A Roundabout. Chapter between London and Hampshire
[…] He* was a fine open-faced boy, with blue eyes and waving flaxen hair, sturdy in limb, but generous and soft in heart: 1 fondly attaching himself to all who were good to him – to the pony – to Lord Southdown,** who gave him the horse (he used to blush and glow all over when he saw that kind young nobleman) – to the groom who had charge of the pony – to Molly, the cook, who crammed him with ghost stories at night, and with good things from the dinner 2 – to Briggs,*** whom he laughed at – and to his father especially, 3 whose attachment toward the lad was curious too to witness. Here, as he grew to be about eight years old, his attachments may be said to have ended. 4 The beautiful mother-vision had faded away after awhile. During near two years she had scarcely spoken to the child. She disliked him. He had the measles and the hooping-cough. He bored her.
* He – little Rawdon, Rebecca’s son
** Lord Southdown – brother of Lady Jane Crawley, Rawdon’s aunt
*** Briggs – an old spinster who lived with Rebecca as a compainion
One day when he was standing at the landing-place, having crept down from the upper regions, attracted by the sound of his mother’s voice, who was singing to Lord Steyne,* the drawing-room door opening suddenly, discovered the little spy, who but a moment before had been rapt in delight, and listening to the music.
His mother came out and struck him violently a couple of boxes on the ear. He heard a laugh from the Marquis in the inner room (who was amused by this free and artless exhibition of Becky’s temper), and fled down below to his friends of the kitchen, bursting into an agony of grief.
“It is not because it hurts me,” little Rawdon gasped out – “only – only” – sobs and tears wound up the sentence in a storm. It was the little boy’s heart that was bleeding. 5 “What mayn’t I hear her singing? Why don’t she ever sing to me 6 – as she does to that bald-headed man with the large teeth?” He gasped out at various intervals these exclamations of rage and grief. The cook looked at the housemaid; the housemaid looked knowingly at the footman – the awful kitchen inquisition 7 which sits in judgement in every house, and knows everything – sat on Rebecca at the moment.
After this incident, the mother’s dislike increased to hatred: the consciousness that the child was in the house was a reproach and a pain to her. His very sight annoyed her. Fear, doubt, and resistance sprang up, too, in the boy’s own bosom. They were separated from that day of the boxes on the ear.
Lord Steyne also heartily disliked the boy. When they met by mischance, he made sarcastic bows or remarks to the child, or glared at him with savage-looking eyes. Rawdon used to stare him in the face, and double his little fists in return. He knew his enemy: and this gentleman, of all who came to the house, was the one who angered him most. One day the footman found him squaring his fists at Lord Steyne’s hat in the hall. The footman told the circumstance as a good joke to Lord Steyne’s coachman; that officer imparted it to Lord Steyne’s gentleman, and to the servants’ hall in general. And very soon afterward, when Mrs. Rawdon Crawley made her appearance at Gaunt House, ** the porter who unbarred the gates, the servants of all uniforms in the hall, the functionaries in white waistcoats, who bawled out from landing to landing the names of Colonel and Mrs. Rawdon Crawley, knew about her, or fancied they did.
* Lord Steyne – an old aristocrat, Rebecca’s admirer
** Gaunt House – Lord Steyne’s mansion
The man who brought her refreshment and stood behind her chair, had talked her character over with the large gentleman in motley coloured clothes at his side. Bon Dieu! * it is awful, that servants’ inquisition! 8
You see a woman in a great party in a splendid saloon, surrounded by faithful admirers, distributing sparkling glances, dressed to perfection, curled, rouged, smiling and happy: Discovery walks respectfully up to her, in the shape of a huge powdered man with large calves and a tray of ices – with Calumny (which is as fatal as truth) – behind him, 9 in the shape of the hulking fellow carrying the wafer-biscuits. Madam, your secret will be talked over 10 by those men at their club at the public-house to-night. Jeames** will tell Chawles** his notions about you over their pipes and pewter beer-pots. Some people ought to have mutes for servants in Vanity Fair 11 – mutes who could not write. If you are guilty, tremble. That fellow behind your chair may be a janissary with a bow-string in his plush breeches pocket. If you are not guilty, have a care of appearances; 10 which are as ruinous as guilt.
“Was Rebecca guilty or not?” the Vehmgericht *** of the servants’ hall had pronounced against her.
And, I shame to say, she would not have got credit had they not believed her to be guilty. It was the sight of the Marquis of Steyne’s carriage-lamps at her door, contemplated by Riggles, **** burning in the blackness of midnight “that kep him up,” ***** as he afterward said; that even more than Rebecca’s arts and coaxings.
And so – guiltless very likely – she was writhing and pushing onward toward that they call “a position in society”, and the servants were pointing at her as lost and ruined. So you see Molly, the housemaid, of a morning watching a spider in the doorpost lay his thread and laboriously crawl up it, until, tired of the sport, she raises her broom and sweeps away the thread and the artificer.