Some of Mrs. Rawdon Crawley's acquaintances, however, acknowledged her readily enough, — perhaps more readily than she would have desired. Among those were Major Loder (unattached), and Captain Rook (late of the Rifles), who might be seen any day on the Dike, smoking and staring at the women, and who speedily got an introduction to the hospitable board and select circle of Mr. Joseph Sedley. In fact they would take no denial; they burst into the house whether Becky was at home or not, walked into Mrs. Osborne's drawing-room, which they perfumed with their coats and mustachios, called Jos "Old buck," and invaded his dinner-table, and laughed and drank for long hours there.
"What can they mean?" asked Georgy, who did not like these gentlemen. "I heard the Major say to Mrs. Crawley yesterday, 'No, no, Becky, you shan't keep the old buck to yourself. We must have the bones in, or, dammy, I'll split.' What could the Major mean, Mamma?"
"Major! don't call him Major!" Emmy said. "I'm sure I can't tell what he meant." His presence and that of his friend inspired the little lady with intolerable terror and aversion. They paid her tipsy compliments; they leered at her over the dinner-table. And the Captain made her advances that filled her with sickening dismay, nor would she ever see him unless she had George by her side.
Rebecca, to do her justice, never would let either of these men remain alone with Amelia; the Major was disengaged too, and swore he would be the winner of her. A couple of ruffians were fighting for this innocent creature, gambling for her at her own table, and though she was not aware of the rascals' designs upon her, yet she felt a horror and uneasiness in their presence and longed to fly.
She besought, she entreated Jos to go. Not he. He was slow of movement, tied to his Doctor, and perhaps to some other leading- strings. At least Becky was not anxious to go to England.
At last she took a great resolution — made the great plunge. She wrote off a letter to a friend whom she had on the other side of the water, a letter about which she did not speak a word to anybody, which she carried herself to the post under her shawl; nor was any remark made about it, only that she looked very much flushed and agitated when Georgy met her, and she kissed him, and hung over him a great deal that night. She did not come out of her room after her return from her walk. Becky thought it was Major Loder and the Captain who frightened her.
"She mustn't stop here," Becky reasoned with herself. "She must go away, the silly little fool. She is still whimpering after that gaby of a husband — dead (and served right!) these fifteen years. She shan't marry either of these men. It's too bad of Loder. No; she shall marry the bamboo cane, I'll settle it this very night."
So Becky took a cup of tea to Amelia in her private apartment and found that lady in the company of her miniatures, and in a most melancholy and nervous condition. She laid down the cup of tea.
"Thank you," said Amelia.
"Listen to me, Amelia," said Becky, marching up and down the room before the other and surveying her with a sort of contemptuous kindness. "I want to talk to you. You must go away from here and from the impertinences of these men. I won't have you harassed by them: and they will insult you if you stay. I tell you they are rascals: men fit to send to the hulks. Never mind how I know them. I know everybody. Jos can't protect you; he is too weak and wants a protector himself. You are no more fit to live in the world than a baby in arms. You must marry, or you and your precious boy will go to ruin. You must have a husband, you fool; and one of the best gentlemen I ever saw has offered you a hundred times, and you have rejected him, you silly, heartless, ungrateful little creature!"
"I tried — I tried my best, indeed I did, Rebecca," said Amelia deprecatingly, "but I couldn't forget — "; and she finished the sentence by looking up at the portrait.
"Couldn't forget HIM!" cried out Becky, "that selfish humbug, that low-bred cockney dandy, that padded booby, who had neither wit, nor manners, nor heart, and was no more to be compared to your friend with the bamboo cane than you are to Queen Elizabeth. Why, the man was weary of you, and would have jilted you, but that Dobbin forced him to keep his word. He owned it to me. He never cared for you. He used to sneer about you to me, time after time, and made love to me the week after he married you."
"It's false! It's false! Rebecca," cried out Amelia, starting up.
"Look there, you fool," Becky said, still with provoking good humour, and taking a little paper out of her belt, she opened it and flung it into Emmy's lap. "You know his handwriting. He wrote that to me — wanted me to run away with him — gave it me under your nose, the day before he was shot — and served him right!" Becky repeated.
Emmy did not hear her; she was looking at the letter. It was that which George had put into the bouquet and given to Becky on the night of the Duchess of Richmond's ball. It was as she said: the foolish young man had asked her to fly.
Emmy's head sank down, and for almost the last time in which she shall be called upon to weep in this history, she commenced that work. Her head fell to her bosom, and her hands went up to her eyes; and there for a while, she gave way to her emotions, as Becky stood on and regarded her. Who shall analyse those tears and say whether they were sweet or bitter? Was she most grieved because the idol of her life was tumbled down and shivered at her feet, or indignant that her love had been so despised, or glad because the barrier was removed which modesty had placed between her and a new, a real affection? "There is nothing to forbid me now," she thought. "I may love him with all my heart now. Oh, I will, I will, if he will but let me and forgive me." I believe it was this feeling rushed over all the others which agitated that gentle little bosom.
Indeed, she did not cry so much as Becky expected — the other soothed and kissed her — a rare mark of sympathy with Mrs. Becky. She treated Emmy like a child and patted her head. "And now let us get pen and ink and write to him to come this minute," she said.
"I — I wrote to him this morning," Emmy said, blushing exceedingly. Becky screamed with laughter — "Un biglietto," she sang out with Rosina, "eccolo qua!" — the whole house echoed with her shrill singing.
Two mornings after this little scene, although the day was rainy and gusty, and Amelia had had an exceedingly wakeful night, listening to the wind roaring, and pitying all travellers by land and by water, yet she got up early and insisted upon taking a walk on the Dike with Georgy; and there she paced as the rain beat into her face, and she looked out westward across the dark sea line and over the swollen billows which came tumbling and frothing to the shore. Neither spoke much, except now and then, when the boy said a few words to his timid companion, indicative of sympathy and protection.
"I hope he won't cross in such weather," Emmy said.
"I bet ten to one he does," the boy answered. "Look, Mother, there's the smoke of the steamer." It was that signal, sure enough.
But though the steamer was under way, he might not be on board; he might not have got the letter; he might not choose to come. A hundred fears poured one over the other into the little heart, as fast as the waves on to the Dike.
The boat followed the smoke into sight. Georgy had a dandy telescope and got the vessel under view in the most skilful manner. And he made appropriate nautical comments upon the manner of the approach of the steamer as she came nearer and nearer, dipping and rising in the water. The signal of an English steamer in sight went fluttering up to the mast on the pier. I daresay Mrs. Amelia's heart was in a similar flutter.