with a headache, he would rail at the world for its neglect of his
genius, and abuse, with a good deal of cleverness, and sometimes
with perfect reason, the fools, his brother painters. As it was
with the utmost difficulty that he could keep himself, and as he
owed money for a mile round Soho, where he lived, he thought to
better his circumstances by marrying a young woman of the French
nation, who was by profession an opera-girl. The humble calling of
her female parent Miss Sharp never alluded to, but used to state
subsequently that the Entrechats were a noble family of Gascony, and
took great pride in her descent from them. And curious it is that
as she advanced in life this young lady's ancestors increased in
rank and splendour.
Rebecca's mother had had some education somewhere, and her daughter
spoke French with purity and a Parisian accent. It was in those
days rather a rare accomplishment, and led to her engagement with
the orthodox Miss Pinkerton. For her mother being dead, her father,
finding himself not likely to recover, after his third attack of
delirium tremens, wrote a manly and pathetic letter to Miss
Pinkerton, recommending the orphan child to her protection, and so
descended to the grave, after two bailiffs had quarrelled over his
corpse. Rebecca was seventeen when she came to Chiswick, and was
bound over as an articled pupil; her duties being to talk French, as
we have seen; and her privileges to live cost free, and, with a few
guineas a year, to gather scraps of knowledge from the professors
who attended the school.
She was small and slight in person; pale, sandy-haired, and with
eyes habitually cast down: when they looked up they were very large,
odd, and attractive; so attractive that the Reverend Mr. Crisp,
fresh from Oxford, and curate to the Vicar of Chiswick, the Reverend
Mr. Flowerdew, fell in love with Miss Sharp; being shot dead by a
glance of her eyes which was fired all the way across Chiswick
Church from the school-pew to the reading-desk. This infatuated
young man used sometimes to take tea with Miss Pinkerton, to whom he
had been presented by his mamma, and actually proposed something
like marriage in an intercepted note, which the one-eyed apple-woman
was charged to deliver. Mrs. Crisp was summoned from Buxton, and
abruptly carried off her darling boy; but the idea, even, of such an
eagle in the Chiswick dovecot caused a great flutter in the breast
of Miss Pinkerton, who would have sent away Miss Sharp but that she
was bound to her under a forfeit, and who never could thoroughly
believe the young lady's protestations that she had never exchanged
a single word with Mr. Crisp, except under her own eyes on the two
occasions when she had met him at tea.
By the side of many tall and bouncing young ladies in the
establishment, Rebecca Sharp looked like a child. But she had the
dismal precocity of poverty. Many a dun had she talked to, and
turned away from her father's door; many a tradesman had she coaxed
and wheedled into good-humour, and into the granting of one meal
more. She sate commonly with her father, who was very proud of her
wit, and heard the talk of many of his wild companions - often but
ill-suited for a girl to hear. But she never had been a girl, she
said; she had been a woman since she was eight years old. Oh, why
did Miss Pinkerton let such a dangerous bird into her cage?
The fact is, the old lady believed Rebecca to be the meekest
creature in the world, so admirably, on the occasions when her
father brought her to Chiswick, used Rebecca to perform the part of
the ingenue; and only a year before the arrangement by which Rebecca
had been admitted into her house, and when Rebecca was sixteen years
old, Miss Pinkerton majestically, and with a little speech, made her
a present of a doll - which was, by the way, the confiscated property
of Miss Swindle, discovered surreptitiously nursing it in school-
hours. How the father and daughter laughed as they trudged home
together after the evening party (it was on the occasion of the
speeches, when all the professors were invited) and how Miss
Pinkerton would have raged had she seen the caricature of herself
which the little mimic, Rebecca, managed to make out of her doll.
Becky used to go through dialogues with it; it formed the delight of
Newman Street, Gerrard Street, and the Artists' quarter: and the
young painters, when they came to take their gin-and-water with
their lazy, dissolute, clever, jovial senior, used regularly to ask
Rebecca if Miss Pinkerton was at home: she was as well known to
them, poor soul! as Mr. Lawrence or President West. Once Rebecca
had the honour to pass a few days at Chiswick; after which she
brought back Jemima, and erected another doll as Miss Jemmy: for
though that honest creature had made and given her jelly and cake
enough for three children, and a seven-shilling piece at parting,
the girl's sense of ridicule was far stronger than her gratitude,
and she sacrificed Miss Jemmy quite as pitilessly as her sister.
The catastrophe came, and she was brought to the Mall as to her
home. The rigid formality of the place suffocated her: the prayers
and the meals, the lessons and the walks, which were arranged with a
conventual regularity, oppressed her almost beyond endurance; and
she looked back to the freedom and the beggary of the old studio in
Soho with so much regret, that everybody, herself included, fancied
she was consumed with grief for her father. She had a little room
in the garret, where the maids heard her walking and sobbing at
night; but it was with rage, and not with grief. She had not been
much of a dissembler, until now her loneliness taught her to feign.
She had never mingled in the society of women: her father, reprobate
as he was, was a man of talent; his conversation was a thousand
times more agreeable to her than the talk of such of her own sex as
she now encountered. The pompous vanity of the old schoolmistress,
the foolish good-humour of her sister, the silly chat and scandal of
the elder girls, and the frigid correctness of the governesses
equally annoyed her; and she had no soft maternal heart, this
unlucky girl, otherwise the prattle and talk of the younger
children, with whose care she was chiefly intrusted, might have
soothed and interested her; but she lived among them two years, and
not one was sorry that she went away. The gentle tender-hearted
Amelia Sedley was the only person to whom she could attach herself
in the least; and who could help attaching herself to Amelia?
The happiness the superior advantages of the young women round about
her, gave Rebecca inexpressible pangs of envy. "What airs that girl
gives herself, because she is an Earl's grand-daughter," she said of
one. "How they cringe and bow to that Creole, because of her
hundred thousand pounds! I am a thousand times cleverer and more
charming than that creature, for all her wealth. I am as well bred
as the Earl's grand-daughter, for all her fine pedigree; and yet
every one passes me by here. And yet, when I was at my father's,
did not the men give up their gayest balls and parties in order to
pass the evening with me?" She determined at any rate to get free
from the prison in which she found herself, and now began to act for
herself, and for the first time to make connected plans for the
She took advantage, therefore, of the means of study the place
offered her; and as she was already a musician and a good linguist,
she speedily went through the little course of study which was
considered necessary for ladies in those days. Her music she
practised incessantly, and one day, when the girls were out, and she
had remained at home, she was overheard to play a piece so well that
Minerva thought, wisely, she could spare herself the expense of a
master for the juniors, and intimated to Miss Sharp that she was to
instruct them in music for the future.
The girl refused; and for the first time, and to the astonishment of
the majestic mistress of the school. "I am here to speak French
with the children," Rebecca said abruptly, "not to teach them music,
and save money for you. Give me money, and I will teach them."
Minerva was obliged to yield, and, of course, disliked her from that
day. "For five-and-thirty years," she said, and with great justice,
"I never have seen the individual who has dared in my own house to
question my authority. I have nourished a viper in my bosom."
"A viper - a fiddlestick," said Miss Sharp to the old lady, almost
fainting with astonishment. "You took me because I was useful.
There is no question of gratitude between us. I hate this place,
and want to leave it. I will do nothing here but what I am obliged
It was in vain that the old lady asked her if she was aware she was
speaking to Miss Pinkerton? Rebecca laughed in her face, with a
horrid sarcastic demoniacal laughter, that almost sent the
schoolmistress into fits. "Give me a sum of money," said the girl,
"and get rid of me - or, if you like better, get me a good place as
governess in a nobleman's family - you can do so if you please." And
in their further disputes she always returned to this point, "Get me
a situation - we hate each other, and I am ready to go."
Worthy Miss Pinkerton, although she had a Roman nose and a turban,
and was as tall as a grenadier, and had been up to this time an
irresistible princess, had no will or strength like that of her
little apprentice, and in vain did battle against her, and tried to
overawe her. Attempting once to scold her in public, Rebecca hit
upon the before-mentioned plan of answering her in French, which
quite routed the old woman. In order to maintain authority in her
school, it became necessary to remove this rebel, this monster, this
serpent, this firebrand; and hearing about this time that Sir Pitt
Crawley's family was in want of a governess, she actually
recommended Miss Sharp for the situation, firebrand and serpent as
she was. "I cannot, certainly," she said, "find fault with Miss
Sharp's conduct, except to myself; and must allow that her talents
and accomplishments are of a high order. As far as the head goes, at
least, she does credit to the educational system pursued at my
And so the schoolmistress reconciled the recommendation to her
conscience, and the indentures were cancelled, and the apprentice
was free. The battle here described in a few lines, of course,
lasted for some months. And as Miss Sedley, being now in her
seventeenth year, was about to leave school, and had a friendship
for Miss Sharp ("'tis the only point in Amelia's behaviour," said
Minerva, "which has not been satisfactory to her mistress"), Miss
Sharp was invited by her friend to pass a week with her at home,
before she entered upon her duties as governess in a private family.
Thus the world began for these two young ladies. For Amelia it was
quite a new, fresh, brilliant world, with all the bloom upon it. It
was not quite a new one for Rebecca - (indeed, if the truth must be
told with respect to the Crisp affair, the tart-woman hinted to
somebody, who took an affidavit of the fact to somebody else, that
there was a great deal more than was made public regarding Mr. Crisp
and Miss Sharp, and that his letter was in answer to another
letter). But who can tell you the real truth of the matter? At all
events, if Rebecca was not beginning the world, she was beginning it
By the time the young ladies reached Kensington turnpike, Amelia had
not forgotten her companions, but had dried her tears, and had
blushed very much and been delighted at a young officer of the Life
Guards, who spied her as he was riding by, and said, "A dem fine
gal, egad!" and before the carriage arrived in Russell Square, a
great deal of conversation had taken place about the Drawing-room,
and whether or not young ladies wore powder as well as hoops when
presented, and whether she was to have that honour: to the Lord
Mayor's ball she knew she was to go. And when at length home was
reached, Miss Amelia Sedley skipped out on Sambo's arm, as happy and
as handsome a girl as any in the whole big city of London. Both he
and coachman agreed on this point, and so did her father and mother,
and so did every one of the servants in the house, as they stood
bobbing, and curtseying, and smiling, in the hall to welcome their
You may be sure that she showed Rebecca over every room of the
house, and everything in every one of her drawers; and her books,
and her piano, and her dresses, and all her necklaces, brooches,
laces, and gimcracks. She insisted upon Rebecca accepting the white
cornelian and the turquoise rings, and a sweet sprigged muslin,
which was too small for her now, though it would fit her friend to a
nicety; and she determined in her heart to ask her mother's
permission to present her white Cashmere shawl to her friend. Could
she not spare it? and had not her brother Joseph just brought her
two from India?
When Rebecca saw the two magnificent Cashmere shawls which Joseph
Sedley had brought home to his sister, she said, with perfect truth,
"that it must be delightful to have a brother," and easily got the
pity of the tender-hearted Amelia for being alone in the world, an
orphan without friends or kindred.
"Not alone," said Amelia; "you know, Rebecca, I shall always be your
friend, and love you as a sister - indeed I will."
"Ah, but to have parents, as you have - kind, rich, affectionate
parents, who give you everything you ask for; and their love, which
is more precious than all! My poor papa could give me nothing, and I
had but two frocks in all the world! And then, to have a brother, a
dear brother! Oh, how you must love him!"
"What! don't you love him? you, who say you love everybody?"
"Yes, of course, I do - only - "
"Only Joseph doesn't seem to care much whether I love him or not.
He gave me two fingers to shake when he arrived after ten years'
absence! He is very kind and good, but he scarcely ever speaks to
me; I think he loves his pipe a great deal better than his" - but
here Amelia checked herself, for why should she speak ill of her
brother? "He was very kind to me as a child," she added; "I was but
five years old when he went away."
"Isn't he very rich?" said Rebecca. "They say all Indian nabobs are
"I believe he has a very large income."
"And is your sister-in-law a nice pretty woman?"
"La! Joseph is not married," said Amelia, laughing again.
Perhaps she had mentioned the fact already to Rebecca, but that
young lady did not appear to have remembered it; indeed, vowed and
protested that she expected to see a number of Amelia's nephews and
nieces. She was quite disappointed that Mr. Sedley was not married;
she was sure Amelia had said he was, and she doted so on little
"I think you must have had enough of them at Chiswick," said Amelia,
rather wondering at the sudden tenderness on her friend's part; and
indeed in later days Miss Sharp would never have committed herself
so far as to advance opinions, the untruth of which would have been
so easily detected. But we must remember that she is but nineteen
as yet, unused to the art of deceiving, poor innocent creature! and
making her own experience in her own person. The meaning of the
above series of queries, as translated in the heart of this
ingenious young woman, was simply this: "If Mr. Joseph Sedley is
rich and unmarried, why should I not marry him? I have only a
fortnight, to be sure, but there is no harm in trying." And she
determined within herself to make this laudable attempt. She
redoubled her caresses to Amelia; she kissed the white cornelian
necklace as she put it on; and vowed she would never, never part
with it. When the dinner-bell rang she went downstairs with her arm
round her friend's waist, as is the habit of young ladies. She was
so agitated at the drawing-room door, that she could hardly find
courage to enter. "Feel my heart, how it beats, dear!" said she to
"No, it doesn't," said Amelia. "Come in, don't be frightened. Papa
won't do you any harm."
Rebecca Is in Presence of the Enemy
A VERY stout, puffy man, in buckskins and Hessian boots, with
several immense neckcloths that rose almost to his nose, with a red
striped waistcoat and an apple green coat with steel buttons almost
as large as crown pieces (it was the morning costume of a dandy or
blood of those days) was reading the paper by the fire when the two
girls entered, and bounced off his arm-chair, and blushed
excessively, and hid his entire face almost in his neckcloths at
"It's only your sister, Joseph," said Amelia, laughing and shaking
the two fingers which he held out. "I've come home FOR GOOD, you
know; and this is my friend, Miss Sharp, whom you have heard me
"No, never, upon my word," said the head under the neckcloth,
shaking very much - "that is, yes - what abominably cold weather,
Miss" - and herewith he fell to poking the fire with all his might,
although it was in the middle of June.
"He's very handsome," whispered Rebecca to Amelia, rather loud.
"Do you think so?" said the latter. "I'll tell him."
"Darling! not for worlds," said Miss Sharp, starting back as timid
as a fawn. She had previously made a respectful virgin-like curtsey
to the gentleman, and her modest eyes gazed so perseveringly on the
carpet that it was a wonder how she should have found an opportunity
to see him.
"Thank you for the beautiful shawls, brother," said Amelia to the
fire poker. "Are they not beautiful, Rebecca?"
"O heavenly!" said Miss Sharp, and her eyes went from the carpet
straight to the chandelier.
Joseph still continued a huge clattering at the poker and tongs,
puffing and blowing the while, and turning as red as his yellow face
would allow him. "I can't make you such handsome presents, Joseph,"
continued his sister, "but while I was at school, I have embroidered
for you a very beautiful pair of braces."
"Good Gad! Amelia," cried the brother, in serious alarm, "what do
you mean?" and plunging with all his might at the bell-rope, that
article of furniture came away in his hand, and increased the honest
fellow's confusion. "For heaven's sake see if my buggy's at the
door. I CAN'T wait. I must go. D - - that groom of mine. I must go."
At this minute the father of the family walked in, rattling his
seals like a true British merchant. "What's the matter, Emmy?" says
"Joseph wants me to see if his - his buggy is at the door. What is a
"It is a one-horse palanquin," said the old gentleman, who was a wag
in his way.
Joseph at this burst out into a wild fit of laughter; in which,
encountering the eye of Miss Sharp, he stopped all of a sudden, as
if he had been shot.
"This young lady is your friend? Miss Sharp, I am very happy to see
you. Have you and Emmy been quarrelling already with Joseph, that
he wants to be off?"
"I promised Bonamy of our service, sir," said Joseph, "to dine with
"O fie! didn't you tell your mother you would dine here?"
"But in this dress it's impossible."
"Look at him, isn't he handsome enough to dine anywhere, Miss
On which, of course, Miss Sharp looked at her friend, and they both
set off in a fit of laughter, highly agreeable to the old gentleman.
"Did you ever see a pair of buckskins like those at Miss
Pinkerton's?" continued he, following up his advantage.
"Gracious heavens! Father," cried Joseph.
"There now, I have hurt his feelings. Mrs. Sedley, my dear, I have
hurt your son's feelings. I have alluded to his buckskins. Ask
Miss Sharp if I haven't? Come, Joseph, be friends with Miss Sharp,
and let us all go to dinner."
"There's a pillau, Joseph, just as you like it, and Papa has brought
home the best turbot in Billingsgate."
"Come, come, sir, walk downstairs with Miss Sharp, and I will follow
with these two young women," said the father, and he took an arm of
wife and daughter and walked merrily off.
If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart upon making the
conquest of this big beau, I don't think, ladies, we have any right
to blame her; for though the task of husband-hunting is generally,
and with becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their
mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange
these delicate matters for her, and that if she did not get a
husband for herself, there was no one else in the wide world who
would take the trouble off her hands. What causes young people to
"come out," but the noble ambition of matrimony? What sends them
trooping to watering-places? What keeps them dancing till five
o'clock in the morning through a whole mortal season? What causes
them to labour at pianoforte sonatas, and to learn four songs from a
fashionable master at a guinea a lesson, and to play the harp if
they have handsome arms and neat elbows, and to wear Lincoln Green
toxophilite hats and feathers, but that they may bring down some
"desirable" young man with those killing bows and arrows of theirs?
What causes respectable parents to take up their carpets, set their
houses topsy-turvy, and spend a fifth of their year's income in ball
suppers and iced champagne? Is it sheer love of their species, and
an unadulterated wish to see young people happy and dancing? Psha!
they want to marry their daughters; and, as honest Mrs. Sedley has,
in the depths of her kind heart, already arranged a score of little
schemes for the settlement of her Amelia, so also had our beloved
but unprotected Rebecca determined to do her very best to secure the
husband, who was even more necessary for her than for her friend.
She had a vivid imagination; she had, besides, read the Arabian
Nights and Guthrie's Geography; and it is a fact that while she was
dressing for dinner, and after she had asked Amelia whether her
brother was very rich, she had built for herself a most magnificent
castle in the air, of which she was mistress, with a husband
somewhere in the background (she had not seen him as yet, and his
figure would not therefore be very distinct); she had arrayed
herself in an infinity of shawls, turbans, and diamond necklaces,
and had mounted upon an elephant to the sound of the march in
Bluebeard, in order to pay a visit of ceremony to the Grand Mogul.
Charming Alnaschar visions! it is the happy privilege of youth to
construct you, and many a fanciful young creature besides Rebecca
Sharp has indulged in these delightful day-dreams ere now!
Joseph Sedley was twelve years older than his sister Amelia. He was
in the East India Company's Civil Service, and his name appeared, at
the period of which we write, in the Bengal division of the East
India Register, as collector of Boggley Wollah, an honourable and
lucrative post, as everybody knows: in order to know to what higher
posts Joseph rose in the service, the reader is referred to the same
Boggley Wollah is situated in a fine, lonely, marshy, jungly
district, famous for snipe-shooting, and where not unfrequently you
may flush a tiger. Ramgunge, where there is a magistrate, is only
forty miles off, and there is a cavalry station about thirty miles
farther; so Joseph wrote home to his parents, when he took
possession of his collectorship. He had lived for about eight years
of his life, quite alone, at this charming place, scarcely seeing a
Christian face except twice a year, when the detachment arrived to
carry off the revenues which he had collected, to Calcutta.
Luckily, at this time he caught a liver complaint, for the cure of
which he returned to Europe, and which was the source of great
comfort and amusement to him in his native country. He did not live
with his family while in London, but had lodgings of his own, like a
gay young bachelor. Before he went to India he was too young to
partake of the delightful pleasures of a man about town, and plunged
into them on his return with considerable assiduity. He drove his
horses in the Park; he dined at the fashionable taverns (for the
Oriental Club was not as yet invented); he frequented the theatres,
as the mode was in those days, or made his appearance at the opera,
laboriously attired in tights and a cocked hat.
On returning to India, and ever after, he used to talk of the
pleasure of this period of his existence with great enthusiasm, and
give you to understand that he and Brummel were the leading bucks of
the day. But he was as lonely here as in his jungle at Boggley