The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

MARCH. — SHOWERY.

When my mamma heard of the treatment of her darling she was for bringing an action against the schoolmaster, or else for tearing his eyes out (when, dear soul! she would not have torn the eyes out of a flea, had it been her own injury), and, at the very least, for having me removed from the school where I had been so shamefully treated. But papa was stern for once, and vowed that I had been served quite right, declared that I should not be removed from school, and sent old Swishtail a brace of pheasants for what he called his kindness to me. Of these the old gentleman invited me to partake, and made a very queer speech at dinner, as he was cutting them up, about the excellence of my parents, and his own determination to be KINDER STILL to me, if ever I ventured on such practices again. So I was obliged to give up my old trade of lending: for the Doctor declared that any boy who borrowed should be flogged, and any one who PAID should be flogged twice as much. There was no standing against such a prohibition as this, and my little commerce was ruined.

I was not very high in the school: not having been able to get farther than that dreadful Propria quae maribus in the Latin grammar, of which, though I have it by heart even now, I never could understand a syllable: but, on account of my size, my age, and the prayers of my mother, was allowed to have the privilege of the bigger boys, and on holidays to walk about in the town. Great dandies we were, too, when we thus went out. I recollect my costume very well: a thunder-and-lightning coat, a white waistcoat embroidered neatly at the pockets, a lace frill, a pair of knee-breeches, and elegant white cotton or silk stockings. This did very well, but still I was dissatisfied: I wanted A PAIR OF BOOTS. Three boys in the school had boots — I was mad to have them too.

But my papa, when I wrote to him, would not hear of it; and three pounds, the price of a pair, was too large a sum for my mother to take from the housekeeping, or for me to pay, in the present impoverished state of my exchequer; but the desire for the boots was so strong, that have them I must at any rate.

There was a German bootmaker who had just set up in OUR town in those days, who afterwards made his fortune in London. I determined to have the boots from him, and did not despair, before the end of a year or two, either to leave the school, when I should not mind his dunning me, or to screw the money from mamma, and so pay him.

So I called upon this man — Stiffelkind was his name — and he took my measure for a pair.

“You are a vary yong gentleman to wear dop-boots,” said the shoemaker.

“I suppose, fellow,” says I, “that is my business and not yours. Either make the boots or not — but when you speak to a man of my rank, speak respectfully!” And I poured out a number of oaths, in order to impress him with a notion of my respectability.

They had the desired effect. “Stay, sir,” says he. “I have a nice littel pair of dop-boots dat I tink will jost do for you.” And he produced, sure enough, the most elegant things I ever saw. “Day were made,” said he, “for de Honorable Mr. Stiffney, of de Gards, but were too small.”

“Ah, indeed!” said I. “Stiffney is a relation of mine. And what, you scoundrel, will you have the impudence to ask for these things?” He replied, “Three pounds.”

“Well,” said I, “they are confoundedly dear; but, as you will have a long time to wait for your money, why, I shall have my revenge you see.” The man looked alarmed, and began a speech: “Sare — I cannot let dem go vidout”— but a bright thought struck me, and I interrupted —“Sir! don’t sir me. Take off the boots, fellow, and, hark ye, when you speak to a nobleman, don’t say — Sir.”

“A hundert tousand pardons, my lort,” says he: “if I had known you were a lort, I vood never have called you — Sir. Vat name shall I put down in my books?”

“Name? — oh! why, Lord Cornwallis, to be sure,” said I, as I walked off in the boots.

“And vat shall I do vid my lort’s shoes?”

“Keep them until I send for them,” said I. And, giving him a patronizing bow, I walked out of the shop, as the German tied up my shoes in paper.

*****

This story I would not have told, but that my whole life turned upon these accursed boots. I walked back to school as proud as a peacock, and easily succeeded in satisfying the boys as to the manner in which I came by my new ornaments.

Well, one fatal Monday morning — the blackest of all black-Mondays that ever I knew — as we were all of us playing between school-hours, I saw a posse of boys round a stranger, who seemed to be looking out for one of us. A sudden trembling seized me — I knew it was Stiffelkind. What had brought him here? He talked loud, and seemed angry. So I rushed into the school-room, and burying my head between my hands, began reading for dear life.

“I vant Lort Cornvallis,” said the horrid bootmaker. “His lortship belongs, I know, to dis honorable school, for I saw him vid de boys at chorch yesterday.”

“Lord who?”

“Vy, Lort Cornvallis to be sure — a very fat yong nobeman, vid red hair: he squints a little, and svears dreadfully.”

“There’s no Lord Cornvallis here,” said one; and there was a pause.

“Stop! I have it,” says that odious Bunting. “IT MUST BE STUBBS!” And “Stubbs! Stubbs!” every one cried out, while I was so busy at my book as not to hear a word.

At last, two of the biggest chaps rushed into the schoolroom, and seizing each an arm, run me into the playground — bolt up against the shoemaker.

“Dis is my man. I beg your lortship’s pardon,” says he, “I have brought your lortship’s shoes, vich you left. See, dey have been in dis parcel ever since you vent avay in my boots.”

“Shoes, fellow!” says I. “I never saw your face before!” For I knew there was nothing for it but brazening it out. “Upon the honor of a gentleman!” said I, turning round to the boys. They hesitated; and if the trick had turned in my favor, fifty of them would have seized hold of Stiffelkind and drubbed him soundly.

“Stop!” says Bunting (hang him!) “Let’s see the shoes. If they fit him, why then the cobbler’s right.” They did fit me; and not only that, but the name of STUBBS was written in them at full length.

“Vat!” said Stiffelkind. “Is he not a lort? So help me Himmel, I never did vonce tink of looking at de shoes, which have been lying ever since in dis piece of brown paper.” And then, gathering anger as he went on, he thundered out so much of his abuse of me, in his German-English, that the boys roared with laughter. Swishtail came in in the midst of the disturbance, and asked what the noise meant.

“It’s only Lord Cornwallis, sir,” said the boys, “battling with his shoemaker about the price of a pair of top-boots.”

“Oh, sir,” said I, “it was only in fun that I called myself Lord Cornwallis.”

“In fun! — Where are the boots? And you, sir, give me your bill.” My beautiful boots were brought; and Stiffelkind produced his bill. “Lord Cornwallis to Samuel Stiffelkind, for a pair of boots — four guineas.”

“You have been fool enough, sir,” says the Doctor, looking very stern, “to let this boy impose on you as a lord; and knave enough to charge him double the value of the article you sold him. Take back the boots, sir! I won’t pay a penny of your bill; nor can you get a penny. As for you, sir, you miserable swindler and cheat, I shall not flog you as I did before, but I shall send you home: you are not fit to be the companion of honest boys.”

“SUPPOSE WE DUCK HIM before he goes?” piped out a very small voice. The Doctor grinned significantly, and left the school-room; and the boys knew by this they might have their will. They seized me and carried me to the playground pump: they pumped upon me until I was half dead; and the monster, Stiffelkind, stood looking on for the half-hour the operation lasted.

I suppose the Doctor, at last, thought I had had pumping enough, for he rang the school-bell, and the boys were obliged to leave me. As I got out of the trough, Stiffelkind was alone with me. “Vell, my lort,” says he, “you have paid SOMETHING for dese boots, but not all. By Jubider, YOU SHALL NEVER HEAR DE END OF DEM.” And I didn’t.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/fatal/chapter3.html

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