The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

OCTOBER. — MARS AND VENUS IN OPPOSITION.

I shall not describe my feelings when I found myself in a cage in Cursitor Street, instead of that fine house in Berkeley Square, which was to have been mine as the husband of Mrs. Manasseh. What a place! — in an odious, dismal street leading from Chancery Lane. A hideous Jew boy opened the second of three doors and shut it when Mr. Nabb and I (almost fainting) had entered; then he opened the third door, and then I was introduced to a filthy place called a coffee-room, which I exchanged for the solitary comfort of a little dingy back-parlor, where I was left for a while to brood over my miserable fate. Fancy the change between this and Berkeley Square! Was I, after all my pains, and cleverness, and perseverance, cheated at last? Had this Mrs. Manasseh been imposing upon me, and were the words of the wretch I met at the table-d’hote at Leamington only meant to mislead me and take me in? I determined to send for my wife, and know the whole truth. I saw at once that I had been the victim of an infernal plot, and that the carriage, the house in town, the West India fortune, were only so many lies which I had blindly believed. It was true that the debt was but a hundred and fifty pounds; and I had two thousand at my bankers’. But was the loss of HER 80,000L. nothing? Was the destruction of my hopes nothing? The accursed addition to my family of a Jewish wife and three Jewish children, nothing? And all these I was to support out of my two thousand pounds. I had better have stopped at home with my mamma and sisters, whom I really did love, and who produced me eighty pounds a year.

I had a furious interview with Mrs. Stubbs; and when I charged her, the base wretch! with cheating me, like a brazen serpent as she was, she flung back the cheat in my teeth, and swore I had swindled her. Why did I marry her, when she might have had twenty others? She only took me, she said, because I had twenty thousand pounds. I HAD said I possessed that sum; but in love, you know, and war all’s fair.

We parted quite as angrily as we met; and I cordially vowed that when I had paid the debt into which I had been swindled by her, I would take my 2,000L. and depart to some desert island; or, at the very least, to America, and never see her more, or any of her Israelitish brood. There was no use in remaining in the spunging-house (for I knew that there were such things as detainers, and that where Mrs. Stubbs owed a hundred pounds, she might owe a thousand) so I sent for Mr. Nabb, and tendering him a cheque for 150L. and his costs, requested to be let out forthwith. “Here, fellow,” said I, “is a cheque on Child’s for your paltry sum.”

“It may be a sheck on Shild’s,” says Mr. Nabb; “but I should be a baby to let you out on such a paper as dat.”

“Well,” said I, “Child’s is but a step from this: you may go and get the cash — just give me an acknowledgment.”

Nabb drew out the acknowledgment with great punctuality, and set off for the bankers’, whilst I prepared myself for departure from this abominable prison.

He smiled as he came in. “Well,” said I, “you have touched your money; and now, I must tell you, that you are the most infernal rogue and extortioner I ever met with.”

“Oh, no, Mishter Shtubbsh,” says he, grinning still. “Dere is som greater roag dan me — mosh greater.”

“Fellow,” said I, “don’t stand grinning before a gentleman; but give me my hat and cloak, and let me leave your filthy den.”

“Shtop, Shtubbsh,” says he, not even Mistering me this time. “Here ish a letter, vich you had better read.”

I opened the letter; something fell to the ground:— it was my cheque.

The letter ran thus: “Messrs. Child and Co. present their compliments to Captain Stubbs, and regret that they have been obliged to refuse payment of the enclosed, having been served this day with an attachment by Messrs. Solomonson and Co., which compels them to retain Captain Stubbs’ balance of 2,010L. 11s. 6d. until the decision of the suit of Solomonson v. Stubbs.

“FLEET STREET.”

“You see,” says Mr. Nabb, as I read this dreadful letter —“you see, Shtubbsh, dere vas two debts — a little von and a big von. So dey arrested you for de little von, and attashed your money for de big von.”

Don’t laugh at me for telling this story. If you knew what tears are blotting over the paper as I write it — if you knew that for weeks after I was more like a madman than a sane man — a madman in the Fleet Prison, where I went instead of to the desert island! What had I done to deserve it? Hadn’t I always kept an eye to the main chance? Hadn’t I lived economically, and not like other young men? Had I ever been known to squander or give away a single penny? No! I can lay my hand on my heart, and, thank heaven, say, No! Why, why was I punished so?

Let me conclude this miserable history. Seven months — my wife saw me once or twice, and then dropped me altogether — I remained in that fatal place. I wrote to my dear mamma, begging her to sell her furniture, but got no answer. All my old friends turned their backs upon me. My action went against me — I had not a penny to defend it. Solomonson proved my wife’s debt, and seized my two thousand pounds. As for the detainer against me, I was obliged to go through the court for the relief of insolvent debtors. I passed through it, and came out a beggar. But fancy the malice of that wicked Stiffelkind: he appeared in court as my creditor for 3L., with sixteen years’ interest at five per cent, for a PAIR OF TOP-BOOTS. The old thief produced them in court, and told the whole story — Lord Cornwallis, the detection, the pumping and all.

Commissioner Dubobwig was very funny about it. “So Doctor Swishtail would not pay you for the boots, eh, Mr. Stiffelkind?”

“No: he said, ven I asked him for payment, dey was ordered by a yong boy, and I ought to have gone to his schoolmaster.”

“What! then you came on a BOOTLESS errand, ay, sir?” (A laugh.)

“Bootless! no sare, I brought de boots back vid me. How de devil else could I show dem to you?” (Another laugh.)

“You’ve never SOLED ’em since, Mr. Tickleshins?”

“I never would sell dem; I svore I never vood, on porpus to be revenged on dat Stobbs.”

“What! your wound has never been HEALED, eh?”

“Vat do you mean vid your bootless errands, and your soling and healing? I tell you I have done vat I svore to do: I have exposed him at school; I have broak off a marriage for him, ven he vould have had tventy tousand pound; and now I have showed him up in a court of justice. Dat is vat I ‘ave done, and dat’s enough.” And then the old wretch went down, whilst everybody was giggling and staring at poor me — as if I was not miserable enough already.

“This seems the dearest pair of boots you ever had in your life, Mr. Stubbs,” said Commissioner Dubobwig very archly, and then he began to inquire about the rest of my misfortunes.

In the fulness of my heart I told him the whole of them: how Mr. Solomonson the attorney had introduced me to the rich widow, Mrs. Manasseh, who had fifty thousand pounds, and an estate in the West Indies. How I was married, and arrested on coming to town, and cast in an action for two thousand pounds brought against me by this very Solomonson for my wife’s debts.

“Stop!” says a lawyer in the court. “Is this woman a showy black-haired woman with one eye? very often drunk, with three children? — Solomonson, short, with red hair?”

“Exactly so,” said I, with tears in my eyes.

“That woman has married THREE MEN within the last two years. One in Ireland, and one at Bath. A Solomonson is, I believe, her husband, and they both are off for America ten days ago.”

“But why did you not keep your 2,000L.?” said the lawyer.

“Sir, they attached it.”

“Oh, well, we may pass you. You have been unlucky, Mr. Stubbs, but it seems as if the biter had been bit in this affair.”

“No,” said Mr. Dubobwig. “Mr. Stubbs is the victim of a FATAL ATTACHMENT.”

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