grin, which showed that he knew the world too - in the Tomeavesian
way, that is. And having laid out every shilling of his fortune on
an annuity, Tom could afford to bear no malice to his nephews and
nieces, and to have no other feeling with regard to his betters but
a constant and generous desire to dine with them.
Between the Marchioness and the natural and tender regard of mother
for children, there was that cruel barrier placed of difference of
faith. The very love which she might feel for her sons only served
to render the timid and pious lady more fearful and unhappy. The
gulf which separated them was fatal and impassable. She could not
stretch her weak arms across it, or draw her children over to that
side away from which her belief told her there was no safety.
During the youth of his sons, Lord Steyne, who was a good scholar
and amateur casuist, had no better sport in the evening after dinner
in the country than in setting the boys' tutor, the Reverend Mr.
Trail (now my Lord Bishop of Ealing) on her ladyship's director,
Father Mole, over their wine, and in pitting Oxford against St.
Acheul. He cried "Bravo, Latimer! Well said, Loyola!" alternately;
he promised Mole a bishopric if he would come over, and vowed he
would use all his influence to get Trail a cardinal's hat if he
would secede. Neither divine allowed himself to be conquered, and
though the fond mother hoped that her youngest and favourite son
would be reconciled to her church - his mother church - a sad and
awful disappointment awaited the devout lady - a disappointment which
seemed to be a judgement upon her for the sin of her marriage.
My Lord Gaunt married, as every person who frequents the Peerage
knows, the Lady Blanche Thistlewood, a daughter of the noble house
of Bareacres, before mentioned in this veracious history. A wing of
Gaunt House was assigned to this couple; for the head of the family
chose to govern it, and while he reigned to reign supreme; his son
and heir, however, living little at home, disagreeing with his wife,
and borrowing upon post-obits such moneys as he required beyond the
very moderate sums which his father was disposed to allow him. The
Marquis knew every shilling of his son's debts. At his lamented
demise, he was found himself to be possessor of many of his heir's
bonds, purchased for their benefit, and devised by his Lordship to
the children of his younger son.
As, to my Lord Gaunt's dismay, and the chuckling delight of his
natural enemy and father, the Lady Gaunt had no children - the Lord
George Gaunt was desired to return from Vienna, where he was engaged
in waltzing and diplomacy, and to contract a matrimonial alliance
with the Honourable Joan, only daughter of John Johnes, First Baron
Helvellyn, and head of the firm of Jones, Brown, and Robinson, of
Threadneedle Street, Bankers; from which union sprang several sons
and daughters, whose doings do not appertain to this story.
The marriage at first was a happy and prosperous one. My Lord George
Gaunt could not only read, but write pretty correctly. He spoke
French with considerable fluency; and was one of the finest waltzers
in Europe. With these talents, and his interest at home, there was
little doubt that his lordship would rise to the highest dignities
in his profession. The lady, his wife, felt that courts were her
sphere, and her wealth enabled her to receive splendidly in those
continental towns whither her husband's diplomatic duties led him.
There was talk of appointing him minister, and bets were laid at the
Travellers' that he would be ambassador ere long, when of a sudden,
rumours arrived of the secretary's extraordinary behaviour. At a
grand diplomatic dinner given by his chief, he had started up and
declared that a pate de foie gras was poisoned. He went to a ball
at the hotel of the Bavarian envoy, the Count de Springbock-
Hohenlaufen, with his head shaved and dressed as a Capuchin friar.
It was not a masked ball, as some folks wanted to persuade you. It
was something queer, people whispered. His grandfather was so. It
was in the family.
His wife and family returned to this country and took up their abode
at Gaunt House. Lord George gave up his post on the European
continent, and was gazetted to Brazil. But people knew better; he
never returned from that Brazil expedition - never died there - never
lived there - never was there at all. He was nowhere; he was gone
out altogether. "Brazil," said one gossip to another, with a grin -
"Brazil is St. John's Wood. Rio de Janeiro is a cottage surrounded
by four walls, and George Gaunt is accredited to a keeper, who has
invested him with the order of the Strait-Waistcoat." These are the
kinds of epitaphs which men pass over one another in Vanity Fair.
Twice or thrice in a week, in the earliest morning, the poor mother
went for her sins and saw the poor invalid. Sometimes he laughed at
her (and his laughter was more pitiful than to hear him cry);
sometimes she found the brilliant dandy diplomatist of the Congress
of Vienna dragging about a child's toy, or nursing the keeper's
baby's doll. Sometimes he knew her and Father Mole, her director
and companion; oftener he forgot her, as he had done wife, children,
love, ambition, vanity. But he remembered his dinner-hour, and used
to cry if his wine-and-water was not strong enough.
It was the mysterious taint of the blood; the poor mother had
brought it from her own ancient race. The evil had broken out once
or twice in the father's family, long before Lady Steyne's sins had
begun, or her fasts and tears and penances had been offered in their
expiation. The pride of the race was struck down as the first-born
of Pharaoh. The dark mark of fate and doom was on the threshold -
the tall old threshold surmounted by coronets and caned heraldry.
The absent lord's children meanwhile prattled and grew on quite
unconscious that the doom was over them too. First they talked of
their father and devised plans against his return. Then the name of
the living dead man was less frequently in their mouth - then not
mentioned at all. But the stricken old grandmother trembled to
think that these too were the inheritors of their father's shame as
well as of his honours, and watched sickening for the day when the
awful ancestral curse should come down on them.
This dark presentiment also haunted Lord Steyne. He tried to lay
the horrid bedside ghost in Red Seas of wine and jollity, and lost
sight of it sometimes in the crowd and rout of his pleasures. But
it always came back to him when alone, and seemed to grow more
threatening with years. "I have taken your son," it said, "why not
you? I may shut you up in a prison some day like your son George. I
may tap you on the head to-morrow, and away go pleasure and honours,
feasts and beauty, friends, flatterers, French cooks, fine horses
and houses - in exchange for a prison, a keeper, and a straw mattress
like George Gaunt's." And then my lord would defy the ghost which
threatened him, for he knew of a remedy by which he could baulk his
So there was splendour and wealth, but no great happiness perchance,
behind the tall caned portals of Gaunt House with its smoky coronets
and ciphers. The feasts there were of the grandest in London, but
there was not overmuch content therewith, except among the guests
who sat at my lord's table. Had he not been so great a Prince very
few possibly would have visited him; but in Vanity Fair the sins of
very great personages are looked at indulgently. "Nous regardons a
deux fois" (as the French lady said) before we condemn a person of
my lord's undoubted quality. Some notorious carpers and squeamish
moralists might be sulky with Lord Steyne, but they were glad enough
to come when he asked them.
"Lord Steyne is really too bad," Lady Slingstone said, "but
everybody goes, and of course I shall see that my girls come to no
harm." "His lordship is a man to whom I owe much, everything in
life," said the Right Reverend Doctor Trail, thinking that the
Archbishop was rather shaky, and Mrs. Trail and the young ladies
would as soon have missed going to church as to one of his
lordship's parties. "His morals are bad," said little Lord
Southdown to his sister, who meekly expostulated, having heard
terrific legends from her mamma with respect to the doings at Gaunt
House; "but hang it, he's got the best dry Sillery in Europe!" And
as for Sir Pitt Crawley, Bart. - Sir Pitt that pattern of decorum,
Sir Pitt who had led off at missionary meetings - he never for one
moment thought of not going too. "Where you see such persons as the
Bishop of Ealing and the Countess of Slingstone, you may be pretty
sure, Jane," the Baronet would say, "that we cannot be wrong. The
great rank and station of Lord Steyne put him in a position to
command people in our station in life. The Lord Lieutenant of a
County, my dear, is a respectable man. Besides, George Gaunt and I
were intimate in early life; he was my junior when we were attaches
at Pumpernickel together."
In a word everybody went to wait upon this great man - everybody who
was asked, as you the reader (do not say nay) or I the writer hereof
would go if we had an invitation.
In Which the Reader Is Introduced to the Very Best of Company
At last Becky's kindness and attention to the chief of her husband's
family were destined to meet with an exceeding great reward, a
reward which, though certainly somewhat unsubstantial, the little
woman coveted with greater eagerness than more positive benefits.
If she did not wish to lead a virtuous life, at least she desired to
enjoy a character for virtue, and we know that no lady in the
genteel world can possess this desideratum, until she has put on a
train and feathers and has been presented to her Sovereign at Court.
From that august interview they come out stamped as honest women.
The Lord Chamberlain gives them a certificate of virtue. And as
dubious goods or letters are passed through an oven at quarantine,
sprinkled with aromatic vinegar, and then pronounced clean, many a
lady, whose reputation would be doubtful otherwise and liable to
give infection, passes through the wholesome ordeal of the Royal
presence and issues from it free from all taint.
It might be very well for my Lady Bareacres, my Lady Tufto, Mrs.
Bute Crawley in the country, and other ladies who had come into
contact with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley to cry fie at the idea of the
odious little adventuress making her curtsey before the Sovereign,
and to declare that, if dear good Queen Charlotte had been alive,
she never would have admitted such an extremely ill-regulated
personage into her chaste drawing-room. But when we consider that
it was the First Gentleman in Europe in whose high presence Mrs.
Rawdon passed her examination, and as it were, took her degree in
reputation, it surely must be flat disloyalty to doubt any more
about her virtue. I, for my part, look back with love and awe to
that Great Character in history. Ah, what a high and noble
appreciation of Gentlewomanhood there must have been in Vanity Fair,
when that revered and august being was invested, by the universal
acclaim of the refined and educated portion of this empire, with the
title of Premier Gentilhomme of his Kingdom. Do you remember, dear
M - , oh friend of my youth, how one blissful night five-and-twenty
years since, the "Hypocrite" being acted, Elliston being manager,
Dowton and Liston performers, two boys had leave from their loyal
masters to go out from Slaughter-House School where they were
educated and to appear on Drury Lane stage, amongst a crowd which
assembled there to greet the king. THE KING? There he was.
Beefeaters were before the august box; the Marquis of Steyne (Lord
of the Powder Closet) and other great officers of state were behind
the chair on which he sat, HE sat - florid of face, portly of person,
covered with orders, and in a rich curling head of hair - how we sang
God save him! How the house rocked and shouted with that
magnificent music. How they cheered, and cried, and waved
handkerchiefs. Ladies wept; mothers clasped their children; some
fainted with emotion. People were suffocated in the pit, shrieks
and groans rising up amidst the writhing and shouting mass there of
his people who were, and indeed showed themselves almost to be,
ready to die for him. Yes, we saw him. Fate cannot deprive us of
THAT. Others have seen Napoleon. Some few still exist who have
beheld Frederick the Great, Doctor Johnson, Marie Antoinette, &c. -
be it our reasonable boast to our children, that we saw George the
Good, the Magnificent, the Great.
Well, there came a happy day in Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's existence when
this angel was admitted into the paradise of a Court which she
coveted, her sister-in-law acting as her godmother. On the
appointed day, Sir Pitt and his lady, in their great family carriage
(just newly built, and ready for the Baronet's assumption of the
office of High Sheriff of his county), drove up to the little house
in Curzon Street, to the edification of Raggles, who was watching
from his greengrocer's shop, and saw fine plumes within, and
enormous bunches of flowers in the breasts of the new livery-coats
of the footmen.
Sir Pitt, in a glittering uniform, descended and went into Curzon
Street, his sword between his legs. Little Rawdon stood with his
face against the parlour window-panes, smiling and nodding with all
his might to his aunt in the carriage within; and presently Sir Pitt
issued forth from the house again, leading forth a lady with grand
feathers, covered in a white shawl, and holding up daintily a train
of magnificent brocade. She stepped into the vehicle as if she were
a princess and accustomed all her life to go to Court, smiling
graciously on the footman at the door and on Sir Pitt, who followed
her into the carriage.
Then Rawdon followed in his old Guards' uniform, which had grown
woefully shabby, and was much too tight. He was to have followed
the procession and waited upon his sovereign in a cab, but that his
good-natured sister-in-law insisted that they should be a family
party. The coach was large, the ladies not very big, they would hold
their trains in their laps - finally, the four went fraternally
together, and their carriage presently joined the line of royal
equipages which was making its way down Piccadilly and St. James's
Street, towards the old brick palace where the Star of Brunswick was
in waiting to receive his nobles and gentlefolks.
Becky felt as if she could bless the people out of the carriage
windows, so elated was she in spirit, and so strong a sense had she
of the dignified position which she had at last attained in life.
Even our Becky had her weaknesses, and as one often sees how men
pride themselves upon excellences which others are slow to perceive:
how, for instance, Comus firmly believes that he is the greatest
tragic actor in England; how Brown, the famous novelist, longs to be
considered, not a man of genius, but a man of fashion; while
Robinson, the great lawyer, does not in the least care about his
reputation in Westminster Hall, but believes himself incomparable
across country and at a five-barred gate - so to be, and to be
thought, a respectable woman was Becky's aim in life, and she got up
the genteel with amazing assiduity, readiness, and success. We have
said, there were times when she believed herself to be a fine lady
and forgot that there was no money in the chest at home - duns round
the gate, tradesmen to coax and wheedle - no ground to walk upon, in
a word. And as she went to Court in the carriage, the family
carriage, she adopted a demeanour so grand, self-satisfied,
deliberate, and imposing that it made even Lady Jane laugh. She
walked into the royal apartments with a toss of the head which would
have befitted an empress, and I have no doubt had she been one, she
would have become the character perfectly.
We are authorized to state that Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's costume de
cour on the occasion of her presentation to the Sovereign was of the
most elegant and brilliant description. Some ladies we may have
seen - we who wear stars and cordons and attend the St. James's
assemblies, or we, who, in muddy boots, dawdle up and down Pall Mall
and peep into the coaches as they drive up with the great folks in
their feathers - some ladies of fashion, I say, we may have seen,
about two o'clock of the forenoon of a levee day, as the laced-
jacketed band of the Life Guards are blowing triumphal marches
seated on those prancing music-stools, their cream-coloured
chargers - who are by no means lovely and enticing objects at that
early period of noon. A stout countess of sixty, decolletee,
painted, wrinkled with rouge up to her drooping eyelids, and
diamonds twinkling in her wig, is a wholesome and edifying, but not
a pleasant sight. She has the faded look of a St. James's Street
illumination, as it may be seen of an early morning, when half the
lamps are out, and the others are blinking wanly, as if they were
about to vanish like ghosts before the dawn. Such charms as those
of which we catch glimpses while her ladyship's carriage passes
should appear abroad at night alone. If even Cynthia looks haggard
of an afternoon, as we may see her sometimes in the present winter
season, with Phoebus staring her out of countenance from the
opposite side of the heavens, how much more can old Lady
Castlemouldy keep her head up when the sun is shining full upon it
through the chariot windows, and showing all the chinks and crannies
with which time has marked her face! No. Drawing-rooms should be
announced for November, or the first foggy day, or the elderly
sultanas of our Vanity Fair should drive up in closed litters,
descend in a covered way, and make their curtsey to the Sovereign
under the protection of lamplight.
Our beloved Rebecca had no need, however, of any such a friendly
halo to set off her beauty. Her complexion could bear any sunshine
as yet, and her dress, though if you were to see it now, any present
lady of Vanity Fair would pronounce it to be the most foolish and
preposterous attire ever worn, was as handsome in her eyes and those
of the public, some five-and-twenty years since, as the most
brilliant costume of the most famous beauty of the present season.
A score of years hence that too, that milliner's wonder, will have
passed into the domain of the absurd, along with all previous
vanities. But we are wandering too much. Mrs. Rawdon's dress was
pronounced to be charmante on the eventful day of her presentation.
Even good little Lady Jane was forced to acknowledge this effect, as
she looked at her kinswoman, and owned sorrowfully to herself that
she was quite inferior in taste to Mrs. Becky.
She did not know how much care, thought, and genius Mrs. Rawdon had
bestowed upon that garment. Rebecca had as good taste as any
milliner in Europe, and such a clever way of doing things as Lady
Jane little understood. The latter quickly spied out the
magnificence of the brocade of Becky's train, and the splendour of
the lace on her dress.
The brocade was an old remnant, Becky said; and as for the lace, it
was a great bargain. She had had it these hundred years.
"My dear Mrs. Crawley, it must have cost a little fortune," Lady
Jane said, looking down at her own lace, which was not nearly so
good; and then examining the quality of the ancient brocade which
formed the material of Mrs. Rawdon's Court dress, she felt inclined
to say that she could not afford such fine clothing, but checked
that speech, with an effort, as one uncharitable to her kinswoman.
And yet, if Lady Jane had known all, I think even her kindly temper
would have failed her. The fact is, when she was putting Sir Pitt's
house in order, Mrs. Rawdon had found the lace and the brocade in
old wardrobes, the property of the former ladies of the house, and
had quietly carried the goods home, and had suited them to her own
little person. Briggs saw her take them, asked no questions, told
no stories; but I believe quite sympathised with her on this matter,
and so would many another honest woman.
And the diamonds - "Where the doose did you get the diamonds, Becky?"
said her husband, admiring some jewels which he had never seen
before and which sparkled in her ears and on her neck with
brilliance and profusion.
Becky blushed a little and looked at him hard for a moment. Pitt
Crawley blushed a little too, and looked out of window. The fact
is, he had given her a very small portion of the brilliants; a
pretty diamond clasp, which confined a pearl necklace which she
wore - and the Baronet had omitted to mention the circumstance to his
Becky looked at her husband, and then at Sir Pitt, with an air of
saucy triumph - as much as to say, "Shall I betray you?"
"Guess!" she said to her husband. "Why, you silly man," she
continued, "where do you suppose I got them? - all except the little
clasp, which a dear friend of mine gave me long ago. I hired them,
to be sure. I hired them at Mr. Polonius's, in Coventry Street.
You don't suppose that all the diamonds which go to Court belong to
the wearers; like those beautiful stones which Lady Jane has, and
which are much handsomer than any which I have, I am certain."
"They are family jewels," said Sir Pitt, again looking uneasy. And
in this family conversation the carriage rolled down the street,
until its cargo was finally discharged at the gates of the palace
where the Sovereign was sitting in state.
The diamonds, which had created Rawdon's admiration, never went back
to Mr. Polonius, of Coventry Street, and that gentleman never
applied for their restoration, but they retired into a little
private repository, in an old desk, which Amelia Sedley had given
her years and years ago, and in which Becky kept a number of useful
and, perhaps, valuable things, about which her husband knew nothing.
To know nothing, or little, is in the nature of some husbands. To
hide, in the nature of how many women? Oh, ladies! how many of you
have surreptitious milliners' bills? How many of you have gowns and
bracelets which you daren't show, or which you wear trembling? -
trembling, and coaxing with smiles the husband by your side, who
does not know the new velvet gown from the old one, or the new
bracelet from last year's, or has any notion that the ragged-looking
yellow lace scarf cost forty guineas and that Madame Bobinot is
writing dunning letters every week for the money!
Thus Rawdon knew nothing about the brilliant diamond ear-rings, or
the superb brilliant ornament which decorated the fair bosom of his
lady; but Lord Steyne, who was in his place at Court, as Lord of the
Powder Closet, and one of the great dignitaries and illustrious
defences of the throne of England, and came up with all his stars,
garters, collars, and cordons, and paid particular attention to the
little woman, knew whence the jewels came and who paid for them.
As he bowed over her he smiled, and quoted the hackneyed and
beautiful lines from The Rape of the Lock about Belinda's diamonds,
"which Jews might kiss and infidels adore."
"But I hope your lordship is orthodox," said the little lady with a
toss of her head. And many ladies round about whispered and talked,
and many gentlemen nodded and whispered, as they saw what marked
attention the great nobleman was paying to the little adventuress.
What were the circumstances of the interview between Rebecca
Crawley, nee Sharp, and her Imperial Master, it does not become such
a feeble and inexperienced pen as mine to attempt to relate. The
dazzled eyes close before that Magnificent Idea. Loyal respect and
decency tell even the imagination not to look too keenly and
audaciously about the sacred audience-chamber, but to back away
rapidly, silently, and respectfully, making profound bows out of the
This may be said, that in all London there was no more loyal heart
than Becky's after this interview. The name of her king was always
on her lips, and he was proclaimed by her to be the most charming of
men. She went to Colnaghi's and ordered the finest portrait of him
that art had produced, and credit could supply. She chose that
famous one in which the best of monarchs is represented in a frock-
coat with a fur collar, and breeches and silk stockings, simpering
on a sofa from under his curly brown wig. She had him painted in a
brooch and wore it - indeed she amused and somewhat pestered her
acquaintance with her perpetual talk about his urbanity and beauty.