[The first selection is from the British writer Richard D. Blackmore's novel Springhaven--a tale of the defense of the British southern coast in the most critical days of the Napoleonic Wars, published in 1887. The scene is a dinner banquet in a town along the Sussex coast, in time shortly before the epic battle of Trafalgar, when the guest of honor rises to propose a toast. Note the dry English humor, the mixture of confident, even boastful pride, coupled with what at least approaches a conscious affectation of deliberate understatement. Blackmore, very nearly the ultimate English Tory of his era, was not poking fun at the British character, here; he was celebrating it. What there was of actual vanity in the studied disdain for vanity was, after all, a very forgivable human vice in a people who at the time really were at the top of the human competition.]
"My friends, I will take it for granted that we all love our country, and hate its enemies. We may like and respect them personally, for they are as good as we are; but we are bound to hate them collectively, as men who would ruin all we love. For the stuff that is talked about freedom, democracy, march of intellect, and so forth, I have nothing to say, except to bid you to look at the result among themselves. Is there a man in France whose body is his own if he can carry arms, or his soul if it ventures to seek its own good? As for mind--there is only the mind of one man; a large one in many ways; in others a small one, because it considers its owner alone.
"But we of England have refused to be stripped of all that we hold dear, at the will of a foreign upstart. We have fought for years, and we still are fighting, without any brag or dream of glory, for the rights of ourselves and of all mankind. There have been among us weak-minded fellows, babblers of abstract nonsense, and even, I grieve to say--traitors. But on the whole, we have stood together, and therefore have not been trodden on. How it may end is within the knowledge of the Almighty only; but already there are signs that we shall be helped, if we continue to help ourselves.
"And now for the occasion of our meeting here. We rejoice most heartily with our good host, the vigilant Defender of these shores, at the restoration to his arms--or rather, to a still more delightful embrace--of a British officer, who has proved a truth we knew already, that nothing stops a British officer. I see a gentleman struck so keenly with the force of that remark, because he himself has proved it, that I must beg his next neighbor to fill up his glass, and allow nothing to stop him from tossing it off. And as I am getting astray from my text, I will clear my poor head with what you can see through."
The Marquis of Southdown filled his glass from a bottle of grand old Chambertin--six of which had been laid most softly in a cupboard of the wainscote for his use--and then he had it filled again, and saw his meaning brilliantly.
"Our second point is the defeat of the French, and of this we may now assure ourselves. They have not been defeated, for the very good reason that they never would come out to fight; but it comes to the same thing, because they are giving it over as a hopeless job. I have seen too many ups and downs to say that we are out of danger yet; but when our fleets have been chasing theirs all over the world, are they likely to come and meet us in our own waters? Nelson has anchored at Spithead, and is rushing up to London, as our host has heard today, with his usual impetuosity. Every man must stick to his own business, even the mighty Nelson; and he might not meddle with Billy Blue, or anybody else up Channel. Still, Nelson is not the sort of man to jump into a chaise at Portsmouth if there was the smallest chance of the French coming over to devour us.
"Well, my friends, we have done our best, and have some right to be proud of it; but we should depart from our nature if we even exercised that right. The nature of an Englishman is this--to be afraid of nothing but his own renown. Feeling this great truth, I will avoid offense by hiding as a crime my admiration of the glorious soldiers and sailors here, yet beg them for once to remember themselves, as having enabled me to propose, and all present to pledge, the welfare of our King and Country."
[The best known Victorian Novelist, Charles Dickens, was famous for his moving descriptions of death--particularly the deaths of children. Probably the most moving was the following description of the death of little Paul Dombey, just over a quarter of the way into Dombey & Son. Little Paul, a sickly lad, was the only son, and only object of any genuine human affection or love, of a cold and materialistic father--a man of business, close to being a younger version of Dickens' own Ebaneezer Scrooge. What appears to be happening here is not only the death of a really kind, intelligent and loving little boy, but the death of any hope for redemption in the life of the father. Yet note, again, this is early in the novel. We do not give away the story. Florence, mentioned below, is little Paul's older sister.]
Paul had never risen from his little bed. He lay there, listening to the noises in the street, quite tranquilly; not caring much how the time went, but watching it and watching everything about him with observing eyes.
When the sunbeams struck into his room through the rustling blinds, and quivered on the opposite wall like golden water, he knew that evening was coming on, and that the sky was red and beautiful. As the reflection died away, and a gloom went creeping up the wall, he watched it deepen, deepen, deepen, into night. Then he thought how the long streets were dotted with lamps, and how the peaceful stars were shining overheard. His fancy had a strange tendency to wander to the river, which he knew was flowing through the great city; and now he thought how black it was, and how deep it would look, reflecting the hosts of stars--and more than all, how steadily it rolled away to meet the sea.
As it grew later in the night, and footsteps in the street became so rare that he could hear them coming, count them as they paused, and lose them in the hollow distance, he would lie and watch the many-colored rings about the candle, and wait patiently for day. His only trouble was, the swift and rapid river. He felt forced, sometimes to try to stop it--to stem it with his childish hands--or choke its way with sand--and when he saw it coming on resistless he cried out! But a word from Florence, who was always at his side, restored him to himself; and leaning his poor head upon her breast, he told Floy of his dream, and smiled.
When day began to dawn again, he watched for the sun; and when its cheerful light began to sparkle in the room, he pictured to himself--pictured! he saw--the high church towers rising up into the morning sky, the town reviving, waking, starting into life once more, the river glistening as it rolled (but rolling fast as ever), and the country bright with dew. Familiar sounds and cries came by degrees into the street below; the servants in the house were roused and busy; faces looked in at the door, and voices asked his attendants softly how he was. Paul always answered for himself, "I am better. I am a great deal better, thank you! Tell Papa so!"
By little and little, he got tired of the bustle of the day, the noise of carriages and carts, and people passing and re-passing; and would fall asleep or be troubled with a restless and uneasy sense again--the child could hardly tell whether this were in his sleeping or his waking moments--of that rushing river. "Why, will it never stop, Floy?" he would sometimes ask her. "It is bearing me away, I think!"
But Floy could always soothe and reassure him; and it was his daily delight to make her lay her head down on his pillow, and take some rest.
"You are always watching me, Floy. Let me watch you now!" They would prop him up with cushions in a corner of his bed, and there he would recline the while she lay beside him: bending forward oftentimes to kiss her, and whispering to those who were near that she was tired, and how she had sat up so many nights beside him.
Thus the flush of the day, in its heat and light, would gradually decline; and again the golden water would be dancing on the wall.
He was visited by as many as three grave doctors--they used to assemble downstairs, and come up together--and the room was so quiet, and Paul was so observant of them (though he never asked of anybody what they said), that he even knew the difference in the sound of their watches. But his interest centered in Sir Parker Peps, who always took his seat on the side of the bed. For Paul had heard them say long ago, that that gentleman had been with his mamma when she clasped Florence in her arms, and died. And he could not forget it, now. He liked him for it. He was not afraid.
The people round him changed as unaccountably as on that first night at Dr. Blimber's--except Florence; Florence never changed--and what had been Sir Parker Peps was now his father, sitting with his head upon his hand. Old Mrs. Pipchin, dozing in any easy-chair, often changed to Miss Tox, or his aunt; and Paul was quite content to shut his eyes again, and see what happened next without emotion. But this figure with its head upon its hand returned so often, and remained so long, and sat so still and solemn, never speaking, never being spoken to, and rarely lifting up its face, that Paul began to wonder languidly, if it were real: and in the night-time saw it sitting there with fear.
"Floy!" he said. "What is that?"
"There! at the bottom of the bed."
"There's nothing there, except Papa!"
The figure lifted up its head, and rose, and coming to the bedside, said: "My own boy! Don't you know me?"
Paul looked it in the face, and thought, was this his father? But the face so altered to his thinking, thrilled while he gazed, as if it were in pain: and before he could reach out both his hands to take it between them, and draw it towards him, the figure turned away quickly from the little bed, and went out at the door.
Paul looked at Florence with a fluttering heart, but he knew what she was going to say, and stopped her with his face against her lips. The next time he observed the figure sitting at the bottom of the bed, he called to it.
"Don't be so sorry for me, dear Papa! Indeed I am quite happy!"
His father coming and bending down to him--which he did quickly, and without first pausing by the bedside--Paul held him round the neck, and repeated those words to him several times, and very earnestly; and Paul never saw him in his room again at any time, whether it were day or night, but he called out, "Don't be so sorry for me! Indeed I am quite happy!" This was the beginning of his always saying in the morning that he was a great deal better, and that they were to tell his father so.
How many times the golden water danced upon the wall; how many nights the dark river rolled towards the sea in spite of him; Paul never counted, never sought to know. If their kindness or his sense of it, could have increased, they were more kind, and he more grateful every day; but whether they were many days or few, appeared of little moment now, to the gentle boy.
One night he had been thinking of his mother, and her picture in the drawing-room downstairs, and thought she must have loved sweet Florence better than his father did, to have held her in her arms when she felt that she was dying--for even he, her brother, who had such dear love for her, could have no greater wish than that. The train of thought suggested to him to inquire if he had ever seen his mother; for he could not remember whether they had told him, yes or no, the river running very fast, and confusing his mind.
"Floy, did I ever see Mama?"
"No, darling, why?"
"Did I ever see any kind face, like Mama's, looking at me when I was a baby, Floy?"
He asked, incredulously, as if he had some vision of a face before him.
"Oh yes dear!"
"Your old nurse's. Often."
"And where is my old nurse?" said Paul. "Is she dead too? Floy, are we all dead, except you?"
There was a hurry in the room, for an instant--longer, perhaps; but it seemed no more--then all was still again; and Florence, with her face quite colorless, but smiling, held his head upon her arm. Her arm trembled very much.
"Show me that old nurse, Floy, if you please!"
"She is not here, darling. She shall come to-morrow."
"Thank you, Floy!"
Paul closed his eyes with those words, and fell asleep. When he awoke, the sun was high, and the broad day was clear and warm. He lay a little, looking at the windows, which were open, and the curtains rustling in the air, and waving to and fro: then he said, "Floy, is it to-morrow? Is she come?"
Some one seemed to go in quest of her. Perhaps it was Susan. Paul thought he heard her telling him when he had closed his eyes again, that she would soon be back; but he did not open them to see. She kept her word--perhaps she had never been away--but the next thing that happened was a noise of footsteps on the stairs, and then Paul woke--woke mind and body--and sat upright in his bed. He saw them now about him. There was no gray mist before them, as there had been sometimes in the night. He knew them every one, and called them by their names.
"And who is this? Is this my old nurse?" said the child, regarding with a radiant smile, a figure coming in.
Yes, yes. No other stranger would have shed those tears at sight of him, and called him her dear boy, her pretty boy, her own poor blighted child. No other woman would have stooped down by his bed, and taken up his wasted hand, and put it to her lips and breast, as one who had some right to fondle it. No other woman would have so forgotten everybody there but him and Floy, and been so full of tenderness and pity.
"Floy! this is a kind good face!" said Paul! "I am glad to see it again. Don't go away, old nurse. Stay here."
His senses were all quickened, and he heard a name he knew.
"Who was that, who said 'Walter?'" he asked, looking round. "Some one said Walter. Is he here? I should like to see him very much."
Nobody replied directly; but his father soon said to Susan, "Call him back, then: let him come up!" After a short pause of expectation, during which he looked, with smiling interest and wonder, on his nurse, and saw that she had not forgotten Floy, Walter was brought into the room. His open face and manner, and his cheerful eyes, had always made him a favorite with Paul; and when Paul saw him, he stretched out his hand, and said "Good-bye!"
"Good-bye, my child!" cried Mrs. Pipchin, hurrying to his bed's head. "Not good-bye?"
For an instant, Paul looked at her with the wistful face with which he had so often gazed upon her in his corner by the fire. "Ah yes," he said placidly, "good-bye! Walter dear, good-bye!"--turning his head to where he stood, and putting out his hand again. "Where is Papa?"
He felt his father's breath upon his cheek, before the words had parted from his lips.
"Remember Walter, dear Papa," he whispered, looking in his face. "Remember Walter. I was fond of Walter!" The feeble hand waved in the air, as if it cried "good-bye!" to Walter once again.
"Now lay me down," he said, "and Floy, come close to me, and let me see you!"
Sister and brother wound their arms around each other, and the golden light came streaming in, and fell upon them, locked together.
"How fast the river runs, between its green banks and the rushes, Floy! But 'tis very near the sea. I hear the waves! They always said so!"
Presently he told her that the motion of the boat upon the stream was lulling him to rest. How green the banks were now, how bright the flowers growing on them, and how tall the rushes! Now the boat was out at sea, but gliding smoothly on. And now there was a shore before him. Who stood on the bank!--
He put his hands together, as he had been used to do at his prayers. He did not remove his arms to do it; but they saw him fold them so, behind her neck.
"Mama is like you, Floy. I know her by the face! But tell them that the print upon the stairs at school is not divine enough. The light about the head is shining on me as I go!"
The golden ripple on the wall came back again, and nothing else stirred in the room. The old, old fashion! The fashion that came in with our first garments, and will last unchanged until our race has run its course, and the wide firmament is rolled up like a scroll. The old, old fashion--Death!
Oh thank God, all who see it, for that older fashion yet, of Immortality! And look upon us, angels of young children, with regards not quite estranged, when the swift river bears us to the ocean!
[Some of the power of the above is lost in reading it as an excerpt. There are numerous images and expressions (such as Paul being "old fashioned," and what the waters were "saying") contained in the actual death scene, which were suggested without explanation, then echoed repeatedly yet almost unobtrusively, throughout the first quarter of the novel--all gradually moving towards this moment.]
[It was at the very start of the Victorian era, that the great American innovator, Edgar Allan Poe, created the concept of the modern detective story in three tales about an analytic Frenchman, C. Auguste Dupin (1841 - 1844). He also illustrated deductive reasoning in what is probably the best known of all his stories, "The Gold Bug" (1843). Yet it was the British writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who demonstrated the full potential of the concept for enticing a broad public audience, when he launched Sherlock Holmes in 1887 in A Study In Scarlet. Early in this short novel, the detective explains his art.].
... Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast. One of the articles had a pencil-mark at the heading, and I naturally began to run my eye through it.
Its somewhat ambitious title was "The Book of Life," and it attempted to show how much an observant man might learn by an accurate and systematic examination of all that came in his way. It struck me as being a remarkable mixture of shrewdness and absurdity. The reasoning was close and intense, but the deductions appeared to me to be far-fetched and exaggerated. The writer claimed by a momentary expression, a twitch of a muscle, or a glance of an eye, to fathom a man's inmost thoughts. Deceit, according to him, was an impossibility in the case of one trained to observation and analysis. His conclusions were as infallible as so many propositions of Euclid. So startling would his results appear to the uninitiated that, until they learned the processes by which he had arrived at them, they might well consider him a necromancer.
"From a drop of water," said the writer, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems. Let him, on meeting a fellow-mortal, learn at a glance to distinguish the history of the man, and the trade or profession to which he belongs. Puerile as such an exercise may seem, it sharpens the faculties of observation, and teaches one where to look and what to look for. By a man's finger-nails, by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuffs--by each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable."
"What ineffable twaddle!" I cried, slapping the magazine down on the table; "I never read such rubbish in my life."
"What is it?" asked Sherlock Holmes.
"Why, this article," I said, pointing at it with my egg-spoon as I sat down to my breakfast. "I see that you have read it, since you have marked it. I don't deny that it is smartly written. It irritates me, though. It is evidently the theory of some armchair lounger who evolves all these neat little paradoxes in the seclusion of his own study. It is not practical. I should like to see him clapped down in a third-class carriage on the Underground, and asked to give the trades of all his fellow-travellers. I would lay a thousand to one against him."
"You would lose your money," Sherlock Holmes remarked, calmly. "As for the article, I wrote it myself."
"Yes; I have a turn both for observation and for deduction. The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical, are really extremely practical--so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese."
"And how?" I asked, involuntarily.
"Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'm a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. Here in London we have lots of government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault, they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first. Lestrade is a well-known detective. He got himself into a fog recently over a forgery case, and that was what brought him here."
"And these other people?"
"They are mostly sent out by private inquiry agencies. They are all people who are in trouble about something, and want a little enlightening. I listen to their story, they listen to my comments, and then I pocket my fee."
"But do you mean to say," I said, "that without leaving your room you can unravel some knot which other men can make nothing of, although they have seen every detail for themselves?"
"Quite so. I have a kind of intuition that way. Now and again a case turns up which is a little more complex. Then I have to bustle about and see things with my own eyes. You see, I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply to the problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully. Those rules of deduction laid down in that article which aroused your scorn are invaluable to me in practical work. Observation with me is second nature. You appeared to be surprised when I told you, on our first meeting, that you had come from Afghanistan."
"You were told, no doubt."
"Nothing of the sort. I knew you came from Afghanistan. From long habit the train of thought ran so swiftly through my mind that I arrived at the conclusion without being conscious of intermediate steps. There were such steps, however. The train of reasoning ran: 'Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the topics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.' The whole train of thought did not occupy a second. I then remarked that you came from Afghanistan, and you were astonished."
"It is simple enough as you explain it," I said smiling. "You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."
Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe.
"No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."
"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. "Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"
Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically.
"Lecoq was a miserable bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took six months or so. It might be made a text-book for detectives to teach them what to avoid."
I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had admired treated in this cavalier style. I walked over to the window, and stood looking out into the busy street.
"This fellow may be very clever," I said to myself, "but he is certainly very conceited."
"There are no crimes and no criminals in these days," he said querulously. "What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it."
I was still annoyed at his bumptious style of conversation. I thought it best to change the topic.
"I wonder what that fellow is looking for?" I asked, pointing to a stalwart, plainly dressed individual who was walking slowly down the other side of the street, looking anxiously at the numbers. He had a large blue envelope in his hand, and was evidently the bearer of a message.
"You mean the retired sergeant of Marines," said Sherlock Holmes.
"Brag and bounce!" thought I to myself. "He knows that I cannot verify his guess."
The thought had hardly passed through my mind when the man whom we were watching caught sight of the number on our door, and ran rapidly across the roadway. We heard a loud knock, a deep voice below, and heavy steps ascending the stair.
"For Mr. Sherlock Holmes," he said, stepping into the room and handing my friend the letter.
Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of him. He little thought of this when he made that random shot. "May I ask, my lad," I said, blandly, "what your trade may be?"
"Commissionaire, sir," he said, gruffly. "Uniform away for repairs."
"And you were?" I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at my companion.
"A sergeant, sir; Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No answer? Right, sir?"
He clicked his heels together, raised his hand in salute, and was gone.
. . . .
I confess that I was considerably startled by this fresh proof of the practical nature of my companion's theories. . . .There still remained some lurking suspicion in my mind, however, that the whole thing was a prearranged episode, intended to dazzle me, though what earthly object he could have in taking me in was past my comprehension. When I looked at him he had finished reading the note, and his eyes had assumed the vacant, lack luster expression which showed mental abstraction.
"How in the world did you deduce that?" I asked.
"Deduce what?" said he, petulantly.
"Why that he was a retired sergeant of Marines."
"I have no time for trifles," he replied, brusquely; then, with a smile, "Excuse my rudeness. You broke the thread of my thoughts; but perhaps it is as well. So you actually were not able to see that that man was a sergeant of Marines?"
"It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact. Even across the street I could see a great blue anchor tattooed on the back of the fellow's hand. That smacked of the sea. He had a military carriage, however, and regulation side-whiskers. There we have the Marine. He was a man with some amount of self-importance and a certain air of command. You must have observed the way in which he held his head and swung his cane. A steady, respectable, middle-aged man, too, on the face of him--all facts which led me to believe that he had been a sergeant."
"Wonderful!" I ejaculated.
"Commonplace," said Holmes, . . . .
[Literature is full of beautiful and engaging women, including the most self-centered, more than willing to use their charms to obtain advantage in everything from love & altruistic pursuits, to family advancement & profit, even to crime or vengeance. Some of these were tempered by morality, some not. Some were far more memorable, of course, than others. For example, generations of American novel readers & movie goers have smiled or groaned over the wiles by which Scarlett O'Hara manipulated men in "Gone With The Wind." But Scarlett was only an example of a type best captured by William Makepiece Thackeray in the heroine of his classic Vanity Fair--Miss Rebecca (Becky) Sharp.]
A very stout, puffy man, in buckskins and Hessian boots, with several immense neckcloths, that rose almost to his nose. . . 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 is 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 neck cloth, 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, rather loud.
"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 curtsy 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?"
"Oh, heavenly!" said Miss Sharp, and her eyes went from the carpet straight to the chandelier.
. . . .
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 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?"
. . . .
"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. . . . .
"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 dinner."
. . . .
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, . . . Miss Sharp had no kind parent to arrange those 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. . . . . Rebecca determined to do her 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) . . . .
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 . . . as collector of Boggley Wollah, an honorable and lucrative post. . . .
He was lazy, peevish, and a bon vivant; the appearance of a lady frightened him beyond measure. . . . Like most fat men, he would have his clothes made too tight, and took care they should be of the most brilliant colors and youthful cut. When dressed at length, in the afternoon, he would issue forth to take a drive with nobody in the Park; and then would come back in order to dress again and go and dine with nobody at the Piazza Coffee-House. He was as vain as a girl; and perhaps his extreme shyness was one of the results of his extreme vanity. If Miss Rebecca can get the better of him, and at her first entrance into life, she is a young person of no ordinary cleverness.
The first move showed considerable skill. When she called Sedley a very handsome man, she knew that Amelia would tell her mother, who would probably tell Joseph, or who, at any rate, would be pleased by the compliment to her son. . . . Perhaps, too, Joseph Sedley would overhear the compliment--Rebecca spoke loud enough--and he did hear, and (thinking in his heart that he was a very fine man) the praise thrilled through every fibre of his big body, and made it tingle with pleasure. Then, however, came a recoil. "Is the girl making fun of me?" he thought. . . . He conducted the young lady down to dinner in a dubious and agitated frame of mind. "Does she really think I am handsome . . . .or is she only making game of me?" . . . .
Downstairs, then, they went, Joseph very red and blushing, Rebecca very modest, and holding her green eyes downwards. She was dressed in white, with bare shoulders as white as snow--the picture of youth, unprotected innocence, and humble virgin simplicity. "I must be very quiet," thought Rebecca, "and very much interested about India."
Now we have heard how Mrs. Sedley had prepared a fine curry for her son, just as he liked it, and in the course of dinner a portion of this dish was offered to Rebecca. "What is it?" said she, turning an appealing look to Mr. Joseph.
"Capital," said he. His mouth was full of it; his face quite red with the delightful exercise of gobbling. "Mother, it's as good as my own curries in India."
"Oh, I must try some, if it is an Indian dish," said Miss Rebecca. "I am sure everything must be good that comes from there."
"Give Miss Sharp some curry, my dear," said Mr. Sedley, laughing.
Rebecca had never tasted the dish before.
"Do you find it as good as everything else from India?" said Mr. Sedley.
"Oh, excellent!" said Rebecca, who was suffering tortures with the cayenne pepper.
"Try a chili with it, Miss Sharp," said Joseph, really interested.
"A chili," said Rebecca gasping. "Oh yes!" She thought a chili was something cool, as its name imported, and was served with some. "How fresh and green they look!" she said, and put one into her mouth. It was hotter than the curry; flesh and blood could bear it no longer. She laid down her fork. "Water, for Heaven's sake, water!" she cried. Mr. Sedley burst out laughing (he was a coarse man from the Stock Exchange, where they love all sorts of practical jokes.) "They are real Indian, I assure you," said he. "Sambo, give Miss Sharp some water."
The paternal laugh was echoed by Joseph, who thought the joke capital. The ladies only smiled a little. They thought poor Rebecca suffered too much. She would have liked to choke old Sedley, but she swallowed her mortification as well as she had the abominable curry before it, and as soon as she could speak, said, with a comical, good-humoured air,--
"I ought to have remembered the pepper which the Princess of Persia puts in the cream-tarts in the Arabian Nights. Do you put cayenne into your cream-tarts in India, sir?"
Old Sedley began to laugh, and thought Rebecca was a good-humoured girl. Joseph simply said--"Cream-tarts, Miss? Our cream is very bad in Bengal. We generally use goats' milk; and, 'gad, do you know, I've got to prefer it!"
"You won't like everything from India now, Miss Sharp," said the old gentleman; but when the ladies had retired after dinner, the wily old fellow said to his son, "Have a care, Joe; that girl is setting her cap at you."
"Pooh! nonsense!" said Joe, highly flattered. "I recollect, sir, there was a girl at Dumdum, a daughter of . . . .
Being an invalid, Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him, and certainly . . . . he thought a great deal about the girl upstairs. "A nice, gay, merry young creature," thought he to himself. "How she looked at me when I picked up her handkerchief at dinner! She dropped it twice. Who's that singing in the drawing room? 'Gad! shall I go up and see?"
But his modesty came rushing upon him with uncontrollable force. His father was asleep; his hat was in the hall; there was a hackney-coach stand hard by in Southampton Row. . . .
"There goes Joseph," said Amelia, who was looking from the open windows in the drawing-room, while Rebecca was singing at the piano.
"Miss Sharp has frightened him away," said Mrs. Sedley. "Poor Joe, why will he be so shy?"
Poor Joe's panic lasted for two or three days; during which he did not visit the house, nor during that period did Miss Rebecca ever mention his name. She was all respectful gratitude to Mrs. Sedley: delighted beyond measure at the Bazaars; and in a whirl of wonder at the theatre, whither the good-natured lady took her. One day Amelia had a headache, and could not go upon some party of pleasure to which the two young people were invited: nothing could induce her friend to go without her. "What! you have shown the poor orphan what happiness and love are for the first time in her life--quit you? never!" and the green eyes looked up to heaven and filled with tears; and Mrs. Sedley could not but own that her daughter's friend had a charming kind heart of her own.
As for Mr. Sedley's jokes, Rebecca laughed at them with a cordiality and perseverance which not a little pleased and softened that good-natured gentleman. Nor was it with the chiefs of the family alone that Miss Sharp found favour. She interested Mrs. Blenkinsop by evincing the deepest sympathy in the raspberry-jam preserving, which operation was then going on in the Housekeeper's room; she persisted in calling Sambo "Sir," and "Mr. Sambo," to the delight of that attendant; and she apologized to the lady's-maid for giving her trouble in venturing to ring the bell, with such sweetness and humility, that the Servants' Hall was almost as charmed with her as the Drawing Room.
Once, in looking over some drawings which Amelia had sent from school, Rebecca suddenly came upon one which caused her to burst into tears and leave the room. It was on the day when Joe Sedley made his second appearance.
Amelia hastened after her friend to know the cause of this display of feeling, and the good-natured girl came back without her companion, rather affected too. . . . .
"I wish she could stay with us another week," said Amelia.
"She's devilish like Miss Cutler that I used to meet at Dumdum, only fairer. She's married now to Lance, the . . . ."
"O Joseph, we know that story," said Amelia, laughing. "Never mind about telling that; but persuade Mamma to write to Sir Something Crawley for leave of absence for poor dear Rebecca:--here she comes, her eyes red with weeping."
"I'm better now," said the girl, with the sweetest smile possible, taking good-natured Mrs. Sedley's extended hand and kissing it respectfully. "How kind you all are to me! All," she added, with a laugh, "except you, Mr. Joseph."
"Me!" said Joseph, meditating an instant departure. "Gracious Heavens! Good Gad! Miss Sharp!"
"Yes; how could you be so cruel as to make me eat that horrid pepper-dish at dinner, the first day I ever saw you? You are not so good to me as dear Amelia."
"He doesn't know you so well," cried Amelia.
"I defy anybody not to be good to you, my dear," said her mother.
"The curry was capital; indeed it was," said Joseph, quite gravely. "Perhaps there was not enough citron juice in it;--no, there was not."
"And the chilis?"
"By Jove, how they made you cry out!" said Joe, caught by the ridicule of the circumstance, and exploding in a fit of laughter, which ended quite suddenly, as usual.
"I shall take care how I let you choose for me another time," said Rebecca, as they went down again to dinner. "I didn't think men were fond of putting poor harmless girls to pain."
"By Gad, Miss Rebecca, I wouldn't hurt you for the world."
"No," said she. "I know you wouldn't"; and then she gave him ever so gentle a pressure with her little hand, and drew it back quite frightened, and looked first for one instant in his face, and then down at the carpet-rods; and I am not prepared to say that Joe's heart did not thump at this little involuntary, timid, gentle motion of regard on the part of the simple girl.
It was an advance, and as such, perhaps, some ladies of indisputable correctness and gentility will condemn the action as immodest; but, you see, poor dear Rebecca had all this work to do for herself. If a person is too poor to keep a servant, though ever so elegant, he must sweep his own rooms; if a dear girl has no dear Mamma to settle matters with the young man, she must do it for herself. And oh, what a mercy it is that these women do not exercise their powers oftener! We can't resist them if they do. . . . . Only let us be thankful that the darlings are like the beasts of the field, and don't know their own power. They would overcome us entirely if they did.
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