Catherine: a story, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 12

Treats of Love, and prepares for Death.

And to begin this chapter, we cannot do better than quote a part of a letter from M. l’Abbe O’Flaherty to Madame la Comtesse de X——— at Paris:

“MADAM — The little Arouet de Voltaire, who hath come ‘hither to take a turn in England,’ as I see by the Post of this morning, hath brought me a charming pacquet from your Ladyship’s hands, which ought to render a reasonable man happy; but, alas! makes your slave miserable. I think of dear Paris (and something more dear than all Paris, of which, Madam, I may not venture to speak further)— I think of dear Paris, and find myself in this dismal Vitehall, where, when the fog clears up, I can catch a glimpse of muddy Thames, and of that fatal palace which the kings of England have been obliged to exchange for your noble castle of Saint Germains, that stands so stately by silver Seine. Truly, no bad bargain. For my part, I would give my grand ambassadorial saloons, hangings, gildings, feasts, valets, ambassadors and all, for a bicoque in sight of the Thuilleries’ towers, or my little cell in the Irlandois.

“My last sheets have given you a pretty notion of our ambassador’s public doings; now for a pretty piece of private scandal respecting that great man. Figure to yourself, Madam, his Excellency is in love; actually in love, talking day and night about a certain fair one whom he hath picked out of a gutter; who is well nigh forty years old; who was his mistress when he was in England a captain of dragoons, some sixty, seventy, or a hundred years since; who hath had a son by him, moreover, a sprightly lad, apprentice to a tailor of eminence that has the honour of making his Excellency’s breeches.

“Since one fatal night when he met this fair creature at a certain place of publique resort, called Marylebone Gardens, our Cyrus hath been an altered creature. Love hath mastered this brainless ambassador, and his antics afford me food for perpetual mirth. He sits now opposite to me at a table inditing a letter to his Catherine, and copying it from — what do you think? — from the ‘Grand Cyrus.’ ‘I swear, madam, that my happiness would be to offer you this hand, as I have my heart long ago, and I beg you to bear in mind this declaration.’ I have just dictated to him the above tender words; for our Envoy, I need not tell you, is not strong at writing or thinking.

“The fair Catherine, I must tell you, is no less than a carpenter’s wife, a well-to-do bourgeois, living at the Tyburn, or Gallows Road. She found out her ancient lover very soon after our arrival, and hath a marvellous hankering to be a Count’s lady. A pretty little creature is this Madam Catherine. Billets, breakfasts, pretty walks, presents of silks and satins, pass daily between the pair; but, strange to say, the lady is as virtuous as Diana, and hath resisted all my Count’s cajoleries hitherto. The poor fellow told me, with tears in his eyes, that he believed he should have carried her by storm on the very first night of their meeting, but that her son stepped into the way; and he or somebody else hath been in the way ever since. Madam will never appear alone. I believe it is this wondrous chastity of the lady that has elicited this wondrous constancy of the gentleman. She is holding out for a settlement; who knows if not for a marriage? Her husband, she says, is ailing; her lover is fool enough, and she herself conducts her negotiations, as I must honestly own, with a pretty notion of diplomacy.”

* * *

This is the only part of the reverend gentleman’s letter that directly affects this history. The rest contains some scandal concerning greater personages about the Court, a great share of abuse of the Elector of Hanover, and a pretty description of a boxing-match at Mr. Figg’s amphitheatre in Oxford Road, where John Wells, of Edmund Bury (as by the papers may be seen), master of the noble science of self-defence, did engage with Edward Sutton, of Gravesend, master of the said science; and the issue of the combat.

“N. B.”— adds the Father, in a postscript —“Monsieur Figue gives a hat to be cudgelled for before the Master mount; and the whole of this fashionable information hath been given me by Monseigneur’s son, Monsieur Billings, garcon-tailleur, Chevalier de Galgenstein.”

Mr. Billings was, in fact, a frequent visitor at the Ambassador’s house; to whose presence he, by a general order, was always admitted. As for the connection between Mrs. Catherine and her former admirer, the Abbe’s history of it is perfectly correct; nor can it be said that this wretched woman, whose tale now begins to wear a darker hue, was, in anything but SOUL, faithless to her husband. But she hated him, longed to leave him, and loved another: the end was coming quickly, and every one of our unknowing actors and actresses were to be implicated, more or less, in the catastrophe.

It will be seen that Mrs. Cat had followed pretty closely the injunctions of Mr. Wood in regard to her dealings with the Count; who grew more heart-stricken and tender daily, as the completion of his wishes was delayed, and his desires goaded by contradiction. The Abbe has quoted one portion of a letter written by him; here is the entire performance, extracted, as the holy father said, chiefly from the romance of the “Grand Cyrus”.

“Unhappy Maximilian unto unjust Catherina.

“MADAM — It must needs be that I love you better than any ever did, since, notwithstanding your injustice in calling me perfidious, I love you no less than I did before. On the contrary, my passion is so violent, and your unjust accusation makes me so sensible of it, that if you did but know the resentments of my soule, you would confess your selfe the most cruell and unjust woman in the world. You shall, ere long, Madam, see me at your feete; and as you were my first passion, so you will be my last.

“On my knees I will tell you, at the first handsom opportunity, that the grandure of my passion can only be equalled by your beauty; it hath driven me to such a fatall necessity, as that I cannot hide the misery which you have caused. Sure, the hostil goddes have, to plague me, ordayned that fatal marridge, by which you are bound to one so infinitly below you in degree. Were that bond of ill-omind Hymen cut in twayn witch binds you, I swear, Madam, that my happiniss woulde be to offer you this hande, as I have my harte long agoe. And I praye you to beare in minde this declaracion, which I here sign with my hande, and witch I pray you may one day be called upon to prove the truth on. Beleave me, Madam, that there is none in the World who doth more honor to your vertue than myselfe, nor who wishes your happinesse with more zeal than — MAXIMILIAN.

“From my lodgings in Whitehall, this 25th of February.

“To the incomparable Catherina, these, with a scarlet satten petticoat.”

The Count had debated about the sentence promising marriage in event of Hayes’s death; but the honest Abbe cut these scruples very short, by saying, justly, that, because he wrote in that manner, there was no need for him to act so; that he had better not sign and address the note in full; and that he presumed his Excellency was not quite so timid as to fancy that the woman would follow him all the way to Germany, when his diplomatic duties would be ended; as they would soon.

The receipt of this billet caused such a flush of joy and exultation to unhappy happy Mrs. Catherine, that Wood did not fail to remark it, and speedily learned the contents of the letter. Wood had no need to bid the poor wretch guard it very carefully: it never from that day forth left her; it was her title of nobility — her pass to rank, wealth, happiness. She began to look down on her neighbours; her manner to her husband grew more than ordinarily scornful; the poor vain wretch longed to tell her secret, and to take her place openly in the world. She a Countess, and Tom a Count’s son! She felt that she should royally become the title!

About this time — and Hayes was very much frightened at the prevalence of the rumour — it suddenly began to be about in his quarter that he was going to quit the country. The story was in everybody’s mouth; people used to sneer when he turned pale, and wept, and passionately denied it.

It was said, too, that Mrs. Hayes was not his wife, but his mistress — everybody had this story — his mistress, whom he treated most cruelly, and was about to desert. The tale of the blow which had felled her to the ground was known in all quarters. When he declared that the woman tried to stab him, nobody believed him: the women said he would have been served right if she had done so. How had these stories gone abroad? “Three days more, and I WILL fly,” thought Hayes; “and the world may say what it pleases.”

Ay, fool, fly — away so swiftly that Fate cannot overtake thee: hide so cunningly that Death shall not find thy place of refuge!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/catherine/chapter12.html

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