Contact: Juli Rew, email@example.com
BEFORE THE CURTAIN
As the manager of the Performance sits before the curtain
on the boards and looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound
melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place.
There is a great quantity of eating and drinking, making love
and jilting, laughing and the contrary, smoking, cheating,
fighting, dancing and fiddling; there are bullies pushing about,
bucks ogling the women, knaves picking pockets, policemen
on the look-out, quacks (OTHER quacks, plague take them!)
bawling in front of their booths, and yokels looking up at
the tinselled dancers and poor old rouged tumblers, while the
light-fingered folk are operating upon their pockets behind.
Yes, this is VANITY FAIR; not a moral place certainly; nor a
merry one, though very noisy. Look at the faces of the actors
and buffoons when they come off from their business; and
Tom Fool washing the paint off his cheeks before he sits down
to dinner with his wife and the little Jack Puddings behind
the canvas. The curtain will be up presently, and he will be
turning over head and heels, and crying, "How are you?"
A man with a reflective turn of mind, walking through an
exhibition of this sort, will not be oppressed, I take it, by his
own or other people's hilarity. An episode of humour or kindness
touches and amuses him here and there--a pretty child
looking at a gingerbread stall; a pretty girl blushing whilst her
lover talks to her and chooses her fairing; poor Tom Fool,
yonder behind the waggon, mumbling his bone with the honest
family which lives by his tumbling; but the general impression
is one more melancholy than mirthful. When you come home
you sit down in a sober, contemplative, not uncharitable frame
of mind, and apply yourself to your books or your business.
I have no other moral than this to tag to the present story
of "Vanity Fair." Some people consider Fairs immoral altogether,
and eschew such, with their servants and families: very
likely they are right. But persons who think otherwise, and are
of a lazy, or a benevolent, or a sarcastic mood, may perhaps
like to step in for half an hour, and look at the performances.
There are scenes of all sorts; some dreadful combats, some
grand and lofty horse-riding, some scenes of high life, and
some of very middling indeed; some love-making for the
sentimental, and some light comic business; the whole
accompanied by appropriate scenery and brilliantly illuminated
with the Author's own candles.
What more has the Manager of the Performance to say?--
To acknowledge the kindness with which it has been received
in all the principal towns of England through which the Show
has passed, and where it has been most favourably noticed by
the respected conductors of the public Press, and by the Nobility
and Gentry. He is proud to think that his Puppets have given
satisfaction to the very best company in this empire. The
famous little Becky Puppet has been pronounced to be uncommonly
flexible in the joints, and lively on the wire; the Amelia
Doll, though it has had a smaller circle of admirers, has yet
been carved and dressed with the greatest care by the artist; the
Dobbin Figure, though apparently clumsy, yet dances in a very
amusing and natural manner; the Little Boys' Dance has been
liked by some; and please to remark the richly dressed figure
of the Wicked Nobleman, on which no expense has been
spared, and which Old Nick will fetch away at the end of this
And with this, and a profound bow to his patrons, the
Manager retires, and the curtain rises.
LONDON, June 28, 1848
While the present century was in its teens, and on one
sunshiny morning in June, there drove up to the great
iron gate of Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies,
on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat
horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in
a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles
an hour. A black servant, who reposed on the box beside
the fat coachman, uncurled his bandy legs as soon as
the equipage drew up opposite Miss Pinkerton's shining
brass plate, and as he pulled the bell at least a score of
young heads were seen peering out of the narrow windows
of the stately old brick house. Nay, the acute observer might
have recognized the little red nose of good-natured Miss
Jemima Pinkerton herself, rising over some geranium pots
in the window of that lady's own drawing-room.
"It is Mrs. Sedley's coach, sister," said Miss Jemima.
"Sambo, the black servant, has just rung the bell; and
the coachman has a new red waistcoat."
"Have you completed all the necessary preparations
incident to Miss Sedley's departure, Miss Jemima?" asked
Miss Pinkerton herself, that majestic lady; the Semiramis
of Hammersmith, the friend of Doctor Johnson, the
correspondent of Mrs. Chapone herself.
"The girls were up at four this morning, packing her
trunks, sister," replied Miss Jemima; "we have made her
"Say a bouquet, sister Jemima, 'tis more genteel."
"Well, a booky as big almost as a haystack; I have put
up two bottles of the gillyflower water for Mrs. Sedley,
and the receipt for making it, in Amelia's box."
"And I trust, Miss Jemima, you have made a copy of
Miss Sedley's account. This is it, is it? Very good--ninety-
three pounds, four shillings. Be kind enough to address it
to John Sedley, Esquire, and to seal this billet which I
have written to his lady."
In Miss Jemima's eyes an autograph letter of her sister,
Miss Pinkerton, was an object of as deep veneration as
would have been a letter from a sovereign. Only when
her pupils quitted the establishment, or when they were
about to be married, and once, when poor Miss Birch
died of the scarlet fever, was Miss Pinkerton known to
write personally to the parents of her pupils; and it was
Jemima's opinion that if anything could console Mrs.
Birch for her daughter's loss, it would be that pious and
eloquent composition in which Miss Pinkerton announced
In the present instance Miss Pinkerton's "billet" was
to the following effect:--
The Mall, Chiswick, June 15, 18
MADAM,--After her six years' residence at the Mall, I
have the honour and happiness of presenting Miss Amelia
Sedley to her parents, as a young lady not unworthy
to occupy a fitting position in their polished and refined
circle. Those virtues which characterize the young English gentlewoman, those accomplishments which become
her birth and station, will not be found wanting in the
amiable Miss Sedley, whose INDUSTRY and OBEDIENCE
have endeared her to her instructors, and whose delightful sweetness of temper has charmed her AGED and her
In music, in dancing, in orthography, in every variety
of embroidery and needlework, she will be found to
have realized her friends' fondest wishes. In geography
there is still much to be desired; and a careful and
undeviating use of the backboard, for four hours daily
during the next three years, is recommended as necessary
to the acquirement of that dignified DEPORTMENT AND
CARRIAGE, so requisite for every young lady of fashion.
In the principles of religion and morality, Miss Sedley
will be found worthy of an establishment which has
been honoured by the presence of THE GREAT LEXICOGRAPHER,
and the patronage of the admirable Mrs. Chapone. In leaving
the Mall, Miss Amelia carries with her the hearts of her
companions, and the affectionate regards of her mistress,
who has the honour to subscribe herself,
Your most obliged humble servant,
P.S.--Miss Sharp accompanies Miss Sedley. It is particularly requested that Miss Sharp's stay in Russell Square may not
exceed ten days. The family of distinction with whom she is
engaged, desire to avail themselves of her services as soon as possible.
This letter completed, Miss Pinkerton proceeded to
write her own name, and Miss Sedley's, in the fly-leaf of
a Johnson's Dictionary--the interesting work which she
invariably presented to her scholars, on their departure
from the Mall. On the cover was inserted a copy of "Lines
addressed to a young lady on quitting Miss Pinkerton's
school, at the Mall; by the late revered Doctor Samuel
Johnson." In fact, the Lexicographer's name was always
on the lips of this majestic woman, and a visit he had
paid to her was the cause of her reputation and her fortune.
Being commanded by her elder sister to get "the Dictionary"
from the cupboard, Miss Jemima had extracted two copies
of the book from the receptacle in question. When Miss
Pinkerton had finished the inscription in the first, Jemima,
with rather a dubious and timid air, handed her the second.
"For whom is this, Miss Jemima?" said Miss Pinkerton,
with awful coldness.
"For Becky Sharp," answered Jemima, trembling very
much, and blushing over her withered face and neck, as
she turned her back on her sister. "For Becky Sharp:
she's going too."
"MISS JEMIMA!" exclaimed Miss Pinkerton, in the
largest capitals. "Are you in your senses? Replace the
Dixonary in the closet, and never venture to take such
a liberty in future."
"Well, sister, it's only two-and-ninepence, and poor
Becky will be miserable if she don't get one."
"Send Miss Sedley instantly to me," said Miss Pinkerton.
And so venturing not to say another word, poor
Jemima trotted off, exceedingly flurried and nervous.
Miss Sedley's papa was a merchant in London, and a
man of some wealth; whereas Miss Sharp was an articled
pupil, for whom Miss Pinkerton had done, as she thought,
quite enough, without conferring upon her at parting the
high honour of the Dixonary.
Although schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no
more nor less than churchyard epitaphs; yet, as it sometimes happens that a person departs this life who is really
deserving of all the praises the stone cutter carves over
his bones; who IS a good Christian, a good parent, child,
wife, or husband; who actually DOES leave a disconsolate
family to mourn his loss; so in academies of the male
and female sex it occurs every now and then that the
pupil is fully worthy of the praises bestowed by the
disinterested instructor. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a
young lady of this singular species; and deserved not only
all that Miss Pinkerton said in her praise, but had many
charming qualities which that pompous old Minerva of a
woman could not see, from the differences of rank and
age between her pupil and herself.
For she could not only sing like a lark, or a Mrs.
Billington, and dance like Hillisberg or Parisot; and
embroider beautifully; and spell as well as a Dixonary
itself; but she had such a kindly, smiling, tender, gentle,
generous heart of her own, as won the love of everybody
who came near her, from Minerva herself down to the poor
girl in the scullery, and the one-eyed tart-woman's
daughter, who was permitted to vend her wares once a
week to the young ladies in the Mall. She had twelve intimate
and bosom friends out of the twenty-four young ladies.
Even envious Miss Briggs never spoke ill of her; high
and mighty Miss Saltire (Lord Dexter's granddaughter)
allowed that her figure was genteel; and as for Miss
Swartz, the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's, on
the day Amelia went away, she was in such a passion of
tears that they were obliged to send for Dr. Floss, and half
tipsify her with salvolatile. Miss Pinkerton's attachment
was, as may be supposed from the high position and
eminent virtues of that lady, calm and dignified; but Miss
Jemima had already whimpered several times at the idea
of Amelia's departure; and, but for fear of her sister,
would have gone off in downright hysterics, like the
heiress (who paid double) of St. Kitt's. Such luxury of
grief, however, is only allowed to parlour-boarders.
Honest Jemima had all the bills, and the washing, and the
mending, and the puddings, and the plate and crockery,
and the servants to superintend. But why speak about
her? It is probable that we shall not hear of her again
from this moment to the end of time, and that when the
great filigree iron gates are once closed on her, she and
her awful sister will never issue therefrom into this little
world of history.
But as we are to see a great deal of Amelia, there is
no harm in saying, at the outset of our acquaintance, that
she was a dear little creature; and a great mercy it is,
both in life and in novels, which (and the latter especially)
abound in villains of the most sombre sort, that
we are to have for a constant companion so guileless
and good-natured a person. As she is not a heroine, there
is no need to describe her person; indeed I am afraid
that her nose was rather short than otherwise, and her
cheeks a great deal too round and red for a heroine; but
her face blushed with rosy health, and her lips with the
freshest of smiles, and she had a pair of eyes which
sparkled with the brightest and honestest good-humour,
except indeed when they filled with tears, and that was
a great deal too often; for the silly thing would cry over
a dead canary-bird; or over a mouse, that the cat haply
had seized upon; or over the end of a novel, were it ever
so stupid; and as for saying an unkind word to her, were
any persons hard-hearted enough to do so--why, so much
the worse for them. Even Miss Pinkerton, that austere
and godlike woman, ceased scolding her after the first
time, and though she no more comprehended sensibility
than she did Algebra, gave all masters and teachers
particular orders to treat Miss Sedley with the utmost
gentleness, as harsh treatment was injurious to her.
So that when the day of departure came, between her
two customs of laughing and crying, Miss Sedley was
greatly puzzled how to act. She was glad to go home,
and yet most woefully sad at leaving school. For three
days before, little Laura Martin, the orphan, followed her
about like a little dog. She had to make and receive at
least fourteen presents--to make fourteen solemn promises
of writing every week: "Send my letters under cover
to my grandpapa, the Earl of Dexter," said Miss Saltire
(who, by the way, was rather shabby). "Never mind the
postage, but write every day, you dear darling," said the
impetuous and woolly-headed, but generous and
affectionate Miss Swartz; and the orphan little Laura Martin
(who was just in round-hand), took her friend's hand
and said, looking up in her face wistfully, "Amelia, when
I write to you I shall call you Mamma." All which details,
I have no doubt, JONES, who reads this book at his
Club, will pronounce to be excessively foolish, trivial,
twaddling, and ultra-sentimental. Yes; I can see Jones
at this minute (rather flushed with his joint of mutton
and half pint of wine), taking out his pencil and scoring
under the words "foolish, twaddling," &c., and adding to
them his own remark of "QUITE TRUE." Well, he is a lofty
man of genius, and admires the great and heroic in life
and novels; and so had better take warning and go elsewhere.
Well, then. The flowers, and the presents, and the
trunks, and bonnet-boxes of Miss Sedley having been
arranged by Mr. Sambo in the carriage, together with a
very small and weather-beaten old cow's-skin trunk with
Miss Sharp's card neatly nailed upon it, which was
delivered by Sambo with a grin, and packed by the
coachman with a corresponding sneer--the hour for parting
came; and the grief of that moment was considerably
lessened by the admirable discourse which Miss Pinkerton
addressed to her pupil. Not that the parting speech caused
Amelia to philosophise, or that it armed her in any
way with a calmness, the result of argument; but it was
intolerably dull, pompous, and tedious; and having the
fear of her schoolmistress greatly before her eyes, Miss
Sedley did not venture, in her presence, to give way to
any ebullitions of private grief. A seed-cake and a bottle
of wine were produced in the drawing-room, as on the
solemn occasions of the visits of parents, and these
refreshments being partaken of, Miss Sedley was at
liberty to depart.
"You'll go in and say good-by to Miss Pinkerton,
Becky!" said Miss Jemima to a young lady of whom
nobody took any notice, and who was coming downstairs
with her own bandbox.
"I suppose I must," said Miss Sharp calmly, and much
to the wonder of Miss Jemima; and the latter having
knocked at the door, and receiving permission to come
in, Miss Sharp advanced in a very unconcerned manner,
and said in French, and with a perfect accent, "Mademoiselle,
je viens vous faire mes adieux."
Miss Pinkerton did not understand French; she only
directed those who did: but biting her lips and throwing
up her venerable and Roman-nosed head (on the top of
which figured a large and solemn turban), she said, "Miss
Sharp, I wish you a good morning." As the Hammersmith
Semiramis spoke, she waved one hand, both by way of
adieu, and to give Miss Sharp an opportunity of shaking
one of the fingers of the hand which was left out for
Miss Sharp only folded her own hands with a very
frigid smile and bow, and quite declined to accept the
proffered honour; on which Semiramis tossed up her
turban more indignantly than ever. In fact, it was a little
battle between the young lady and the old one, and the
latter was worsted. "Heaven bless you, my child," said
she, embracing Amelia, and scowling the while over the
girl's shoulder at Miss Sharp. "Come away, Becky," said
Miss Jemima, pulling the young woman away in great
alarm, and the drawing-room door closed upon them for
Then came the struggle and parting below. Words
refuse to tell it. All the servants were there in the hall--
all the dear friend--all the young ladies--the dancing-
master who had just arrived; and there was such a
scuffling, and hugging, and kissing, and crying, with the
hysterical YOOPS of Miss Swartz, the parlour-boarder,
from her room, as no pen can depict, and as the tender
heart would fain pass over. The embracing was over; they
parted--that is, Miss Sedley parted from her friends. Miss
Sharp had demurely entered the carriage some minutes
before. Nobody cried for leaving HER.
Sambo of the bandy legs slammed the carriage door
on his young weeping mistress. He sprang up behind the
carriage. "Stop!" cried Miss Jemima, rushing to the gate
with a parcel.
"It's some sandwiches, my dear," said she to Amelia.
"You may be hungry, you know; and Becky, Becky
Sharp, here's a book for you that my sister--that is, I
--Johnson's Dixonary, you know; you mustn't leave us
without that. Good-by. Drive on, coachman. God bless
And the kind creature retreated into the garden,
overcome with emotion.
But, lo! and just as the coach drove off, Miss Sharp put
her pale face out of the window and actually flung the
book back into the garden.
This almost caused Jemima to faint with terror. "Well,
I never"--said she--"what an audacious"--Emotion
prevented her from completing either sentence. The
carriage rolled away; the great gates were closed; the bell
rang for the dancing lesson. The world is before the two
young ladies; and so, farewell to Chiswick Mall.
In Which Miss Sharp and Miss Sedley
Prepare to Open the Campaign
When Miss Sharp had performed the heroical act
mentioned in the last chapter, and had seen the Dixonary,
flying over the pavement of the little garden, fall at length
at the feet of the astonished Miss Jemima, the young
lady's countenance, which had before worn an almost
livid look of hatred, assumed a smile that perhaps was
scarcely more agreeable, and she sank back in the
carriage in an easy frame of mind, saying--"So much for
the Dixonary; and, thank God, I'm out of Chiswick."
Miss Sedley was almost as flurried at the act of defiance
as Miss Jemima had been; for, consider, it was but one
minute that she had left school, and the impressions of
six years are not got over in that space of time. Nay,
with some persons those awes and terrors of youth last
for ever and ever. I know, for instance, an old gentleman
of sixty-eight, who said to me one morning at breakfast,
with a very agitated countenance, "I dreamed last
night that I was flogged by Dr. Raine." Fancy had carried
him back five-and-fifty years in the course of that
evening. Dr. Raine and his rod were just as awful to him
in his heart, then, at sixty-eight, as they had been at
thirteen. If the Doctor, with a large birch, had appeared
bodily to him, even at the age of threescore and eight,
and had said in awful voice, "Boy, take down your
pant--"? Well, well, Miss Sedley was exceedingly
alarmed at this act of insubordination.
"How could you do so, Rebecca?" at last she said,
after a pause.
"Why, do you think Miss Pinkerton will come out and
order me back to the black-hole?" said Rebecca, laughing.
"I hate the whole house," continued Miss Sharp in a
fury. "I hope I may never set eyes on it again. I wish it
were in the bottom of the Thames, I do; and if Miss
Pinkerton were there, I wouldn't pick her out, that I
wouldn't. O how I should like to see her floating in the
water yonder, turban and all, with her train streaming
after her, and her nose like the beak of a wherry."
"Hush!" cried Miss Sedley.
"Why, will the black footman tell tales?" cried Miss
Rebecca, laughing. "He may go back and tell Miss
Pinkerton that I hate her with all my soul; and I wish he
would; and I wish I had a means of proving it, too. For
two years I have only had insults and outrage from her.
I have been treated worse than any servant in the kitchen.
I have never had a friend or a kind word, except from
you. I have been made to tend the little girls in the lower
schoolroom, and to talk French to the Misses, until I
grew sick of my mother tongue. But that talking French
to Miss Pinkerton was capital fun, wasn't it? She doesn't
know a word of French, and was too proud to confess
it. I believe it was that which made her part with me;
and so thank Heaven for French. Vive la France! Vive
l'Empereur! Vive Bonaparte!"
"O Rebecca, Rebecca, for shame!" cried Miss Sedley;
for this was the greatest blasphemy Rebecca had as yet
uttered; and in those days, in England, to say, "Long live
Bonaparte!" was as much as to say, "Long live Lucifer!"
"How can you--how dare you have such wicked,
"Revenge may be wicked, but it's natural," answered
Miss Rebecca. "I'm no angel." And, to say the truth, she
certainly was not.
For it may be remarked in the course of this little
conversation (which took place as the coach rolled along
lazily by the river side) that though Miss Rebecca Sharp
has twice had occasion to thank Heaven, it has been, in
the first place, for ridding her of some person whom she
hated, and secondly, for enabling her to bring her
enemies to some sort of perplexity or confusion; neither
of which are very amiable motives for religious gratitude,
or such as would be put forward by persons of a kind
and placable disposition. Miss Rebecca was not, then, in
the least kind or placable. All the world used her ill, said
this young misanthropist, and we may be pretty certain
that persons whom all the world treats ill, deserve
entirely the treatment they get. The world is a looking-
glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his
own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly
upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind
companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.
This is certain, that if the world neglected Miss Sharp,
she never was known to have done a good action in
behalf of anybody; nor can it be expected that twenty-
four young ladies should all be as amiable as the heroine
of this work, Miss Sedley (whom we have selected for
the very reason that she was the best-natured of all,
otherwise what on earth was to have prevented us from
putting up Miss Swartz, or Miss Crump, or Miss Hopkins,
as heroine in her place!)it could not be expected that
every one should be of the humble and gentle temper
of Miss Amelia Sedley; should take every opportunity to
vanquish Rebecca's hard-heartedness and ill-humour; and,
by a thousand kind words and offices, overcome, for once
at least, her hostility to her kind.
Miss Sharp's father was an artist, and in that quality
had given lessons of drawing at Miss Pinkerton's school.
He was a clever man; a pleasant companion; a careless
student; with a great propensity for running into debt,
and a partiality for the tavern. When he was drunk, he
used to beat his wife and daughter; and the next morning,
with a headache, he would rail at the world for its neglect
of his genius, and abuse, with a good deal of cleverness,
and sometimes with perfect reason, the fools, his brother
painters. As it was with the utmost difficulty that he
could keep himself, and as he owed money for a mile
round Soho, where he lived, he thought to better his
circumstances by marrying a young woman of the French
nation, who was by profession an opera-girl. The humble
calling of her female parent Miss Sharp never alluded to,
but used to state subsequently that the Entrechats were
a noble family of Gascony, and took great pride in her
descent from them. And curious it is that as she advanced
in life this young lady's ancestors increased in rank and
Rebecca's mother had had some education somewhere,
and her daughter spoke French with purity and a Parisian
accent. It was in those days rather a rare accomplishment,
and led to her engagement with the orthodox Miss
Pinkerton. For her mother being dead, her father, finding
himself not likely to recover, after his third attack of
delirium tremens, wrote a manly and pathetic letter to
Miss Pinkerton, recommending the orphan child to her
protection, and so descended to the grave, after two
bailiffs had quarrelled over his corpse. Rebecca was
seventeen when she came to Chiswick, and was bound
over as an articled pupil; her duties being to talk French,
as we have seen; and her privileges to live cost free, and,
with a few guineas a year, to gather scraps of knowledge
from the professors who attended the school.
She was small and slight in person; pale, sandy-haired,
and with eyes habitually cast down: when they looked up
they were very large, odd, and attractive; so attractive
that the Reverend Mr. Crisp, fresh from Oxford, and
curate to the Vicar of Chiswick, the Reverend Mr.
Flowerdew, fell in love with Miss Sharp; being shot dead
by a glance of her eyes which was fired all the way across
Chiswick Church from the school-pew to the reading-
desk. This infatuated young man used sometimes to take
tea with Miss Pinkerton, to whom he had been presented
by his mamma, and actually proposed something like
marriage in an intercepted note, which the one-eyed
apple-woman was charged to deliver. Mrs. Crisp was
summoned from Buxton, and abruptly carried off her darling
boy; but the idea, even, of such an eagle in the Chiswick
dovecot caused a great flutter in the breast of Miss
Pinkerton, who would have sent away Miss Sharp but that
she was bound to her under a forfeit, and who never
could thoroughly believe the young lady's protestations
that she had never exchanged a single word with Mr.
Crisp, except under her own eyes on the two occasions
when she had met him at tea.
By the side of many tall and bouncing young ladies in
the establishment, Rebecca Sharp looked like a child. But
she had the dismal precocity of poverty. Many a dun had
she talked to, and turned away from her father's door;
many a tradesman had she coaxed and wheedled into
good-humour, and into the granting of one meal more.
She sate commonly with her father, who was very proud
of her wit, and heard the talk of many of his wild
companions--often but ill-suited for a girl to hear. But she
never had been a girl, she said; she had been a woman
since she was eight years old. Oh, why did Miss Pinkerton
let such a dangerous bird into her cage?
The fact is, the old lady believed Rebecca to be the
meekest creature in the world, so admirably, on the
occasions when her father brought her to Chiswick, used
Rebecca to perform the part of the ingenue; and only a
year before the arrangement by which Rebecca had been
admitted into her house, and when Rebecca was sixteen
years old, Miss Pinkerton majestically, and with a little
speech, made her a present of a doll--which was, by
the way, the confiscated property of Miss Swindle,
discovered surreptitiously nursing it in school-hours. How
the father and daughter laughed as they trudged home
together after the evening party (it was on the occasion of
the speeches, when all the professors were invited) and
how Miss Pinkerton would have raged had she seen the
caricature of herself which the little mimic, Rebecca,
managed to make out of her doll. Becky used to go
through dialogues with it; it formed the delight of
Newman Street, Gerrard Street, and the Artists' quarter:
and the young painters, when they came to take their gin-
and-water with their lazy, dissolute, clever, jovial senior,
used regularly to ask Rebecca if Miss Pinkerton was at
home: she was as well known to them, poor soul! as
Mr. Lawrence or President West. Once Rebecca had the
honour to pass a few days at Chiswick; after which she
brought back Jemima, and erected another doll as Miss
Jemmy: for though that honest creature had made and
given her jelly and cake enough for three children, and
a seven-shilling piece at parting, the girl's sense of
ridicule was far stronger than her gratitude, and she
sacrificed Miss Jemmy quite as pitilessly as her sister.
The catastrophe came, and she was brought to the
Mall as to her home. The rigid formality of the place
suffocated her: the prayers and the meals, the lessons
and the walks, which were arranged with a conventual
regularity, oppressed her almost beyond endurance; and
she looked back to the freedom and the beggary of the
old studio in Soho with so much regret, that everybody,
herself included, fancied she was consumed with grief
for her father. She had a little room in the garret, where
the maids heard her walking and sobbing at night; but it
was with rage, and not with grief. She had not been much
of a dissembler, until now her loneliness taught her to
feign. She had never mingled in the society of women:
her father, reprobate as he was, was a man of talent; his
conversation was a thousand times more agreeable to her
than the talk of such of her own sex as she now encountered.
The pompous vanity of the old schoolmistress, the foolish
good-humour of her sister, the silly chat and scandal of the
elder girls, and the frigid correctness of the governesses
equally annoyed her; and she had no soft
maternal heart, this unlucky girl, otherwise the prattle
and talk of the younger children, with whose care she
was chiefly intrusted, might have soothed and interested
her; but she lived among them two years, and not one
was sorry that she went away. The gentle tender-
hearted Amelia Sedley was the only person to whom she
could attach herself in the least; and who could help
attaching herself to Amelia?
The happinessthe superior advantages of the young
women round about her, gave Rebecca inexpressible
pangs of envy. "What airs that girl gives herself, because
she is an Earl's grand-daughter," she said of one. "How
they cringe and bow to that Creole, because of her
hundred thousand pounds! I am a thousand times cleverer
and more charming than that creature, for all her wealth.
I am as well bred as the Earl's grand-daughter, for all her
fine pedigree; and yet every one passes me by here. And
yet, when I was at my father's, did not the men give up
their gayest balls and parties in order to pass the evening
with me?" She determined at any rate to get free from
the prison in which she found herself, and now began to
act for herself, and for the first time to make connected
plans for the future.
She took advantage, therefore, of the means of study
the place offered her; and as she was already a musician
and a good linguist, she speedily went through the little
course of study which was considered necessary for ladies
in those days. Her music she practised incessantly, and
one day, when the girls were out, and she had remained
at home, she was overheard to play a piece so well that
Minerva thought, wisely, she could spare herself the
expense of a master for the juniors, and intimated to Miss
Sharp that she was to instruct them in music for the
The girl refused; and for the first time, and to the
astonishment of the majestic mistress of the school. "I
am here to speak French with the children," Rebecca
said abruptly, "not to teach them music, and save money
for you. Give me money, and I will teach them."
Minerva was obliged to yield, and, of course, disliked
her from that day. "For five-and-thirty years," she said,
and with great justice, "I never have seen the individual
who has dared in my own house to question my
authority. I have nourished a viper in my bosom."
"A viper--a fiddlestick," said Miss Sharp to the old
lady, almost fainting with astonishment. "You took me
because I was useful. There is no question of gratitude
between us. I hate this place, and want to leave it. I
will do nothing here but what I am obliged to do."
It was in vain that the old lady asked her if she was
aware she was speaking to Miss Pinkerton? Rebecca
laughed in her face, with a horrid sarcastic demoniacal
laughter, that almost sent the schoolmistress into fits.
"Give me a sum of money," said the girl, "and get rid
of me--or, if you like better, get me a good place as
governess in a nobleman's family--you can do so if you
please." And in their further disputes she always returned
to this point, "Get me a situation--we hate each other,
and I am ready to go."
Worthy Miss Pinkerton, although she had a Roman
nose and a turban, and was as tall as a grenadier, and
had been up to this time an irresistible princess, had no
will or strength like that of her little apprentice, and in
vain did battle against her, and tried to overawe her.
Attempting once to scold her in public, Rebecca hit upon
the before-mentioned plan of answering her in French,
which quite routed the old woman. In order to maintain
authority in her school, it became necessary to remove
this rebel, this monster, this serpent, this firebrand; and
hearing about this time that Sir Pitt Crawley's family
was in want of a governess, she actually recommended
Miss Sharp for the situation, firebrand and serpent as
she was. "I cannot, certainly," she said, "find fault with
Miss Sharp's conduct, except to myself; and must allow
that her talents and accomplishments are of a high order.
As far as the head goes, at least, she does credit to the
educational system pursued at my establishment.''
And so the schoolmistress reconciled the recommendation
to her conscience, and the indentures were cancelled,
and the apprentice was free. The battle here described
in a few lines, of course, lasted for some months. And
as Miss Sedley, being now in her seventeenth year, was
about to leave school, and had a friendship for Miss
Sharp ("'tis the only point in Amelia's behaviour," said
Minerva, "which has not been satisfactory to her
mistress"), Miss Sharp was invited by her friend to
pass a week with her at home, before she entered
upon her duties as governess in a private family.
Thus the world began for these two young ladies. For
Amelia it was quite a new, fresh, brilliant world, with
all the bloom upon it. It was not quite a new one for
Rebecca--(indeed, if the truth must be told with respect
to the Crisp affair, the tart-woman hinted to somebody,
who took an affidavit of the fact to somebody else, that
there was a great deal more than was made public
regarding Mr. Crisp and Miss Sharp, and that his letter
was in answer to another letter). But who can tell you
the real truth of the matter? At all events, if Rebecca
was not beginning the world, she was beginning it over
By the time the young ladies reached Kensington turnpike,
Amelia had not forgotten her companions, but had
dried her tears, and had blushed very much and been
delighted at a young officer of the Life Guards, who spied
her as he was riding by, and said, "A dem fine gal,
egad!" and before the carriage arrived in Russell Square,
a great deal of conversation had taken place about the
Drawing-room, and whether or not young ladies wore
powder as well as hoops when presented, and whether
she was to have that honour: to the Lord Mayor's ball
she knew she was to go. And when at length home was
reached, Miss Amelia Sedley skipped out on Sambo's
arm, as happy and as handsome a girl as any in the whole
big city of London. Both he and coachman agreed on
this point, and so did her father and mother, and so did
every one of the servants in the house, as they stood
bobbing, and curtseying, and smiling, in the hall to
welcome their young mistress.
You may be sure that she showed Rebecca over every
room of the house, and everything in every one of her
drawers; and her books, and her piano, and her dresses,
and all her necklaces, brooches, laces, and gimcracks.
She insisted upon Rebecca accepting the white cornelian
and the turquoise rings, and a sweet sprigged muslin,
which was too small for her now, though it would fit
her friend to a nicety; and she determined in her heart
to ask her mother's permission to present her white
Cashmere shawl to her friend. Could she not spare it? and
had not her brother Joseph just brought her two from
When Rebecca saw the two magnificent Cashmere
shawls which Joseph Sedley had brought home to his
sister, she said, with perfect truth, "that it must be
delightful to have a brother," and easily got the pity of the
tender-hearted Amelia for being alone in the world, an
orphan without friends or kindred.
"Not alone," said Amelia; "you know, Rebecca, I shall
always be your friend, and love you as a sister--indeed
"Ah, but to have parents, as you have--kind, rich,
affectionate parents, who give you everything you-ask
for; and their love, which is more precious than all!
My poor papa could give me nothing, and I had but two
frocks in all the world! And then, to have a brother, a
dear brother! Oh, how you must love him!"
"What! don't you love him? you, who say you love
"Yes, of course, I do--only--"
"Only Joseph doesn't seem to care much whether I
love him or not. He gave me two fingers to shake when
he arrived after ten years' absence! He is very kind and
good, but he scarcely ever speaks to me; I think he
loves his pipe a great deal better than his"--but here
Amelia checked herself, for why should she speak ill of
her brother? "He was very kind to me as a child," she
added; "I was but five years old when he went away."
"Isn't he very rich?" said Rebecca. "They say all Indian
nabobs are enormously rich."
"I believe he has a very large income."
"And is your sister-in-law a nice pretty woman?"
"La! Joseph is not married," said Amelia, laughing
Perhaps she had mentioned the fact already to Rebecca,
but that young lady did not appear to have remembered
it; indeed, vowed and protested that she expected to see
a number of Amelia's nephews and nieces. She was quite
disappointed that Mr. Sedley was not married; she was
sure Amelia had said he was, and she doted so on little
"I think you must have had enough of them at
Chiswick," said Amelia, rather wondering at the sudden
tenderness on her friend's part; and indeed in later days
Miss Sharp would never have committed herself so far
as to advance opinions, the untruth of which would have
been so easily detected. But we must remember that she
is but nineteen as yet, unused to the art of deceiving,
poor innocent creature! and making her own experience
in her own person. The meaning of the above series of
queries, as translated in the heart of this ingenious young
woman, was simply this: "If Mr. Joseph Sedley is rich
and unmarried, why should I not marry him? I have
only a fortnight, to be sure, but there is no harm in
trying." And she determined within herself to make this
laudable attempt. She redoubled her caresses to Amelia;
she kissed the white cornelian necklace as she put it
on; and vowed she would never, never part with it. When
the dinner-bell rang she went downstairs with her arm
round her friend's waist, as is the habit of young ladies.
She was so agitated at the drawing-room door, that she
could hardly find courage to enter. "Feel my heart, how
it beats, dear!" said she to her friend.
"No, it doesn't," said Amelia. "Come in, don't be
frightened. Papa won't do you any harm."
Rebecca Is in Presence of the Enemy
A VERY stout, puffy man, in buckskins and Hessian
boots, with several immense neckcloths that rose almost
to his nose, with a red striped waistcoat and an apple
green coat with steel buttons almost as large as crown
pieces (it was the morning costume of a dandy or blood
of those days) was reading the paper by the fire when
the two girls entered, and bounced off his arm-chair,
and blushed excessively, and hid his entire face almost
in his neckcloths at this apparition.
"It's only your sister, Joseph," said Amelia, laughing
and shaking the two fingers which he held out. "I've
come home FOR GOOD, you know; and this is my friend,
Miss Sharp, whom you have heard me mention."
"No, never, upon my word," said the head under the
neckcloth, shaking very much--"that is, yes--what
abominably cold weather, Miss"--and herewith he fell
to poking the fire with all his might, although it was in the
middle of June.
"He's very handsome," whispered Rebecca to Amelia,
"Do you think so?" said the latter. "I'll tell him."
"Darling! not for worlds," said Miss Sharp, starting
back as timid as a fawn. She had previously made a
respectful virgin-like curtsey to the gentleman, and her
modest eyes gazed so perseveringly on the carpet that it
was a wonder how she should have found an opportunity
to see him.
"Thank you for the beautiful shawls, brother," said
Amelia to the fire poker. "Are they not beautiful, Rebecca?"
"O heavenly!" said Miss Sharp, and her eyes went
from the carpet straight to the chandelier.
Joseph still continued a huge clattering at the poker
and tongs, puffing and blowing the while, and turning
as red as his yellow face would allow him. "I can't
make you such handsome presents, Joseph," continued
his sister, "but while I was at school, I have embroidered
for you a very beautiful pair of braces."
"Good Gad! Amelia," cried the brother, in serious
alarm, "what do you mean?" and plunging with all his
might at the bell-rope, that article of furniture came
away in his hand, and increased the honest fellow's
confusion. "For heaven's sake see if my buggy's at the
door. I CAN'T wait. I must go. D-- that groom of mine.
I must go."
At this minute the father of the family walked in,
rattling his seals like a true British merchant. "What's
the matter, Emmy?" says he.
"Joseph wants me to see if his--his buggy is at the
door. What is a buggy, Papa?"
"It is a one-horse palanquin," said the old gentleman,
who was a wag in his way.
Joseph at this burst out into a wild fit of laughter;
in which, encountering the eye of Miss Sharp, he stopped
all of a sudden, as if he had been shot.
"This young lady is your friend? Miss Sharp, I am
very happy to see you. Have you and Emmy been
quarrelling already with Joseph, that he wants to be off?"
"I promised Bonamy of our service, sir," said Joseph,
"to dine with him."
"O fie! didn't you tell your mother you would dine
"But in this dress it's impossible."
"Look at him, isn't he handsome enough to dine
anywhere, Miss Sharp?"
On which, of course, Miss Sharp looked at her friend,
and they both set off in a fit of laughter, highly
agreeable to the old gentleman.
"Did you ever see a pair of buckskins like those at
Miss Pinkerton's?" continued he, following up his
"Gracious heavens! Father," cried Joseph.
"There now, I have hurt his feelings. Mrs. Sedley,
my dear, I have hurt your son's feelings. I have alluded
to his buckskins. Ask Miss Sharp if I haven't? Come,
Joseph, be friends with Miss Sharp, and let us all go to
"There's a pillau, Joseph, just as you like it, and Papa
has brought home the best turbot in Billingsgate."
"Come, come, sir, walk downstairs with Miss Sharp,
and I will follow with these two young women," said
the father, and he took an arm of wife and daughter
and walked merrily off.
If Miss Rebecca Sharp had determined in her heart
upon making the conquest of this big beau, I don't
think, ladies, we have any right to blame her; for though
the task of husband-hunting is generally, and with
becoming modesty, entrusted by young persons to their
mammas, recollect that Miss Sharp had no kind parent
to arrange these delicate matters for her, and that if
she did not get a husband for herself, there was no one
else in the wide world who would take the trouble off
her hands. What causes young people to "come out,"
but the noble ambition of matrimony? What sends them
trooping to watering-places? What keeps them dancing
till five o'clock in the morning through a whole mortal
season? What causes them to labour at pianoforte sonatas,
and to learn four songs from a fashionable master at a
guinea a lesson, and to play the harp if they have
handsome arms and neat elbows, and to wear Lincoln
Green toxophilite hats and feathers, but that they may bring
down some "desirable" young man with those killing bows
and arrows of theirs? What causes respectable parents
to take up their carpets, set their houses topsy-turvy, and
spend a fifth of their year's income in ball suppers and
iced champagne? Is it sheer love of their species, and
an unadulterated wish to see young people happy and
dancing? Psha! they want to marry their daughters; and,
as honest Mrs. Sedley has, in the depths of her kind
heart, already arranged a score of little schemes for the
settlement of her Amelia, so also had our beloved but
unprotected Rebecca determined to do her very best to
secure the husband, who was even more necessary for
her than for her friend. She had a vivid imagination; she
had, besides, read the Arabian Nights and Guthrie's
Geography; and it is a fact that while she was dressing for
dinner, and after she had asked Amelia whether her
brother was very rich, she had built for herself a most
magnificent castle in the air, of which she was mistress,
with a husband somewhere in the background (she had
not seen him as yet, and his figure would not therefore
be very distinct); she had arrayed herself in an infinity
of shawls, turbans, and diamond necklaces, and had
mounted upon an elephant to the sound of the march in
Bluebeard, in order to pay a visit of ceremony to the
Grand Mogul. Charming Alnaschar visions! it is the
happy privilege of youth to construct you, and many
a fanciful young creature besides Rebecca Sharp has
indulged in these delightful day-dreams ere now!
Joseph Sedley was twelve years older than his sister
Amelia. He was in the East India Company's Civil
Service, and his name appeared, at the period of which
we write, in the Bengal division of the East India Register,
as collector of Boggley Wollah, an honourable and
lucrative post, as everybody knows: in order to know
to what higher posts Joseph rose in the service, the
reader is referred to the same periodical.
Boggley Wollah is situated in a fine, lonely, marshy,
jungly district, famous for snipe-shooting, and where
not unfrequently you may flush a tiger. Ramgunge, where
there is a magistrate, is only forty miles off, and there
is a cavalry station about thirty miles farther; so Joseph
wrote home to his parents, when he took possession of
his collectorship. He had lived for about eight years of
his life, quite alone, at this charming place, scarcely
seeing a Christian face except twice a year, when the
detachment arrived to carry off the revenues which he
had collected, to Calcutta.
Luckily, at this
William Makepeace Thackeray. Vanity fair