Catherine: a story, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter 7

Which embraces a period of seven years.

The recovery of so considerable a portion of his property from the clutches of Brock was, as may be imagined, no trifling source of joy to that excellent young man, Count Gustavus Adolphus de Galgenstein; and he was often known to say, with much archness, and a proper feeling of gratitude to the Fate which had ordained things so, that the robbery was, in reality, one of the best things that could have happened to him: for, in event of Mr. Brock’s NOT stealing the money, his Excellency the Count would have had to pay the whole to the Warwickshire Squire, who had won it from him at play. He was enabled, in the present instance, to plead his notorious poverty as an excuse; and the Warwickshire conqueror got off with nothing, except a very badly written autograph of the Count’s, simply acknowledging the debt.

This point his Excellency conceded with the greatest candour; but (as, doubtless, the reader may have remarked in the course of his experience) to owe is not quite the same thing as to pay; and from the day of his winning the money until the day of his death the Warwickshire Squire did never, by any chance, touch a single bob, tizzy, tester, moidore, maravedi, doubloon, tomaun, or rupee, of the sum which Monsieur de Galgenstein had lost to him.

That young nobleman was, as Mr. Brock hinted in the little autobiographical sketch which we gave in a former chapter, incarcerated for a certain period, and for certain other debts, in the donjons of Shrewsbury; but he released himself from them by that noble and consolatory method of whitewashing which the law has provided for gentlemen in his oppressed condition; and he had not been a week in London, when he fell in with, and overcame, or put to flight, Captain Wood, alias Brock, and immediately seized upon the remainder of his property. After receiving this, the Count, with commendable discretion, disappeared from England altogether for a while; nor are we at all authorised to state that any of his debts to his tradesmen were discharged, any more than his debts of honour, as they are pleasantly called.

Having thus settled with his creditors, the gallant Count had interest enough with some of the great folk to procure for himself a post abroad, and was absent in Holland for some time. It was here that he became acquainted with the lovely Madam Silverkoop, the widow of a deceased gentleman of Leyden; and although the lady was not at that age at which tender passions are usually inspired — being sixty — and though she could not, like Mademoiselle Ninon de l’Enclos, then at Paris, boast of charms which defied the progress of time — for Mrs. Silverkoop was as red as a boiled lobster, and as unwieldy as a porpoise; and although her mental attractions did by no means make up for her personal deficiencies — for she was jealous, violent, vulgar, drunken, and stingy to a miracle: yet her charms had an immediate effect on Monsieur de Galgenstein; and hence, perhaps, the reader (the rogue! how well he knows the world!) will be led to conclude that the honest widow was RICH.

Such, indeed, she was; and Count Gustavus, despising the difference between his twenty quarterings and her twenty thousand pounds, laid the most desperate siege to her, and finished by causing her to capitulate; as I do believe, after a reasonable degree of pressing, any woman will do to any man: such, at least, has been MY experience in the matter.

The Count then married; and it was curious to see how he — who, as we have seen in the case of Mrs. Cat, had been as great a tiger and domestic bully as any extant — now, by degrees, fell into a quiet submission towards his enormous Countess; who ordered him up and down as a lady orders her footman, who permitted him speedily not to have a will of his own, and who did not allow him a shilling of her money without receiving for the same an accurate account.

How was it that he, the abject slave of Madam Silverkoop, had been victorious over Mrs. Cat? The first blow is, I believe, the decisive one in these cases, and the Countess had stricken it a week after their marriage; — establishing a supremacy which the Count never afterwards attempted to question.

We have alluded to his Excellency’s marriage, as in duty bound, because it will be necessary to account for his appearance hereafter in a more splendid fashion than that under which he has hitherto been known to us; and just comforting the reader by the knowledge that the union, though prosperous in a worldly point of view, was, in reality, extremely unhappy, we must say no more from this time forth of the fat and legitimate Madam de Galgenstein. Our darling is Mrs. Catherine, who had formerly acted in her stead; and only in so much as the fat Countess did influence in any way the destinies of our heroine, or those wise and virtuous persons who have appeared and are to follow her to her end, shall we in any degree allow her name to figure here. It is an awful thing to get a glimpse, as one sometimes does, when the time is past, of some little little wheel which works the whole mighty machinery of FATE, and see how our destinies turn on a minute’s delay or advance, or on the turning of a street, or on somebody else’s turning of a street, or on somebody else’s doing of something else in Downing Street or in Timbuctoo, now or a thousand years ago. Thus, for instance, if Miss Poots, in the year 1695, had never been the lovely inmate of a Spielhaus at Amsterdam, Mr. Van Silverkoop would never have seen her; if the day had not been extraordinarily hot, the worthy merchant would never have gone thither; if he had not been fond of Rhenish wine and sugar, he never would have called for any such delicacies; if he had not called for them, Miss Ottilia Poots would never have brought them, and partaken of them; if he had not been rich, she would certainly have rejected all the advances made to her by Silverkoop; if he had not been so fond of Rhenish and sugar, he never would have died; and Mrs. Silverkoop would have been neither rich nor a widow, nor a wife to Count von Galgenstein. Nay, nor would this history have ever been written; for if Count Galgenstein had not married the rich widow, Mrs. Catherine would never have —

Oh, my dear madam! you thought we were going to tell you. Pooh! nonsense! — no such thing! not for two or three and seventy pages or so — when, perhaps, you MAY know what Mrs. Catherine never would have done.

The reader will remember, in the second chapter of these Memoirs, the announcement that Mrs. Catherine had given to the world a child, who might bear, if he chose, the arms of Galgenstein, with the further adornment of a bar-sinister. This child had been put out to nurse some time before its mother’s elopement from the Count; and as that nobleman was in funds at the time (having had that success at play which we duly chronicled), he paid a sum of no less than twenty guineas, which was to be the yearly reward of the nurse into whose charge the boy was put. The woman grew fond of the brat; and when, after the first year, she had no further news or remittances from father or mother, she determined, for a while at least, to maintain the infant at her own expense; for, when rebuked by her neighbours on this score, she stoutly swore that no parents could ever desert their children, and that some day or other she should not fail to be rewarded for her trouble with this one.

Under this strange mental hallucination poor Goody Billings, who had five children and a husband of her own, continued to give food and shelter to little Tom for a period of no less than seven years; and though it must be acknowledged that the young gentleman did not in the slightest degree merit the kindnesses shown to him, Goody Billings, who was of a very soft and pitiful disposition, continued to bestow them upon him: because, she said, he was lonely and unprotected, and deserved them more than other children who had fathers and mothers to look after them. If, then, any difference was made between Tom’s treatment and that of her own brood, it was considerably in favour of the former; to whom the largest proportions of treacle were allotted for his bread, and the handsomest supplies of hasty pudding. Besides, to do Mrs. Billings justice, there WAS a party against him; and that consisted not only of her husband and her five children, but of every single person in the neighbourhood who had an opportunity of seeing and becoming acquainted with Master Tom.

A celebrated philosopher — I think Miss Edgeworth — has broached the consolatory doctrine, that in intellect and disposition all human beings are entirely equal, and that circumstance and education are the causes of the distinctions and divisions which afterwards unhappily take place among them. Not to argue this question, which places Jack Howard and Jack Thurtell on an exact level — which would have us to believe that Lord Melbourne is by natural gifts and excellences a man as honest, brave, and far-sighted as the Duke of Wellington — which would make out that Lord Lyndhurst is, in point of principle, eloquence, and political honesty, no better than Mr. O’Connell — not, I say, arguing this doctrine, let us simply state that Master Thomas Billings (for, having no other, he took the name of the worthy people who adopted him) was in his long-coats fearfully passionate, screaming and roaring perpetually, and showing all the ill that he COULD show. At the age of two, when his strength enabled him to toddle abroad, his favourite resort was the coal-hole or the dung-heap: his roarings had not diminished in the least, and he had added to his former virtues two new ones — a love of fighting and stealing; both which amiable qualities he had many opportunities of exercising every day. He fought his little adoptive brothers and sisters; he kicked and cuffed his father and mother; he fought the cat, stamped upon the kittens, was worsted in a severe battle with the hen in the backyard; but, in revenge, nearly beat a little sucking-pig to death, whom he caught alone and rambling near his favourite haunt, the dung-hill. As for stealing, he stole the eggs, which he perforated and emptied; the butter, which he ate with or without bread, as he could find it; the sugar, which he cunningly secreted in the leaves of a “Baker’s Chronicle,” that nobody in the establishment could read; and thus from the pages of history he used to suck in all he knew — thieving and lying namely; in which, for his years, he made wonderful progress. If any followers of Miss Edgeworth and the philosophers are inclined to disbelieve this statement, or to set it down as overcharged and distorted, let them be assured that just this very picture was, of all the pictures in the world, taken from nature. I, Ikey Solomons, once had a dear little brother who could steal before he could walk (and this not from encouragement — for, if you know the world, you must know that in families of our profession the point of honour is sacred at home — but from pure nature)— who could steal, I say, before he could walk, and lie before he could speak; and who, at four and a half years of age, having attacked my sister Rebecca on some question of lollipops, had smitten her on the elbow with a fire-shovel, apologising to us by saying simply, “—— her, I wish it had been her head!” Dear, dear Aminadab! I think of you, and laugh these philosophers to scorn. Nature made you for that career which you fulfilled: you were from your birth to your dying a scoundrel; you COULDN’T have been anything else, however your lot was cast; and blessed it was that you were born among the prigs,- -for had you been of any other profession, alas! alas! what ills might you have done! As I have heard the author of “Richelieu,” “Siamese Twins,” etc. say “Poeta nascitur non fit,” which means that though he had tried ever so much to be a poet, it was all moonshine: in the like manner, I say, “ROAGUS nascitur, non fit.” We have it from nature, and so a fig for Miss Edgeworth.

In this manner, then, while his father, blessed with a wealthy wife, was leading, in a fine house, the life of a galley-slave; while his mother, married to Mr. Hayes, and made an honest women of, as the saying is, was passing her time respectably in Warwickshire, Mr. Thomas Billings was inhabiting the same county, not cared for by either of them; but ordained by Fate to join them one day, and have a mighty influence upon the fortunes of both. For, as it has often happened to the traveller in the York or the Exeter coach to fall snugly asleep in his corner, and on awaking suddenly to find himself sixty or seventy miles from the place where Somnus first visited him: as, we say, although you sit still, Time, poor wretch, keeps perpetually running on, and so must run day and night, with never a pause or a halt of five minutes to get a drink, until his dying day; let the reader imagine that since he left Mrs. Hayes and all the other worthy personages of this history, in the last chapter, seven years have sped away; during which, all our heroes and heroines have been accomplishing their destinies.

Seven years of country carpentering, or rather trading, on the part of a husband, of ceaseless scolding, violence, and discontent on the part of a wife, are not pleasant to describe: so we shall omit altogether any account of the early married life of Mr. and Mrs. John Hayes. The “Newgate Calendar” (to which excellent compilation we and the OTHER popular novelists of the day can never be sufficiently grateful) states that Hayes left his house three or four times during this period, and, urged by the restless humours of his wife, tried several professions: returning, however, as he grew weary of each, to his wife and his paternal home. After a certain time his parents died, and by their demise he succeeded to a small property, and the carpentering business, which he for some time followed.

What, then, in the meanwhile, had become of Captain Wood, or Brock, and Ensign Macshane? — the only persons now to be accounted for in our catalogue. For about six months after their capture and release of Mr. Hayes, those noble gentlemen had followed, with much prudence and success, that trade which the celebrated and polite Duval, the ingenious Sheppard, the dauntless Turpin, and indeed many other heroes of our most popular novels, had pursued — or were pursuing, in their time. And so considerable were said to be Captain Wood’s gains, that reports were abroad of his having somewhere a buried treasure; to which he might have added more, had not Fate suddenly cut short his career as a prig. He and the Ensign were — shame to say — transported for stealing three pewter-pots off a railing at Exeter; and not being known in the town, which they had only reached that morning, they were detained by no further charges, but simply condemned on this one. For this misdemeanour, Her Majesty’s Government vindictively sent them for seven years beyond the sea; and, as the fashion then was, sold the use of their bodies to Virginian planters during that space of time. It is thus, alas! that the strong are always used to deal with the weak, and many an honest fellow has been led to rue his unfortunate difference with the law.

Thus, then, we have settled all scores. The Count is in Holland with his wife; Mrs. Cat in Warwickshire along with her excellent husband; Master Thomas Billings with his adoptive parents in the same county; and the two military gentlemen watching the progress and cultivation of the tobacco and cotton plant in the New World. All these things having passed between the acts, dingaring-a-dingaring-a-dingledingleding, the drop draws up, and the next act begins. By the way, the play ENDS with a drop: but that is neither here nor there.

* * *

(Here, as in a theatre, the orchestra is supposed to play something melodious. The people get up, shake themselves, yawn, and settle down in their seats again. “Porter, ale, ginger-beer, cider,” comes round, squeezing through the legs of the gentlemen in the pit. Nobody takes anything, as usual; and lo! the curtain rises again. “Sh, ‘shsh, ‘shshshhh! Hats off!” says everybody.)

* * *

Mrs. Hayes had now been for six years the adored wife of Mr. Hayes, and no offspring had arisen to bless their loves and perpetuate their name. She had obtained a complete mastery over her lord and master; and having had, as far as was in that gentleman’s power, every single wish gratified that she could demand, in the way of dress, treats to Coventry and Birmingham, drink, and what not — for, though a hard man, John Hayes had learned to spend his money pretty freely on himself and her — having had all her wishes gratified, it was natural that she should begin to find out some more; and the next whim she hit upon was to be restored to her child. It may be as well to state that she had never informed her husband of the existence of that phenomenon, although he was aware of his wife’s former connection with the Count — Mrs. Hayes, in their matrimonial quarrels, invariably taunting him with accounts of her former splendour and happiness, and with his own meanness of taste in condescending to take up with his Excellency’s leavings.

She determined, then (but as yet had not confided her determination to her husband), she would have her boy; although in her seven years’ residence within twenty miles of him she had never once thought of seeing him: and the kind reader knows that when his excellent lady determines on a thing — a shawl, or an opera-box, or a new carriage, or twenty-four singing-lessons from Tamburini, or a night at the “Eagle Tavern,” City Road, or a ride in a ‘bus to Richmond and tea and brandy-and-water at “Rose Cottage Hotel”— the reader, high or low, knows that when Mrs. Reader desires a thing have it she will; you may just as well talk of avoiding her as of avoiding gout, bills, or grey hairs — and that, you know, is impossible. I, for my part, have had all three — ay, and a wife too.

I say that when a woman is resolved on a thing, happen it will; if husbands refuse, Fate will interfere (flectere si nequeo, etc.; but quotations are odious). And some hidden power was working in the case of Mrs. Hayes, and, for its own awful purposes, lending her its aid.

Who has not felt how he works — the dreadful conquering Spirit of Ill? Who cannot see, in the circle of his own society, the fated and foredoomed to woe and evil? Some call the doctrine of destiny a dark creed; but, for me, I would fain try and think it a consolatory one. It is better, with all one’s sins upon one’s head, to deem oneself in the hands of Fate, than to think — with our fierce passions and weak repentances; with our resolves so loud, so vain, so ludicrously, despicably weak and frail; with our dim, wavering, wretched conceits about virtue, and our irresistible propensity to wrong — that we are the workers of our future sorrow or happiness. If we depend on our strength, what is it against mighty circumstance? If we look to ourselves, what hope have we? Look back at the whole of your life, and see how Fate has mastered you and it. Think of your disappointments and your successes. Has YOUR striving influenced one or the other? A fit of indigestion puts itself between you and honours and reputation; an apple plops on your nose and makes you a world’s wonder and glory; a fit of poverty makes a rascal of you, who were, and are still, an honest man; clubs, trumps, or six lucky mains at dice, make an honest man for life of you, who ever were, will be, and are a rascal. Who sends the illness? who causes the apple to fall? who deprives you of your worldly goods? or who shuffles the cards, and brings trumps, honour, virtue, and prosperity back again? You call it chance; ay, and so it is chance that when the floor gives way, and the rope stretches tight, the poor wretch before St. Sepulchre’s clock dies. Only with us, clear-sighted mortals as we are, we can’t SEE the rope by which we hang, and know not when or how the drop may fall.

But revenons a nos moutons: let us return to that sweet lamb Master Thomas, and the milk-white ewe Mrs. Cat. Seven years had passed away, and she began to think that she should very much like to see her child once more. It was written that she should; and you shall hear how, soon after, without any great exertions of hers, back he came to her.

In the month of July, in the year 1715, there came down a road about ten miles from the city of Worcester, two gentlemen; not mounted, Templar-like, upon one horse, but having a horse between them — a sorry bay, with a sorry saddle, and a large pack behind it; on which each by turn took a ride. Of the two, one was a man of excessive stature, with red hair, a very prominent nose, and a faded military dress; while the other, an old weather-beaten, sober-looking personage, wore the costume of a civilian — both man and dress appearing to have reached the autumnal, or seedy state. However, the pair seemed, in spite of their apparent poverty, to be passably merry. The old gentleman rode the horse; and had, in the course of their journey, ridden him two miles at least in every three. The tall one walked with immense strides by his side; and seemed, indeed, as if he could have quickly outstripped the four-footed animal, had he chosen to exert his speed, or had not affection for his comrade retained him at his stirrup.

A short time previously the horse had cast a shoe; and this the tall man on foot had gathered up, and was holding in his hand: it having been voted that the first blacksmith to whose shop they should come should be called upon to fit it again upon the bay horse.

“Do you remimber this counthry, Meejor?” said the tall man, who was looking about him very much pleased, and sucking a flower. “I think thim green cornfields is prettier looking at than the d ——— tobacky out yondther, and bad lack to it!”

“I recollect the place right well, and some queer pranks we played here seven years agone,” responded the gentleman addressed as Major. “You remember that man and his wife, whom we took in pawn at the ‘Three Rooks’?”

“And the landlady only hung last Michaelmas?” said the tall man, parenthetically.

“Hang the landlady! — we’ve got all we ever would out of HER, you know. But about the man and woman. You went after the chap’s mother, and, like a jackass, as you are, let him loose. Well, the woman was that Catherine that you’ve often heard me talk about. I like the wench, —— her, for I almost brought her up; and she was for a year or two along with that scoundrel Galgenstein, who has been the cause of my ruin.”

“The inferrnal blackguard and ruffian!” said the tall man; who, with his companion, has no doubt been recognised by the reader.

“Well, this Catherine had a child by Galgenstein; and somewhere here hard by the woman lived to whom we carried the brat to nurse. She was the wife of a blacksmith, one Billings: it won’t be out of the way to get our horse shod at his house, if he is alive still, and we may learn something about the little beast. I should be glad to see the mother well enough.”

“Do I remimber her?” said the Ensign. “Do I remimber whisky? Sure I do, and the snivelling sneak her husband, and the stout old lady her mother-inlaw, and the dirty one-eyed ruffian who sold me the parson’s hat that had so nearly brought me into trouble. Oh but it was a rare rise we got out of them chaps, and the old landlady that’s hanged too!” And here both Ensign Macshane and Major Brock, or Wood, grinned, and showed much satisfaction.

It will be necessary to explain the reason of it. We gave the British public to understand that the landlady of the “Three Rooks,” at Worcester, was a notorious fence, or banker of thieves; that is, a purchaser of their merchandise. In her hands Mr. Brock and his companion had left property to the amount of sixty or seventy pounds, which was secreted in a cunning recess in a chamber of the “Three Rooks” known only to the landlady and the gentlemen who banked with her; and in this place, Mr. Sicklop, the one-eyed man who had joined in the Hayes adventure, his comrade, and one or two of the topping prigs of the county, were free. Mr. Sicklop had been shot dead in a night attack near Bath: the landlady had been suddenly hanged, as an accomplice in another case of robbery; and when, on their return from Virginia, our two heroes, whose hopes of livelihood depended upon it, had bent their steps towards Worcester, they were not a little frightened to hear of the cruel fate of the hostess and many of the amiable frequenters of the “Three Rooks.” All the goodly company were separated; the house was no longer an inn. Was the money gone too? At least it was worth while to look — which Messrs. Brock and Macshane determined to do.

The house being now a private one, Mr. Brock, with a genius that was above his station, visited its owner, with a huge portfolio under his arm, and, in the character of a painter, requested permission to take a particular sketch from a particular window. The Ensign followed with the artist’s materials (consisting simply of a screwdriver and a crowbar); and it is hardly necessary to say that, when admission was granted to them, they opened the well-known door, and to their inexpressible satisfaction discovered, not their own peculiar savings exactly, for these had been appropriated instantly, on hearing of their transportation, but stores of money and goods to the amount of near three hundred pounds: to which Mr. Macshane said they had as just and honourable a right as anybody else. And so they had as just a right as anybody — except the original owners: but who was to discover them?

With this booty they set out on their journey — anywhere, for they knew not whither; and it so chanced that when their horse’s shoe came off, they were within a few furlongs of the cottage of Mr. Billings, the blacksmith. As they came near, they were saluted by tremendous roars issuing from the smithy. A small boy was held across the bellows, two or three children of smaller and larger growth were holding him down, and many others of the village were gazing in at the window, while a man, half-naked, was lashing the little boy with a whip, and occasioning the cries heard by the travellers. As the horse drew up, the operator looked at the new-comers for a moment, and then proceeded incontinently with his work; belabouring the child more fiercely than ever.

When he had done, he turned round to the new-comers and asked how he could serve them? whereupon Mr. Wood (for such was the name he adopted, and by such we shall call him to the end) wittily remarked that however he might wish to serve THEM, he seemed mightily inclined to serve that young gentleman first.

“It’s no joking matter,” said the blacksmith: “if I don’t serve him so now, he’ll be worse off in his old age. He’ll come to the gallows, as sure as his name is Bill —— never mind what his name is.” And so saying, he gave the urchin another cut; which elicited, of course, another scream.

“Oh! his name is Bill?” said Captain Wood.

“His name’s NOT Bill!” said the blacksmith, sulkily. “He’s no name; and no heart, neither. My wife took the brat in, seven years ago, from a beggarly French chap to nurse, and she kept him, for she was a good soul” (here his eyes began to wink), “and she’s — she’s gone now” (here he began fairly to blubber). “And d —— him, out of love for her, I kept him too, and the scoundrel is a liar and a thief. This blessed day, merely to vex me and my boys here, he spoke ill of her, he did, and I’ll — cut — his — life — out — I— will!” and with each word honest Mulciber applied a whack on the body of little Tom Billings; who, by shrill shrieks, and oaths in treble, acknowledged the receipt of the blows.

“Come, come,” said Mr. Wood, “set the boy down, and the bellows a-going; my horse wants shoeing, and the poor lad has had strapping enough.”

The blacksmith obeyed, and cast poor Master Thomas loose. As he staggered away and looked back at his tormentor, his countenance assumed an expression which made Mr. Wood say, grasping hold of Macshane’s arm, “It’s the boy, it’s the boy! When his mother gave Galgenstein the laudanum, she had the self-same look with her!”

“Had she really now?” said Mr. Macshane. “And pree, Meejor, who WAS his mother?”

“Mrs. Cat, you fool!” answered Wood.

“Then, upon my secred word of honour, she has a mighty fine KITTEN anyhow, my dear. Aha!”

“They don’t DROWN such kittens,” said Mr. Wood, archly; and Macshane, taking the allusion, clapped his finger to his nose in token of perfect approbation of his commander’s sentiment.

While the blacksmith was shoeing the horse, Mr. Wood asked him many questions concerning the lad whom he had just been chastising, and succeeded, beyond a doubt, in establishing his identity with the child whom Catherine Hall had brought into the world seven years since. Billings told him of all the virtues of his wife, and the manifold crimes of the lad: how he stole, and fought, and lied, and swore; and though the youngest under his roof, exercised the most baneful influence over all the rest of his family. He was determined at last, he said, to put him to the parish, for he did not dare to keep him.

“He’s a fine whelp, and would fetch ten pieces in Virginny,” sighed the Ensign.

“Crimp, of Bristol, would give five for him,” said Mr. Wood, ruminating.

“Why not take him?” said the Ensign.

“Faith, why not?” said Mr. Wood. “His keep, meanwhile, will not be sixpence a day.” Then turning round to the blacksmith, “Mr. Billings,” said he, “you will be surprised, perhaps, to hear that I know everything regarding that poor lad’s history. His mother was an unfortunate lady of high family, now no more; his father a German nobleman, Count de Galgenstein by name.”

“The very man!” said Billings: “a young, fair-haired man, who came here with the child, and a dragoon sergeant.”

“Count de Galgenstein by name, who, on the point of death, recommended the infant to me.”

“And did he pay you seven years’ boarding?” said Mr. Billings, who was quite alive at the very idea.

“Alas, sir, not a jot! He died, sir, six hundred pounds in my debt; didn’t he, Ensign?”

“Six hundred, upon my secred honour! I remember when he got into the house along with the poli —”

“Psha! what matters it?” here broke out Mr. Wood, looking fiercely at the Ensign. “Six hundred pounds he owes me: how was he to pay you? But he told me to take charge of this boy, if I found him; and found him I have, and WILL take charge of him, if you will hand him over.”

“Send our Tom!” cried Billings. And when that youth appeared, scowling, and yet trembling, and prepared, as it seemed, for another castigation, his father, to his surprise, asked him if he was willing to go along with those gentlemen, or whether he would be a good lad and stay with him.

Mr. Tom replied immediately, “I won’t be a good lad, and I’d rather go to —— than stay with you!”

“Will you leave your brothers and sisters?” said Billings, looking very dismal.

“Hang my brothers and sisters — I hate ’em; and, besides, I haven’t got any!”

“But you had a good mother, hadn’t you, Tom?”

Tom paused for a moment.

“Mother’s gone,” said he, “and you flog me, and I’ll go with these men.”

“Well, then, go thy ways,” said Billings, starting up in a passion: “go thy ways for a graceless reprobate; and if this gentleman will take you, he may do so.”

After some further parley, the conversation ended, and the next morning Mr. Wood’s party consisted of three: a little boy being mounted upon the bay horse, in addition to the Ensign or himself; and the whole company went journeying towards Bristol.

* * *

We have said that Mrs. Hayes had, on a sudden, taken a fit of maternal affection, and was bent upon being restored to her child; and that benign destiny which watched over the life of this lucky lady instantly set about gratifying her wish, and, without cost to herself of coach-hire or saddle-horse, sent the young gentleman very quickly to her arms. The village in which the Hayeses dwelt was but a very few miles out of the road from Bristol; whither, on the benevolent mission above, hinted at, our party of worthies were bound: and coming, towards the afternoon, in sight of the house of that very Justice Ballance who had been so nearly the ruin of Ensign Macshane, that officer narrated, for the hundredth time, and with much glee, the circumstances which had then befallen him, and the manner in which Mrs. Hayes the elder had come forward to his rescue.

“Suppose we go and see the old girl?” suggested Mr. Wood. “No harm can come to us now.” And his comrade always assenting, they wound their way towards the village, and reached it as the evening came on. In the public-house where they rested, Wood made inquiries concerning the Hayes family; was informed of the death of the old couple, of the establishment of John Hayes and his wife in their place, and of the kind of life that these latter led together. When all these points had been imparted to him, he ruminated much: an expression of sublime triumph and exultation at length lighted up his features. “I think, Tim,” said he at last, “that we can make more than five pieces of that boy.”

“Oh, in coorse!” said Timothy Macshane, Esquire; who always agreed with his “Meejor.”

“In coorse, you fool! and how? I’ll tell you how. This Hayes is well to do in the world, and —”

“And we’ll nab him again — ha, ha!” roared out Macshane. “By my secred honour, Meejor, there never was a gineral like you at a strathyjam!”

“Peace, you bellowing donkey, and don’t wake the child. The man is well to do, his wife rules him, and they have no children. Now, either she will be very glad to have the boy back again, and pay for the finding of him, or else she has said nothing about him, and will pay us for being silent too: or, at any rate, Hayes himself will be ashamed at finding his wife the mother of a child a year older than his marriage, and will pay for the keeping of the brat away. There’s profit, my dear, in any one of the cases, or my name’s not Peter Brock.”

When the Ensign understood this wondrous argument, he would fain have fallen on his knees and worshipped his friend and guide. They began operations, almost immediately, by an attack on Mrs. Hayes. On hearing, as she did in private interview with the ex-corporal the next morning, that her son was found, she was agitated by both of the passions which Wood attributed to her. She longed to have the boy back, and would give any reasonable sum to see him; but she dreaded exposure, and would pay equally to avoid that. How could she gain the one point and escape the other?

Mrs. Hayes hit upon an expedient which, I am given to understand, is not uncommon nowadays. She suddenly discovered that she had a dear brother, who had been obliged to fly the country in consequence of having joined the Pretender, and had died in France, leaving behind him an only son. This boy her brother had, with his last breath, recommended to her protection, and had confided him to the charge of a brother officer who was now in the country, and would speedily make his appearance; and, to put the story beyond a doubt, Mr. Wood wrote the letter from her brother stating all these particulars, and Ensign Macshane received full instructions how to perform the part of the “brother officer.” What consideration Mr. Wood received for his services, we cannot say; only it is well known that Mr. Hayes caused to be committed to gaol a young apprentice in his service, charged with having broken open a cupboard in which Mr. Hayes had forty guineas in gold and silver, and to which none but he and his wife had access.

Having made these arrangements, the Corporal and his little party decamped to a short distance, and Mrs. Catherine was left to prepare her husband for a speedy addition to his family, in the shape of this darling nephew. John Hayes received the news with anything but pleasure. He had never heard of any brother of Catherine’s; she had been bred at the workhouse, and nobody ever hinted that she had relatives: but it is easy for a lady of moderate genius to invent circumstances; and with lies, tears, threats, coaxings, oaths, and other blandishments, she compelled him to submit.

Two days afterwards, as Mr. Hayes was working in his shop with his lady seated beside him, the trampling of a horse was heard in his courtyard, and a gentleman, of huge stature, descended from it, and strode into the shop. His figure was wrapped in a large cloak; but Mr. Hayes could not help fancying that he had somewhere seen his face before.

“This, I preshoom,” said the gentleman, “is Misther Hayes, that I have come so many miles to see, and this is his amiable lady? I was the most intimate frind, madam, of your laminted brother, who died in King Lewis’s service, and whose last touching letthers I despatched to you two days ago. I have with me a further precious token of my dear friend, Captain Hall — it is HERE.”

And so saying, the military gentleman, with one arm, removed his cloak, and stretching forward the other into Hayes’s face almost, stretched likewise forward a little boy, grinning and sprawling in the air, and prevented only from falling to the ground by the hold which the Ensign kept of the waistband of his little coat and breeches.

“Isn’t he a pretty boy?” said Mrs. Hayes, sidling up to her husband tenderly, and pressing one of Mr. Hayes’s hands.

* * *

About the lad’s beauty it is needless to say what the carpenter thought; but that night, and for many many nights after, the lad stayed at Mr. Hayes’s.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/catherine/chapter7.html

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