Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 61-63

Yes, I think that will be the better ending of the two, after all. Suppose you are particularly rich and well-to-do and say on that last day, "I am very rich; I am tolerably well known; I have lived all my life in the best society, and thank Heaven, come of a most respectable family. I have served my King and country with honour. I was in Parliament for several years, where, I may say, my speeches were listened to and pretty well received. I don't owe any man a shilling: on the contrary, I lent my old college friend, Jack Lazarus, fifty pounds, for which my executors will not press him. I leave my daughters with ten thousand pounds apiece — very good portions for girls; I bequeath my plate and furniture, my house in Baker Street, with a handsome jointure, to my widow for her life; and my landed property, besides money in the funds, and my cellar of well-selected wine in Baker Street, to my son. I leave twenty pound a year to my valet; and I defy any man after I have gone to find anything against my character." Or suppose, on the other hand, your swan sings quite a different sort of dirge and you say, "I am a poor blighted, disappointed old fellow, and have made an utter failure through life. I was not endowed either with brains or with good fortune, and confess that I have committed a hundred mistakes and blunders. I own to having forgotten my duty many a time. I can't pay what I owe. On my last bed I lie utterly helpless and humble, and I pray forgiveness for my weakness and throw myself, with a contrite heart, at the feet of the Divine Mercy." Which of these two speeches, think you, would be the best oration for your own funeral? Old Sedley made the last; and in that humble frame of mind, and holding by the hand of his daughter, life and disappointment and vanity sank away from under him.

"You see," said old Osborne to George, "what comes of merit, and industry, and judicious speculations, and that. Look at me and my banker's account. Look at your poor Grandfather Sedley and his failure. And yet he was a better man than I was, this day twenty years — a better man, I should say, by ten thousand pound."

Beyond these people and Mr. Clapp's family, who came over from Brompton to pay a visit of condolence, not a single soul alive ever cared a penny piece about old John Sedley, or remembered the existence of such a person.

When old Osborne first heard from his friend Colonel Buckler (as little Georgy had already informed us) how distinguished an officer Major Dobbin was, he exhibited a great deal of scornful incredulity and expressed his surprise how ever such a feller as that should possess either brains or reputation. But he heard of the Major's fame from various members of his society. Sir William Dobbin had a great opinion of his son and narrated many stories illustrative of the Major's learning, valour, and estimation in the world's opinion. Finally, his name appeared in the lists of one or two great parties of the nobility, and this circumstance had a prodigious effect upon the old aristocrat of Russell Square.

The Major's position, as guardian to Georgy, whose possession had been ceded to his grandfather, rendered some meetings between the two gentlemen inevitable; and it was in one of these that old Osborne, a keen man of business, looking into the Major's accounts with his ward and the boy's mother, got a hint, which staggered him very much, and at once pained and pleased him, that it was out of William Dobbin's own pocket that a part of the fund had been supplied upon which the poor widow and the child had subsisted.

When pressed upon the point, Dobbin, who could not tell lies, blushed and stammered a good deal and finally confessed. "The marriage," he said (at which his interlocutor's face grew dark) "was very much my doing. I thought my poor friend had gone so far that retreat from his engagement would have been dishonour to him and death to Mrs. Osborne, and I could do no less, when she was left without resources, than give what money I could spare to maintain her."

"Major D.," Mr. Osborne said, looking hard at him and turning very red too — "you did me a great injury; but give me leave to tell you, sir, you are an honest feller. There's my hand, sir, though I little thought that my flesh and blood was living on you — " and the pair shook hands, with great confusion on Major Dobbin's part, thus found out in his act of charitable hypocrisy.

He strove to soften the old man and reconcile him towards his son's memory. "He was such a noble fellow," he said, "that all of us loved him, and would have done anything for him. I, as a young man in those days, was flattered beyond measure by his preference for me, and was more pleased to be seen in his company than in that of the Commander-in-Chief. I never saw his equal for pluck and daring and all the qualities of a soldier"; and Dobbin told the old father as many stories as he could remember regarding the gallantry and achievements of his son. "And Georgy is so like him," the Major added.

"He's so like him that he makes me tremble sometimes," the grandfather said.

On one or two evenings the Major came to dine with Mr. Osborne (it was during the time of the sickness of Mr. Sedley), and as the two sat together in the evening after dinner, all their talk was about the departed hero. The father boasted about him according to his wont, glorifying himself in recounting his son's feats and gallantry, but his mood was at any rate better and more charitable than that in which he had been disposed until now to regard the poor fellow; and the Christian heart of the kind Major was pleased at these symptoms of returning peace and good-will. On the second evening old Osborne called Dobbin William, just as he used to do at the time when Dobbin and George were boys together, and the honest gentleman was pleased by that mark of reconciliation.

On the next day at breakfast, when Miss Osborne, with the asperity of her age and character, ventured to make some remark reflecting slightingly upon the Major's appearance or behaviour — the master of the house interrupted her. "You'd have been glad enough to git him for yourself, Miss O. But them grapes are sour. Ha! ha! Major William is a fine feller."

"That he is, Grandpapa," said Georgy approvingly; and going up close to the old gentleman, he took a hold of his large grey whiskers, and laughed in his face good-humouredly, and kissed him. And he told the story at night to his mother, who fully agreed with the boy. "Indeed he is," she said. "Your dear father always said so. He is one of the best and most upright of men." Dobbin happened to drop in very soon after this conversation, which made Amelia blush perhaps, and the young scapegrace increased the confusion by telling Dobbin the other part of the story. "I say, Dob," he said, "there's such an uncommon nice girl wants to marry you. She's plenty of tin; she wears a front; and she scolds the servants from morning till night." "Who is it?" asked Dobbin. "It's Aunt O.," the boy answered. "Grandpapa said so. And I say, Dob, how prime it would be to have you for my uncle." Old Sedley's quavering voice from the next room at this moment weakly called for Amelia, and the laughing ended.

That old Osborne's mind was changing was pretty clear. He asked George about his uncle sometimes, and laughed at the boy's imitation of the way in which Jos said "God-bless-my-soul" and gobbled his soup. Then he said, "It's not respectful, sir, of you younkers to be imitating of your relations. Miss O., when you go out adriving to-day, leave my card upon Mr. Sedley, do you hear? There's no quarrel betwigst me and him anyhow."

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