"Not let Miss Sharp dine at table!" said she to Sir Pitt, who had arranged a dinner of ceremony, and asked all the neighbouring baronets. "My dear creature, do you suppose I can talk about the nursery with Lady Fuddleston, or discuss justices' business with that goose, old Sir Giles Wapshot? I insist upon Miss Sharp appearing. Let Lady Crawley remain upstairs, if there is no room. But little Miss Sharp! Why, she's the only person fit to talk to in the county!"
Of course, after such a peremptory order as this, Miss Sharp, the governess, received commands to dine with the illustrious company below stairs. And when Sir Huddleston had, with great pomp and ceremony, handed Miss Crawley in to dinner, and was preparing to take his place by her side, the old lady cried out, in a shrill voice, "Becky Sharp! Miss Sharp! Come you and sit by me and amuse me; and let Sir Huddleston sit by Lady Wapshot."
When the parties were over, and the carriages had rolled away, the insatiable Miss Crawley would say, "Come to my dressing room, Becky, and let us abuse the company" — which, between them, this pair of friends did perfectly. Old Sir Huddleston wheezed a great deal at dinner; Sir Giles Wapshot had a particularly noisy manner of imbibing his soup, and her ladyship a wink of the left eye; all of which Becky caricatured to admiration; as well as the particulars of the night's conversation; the politics; the war; the quarter- sessions; the famous run with the H.H., and those heavy and dreary themes, about which country gentlemen converse. As for the Misses Wapshot's toilettes and Lady Fuddleston's famous yellow hat, Miss Sharp tore them to tatters, to the infinite amusement of her audience.
"My dear, you are a perfect trouvaille," Miss Crawley would say. "I wish you could come to me in London, but I couldn't make a butt of you as I do of poor Briggs no, no, you little sly creature; you are too clever — Isn't she, Firkin?"
Mrs. Firkin (who was dressing the very small remnant of hair which remained on Miss Crawley's pate), flung up her head and said, "I think Miss is very clever," with the most killing sarcastic air. In fact, Mrs. Firkin had that natural jealousy which is one of the main principles of every honest woman.
After rebuffing Sir Huddleston Fuddleston, Miss Crawley ordered that Rawdon Crawley should lead her in to dinner every day, and that Becky should follow with her cushion — or else she would have Becky's arm and Rawdon with the pillow. "We must sit together," she said. "We're the only three Christians in the county, my love" — in which case, it must be confessed, that religion was at a very low ebb in the county of Hants.
Besides being such a fine religionist, Miss Crawley was, as we have said, an Ultra-liberal in opinions, and always took occasion to express these in the most candid manner.
"What is birth, my dear!" she would say to Rebecca — "Look at my brother Pitt; look at the Huddlestons, who have been here since Henry II; look at poor Bute at the parsonage — is any one of them equal to you in intelligence or breeding? Equal to you — they are not even equal to poor dear Briggs, my companion, or Bowls, my butler. You, my love, are a little paragon — positively a little jewel — You have more brains than half the shire — if merit had its reward you ought to be a Duchess — no, there ought to be no duchesses at all — but you ought to have no superior, and I consider you, my love, as my equal in every respect; and — will you put some coals on the fire, my dear; and will you pick this dress of mine, and alter it, you who can do it so well?" So this old philanthropist used to make her equal run of her errands, execute her millinery, and read her to sleep with French novels, every night.
At this time, as some old readers may recollect, the genteel world had been thrown into a considerable state of excitement by two events, which, as the papers say, might give employment to the gentlemen of the long robe. Ensign Shafton had run away with Lady Barbara Fitzurse, the Earl of Bruin's daughter and heiress; and poor Vere Vane, a gentleman who, up to forty, had maintained a most respectable character and reared a numerous family, suddenly and outrageously left his home, for the sake of Mrs. Rougemont, the actress, who was sixty-five years of age.
"That was the most beautiful part of dear Lord Nelson's character," Miss Crawley said. "He went to the deuce for a woman. There must be good in a man who will do that. I adore all impudent matches. — What I like best, is for a nobleman to marry a miller's daughter, as Lord Flowerdale did — it makes all the women so angry — I wish some great man would run away with you, my dear; I'm sure you're pretty enough."
"Two post-boys! — Oh, it would be delightful!" Rebecca owned.
"And what I like next best, is for a poor fellow to run away with a rich girl. I have set my heart on Rawdon running away with some one."
"A rich some one, or a poor some one?"
"Why, you goose! Rawdon has not a shilling but what I give him. He is crible de dettes — he must repair his fortunes, and succeed in the world."
"Is he very clever?" Rebecca asked.
"Clever, my love? — not an idea in the world beyond his horses, and his regiment, and his hunting, and his play; but he must succeed — he's so delightfully wicked. Don't you know he has hit a man, and shot an injured father through the hat only? He's adored in his regiment; and all the young men at Wattier's and the Cocoa-Tree swear by him."
When Miss Rebecca Sharp wrote to her beloved friend the account of the little ball at Queen's Crawley, and the manner in which, for the first time, Captain Crawley had distinguished her, she did not, strange to relate, give an altogether accurate account of the transaction. The Captain had distinguished her a great number of times before. The Captain had met her in a half-score of walks. The Captain had lighted upon her in a half-hundred of corridors and passages. The Captain had hung over her piano twenty times of an evening (my Lady was now upstairs, being ill, and nobody heeded her) as Miss Sharp sang. The Captain had written her notes (the best that the great blundering dragoon could devise and spell; but dulness gets on as well as any other quality with women). But when he put the first of the notes into the leaves of the song she was singing, the little governess, rising and looking him steadily in the face, took up the triangular missive daintily, and waved it about as if it were a cocked hat, and she, advancing to the enemy, popped the note into the fire, and made him a very low curtsey, and went back to her place, and began to sing away again more merrily than ever.
"What's that?" said Miss Crawley, interrupted in her after-dinner doze by the stoppage of the music.
"It's a false note," Miss Sharp said with a laugh; and Rawdon Crawley fumed with rage and mortification.
Seeing the evident partiality of Miss Crawley for the new governess, how good it was of Mrs. Bute Crawley not to be jealous, and to welcome the young lady to the Rectory, and not only her, but Rawdon Crawley, her husband's rival in the Old Maid's five per cents! They became very fond of each other's society, Mrs. Crawley and her nephew. He gave up hunting; he declined entertainments at Fuddleston: he would not dine with the mess of the depot at Mudbury: his great pleasure was to stroll over to Crawley parsonage — whither Miss Crawley came too; and as their mamma was ill, why not the children with Miss Sharp? So the children (little dears!) came with Miss Sharp; and of an evening some of the party would walk back together. Not Miss Crawley — she preferred her carriage — but the walk over the Rectory fields, and in at the little park wicket, and through the dark plantation, and up the checkered avenue to Queen's Crawley, was charming in the moonlight to two such lovers of the picturesque as the Captain and Miss Rebecca.