/ Vanity Fair

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һ, 2017


On one shiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkertons academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses. As a black servant pulled the bell a score of young heads were seen in the narrow windows of the old brick house.

It is Mrs. Sedleys coach, sister, said Miss Jemima.

Have you completed all the necessary preparations for Miss Sedleys departure, Miss Jemima? asked Miss Pinkerton herself.

The girls were up at four this morning, packing her trunks, sister, replied Miss Jemima.

We have also prepared her billet.

In the present instance Miss Pinkertons billet was to the following effect:

The Mall, Chiswick, June 15, 18

MADAM, After her six years residence at the Mall, I have the happiness of presenting Miss Amelia Sedley to her parents, as a young lady worthy to occupy a fitting position in their refined circle. 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, Madam, Your most obliged humble servant, BARBARA PINKERTON

P. S. Miss Sharp accompanies Miss Sedley. It is particularly requested that Miss Sharps stay in Russell Square may not exceed ten days.

This letter completed, Miss Pinkerton wrote her own name, and Miss Sedleys, in the fly-leaf of a Johnsons Dictionary the interesting work which she presented to her scholars, on their departure from the Mall.

Miss Jemima had taken two copies of the book. When Miss Pinkerton had signed the first, Jemima, with a 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. For Becky Sharp: shes going too.

MISS JEMIMA! exclaimed Miss Pinkerton. Are you in your senses?

Well, sister, its only two-and-nine pence, and poor Becky will be miserable if she doesnt get one.

Send Miss Sedley to me, said Miss Pinkerton. Poor Jemima trotted off.

Miss Sedleys 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. Now, Miss Amelia Sedley was a young lady and had many charming qualities. For she could not only sing like a lark, and dance, and embroider beautifully; and spell as well as a Dictionary 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. When the departure came, Miss Sedley was greatly puzzled how to act. She was glad to go home, and yet sad at leaving school.

The hour for parting came; Miss Pinkerton addressed to her pupil with admirable speech.

Youll go in and say good-by to Miss Pinkerton, Becky! said Miss Jemima to a young lady of whom nobody took any notice.

I suppose I must, said Miss Sharp calmly. Miss Sharp came to Miss Pinkerton in a very unconcerned manner, and said in French, and with a perfect accent, Mademoiselle, je viens vous faire mes adieux.[1]1
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Miss Pinkerton did not understand French. She said, Miss Sharp, I wish you a good morning. Heaven bless you, my child, said she, embracing Amelia, and scowling over the girls shoulder at Miss Sharp.

Come away, Becky, said Miss Jemima, pulling the young woman away in great alarm, and the door closed upon them forever.

Then came 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; and there was such hugging, and kissing, and crying, as no pen can depict. That is, Miss Sedley parted from her friends. Miss Sharp had entered the carriage some minutes before. Nobody cried for leaving HER. Sambo slammed the door of the carriage.

Stop! cried Miss Jemima, rushing to the gate with a parcel. Its some sandwiches, my dear, said she to Amelia. You may be hungry, you know; and Becky, Becky Sharp, heres a book for you that my sister that is, Johnsons Dixonary, you know; you mustnt leave us without that. Good-by. God bless you!

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. 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.


When Miss Sharp had seen the Dictionary, flying over the pavement of the little garden, fall at length at the feet of the astonished Miss Jemima, the young lady smiled, and she sank back in the carriage, saying So much for the Dixonary; and, thank God, Im out of Chiswick.

Miss Sedley was almost as flurried at the act of defiance as Miss Jemima had been.

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? said Rebecca, laughing.

No: but

I hate the whole house, continued Miss Sharp in a fury. I hope I may never set eyes on it again.

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. I have been treated worse than any servant in the kitchen. I have never had a friend or a kind word, except from you. But that talking French to Miss Pinkerton was capital fun, wasnt it? She doesnt know a word of French, and was too proud to confess it, which made her part with me; and so thank Heaven for French.Vive la France! Vive lEmpereur! Vive Bonaparte!

O Rebecca, Rebecca, for shame! cried Miss Sedley. 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, revengeful thoughts?

Revenge may be wicked, but its natural, answered Miss Rebecca. Im no angel. And, to say the truth, she certainly was not.

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 do a good action for anybody.

Miss Sharps father was an artist, and had given lessons of drawing at Miss Pinkertons school. He was a clever man; apleasant companion; acareless student. 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. He was married to a young woman of the French nation, who was by profession an opera-girl.

Rebeccas mother had had some education somewhere, and her daughter spoke French with purity and a Parisian accent. When her mother died, her father wrote a letter to Miss Pinkerton, recommending the orphan child to her protection and died too. Rebecca was seventeen when she came to Chiswick; her duties being to talk French, 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. By the side of many tall and bouncing young ladies in the establishment, Rebecca Sharp looked like a child. But she had the dismal experience of poverty. She talked to tradesmen to have a free meal granted, chatted with her father, who was very proud of her wit, and heard the talk of his wild companions often 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. The rigid formality of the place suffocated her. She had a little room, where the maids heard her walking and sobbing at night; but it was with rage, and not with grief.

She had never mingled in the society of women. The gentle tender-hearted Amelia Sedley was the only person to whom she could attach herself in the least. The advantages of the young women round her gave Rebecca pangs of envy.

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.

Miss Pinkerton noticed her level of music performance and said to Miss Sharp that she was to instruct the children in music for the future.

The girl refused: 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. 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 noblemans family you can do so if you please.

Having Miss Pinkerton to attempt once to scold her in public, Rebecca hit upon the before-mentioned plan of answering Miss Pinkerton in French, which she couldnt speak.[2]2
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In order to maintain authority in her school, it became necessary to remove this rebel, this monster, this serpent and hearing about this time that Sir Pitt Crawleys family was in want of a governess, she actually recommended Miss Sharp for the situation.

Miss Sharp was invited by her friend Amelia 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.

At all events, if Rebecca was not beginning the world, she was beginning it over again. And when at length home was reached, Miss Amelia Sedley skipped out on Sambos arm, as happy and as handsome a girl as any in the whole big city of London.

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 mothers permission to present her white Cashmere shawl to her friend. 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 I will.

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! And then, to have a brother, a dear brother! Oh, how you must love him!

Amelia laughed.

What! dont you love him? you, who say you love everybody?

Yes, of course, I do only

Only what?

Only Joseph doesnt seem to care much whether I love him or not. He is very kind and good, but he scarcely ever speaks to me. He was very kind to me as a child, she added; I was but five years old when he went away.

Isnt he very rich? said Rebecca.

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 again. Rebecca was quite disappointed that Mr. Sedley was not married; she was sure Amelia had said he was, and she doted so on little children.

I think you must have had enough of them at Chiswick, said Amelia, rather wondering at the sudden tenderness on her friends part. The meaning of the above series of queries was simply this:[3]3

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.

When the dinner-bell rang she went downstairs with her arm round her friends 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 doesnt, said Amelia. Come in, dont be frightened. Papa wont do you any harm.


A very stout, puffy man was reading the paper by the fire when the two girls entered, and bounced off his arm-chair, and blushed excessively.

Its only your sister, Joseph, said Amelia, laughing and shaking the two fingers which he held out. Ive 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 Joseph, shaking very much that is, yes what abominably cold weather, Miss.

Hes very handsome, whispered Rebecca to Amelia, rather loud.

Do you think so? said the latter. Ill tell him.

Thank you for the beautiful shawls, brother, said Amelia to the her brother. Are they not beautiful, Rebecca?

O heavenly! said Miss Sharp, and her eyes went from the carpet straight to the chandelier.

I cant 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.

For heavens sake see if my buggys at the door. I CANT wait. I must go.

At this minute the father of the family walked in. Whats 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.

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! didnt you tell your mother you would dine here?

But in this dress its impossible.

Look at him, isnt 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.

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.

I dont think, ladies, we have any right to blame Miss Rebecca Sharp; for though the task of husband hunting is generally entrusted by young persons to their mammas, remember that Miss Sharp had no kind parent 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. She had a vivid imagination: 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.

Joseph Sedley was twelve years older than his sister Amelia. He was in the East India Companys Civil Service as a collector. He had lived for about eight years of his life, quite alone, at this charming place. Luckily, at this time he caught a liver complaint, for the cure of which he returned to Europe. He did not live with his family while in London, but had lodgings of his own. But he was as lonely here as in his jungle. He scarcely knew a single soul in the metropolis. He was lazy, peevish, and a bon-vivant; the appearance of a lady frightened him beyond measure.[4]4
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His bulk caused Joseph much anxious thought and alarm; now and then he would make a desperate attempt to get rid of his fat. He never was well dressed; but he took the hugest pains to adorn his big person. His valet made a fortune out of his wardrobe. Like most fat men, he would have his clothes made too tight, and took care they should be of the most brilliant colours and youthful cut. He was as vain as a girl; and perhaps his extreme shyness was one of the results of his extreme vanity.

Rebeccas first move showed considerable skill. 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. He conducted the young lady down to dinner in a dubious and agitated frame of mind.[5]5

Does she really think I am handsome? thought he, or is she only making game of me? We have talked of Joseph Sedley being as vain as a girl. 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.

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. Mother, its 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 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 Heavens sake, water! she cried. Mr. Sedley burst out laughing.

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.

You wont 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.

Later 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. Whos that singing in the drawing-room? Gad! shall I go up and see?

But his modesty came rushing upon him with uncontrollable force. And he slipped away gently on the pointed toes of his boots, and disappeared.

There goes Joseph, said Amelia, who was looking from the open windows of 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 Joes 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, in a whirl of wonder at the theatre, where 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 who 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 daughters friend had a charming kind heart.

As for Mr. Sedleys jokes, Rebecca laughed at them with a cordiality which pleased and softened that good-natured gentleman. 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 and the good-natured girl came back without her companion, rather affected too. You know, her father was our drawing-master, Mamma, at Chiswick, and used to do all the best parts of our drawings.

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