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little hand-kissing operation once more, Mrs. Major O'D., taking the compliment to herself, returned the salute with a gracious smile, which sent that unfortunate Dobbin shrieking out of the box again.
At the end of the act, George was out of the box in a moment, and he was even going to pay his respects to Rebecca in her loge. He met Crawley in the lobby, however, where they exchanged a few sentences upon the occurrences of the last fortnight.
"You found my cheque all right at the agent's?" George said, with a knowing air.
"All right, my boy,” Rawdon answered. "Happy to give you your revenge. Governor come round?”
"Not yet," said George, “but he will; and you know I've some private fortune through my mother. Has Aunty relented ?"
"Sent me twenty pound, damned old screw. When shall we have a meet? The General dines out on Tuesday. Can't you come Tuesday? I say, make Sedley cut off his moustache. What the devil does a civilian mean with a moustache and those infernal frogs to his coat? By-bye. Try and come on Tuesday;" and Rawdon was going off with two brilliant young gentlemen of fashion, who were, like himself, on the staff of a general officer.
George was only half pleased to be asked to dinner on that particular day when the General was not to dine. "I will go in and pay my respects to your wife,” said he; at which Rawdon said, "Hm, as you please," looking very glum, and at which the two young officers exchanged knowing glances. George parted from them and strutted down the lobby to the General's box, the number of which he had carefully counted.
"Entrez," said a clear little voice, and our friend found himself in Rebecca's presence; who jumped up, clapped her hands together, and held out both of them to George, so charmed was she to see him. The General, with the orders in his button, stared at the new comer with a sulky scowl, as much as to say, who the devil are you?
“My dear Captain George !” cried little Rebecca in an ecstasy. "How good of you to come. The general and I were moping together tête-à-tête. General, this is my Cape tain George of whom you heard me talk.”
"Indeed," said the General, with a very small bow; "of what regiment is Captain George?"
George mentioned the -th; how he wished he could have said it was a crack cavalry corps.
"Come home lately from the West Indies, I believe. Not seen much service in the late war. Quartered here, Captain George?"--the General went on with killing haughtiness.
"Not Captain George, you stupid man; Captain Osborne," Rebecca said. The General all the while was looking savagely from one to the other.
"Captain Osborne, indeed! Any relation to the L- Osbornes?"
"We bear the same arms,” George said, as indeed was the fact; Mr. Osborne having consulted with a herald in Long Acre, and picked the L- arms out of the peerage, when he set up his carriage fifteen years before. The General made no reply to this announcement; but took up his opera-glass—the double-barrelled lorgnon was not invented in those days and pretended to examine the house, but Rebecca saw that his disengaged eye was working round in her direction, and shooting out blood-shot glances at her and George.
She redoubled in cordiality. “How is dearest Amelia ? But I needn't ask: how pretty she looks! And who is that nice good-natured looking creature with her—a flame of yours? O, you wicked man! And there is Mr. Sedley eating ice, I declare: how he seems to enjoy it! General, why have we not had any ices ?”
"Shall I go and fetch you some?" said the General bursting with wrath. "Let me go, I entreat you,” George said.
I “No, I will go to Amelia's box. Dear, sweet girl! Give me your arm, Captain George;" and so saying, and with a nod to the General, she tripped into the lobby. She gave George the queerest knowingest look, when they were together, a look which might have been interpreted, "Don't you see the state of affairs, and what a fool I'm
making of him?" But he did not perceive it. He was thinking of his own plans, and lost in pompous admiration of his own irresistible powers of pleasing. The curses to which the General gave a low utterance,
soon as Rebecca and her conqueror had quitted him, were so deep, that I am sure no compositor would venture to print them were they written down. They came from the General's heart; and a wonderful thing it is to think that the human heart is capable of generating such produce, and can throw out, as occasion demands, such a supply of lust and fury, rage and hatred.
Amelia's gentle eyes, too, had been fixed anxiously on the pair, whose conduct had so chafed the jealous General; but when Rebecca entered her box, she flew to her friend with an affectionate rapture which showed itself, in spite of the publicity of the place; for she embraced her dearest friend in the presence of the whole house, at least in full view of the General's glass, now brought to bear upon the Osborne party. Mrs. Rawdon saluted Jos, too, with the kindliest greeting: she admired Mrs. O'Dowd's large Cairngorm brooch and superb Irish diamonds, and wouldn't believe that they were not from Golconda direct. She hustled, she chattered, she turned and twisted, and siniled upon one, and smirked on another, all in full view of the jealous opera-glass opposite. And when the time for the ballet came in which there was no dancer that went through her grimaces or performed her comedy of action better), she skipped back to her own box, leaning on Captain Dobbin's arm this time. No, she would not have George's: he must stay and talk to his dearest, best, little Amelia.
“What a humbug that woman is!" honest old Dobbin mumbled to George, when he came back from Rebecca's box, whither he had conducted her in perfect silence, and with a countenance as glum as an undertaker's. "She writhes and twists about like a snake. All the time she was here, didn't you see, George, how she was acting at the General over the way?”
“Humbug-acting! Hang it, she's the nicest little woman in England," George replied, showing his white teeth, and giving his ambrosial whiskers a twirl. “You ain't a man of the world, Dobbin. Dammy, look at her now, she's talked over Tufto in no time. Look how he's laughing! Gad, what a shoulder she has! Emmy, why didn't you have a bouquet? Everybody has a bouquet.”
"Faith, then, why didn't you boy one?" Mrs. O'Dowd said; and both Amelia and William Dobbin thanked her for this timely observation. But beyond this neither of the ladies rallied. Amelia was overpowered by the flash and the dazzle and the fashionable talk of her worldly rival. Even the O'Dowd was silent and subdued after Becky's brilliant apparition, and scarcely said a word more about Glenmalony all the evening.
"When do you intend to give up play, George, as you have promised me, any time these hundred years?" Dobbin said to his friend a few days after the night at the Opera.
"When do you intend to give up sermonising ?” was the other's reply. "What the deuce, man, are you alarmed about? We play low; I won last night. You don't suppose Crawley cheats? With fair play it comes to pretty much the same thing at the year's end."
“But I don't think he could pay if he lost,” Dobbin said; and his advice met with the success which advice usually commands. Osborne and Crawley were repeatedly together now. General Tufto dined abroad almost constantly. George was always welcome in the apartments (very close indeed to those of the General) which the Aidede-camp and his wife occupied in the hotel.
Amelia's manners were such when she and George visited Crawley and his wife at these quarters, that they had very nearly come to their first quarrel; that is, George scolded his wife violently for her evident unwillingness to go, and the high and mighty manner in which she comported herself towards Mrs. Crawley, her old friend; and Amelia did not say one single word in reply; but with her husband's eye upon her and Rebecca scanning her, as she felt, was, if possible, more bashful and awkward on the second visit which she paid to Mrs. Rawdon, than on her first call.
Rebecca was doubly affectionate, of course, and would not take notice, in the least, of her friend's coolness. "I think Emmy has become prouder since her father's name was in the -, since Mr. Sedley's misfortunes,” Rebecca said, softening the phrase charitably for George's ear.
"Upon my word, I thought when we were at Brighton she was doing me the honour to be jealous of me; and now I suppose she is scandalised because Rawdon, and I, and the General live together. Why my dear creature, how could we, with our means, live at all, but for a friend to share expenses? And do you suppose that Rawdon is not big enough to take care of my honour? But I'm very much obliged to Emmy, very,” Mrs. Rawdon said.
"Pooh, jealousy!" answered George, "all women are jealous."
"And all men too. Weren't you jealous of General Tufto, and the General of you, on the night of the Opera ? Why, he was ready to eat me for going with you to visit that foolish little wife of yours; as if I care a pin for either of you," Crawley's wife said, with a pert toss of her head. “Will you dine here? The dragon dines with the Commander-in-Chief. Great news is stirring. They say the French have crossed the frontier. We shall have a quiet dinner.”
George accepted the invitation, although his wife was a little ailing. They were now not quite six weeks married. Another woman was laughing or sneering at her expense and he not angry. He was not even angry with himseli, this good-natured fellow. It is a shame, he owned to himself; but hang it, if a pretty woman will throw herself in your way, why, what can a fellow do, you know? I am rather free about women, he had often said, smiling and nodding knowingly to Stubble and Spooney, and other comrades of the mess-table; and they rather respected him than otherwise for this prowess. Next to conquering in war, conquering in love has been a source of pride, time out of mind, amongst men in Vanity Fair, or how should school-boys brag of their amours, or Don Juan be popular?