Catherine: a story, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 5

Contains Mr. Brock’s Autobiography, and other matters.

“You don’t sure believe these men?” said Mrs. Hayes, as soon as the first alarm caused by the irruption of Mr. Brock and his companions had subsided. “These are no magistrate’s men: it is but a trick to rob you of your money, John.”

“I will never give up a farthing of it!” screamed Hayes.

“Yonder fellow,” continued Mrs. Catherine, “I know, for all his drawn sword and fierce looks; his name is ——”

“Wood, madam, at your service!” said Mr. Brock. “I am follower to Mr. Justice Gobble, of this town: a’n’t I, Tim?” said Mr. Brock to the tall halberdman who was keeping the door.

“Yes indeed,” said Tim, archly; “we’re all followers of his honour Justice Gobble.”

“Certainly!” said the one-eyed man.

“Of course!” cried the man in the nightcap.

“I suppose, madam, you’re satisfied NOW?” continued Mr. Brock, alias Wood. “You can’t deny the testimony of gentlemen like these; and our commission is to apprehend all able-bodied male persons who can give no good account of themselves, and enrol them in the service of Her Majesty. Look at this Mr. Hayes” (who stood trembling in his shoes). “Can there be a bolder, properer, straighter gentleman? We’ll have him for a grenadier before the day’s over!”

“Take heart, John — don’t be frightened. Psha! I tell you I know the man” cried out Mrs. Hayes: “he is only here to extort money.”

“Oh, for that matter, I DO think I recollect the lady. Let me see; where was it? At Birmingham, I think — ay, at Birmingham — about the time when they tried to murder Count Gal —”

“Oh, sir!” here cried Madam Hayes, dropping her voice at once from a tone of scorn to one of gentlest entreaty, “what is it you want with my husband? I know not, indeed, if ever I saw you before. For what do you seize him? How much will you take to release him, and let us go? Name the sum; he is rich, and —”

“RICH, Catherine!” cried Hayes. “Rich! — O heavens! Sir, I have nothing but my hands to support me: I am a poor carpenter, sir, working under my father!”

“He can give twenty guineas to be free; I know he can!” said Mrs. Cat.

“I have but a guinea to carry me home,” sighed out Hayes.

“But you have twenty at home, John,” said his wife. “Give these brave gentlemen a writing to your mother, and she will pay; and you will let us free then, gentlemen — won’t you?”

“When the money’s paid, yes,” said the leader, Mr. Brock.

“Oh, in course,” echoed the tall man with the halberd. “What’s a thrifling detintion, my dear?” continued he, addressing Hayes. “We’ll amuse you in your absence, and drink to the health of your pretty wife here.”

This promise, to do the halberdier justice, he fulfilled. He called upon the landlady to produce the desired liquor; and when Mr. Hayes flung himself at that lady’s feet, demanding succour from her, and asking whether there was no law in the land —

“There’s no law at the ‘Three Rooks’ except THIS!” said Mr. Brock in reply, holding up a horse-pistol. To which the hostess, grinning, assented, and silently went her way.

After some further solicitations, John Hayes drew out the necessary letter to his father, stating that he was pressed, and would not be set free under a sum of twenty guineas; and that it would be of no use to detain the bearer of the letter, inasmuch as the gentlemen who had possession of him vowed that they would murder him should any harm befall their comrade. As a further proof of the authenticity of the letter, a token was added: a ring that Hayes wore, and that his mother had given him.

The missives were, after some consultation, entrusted to the care of the tall halberdier, who seemed to rank as second in command of the forces that marched under Corporal Brock. This gentleman was called indifferently Ensign, Mr., or even Captain Macshane; his intimates occasionally in sport called him Nosey, from the prominence of that feature in his countenance; or Spindleshins, for the very reason which brought on the first Edward a similar nickname. Mr. Macshane then quitted Worcester, mounted on Hayes’s horse; leaving all parties at the “Three Rooks” not a little anxious for his return.

This was not to be expected until the next morning; and a weary nuit de noces did Mr. Hayes pass. Dinner was served, and, according to promise, Mr. Brock and his two friends enjoyed the meal along with the bride and bridegroom. Punch followed, and this was taken in company; then came supper. Mr. Brock alone partook of this, the other two gentlemen preferring the society of their pipes and the landlady in the kitchen.

“It is a sorry entertainment, I confess,” said the ex-corporal, “and a dismal way for a gentleman to spend his bridal night; but somebody must stay with you, my dears: for who knows but you might take a fancy to scream out of window, and then there would be murder, and the deuce and all to pay. One of us must stay, and my friends love a pipe, so you must put up with my company until they can relieve guard.”

The reader will not, of course, expect that three people who were to pass the night, however unwillingly, together in an inn-room, should sit there dumb and moody, and without any personal communication; on the contrary, Mr. Brock, as an old soldier, entertained his prisoners with the utmost courtesy, and did all that lay in his power, by the help of liquor and conversation, to render their durance tolerable. On the bridegroom his attentions were a good deal thrown away: Mr. Hayes consented to drink copiously, but could not be made to talk much; and, in fact, the fright of the seizure, the fate hanging over him should his parents refuse a ransom, and the tremendous outlay of money which would take place should they accede to it, weighed altogether on his mind so much as utterly to unman it.

As for Mrs. Cat, I don’t think she was at all sorry in her heart to see the old Corporal: for he had been a friend of old times — dear times to her; she had had from him, too, and felt for him, not a little kindness; and there was really a very tender, innocent friendship subsisting between this pair of rascals, who relished much a night’s conversation together.

The Corporal, after treating his prisoners to punch in great quantities, proposed the amusement of cards: over which Mr. Hayes had not been occupied more than an hour, when he found himself so excessively sleepy as to be persuaded to fling himself down on the bed dressed as he was, and there to snore away until morning.

Mrs. Catherine had no inclination for sleep; and the Corporal, equally wakeful, plied incessantly the bottle, and held with her a great deal of conversation. The sleep, which was equivalent to the absence, of John Hayes took all restraint from their talk. She explained to Brock the circumstances of her marriage, which we have already described; they wondered at the chance which had brought them together at the “Three Rooks;” nor did Brock at all hesitate to tell her at once that his calling was quite illegal, and that his intention was simply to extort money. The worthy Corporal had not the slightest shame regarding his own profession, and cut many jokes with Mrs. Cat about her late one; her attempt to murder the Count, and her future prospects as a wife.

And here, having brought him upon the scene again, we may as well shortly narrate some of the principal circumstances which befell him after his sudden departure from Birmingham; and which he narrated with much candour to Mrs. Catherine.

He rode the Captain’s horse to Oxford (having exchanged his military dress for a civil costume on the road), and at Oxford he disposed of “George of Denmark,” a great bargain, to one of the heads of colleges. As soon as Mr. Brock, who took on himself the style and title of Captain Wood, had sufficiently examined the curiosities of the University, he proceeded at once to the capital: the only place for a gentleman of his fortune and figure.

Here he read, with a great deal of philosophical indifference, in the Daily Post, the Courant, the Observator, the Gazette, and the chief journals of those days, which he made a point of examining at “Button’s” and “Will’s,” an accurate description of his person, his clothes, and the horse he rode, and a promise of fifty guineas’ reward to any person who would give an account of him (so that he might be captured) to Captain Count Galgenstein at Birmingham, to Mr. Murfey at the “Golden Ball” in the Savoy, or Mr. Bates at the “Blew Anchor in Pickadilly.” But Captain Wood, in an enormous full-bottomed periwig that cost him sixty pounds,3 with high red heels to his shoes, a silver sword, and a gold snuff-box, and a large wound (obtained, he said, at the siege of Barcelona), which disfigured much of his countenance, and caused him to cover one eye, was in small danger, he thought, of being mistaken for Corporal Brock, the deserter of Cutts’s; and strutted along the Mall with as grave an air as the very best nobleman who appeared there. He was generally, indeed, voted to be very good company; and as his expenses were unlimited (“A few convent candlesticks,” my dear, he used to whisper, “melt into a vast number of doubloons”), he commanded as good society as he chose to ask for: and it was speedily known as a fact throughout town, that Captain Wood, who had served under His Majesty Charles III. of Spain, had carried off the diamond petticoat of Our Lady of Compostella, and lived upon the proceeds of the fraud. People were good Protestants in those days, and many a one longed to have been his partner in the pious plunder.

3 In the ingenious contemporary history of Moll Flanders, a periwig is mentioned as costing that sum.

All surmises concerning his wealth, Captain Wood, with much discretion, encouraged. He contradicted no report, but was quite ready to confirm all; and when two different rumours were positively put to him, he used only to laugh, and say, “My dear sir, I don’t make the stories; but I’m not called upon to deny them; and I give you fair warning, that I shall assent to every one of them; so you may believe them or not, as you please.” And so he had the reputation of being a gentleman, not only wealthy, but discreet. In truth, it was almost a pity that worthy Brock had not been a gentleman born; in which case, doubtless, he would have lived and died as became his station; for he spent his money like a gentleman, he loved women like a gentleman, he would fight like a gentleman, he gambled and got drunk like a gentleman. What did he want else? Only a matter of six descents, a little money, and an estate, to render him the equal of St. John or Harley. “Ah, those were merry days!” would Mr. Brock say — for he loved, in a good old age, to recount the story of his London fashionable campaign; —“and when I think how near I was to become a great man, and to die perhaps a general, I can’t but marvel at the wicked obstinacy of my ill-luck.”

“I will tell you what I did, my dear: I had lodgings in Piccadilly, as if I were a lord; I had two large periwigs, and three suits of laced clothes; I kept a little black dressed out like a Turk; I walked daily in the Mall; I dined at the politest ordinary in Covent Garden; I frequented the best of coffee-houses, and knew all the pretty fellows of the town; I cracked a bottle with Mr. Addison, and lent many a piece to Dick Steele (a sad debauched rogue, my dear); and, above all, I’ll tell you what I did — the noblest stroke that sure ever a gentleman performed in my situation.

“One day, going into ‘Will’s,’ I saw a crowd of gentlemen gathered together, and heard one of them say, ‘Captain Wood! I don’t know the man; but there was a Captain Wood in Southwell’s regiment.’ Egad, it was my Lord Peterborough himself who was talking about me. So, putting off my hat, I made a most gracious conge to my Lord, and said I knew HIM, and rode behind him at Barcelona on our entry into that town.

“‘No doubt you did, Captain Wood,’ says my Lord, taking my hand; ‘and no doubt you know me: for many more know Tom Fool, than Tom Fool knows.’ And with this, at which all of us laughed, my Lord called for a bottle, and he and I sat down and drank it together.

“Well, he was in disgrace, as you know, but he grew mighty fond of me, and — would you believe it? — nothing would satisfy him but presenting me at Court! Yes, to Her Sacred Majesty the Queen, and my Lady Marlborough, who was in high feather. Ay, truly, the sentinels on duty used to salute me as if I were Corporal John himself! I was on the high road to fortune. Charley Mordaunt used to call me Jack, and drink canary at my chambers; I used to make one at my Lord Treasurer’s levee; I had even got Mr. Army-Secretary Walpole to take a hundred guineas as a compliment: and he had promised me a majority: when bad luck turned, and all my fine hopes were overthrown in a twinkling.

“You see, my dear, that after we had left that gaby, Galgenstein — ha, ha — with a gag in his mouth, and twopence-halfpenny in his pocket, the honest Count was in the sorriest plight in the world; owing money here and there to tradesmen, a cool thousand to the Warwickshire Squire: and all this on eighty pounds a year! Well, for a little time the tradesmen held their hands; while the jolly Count moved heaven and earth to catch hold of his dear Corporal and his dear money-bags over again, and placarded every town from London to Liverpool with descriptions of my pretty person. The bird was flown, however — the money clean gone — and when there was no hope of regaining it, what did the creditors do but clap my gay gentleman into Shrewsbury gaol: where I wish he had rotted, for my part.

“But no such luck for honest Peter Brock, or Captain Wood, as he was in those days. One blessed Monday I went to wait on Mr. Secretary, and he squeezed my hand and whispered to me that I was to be Major of a regiment in Virginia — the very thing: for you see, my dear, I didn’t care about joining my Lord Duke in Flanders; being pretty well known to the army there. The Secretary squeezed my hand (it had a fifty-pound bill in it) and wished me joy, and called me Major, and bowed me out of his closet into the ante-room; and, as gay as may be, I went off to the ‘Tilt-yard Coffee-house’ in Whitehall, which is much frequented by gentlemen of our profession, where I bragged not a little of my good luck.

“Amongst the company were several of my acquaintance, and amongst them a gentleman I did not much care to see, look you! I saw a uniform that I knew — red and yellow facings — Cutts’s, my dear; and the wearer of this was no other than his Excellency Gustavus Adolphus Maximilian, whom we all know of!

“He stared me full in the face, right into my eye (t’other one was patched, you know), and after standing stock-still with his mouth open, gave a step back, and then a step forward, and then screeched out, ‘It’s Brock!’

“‘I beg your pardon, sir,’ says I; ‘did you speak to me?’

“‘I’ll SWEAR it’s Brock,’ cries Gal, as soon as he hears my voice, and laid hold of my cuff (a pretty bit of Mechlin as ever you saw, by the way).

“‘Sirrah!’ says I, drawing it back, and giving my Lord a little touch of the fist (just at the last button of the waistcoat, my dear — a rare place if you wish to prevent a man from speaking too much: it sent him reeling to the other end of the room). ‘Ruffian!’ says I. ‘Dog!’ says I. ‘Insolent puppy and coxcomb! what do you mean by laying your hand on me?’

“‘Faith, Major, you giv him his BILLYFUL,’ roared out a long Irish unattached ensign, that I had treated with many a glass of Nantz at the tavern. And so, indeed, I had; for the wretch could not speak for some minutes, and all the officers stood laughing at him, as he writhed and wriggled hideously.

“‘Gentlemen, this is a monstrous scandal,’ says one officer. ‘Men of rank and honour at fists like a parcel of carters!’

“‘Men of honour!’ says the Count, who had fetched up his breath by this time. (I made for the door, but Macshane held me and said, ‘Major, you are not going to shirk him, sure?’ Whereupon I gripped his hand and vowed I would have the dog’s life.)

“‘Men of honour!’ says the Count. ‘I tell you the man is a deserter, a thief, and a swindler! He was my corporal, and ran away with a thou —’

“‘Dog, you lie!’ I roared out, and made another cut at him with my cane; but the gentlemen rushed between us.

“‘O bluthanowns!’ says honest Macshane, ‘the lying scounthrel this fellow is! Gentlemen, I swear be me honour that Captain Wood was wounded at Barcelona; and that I saw him there; and that he and I ran away together at the battle of Almanza, and bad luck to us.’

“You see, my dear, that these Irish have the strongest imaginations in the world; and that I had actually persuaded poor Mac that he and I were friends in Spain. Everybody knew Mac, who was a character in his way, and believed him.

“‘Strike a gentleman,’ says I. ‘I’ll have your blood, I will.’

“‘This instant,’ says the Count, who was boiling with fury; ‘and where you like.’

“‘Montague House,’ says I. ‘Good,’ says he. And off we went. In good time too, for the constables came in at the thought of such a disturbance, and wanted to take us in charge.

“But the gentlemen present, being military men, would not hear of this. Out came Mac’s rapier, and that of half-a-dozen others; and the constables were then told to do their duty if they liked, or to take a crown-piece, and leave us to ourselves. Off they went; and presently, in a couple of coaches, the Count and his friends, I and mine, drove off to the fields behind Montague House. Oh that vile coffee-house! why did I enter it?

“We came to the ground. Honest Macshane was my second, and much disappointed because the second on the other side would not make a fight of it, and exchange a few passes with him; but he was an old major, a cool old hand, as brave as steel, and no fool. Well, the swords are measured, Galgenstein strips off his doublet, and I my handsome cut-velvet in like fashion. Galgenstein flings off his hat, and I handed mine over — the lace on it cost me twenty pounds. I longed to be at him, for — curse him! — I hate him, and know that he has no chance with me at sword’s-play.

“‘You’ll not fight in that periwig, sure?’ says Macshane. ‘Of course not,’ says I, and took it off.

“May all barbers be roasted in flames; may all periwigs, bobwigs, scratchwigs, and Ramillies cocks, frizzle in purgatory from this day forth to the end of time! Mine was the ruin of me: what might I not have been now but for that wig!

“I gave it over to Ensign Macshane, and with it went what I had quite forgotten, the large patch which I wore over one eye, which popped out fierce, staring, and lively as was ever any eye in the world.

“‘Come on!’ says I, and made a lunge at my Count; but he sprang back (the dog was as active as a hare, and knew, from old times, that I was his master with the small-sword), and his second, wondering, struck up my blade.

“‘I will not fight that man,’ says he, looking mighty pale. ‘I swear upon my honour that his name is Peter Brock: he was for two years my corporal, and deserted, running away with a thousand pounds of my moneys. Look at the fellow! What is the matter with his eye? why did he wear a patch over it? But stop!’ says he. ‘I have more proof. Hand me my pocket-book.’ And from it, sure enough, he produced the infernal proclamation announcing my desertion! ‘See if the fellow has a scar across his left ear’ (and I can’t say, my dear, but what I have: it was done by a cursed Dutchman at the Boyne). ‘Tell me if he has not got C.R. in blue upon his right arm’ (and there it is sure enough). ‘Yonder swaggering Irishman may be his accomplice for what I know; but I will have no dealings with Mr. Brock, save with a constable for a second.’

“‘This is an odd story, Captain Wood,’ said the old Major who acted for the Count.

“‘A scounthrelly falsehood regarding me and my friend!’ shouted out Mr. Macshane; ‘and the Count shall answer for it.’

“‘Stop, stop!’ says the Major. ‘Captain Wood is too gallant a gentleman, I am sure, not to satisfy the Count; and will show us that he has no such mark on his arm as only private soldiers put there.’

“‘Captain Wood,’ says I, ‘will do no such thing, Major. I’ll fight that scoundrel Galgenstein, or you, or any of you, like a man of honour; but I won’t submit to be searched like a thief!’

“‘No, in coorse,’ said Macshane.

“‘I must take my man off the ground,’ says the Major.

“‘Well, take him, sir,’ says I, in a rage; ‘and just let me have the pleasure of telling him that he’s a coward and a liar; and that my lodgings are in Piccadilly, where, if ever he finds courage to meet me, he may hear of me!’

“‘Faugh! I shpit on ye all,’ cries my gallant ally Macshane. And sure enough he kept his word, or all but — suiting the action to it at any rate.

“And so we gathered up our clothes, and went back in our separate coaches, and no blood spilt.

“‘And is it thrue now,’ said Mr. Macshane, when we were alone —‘is it thrue now, all these divvles have been saying?’ ‘Ensign,’ says I, ‘you’re a man of the world?’

“’‘Deed and I am, and insign these twenty-two years.’

“‘Perhaps you’d like a few pieces?’ says I.

“‘Faith and I should; for to tell you the secred thrut, I’ve not tasted mate these four days.’

“‘Well then, Ensign, it IS true,’ says I; ‘and as for meat, you shall have some at the first cook-shop.’ I bade the coach stop until he bought a plateful, which he ate in the carriage, for my time was precious. I just told him the whole story: at which he laughed, and swore that it was the best piece of GENERALSHIP he ever heard on. When his belly was full, I took out a couple of guineas and gave them to him. Mr. Macshane began to cry at this, and kissed me, and swore he never would desert me: as, indeed, my dear, I don’t think he will; for we have been the best of friends ever since, and he’s the only man I ever could trust, I think.

“I don’t know what put it into my head, but I had a scent of some mischief in the wind; so stopped the coach a little before I got home, and, turning into a tavern, begged Macshane to go before me to my lodging, and see if the coast was clear: which he did; and came back to me as pale as death, saying that the house was full of constables. The cursed quarrel at the Tilt-yard had, I suppose, set the beaks upon me; and a pretty sweep they made of it. Ah, my dear! five hundred pounds in money, five suits of laced clothes, three periwigs, besides laced shirts, swords, canes, and snuff-boxes; and all to go back to that scoundrel Count.

“It was all over with me, I saw — no more being a gentleman for me; and if I remained to be caught, only a choice between Tyburn and a file of grenadiers. My love, under such circumstances, a gentleman can’t be particular, and must be prompt; the livery-stable was hard by where I used to hire my coach to go to Court — ha! ha! — and was known as a man of substance. Thither I went immediately. ‘Mr. Warmmash,’ says I, ‘my gallant friend here and I have a mind for a ride and a supper at Twickenham, so you must lend us a pair of your best horses.’ Which he did in a twinkling, and off we rode.

“We did not go into the Park, but turned off and cantered smartly up towards Kilburn; and, when we got into the country, galloped as if the devil were at our heels. Bless you, my love, it was all done in a minute: and the Ensign and I found ourselves regular knights of the road, before we knew where we were almost. Only think of our finding you and your new husband at the ‘Three Rooks’! There’s not a greater fence than the landlady in all the country. It was she that put us on seizing your husband, and introduced us to the other two gentlemen, whose names I don’t know any more than the dead.”

“And what became of the horses?” said Mrs. Catherine to Mr. Brock, when his tale was finished.

“Rips, madam,” said he; “mere rips. We sold them at Stourbridge fair, and got but thirteen guineas for the two.”

“And — and — the Count, Max; where is he, Brock?” sighed she.

“Whew!” whistled Mr. Brock. “What, hankering after him still? My dear, he is off to Flanders with his regiment; and, I make no doubt, there have been twenty Countesses of Galgenstein since your time.”

“I don’t believe any such thing, sir,” said Mrs. Catherine, starting up very angrily.

“If you did, I suppose you’d laudanum him; wouldn’t you?”

“Leave the room, fellow,” said the lady. But she recollected herself speedily again; and, clasping her hands, and looking very wretched at Brock, at the ceiling, at the floor, at her husband (from whom she violently turned away her head), she began to cry piteously: to which tears the Corporal set up a gentle accompaniment of whistling, as they trickled one after another down her nose.

I don’t think they were tears of repentance; but of regret for the time when she had her first love, and her fine clothes, and her white hat and blue feather. Of the two, the Corporal’s whistle was much more innocent than the girl’s sobbing: he was a rogue; but a good-natured old fellow when his humour was not crossed. Surely our novel-writers make a great mistake in divesting their rascals of all gentle human qualities: they have such — and the only sad point to think of is, in all private concerns of life, abstract feelings, and dealings with friends, and so on, how dreadfully like a rascal is to an honest man. The man who murdered the Italian boy, set him first to play with his children whom he loved, and who doubtless deplored his loss.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/catherine/chapter5.html

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