Vanity Fair By William Makepeace Thackeray Chapters 8-11

Before the house of Queen's Crawley, which is an odious old- fashioned red brick mansion, with tall chimneys and gables of the style of Queen Bess, there is a terrace flanked by the family dove and serpent, and on which the great hall-door opens. And oh, my dear, the great hall I am sure is as big and as glum as the great hall in the dear castle of Udolpho. It has a large fireplace, in which we might put half Miss Pinkerton's school, and the grate is big enough to roast an ox at the very least. Round the room hang I don't know how many generations of Crawleys, some with beards and ruffs, some with huge wigs and toes turned out, some dressed in long straight stays and gowns that look as stiff as towers, and some with long ringlets, and oh, my dear! scarcely any stays at all. At one end of the hall is the great staircase all in black oak, as dismal as may be, and on either side are tall doors with stags' heads over them, leading to the billiard-room and the library, and the great yellow saloon and the morning-rooms. I think there are at least twenty bedrooms on the first floor; one of them has the bed in which Queen Elizabeth slept; and I have been taken by my new pupils through all these fine apartments this morning. They are not rendered less gloomy, I promise you, by having the shutters always shut; and there is scarce one of the apartments, but when the light was let into it, I expected to see a ghost in the room. We have a schoolroom on the second floor, with my bedroom leading into it on one side, and that of the young ladies on the other. Then there are Mr. Pitt's apartments — Mr. Crawley, he is called — the eldest son, and Mr. Rawdon Crawley's rooms — he is an officer like SOMEBODY, and away with his regiment. There is no want of room I assure you. You might lodge all the people in Russell Square in the house, I think, and have space to spare.

Half an hour after our arrival, the great dinner-bell was rung, and I came down with my two pupils (they are very thin insignificant little chits of ten and eight years old). I came down in your dear muslin gown (about which that odious Mrs. Pinner was so rude, because you gave it me); for I am to be treated as one of the family, except on company days, when the young ladies and I are to dine upstairs.

Well, the great dinner-bell rang, and we all assembled in the little drawing-room where my Lady Crawley sits. She is the second Lady Crawley, and mother of the young ladies. She was an ironmonger's daughter, and her marriage was thought a great match. She looks as if she had been handsome once, and her eyes are always weeping for the loss of her beauty. She is pale and meagre and high-shouldered, and has not a word to say for herself, evidently. Her stepson Mr. Crawley, was likewise in the room. He was in full dress, as pompous as an undertaker. He is pale, thin, ugly, silent; he has thin legs, no chest, hay-coloured whiskers, and straw-coloured hair. He is the very picture of his sainted mother over the mantelpiece — Griselda of the noble house of Binkie.

"This is the new governess, Mr. Crawley," said Lady Crawley, coming forward and taking my hand. "Miss Sharp."

"O!" said Mr. Crawley, and pushed his head once forward and began again to read a great pamphlet with which he was busy.

"I hope you will be kind to my girls," said Lady Crawley, with her pink eyes always full of tears.

"Law, Ma, of course she will," said the eldest: and I saw at a glance that I need not be afraid of THAT woman. "My lady is served," says the butler in black, in an immense white shirt-frill, that looked as if it had been one of the Queen Elizabeth's ruffs depicted in the hall; and so, taking Mr. Crawley's arm, she led the way to the dining-room, whither I followed with my little pupils in each hand.

Sir Pitt was already in the room with a silver jug. He had just been to the cellar, and was in full dress too; that is, he had taken his gaiters off, and showed his little dumpy legs in black worsted stockings. The sideboard was covered with glistening old plate — old cups, both gold and silver; old salvers and cruet-stands, like Rundell and Bridge's shop. Everything on the table was in silver too, and two footmen, with red hair and canary-coloured liveries, stood on either side of the sideboard.

Mr. Crawley said a long grace, and Sir Pitt said amen, and the great silver dish-covers were removed.

"What have we for dinner, Betsy?' said the Baronet.

"Mutton broth, I believe, Sir Pitt," answered Lady Crawley.

"Mouton aux navets," added the butler gravely (pronounce, if you please, moutongonavvy); "and the soup is potage de mouton a l'Ecossaise. The side-dishes contain pommes de terre au naturel, and choufleur a l'eau."

"Mutton's mutton," said the Baronet, "and a devilish good thing. What SHIP was it, Horrocks, and when did you kill?" "One of the black-faced Scotch, Sir Pitt: we killed on Thursday.

"Who took any?"

"Steel, of Mudbury, took the saddle and two legs, Sir Pitt; but he says the last was too young and confounded woolly, Sir Pitt."

"Will you take some potage, Miss ah — Miss Blunt? said Mr. Crawley.

"Capital Scotch broth, my dear," said Sir Pitt, "though they call it by a French name."

"I believe it is the custom, sir, in decent society," said Mr. Crawley, haughtily, "to call the dish as I have called it"; and it was served to us on silver soup plates by the footmen in the canary coats, with the mouton aux navets. Then "ale and water" were brought, and served to us young ladies in wine- glasses. I am not a judge of ale, but I can say with a clear conscience I prefer water.

While we were enjoying our repast, Sir Pitt took occasion to ask what had become of the shoulders of the mutton.

"I believe they were eaten in the servants' hall," said my lady, humbly.

"They was, my lady," said Horrocks, "and precious little else we get there neither."

Sir Pitt burst into a horse-laugh, and continued his conversation with Mr. Horrocks. "That there little black pig of the Kent sow's breed must be uncommon fat now."

"It's not quite busting, Sir Pitt," said the butler with the gravest air, at which Sir Pitt, and with him the young ladies, this time, began to laugh violently.

"Miss Crawley, Miss Rose Crawley," said Mr. Crawley, "your laughter strikes me as being exceedingly out of place."

"Never mind, my lord," said the Baronet, "we'll try the porker on Saturday. Kill un on Saturday morning, John Horrocks. Miss Sharp adores pork, don't you, Miss Sharp?"

And I think this is all the conversation that I remember at dinner. When the repast was concluded a jug of hot water was placed before Sir Pitt, with a case-bottle containing, I believe, rum. Mr. Horrocks served myself and my pupils with three little glasses of wine, and a bumper was poured out for my lady. When we retired, she took from her work-drawer an enormous interminable piece of knitting; the young ladies began to play at cribbage with a dirty pack of cards. We had but one candle lighted, but it was in a magnificent old silver candlestick, and after a very few questions from my lady, I had my choice of amusement between a volume of sermons, and a pamphlet on the corn-laws, which Mr. Crawley had been reading before dinner.

So we sat for an hour until steps were heard.

"Put away the cards, girls," cried my lady, in a great tremor; "put down Mr. Crawley's books, Miss Sharp"; and these orders had been scarcely obeyed, when Mr. Crawley entered the room.

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