determined to satisfy himself of
the real state of the case, and instituted the necessary inquiries
in a most cautious and delicate manner.
In the first place he took an early opportunity of pumping Miss
Briggs. That was not a difficult operation. A very little
encouragement would set that worthy woman to talk volubly and pour
out all within her. And one day when Mrs. Rawdon had gone out to
drive (as Mr. Fiche, his lordship's confidential servant, easily
learned at the livery stables where the Crawleys kept their carriage
and horses, or rather, where the livery-man kept a carriage and
horses for Mr. and Mrs. Crawley)--my lord dropped in upon the Curzon
Street house--asked Briggs for a cup of coffee--told her that he had
good accounts of the little boy at school--and in five minutes found
out from her that Mrs. Rawdon had given her nothing except a black
silk gown, for which Miss Briggs was immensely grateful.
He laughed within himself at this artless story. For the truth is,
our dear friend Rebecca had given him a most circumstantial
narration of Briggs's delight at receiving her money--eleven hundred
and twenty-five pounds--and in what securities she had invested it;
and what a pang Becky herself felt in being obliged to pay away such
a delightful sum of money. "Who knows," the dear woman may have
thought within herself, "perhaps he may give me a little more?" My
lord, however, made no such proposal to the little schemer--very
likely thinking that he had been sufficiently generous already.
He had the curiosity, then, to ask Miss Briggs about the state of
her private affairs--and she told his lordship candidly what her
position was--how Miss Crawley had left her a legacy--how her
relatives had had part of it--how Colonel Crawley had put out
another portion, for which she had the best security and interest--
and how Mr. and Mrs. Rawdon had kindly busied themselves with Sir
Pitt, who was to dispose of the remainder most advantageously for
her, when he had time. My lord asked how much the Colonel had
already invested for her, and Miss Briggs at once and truly told him
that the sum was six hundred and odd pounds.
But as soon as she had told her story, the voluble Briggs repented
of her frankness and besought my lord not to tell Mr. Crawley of the
confessions which she had made. "The Colonel was so kind--Mr.
Crawley might be offended and pay back the money, for which she
could get no such good interest anywhere else." Lord Steyne,
laughing, promised he never would divulge their conversation, and
when he and Miss Briggs parted he laughed still more.
"What an accomplished little devil it is!" thought he. "What a
splendid actress and manager! She had almost got a second supply
out of me the other day; with her coaxing ways. She beats all the
women I have ever seen in the course of all my well-spent life.
They are babies compared to her. I am a greenhorn myself, and a
fool in her hands--an old fool. She is unsurpassable in lies." His
lordship's admiration for Becky rose immeasurably at this proof of
her cleverness. Getting the money was nothing--but getting double
the sum she wanted, and paying nobody--it was a magnificent stroke.
And Crawley, my lord thought--Crawley is not such a fool as he looks
and seems. He has managed the matter cleverly enough on his side.
Nobody would ever have supposed from his face and demeanour that he
knew anything about this money business; and yet he put her up to
it, and has spent the money, no doubt. In this opinion my lord, we
know, was mistaken, but it influenced a good deal his behaviour
towards Colonel Crawley, whom he began to treat with even less than
that semblance of respect which he had formerly shown towards that
gentleman. It never entered into the head of Mrs. Crawley's patron
that the little lady might be making a purse for herself; and,
perhaps, if the truth must be told, he judged of Colonel Crawley by
his experience of other husbands, whom he had known in the course of
the long and well-spent life which had made him acquainted with a
great deal of the weakness of mankind. My lord had bought so many
men during his life that he was surely to be pardoned for supposing
that he had found the price of this one.
He taxed Becky upon the point on the very first occasion when he met
her alone, and he complimented her, good-humouredly, on her
cleverness in getting more than the money which she required. Becky
was only a little taken aback. It was not the habit of this dear
creature to tell falsehoods, except when necessity compelled, but in
these great emergencies it was her practice to lie very freely; and
in an instant she was ready with another neat plausible
circumstantial story which she administered to her patron. The
previous statement which she had made to him was a falsehood--a
wicked falsehood--she owned it. But who had made her tell it? "Ah,
my Lord," she said, "you don't know all I have to suffer and bear in
silence; you see me gay and happy before you--you little know what I
have to endure when there is no protector near me. It was my
husband, by threats and the most savage treatment, forced me to ask
for that sum about which I deceived you. It was he who, foreseeing
that questions might be asked regarding the disposal of the money,
forced me to account for it as I did. He took the money. He told
me he had paid Miss Briggs; I did not want, I did not dare to doubt
him. Pardon the wrong which a desperate man is forced to commit, and
pity a miserable, miserable woman." She burst into tears as she
spoke. Persecuted virtue never looked more bewitchingly wretched.
They had a long conversation, driving round and round the Regent's
Park in Mrs. Crawley's carriage together, a conversation of which it
is not necessary to repeat the details, but the upshot of it was
that, when Becky came home, she flew to her dear Briggs with a
smiling face and announced that she had some very good news for her.
Lord Steyne had acted in the noblest and most generous manner. He
was always thinking how and when he could do good. Now that little
Rawdon was gone to school, a dear companion and friend was no longer
necessary to her. She was grieved beyond measure to part with
Briggs, but her means required that she should practise every
retrenchment, and her sorrow was mitigated by the idea that her dear
Briggs would be far better provided for by her generous patron than
in her humble home. Mrs. Pilkington, the housekeeper at Gauntly
Hall, was growing exceedingly old, feeble, and rheumatic: she was
not equal to the work of superintending that vast mansion, and must
be on the look out for a successor. It was a splendid position.
The family did not go to Gauntly once in two years. At other times
the housekeeper was the mistress of the magnificent mansion--had
four covers daily for her table; was visited by the clergy and the
most respectable people of the county--was the lady of Gauntly, in
fact; and the two last housekeepers before Mrs. Pilkington had
married rectors of Gauntly--but Mrs. P. could not, being the aunt
of the present Rector. The place was not to be hers yet, but she
might go down on a visit to Mrs. Pilkington and see whether she
would like to succeed her.
What words can paint the ecstatic gratitude of Briggs! All she
stipulated for was that little Rawdon should be allowed to come down
and see her at the Hall. Becky promised this--anything. She ran up
to her husband when he came home and told him the joyful news.
Rawdon was glad, deuced glad; the weight was off his conscience
about poor Briggs's money. She was provided for, at any rate, but--
but his mind was disquiet. He did not seem to be all right,
somehow. He told little Southdown what Lord Steyne had done, and
the young man eyed Crawley with an air which surprised the latter.
He told Lady Jane of this second proof of Steyne's bounty, and she,
too, looked odd and alarmed; so did Sir Pitt. "She is too clever
and--and gay to be allowed to go from party to party without a
companion," both said. "You must go with her, Rawdon, wherever she
goes, and you must have somebody with her--one of the girls from
Queen's Crawley, perhaps, though they were rather giddy guardians
Somebody Becky should have. But in the meantime it was clear that
honest Briggs must not lose her chance of settlement for life, and
so she and her bags were packed, and she set off on her journey.
And so two of Rawdon's out-sentinels were in the hands of the enemy.
Sir Pitt went and expostulated with his sister-in-law upon the
subject of the dismissal of Briggs and other matters of delicate
family interest. In vain she pointed out to him how necessary was
the protection of Lord Steyne for her poor husband; how cruel it
would be on their part to deprive Briggs of the position offered to
her. Cajolements, coaxings, smiles, tears could not satisfy Sir
Pitt, and he had something very like a quarrel with his once admired
Becky. He spoke of the honour of the family, the unsullied
reputation of the Crawleys; expressed himself in indignant tones
about her receiving those young Frenchmen--those wild young men of
fashion, my Lord Steyne himself, whose carriage was always at her
door, who passed hours daily in her company, and whose constant
presence made the world talk about her. As the head of the house he
implored her to be more prudent. Society was already speaking
lightly of her. Lord Steyne, though a nobleman of the greatest
station and talents, was a man whose attentions would compromise any
woman; he besought, he implored, he commanded his sister-in-law to
be watchful in her intercourse with that nobleman.
Becky promised anything and everything Pitt wanted; but Lord Steyne
came to her house as often as ever, and Sir Pitt's anger increased.
I wonder was Lady Jane angry or pleased that her husband at last
found fault with his favourite Rebecca? Lord Steyne's visits
continuing, his own ceased, and his wife was for refusing all
further intercourse with that nobleman and declining the invitation
to the charade-night which the marchioness sent to her; but Sir Pitt
thought it was necessary to accept it, as his Royal Highness would
Although he went to the party in question, Sir Pitt quitted it very
early, and his wife, too, was very glad to come away. Becky hardly
so much as spoke to him or noticed her sister-in-law. Pitt Crawley
declared her behaviour was monstrously indecorous, reprobated in
strong terms the habit of play-acting and fancy dressing as highly
unbecoming a British female, and after the charades were over, took
his brother Rawdon severely to task for appearing himself and
allowing his wife to join in such improper exhibitions.
Rawdon said she should not join in any more such amusements--but
indeed, and perhaps from hints from his elder brother and sister, he
had already become a very watchful and exemplary domestic character.
He left off his clubs and billiards. He never left home. He took
Becky out to drive; he went laboriously with her to all her parties.
Whenever my Lord Steyne called, he was sure to find the Colonel.
And when Becky proposed to go out without her husband, or received
invitations for herself, he peremptorily ordered her to refuse them:
and there was that in the gentleman's manner which enforced
obedience. Little Becky, to do her justice, was charmed with
Rawdon's gallantry. If he was surly, she never was. Whether friends
were present or absent, she had always a kind smile for him and was
attentive to his pleasure and comfort. It was the early days of
their marriage over again: the same good humour, prevenances,
merriment, and artless confidence and regard. "How much pleasanter
it is," she would say, "to have you by my side in the carriage than
that foolish old Briggs! Let us always go on so, dear Rawdon. How
nice it would be, and how happy we should always be, if we had but
the money!" He fell asleep after dinner in his chair; he did not see
the face opposite to him, haggard, weary, and terrible; it lighted
up with fresh candid smiles when he woke. It kissed him gaily. He
wondered that he had ever had suspicions. No, he never had
suspicions; all those dumb doubts and surly misgivings which had
been gathering on his mind were mere idle jealousies. She was fond
of him; she always had been. As for her shining in society, it was
no fault of hers; she was formed to shine there. Was there any woman
who could talk, or sing, or do anything like her? If she would but
like the boy! Rawdon thought. But the mother and son never could be
And it was while Rawdon's mind was agitated with these doubts and
perplexities that the incident occurred which was mentioned in the
last chapter, and the unfortunate Colonel found himself a prisoner
away from home.
A Rescue and a Catastrophe
Friend Rawdon drove on then to Mr. Moss's mansion in Cursitor
Street, and was duly inducted into that dismal place of hospitality.
Morning was breaking over the cheerful house-tops of Chancery Lane
as the rattling cab woke up the echoes there. A little pink-eyed
Jew-boy, with a head as ruddy as the rising morn, let the party into
the house, and Rawdon was welcomed to the ground-floor apartments by
Mr. Moss, his travelling companion and host, who cheerfully asked
him if he would like a glass of something warm after his drive.
The Colonel was not so depressed as some mortals would be, who,
quitting a palace and a placens uxor, find themselves barred into a
spunging-house; for, if the truth must be told, he had been a lodger
at Mr. Moss's establishment once or twice before. We have not
thought it necessary in the previous course of this narrative to
mention these trivial little domestic incidents: but the reader may
be assured that they can't unfrequently occur in the life of a man
who lives on nothing a year.
Upon his first visit to Mr. Moss, the Colonel, then a bachelor, had
been liberated by the generosity of his aunt; on the second mishap,
little Becky, with the greatest spirit and kindness, had borrowed a
sum of money from Lord Southdown and had coaxed her husband's
creditor (who was her shawl, velvet-gown, lace pocket-handkerchief,
trinket, and gim-crack purveyor, indeed) to take a portion of the
sum claimed and Rawdon's promissory note for the remainder: so on
both these occasions the capture and release had been conducted with
the utmost gallantry on all sides, and Moss and the Colonel were
therefore on the very best of terms.
"You'll find your old bed, Colonel, and everything comfortable,"
that gentleman said, "as I may honestly say. You may be pretty sure
its kep aired, and by the best of company, too. It was slep in the
night afore last by the Honorable Capting Famish, of the Fiftieth
Dragoons, whose Mar took him out, after a fortnight, jest to punish
him, she said. But, Law bless you, I promise you, he punished my
champagne, and had a party ere every night--reglar tip-top swells,
down from the clubs and the West End--Capting Ragg, the Honorable
Deuceace, who lives in the Temple, and some fellers as knows a good
glass of wine, I warrant you. I've got a Doctor of Diwinity
upstairs, five gents in the coffee-room, and Mrs. Moss has a tably-
dy-hoty at half-past five, and a little cards or music afterwards,
when we shall be most happy to see you."
"I'll ring when I want anything," said Rawdon and went quietly to
his bedroom. He was an old soldier, we have said, and not to be
disturbed by any little shocks of fate. A weaker man would have
sent off a letter to his wife on the instant of his capture. "But
what is the use of disturbing her night's rest?" thought Rawdon.
"She won't know whether I am in my room or not. It will be time
enough to write to her when she has had her sleep out, and I have
had mine. It's only a hundred-and-seventy, and the deuce is in it
if we can't raise that." And so, thinking about little Rawdon (whom
he would not have know that he was in such a queer place), the
Colonel turned into the bed lately occupied by Captain Famish and
fell asleep. It was ten o'clock when he woke up, and the ruddy-
headed youth brought him, with conscious pride, a fine silver
dressing-case, wherewith he might perform the operation of shaving.
Indeed Mr. Moss's house, though somewhat dirty, was splendid
throughout. There were dirty trays, and wine-coolers en permanence
on the sideboard, huge dirty gilt cornices, with dingy yellow satin
hangings to the barred windows which looked into Cursitor Street--
vast and dirty gilt picture frames surrounding pieces sporting and
sacred, all of which works were by the greatest masters--and fetched
the greatest prices, too, in the bill transactions, in the course of
which they were sold and bought over and over again. The Colonel's
breakfast was served to him in the same dingy and gorgeous plated
ware. Miss Moss, a dark-eyed maid in curl-papers, appeared with the
teapot, and, smiling, asked the Colonel how he had slep? And she
brought him in the Morning Post, with the names of all the great
people who had figured at Lord Steyne's entertainment the night
before. It contained a brilliant account of the festivities and of
the beautiful and accomplished Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's admirable
After a lively chat with this lady (who sat on the edge of the
breakfast table in an easy attitude displaying the drapery of her
stocking and an ex-white satin shoe, which was down at heel),
Colonel Crawley called for pens and ink, and paper, and being asked
how many sheets, chose one which was brought to him between Miss
Moss's own finger and thumb. Many a sheet had that dark-eyed damsel
brought in; many a poor fellow had scrawled and blotted hurried
lines of entreaty and paced up and down that awful room until his
messenger brought back the reply. Poor men always use messengers
instead of the post. Who has not had their letters, with the wafers
wet, and the announcement that a person is waiting in the hall?
Now on the score of his application, Rawdon had not many misgivings.
DEAR BECKY, (Rawdon wrote)
I HOPE YOU SLEPT WELL. Don't be FRIGHTENED if I don't bring you in
your COFFY. Last night as I was coming home smoaking, I met with an
ACCADENT. I was NABBED by Moss of Cursitor Street--from whose GILT
AND SPLENDID PARLER I write this--the same that had me this time two
years. Miss Moss brought in my tea--she is grown very FAT, and, as
usual, had her STOCKENS DOWN AT HEAL.
It's Nathan's business--a hundred-and-fifty--with costs, hundred-
and-seventy. Please send me my desk and some CLOTHS--I'm in pumps
and a white tye (something like Miss M's stockings)--I've seventy in
it. And as soon as you get this, Drive to Nathan's--offer him
seventy-five down, and ASK HIM TO RENEW--say I'll take wine--we may
as well have some dinner sherry; but not PICTURS, they're too dear.
If he won't stand it. Take my ticker and such of your things as you
can SPARE, and send them to Balls--we must, of coarse, have the sum
to-night. It won't do to let it stand over, as to-morrow's Sunday;
the beds here are not very CLEAN, and there may be other things out
against me--I'm glad it an't Rawdon's Saturday for coming home. God
Yours in haste, R. C.
P.S. Make haste and come.
This letter, sealed with a wafer, was dispatched by one of the
messengers who are always hanging about Mr. Moss's establishment,
and Rawdon, having seen him depart, went out in the court-yard and
smoked his cigar with a tolerably easy mind--in spite of the bars
overhead--for Mr. Moss's court-yard is railed in like a cage, lest
the gentlemen who are boarding with him should take a fancy to
escape from his hospitality.
Three hours, he calculated, would be the utmost time required,
before Becky should arrive and open his prison doors, and he passed
these pretty cheerfully in smoking, in reading the paper, and in the
coffee-room with an acquaintance, Captain Walker, who happened to be
there, and with whom he cut for sixpences for some hours, with
pretty equal luck on either side.
But the day passed away and no messenger returned--no Becky. Mr.
Moss's tably-dy-hoty was served at the appointed hour of half-past
five, when such of the gentlemen lodging in the house as could
afford to pay for the banquet came and partook of it in the splendid
front parlour before described, and with which Mr. Crawley's
temporary lodging communicated, when Miss M. (Miss Hem, as her papa
called her) appeared without the curl-papers of the morning, and
Mrs. Hem did the honours of a prime boiled leg of mutton and
turnips, of which the Colonel ate with a very faint appetite. Asked
whether he would "stand" a bottle of champagne for the company, he
consented, and the ladies drank to his 'ealth, and Mr. Moss, in the
most polite manner, "looked towards him."
In the midst of this repast, however, the doorbell was heard--young
Moss of the ruddy hair rose up with the keys and answered the
summons, and coming back, told the Colonel that the messenger had
returned with a bag, a desk and a letter, which he gave him. "No
ceramony, Colonel, I beg," said Mrs. Moss with a wave of her hand,
and he opened the letter rather tremulously. It was a beautiful
letter, highly scented, on a pink paper, and with a light green
MON PAUVRE CHER PETIT, (Mrs. Crawley wrote)
I could not sleep ONE WINK for thinking of what had become of my
odious old monstre, and only got to rest in the morning after
sending for Mr. Blench (for I was in a fever), who gave me a
composing draught and left orders with Finette that I should be
disturbed ON NO ACCOUNT. So that my poor old man's messenger, who
had bien mauvaise mine Finette says, and sentoit le Genievre,
remained in the hall for some hours waiting my bell. You may fancy
my state when I read your poor dear old ill-spelt letter.
Ill as I was, I instantly called for the carriage, and as soon as I
was dressed (though I couldn't drink a drop of chocolate--I assure
you I couldn't without my monstre to bring it to me), I drove ventre
a terre to Nathan's. I saw him--I wept--I cried--I fell at his
odious knees. Nothing would mollify the horrid man. He would have
all the money, he said, or keep my poor monstre in prison. I drove
home with the intention of paying that triste visite chez mon oncle
(when every trinket I have should be at your disposal though they
would not fetch a hundred pounds, for some, you know, are with ce
cher oncle already), and found Milor there with the Bulgarian old
sheep-faced monster, who had come to compliment me upon last night's
performances. Paddington came in, too, drawling and lisping and
twiddling his hair; so did Champignac, and his chef--everybody with
foison of compliments and pretty speeches--plaguing poor me, who
longed to be rid of them, and was thinking every moment of the time
of mon pauvre prisonnier.
When they were gone, I went down on my knees to Milor; told him we
were going to pawn everything, and begged and prayed him to give me
two hundred pounds. He pish'd and psha'd in a fury--told me not to
be such a fool as to pawn--and said he would see whether he could
lend me the money. At last he went away, promising that he would
send it me in the morning: when I will bring it to my poor old
monster with a kiss from his affectionate
I am writing in bed. Oh I have such a headache and such a
When Rawdon read over this letter, he turned so red and looked so
savage that the company at the table d'hote easily perceived that
bad news had reached him. All his suspicions, which he had been
trying to banish, returned upon him. She could not even go out and
sell her trinkets to free him. She could laugh and talk about
compliments paid to her, whilst he was in prison. Who had put him
there? Wenham had walked with him. Was there.... He could hardly
bear to think of what he suspected. Leaving the room hurriedly, he
ran into his own--opened his desk, wrote two hurried lines, which he
directed to Sir Pitt or Lady Crawley, and bade the messenger carry
them at once to Gaunt Street, bidding him to take a cab, and
promising him a guinea if he was back in an hour.
In the note he besought his dear brother and sister, for the sake of
God, for the sake of his dear child and his honour, to come to him
and relieve him from his difficulty. He was in prison, he wanted a
hundred pounds to set him free--he entreated them to come to him.
He went back to the dining-room after dispatching his messenger and
called for more wine. He laughed and talked with a strange
boisterousness, as the people thought. Sometimes he laughed madly
at his own fears and went on drinking for an hour, listening all the
while for the carriage which was to bring his fate back.
At the expiration of that time, wheels were heard whirling up to the
gate--the young janitor went out with his gate-keys. It was a lady
whom he let in at the bailiff's door.
"Colonel Crawley," she said, trembling very much. He, with a
knowing look, locked the outer door upon her--then unlocked and
opened the inner one, and calling out, "Colonel, you're wanted," led
her into the back parlour, which he occupied.
Rawdon came in from the dining-parlour where all those people were
carousing, into his back room; a flare of coarse light following him
into the apartment where the lady stood, still very nervous.
"It is I, Rawdon," she said in a timid voice, which she strove to
render cheerful. "It is Jane." Rawdon was quite overcome by that
kind voice and presence. He ran up to her--caught her in his arms--
gasped out some inarticulate words of thanks and fairly sobbed on
her shoulder. She did not know the cause of his emotion.
The bills of Mr. Moss were quickly settled, perhaps to the
disappointment of that gentleman, who had counted on having the
Colonel as his guest over Sunday at least; and Jane, with beaming
smiles and happiness in her eyes, carried away Rawdon from the
bailiff's house, and they went homewards in the cab in which she had
hastened to his release. "Pitt was gone to a parliamentary dinner,"
she said, "when Rawdon's note came, and so, dear Rawdon, I--I came
myself"; and she put her kind hand in his. Perhaps it was well for
Rawdon Crawley that Pitt was away at that dinner. Rawdon thanked
his sister a hundred times, and with an ardour of gratitude which
touched and almost alarmed that soft-hearted woman. "Oh," said he,
in his rude, artless way, "you--you don't know how I'm changed since
I've known you, and--and little Rawdy. I--I'd like to change
somehow. You see I want--I want--to be--" He did not finish the
sentence, but she could interpret it. And that night after he left
her, and as she sat by her own little boy's bed, she prayed humbly
for that poor way-worn sinner.
Rawdon left her and walked home rapidly. It was nine o'clock at
night. He ran across the streets and the great squares of Vanity
Fair, and at length came up breathless opposite his own house. He
started back and fell against the railings, trembling as he looked
up. The drawing-room windows were blazing with light. She had said
that she was in bed and ill. He stood there for some time, the
light from the rooms on his pale face.
He took out his door-key and let himself into the house. He could
hear laughter in the upper rooms. He was in the ball-dress in which
he had been captured the night before. He went silently up the
stairs, leaning against the banisters at the stair-head. Nobody was
stirring in the house besides--all the servants had been sent away.
Rawdon heard laughter within--laughter and singing. Becky was
singing a snatch of the song of the night before; a hoarse voice
shouted "Brava! Brava!"--it was Lord Steyne's.
Rawdon opened the door and went in. A little table with a dinner
was laid out--and wine and plate. Steyne was hanging over the sofa
on which Becky sat. The wretched woman was in a brilliant full
toilette, her arms and all her fingers sparkling with bracelets and
rings, and the brilliants on her breast which Steyne had given her.
He had her hand in his, and was bowing over it to kiss it, when
Becky started up with a faint scream as she caught sight of Rawdon's
white face. At the next instant she tried a smile, a horrid smile,
as if to welcome her husband; and Steyne rose up, grinding his
teeth, pale, and with fury in his looks.
He, too, attempted a laugh--and came forward holding out his hand.
"What, come back! How d'ye do, Crawley?" he said, the nerves of his
mouth twitching as he tried to grin at the intruder.
There was that in Rawdon's face which caused Becky to fling herself
before him. "I am innocent, Rawdon," she said; "before God, I am
innocent." She clung hold of his coat, of his hands; her own were
all covered with serpents, and rings, and baubles. "I am innocent.
Say I am innocent," she said to Lord Steyne.
He thought a trap had been laid for him, and was as furious with the
wife as with the husband. "You innocent! Damn you," he screamed
out. "You innocent! Why every trinket you have on your body is
paid for by me. I have given you thousands of pounds, which this
fellow has spent and for which he has sold you. Innocent, by --!
You're as innocent as your mother, the ballet-girl, and your husband
the bully. Don't think to frighten me as you have done others.
Make way, sir, and let me pass"; and Lord Steyne seized up his hat,
and, with flame in his eyes, and looking his enemy fiercely in the
face, marched upon him, never for a moment doubting that the other
would give way.
But Rawdon Crawley springing out, seized him by the neckcloth, until
Steyne, almost strangled, writhed and bent under his arm. "You lie,
you dog!" said Rawdon. "You lie, you coward and villain!" And he
struck the Peer twice over the face with his open hand and flung him
bleeding to the ground. It was all done before Rebecca could
interpose. She stood there trembling before him. She admired her
husband, strong, brave, and victorious.
"Come here," he said. She came up at once.
"Take off those things." She began, trembling, pulling the jewels
from her arms, and the rings from her shaking fingers, and held them
all in a heap, quivering and looking up at him. "Throw them down,"
he said, and she dropped them. He tore the diamond ornament out of
her breast and flung it at Lord Steyne. It cut him on his bald
forehead. Steyne wore the scar to his dying day.
"Come upstairs," Rawdon said to his wife. "Don't kill me, Rawdon,"
she said. He laughed savagely. "I want to see if that man lies
about the money as he has about me. Has he given you any?"
"No," said Rebecca, "that is--"
"Give me your keys," Rawdon answered, and they went out together.
Rebecca gave him all the keys but one, and she was in hopes that he
would not have remarked the absence of that. It belonged to the
little desk which Amelia had given her in early days, and which she
kept in a secret place. But Rawdon flung open boxes and wardrobes,
throwing the multifarious trumpery of their contents here and there,
and at last he found the desk. The woman was forced to open it. It
contained papers, love-letters many years old--all sorts of small
trinkets and woman's memoranda. And it contained a pocket-book with
bank-notes. Some of these were dated ten years back, too, and one
was quite a fresh one--a note for a thousand pounds which Lord
Steyne had given her.
"Did he give you this?" Rawdon said.
"Yes," Rebecca answered.
"I'll send it to him to-day," Rawdon said (for day had dawned again,
and many hours had passed in this search), "and I will pay Briggs,
who was kind to the boy, and some of the debts. You will let me
know where I shall send the rest to you. You might have spared me a
hundred pounds, Becky, out of all this--I have always shared with
"I am innocent," said Becky. And he left her without another word.
What were her thoughts when he left her? She remained for hours
after he was gone, the sunshine pouring into the room, and Rebecca
sitting alone on the bed's edge. The drawers were all opened and
their contents scattered about--dresses and feathers, scarfs and
trinkets, a heap of tumbled vanities lying in a wreck. Her hair was
falling over her shoulders; her gown was torn where Rawdon had
wrenched the brilliants out of it. She heard him go downstairs a
few minutes after he left her, and the door slamming and closing on
him. She knew he would never come back. He was gone forever.
Would he kill himself?--she thought--not until after he had met Lord
Steyne. She thought of her long past life, and all the dismal
incidents of it. Ah, how dreary it seemed, how miserable, lonely
and profitless! Should she take laudanum, and end it, to have done
with all hopes, schemes, debts, and triumphs? The French maid found
her in this position--sitting in the midst of her miserable ruins
with clasped hands and dry eyes. The woman was her accomplice and
in Steyne's pay. "Mon Dieu, madame, what has happened?" she asked.