The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

JULY. — SUMMARY PROCEEDINGS.

Dobble’s reputation for courage was not increased by the butcher’s-dog adventure; but mine stood very high: little Stubbs was voted the boldest chap of all the bold North Bungays. And though I must confess, what was proved by subsequent circumstances, that nature has NOT endowed me with a large, or even, I may say, an average share of bravery, yet a man is very willing to flatter himself to the contrary; and, after a little time, I got to believe that my killing the dog was an action of undaunted courage, and that I was as gallant as any of the one hundred thousand heroes of our army. I always had a military taste — it’s only the brutal part of the profession, the horrid fighting and blood, that I don’t like.

I suppose the regiment was not very brave itself — being only militia; but certain it was, that Stubbs was considered a most terrible fellow, and I swore so much, and looked so fierce, that you would have fancied I had made half a hundred campaigns. I was second in several duels; the umpire in all disputes; and such a crack-shot myself, that fellows were shy of insulting me. As for Dobble, I took him under my protection; and he became so attached to me, that we ate, drank, and rode together every day; his father didn’t care for money, so long as his son was in good company — and what so good as that of the celebrated Stubbs? Heigho! I WAS good company in those days, and a brave fellow too, as I should have remained, but for — what I shall tell the public immediately.

It happened, in the fatal year ninety-six, that the brave North Bungays were quartered at Portsmouth, a maritime place, which I need not describe, and which I wish I had never seen. I might have been a General now, or, at least, a rich man.

The red-coats carried everything before them in those days; and I, such a crack character as I was in my regiment, was very well received by the townspeople: many dinners I had; many tea-parties; many lovely young ladies did I lead down the pleasant country-dances.

Well, although I had had the two former rebuffs in love which I have described, my heart was still young; and the fact was, knowing that a girl with a fortune was my only chance, I made love here as furiously as ever. I shan’t describe the lovely creatures on whom I fixed, whilst at Portsmouth. I tried more than — several — and it is a singular fact, which I never have been able to account for, that, successful as I was with ladies of maturer age, by the young ones I was refused regular.

But “faint heart never won fair lady;” and so I went on, and on, until I had got a Miss Clopper, a tolerable rich navy-contractor’s daughter, into such a way, that I really don’t think she could have refused me. Her brother, Captain Clopper, was in a line regiment, and helped me as much as ever he could: he swore I was such a brave fellow.

As I had received a number of attentions from Clopper, I determined to invite him to dinner; which I could do without any sacrifice of my principle upon this point: for the fact is, Dobble lived at an inn, and as he sent all his bills to his father, I made no scruple to use his table. We dined in the coffee-room, Dobble bringing HIS friend; and so we made a party CARRY, as the French say. Some naval officers were occupied in a similar way at a table next to ours.

Well — I didn’t spare the bottle, either for myself or for my friends; and we grew very talkative, and very affectionate as the drinking went on. Each man told stories of his gallantry in the field, or amongst the ladies, as officers will, after dinner. Clopper confided to the company his wish that I should marry his sister, and vowed that he thought me the best fellow in Christendom.

Ensign Dobble assented to this. “But let Miss Clopper beware,” says he, “for Stubbs is a sad fellow: he has had I don’t know how many liaisons already; and he has been engaged to I don’t know how many women.”

“Indeed!” says Clopper. “Come, Stubbs, tell us your adventures.”

“Psha!” said I, modestly, “there is nothing, indeed, to tell. I have been in love, my dear boy — who has not? — and I have been jilted — who has not?”

Clopper swore he would blow his sister’s brains out if ever SHE served me so.

“Tell him about Miss Crutty,” said Dobble. “He! he! Stubbs served THAT woman out, anyhow; she didn’t jilt HIM. I’ll be sworn.”

“Really, Dobble, you are too bad, and should not mention names. The fact is, the girl was desperately in love with me, and had money — sixty thousand pounds, upon my reputation. Well, everything was arranged, when who should come down from London but a relation.”

“Well, and did he prevent the match?”

“Prevent it — yes, sir, I believe you he did; though not in the sense that YOU mean. He would have given his eyes — ay, and ten thousand pounds more — if I would have accepted the girl, but I would not.”

“Why, in the name of goodness?”

“Sir, her uncle was a SHOEMAKER. I never would debase myself by marrying into such a family.”

“Of course not,” said Dobble; “he couldn’t, you know. Well, now — tell him about the other girl, Mary Waters, you know.”

“Hush, Dobble, hush! don’t you see one of those naval officers has turned round and heard you? My dear Clopper, it was a mere childish bagatelle.”

“Well, but let’s have it,” said Clopper —“let’s have it. I won’t tell my sister, you know.” And he put his hand to his nose and looked monstrous wise.

“Nothing of that sort, Clopper — no, no —‘pon honor — little Bob Stubbs is no LIBERTINE; and the story is very simple. You see that my father has a small place, merely a few hundred acres, at Sloffemsquiggle. Isn’t it a funny name? Hang it, there’s the naval gentleman staring again,”—(I looked terribly fierce as I returned this officer’s stare, and continued in a loud careless voice). Well, at this Sloffemsquiggle there lived a girl, a Miss Waters, the niece of some blackguard apothecary in the neighborhood; but my mother took a fancy to the girl, and had her up to the park and petted her. We were both young — and — and — the girl fell in love with me, that’s the fact. I was obliged to repel some rather warm advances that she made me; and here, upon my honor as a gentleman, you have all the story about which that silly Dobble makes such a noise.

Just as I finished this sentence. I found myself suddenly taken by the nose, and a voice shouting out —

“Mr. Stubbs, you are A LIAR AND A SCOUNDREL! Take this, sir — and this, for daring to meddle with the name of an innocent lady.”

I turned round as well as I could — for the ruffian had pulled me out of my chair — and beheld a great marine monster, six feet high, who was occupied in beating and kicking me, in the most ungentlemanly manner, on my cheeks, my ribs, and between the tails of my coat. “He is a liar, gentlemen, and a scoundrel! The bootmaker had detected him in swindling, and so his niece refused him. Miss Waters was engaged to him from childhood, and he deserted her for the bootmaker’s niece, who was richer.”— And then sticking a card between my stock and my coat-collar, in what is called the scruff of my neck, the disgusting brute gave me another blow behind my back, and left the coffee-room with his friends.

Dobble raised me up; and taking the card from my neck, read, CAPTAIN WATERS. Clopper poured me out a glass of water, and said in my ear, “If this is true, you are an infernal scoundrel, Stubbs; and must fight me, after Captain Waters;” and he flounced out of the room.

I had but one course to pursue. I sent the Captain a short and contemptuous note, saying that he was beneath my anger. As for Clopper, I did not condescend to notice his remark but in order to get rid of the troublesome society of these low blackguards, I determined to gratify an inclination I had long entertained, and make a little tour. I applied for leave of absence, and set off THAT VERY NIGHT. I can fancy the disappointment of the brutal Waters, on coming, as he did, the next morning to my quarters and finding me GONE. Ha! ha!

After this adventure I became sick of a military life — at least the life of my own regiment, where the officers, such was their unaccountable meanness and prejudice against me, absolutely refused to see me at mess. Colonel Craw sent me a letter to this effect, which I treated as it deserved. — I never once alluded to it in any way, and have since never spoken a single word to any man in the North Bungays.

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