Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 22

A Marriage and Part of a Honeymoon

Enemies the most obstinate and courageous can’t hold out against starvation; so the elder Osborne felt himself pretty easy about his adversary in the encounter we have just described; and as soon as George’s supplies fell short, confidently expected his unconditional submission. It was unlucky, to be sure, that the lad should have secured a stock of provisions on the very day when the first encounter took place; but this relief was only temporary, old Osborne thought, and would but delay George’s surrender. No communication passed between father and son for some days. The former was sulky at this silence, but not disquieted; for, as he said, he knew where he could put the screw upon George, and only waited the result of that operation. He told the sisters the upshot of the dispute between them, but ordered them to take no notice of the matter, and welcome George on his return as if nothing had happened. His cover was laid as usual every day, and perhaps the old gentleman rather anxiously expected him; but he never came. Some one inquired at the Slaughters’ regarding him, where it was said that he and his friend Captain Dobbin had left town.

One gusty, raw day at the end of April — the rain whipping the pavement of that ancient street where the old Slaughters’ Coffee-house was once situated — George Osborne came into the coffee-room, looking very haggard and pale; although dressed rather smartly in a blue coat and brass buttons, and a neat buff waistcoat of the fashion of those days. Here was his friend Captain Dobbin, in blue and brass too, having abandoned the military frock and French-grey trousers, which were the usual coverings of his lanky person.

Dobbin had been in the coffee-room for an hour or more. He had tried all the papers, but could not read them. He had looked at the clock many scores of times; and at the street, where the rain was pattering down, and the people as they clinked by in pattens, left long reflections on the shining stone: he tattooed at the table: he bit his nails most completely, and nearly to the quick (he was accustomed to ornament his great big hands in this way): he balanced the tea-spoon dexterously on the milk jug: upset it, &c., &c.; and in fact showed those signs of disquietude, and practised those desperate attempts at amusement, which men are accustomed to employ when very anxious, and expectant, and perturbed in mind.

Some of his comrades, gentlemen who used the room, joked him about the splendour of his costume and his agitation of manner. One asked him if he was going to be married? Dobbin laughed, and said he would send his acquaintance (Major Wagstaff of the Engineers) a piece of cake when that event took place. At length Captain Osborne made his appearance, very smartly dressed, but very pale and agitated as we have said. He wiped his pale face with a large yellow bandanna pocket-handkerchief that was prodigiously scented. He shook hands with Dobbin, looked at the clock, and told John, the waiter, to bring him some curacao. Of this cordial he swallowed off a couple of glasses with nervous eagerness. His friend asked with some interest about his health.

“Couldn’t get a wink of sleep till daylight, Dob,” said he. “Infernal headache and fever. Got up at nine, and went down to the Hummums for a bath. I say, Dob, I feel just as I did on the morning I went out with Rocket at Quebec.”

“So do I,” William responded. “I was a deuced deal more nervous than you were that morning. You made a famous breakfast, I remember. Eat something now.”

“You’re a good old fellow, Will. I’ll drink your health, old boy, and farewell to —”

“No, no; two glasses are enough,” Dobbin interrupted him. “Here, take away the liqueurs, John. Have some cayenne-pepper with your fowl. Make haste though, for it is time we were there.”

It was about half an hour from twelve when this brief meeting and colloquy took place between the two captains. A coach, into which Captain Osborne’s servant put his master’s desk and dressing-case, had been in waiting for some time; and into this the two gentlemen hurried under an umbrella, and the valet mounted on the box, cursing the rain and the dampness of the coachman who was steaming beside him. “We shall find a better trap than this at the church-door,” says he; “that’s a comfort.” And the carriage drove on, taking the road down Piccadilly, where Apsley House and St. George’s Hospital wore red jackets still; where there were oil-lamps; where Achilles was not yet born; nor the Pimlico arch raised; nor the hideous equestrian monster which pervades it and the neighbourhood; and so they drove down by Brompton to a certain chapel near the Fulham Road there.

A chariot was in waiting with four horses; likewise a coach of the kind called glass coaches. Only a very few idlers were collected on account of the dismal rain.

“Hang it!” said George, “I said only a pair.”

“My master would have four,” said Mr. Joseph Sedley’s servant, who was in waiting; and he and Mr. Osborne’s man agreed as they followed George and William into the church, that it was a “reg’lar shabby turn hout; and with scarce so much as a breakfast or a wedding faviour.”

“Here you are,” said our old friend, Jos Sedley, coming forward. “You’re five minutes late, George, my boy. What a day, eh? Demmy, it’s like the commencement of the rainy season in Bengal. But you’ll find my carriage is watertight. Come along, my mother and Emmy are in the vestry.”

Jos Sedley was splendid. He was fatter than ever. His shirt collars were higher; his face was redder; his shirt-frill flaunted gorgeously out of his variegated waistcoat. Varnished boots were not invented as yet; but the Hessians on his beautiful legs shone so, that they must have been the identical pair in which the gentleman in the old picture used to shave himself; and on his light green coat there bloomed a fine wedding favour, like a great white spreading magnolia.

In a word, George had thrown the great cast. He was going to be married. Hence his pallor and nervousness — his sleepless night and agitation in the morning. I have heard people who have gone through the same thing own to the same emotion. After three or four ceremonies, you get accustomed to it, no doubt; but the first dip, everybody allows, is awful.

The bride was dressed in a brown silk pelisse (as Captain Dobbin has since informed me), and wore a straw bonnet with a pink ribbon; over the bonnet she had a veil of white Chantilly lace, a gift from Mr. Joseph Sedley, her brother. Captain Dobbin himself had asked leave to present her with a gold chain and watch, which she sported on this occasion; and her mother gave her her diamond brooch — almost the only trinket which was left to the old lady. As the service went on, Mrs. Sedley sat and whimpered a great deal in a pew, consoled by the Irish maid-servant and Mrs. Clapp from the lodgings. Old Sedley would not be present. Jos acted for his father, giving away the bride, whilst Captain Dobbin stepped up as groomsman to his friend George.

There was nobody in the church besides the officiating persons and the small marriage party and their attendants. The two valets sat aloof superciliously. The rain came rattling down on the windows. In the intervals of the service you heard it, and the sobbing of old Mrs. Sedley in the pew. The parson’s tones echoed sadly through the empty walls. Osborne’s “I will” was sounded in very deep bass. Emmy’s response came fluttering up to her lips from her heart, but was scarcely heard by anybody except Captain Dobbin.

When the service was completed, Jos Sedley came forward and kissed his sister, the bride, for the first time for many months — George’s look of gloom had gone, and he seemed quite proud and radiant. “It’s your turn, William,” says he, putting his hand fondly upon Dobbin’s shoulder; and Dobbin went up and touched Amelia on the cheek.

Then they went into the vestry and signed the register. “God bless you, Old Dobbin,” George said, grasping him by the hand, with something very like moisture glistening in his eyes. William replied only by nodding his head. His heart was too full to say much.

“Write directly, and come down as soon as you can, you know,” Osborne said. After Mrs. Sedley had taken an hysterical adieu of her daughter, the pair went off to the carriage. “Get out of the way, you little devils,” George cried to a small crowd of damp urchins, that were hanging about the chapel-door. The rain drove into the bride and bridegroom’s faces as they passed to the chariot. The postilions’ favours draggled on their dripping jackets. The few children made a dismal cheer, as the carriage, splashing mud, drove away.

William Dobbin stood in the church-porch, looking at it, a queer figure. The small crew of spectators jeered him. He was not thinking about them or their laughter.

“Come home and have some tiffin, Dobbin,” a voice cried behind him; as a pudgy hand was laid on his shoulder, and the honest fellow’s reverie was interrupted. But the Captain had no heart to go a-feasting with Jos Sedley. He put the weeping old lady and her attendants into the carriage along with Jos, and left them without any farther words passing. This carriage, too, drove away, and the urchins gave another sarcastical cheer.

“Here, you little beggars,” Dobbin said, giving some sixpences amongst them, and then went off by himself through the rain. It was all over. They were married, and happy, he prayed God. Never since he was a boy had he felt so miserable and so lonely. He longed with a heart-sick yearning for the first few days to be over, that he might see her again.

Some ten days after the above ceremony, three young men of our acquaintance were enjoying that beautiful prospect of bow windows on the one side and blue sea on the other, which Brighton affords to the traveller. Sometimes it is towards the ocean — smiling with countless dimples, speckled with white sails, with a hundred bathing-machines kissing the skirt of his blue garment — that the Londoner looks enraptured: sometimes, on the contrary, a lover of human nature rather than of prospects of any kind, it is towards the bow windows that he turns, and that swarm of human life which they exhibit. From one issue the notes of a piano, which a young lady in ringlets practises six hours daily, to the delight of the fellow-lodgers: at another, lovely Polly, the nurse-maid, may be seen dandling Master Omnium in her arms: whilst Jacob, his papa, is beheld eating prawns, and devouring the Times for breakfast, at the window below. Yonder are the Misses Leery, who are looking out for the young officers of the Heavies, who are pretty sure to be pacing the cliff; or again it is a City man, with a nautical turn, and a telescope, the size of a six-pounder, who has his instrument pointed seawards, so as to command every pleasure-boat, herring-boat, or bathing-machine that comes to, or quits, the shore, &c., &c. But have we any leisure for a description of Brighton? — for Brighton, a clean Naples with genteel lazzaroni — for Brighton, that always looks brisk, gay, and gaudy, like a harlequin’s jacket — for Brighton, which used to be seven hours distant from London at the time of our story; which is now only a hundred minutes off; and which may approach who knows how much nearer, unless Joinville comes and untimely bombards it?

“What a monstrous fine girl that is in the lodgings over the milliner’s,” one of these three promenaders remarked to the other; “Gad, Crawley, did you see what a wink she gave me as I passed?”

“Don’t break her heart, Jos, you rascal,” said another. “Don’t trifle with her affections, you Don Juan!”

“Get away,” said Jos Sedley, quite pleased, and leering up at the maid-servant in question with a most killing ogle. Jos was even more splendid at Brighton than he had been at his sister’s marriage. He had brilliant under-waistcoats, any one of which would have set up a moderate buck. He sported a military frock-coat, ornamented with frogs, knobs, black buttons, and meandering embroidery. He had affected a military appearance and habits of late; and he walked with his two friends, who were of that profession, clinking his boot-spurs, swaggering prodigiously, and shooting death-glances at all the servant girls who were worthy to be slain.

“What shall we do, boys, till the ladies return?” the buck asked. The ladies were out to Rottingdean in his carriage on a drive.

“Let’s have a game at billiards,” one of his friends said — the tall one, with lacquered mustachios.

“No, dammy; no, Captain,” Jos replied, rather alarmed. “No billiards to-day, Crawley, my boy; yesterday was enough.”

“You play very well,” said Crawley, laughing. “Don’t he, Osborne? How well he made that-five stroke, eh?”

“Famous,” Osborne said. “Jos is a devil of a fellow at billiards, and at everything else, too. I wish there were any tiger-hunting about here! we might go and kill a few before dinner. (There goes a fine girl! what an ankle, eh, Jos?) Tell us that story about the tiger-hunt, and the way you did for him in the jungle — it’s a wonderful story that, Crawley.” Here George Osborne gave a yawn. “It’s rather slow work,” said he, “down here; what shall we do?”

“Shall we go and look at some horses that Snaffler’s just brought from Lewes fair?” Crawley said.

“Suppose we go and have some jellies at Dutton’s,” and the rogue Jos, willing to kill two birds with one stone. “Devilish fine gal at Dutton’s.”

“Suppose we go and see the Lightning come in, it’s just about time?” George said. This advice prevailing over the stables and the jelly, they turned towards the coach-office to witness the Lightning’s arrival.

As they passed, they met the carriage — Jos Sedley’s open carriage, with its magnificent armorial bearings — that splendid conveyance in which he used to drive, about at Cheltonham, majestic and solitary, with his arms folded, and his hat cocked; or, more happy, with ladies by his side.

Two were in the carriage now: one a little person, with light hair, and dressed in the height of the fashion; the other in a brown silk pelisse, and a straw bonnet with pink ribbons, with a rosy, round, happy face, that did you good to behold. She checked the carriage as it neared the three gentlemen, after which exercise of authority she looked rather nervous, and then began to blush most absurdly. “We have had a delightful drive, George,” she said, “and — and we’re so glad to come back; and, Joseph, don’t let him be late.”

“Don’t be leading our husbands into mischief, Mr. Sedley, you wicked, wicked man you,” Rebecca said, shaking at Jos a pretty little finger covered with the neatest French kid glove. “No billiards, no smoking, no naughtiness!”

“My dear Mrs. Crawley — Ah now! upon my honour!” was all Jos could ejaculate by way of reply; but he managed to fall into a tolerable attitude, with his head lying on his shoulder, grinning upwards at his victim, with one hand at his back, which he supported on his cane, and the other hand (the one with the diamond ring) fumbling in his shirt-frill and among his under-waistcoats. As the carriage drove off he kissed the diamond hand to the fair ladies within. He wished all Cheltenham, all Chowringhee, all Calcutta, could see him in that position, waving his hand to such a beauty, and in company with such a famous buck as Rawdon Crawley of the Guards.

Our young bride and bridegroom had chosen Brighton as the place where they would pass the first few days after their marriage; and having engaged apartments at the Ship Inn, enjoyed themselves there in great comfort and quietude, until Jos presently joined them. Nor was he the only companion they found there. As they were coming into the hotel from a sea-side walk one afternoon, on whom should they light but Rebecca and her husband. The recognition was immediate. Rebecca flew into the arms of her dearest friend. Crawley and Osborne shook hands together cordially enough: and Becky, in the course of a very few hours, found means to make the latter forget that little unpleasant passage of words which had happened between them. “Do you remember the last time we met at Miss Crawley’s, when I was so rude to you, dear Captain Osborne? I thought you seemed careless about dear Amelia. It was that made me angry: and so pert: and so unkind: and so ungrateful. Do forgive me!” Rebecca said, and she held out her hand with so frank and winning a grace, that Osborne could not but take it. By humbly and frankly acknowledging yourself to be in the wrong, there is no knowing, my son, what good you may do. I knew once a gentleman and very worthy practitioner in Vanity Fair, who used to do little wrongs to his neighbours on purpose, and in order to apologise for them in an open and manly way afterwards — and what ensued? My friend Crocky Doyle was liked everywhere, and deemed to be rather impetuous — but the honestest fellow. Becky’s humility passed for sincerity with George Osborne.

These two young couples had plenty of tales to relate to each other. The marriages of either were discussed; and their prospects in life canvassed with the greatest frankness and interest on both sides. George’s marriage was to be made known to his father by his friend Captain Dobbin; and young Osborne trembled rather for the result of that communication. Miss Crawley, on whom all Rawdon’s hopes depended, still held out. Unable to make an entry into her house in Park Lane, her affectionate nephew and niece had followed her to Brighton, where they had emissaries continually planted at her door.

“I wish you could see some of Rawdon’s friends who are always about our door,” Rebecca said, laughing. “Did you ever see a dun, my dear; or a bailiff and his man? Two of the abominable wretches watched all last week at the greengrocer’s opposite, and we could not get away until Sunday. If Aunty does not relent, what shall we do?”

Rawdon, with roars of laughter, related a dozen amusing anecdotes of his duns, and Rebecca’s adroit treatment of them. He vowed with a great oath that there was no woman in Europe who could talk a creditor over as she could. Almost immediately after their marriage, her practice had begun, and her husband found the immense value of such a wife. They had credit in plenty, but they had bills also in abundance, and laboured under a scarcity of ready money. Did these debt-difficulties affect Rawdon’s good spirits? No. Everybody in Vanity Fair must have remarked how well those live who are comfortably and thoroughly in debt: how they deny themselves nothing; how jolly and easy they are in their minds. Rawdon and his wife had the very best apartments at the inn at Brighton; the landlord, as he brought in the first dish, bowed before them as to his greatest customers: and Rawdon abused the dinners and wine with an audacity which no grandee in the land could surpass. Long custom, a manly appearance, faultless boots and clothes, and a happy fierceness of manner, will often help a man as much as a great balance at the banker’s.

The two wedding parties met constantly in each other’s apartments. After two or three nights the gentlemen of an evening had a little piquet, as their wives sate and chatted apart. This pastime, and the arrival of Jos Sedley, who made his appearance in his grand open carriage, and who played a few games at billiards with Captain Crawley, replenished Rawdon’s purse somewhat, and gave him the benefit of that ready money for which the greatest spirits are sometimes at a stand-still.

So the three gentlemen walked down to see the Lightning coach come in. Punctual to the minute, the coach crowded inside and out, the guard blowing his accustomed tune on the horn — the Lightning came tearing down the street, and pulled up at the coach-office.

“Hullo! there’s old Dobbin,” George cried, quite delighted to see his old friend perched on the roof; and whose promised visit to Brighton had been delayed until now. “How are you, old fellow? Glad you’re come down. Emmy’ll be delighted to see you,” Osborne said, shaking his comrade warmly by the hand as soon as his descent from the vehicle was effected — and then he added, in a lower and agitated voice, “What’s the news? Have you been in Russell Square? What does the governor say? Tell me everything.”

Dobbin looked very pale and grave. “I’ve seen your father,” said he. “How’s Amelia — Mrs. George? I’ll tell you all the news presently: but I’ve brought the great news of all: and that is —”

“Out with it, old fellow,” George said.

“We’re ordered to Belgium. All the army goes — guards and all. Heavytop’s got the gout, and is mad at not being able to move. O’Dowd goes in command, and we embark from Chatham next week.” This news of war could not but come with a shock upon our lovers, and caused all these gentlemen to look very serious.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07