The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

AUGUST. — DOGS HAVE THEIR DAYS.

See, now, what life is! I have had ill-luck on ill-luck from that day to this. I have sunk in the world, and, instead of riding my horse and drinking my wine, as a real gentleman should, have hardly enough now to buy a pint of ale; ay, and am very glad when anybody will treat me to one. Why, why was I born to undergo such unmerited misfortunes?

You must know that very soon after my adventure with Miss Crutty, and that cowardly ruffian, Captain Waters (he sailed the day after his insult to me, or I should most certainly have blown his brains out; NOW he is living in England, and is my relation; but, of course, I cut the fellow)— very soon after these painful events another happened, which ended, too, in a sad disappointment. My dear papa died, and, instead of leaving five thousand pounds, as I expected at the very least, left only his estate, which was worth but two. The land and house were left to me; to mamma and my sisters he left, to be sure, a sum of two thousand pounds in the hands of that eminent firm Messrs. Pump, Aldgate and Co., which failed within six months after his demise, and paid in five years about one shilling and ninepence in the pound; which really was all my dear mother and sisters had to live upon.

The poor creatures were quite unused to money matters; and, would you believe it? when the news came of Pump and Aldgate’s failure, mamma only smiled, and threw her eyes up to heaven, and said, “Blessed be God, that we have still wherewithal to live. There are tens of thousands in this world, dear children, who would count our poverty riches.” And with this she kissed my two sisters, who began to blubber, as girls always will do, and threw their arms round her neck, and then round my neck, until I was half stifled with their embraces, and slobbered all over with their tears.

“Dearest mamma,” said I, “I am very glad to see the noble manner in which you bear your loss; and more still to know that you are so rich as to be able to put up with it.” The fact was, I really thought the old lady had got a private hoard of her own, as many of them have — a thousand pounds or so in a stocking. Had she put by thirty pounds a year, as well she might, for the thirty years of her marriage, there would have been nine hundred pounds clear, and no mistake. But still I was angry to think that any such paltry concealment had been practised — concealment too of MY money; so I turned on her pretty sharply, and continued my speech. “You say, Ma’am, that you are rich, and that Pump and Aldgate’s failure has no effect upon you. I am very happy to hear you say so, Ma’am — very happy that you ARE rich; and I should like to know where your property, my father’s property, for you had none of your own — I should like to know where this money lies — WHERE YOU HAVE CONCEALED IT, Ma’am; and, permit me to say, that when I agreed to board you and my two sisters for eighty pounds a year, I did not know that you had OTHER resources than those mentioned in my blessed father’s will.”

This I said to her because I hated the meanness of concealment, not because I lost by the bargain of boarding them: for the three poor things did not eat much more than sparrows: and I’ve often since calculated that I had a clear twenty pounds a year profit out of them.

Mamma and the girls looked quite astonished when I made the speech. “What does he mean?” said Lucy to Eliza.

Mamma repeated the question. “My beloved Robert, what concealment are you talking of?”

“I am talking of concealed property, Ma’am,” says I sternly.

“And do you — what — can you — do you really suppose that I have concealed — any of that blessed sa-a-a-aint’s prop-op-op-operty?” screams out mamma. “Robert,” says she —“Bob, my own darling boy — my fondest, best beloved, now HE is gone” (meaning my late governor — more tears)—“you don’t, you cannot fancy that your own mother, who bore you, and nursed you, and wept for you, and would give her all to save you from a moment’s harm — you don’t suppose that she would che-e-e-eat you!” And here she gave a louder screech than ever, and flung back on the sofa; and one of my sisters went and tumbled into her arms, and t’other went round, and the kissing and slobbering scene went on again, only I was left out, thank goodness. I hate such sentimentality.

“CHE-E-E-EAT ME,” says I, mocking her. “What do you mean, then, by saying you’re so rich? Say, have you got money, or have you not?” (And I rapped out a good number of oaths, too, which I don’t put in here; but I was in a dreadful fury, that’s the fact.)

“So help me heaven,” says mamma, in answer, going down on her knees and smacking her two hands, “I have but a Queen Anne’s guinea in the whole of this wicked world.”

“Then what, Madam, induces you to tell these absurd stories to me, and to talk about your riches, when you know that you and your daughters are beggars, Ma’am — BEGGARS?”

“My dearest boy, have we not got the house, and the furniture, and a hundred a year still; and have you not great talents, which will make all our fortunes?” says Mrs. Stubbs, getting up off her knees, and making believe to smile as she clawed hold of my hand and kissed it.

This was TOO cool. “YOU have got a hundred a year, Ma’am,” says I—“YOU have got a house? Upon my soul and honor this is the first I ever heard of it; and I’ll tell you what, Ma’am,” says I (and it cut her PRETTY SHARPLY too): “as you’ve got it, YOU’D BETTER GO AND LIVE IN IT. I’ve got quite enough to do with my own house, and every penny of my own income.”

Upon this speech the old lady said nothing, but she gave a screech loud enough to be heard from here to York, and down she fell — kicking and struggling in a regular fit.

*****

I did not see Mrs. Stubbs for some days after this, and the girls used to come down to meals, and never speak; going up again and stopping with their mother. At last, one day, both of them came in very solemn to my study, and Eliza, the eldest, said, “Robert, mamma has paid you our board up to Michaelmas.”

“She has,” says I; for I always took precious good care to have it in advance.

“She says, Robert, That on Michaelmas day — we’ll — we’ll go away, Robert.”

“Oh, she’s going to her own house, is she, Lizzy? Very good. She’ll want the furniture, I suppose, and that she may have too, for I’m going to sell the place myself.” And so THAT matter was settled.

*****

On Michaelmas day — and during these two months I hadn’t, I do believe, seen my mother twice (once, about two o’clock in the morning, I woke and found her sobbing over my bed)— on Michaelmas-day morning, Eliza comes to me and says, “ROBERT, THEY WILL COME AND FETCH US AT SIX THIS EVENING.” Well, as this was the last day, I went and got the best goose I could find (I don’t think I ever saw a primer, or ate more hearty myself), and had it roasted at three, with a good pudding afterwards; and a glorious bowl of punch. “Here’s a health to you, dear girls,” says I, “and you, Ma, and good luck to all three; and as you’ve not eaten a morsel, I hope you won’t object to a glass of punch. It’s the old stuff, you know, Ma’am, that that Waters sent to my father fifteen years ago.”

Six o’clock came, and with it came a fine barouche. As I live, Captain Waters was on the box (it was his coach); that old thief, Bates, jumped out, entered my house, and before I could say Jack Robinson, whipped off mamma to the carriage: the girls followed, just giving me a hasty shake of the hand; and as mamma was helped in, Mary Waters, who was sitting inside, flung her arms round her, and then round the girls; and the Doctor, who acted footman, jumped on the box, and off they went; taking no more notice of ME than if I’d been a nonentity.

Here’s a picture of the whole business:— Mamma and Miss Waters are sitting kissing each other in the carriage, with the two girls in the back seat: Waters is driving (a precious bad driver he is too); and I’m standing at the garden door, and whistling. That old fool Mary Malowney is crying behind the garden gate: she went off next day along with the furniture; and I to get into that precious scrape which I shall mention next.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/fatal/chapter8.html

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