Catherine: a story, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 4

In which Mrs. Catherine becomes an honest woman again.

In this woeful plight, moneyless, wifeless, horseless, corporalless, with a gag in his mouth and a rope round his body, are we compelled to leave the gallant Galgenstein, until his friends and the progress of this history shall deliver him from his durance. Mr. Brock’s adventures on the Captain’s horse must likewise be pretermitted; for it is our business to follow Mrs. Catherine through the window by which she made her escape, and among the various chances that befell her.

She had one cause to congratulate herself — that she had not her baby at her back; for the infant was safely housed under the care of a nurse, to whom the Captain was answerable. Beyond this her prospects were but dismal: no home to fly to, but a few shillings in her pocket, and a whole heap of injuries and dark revengeful thoughts in her bosom: it was a sad task to her to look either backwards or forwards. Whither was she to fly? How to live? What good chance was to befriend her? There was an angel watching over the steps of Mrs. Cat — not a good one, I think, but one of those from that unnameable place, who have their many subjects here on earth, and often are pleased to extricate them from worse perplexities.

Mrs. Cat, now, had not committed murder, but as bad as murder; and as she felt not the smallest repentance in her heart — as she had, in the course of her life and connection with the Captain, performed and gloried in a number of wicked coquetries, idlenesses, vanities, lies, fits of anger, slanders, foul abuses, and what not — she was fairly bound over to this dark angel whom we have alluded to; and he dealt with her, and aided her, as one of his own children.

I do not mean to say that, in this strait, he appeared to her in the likeness of a gentleman in black, and made her sign her name in blood to a document conveying over to him her soul, in exchange for certain conditions to be performed by him. Such diabolical bargains have always appeared to me unworthy of the astute personage who is supposed to be one of the parties to them; and who would scarcely be fool enough to pay dearly for that which he can have in a few years for nothing. It is not, then, to be supposed that a demon of darkness appeared to Mrs. Cat, and led her into a flaming chariot harnessed by dragons, and careering through air at the rate of a thousand leagues a minute. No such thing; the vehicle that was sent to aid her was one of a much more vulgar description.

The “Liverpool carryvan,” then, which in the year 1706 used to perform the journey between London and that place in ten days, left Birmingham about an hour after Mrs. Catherine had quitted that town; and as she sat weeping on a hillside, and plunged in bitter meditation, the lumbering, jingling vehicle overtook her. The coachman was marching by the side of his horses, and encouraging them to maintain their pace of two miles an hour; the passengers had some of them left the vehicle, in order to walk up the hill; and the carriage had arrived at the top of it, and, meditating a brisk trot down the declivity, waited there until the lagging passengers should arrive: when Jehu, casting a good-natured glance upon Mrs. Catherine, asked the pretty maid whence she was come, and whether she would like a ride in his carriage. To the latter of which questions Mrs. Catherine replied truly yes; to the former, her answer was that she had come from Stratford; whereas, as we very well know, she had lately quitted Birmingham.

“Hast thee seen a woman pass this way, on a black horse, with a large bag of goold over the saddle?” said Jehu, preparing to mount upon the roof of his coach.

“No, indeed,” said Mrs. Cat.

“Nor a trooper on another horse after her — no? Well, there be a mortal row down Birmingham way about sich a one. She have killed, they say, nine gentlemen at supper, and have strangled a German prince in bed. She have robbed him of twenty thousand guineas, and have rode away on a black horse.”

“That can’t be I,” said Mrs. Cat, naively, “for I have but three shillings and a groat.”

“No, it can’t be thee, truly, for where’s your bag of goold? and, besides, thee hast got too pretty a face to do such wicked things as to kill nine gentlemen and strangle a German prince.”

“Law, coachman,” said Mrs. Cat, blushing archly —”,Law, coachman, DO you think so?” The girl would have been pleased with a compliment even on her way to be hanged; and the parley ended by Mrs. Catherine stepping into the carriage, where there was room for eight people at least, and where two or three individuals had already taken their places. For these Mrs. Catherine had in the first place to make a story, which she did; and a very glib one for a person of her years and education. Being asked whither she was bound, and how she came to be alone of a morning sitting by a road-side, she invented a neat history suitable to the occasion, which elicited much interest from her fellow-passengers: one in particular, a young man, who had caught a glimpse of her face under her hood, was very tender in his attentions to her.

But whether it was that she had been too much fatigued by the occurrences of the past day and sleepless night, or whether the little laudanum which she had drunk a few hours previously now began to act upon her, certain it is that Mrs. Cat now suddenly grew sick, feverish, and extraordinarily sleepy; and in this state she continued for many hours, to the pity of all her fellow-travellers. At length the “carryvan” reached the inn, where horses and passengers were accustomed to rest for a few hours, and to dine; and Mrs. Catherine was somewhat awakened by the stir of the passengers, and the friendly voice of the inn-servant welcoming them to dinner. The gentleman who had been smitten by her beauty now urged her very politely to descend; which, taking the protection of his arm, she accordingly did.

He made some very gallant speeches to her as she stepped out; and she must have been very much occupied by them, or wrapt up in her own thoughts, or stupefied by sleep, fever, and opium, for she did not take any heed of the place into which she was going: which, had she done, she would probably have preferred remaining in the coach, dinnerless and ill. Indeed, the inn into which she was about to make her entrance was no other than the “Bugle,” from which she set forth at the commencement of this history; and which then, as now, was kept by her relative, the thrifty Mrs. Score. That good landlady, seeing a lady, in a smart hood and cloak, leaning, as if faint, upon the arm of a gentleman of good appearance, concluded them to be man and wife, and folks of quality too; and with much discrimination, as well as sympathy, led them through the public kitchen to her own private parlour, or bar, where she handed the lady an armchair, and asked what she would like to drink. By this time, and indeed at the very moment she heard her aunt’s voice, Mrs. Catherine was aware of her situation; and when her companion retired, and the landlady, with much officiousness, insisted on removing her hood, she was quite prepared for the screech of surprise which Mrs. Score gave on dropping it, exclaiming, “Why, law bless us, it’s our Catherine!”

“I’m very ill, and tired, aunt,” said Cat; “and would give the world for a few hours’ sleep.”

“A few hours and welcome, my love, and a sack-posset too. You do look sadly tired and poorly, sure enough. Ah, Cat, Cat! you great ladies are sad rakes, I do believe. I wager now, that with all your balls, and carriages, and fine clothes, you are neither so happy nor so well as when you lived with your poor old aunt, who used to love you so.” And with these gentle words, and an embrace or two, which Mrs. Catherine wondered at, and permitted, she was conducted to that very bed which the Count had occupied a year previously, and undressed, and laid in it, and affectionately tucked up by her aunt, who marvelled at the fineness of her clothes, as she removed them piece by piece; and when she saw that in Mrs. Catherine’s pocket there was only the sum of three and fourpence, said, archly, “There was no need of money, for the Captain took care of that.”

Mrs. Cat did not undeceive her; and deceived Mrs. Score certainly was — for she imagined the well-dressed gentleman who led Cat from the carriage was no other than the Count; and, as she had heard, from time to time, exaggerated reports of the splendour of the establishment which he kept up, she was induced to look upon her niece with the very highest respect, and to treat her as if she were a fine lady. “And so she IS a fine lady,” Mrs. Score had said months ago, when some of these flattering stories reached her, and she had overcome her first fury at Catherine’s elopement. “The girl was very cruel to leave me; but we must recollect that she is as good as married to a nobleman, and must all forget and forgive, you know.”

This speech had been made to Doctor Dobbs, who was in the habit of taking a pipe and a tankard at the “Bugle,” and it had been roundly reprobated by the worthy divine; who told Mrs. Score, that the crime of Catherine was only the more heinous, if it had been committed from interested motives; and protested that, were she a princess, he would never speak to her again. Mrs. Score thought and pronounced the Doctor’s opinion to be very bigoted; indeed, she was one of those persons who have a marvellous respect for prosperity, and a corresponding scorn for ill-fortune. When, therefore, she returned to the public room, she went graciously to the gentleman who had led Mrs. Catherine from the carriage, and with a knowing curtsey welcomed him to the “Bugle;” told him that his lady would not come to dinner, but bade her say, with her best love to his Lordship, that the ride had fatigued her, and that she would lie in bed for an hour or two.

This speech was received with much wonder by his Lordship; who was, indeed, no other than a Liverpool tailor going to London to learn fashions; but he only smiled, and did not undeceive the landlady, who herself went off, smilingly, to bustle about dinner.

The two or three hours allotted to that meal by the liberal coachmasters of those days passed away, and Mr. Coachman, declaring that his horses were now rested enough, and that they had twelve miles to ride, put the steeds to, and summoned the passengers. Mrs. Score, who had seen with much satisfaction that her niece was really ill, and her fever more violent, and hoped to have her for many days an inmate in her house, now came forward, and casting upon the Liverpool tailor a look of profound but respectful melancholy, said, “My Lord (for I recollect your Lordship quite well), the lady upstairs is so ill, that it would be a sin to move her: had I not better tell coachman to take down your Lordship’s trunks, and the lady’s, and make you a bed in the next room?”

Very much to her surprise, this proposition was received with a roar of laughter. “Madam,” said the person addressed, “I’m not a lord, but a tailor and draper; and as for that young woman, before today I never set eyes on her.”

“WHAT!” screamed out Mrs. Score. “Are not you the Count? Do you mean to say that you a’n’t Cat’s —? DO you mean to say that you didn’t order her bed, and that you won’t pay this here little bill?” And with this she produced a document, by which the Count’s lady was made her debtor in a sum of half-a-guinea.

These passionate words excited more and more laughter. “Pay it, my Lord,” said the coachman; “and then come along, for time presses.” “Our respects to her Ladyship,” said one passenger. “Tell her my Lord can’t wait,” said another; and with much merriment one and all quitted the hotel, entered the coach, and rattled off.

Dumb — pale with terror and rage — bill in hand, Mrs. Score had followed the company; but when the coach disappeared, her senses returned. Back she flew into the inn, overturning the ostler, not deigning to answer Doctor Dobbs (who, from behind soft tobacco-fumes, mildly asked the reason of her disturbance), and, bounding upstairs like a fury, she rushed into the room where Catherine lay.

“Well, madam!” said she, in her highest key, “do you mean that you have come into this here house to swindle me? Do you dare for to come with your airs here, and call yourself a nobleman’s lady, and sleep in the best bed, when you’re no better nor a common tramper? I’ll thank you, ma’am, to get out, ma’am. I’ll have no sick paupers in this house, ma’am. You know your way to the workhouse, ma’am, and there I’ll trouble you for to go.” And here Mrs. Score proceeded quickly to pull off the bedclothes; and poor Cat arose, shivering with fright and fever.

She had no spirit to answer, as she would have done the day before, when an oath from any human being would have brought half-a-dozen from her in return; or a knife, or a plate, or a leg of mutton, if such had been to her hand. She had no spirit left for such repartees; but in reply to the above words of Mrs. Score, and a great many more of the same kind — which are not necessary for our history, but which that lady uttered with inconceivable shrillness and volubility, the poor wench could say little — only sob and shiver, and gather up the clothes again, crying, “Oh, aunt, don’t speak unkind to me! I’m very unhappy, and very ill!”

“Ill, you strumpet! ill, be hanged! Ill is as ill does; and if you are ill, it’s only what you merit. Get out! dress yourself — tramp! Get to the workhouse, and don’t come to cheat me any more! Dress yourself — do you hear? Satin petticoat forsooth, and lace to her smock!”

Poor, wretched, chattering, burning, shivering Catherine huddled on her clothes as well she might: she seemed hardly to know or see what she was doing, and did not reply a single word to the many that the landlady let fall. Cat tottered down the narrow stairs, and through the kitchen, and to the door; which she caught hold of, and paused awhile, and looked into Mrs. Score’s face, as for one more chance. “Get out, you nasty trull!” said that lady, sternly, with arms akimbo; and poor Catherine, with a most piteous scream and outgush of tears, let go of the door-post and staggered away into the road.

* * *

“Why, no — yes — no — it is poor Catherine Hall, as I live!” said somebody, starting up, shoving aside Mrs. Score very rudely, and running into the road, wig off and pipe in hand. It was honest Doctor Dobbs; and the result of his interview with Mrs. Cat was, that he gave up for ever smoking his pipe at the “Bugle;” and that she lay sick of a fever for some weeks in his house.

* * *

Over this part of Mrs. Cat’s history we shall be as brief as possible; for, to tell the truth, nothing immoral occurred during her whole stay at the good Doctor’s house; and we are not going to insult the reader by offering him silly pictures of piety, cheerfulness, good sense, and simplicity; which are milk-and-water virtues after all, and have no relish with them like a good strong vice, highly peppered. Well, to be short: Doctor Dobbs, though a profound theologian, was a very simple gentleman; and before Mrs. Cat had been a month in the house, he had learned to look upon her as one of the most injured and repentant characters in the world; and had, with Mrs. Dobbs, resolved many plans for the future welfare of the young Magdalen. “She was but sixteen, my love, recollect,” said the Doctor; “she was carried off, not by her own wish either. The Count swore he would marry her; and, though she did not leave him until that monster tried to poison her, yet think what a fine Christian spirit the poor girl has shown! she forgives him as heartily — more heartily, I am sure, than I do Mrs. Score for turning her adrift in that wicked way.” The reader will perceive some difference in the Doctor’s statement and ours, which we assure him is the true one; but the fact is, the honest rector had had his tale from Mrs. Cat, and it was not in his nature to doubt, if she had told him a history ten times more wonderful.

The reverend gentleman and his wife then laid their heads together; and, recollecting something of John Hayes’s former attachment to Mrs. Cat, thought that it might be advantageously renewed, should Hayes be still constant. Having very adroitly sounded Catherine (so adroitly, indeed, as to ask her “whether she would like to marry John Hayes?”), that young woman had replied, “No. She had loved John Hayes — he had been her early, only love; but she was fallen now, and not good enough for him.” And this made the Dobbs family admire her more and more, and cast about for means to bring the marriage to pass.

Hayes was away from the village when Mrs. Cat had arrived there; but he did not fail to hear of her illness, and how her aunt had deserted her, and the good Doctor taken her in. The worthy Doctor himself met Mr. Hayes on the green; and, telling him that some repairs were wanting in his kitchen begged him to step in and examine them. Hayes first said no, plump, and then no, gently; and then pished, and then psha’d; and then, trembling very much, went in: and there sat Mrs. Catherine, trembling very much too.

What passed between them? If your Ladyship is anxious to know, think of that morning when Sir John himself popped the question. Could there be anything more stupid than the conversation which took place? Such stuff is not worth repeating: no, not when uttered by people in the very genteelest of company; as for the amorous dialogue of a carpenter and an ex-barmaid, it is worse still. Suffice it to say, that Mr. Hayes, who had had a year to recover from his passion, and had, to all appearances, quelled it, was over head and ears again the very moment he saw Mrs. Cat, and had all his work to do again.

Whether the Doctor knew what was going on, I can’t say; but this matter is certain, that every evening Hayes was now in the rectory kitchen, or else walking abroad with Mrs. Catherine: and whether she ran away with him, or he with her, I shall not make it my business to inquire; but certainly at the end of three months (which must be crowded up into this one little sentence), another elopement took place in the village. “I should have prevented it, certainly,” said Doctor Dobbs — whereat his wife smiled; “but the young people kept the matter a secret from me.” And so he would, had he known it; but though Mrs. Dobbs had made several attempts to acquaint him with the precise hour and method of the intended elopement, he peremptorily ordered her to hold her tongue. The fact is, that the matter had been discussed by the rector’s lady many times. “Young Hayes,” would she say “has a pretty little fortune and trade of his own; he is an only son, and may marry as he likes; and, though not specially handsome, generous, or amiable, has an undeniable love for Cat (who, you know, must not be particular), and the sooner she marries him, I think, the better. They can’t be married at our church you know, and —” “Well,” said the Doctor, “if they are married elsewhere, I can’t help it, and know nothing about it, look you.” And upon this hint the elopement took place: which, indeed, was peaceably performed early one Sunday morning about a month after; Mrs. Hall getting behind Mr. Hayes on a pillion, and all the children of the parsonage giggling behind the window-blinds to see the pair go off.

During this month Mr. Hayes had caused the banns to be published at the town of Worcester; judging rightly that in a great town they would cause no such remark as in a solitary village, and thither he conducted his lady. O ill-starred John Hayes! whither do the dark Fates lead you? O foolish Doctor Dobbs, to forget that young people ought to honour their parents, and to yield to silly Mrs. Dobbs’s ardent propensity for making matches!

* * *

The London Gazette of the 1st April, 1706, contains a proclamation by the Queen for putting into execution an Act of Parliament for the encouragement and increase of seamen, and for the better and speedier manning of Her Majesty’s fleet, which authorises all justices to issue warrants to constables, petty constables, headboroughs, and tything-men, to enter and, if need be, to break open the doors of any houses where they shall believe deserting seamen to be; and for the further increase and encouragement of the navy, to take able-bodied landsmen when seamen fail. This Act, which occupies four columns of the Gazette, and another of similar length and meaning for pressing men into the army, need not be quoted at length here; but caused a mighty stir throughout the kingdom at the time when it was in force.

As one has seen or heard, after the march of a great army, a number of rogues and loose characters bring up the rear; in like manner, at the tail of a great measure of State, follow many roguish personal interests, which are protected by the main body. The great measure of Reform, for instance, carried along with it much private jobbing and swindling — as could be shown were we not inclined to deal mildly with the Whigs; and this Enlistment Act, which, in order to maintain the British glories in Flanders, dealt most cruelly with the British people in England (it is not the first time that a man has been pinched at home to make a fine appearance abroad), created a great company of rascals and informers throughout the land, who lived upon it; or upon extortion from those who were subject to it, or not being subject to it were frightened into the belief that they were.

When Mr. Hayes and his lady had gone through the marriage ceremony at Worcester, the former, concluding that at such a place lodging and food might be procured at a cheaper rate, looked about carefully for the meanest public-house in the town, where he might deposit his bride.

In the kitchen of this inn, a party of men were drinking; and, as Mrs. Hayes declined, with a proper sense of her superiority, to eat in company with such low fellows, the landlady showed her and her husband to an inner apartment, where they might be served in private.

The kitchen party seemed, indeed, not such as a lady would choose to join. There was one huge lanky fellow, that looked like a soldier, and had a halberd; another was habited in a sailor’s costume, with a fascinating patch over one eye; and a third, who seemed the leader of the gang, was a stout man in a sailor’s frock and a horseman’s jack-boots, whom one might fancy, if he were anything, to be a horse-marine.

Of one of these worthies, Mrs. Hayes thought she knew the figure and voice; and she found her conjectures were true, when, all of sudden, three people, without “With your leave,” or “By your leave,” burst into the room, into which she and her spouse had retired. At their head was no other than her old friend, Mr. Peter Brock; he had his sword drawn, and his finger to his lips, enjoining silence, as it were, to Mrs. Catherine. He with the patch on his eye seized incontinently on Mr. Hayes; the tall man with the halberd kept the door; two or three heroes supported the one-eyed man; who, with a loud voice, exclaimed, “Down with your arms — no resistance! you are my prisoner, in the Queen’s name!”

And here, at this lock, we shall leave the whole company until the next chapter; which may possibly explain what they were.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/catherine/chapter4.html

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