Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 36-38

To her Ladyship's surprise, however, Pitt declined to accommodate his brother with a cheque for thirty thousand pounds. But he made Rawdon a handsome offer of his hand whenever the latter should come to England and choose to take it; and, thanking Mrs. Crawley for her good opinion of himself and Lady Jane, he graciously pronounced his willingness to take any opportunity to serve her little boy.

Thus an almost reconciliation was brought about between the brothers. When Rebecca came to town Pitt and his wife were not in London. Many a time she drove by the old door in Park Lane to see whether they had taken possession of Miss Crawley's house there. But the new family did not make its appearance; it was only through Raggles that she heard of their movements — how Miss Crawley's domestics had been dismissed with decent gratuities, and how Mr. Pitt had only once made his appearance in London, when he stopped for a few days at the house, did business with his lawyers there, and sold off all Miss Crawley's French novels to a bookseller out of Bond Street. Becky had reasons of her own which caused her to long for the arrival of her new relation. "When Lady Jane comes," thought she, "she shall be my sponsor in London society; and as for the women! bah! the women will ask me when they find the men want to see me."

An article as necessary to a lady in this position as her brougham or her bouquet is her companion. I have always admired the way in which the tender creatures, who cannot exist without sympathy, hire an exceedingly plain friend of their own sex from whom they are almost inseparable. The sight of that inevitable woman in her faded gown seated behind her dear friend in the opera-box, or occupying the back seat of the barouche, is always a wholesome and moral one to me, as jolly a reminder as that of the Death's-head which figured in the repasts of Egyptian bon-vivants, a strange sardonic memorial of Vanity Fair. What? even battered, brazen, beautiful, conscienceless, heartless, Mrs. Firebrace, whose father died of her shame: even lovely, daring Mrs. Mantrap, who will ride at any fence which any man in England will take, and who drives her greys in the park, while her mother keeps a huckster's stall in Bath still — even those who are so bold, one might fancy they could face anything dare not face the world without a female friend. They must have somebody to cling to, the affectionate creatures! And you will hardly see them in any public place without a shabby companion in a dyed silk, sitting somewhere in the shade close behind them.

"Rawdon," said Becky, very late one night, as a party of gentlemen were seated round her crackling drawing-room fire (for the men came to her house to finish the night; and she had ice and coffee for them, the best in London): "I must have a sheep-dog."

"A what?" said Rawdon, looking up from an ecarte table.

"A sheep-dog!" said young Lord Southdown. "My dear Mrs. Crawley, what a fancy! Why not have a Danish dog? I know of one as big as a camel-leopard, by Jove. It would almost pull your brougham. Or a Persian greyhound, eh? (I propose, if you please); or a little pug that would go into one of Lord Steyne's snuff-boxes? There's a man at Bayswater got one with such a nose that you might — I mark the king and play — that you might hang your hat on it."

"I mark the trick," Rawdon gravely said. He attended to his game commonly and didn't much meddle with the conversation, except when it was about horses and betting.

"What CAN you want with a shepherd's dog?" the lively little Southdown continued.

"I mean a MORAL shepherd's dog," said Becky, laughing and looking up at Lord Steyne.

"What the devil's that?" said his Lordship.

"A dog to keep the wolves off me," Rebecca continued. "A companion."

"Dear little innocent lamb, you want one," said the marquis; and his jaw thrust out, and he began to grin hideously, his little eyes leering towards Rebecca.

The great Lord of Steyne was standing by the fire sipping coffee. The fire crackled and blazed pleasantly There was a score of candles sparkling round the mantel piece, in all sorts of quaint sconces, of gilt and bronze and porcelain. They lighted up Rebecca's figure to admiration, as she sat on a sofa covered with a pattern of gaudy flowers. She was in a pink dress that looked as fresh as a rose; her dazzling white arms and shoulders were half-covered with a thin hazy scarf through which they sparkled; her hair hung in curls round her neck; one of her little feet peeped out from the fresh crisp folds of the silk: the prettiest little foot in the prettiest little sandal in the finest silk stocking in the world.

The candles lighted up Lord Steyne's shining bald head, which was fringed with red hair. He had thick bushy eyebrows, with little twinkling bloodshot eyes, surrounded by a thousand wrinkles. His jaw was underhung, and when he laughed, two white buck-teeth protruded themselves and glistened savagely in the midst of the grin. He had been dining with royal personages, and wore his garter and ribbon. A short man was his Lordship, broad-chested and bow- legged, but proud of the fineness of his foot and ankle, and always caressing his garter-knee.

"And so the shepherd is not enough," said he, "to defend his lambkin?"

"The shepherd is too fond of playing at cards and going to his clubs," answered Becky, laughing.

"'Gad, what a debauched Corydon!" said my lord — "what a mouth for a pipe!"

"I take your three to two," here said Rawdon, at the card-table.

"Hark at Meliboeus," snarled the noble marquis; "he's pastorally occupied too: he's shearing a Southdown. What an innocent mutton, hey? Damme, what a snowy fleece!"

Rebecca's eyes shot out gleams of scornful humour. "My lord," she said, "you are a knight of the Order." He had the collar round his neck, indeed — a gift of the restored princes of Spain.

Lord Steyne in early life had been notorious for his daring and his success at play. He had sat up two days and two nights with Mr. Fox at hazard. He had won money of the most august personages of the realm: he had won his marquisate, it was said, at the gaming-table; but he did not like an allusion to those bygone fredaines. Rebecca saw the scowl gathering over his heavy brow.

She rose up from her sofa and went and took his coffee cup out of his hand with a little curtsey. "Yes," she said, "I must get a watchdog. But he won't bark at YOU." And, going into the other drawing-room, she sat down to the piano and began to sing little French songs in such a charming, thrilling voice that the mollified nobleman speedily followed her into that chamber, and might be seen nodding his head and bowing time over her.

Rawdon and his friend meanwhile played ecarte until they had enough. The Colonel won; but, say that he won ever so much and often, nights like these, which occurred many times in the week — his wife having all the talk and all the admiration, and he sitting silent without the circle, not comprehending a word of the jokes, the allusions, the mystical language within — must have been rather wearisome to the ex-dragoon.

"How is Mrs. Crawley's husband?" Lord Steyne used to say to him by way of a good day when they met; and indeed that was now his avocation in life. He was Colonel Crawley no more. He was Mrs. Crawley's husband.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Amelia considers George’s death the greatest tragedy that could befall her. Had he lived,




Quiz