These opinions in the course of the day were brought to operate upon Mr. Sedley. He was told that the Duke of Wellington had gone to try and rally his army, the advance of which had been utterly crushed the night before.
"Crushed, psha!" said Jos, whose heart was pretty stout at breakfast-time. "The Duke has gone to beat the Emperor as he has beaten all his generals before."
"His papers are burned, his effects are removed, and his quarters are being got ready for the Duke of Dalmatia," Jos's informant replied. "I had it from his own maitre d'hotel. Milor Duc de Richemont's people are packing up everything. His Grace has fled already, and the Duchess is only waiting to see the plate packed to join the King of France at Ostend."
"The King of France is at Ghent, fellow," replied Jos, affecting incredulity.
"He fled last night to Bruges, and embarks today from Ostend. The Duc de Berri is taken prisoner. Those who wish to be safe had better go soon, for the dykes will be opened to-morrow, and who can fly when the whole country is under water?"
"Nonsense, sir, we are three to one, sir, against any force Boney can bring into the field," Mr. Sedley objected; "the Austrians and the Russians are on their march. He must, he shall be crushed," Jos said, slapping his hand on the table.
"The Prussians were three to one at Jena, and he took their army and kingdom in a week. They were six to one at Montmirail, and he scattered them like sheep. The Austrian army is coming, but with the Empress and the King of Rome at its head; and the Russians, bah! the Russians will withdraw. No quarter is to be given to the English, on account of their cruelty to our braves on board the infamous pontoons. Look here, here it is in black and white. Here's the proclamation of his Majesty the Emperor and King," said the now declared partisan of Napoleon, and taking the document from his pocket, Isidor sternly thrust it into his master's face, and already looked upon the frogged coat and valuables as his own spoil.
Jos was, if not seriously alarmed as yet, at least considerably disturbed in mind. "Give me my coat and cap, sir, said he, "and follow me. I will go myself and learn the truth of these reports." Isidor was furious as Jos put on the braided frock. "Milor had better not wear that military coat," said he; "the Frenchmen have sworn not to give quarter to a single British soldier."
"Silence, sirrah!" said Jos, with a resolute countenance still, and thrust his arm into the sleeve with indomitable resolution, in the performance of which heroic act he was found by Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, who at this juncture came up to visit Amelia, and entered without ringing at the antechamber door.
Rebecca was dressed very neatly and smartly, as usual: her quiet sleep after Rawdon's departure had refreshed her, and her pink smiling cheeks were quite pleasant to look at, in a town and on a day when everybody else's countenance wore the appearance of the deepest anxiety and gloom. She laughed at the attitude in which Jos was discovered, and the struggles and convulsions with which the stout gentleman thrust himself into the braided coat.
"Are you preparing to join the army, Mr. Joseph?" she said. "Is there to be nobody left in Brussels to protect us poor women?" Jos succeeded in plunging into the coat, and came forward blushing and stuttering out excuses to his fair visitor. "How was she after the events of the morning — after the fatigues of the ball the night before?" Monsieur Isidor disappeared into his master's adjacent bedroom, bearing off the flowered dressing-gown.
"How good of you to ask," said she, pressing one of his hands in both her own. "How cool and collected you look when everybody else is frightened! How is our dear little Emmy? It must have been an awful, awful parting."
"Tremendous," Jos said.
"You men can bear anything," replied the lady. "Parting or danger are nothing to you. Own now that you were going to join the army and leave us to our fate. I know you were — something tells me you were. I was so frightened, when the thought came into my head (for I do sometimes think of you when I am alone, Mr. Joseph), that I ran off immediately to beg and entreat you not to fly from us."
This speech might be interpreted, "My dear sir, should an accident befall the army, and a retreat be necessary, you have a very comfortable carriage, in which I propose to take a seat." I don't know whether Jos understood the words in this sense. But he was profoundly mortified by the lady's inattention to him during their stay at Brussels. He had never been presented to any of Rawdon Crawley's great acquaintances: he had scarcely been invited to Rebecca's parties; for he was too timid to play much, and his presence bored George and Rawdon equally, who neither of them, perhaps, liked to have a witness of the amusements in which the pair chose to indulge. "Ah!" thought Jos, "now she wants me she comes to me. When there is nobody else in the way she can think about old Joseph Sedley!" But besides these doubts he felt flattered at the idea Rebecca expressed of his courage.
He blushed a good deal, and put on an air of importance. "I should like to see the action," he said. "Every man of any spirit would, you know. I've seen a little service in India, but nothing on this grand scale."
"You men would sacrifice anything for a pleasure," Rebecca answered. "Captain Crawley left me this morning as gay as if he were going to a hunting party. What does he care? What do any of you care for the agonies and tortures of a poor forsaken woman? (I wonder whether he could really have been going to the troops, this great lazy gourmand?) Oh! dear Mr. Sedley, I have come to you for comfort — for consolation. I have been on my knees all the morning. I tremble at the frightful danger into which our husbands, our friends, our brave troops and allies, are rushing. And I come here for shelter, and find another of my friends — the last remaining to me — bent upon plunging into the dreadful scene!"
"My dear madam," Jos replied, now beginning to be quite soothed, "don't be alarmed. I only said I should like to go — what Briton would not? But my duty keeps me here: I can't leave that poor creature in the next room." And he pointed with his finger to the door of the chamber in which Amelia was.
"Good noble brother!" Rebecca said, putting her handkerchief to her eyes, and smelling the eau-de-cologne with which it was scented. "I have done you injustice: you have got a heart. I thought you had not."
"O, upon my honour!" Jos said, making a motion as if he would lay his hand upon the spot in question. "You do me injustice, indeed you do — my dear Mrs. Crawley."
"I do, now your heart is true to your sister. But I remember two years ago — when it was false to me!" Rebecca said, fixing her eyes upon him for an instant, and then turning away into the window.
Jos blushed violently. That organ which he was accused by Rebecca of not possessing began to thump tumultuously. He recalled the days when he had fled from her, and the passion which had once inflamed him — the days when he had driven her in his curricle: when she had knit the green purse for him: when he had sate enraptured gazing at her white arms and bright eyes.
"I know you think me ungrateful," Rebecca continued, coming out of the window, and once more looking at him and addressing him in a low tremulous voice. "Your coldness, your averted looks, your manner when we have met of late — when I came in just now, all proved it to me. But were there no reasons why I should avoid you? Let your own heart answer that question. Do you think my husband was too much inclined to welcome you? The only unkind words I have ever had from him (I will do Captain Crawley that justice) have been about you — and most cruel, cruel words they were."