"I believe I am the head of this family," Sir Pitt repeated; "and however much I may regret any circumstance which may lead to your Ladyship quitting this house, must, if you please, continue to govern it as I see fit."
Lady Southdown rose up as magnificent as Mrs. Siddons in Lady Macbeth and ordered that horses might be put to her carriage. If her son and daughter turned her out of their house, she would hide her sorrows somewhere in loneliness and pray for their conversion to better thoughts.
"We don't turn you out of our house, Mamma," said the timid Lady Jane imploringly.
"You invite such company to it as no Christian lady should meet, and I will have my horses to-morrow morning."
"Have the goodness to write, Jane, under my dictation," said Sir Pitt, rising and throwing himself into an attitude of command, like the portrait of a Gentleman in the Exhibition, "and begin. 'Queen's Crawley, September 14, 1822. — My dear brother — '"
Hearing these decisive and terrible words, Lady Macbeth, who had been waiting for a sign of weakness or vacillation on the part of her son-in-law, rose and, with a scared look, left the library. Lady Jane looked up to her husband as if she would fain follow and soothe her mamma, but Pitt forbade his wife to move.
"She won't go away," he said. "She has let her house at Brighton and has spent her last half-year's dividends. A Countess living at an inn is a ruined woman. I have been waiting long for an opportunity — to take this — this decisive step, my love; for, as you must perceive, it is impossible that there should be two chiefs in a family: and now, if you please, we will resume the dictation. 'My dear brother, the melancholy intelligence which it is my duty to convey to my family must have been long anticipated by,'" &c.
In a word, Pitt having come to his kingdom, and having by good luck, or desert rather, as he considered, assumed almost all the fortune which his other relatives had expected, was determined to treat his family kindly and respectably and make a house of Queen's Crawley once more. It pleased him to think that he should be its chief. He proposed to use the vast influence that his commanding talents and position must speedily acquire for him in the county to get his brother placed and his cousins decently provided for, and perhaps had a little sting of repentance as he thought that he was the proprietor of all that they had hoped for. In the course of three or four days' reign his bearing was changed and his plans quite fixed: he determined to rule justly and honestly, to depose Lady Southdown, and to be on the friendliest possible terms with all the relations of his blood.
So he dictated a letter to his brother Rawdon — a solemn and elaborate letter, containing the profoundest observations, couched in the longest words, and filling with wonder the simple little secretary, who wrote under her husband's order. "What an orator this will be," thought she, "when he enters the House of Commons" (on which point, and on the tyranny of Lady Southdown, Pitt had sometimes dropped hints to his wife in bed); "how wise and good, and what a genius my husband is! I fancied him a little cold; but how good, and what a genius!"
The fact is, Pitt Crawley had got every word of the letter by heart and had studied it, with diplomatic secrecy, deeply and perfectly, long before he thought fit to communicate it to his astonished wife.
This letter, with a huge black border and seal, was accordingly despatched by Sir Pitt Crawley to his brother the Colonel, in London. Rawdon Crawley was but half-pleased at the receipt of it. "What's the use of going down to that stupid place?" thought he. "I can't stand being alone with Pitt after dinner, and horses there and back will cost us twenty pound."
He carried the letter, as he did all difficulties, to Becky, upstairs in her bedroom — with her chocolate, which he always made and took to her of a morning.
He put the tray with the breakfast and the letter on the dressing- table, before which Becky sat combing her yellow hair. She took up the black-edged missive, and having read it, she jumped up from the chair, crying "Hurray!" and waving the note round her head.
"Hurray?" said Rawdon, wondering at the little figure capering about in a streaming flannel dressing-gown, with tawny locks dishevelled. "He's not left us anything, Becky. I had my share when I came of age."
"You'll never be of age, you silly old man," Becky replied. "Run out now to Madam Brunoy's, for I must have some mourning: and get a crape on your hat, and a black waistcoat — I don't think you've got one; order it to be brought home to-morrow, so that we may be able to start on Thursday."
"You don't mean to go?" Rawdon interposed.
"Of course I mean to go. I mean that Lady Jane shall present me at Court next year. I mean that your brother shall give you a seat in Parliament, you stupid old creature. I mean that Lord Steyne shall have your vote and his, my dear, old silly man; and that you shall be an Irish Secretary, or a West Indian Governor: or a Treasurer, or a Consul, or some such thing."
"Posting will cost a dooce of a lot of money," grumbled Rawdon.
"We might take Southdown's carriage, which ought to be present at the funeral, as he is a relation of the family: but, no — I intend that we shall go by the coach. They'll like it better. It seems more humble — "
"Rawdy goes, of course?" the Colonel asked.
"No such thing; why pay an extra place? He's too big to travel bodkin between you and me. Let him stay here in the nursery, and Briggs can make him a black frock. Go you, and do as I bid you. And you had best tell Sparks, your man, that old Sir Pitt is dead and that you will come in for something considerable when the affairs are arranged. He'll tell this to Raggles, who has been pressing for money, and it will console poor Raggles." And so Becky began sipping her chocolate.
When the faithful Lord Steyne arrived in the evening, he found Becky and her companion, who was no other than our friend Briggs, busy cutting, ripping, snipping, and tearing all sorts of black stuffs available for the melancholy occasion.
"Miss Briggs and I are plunged in grief and despondency for the death of our Papa," Rebecca said. "Sir Pitt Crawley is dead, my lord. We have been tearing our hair all the morning, and now we are tearing up our old clothes."
"Oh, Rebecca, how can you — " was all that Briggs could say as she turned up her eyes.
"Oh, Rebecca, how can you — " echoed my Lord. "So that old scoundrel's dead, is he? He might have been a Peer if he had played his cards better. Mr. Pitt had very nearly made him; but he ratted always at the wrong time. What an old Silenus it was!"
"I might have been Silenus's widow," said Rebecca. "Don't you remember, Miss Briggs, how you peeped in at the door and saw old Sir Pitt on his knees to me?" Miss Briggs, our old friend, blushed very much at this reminiscence, and was glad when Lord Steyne ordered her to go downstairs and make him a cup of tea.