Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Before the Battle of Waterloo
By William Makepeace Thackeray (1811–1863)
 
From ‘Vanity Fair

THERE never was, since the days of Darius, such a brilliant train of camp-followers as hung round the train of the Duke of Wellington’s army in the Low Countries, in 1815; and led it dancing and feasting, as it were, up to the very brink of battle. A certain ball which a noble duchess gave at Brussels on the 15th of June in the above-named year is historical. All Brussels had been in a state of excitement about it; and I have heard from ladies who were in that town at the period, that the talk and interest of persons of their own sex regarding the ball was much greater even than in respect of the enemy in their front. The struggles, intrigues, and prayers to get tickets were such as only English ladies will employ, in order to gain admission to the society of the great of their own nation.  1
  Jos and Mrs. O’Dowd, who were panting to be asked, strove in vain to procure tickets; but others of our friends were more lucky. For instance, through the interest of my Lord Bareacres, and as a set-off for the dinner at the restaurateur’s, George got a card for Captain and Mrs. Osborne; which circumstance greatly elated him. Dobbin, who was a friend of the general commanding the division in which their regiment was, came laughing one day to Mrs. Osborne, and displayed a similar invitation; which made Jos envious, and George wonder how the deuce he should be getting into society. Mr. and Mrs. Rawdon, finally, were of course invited, as became the friends of a general commanding a cavalry brigade.  2
  On the appointed night, George, having commanded new dresses and ornaments of all sorts for Amelia, drove to the famous ball, where his wife did not know a single soul. After looking about for Lady Bareacres,—who cut him, thinking the card was quite enough,—and after placing Amelia on a bench, he left her to her own cogitations there; thinking on his own part that he had behaved very handsomely in getting her new clothes, and bringing her to the ball, where she was free to amuse herself as she liked. Her thoughts were not of the pleasantest, and nobody except honest Dobbin came to disturb them.  3
  Whilst her appearance was an utter failure (as her husband felt with a sort of rage), Mrs. Rawdon Crawley’s début was, on the contrary, very brilliant. She arrived very late. Her face was radiant; her dress perfection. In the midst of the great persons assembled, and the eye-glasses directed to her, Rebecca seemed to be as cool and collected as when she used to marshal Miss Pinkerton’s little girls to church. Numbers of the men she knew already, and the dandies thronged round her. As for the ladies, it was whispered among them that Rawdon had run away with her from out of a convent, and that she was a relation of the Montmorency family. She spoke French so perfectly that there might be some truth in this report, and it was agreed that her manners were fine, and her air distingué. Fifty would-be partners thronged round her at once, and pressed to have the honor to dance with her. But she said she was engaged, and only going to dance very little; and made her way at once to the place where Emmy sate quite unnoticed, and dismally unhappy. And so, to finish the poor child at once, Mrs. Rawdon ran and greeted affectionately her dearest Amelia, and began forthwith to patronize her. She found fault with her friend’s dress, and her hair-dresser, and wondered how she could be so chaussée, and vowed that she must send her corsetière the next morning. She vowed that it was a delightful ball; that there was everybody that every one knew, and only a very few nobodies in the whole room. It is a fact that in a fortnight, and after three dinners in general society, this young woman had got up the genteel jargon so well that a native could not speak it better; and it was only from her French being so good, that you could know that she was not a born woman of fashion.  4
  George, who had left Emmy on her bench on entering the ball-room, very soon found his way back when Rebecca was by her dear friend’s side. Becky was just lecturing Mrs. Osborne upon the follies which her husband was committing. “For God’s sake, stop him from gambling, my dear,” she said, “or he will ruin himself. He and Rawdon are playing at cards every night; and you know he is very poor, and Rawdon will win every shilling from him if he does not take care. Why don’t you prevent him, you little careless creature? Why don’t you come to us of an evening, instead of moping at home with that Captain Dobbin? I dare say he is très aimable; but how could one love a man with feet of such size? Your husband’s feet are darlings—here he comes. Where have you been, wretch? Here is Emmy crying her eyes out for you. Are you coming to fetch me for the quadrille?” And she left her bouquet and shawl by Amelia’s side, and tripped off with George to dance. Women only know how to wound so. There is a poison on the tips of their little shafts which stings a thousand times more than a man’s blunter weapon. Our poor Emmy, who had never hated, never sneered all her life, was powerless in the hands of her remorseless little enemy.  5
  George danced with Rebecca twice or thrice—how many times Amelia scarcely knew. She sate quite unnoticed in her corner, except when Rawdon came up with some words of clumsy conversation; and later in the evening, when Captain Dobbin made so bold as to bring her refreshments and sit beside her. He did not like to ask her why she was so sad; but as a pretext for the tears which were filling in her eyes, she told him that Mrs. Crawley had alarmed her by telling her that George would go on playing.  6
  “It is curious, when a man is bent upon play, by what clumsy rogues he will allow himself to be cheated,” Dobbin said; and Emmy said, “Indeed.” She was thinking of something else. It was not the loss of the money that grieved her.  7
  At last George came back for Rebecca’s shawl and flowers. She was going away. She did not even condescend to come back and say good-by to Amelia. The poor girl let her husband come and go without saying a word, and her head fell on her breast. Dobbin had been called away, and was whispering deep in conversation with the general of the division, his friend, and had not seen this last parting. George went away then with the bouquet; but when he gave it to the owner, there lay a note, coiled like a snake among the flowers. Rebecca’s eye caught it at once: she had been used to deal with notes in early life. She put out her hand and took the nosegay. He saw by her eyes as they met, that she was aware what she should find there. Her husband hurried her away, still too intent upon his own thoughts, seemingly, to take note of any marks of recognition which might pass between his friend and his wife. These were, however, but trifling. Rebecca gave George her hand with one of her usual quick knowing glances, and made a curtsy and walked away. George bowed over the hand; said nothing in reply to a remark of Crawley’s,—did not hear it even, his brain was so throbbing with triumph and excitement; and allowed them to go away without a word.  8
  His wife saw the one part at least of the bouquet scene. It was quite natural that George should come at Rebecca’s request to get her her scarf and flowers,—it was no more than he had done twenty times before in the course of the last few days; but now it was too much for her. “William,” she said, suddenly clinging to Dobbin, who was near her, “you’ve always been very kind to me: I’m—I’m not well. Take me home.” She did not know she called him by his Christian name, as George was accustomed to do. He went away with her quickly. Her lodgings were hard by; and they threaded through the crowd without, where everything seemed to be more astir than even in the ballroom within.  9
  George had been angry twice or thrice at finding his wife up on his return from the parties which he frequented, so she went straight to bed now; but although she did not sleep, and although the din and clatter and the galloping of horsemen was incessant, she never heard any of these noises, having quite other disturbances to keep her awake.  10
  Osborne meanwhile, wild with elation, went off to a play table and began to bet frantically. He won repeatedly. “Everything succeeds with me to-night,” he said. But his luck at play even did not cure him of his restlessness; and he started up after a while, pocketing his winnings, and went off to a buffet, where he drank off many bumpers of wine.  11
  Here, as he was rattling away to the people around, laughing loudly and wild with spirits, Dobbin found him. He had been to the card tables to look there for his friend. Dobbin looked as pale and grave as his comrade was flushed and jovial.  12
  “Hullo, Dob! Come and drink, old Dob! The duke’s wine is famous. Give me some more, you sir;” and he held out a trembling glass for the liquor.  13
  “Come out, George,” said Dobbin, still gravely: “don’t drink.”  14
  “Drink! there’s nothing like it. Drink yourself, and light up your lantern jaws, old boy. Here’s to you.”  15
  Dobbin went up and whispered something to him; at which George, giving a start and a wild hurray, tossed off his glass, clapped it on the table, and walked away speedily on his friend’s arm. “The enemy has passed the Sambre,” William said, “and our left is already engaged. Come away. We are to march in three hours.”  16
  Away went George, his nerves quivering with excitement at the news so long looked for, so sudden when it came. What were love and intrigue now? He thought about a thousand things but these in his rapid walk to his quarters: his past life and future chances—the fate which might be before him—the wife, the child perhaps, from whom unseen he might be about to part. Oh, how he wished that night’s work undone! and that with a clear conscience at least he might say farewell to the tender and guileless being by whose love he had set such little store!  17
  He thought over his brief married life. In those few weeks he had frightfully dissipated his little capital. How wild and reckless he had been! Should any mischance befall him, what was then left for her? How unworthy he was of her! Why had he married her? He was not fit for marriage. Why had he disobeyed his father, who had been always so generous to him? Hope, remorse, ambition, tenderness, and selfish regret filled his heart. He sate down and wrote to his father, remembering what he had said once before, when he was engaged to fight a duel. Dawn faintly streaked the sky as he closed this farewell letter. He sealed it, and kissed the superscription. He thought how he had deserted that generous father, and of the thousand kindnesses which the stern old man had done him.  18
  He had looked into Amelia’s bedroom when he entered; she lay quiet, and her eyes seemed closed, and he was glad that she was asleep. On arriving at his quarters from the ball, he had found his regimental servant already making preparations for his departure: the man had understood his signal to be still, and these arrangements were very quickly and silently made. Should he go in and wake Amelia, he thought, or leave a note for her brother to break the news of departure to her? He went in to look at her once again.  19
  She had been awake when he first entered her room, but had kept her eyes closed, so that even her wakefulness should not seem to reproach him. But when he had returned,—so soon after herself, too,—this timid little heart had felt more at ease; and turning towards him as he stept softly out of the room, she had fallen into a light sleep. George came in and looked at her again, entering still more softly. By the pale night-lamp he could see her sweet, pale face: the purple eyelids were fringed and closed, and one round arm, smooth and white, lay outside the coverlet. Good God! how pure she was; how gentle, how tender, and how friendless! and he, how selfish, brutal, and black with crime! Heart-stained and shame-stricken, he stood at the bed’s foot and looked at the sleeping girl. How dared he—who was he, to pray for one so spotless! God bless her! God bless her! He came to the bedside, and looked at the hand, the little soft hand, lying asleep; and he bent over the pillow noiselessly towards the gentle pale face.  20
  Two fair arms closed tenderly round his neck as he stooped down. “I am awake, George,” the poor child said, with a sob fit to break the little heart that nestled so closely by his own. She was awake, poor soul—and to what? At that moment a bugle from the Place of Arms began sounding clearly, and was taken up through the town; and ’midst the drums of the infantry, and the shrill pipes of the Scotch, the whole city awoke….  21
  All our friends took their share and fought like men in the great field. All day long, whilst the women were praying ten miles away, the lines of the dauntless English infantry were receiving and repelling the furious charges of the French horsemen. Guns which were heard at Brussels were plowing up their ranks, and comrades falling, and the resolute survivors closing in. Towards evening the attack of the French, repeated and resisted so bravely, slackened in its fury. They had other foes besides the British to engage, or were preparing for a final onset. It came at last: the columns of the Imperial Guard marched up the hill of Saint Jean, at length and at once to sweep the English from the height which they had maintained all day; and spite of all, unscared by the thunder of the artillery, which hurled death from the English line, the dark rolling column pressed on and up the hill. It seemed almost to crest the eminence, when it began to wave and falter. Then it stopped, still facing the shot. Then at last the English troops rushed from the post from which no enemy had been able to dislodge them, and the Guard turned and fled.  22
  No more firing was heard at Brussels—the pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city: and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.  23
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.