The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

DECEMBER. —“THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT.”

Mamma had kept the house in Duke Street for more than two years. I recollected some of the chairs and tables from dear old Sloffemsquiggle, and the bowl in which I had made that famous rum-punch, the evening she went away, which she and my sisters left untouched, and I was obliged to drink after they were gone; but that’s not to the purpose.

Think of my sister Lucy’s luck! that chap, Waters, fell in love with her, and married her; and she now keeps her carriage, and lives in state near Sloffemsquiggle. I offered to make it up with Waters; but he bears malice, and never will see or speak to me. — He had the impudence, too, to say, that he took in all letters for mamma at Sloffemsquiggle; and that as mine were all begging-letters, he burned them, and never said a word to her concerning them. He allowed mamma fifty pounds a year, and, if she were not such a fool, she might have had three times as much; but the old lady was high and mighty forsooth, and would not be beholden, even to her own daughter, for more than she actually wanted. Even this fifty pound she was going to refuse; but when I came to live with her, of course I wanted pocket-money as well as board and lodging, and so I had the fifty pounds for MY share, and eked out with it as well as I could.

Old Bates and the Captain, between them, gave mamma a hundred pounds when she left me (she had the deuce’s own luck, to be sure — much more than ever fell to ME, I know) and as she said she WOULD try and work for her living, it was thought best to take a house and let lodgings, which she did. Our first and second floor paid us four guineas a week, on an average; and the front parlor and attic made forty pounds more. Mamma and Eliza used to have the front attic: but I took that, and they slept in the servants’ bedroom. Lizzy had a pretty genius for work, and earned a guinea a week that way; so that we had got nearly two hundred a year over the rent to keep house with — and we got on pretty well. Besides, women eat nothing: my women didn’t care for meat for days together sometimes — so that it was only necessary to dress a good steak or so for me.

Mamma would not think of my continuing in the Post Office. She said her dear Robert, her husband’s son, her gallant soldier, and all that, should remain at home and be a gentleman — which I was, certainly, though I didn’t find fifty pounds a year very much to buy clothes and be a gentleman upon. To be sure, mother found me shirts and linen, so that THAT wasn’t in the fifty pounds. She kicked a little at paying the washing too; but she gave in at last, for I was her dear Bob, you know; and I’m blest if I could not make her give me the gown off her back. Fancy! once she cut up a very nice rich black silk scarf, which my sister Waters sent her, and made me a waistcoat and two stocks of it. She was so VERY soft, the old lady!

*****

I’d lived in this way for five years or more, making myself content with my fifty pounds a year (PERHAPS I had saved a little out of it; but that’s neither here nor there). From year’s end to year’s end I remained faithful to my dear mamma, never leaving her except for a month or so in the summer — when a bachelor may take a trip to Gravesend or Margate, which would be too expensive for a family. I say a bachelor, for the fact is, I don’t know whether I am married or not — never having heard a word since of the scoundrelly Mrs. Stubbs.

I never went to the public-house before meals: for, with my beggarly fifty pounds, I could not afford to dine away from home: but there I had my regular seat, and used to come home PRETTY GLORIOUS, I can tell you. Then bed till eleven; then breakfast and the newspaper; then a stroll in Hyde Park or St. James’s; then home at half-past three to dinner — when I jollied, as I call it, for the rest of the day. I was my mother’s delight; and thus, with a clear conscience, I managed to live on.

*****

How fond she was of me, to be sure! Being sociable myself, and loving to have my friends about me, we often used to assemble a company of as hearty fellows as you would wish to sit down with, and keep the nights up royally. “Never mind, my boys,” I used to say. “Send the bottle round: mammy pays for all.” As she did, sure enough: and sure enough we punished her cellar too. The good old lady used to wait upon us, as if for all the world she had been my servant, instead of a lady and my mamma. Never used she to repine, though I often, as I must confess, gave her occasion (keeping her up till four o’clock in the morning, because she never could sleep until she saw her “dear Bob” in bed, and leading her a sad anxious life). She was of such a sweet temper, the old lady, that I think in the course of five years I never knew her in a passion, except twice: and then with sister Lizzy, who declared I was ruining the house, and driving the lodgers away, one by one. But mamma would not hear of such envious spite on my sister’s part. “Her Bob” was always right, she said. At last Lizzy fairly retreated, and went to the Waters’s. — I was glad of it, for her temper was dreadful, and we used to be squabbling from morning till night!

Ah, those WERE jolly times! but Ma was obliged to give up the lodging-house at last — for, somehow, things went wrong after my sister’s departure — the nasty uncharitable people said, on account of ME; because I drove away the lodgers by smoking and drinking, and kicking up noises in the house; and because Ma gave me so much of her money:— so she did, but if she WOULD give it, you know, how could I help it? Heigho! I wish I’d KEPT it.

No such luck. The business I thought was to last for ever: but at the end of two years came a smash — shut up shop — sell off everything. Mamma went to the Waters’s: and, will you believe it? the ungrateful wretches would not receive me! that Mary, you see, was SO disappointed at not marrying me. Twenty pounds a year they allow, it is true; but what’s that for a gentleman? For twenty years I have been struggling manfully to gain an honest livelihood, and, in the course of them, have seen a deal of life, to be sure. I’ve sold cigars and pocket-handkerchiefs at the corners of streets; I’ve been a billiard-marker; I’ve been a director (in the panic year) of the Imperial British Consolidated Mangle and Drying Ground Company. I’ve been on the stage (for two years as an actor, and about a month as a cad, when I was very low); I’ve been the means of giving to the police of this empire some very valuable information (about licensed victuallers, gentlemen’s carts, and pawnbrokers’ names); I’ve been very nearly an officer again — that is, an assistant to an officer of the Sheriff of Middlesex: it was my last place.

On the last day of the year 1837, even THAT game was up. It’s a thing that very seldom happened to a gentleman, to be kicked out of a spunging-house; but such was my case. Young Nabb (who succeeded his father) drove me ignominiously from his door, because I had charged a gentleman in the coffee-rooms seven-and-sixpence for a glass of ale and bread and cheese, the charge of the house being only six shillings. He had the meanness to deduct the eighteenpence from my wages, and because I blustered a bit, he took me by the shoulders and turned me out — me, a gentleman, and, what is more, a poor orphan!

How I did rage and swear at him when I got out into the street! There stood he, the hideous Jew monster, at the double door, writhing under the effect of my language. I had my revenge! Heads were thrust out of every bar of his windows, laughing at him. A crowd gathered round me, as I stood pounding him with my satire, and they evidently enjoyed his discomfiture. I think the mob would have pelted the ruffian to death (one or two of their missiles hit ME, I can tell you), when a policeman came up, and in reply to a gentleman, who was asking what was the disturbance, said, “Bless you, sir, it’s Lord Cornwallis.” “Move on, BOOTS,” said the fellow to me; for the fact is, my misfortunes and early life are pretty well known — and so the crowd dispersed.

“What could have made that policeman call you Lord Cornwallis and Boots?” said the gentleman, who seemed mightily amused, and had followed me. “Sir,” says I, “I am an unfortunate officer of the North Bungay Fencibles, and I’ll tell you willingly for a pint of beer.” He told me to follow him to his chambers in the Temple, which I did (a five-pair back), and there, sure enough, I had the beer; and told him this very story you’ve been reading. You see he is what is called a literary man — and sold my adventures for me to the booksellers; he’s a strange chap; and says they’re MORAL.

*****

I’m blest if I can see anything moral in them. I’m sure I ought to have been more lucky through life, being so very wide awake. And yet here I am, without a place, or even a friend, starving upon a beggarly twenty pounds a year — not a single sixpence more, upon MY HONOR.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/fatal/chapter12.html

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