The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray

SEPTEMBER. — PLUCKING A GOOSE.

After my papa’s death, as he left me no money, and only a little land, I put my estate into an auctioneer’s hands, and determined to amuse my solitude with a trip to some of our fashionable watering-places. My house was now a desert to me. I need not say how the departure of my dear parent, and her children, left me sad and lonely.

Well, I had a little ready money, and, for the estate, expected a couple of thousand pounds. I had a good military-looking person: for though I had absolutely cut the old North Bungays (indeed, after my affair with Waters, Colonel Craw hinted to me, in the most friendly manner, that I had better resign)— though I had left the army, I still retained the rank of Captain; knowing the advantages attendant upon that title in a watering-place tour.

Captain Stubbs became a great dandy at Cheltenham, Harrogate, Bath, Leamington, and other places. I was a good whist and billiard player; so much so, that in many of these towns, the people used to refuse, at last, to play with me, knowing how far I was their superior. Fancy my surprise, about five years after the Portsmouth affair, when strolling one day up the High Street, in Leamington, my eyes lighted upon a young man, whom I remembered in a certain butcher’s yard, and elsewhere — no other, in fact, than Dobble. He, too, was dressed en militaire, with a frogged coat and spurs; and was walking with a showy-looking, Jewish-faced, black-haired lady, glittering with chains and rings, with a green bonnet and a bird-of-Paradise — a lilac shawl, a yellow gown, pink silk stockings, and light-blue shoes. Three children, and a handsome footman, were walking behind her, and the party, not seeing me, entered the “Royal Hotel” together.

I was known myself at the “Royal,” and calling one of the waiters, learned the names of the lady and gentleman. He was Captain Dobble, the son of the rich army-clothier, Dobble (Dobble, Hobble and Co. of Pall Mall); — the lady was a Mrs. Manasseh, widow of an American Jew, living quietly at Leamington with her children, but possessed of an immense property. There’s no use to give one’s self out to be an absolute pauper: so the fact is, that I myself went everywhere with the character of a man of very large means. My father had died, leaving me immense sums of money, and landed estates. Ah! I was the gentleman then, the real gentleman, and everybody was too happy to have me at table.

Well, I came the next day, and left a card for Dobble, with a note. He neither returned my visit, nor answered my note. The day after, however, I met him with the widow, as before; and going up to him, very kindly seized him by the hand, and swore I was — as really was the case — charmed to see him. Dobble hung back, to my surprise, and I do believe the creature would have cut me, if he dared; but I gave him a frown, and said —

“What, Dobble, my boy, don’t you recollect old Stubbs, and our adventure with the butcher’s daughters — ha?”

Dobble gave a sickly kind of grin, and said, “Oh! ah! yes! It is — yes! it is, I believe, Captain Stubbs.”

“An old comrade, Madam, of Captain Dobble’s, and one who has heard so much, and seen so much of your ladyship, that he must take the liberty of begging his friend to introduce him.”

Dobble was obliged to take the hint; and Captain Stubbs was duly presented to Mrs. Manasseh. The lady was as gracious as possible; and when, at the end of the walk, we parted, she said “she hoped Captain Dobble would bring me to her apartments that evening, where she expected a few friends.” Everybody, you see, knows everybody at Leamington; and I, for my part, was well known as a retired officer of the army, who, on his father’s death, had come into seven thousand a year. Dobble’s arrival had been subsequent to mine; but putting up as he did at the “Royal Hotel,” and dining at the ordinary there with the widow, he had made her acquaintance before I had. I saw, however, that if I allowed him to talk about me, as he could, I should be compelled to give up all my hopes and pleasures at Leamington; and so I determined to be short with him. As soon as the lady had gone into the hotel, my friend Dobble was for leaving me likewise; but I stopped him and said, “Mr. Dobble, I saw what you meant just now: you wanted to cut me, because, forsooth, I did not choose to fight a duel at Portsmouth. Now look you, Dobble, I am no hero, but I’m not such a coward as you — and you know it. You are a very different man to deal with from Waters; and I WILL FIGHT this time.”

Not perhaps that I would: but after the business of the butcher, I knew Dobble to be as great a coward as ever lived; and there never was any harm in threatening, for you know you are not obliged to stick to it afterwards. My words had their effect upon Dobble, who stuttered and looked red, and then declared he never had the slightest intention of passing me by; so we became friends, and his mouth was stopped.

He was very thick with the widow, but that lady had a very capacious heart, and there were a number of other gentlemen who seemed equally smitten with her. “Look at that Mrs. Manasseh,” said a gentleman (it was droll, HE was a Jew, too) sitting at dinner by me. “She is old, and ugly, and yet, because she has money, all the men are flinging themselves at her.”

“She has money, has she?”

“Eighty thousand pounds, and twenty thousand for each of her children. I know it FOR A FACT,” said the strange gentleman. “I am in the law, and we of our faith, you know, know pretty well what the great families amongst us are worth.”

“Who was Mr. Manasseh?” said I.

“A man of enormous wealth — a tobacco-merchant — West Indies; a fellow of no birth, however; and who, between ourselves, married a woman that is not much better than she should be. My dear sir,” whispered he, “she is always in love. Now it is with that Captain Dobble; last week it was somebody else — and it may be you next week, if — ha! ha! ha! — you are disposed to enter the lists. I wouldn’t, for MY part, have the woman with twice her money.”

What did it matter to me whether the woman was good or not, provided she was rich? My course was quite clear. I told Dobble all that this gentleman had informed me, and being a pretty good hand at making a story, I made the widow appear SO bad, that the poor fellow was quite frightened, and fairly quitted the field. Ha! ha! I’m dashed if I did not make him believe that Mrs. Manasseh had MURDERED her last husband.

I played my game so well, thanks to the information that my friend the lawyer had given me, that in a month I had got the widow to show a most decided partiality for me. I sat by her at dinner, I drank with her at the “Wells”— I rode with her, I danced with her, and at a picnic to Kenilworth, where we drank a good deal of champagne, I actually popped the question, and was accepted. In another month, Robert Stubbs, Esq., led to the altar, Leah, widow of the late Z. Manasseh, Esq., of St. Kitt’s!

*****

We drove up to London in her comfortable chariot: the children and servants following in a post-chaise. I paid, of course, for everything; and until our house in Berkeley Square was painted, we stopped at “Stevens’s Hotel.”

*****

My own estate had been sold, and the money was lying at a bank in the City. About three days after our arrival, as we took our breakfast in the hotel, previous to a visit to Mrs. Stubbs’s banker, where certain little transfers were to be made, a gentleman was introduced, who, I saw at a glance, was of my wife’s persuasion.

He looked at Mrs. Stubbs, and made a bow. “Perhaps it will be convenient to you to pay this little bill, one hundred and fifty-two pounds?”

“My love,” says she, “will you pay this — it is a trifle which I had really forgotten?”

“My soul!” said I, “I have really not the money in the house.”

“Vel, denn, Captain Shtubbsh,” says he, “I must do my duty — and arrest you — here is the writ! Tom, keep the door?” My wife fainted — the children screamed, and I fancy my condition as I was obliged to march off to a spunging-house along with a horrid sheriff’s officer?

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