Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 30-32


In Which Jos Sedley Takes Care of His Sister

Thus all the superior officers being summoned on duty elsewhere, Jos Sedley was left in command of the little colony at Brussels, with Amelia invalided, Isidor, his Belgian servant, and the bonne, who was maid-of-all-work for the establishment, as a garrison under him. Though he was disturbed in spirit, and his rest destroyed by Dobbin's interruption and the occurrences of the morning, Jos nevertheless remained for many hours in bed, wakeful and rolling about there until his usual hour of rising had arrived. The sun was high in the heavens, and our gallant friends of the — th miles on their march, before the civilian appeared in his flowered dressing- gown at breakfast.

About George's absence, his brother-in-law was very easy in mind. Perhaps Jos was rather pleased in his heart that Osborne was gone, for during George's presence, the other had played but a very secondary part in the household, and Osborne did not scruple to show his contempt for the stout civilian. But Emmy had always been good and attentive to him. It was she who ministered to his comforts, who superintended the dishes that he liked, who walked or rode with him (as she had many, too many, opportunities of doing, for where was George?) and who interposed her sweet face between his anger and her husband's scorn. Many timid remonstrances had she uttered to George in behalf of her brother, but the former in his trenchant way cut these entreaties short. "I'm an honest man," he said, "and if I have a feeling I show it, as an honest man will. How the deuce, my dear, would you have me behave respectfully to such a fool as your brother?" So Jos was pleased with George's absence. His plain hat, and gloves on a sideboard, and the idea that the owner was away, caused Jos I don't know what secret thrill of pleasure. "HE won't be troubling me this morning," Jos thought, "with his dandified airs and his impudence."

"Put the Captain's hat into the ante-room," he said to Isidor, the servant.

"Perhaps he won't want it again," replied the lackey, looking knowingly at his master. He hated George too, whose insolence towards him was quite of the English sort.

"And ask if Madame is coming to breakfast," Mr. Sedley said with great majesty, ashamed to enter with a servant upon the subject of his dislike for George. The truth is, he had abused his brother to the valet a score of times before.

Alas! Madame could not come to breakfast, and cut the tartines that Mr. Jos liked. Madame was a great deal too ill, and had been in a frightful state ever since her husband's departure, so her bonne said. Jos showed his sympathy by pouring her out a large cup of tea It was his way of exhibiting kindness: and he improved on this; he not only sent her breakfast, but he bethought him what delicacies she would most like for dinner.

Isidor, the valet, had looked on very sulkily, while Osborne's servant was disposing of his master's baggage previous to the Captain's departure: for in the first place he hated Mr. Osborne, whose conduct to him, and to all inferiors, was generally overbearing (nor does the continental domestic like to be treated with insolence as our own better-tempered servants do), and secondly, he was angry that so many valuables should be removed from under his hands, to fall into other people's possession when the English discomfiture should arrive. Of this defeat he and a vast number of other persons in Brussels and Belgium did not make the slightest doubt. The almost universal belief was, that the Emperor would divide the Prussian and English armies, annihilate one after the other, and march into Brussels before three days were over: when all the movables of his present masters, who would be killed, or fugitives, or prisoners, would lawfully become the property of Monsieur Isidor.

As he helped Jos through his toilsome and complicated daily toilette, this faithful servant would calculate what he should do with the very articles with which he was decorating his master's person. He would make a present of the silver essence-bottles and toilet knicknacks to a young lady of whom he was fond; and keep the English cutlery and the large ruby pin for himself. It would look very smart upon one of the fine frilled shirts, which, with the gold-laced cap and the frogged frock coat, that might easily be cut down to suit his shape, and the Captain's gold-headed cane, and the great double ring with the rubies, which he would have made into a pair of beautiful earrings, he calculated would make a perfect Adonis of himself, and render Mademoiselle Reine an easy prey. "How those sleeve-buttons will suit me!" thought he, as he fixed a pair on the fat pudgy wrists of Mr. Sedley. "I long for sleeve-buttons; and the Captain's boots with brass spurs, in the next room, corbleu! what an effect they will make in the Allee Verte!" So while Monsieur Isidor with bodily fingers was holding on to his master's nose, and shaving the lower part of Jos's face, his imagination was rambling along the Green Avenue, dressed out in a frogged coat and lace, and in company with Mademoiselle Reine; he was loitering in spirit on the banks, and examining the barges sailing slowly under the cool shadows of the trees by the canal, or refreshing himself with a mug of Faro at the bench of a beer-house on the road to Laeken.

But Mr. Joseph Sedley, luckily for his own peace, no more knew what was passing in his domestic's mind than the respected reader, and I suspect what John or Mary, whose wages we pay, think of ourselves. What our servants think of us! — Did we know what our intimates and dear relations thought of us, we should live in a world that we should be glad to quit, and in a frame of mind and a constant terror, that would be perfectly unbearable. So Jos's man was marking his victim down, as you see one of Mr. Paynter's assistants in Leadenhall Street ornament an unconscious turtle with a placard on which is written, "Soup to-morrow."

Amelia's attendant was much less selfishly disposed. Few dependents could come near that kind and gentle creature without paying their usual tribute of loyalty and affection to her sweet and affectionate nature. And it is a fact that Pauline, the cook, consoled her mistress more than anybody whom she saw on this wretched morning; for when she found how Amelia remained for hours, silent, motionless, and haggard, by the windows in which she had placed herself to watch the last bayonets of the column as it marched away, the honest girl took the lady's hand, and said, Tenez, Madame, est- ce qu'il n'est pas aussi a l'armee, mon homme a moi? with which she burst into tears, and Amelia falling into her arms, did likewise, and so each pitied and soothed the other.

Several times during the forenoon Mr. Jos's Isidor went from his lodgings into the town, and to the gates of the hotels and lodging- houses round about the Parc, where the English were congregated, and there mingled with other valets, couriers, and lackeys, gathered such news as was abroad, and brought back bulletins for his master's information. Almost all these gentlemen were in heart partisans of the Emperor, and had their opinions about the speedy end of the campaign. The Emperor's proclamation from Avesnes had been distributed everywhere plentifully in Brussels. "Soldiers!" it said, "this is the anniversary of Marengo and Friedland, by which the destinies of Europe were twice decided. Then, as after Austerlitz, as after Wagram, we were too generous. We believed in the oaths and promises of princes whom we suffered to remain upon their thrones. Let us march once more to meet them. We and they, are we not still the same men? Soldiers! these same Prussians who are so arrogant to-day, were three to one against you at Jena, and six to one at Montmirail. Those among you who were prisoners in England can tell their comrades what frightful torments they suffered on board the English hulks. Madmen! a moment of prosperity has blinded them, and if they enter into France it will be to find a grave there!" But the partisans of the French prophesied a more speedy extermination of the Emperor's enemies than this; and it was agreed on all hands that Prussians and British would never return except as prisoners in the rear of the conquering army.

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