Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 1-4


The Green Silk Purse

Poor Joe's panic lasted for two or three days; during which he did not visit the house, nor during that period did Miss Rebecca ever mention his name. She was all respectful gratitude to Mrs. Sedley; delighted beyond measure at the Bazaars; and in a whirl of wonder at the theatre, whither the good-natured lady took her. One day, Amelia had a headache, and could not go upon some party of pleasure to which the two young people were invited: nothing could induce her friend to go without her. "What! you who have shown the poor orphan what happiness and love are for the first time in her life — quit YOU? Never!" and the green eyes looked up to Heaven and filled with tears; and Mrs. Sedley could not but own that her daughter's friend had a charming kind heart of her own.

As for Mr. Sedley's jokes, Rebecca laughed at them with a cordiality and perseverance which not a little pleased and softened that good- natured gentleman. Nor was it with the chiefs of the family alone that Miss Sharp found favour. She interested Mrs. Blenkinsop by evincing the deepest sympathy in the raspberry-jam preserving, which operation was then going on in the Housekeeper's room; she persisted in calling Sambo "Sir," and "Mr. Sambo," to the delight of that attendant; and she apologised to the lady's maid for giving her trouble in venturing to ring the bell, with such sweetness and humility, that the Servants' Hall was almost as charmed with her as the Drawing Room.

Once, in looking over some drawings which Amelia had sent from school, Rebecca suddenly came upon one which caused her to burst into tears and leave the room. It was on the day when Joe Sedley made his second appearance.

Amelia hastened after her friend to know the cause of this display of feeling, and the good-natured girl came back without her companion, rather affected too. "You know, her father was our drawing-master, Mamma, at Chiswick, and used to do all the best parts of our drawings."

"My love! I'm sure I always heard Miss Pinkerton say that he did not touch them — he only mounted them." "It was called mounting, Mamma. Rebecca remembers the drawing, and her father working at it, and the thought of it came upon her rather suddenly — and so, you know, she — "

"The poor child is all heart," said Mrs. Sedley.

"I wish she could stay with us another week," said Amelia.

"She's devilish like Miss Cutler that I used to meet at Dumdum, only fairer. She's married now to Lance, the Artillery Surgeon. Do you know, Ma'am, that once Quintin, of the 14th, bet me — "

"O Joseph, we know that story," said Amelia, laughing. Never mind about telling that; but persuade Mamma to write to Sir Something Crawley for leave of absence for poor dear Rebecca: here she comes, her eyes red with weeping."

"I'm better, now," said the girl, with the sweetest smile possible, taking good-natured Mrs. Sedley's extended hand and kissing it respectfully. "How kind you all are to me! All," she added, with a laugh, "except you, Mr. Joseph."

"Me!" said Joseph, meditating an instant departure "Gracious Heavens! Good Gad! Miss Sharp!'

"Yes; how could you be so cruel as to make me eat that horrid pepper-dish at dinner, the first day I ever saw you? You are not so good to me as dear Amelia."

"He doesn't know you so well," cried Amelia.

"I defy anybody not to be good to you, my dear," said her mother.

"The curry was capital; indeed it was," said Joe, quite gravely. "Perhaps there was NOT enough citron juice in it — no, there was NOT."

"And the chilis?"

"By Jove, how they made you cry out!" said Joe, caught by the ridicule of the circumstance, and exploding in a fit of laughter which ended quite suddenly, as usual.

"I shall take care how I let YOU choose for me another time," said Rebecca, as they went down again to dinner. "I didn't think men were fond of putting poor harmless girls to pain."

"By Gad, Miss Rebecca, I wouldn't hurt you for the world."

"No," said she, "I KNOW you wouldn't"; and then she gave him ever so gentle a pressure with her little hand, and drew it back quite frightened, and looked first for one instant in his face, and then down at the carpet-rods; and I am not prepared to say that Joe's heart did not thump at this little involuntary, timid, gentle motion of regard on the part of the simple girl.

It was an advance, and as such, perhaps, some ladies of indisputable correctness and gentility will condemn the action as immodest; but, you see, poor dear Rebecca had all this work to do for herself. If a person is too poor to keep a servant, though ever so elegant, he must sweep his own rooms: if a dear girl has no dear Mamma to settle matters with the young man, she must do it for herself. And oh, what a mercy it is that these women do not exercise their powers oftener! We can't resist them, if they do. Let them show ever so little inclination, and men go down on their knees at once: old or ugly, it is all the same. And this I set down as a positive truth. A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry WHOM SHE LIKES. Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.

"Egad!" thought Joseph, entering the dining-room, "I exactly begin to feel as I did at Dumdum with Miss Cutler." Many sweet little appeals, half tender, half jocular, did Miss Sharp make to him about the dishes at dinner; for by this time she was on a footing of considerable familiarity with the family, and as for the girls, they loved each other like sisters. Young unmarried girls always do, if they are in a house together for ten days.

As if bent upon advancing Rebecca's plans in every way — what must Amelia do, but remind her brother of a promise made last Easter holidays — "When I was a girl at school," said she, laughing — a promise that he, Joseph, would take her to Vauxhall. "Now," she said, "that Rebecca is with us, will be the very time."

"O, delightful!" said Rebecca, going to clap her hands; but she recollected herself, and paused, like a modest creature, as she was.

"To-night is not the night," said Joe.

"Well, to-morrow."

"To-morrow your Papa and I dine out," said Mrs. Sedley.

"You don't suppose that I'm going, Mrs. Sed?" said her husband, "and that a woman of your years and size is to catch cold, in such an abominable damp place?"

'The children must have someone with them," cried Mrs. Sedley.

"Let Joe go," said-his father, laughing. "He's big enough." At which speech even Mr. Sambo at the sideboard burst out laughing, and poor fat Joe felt inclined to become a parricide almost.

"Undo his stays!" continued the pitiless old gentleman. "Fling some water in his face, Miss Sharp, or carry him upstairs: the dear creature's fainting. Poor victim! carry him up; he's as light as a feather!"

"If I stand this, sir, I'm d — — — !" roared Joseph.

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