Read CHAPTER LIII of Vanity Fair, free online book, by William Makepeace Thackeray, on

A Rescue and a Catastrophe

Friend Rawdon drove on then to Mr. Moss’s mansion in Cursitor Street, and was duly inducted into that dismal place of hospitality.  Morning was breaking over the cheerful house-tops of Chancery Lane as the rattling cab woke up the echoes there.  A little pink-eyed Jew-boy, with a head as ruddy as the rising morn, let the party into the house, and Rawdon was welcomed to the ground-floor apartments by Mr. Moss, his travelling companion and host, who cheerfully asked him if he would like a glass of something warm after his drive.

The Colonel was not so depressed as some mortals would be, who, quitting a palace and a placens uxor, find themselves barred into a spunging-house; for, if the truth must be told, he had been a lodger at Mr. Moss’s establishment once or twice before.  We have not thought it necessary in the previous course of this narrative to mention these trivial little domestic incidents:  but the reader may be assured that they can’t unfrequently occur in the life of a man who lives on nothing a year.

Upon his first visit to Mr. Moss, the Colonel, then a bachelor, had been liberated by the generosity of his aunt; on the second mishap, little Becky, with the greatest spirit and kindness, had borrowed a sum of money from Lord Southdown and had coaxed her husband’s creditor (who was her shawl, velvet-gown, lace pocket-handkerchief, trinket, and gim-crack purveyor, indeed) to take a portion of the sum claimed and Rawdon’s promissory note for the remainder:  so on both these occasions the capture and release had been conducted with the utmost gallantry on all sides, and Moss and the Colonel were therefore on the very best of terms.

“You’ll find your old bed, Colonel, and everything comfortable,” that gentleman said, “as I may honestly say.  You may be pretty sure its kep aired, and by the best of company, too.  It was slep in the night afore last by the Honorable Capting Famish, of the Fiftieth Dragoons, whose Mar took him out, after a fortnight, jest to punish him, she said.  But, Law bless you, I promise you, he punished my champagne, and had a party ere every night ­reglar tip-top swells, down from the clubs and the West End ­Capting Ragg, the Honorable Deuceace, who lives in the Temple, and some fellers as knows a good glass of wine, I warrant you.  I’ve got a Doctor of Diwinity upstairs, five gents in the coffee-room, and Mrs. Moss has a tably-dy-hoty at half-past five, and a little cards or music afterwards, when we shall be most happy to see you.”

“I’ll ring when I want anything,” said Rawdon and went quietly to his bedroom.  He was an old soldier, we have said, and not to be disturbed by any little shocks of fate.  A weaker man would have sent off a letter to his wife on the instant of his capture.  “But what is the use of disturbing her night’s rest?” thought Rawdon.  “She won’t know whether I am in my room or not.  It will be time enough to write to her when she has had her sleep out, and I have had mine.  It’s only a hundred-and-seventy, and the deuce is in it if we can’t raise that.”  And so, thinking about little Rawdon (whom he would not have know that he was in such a queer place), the Colonel turned into the bed lately occupied by Captain Famish and fell asleep.  It was ten o’clock when he woke up, and the ruddy-headed youth brought him, with conscious pride, a fine silver dressing-case, wherewith he might perform the operation of shaving.  Indeed Mr. Moss’s house, though somewhat dirty, was splendid throughout.  There were dirty trays, and wine-coolers en permanence on the sideboard, huge dirty gilt cornices, with dingy yellow satin hangings to the barred windows which looked into Cursitor Street ­vast and dirty gilt picture frames surrounding pieces sporting and sacred, all of which works were by the greatest masters ­and fetched the greatest prices, too, in the bill transactions, in the course of which they were sold and bought over and over again.  The Colonel’s breakfast was served to him in the same dingy and gorgeous plated ware.  Miss Moss, a dark-eyed maid in curl-papers, appeared with the teapot, and, smiling, asked the Colonel how he had slep?  And she brought him in the Morning Post, with the names of all the great people who had figured at Lord Steyne’s entertainment the night before.  It contained a brilliant account of the festivities and of the beautiful and accomplished Mrs. Rawdon Crawley’s admirable personifications.

After a lively chat with this lady (who sat on the edge of the breakfast table in an easy attitude displaying the drapery of her stocking and an ex-white satin shoe, which was down at heel), Colonel Crawley called for pens and ink, and paper, and being asked how many sheets, chose one which was brought to him between Miss Moss’s own finger and thumb.  Many a sheet had that dark-eyed damsel brought in; many a poor fellow had scrawled and blotted hurried lines of entreaty and paced up and down that awful room until his messenger brought back the reply.  Poor men always use messengers instead of the post.  Who has not had their letters, with the wafers wet, and the announcement that a person is waiting in the hall?

Now on the score of his application, Rawdon had not many misgivings.

Dear Becky, (Rawdon wrote)

I hope you slept well.  Don’t be frightened if I don’t bring you in your COFFY.  Last night as I was coming home smoaking, I met with an ACCADENT.  I was nabbed by Moss of Cursitor Street ­from whose gilt and splendid Parler I write this ­the same that had me this time two years.  Miss Moss brought in my tea ­she is grown very fat, and, as usual, had her STOCKENS down at heal.

It’s Nathan’s business ­a hundred-and-fifty ­with costs, hundred-and-seventy.  Please send me my desk and some cloths ­I’m in pumps and a white tye (something like Miss M’s stockings) ­I’ve seventy in it.  And as soon as you get this, Drive to Nathan’s ­offer him seventy-five down, and ask him to renew ­say I’ll take wine ­we may as well have some dinner sherry; but not PICTURS, they’re too dear.

If he won’t stand it.  Take my ticker and such of your things as you can spare, and send them to Balls ­we must, of coarse, have the sum to-night.  It won’t do to let it stand over, as to-morrow’s Sunday; the beds here are not very clean, and there may be other things out against me ­I’m glad it an’t Rawdon’s Saturday for coming home.  God bless you.

Yours in haste, R. C. P.S.  Make haste and come.

This letter, sealed with a wafer, was dispatched by one of the messengers who are always hanging about Mr. Moss’s establishment, and Rawdon, having seen him depart, went out in the court-yard and smoked his cigar with a tolerably easy mind ­in spite of the bars overhead ­for Mr. Moss’s court-yard is railed in like a cage, lest the gentlemen who are boarding with him should take a fancy to escape from his hospitality.

Three hours, he calculated, would be the utmost time required, before Becky should arrive and open his prison doors, and he passed these pretty cheerfully in smoking, in reading the paper, and in the coffee-room with an acquaintance, Captain Walker, who happened to be there, and with whom he cut for sixpences for some hours, with pretty equal luck on either side.

But the day passed away and no messenger returned ­no Becky.  Mr. Moss’s tably-dy-hoty was served at the appointed hour of half-past five, when such of the gentlemen lodging in the house as could afford to pay for the banquet came and partook of it in the splendid front parlour before described, and with which Mr. Crawley’s temporary lodging communicated, when Miss M. (Miss Hem, as her papa called her) appeared without the curl-papers of the morning, and Mrs. Hem did the honours of a prime boiled leg of mutton and turnips, of which the Colonel ate with a very faint appetite.  Asked whether he would “stand” a bottle of champagne for the company, he consented, and the ladies drank to his ’ealth, and Mr. Moss, in the most polite manner, “looked towards him.”

In the midst of this repast, however, the doorbell was heard ­young Moss of the ruddy hair rose up with the keys and answered the summons, and coming back, told the Colonel that the messenger had returned with a bag, a desk and a letter, which he gave him.  “No ceramony, Colonel, I beg,” said Mrs. Moss with a wave of her hand, and he opened the letter rather tremulously.  It was a beautiful letter, highly scented, on a pink paper, and with a light green seal.

Mon pauvre cher petit, (Mrs. Crawley wrote)

I could not sleep one wink for thinking of what had become of my odious old monstre, and only got to rest in the morning after sending for Mr. Blench (for I was in a fever), who gave me a composing draught and left orders with Finette that I should be disturbed on no account.  So that my poor old man’s messenger, who had bien mauvaise mine Finette says, and sentoit Genièvre, remained in the hall for some hours waiting my bell.  You may fancy my state when I read your poor dear old ill-spelt letter.

Ill as I was, I instantly called for the carriage, and as soon as I was dressed (though I couldn’t drink a drop of chocolate ­I assure you I couldn’t without my monstre to bring it to me), I drove ventre a terre to Nathan’s.  I saw him ­I wept ­I cried ­I fell at his odious knees.  Nothing would mollify the horrid man.  He would have all the money, he said, or keep my poor monstre in prison.  I drove home with the intention of paying that triste visite chez mon oncle (when every trinket I have should be at your disposal though they would not fetch a hundred pounds, for some, you know, are with ce cher oncle already), and found Milor there with the Bulgarian old sheep-faced monster, who had come to compliment me upon last night’s performances.  Paddington came in, too, drawling and lisping and twiddling his hair; so did Champignac, and his chef ­everybody with foison of compliments and pretty speeches ­plaguing poor me, who longed to be rid of them, and was thinking every moment of the time of mon pauvre prisonnier.

When they were gone, I went down on my knees to Milor; told him we were going to pawn everything, and begged and prayed him to give me two hundred pounds.  He pish’d and psha’d in a fury ­told me not to be such a fool as to pawn ­and said he would see whether he could lend me the money.  At last he went away, promising that he would send it me in the morning:  when I will bring it to my poor old monster with a kiss from his affectionate