The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

JANUARY. — THE BIRTH OF THE YEAR.

Some poet has observed, that if any man would write down what has really happened to him in this mortal life, he would be sure to make a good book, though he never had met with a single adventure from his birth to his burial. How much more, then, must I, who HAVE had adventures, most singular, pathetic, and unparalleled, be able to compile an instructive and entertaining volume for the use of the public.

I don’t mean to say that I have killed lions, or seen the wonders of travel in the deserts of Arabia or Prussia; or that I have been a very fashionable character, living with dukes and peeresses, and writing my recollections of them, as the way now is. I never left this my native isle, nor spoke to a lord (except an Irish one, who had rooms in our house, and forgot to pay three weeks’ lodging and extras); but, as our immortal bard observes, I have in the course of my existence been so eaten up by the slugs and harrows of outrageous fortune, and have been the object of such continual and extraordinary ill-luck, that I believe it would melt the heart of a milestone to read of it — that is, if a milestone had a heart of anything but stone.

Twelve of my adventures, suitable for meditation and perusal during the twelve months of the year, have been arranged by me for this work. They contain a part of the history of a great, and, confidently I may say, a GOOD man. I was not a spendthrift like other men. I never wronged any man of a shilling, though I am as sharp a fellow at a bargain as any in Europe. I never injured a fellow-creature; on the contrary, on several occasions, when injured myself, have shown the most wonderful forbearance. I come of a tolerably good family; and yet, born to wealth — of an inoffensive disposition, careful of the money that I had, and eager to get more — I have been going down hill ever since my journey of life began, and have been pursued by a complication of misfortunes such as surely never happened to any man but the unhappy Bob Stubbs.

Bob Stubbs is my name; and I haven’t got a shilling: I have borne the commission of lieutenant in the service of King George, and am NOW— but never mind what I am now, for the public will know in a few pages more. My father was of the Suffolk Stubbses — a well-to-do gentleman of Bungay. My grandfather had been a respected attorney in that town, and left my papa a pretty little fortune. I was thus the inheritor of competence, and ought to be at this moment a gentleman.

My misfortunes may be said to have commenced about a year before my birth, when my papa, a young fellow pretending to study the law in London, fell madly in love with Miss Smith, the daughter of a tradesman, who did not give her a sixpence, and afterwards became bankrupt. My papa married this Miss Smith, and carried her off to the country, where I was born, in an evil hour for me.

Were I to attempt to describe my early years, you would laugh at me as an impostor; but the following letter from mamma to a friend, after her marriage, will pretty well show you what a poor foolish creature she was; and what a reckless extravagant fellow was my other unfortunate parent:—

“TO MISS ELIZA KICKS, IN GRACECHURCH STREET, LONDON.

“OH, ELIZA! your Susan is the happiest girl under heaven! My Thomas is an angel! not a tall grenadier-like looking fellow, such as I always vowed I would marry:— on the contrary, he is what the world would call dumpy, and I hesitate not to confess, that his eyes have a cast in them. But what then? when one of his eyes is fixed on me, and one on my babe, they are lighted up with an affection which my pen cannot describe, and which, certainly, was never bestowed upon any woman so strongly as upon your happy Susan Stubbs.

“When he comes home from shooting, or the farm, if you COULD see dear Thomas with me and our dear little Bob! as I sit on one knee, and baby on the other, and as he dances us both about. I often wish that we had Sir Joshua, or some great painter, to depict the group; for sure it is the prettiest picture in the whole world, to see three such loving merry people.

“Dear baby is the most lovely little creature that CAN POSSIBLY BE — the very IMAGE of papa; he is cutting his teeth, and the delight of EVERYBODY. Nurse says that, when he is older he will get rid of his squint, and his hair will get a GREAT DEAL less red. Doctor Bates is as kind, and skilful, and attentive as we could desire. Think what a blessing to have had him! Ever since poor baby’s birth, it has never had a day of quiet; and he has been obliged to give it from three to four doses every week; — how thankful ought we to be that the DEAR THING is as well as it is! It got through the measles wonderfully; then it had a little rash; and then a nasty hooping-cough; and then a fever, and continual pains in its poor little stomach, crying, poor dear child, from morning till night.

“But dear Tom is an excellent nurse; and many and many a night has he had no sleep, dear man! in consequence of the poor little baby. He walks up and down with it FOR HOURS, singing a kind of song (dear fellow, he has no more voice than a tea-kettle), and bobbing his head backwards and forwards, and looking, in his nightcap and dressing-gown, SO DROLL. Oh, Eliza! how you would laugh to see him.

“We have one of the best nursemaids IN THE WORLD — an Irishwoman, who is as fond of baby almost as his mother (but that can NEVER BE). She takes it to walk in the park for hours together, and I really don’t know why Thomas dislikes her. He says she is tipsy, very often, and slovenly, which I cannot conceive; — to be sure, the nurse is sadly dirty, and sometimes smells very strong of gin.

“But what of that? — these little drawbacks only make home more pleasant. When one thinks how many mothers have NO nursemaids: how many poor dear children have no doctors: ought we not to be thankful for Mary Malowney, and that Dr. Bates’s bill is forty-seven pounds? How ill must dear baby have been, to require so much physic!

“But they are a sad expense, these dear babies, after all. Fancy, Eliza, how much this Mary Malowney costs us. Ten shillings every week; a glass of brandy or gin at dinner; three pint-bottles of Mr. Thrale’s best porter every day — making twenty-one in a week, and nine hundred and ninety in the eleven months she has been with us. Then, for baby, there is Dr. Bates’s bill of forty-five guineas, two guineas for christening, twenty for a grand christening supper and ball (rich uncle John mortally offended because he was made godfather, and had to give baby a silver cup: he has struck Thomas out of his will: and old Mr. Firkin quite as much hurt because he was NOT asked: he will not speak to me or Thomas in consequence) twenty guineas for flannels, laces, little gowns, caps, napkins, and such baby’s ware: and all this out of 300L. a year! But Thomas expects to make A GREAT DEAL by his farm.

“We have got the most charming country-house YOU CAN IMAGINE: it is QUITE SHUT IN by trees, and so retired that, though only thirty miles from London, the post comes to us but once a week. The roads, it must be confessed, are execrable; it is winter now, and we are up to our knees in mud and snow. But oh, Eliza! how happy we are: with Thomas (he has had a sad attack of rheumatism, dear man!) and little Bobby, and our kind friend Dr. Bates, who comes so far to see us, I leave you to fancy that we have a charming merry party, and do not care for all the gayeties of Ranelagh.

“Adieu! dear baby is crying for his mamma. A thousand kisses from your affectionate

“SUSAN STUBBS.”

There it is! Doctor’s bills, gentleman-farming, twenty-one pints of porter a week. In this way my unnatural parents were already robbing me of my property.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/fatal/chapter1.html

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