« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
and she would have held her own amongst those pompous stupid Hampshire people much better than that unfortunate ironmonger's daughter."
Briggs coincided as usual, and the "previous attach ment” was then discussed in conjectures. “You poor friendless creatures are always having some foolish tendre," Miss Crawley said. “You yourself, you know, were in love with a writing-master (don't cry, Briggs—you're always crying, and it won't bring him to life again), and I suppose this unfortunate Becky has been silly and sentimental too-some apothecary, or house-steward, or painter, or young curate, or something of that sort."
"Poor thing, poor thing!" says Briggs (who was thinking of twenty-four years back, and that hectic young writing-master whose lock of yellow hair, and whose letters, beautiful in their illegibility, she cherished in her old desk upstairs). “Poor thing, poor thing!" says Briggs. Once more she was a fresh-cheeked lass of eighteen; she was at evening church, and the hectic writing-master and she were quavering out of the same psalm-book.
"After such conduct on Rebecca's part," Miss Crawley said enthusiastically, "our family should do something. Find out who is the objet, Briggs. I'll set him up in a shop; or order my portrait of him, you know; or speak to my cousin, the Bishop—and I'll doter Becky, and we'll have a wedding, Briggs, and you shall make the breakfast, and be a bridesmaid."
Briggs declared that it would be delightful, and vowed that her dear Miss Crawley was always kind and generous, and went up to Rebecca's bed-room to console her and prattle about the offer, and the refusal, and the cause thereof; and to hint at the generous intentions of Miss Crawley, and to find out who was the gentleman that had the mastery of Miss Sharp's heart.
Rebecca was very kind, very affectionate and affected responded to Brigg's ofter of tenderness with grateful fervour-owned there was a secret attachment-a delicious mystery—what a pity Miss Briggs had not remained half a minute longer at the key-hole! Rebecca might, perhaps, have told more: but five minutes after Miss Briggs's arrival in Rebecca's apartment, Miss Crawley actually made her appearance there-an unheard-of honour;-her impatience had overcome her; she could not wait for the tardy operations of her ambassadress: so she came in person, and ordered Briggs out of the room. And expressing her approval of Rebecca's conduct, she asked particulars of the interview, and the previous transactions which had brought about the astonishing offer of Sir Pitt.
Rebecca said she had long had some notion of the partiality with which Sır Pitt honoured her, (for he was in the habit of making his feelings known in a very frank and unreserved manner,) but, not to mention private reasons with which she would not for the present trouble Miss Crawley, Sir Pitt's age, station, and habits were such as to render a marriage quite impossible; and could a woman with any feeling of self-respect and any decency listen to proposals at such a moment, when the funeral of the lover's deceased wife had not actually taken place?
“Nonsense, my dear, you would never have refused him had there not been some one else in the case," Miss Crawley said, coming to her point at once. “Tell me the private reasons; what are the private reasons? There is some one; who is it that has touched your heart?”
Rebecca cast down her eyes, and owned there was. "You have guessed right, dear lady," she said, with a sweet simple faltering voice. “You wonder at one so poor and friendless having an attachment, don't you? I have never heard that poverty was any safeguard against it. I wish it were."
“My poor deat child,” cried Miss Crawley, who was always quite ready to be sentimental, "is our passion unrequited, then? Are we pining in secret? Tell me all, and let me console you.”
"I wish you could, dear Madam,” Rebecca said in the same tearful tone. “Indeed, indeed, I need it.” And she laid her head upon Miss Crawley's shoulder and wept there so naturally that the old lady, surprised into sympathy, embraced her with an almost maternal kindness, uttered many soothing protests of regard and affection for her, vowed that she loved her as a daughter, and would do everything in her power to serve her. "And now, who is it, my dear? Is it that pretty liss Sedley's brother? You said something about an affair with him. I'll ask him here, my dear. And you shall have him: indeed you shall.”
"Don't ask me now," Rebecca said. "You shall know all soon.
Indeed you shall. Dear kind Miss CrawleyDear friend, may I say so?"
"That you may, my child,” the old lady replied, kissing her.
"I can't tell you now," sobbed out Rebecca, “I am very miserable. But O! love me always-promise you will love me always." And in the midst of mutual tears--for the emotions of the younger woman had awakened the sympathies of the elder-this promise was solemnly given by Miss Crawiey, who left her little protégée, blessing and admiring her as a dear, artless, tender-hearted, affectionate, incomprehensible creature.
And now she was left alone to think over the sudden and wonderful events of the day, and of what had been and what might have been. Wliat think you were the private feelings of Miss, no (begging her pardon) of Mrs. Rebecca ? If, a few pages back, the present writer claimed the privilege of peeping into Miss Amelia Sedley's bedroom, and understanding with the omniscience of the novelist all the gentle pains and passions which were tossing upon that innocent pillow, why should he not declare himself to be Rebecca's confidante too, master of her secrets, and seal-keeper of that young woman's conscience ?
Well, then, in the first place, Rebecca gave way to some very sincere and touching regrets that a piece of marvellous good fortune should have been so frear her, and she actually obliged to decline it. In this natural envotion every properly regulated mind will certainly share. What good mother is there that would not conimiseiate a penniless spinster, who might have been my lady, and have shared four thousand a year? What well-bred young person is there in all Vanity Fair, who will not fee! for a haid working, ingenious, meritorious girl, who gets such an honourable, advantageous, provoking offer, just at the very moment when it is out of her power to accept it? I am sure our friend Becky's disappointment deserves and will command every sympathy.
I remember one night being in the Fair myself, at an evening party. I observed old Miss Toady there also present, single out for her special attentions and flattery little Mrs. Briefless, the barrister's wife, who is of a good family certainly, but, as we all know, is as poor as poor can be.
What, I asked in my own mind, can cause this obsequiousness on the part of Miss Toady; has Briefless got a county court, or his wife had a fortune left her? Miss Toady explained presently, with that simplicity which distinguishes all her conduct. “You know," she said, “Mrs, Briefless is granddaughter of Sir John Redhand, who is so ill at Cheltenhain that he can't last six months. Mrs. Briefless's papa succeeds; so you see she will be a baronet's daughter" And Toady asked Briefless and his wife to dinner the very next week.
If the mere chance of becoming a baronet's daughter can procure a lady such homage in the world, surely, surely we may respect the agonies of a young woman who has lost the opportunity of becoming a baronet's wife. Who would have dreamed of Lady Crawley dying so soon? She was one of those sickly women that might have lasted these ten years—Rebecca thought to herself, in all the woes of repentance--and I might have been my lady! I might have led that old man whither I would. I might have thanked Mrs. Bute for her patrouiage, and Mr. Pitt for his insufferable condescension. I would have had the town-house newly furnished and decorated. I would have had the handsomest carriage in London, and a box at the opera; and I would have been presented next season. All this might have been, and now—now all was doubt and mystery.
But Rebecca was a young lady of too niuch resolution and energy of character to pei mit herself much useless and unseemly sorrow for the irrevocable past; so, having devoted only the proper portion of regret to it, she wisely turned her whole attention towards the future, which was now vastly more important to her. And she surveyed her position, and its hopes, doubts, and chances.
In the first place, she was married;—that was a great fact. Sir Pitt knew it. She was not so much surprised into the avowal, as induced to make it by a sudden calculation. It must have come some day: and why not now as at a later period ? He who would have married her himself must at least be silent with regard to her marriage. How Miss Crawley would bear the news-was the great question. Misgivings Rebecca had; but she remembered all Miss Crawley had said; the old lady's avowed contempt for birth; her daring liberal opinions; her general romantic propensities; her almost doting attachment to her nephew, and her repeatedly-expressed fondness for Rebecca herself. She is so fond of him, Rebecca thought, that she will forgive him anything: she is so used to me that I don't think she could be comfortable without me: when the éclaircissement comes there will be a scene, and hysterics, and a great quarrel, and then a great reconciliation. At all events, what use was there in delaying? the die was thrown, and now or to-morrow the issue must be the same. resolved that Miss Crawley should have the news, the young person debated in her mind as to the best means of conveying it to her; and whether she should face the storm that must come, or fly and avoid it until its first fury was blown over. In this state of meditation she wrote the following letter:
Dearest Friend,—The great crisis which we have debated about so often is come. Half of my secret is known, and I have thought and thought, until I am quite sure that now is the time to reveal the whole of the mystery. Sir Pitt came to me this morning, and made -what do you think?-a declaration in form. Think of that! Poor little me. I might have been Lady Crawley. How pleased Mrs. Bute would have been and ma tante if I had taken precedence of her. I might have been somebody's mamma, instead of-0, I tremble, I tremble, when I think how soon we must tell all!
Sir Pitt knows I am married, and not knowing to whom, is not very much displeased as yet. Ma tante is actually angry that I should have refused him. But she is all kindness and graciousness. She condescends to say I would have made him a good wife; and vows that she will be a mother to your little Rebecca. She will be shaken when she first hears the news. But need we fear anything beyond a momentary anger ? I think not: I am sure not. She dotes upon you so (you naughty, good-for-nothing man), that she would pardon you anything: and, indeed, I believe, the next place in her heart is