The Fitz-Boodle Papers, by William Makepeace Thackeray

DOROTHEA.

Beyond sparring and cricket, I do not recollect I learned anything useful at Slaughter-House School, where I was educated (according to an old family tradition, which sends particular generations of gentlemen to particular schools in the kingdom; and such is the force of habit, that though I hate the place, I shall send my own son thither too, should I marry any day). I say I learned little that was useful at Slaughter House, and nothing that was ornamental. I would as soon have thought of learning to dance as of learning to climb chimneys. Up to the age of seventeen, as I have shown, I had a great contempt for the female race, and when age brought with it warmer and juster sentiments, where was I? — I could no more dance nor prattle to a young girl than a young bear could. I have seen the ugliest little low-bred wretches carrying off young and lovely creatures, twirling with them in waltzes, whispering between their glossy curls in quadrilles, simpering with perfect equanimity, and cutting pas in that abominable “cavalier seul,” until my soul grew sick with fury. In a word, I determined to learn to dance.

But such things are hard to be acquired late in life, when the bones and the habits of a man are formed. Look at a man in a hunting-field who has not been taught to ride as a boy. All the pluck and courage in the world will not make the man of him that I am, or as any man who has had the advantages of early education in the field.

In the same way with dancing. Though I went to work with immense energy, both in Brewer Street, Golden Square (with an advertising fellow), and afterwards with old Coulon at Paris, I never was able to be EASY in dancing; and though little Coulon instructed me in a smile, it was a cursed forced one, that looked like the grin of a person in extreme agony. I once caught sight of it in a glass, and have hardly ever smiled since.

Most young men about London have gone through that strange secret ordeal of the dancing-school. I am given to understand that young snobs from attorneys’ offices, banks, shops, and the like, make not the least mystery of their proceedings in the saltatory line, but trip gayly, with pumps in hand, to some dancing-place about Soho, waltz and quadrille it with Miss Greengrocer or Miss Butcher, and fancy they have had rather a pleasant evening. There is one house in Dover Street, where, behind a dirty curtain, such figures may be seen hopping every night, to a perpetual fiddling; and I have stood sometimes wondering in the street, with about six blackguard boys wondering too, at the strange contortions of the figures jumping up and down to the mysterious squeaking of the kit. Have they no shame ces gens? are such degrading initiations to be held in public? No, the snob may, but the man of refined mind never can submit to show himself in public laboring at the apprenticeship of this most absurd art. It is owing, perhaps, to this modesty, and the fact that I had no sisters at home, that I have never thoroughly been able to dance; for though I always arrive at the end of a quadrille (and thank heaven for it too!) and though, I believe, I make no mistake in particular, yet I solemnly confess I have never been able thoroughly to comprehend the mysteries of it, or what I have been about from the beginning to the end of the dance. I always look at the lady opposite, and do as she does: if SHE did not know how to dance, par hasard, it would be all up. But if they can’t do anything else, women can dance: let us give them that praise at least.

In London, then, for a considerable time, I used to get up at eight o’clock in the morning, and pass an hour alone with Mr. Wilkinson, of the Theatres Royal, in Golden Square; — an hour alone. It was “one, two, three; one, two, three — now jump — right foot more out, Mr. Smith; and if you COULD try and look a little more cheerful; your partner, sir, would like you hall the better.” Wilkinson called me Smith, for the fact is, I did not tell him my real name, nor (thank heaven!) does he know it to this day.

I never breathed a word of my doings to any soul among my friends; once a pack of them met me in the strange neighborhood, when, I am ashamed to say, I muttered something about a “little French milliner,” and walked off, looking as knowing as I could.

In Paris, two Cambridge-men and myself, who happened to be staying at a boarding-house together, agreed to go to Coulon, a little creature of four feet high with a pigtail. His room was hung round with glasses. He made us take off our coats, and dance each before a mirror. Once he was standing before us playing on his kit the sight of the little master and the pupil was so supremely ridiculous, that I burst into a yell of laughter, which so offended the old man that he walked away abruptly, and begged me not to repeat my visits. Nor did I. I was just getting into waltzing then, but determined to drop waltzing, and content myself with quadrilling for the rest of my days.

This was all very well in France and England; but in Germany what was I to do? What did Hercules do when Omphale captivated him? What did Rinaldo do when Armida fixed upon him her twinkling eyes? Nay, to cut all historical instances short, by going at once to the earliest, what did Adam do when Eve tempted him? He yielded and became her slave; and so I do heartily trust every honest man will yield until the end of the world — he has no heart who will not. When I was in Germany, I say, I began to learn to WALTZ. The reader from this will no doubt expect that some new love-adventures befell me — nor will his gentle heart be disappointed. Two deep and tremendous incidents occurred which shall be notified on the present occasion.

The reader, perhaps, remembers the brief appearance of his Highness the Duke of Kalbsbraten-Pumpernickel at B—— House, in the first part of my Memoirs, at that unlucky period of my life when the Duke was led to remark the odor about my clothes, which lost me the hand of Mary M’Alister. I somehow found myself in his Highness’s territories, of which anybody may read a description in the Almanach de Gotha. His Highness’s father, as is well known, married Emilia Kunegunda Thomasina Charleria Emanuela Louisa Georgina, Princess of Saxe-Pumpernickel, and a cousin of his Highness the Duke. Thus the two principalities were united under one happy sovereign in the person of Philibert Sigismund Emanuel Maria, the reigning Duke, who has received from his country (on account of the celebrated pump which he erected in the marketplace of Kalbsbraten) the well-merited appellation of the Magnificent. The allegory which the statues round about the pump represent, is of a very mysterious and complicated sort. Minerva is observed leading up Ceres to a river-god, who has his arms round the neck of Pomona; while Mars (in a full-bottomed wig) is driven away by Peace, under whose mantle two lovely children, representing the Duke’s two provinces, repose. The celebrated Speck is, as need scarcely be said, the author of this piece; and of other magnificent edifices in the Residenz, such as the guard-room, the skittle-hall Grossherzoglich Kalbsbratenpumpernickelisch Schkittelspielsaal, &c., and the superb sentry-boxes before the Grand-Ducal Palace. He is Knight Grand Cross of the Ancient Kartoffel Order, as, indeed, is almost every one else in his Highness’s dominions.

The town of Kalbsbraten contains a population of two thousand inhabitants, and a palace which would accommodate about six times that number. The principality sends three and a half men to the German Confederation, who are commanded by a General (Excellency), two Major-Generals, and sixty-four officers of lower grades; all noble, all knights of the Order, and almost all chamberlains to his Highness the Grand Duke. An excellent band of eighty performers is the admiration of the surrounding country, and leads the Grand-Ducal troops to battle in time of war. Only three of the contingent of soldiers returned from the Battle of Waterloo, where they won much honor; the remainder was cut to pieces on that glorious day.

There is a chamber of representatives (which, however, nothing can induce to sit), home and foreign ministers, residents from neighboring courts, law presidents, town councils, &c., all the adjuncts of a big or little government. The court has its chamberlains and marshals, the Grand Duchess her noble ladies in waiting, and blushing maids of honor. Thou wert one, Dorothea! Dost remember the poor young Englander? We parted in anger; but I think — I think thou hast not forgotten him.

The way in which I have Dorothea von Speck present to my mind is this: not as I first saw her in the garden — for her hair was in bandeaux then, and a large Leghorn hat with a deep ribbon covered half her fair face — not in a morning-dress, which, by the way, was none of the newest nor the best made — but as I saw her afterwards at a ball at the pleasant splendid little court, where she moved the most beautiful of the beauties of Kalbsbraten. The grand saloon of the palace is lighted — the Grand Duke and his officers, the Duchess and her ladies, have passed through. I, in my uniform, of the — th, and a number of young fellows (who are evidently admiring my legs and envying my distingue appearance), are waiting round the entrance-door, where a huge Heyduke is standing, and announcing the titles of the guests as they arrive.

“HERR OBERHOF— UND BAU-INSPEKTOR VON SPECK!” shouts the Heyduke; and the little Inspector comes in. His lady is on his arm huge, in towering plumes, and her favorite costume of light blue. Fair women always dress in light blue or light green; and Frau von Speck is very fair and stout.

But who comes behind her? Lieber Himmel! It is Dorothea! Did earth, among all the flowers which have sprung from its bosom, produce ever one more beautiful? She was none of your heavenly beauties, I tell you. She had nothing ethereal about her. No, sir; she was of the earth earthy, and must have weighed ten stone four or five, if she weighed an ounce. She had none of your Chinese feet, nor waspy, unhealthy waists, which those may admire who will. No: Dora’s foot was a good stout one; you could see her ankle (if her robe was short enough) without the aid of a microscope; and that envious little, sour, skinny Amalia von Mangelwurzel used to hold up her four fingers and say (the two girls were most intimate friends of course), “Dear Dorothea’s vaist is so much dicker as dis.” And so I have no doubt it was.

But what then? Goethe sings in one of his divine epigrams:—

“Epicures vaunting their taste, entitle me vulgar and savage, Give them their Brussels-sprouts, but I am contented with cabbage.”

I hate your little women — that is, when I am in love with a tall one; and who would not have loved Dorothea?

Fancy her, then, if you please, about five feet four inches high — fancy her in the family color of light blue, a little scarf covering the most brilliant shoulders in the world; and a pair of gloves clinging close round an arm that may, perhaps, be somewhat too large now, but that Juno might have envied then. After the fashion of young ladies on the continent, she wears no jewels or gimcracks: her only ornament is a wreath of vine-leaves in her hair, with little clusters of artificial grapes. Down on her shoulders falls the brown hair, in rich liberal clusters; all that health, and good-humor, and beauty can do for her face, kind nature has done for hers. Her eyes are frank, sparkling, and kind. As for her cheeks, what paint-box or dictionary contains pigments or words to describe their red? They say she opens her mouth and smiles always to show the dimples in her cheeks. Psha! she smiles because she is happy, and kind, and good-humored, and not because her teeth are little pearls.

All the young fellows crowd up to ask her to dance, and, taking from her waist a little mother-of-pearl remembrancer, she notes them down. Old Schnabel for the polonaise; Klingenspohr, first waltz; Haarbart, second waltz; Count Hornpieper (the Danish envoy), third; and so on. I have said why I could not ask her to waltz, and I turned away with a pang, and played ecarte with Colonel Trumpenpack all night.

In thus introducing this lovely creature in her ball-costume, I have been somewhat premature, and had best go back to the beginning of the history of my acquaintance with her.

Dorothea, then, was the daughter of the celebrated Speck before mentioned. It is one of the oldest names in Germany, where her father’s and mother’s houses, those of Speck and Eyer, are loved wherever they are known. Unlike his warlike progenitor, Lorenzo von Speck, Dorothea’s father, had early shown himself a passionate admirer of art; had quitted home to study architecture in Italy, and had become celebrated throughout Europe, and been appointed Oberhofarchitect and Kunst — und Bau-inspektor of the united principalities. They are but four miles wide, and his genius has consequently but little room to play. What art can do, however, he does. The palace is frequently whitewashed under his eyes; the theatre painted occasionally; the noble public buildings erected, of which I have already made mention.

I had come to Kalbsbraten, scarce knowing whither I went; and having, in about ten minutes, seen the curiosities of the place (I did not care to see the King’s palace, for chairs and tables have no great charm for me), I had ordered horses, and wanted to get on I cared not whither, when Fate threw Dorothea in my way. I was yawning back to the hotel through the palace-garden, a valet-de-place at my side, when I saw a young lady seated under a tree reading a novel, her mamma on the same bench (a fat woman in light blue) knitting a stocking, and two officers, choked in their stays, with various orders on their spinach-colored coats, standing by in first attitudes: the one was caressing the fat-lady-inblue’s little dog; the other was twirling his own moustache, which was already as nearly as possible curled into his own eye.

I don’t know how it is, but I hate to see men evidently intimate with nice-looking women, and on good terms with themselves. There’s something annoying in their cursed complacency — their evident sunshiny happiness. I’ve no woman to make sunshine for ME; and yet my heart tells me that not one, but several such suns, would do good to my system.

“Who are those pert-looking officers,” says I, peevishly, to the guide, “who are talking to those vulgar-looking women?”

“The big one, with the epaulets, is Major von Schnabel; the little one, with the pale face, is Stiefel von Klingenspohr.”

“And the big blue woman?”

“The Grand-Ducal Pumpernickelian-court-architectress and Upper-Palace-and-building-inspectress Von Speck, born V. Eyer,” replied the guide. “Your well-born honor has seen the pump in the market-place; that is the work of the great Von Speck.”

“And yonder young person?”

“Mr. Court-architect’s daughter; the Fraulein Dorothea.”

*****

Dorothea looked up from her novel here, and turned her face towards the stranger who was passing, and then blushing turned it down again. Schnabel looked at me with a scowl, Klingenspohr with a simper, the dog with a yelp, the fat lady in blue just gave one glance, and seemed, I thought, rather well pleased. “Silence, Lischen!” said she to the dog. “Go on, darling Dorothea,” she added, to her daughter, who continued her novel.

Her voice was a little tremulous, but very low and rich. For some reason or other, on getting back to the inn, I countermanded the horses, and said I would stay for the night.

I not only stayed that night, but many, many afterwards; and as for the manner in which I became acquainted with the Speck family, why it was a good joke against me at the time, and I did not like then to have it known; but now it may as well come out at once. Speck, as everybody knows, lives in the market-place, opposite his grand work of art, the town pump, or fountain. I bought a large sheet of paper, and having a knack at drawing, sat down, with the greatest gravity, before the pump, and sketched it for several hours. I knew it would bring out old Speck to see. At first he contented himself by flattening his nose against the window-glasses of his study, and looking what the Englander was about. Then he put on his gray cap with the huge green shade, and sauntered to the door: then he walked round me, and formed one of a band of street-idlers who were looking on: then at last he could restrain himself no more, but, pulling off his cap, with a low bow, began to discourse upon arts, and architecture in particular.

“It is curious,” says he, “that you have taken the same view of which a print has been engraved.”

“That IS extraordinary,” says I (though it wasn’t, for I had traced my drawing at a window off the very print in question). I added that I was, like all the world, immensely struck with the beauty of the edifice; heard of it at Rome, where it was considered to be superior to any of the celebrated fountains of that capital of the fine arts; finally, that unless perhaps the celebrated fountain of Aldgate in London might compare with it, Kalbsbraten building, EXCEPT in that case, was incomparable.

This speech I addressed in French, of which the worthy Hofarchitect understood somewhat, and continuing to reply in German, our conversation grew pretty close. It is singular that I can talk to a man and pay him compliments with the utmost gravity, whereas, to a woman, I at once lose all self-possession, and have never said a pretty thing in my life.

My operations on old Speck were so conducted, that in a quarter of an hour I had elicited from him an invitation to go over the town with him, and see its architectural beauties. So we walked through the huge half-furnished chambers of the palace, we panted up the copper pinnacle of the church-tower, we went to see the Museum and Gymnasium, and coming back into the market-place again, what could the Hofarchitect do but offer me a glass of wine and a seat in his house? He introduced me to his Gattinn, his Leocadia (the fat woman in blue), “as a young world-observer, and worthy art-friend, a young scion of British Adel, who had come to refresh himself at the Urquellen of his race, and see his brethren of the great family of Hermann.”

I saw instantly that the old fellow was of a romantic turn, from this rodomontade to his lady; nor was she a whit less so; nor was Dorothea less sentimental than her mamma. She knew everything regarding the literature of Albion, as she was pleased to call it; and asked me news of all the famous writers there. I told her that Miss Edgeworth was one of the loveliest young beauties at our court; I described to her Lady Morgan, herself as beautiful as the wild Irish girl she drew; I promised to give her a signature of Mrs. Hemans (which I wrote for her that very evening); and described a fox-hunt, at which I had seen Thomas Moore and Samuel Rogers, Esquires; and a boxing-match, in which the athletic author of “Pelham” was pitched against the hardy mountain bard, Wordsworth. You see my education was not neglected, for though I have never read the works of the above-named ladies and gentlemen, yet I knew their names well enough.

Time passed away. I, perhaps, was never so brilliant in conversation as when excited by the Asmanshauser and the brilliant eyes of Dorothea that day. She and her parents had dined at their usual heathen hour; but I was, I don’t care to own it, so smitten, that for the first time in my life I did not even miss the meal, and talked on until six o’clock, when tea was served. Madame Speck said they always drank it; and so placing a teaspoonful of bohea in a cauldron of water, she placidly handed out this decoction, which we took with cakes and tartines. I leave you to imagine how disgusted Klingenspohr and Schnabel looked when they stepped in as usual that evening to make their party of whist with the Speck family! Down they were obliged to sit; and the lovely Dorothea, for that night, declined to play altogether, and — sat on the sofa by me.

What we talked about, who shall tell? I would not, for my part, break the secret of one of those delicious conversations, of which I and every man in his time have held so many. You begin, very probably, about the weather —’tis a common subject, but what sentiments the genius of Love can fling into it! I have often, for my part, said to the girl of my heart for the time being, “It’s a fine day,” or “It’s a rainy morning!” in a way that has brought tears to her eyes. Something beats in your heart, and twangle! a corresponding string thrills and echoes in hers. You offer her anything — her knitting-needles, a slice of bread-and-butter — what causes the grateful blush with which she accepts the one or the other? Why, she sees your heart handed over to her upon the needles, and the bread-and-butter is to her a sandwich with love inside it. If you say to your grandmother, “Ma’am, it’s a fine day,” or what not, she would find in the words no other meaning than their outward and visible one; but say so to the girl you love, and she understands a thousand mystic meanings in them. Thus, in a word, though Dorothea and I did not, probably, on the first night of our meeting, talk of anything more than the weather, or trumps, or some subjects which to such listeners as Schnabel and Klingenspohr and others might appear quite ordinary, yet to US they had a different signification, of which Love alone held the key.

Without further ado then, after the occurrences of that evening, I determined on staying at Kalbsbraten, and presenting my card the next day to the Hof-Marshal, requesting to have the honor of being presented to his Highness the Prince, at one of whose court-balls my Dorothea appeared as I have described her.

It was summer when I first arrived at Kalbsbraten. The little court was removed to Siegmundslust, his Highness’s country-seat: no balls were taking place, and, in consequence, I held my own with Dorothea pretty well. I treated her admirer, Lieutenant Klingenspohr, with perfect scorn, had a manifest advantage over Major Schnabel, and used somehow to meet the fair one every day, walking in company with her mamma in the palace garden, or sitting under the acacias, with Belotte in her mother’s lap, and the favorite romance beside her. Dear, dear Dorothea! what a number of novels she must have read in her time! She confesses to me that she had been in love with Uncas, with Saint Preux, with Ivanhoe, and with hosts of German heroes of romance; and when I asked her if she, whose heart was so tender towards imaginary youths, had never had a preference for any one of her living adorers, she only looked, and blushed, and sighed, and said nothing.

You see I had got on as well as man could do, until the confounded court season and the balls began, and then — why, then came my usual luck.

Waltzing is a part of a German girl’s life. With the best will in the world — which, I doubt not, she entertains for me, for I never put the matter of marriage directly to her — Dorothea could not go to balls and not waltz. It was madness to me to see her whirling round the room with officers, attaches, prim little chamberlains with gold keys and embroidered coats, her hair floating in the wind, her hand reposing upon the abominable little dancer’s epaulet, her good-humored face lighted up with still greater satisfaction. I saw that I must learn to waltz too, and took my measures accordingly.

The leader of the ballet at the Kalbsbraten theatre in my time was Springbock, from Vienna. He had been a regular zephyr once, ’twas said, in his younger days; and though he is now fifteen stone weight, I can, helas! recommend him conscientiously as a master; and I determined to take some lessons from him in the art which I had neglected so foolishly in early life.

It may be said, without vanity, that I was an apt pupil, and in the course of half a dozen lessons I had arrived at very considerable agility in the waltzing line, and could twirl round the room with him at such a pace as made the old gentleman pant again, and hardly left him breath enough to puff out a compliment to his pupil. I may say, that in a single week I became an expert waltzer; but as I wished, when I came out publicly in that character, to be quite sure of myself, and as I had hitherto practised not with a lady, but with a very fat old man, it was agreed that he should bring a lady of his acquaintance to perfect me, and accordingly, at my eighth lesson, Madame Springbock herself came to the dancing-room, and the old zephyr performed on the violin.

If any man ventures the least sneer with regard to this lady, or dares to insinuate anything disrespectful to her or myself, I say at once that he is an impudent calumniator. Madame Springbock is old enough to be my grandmother, and as ugly a woman as I ever saw; but, though old, she was passionnee pour la danse, and not having (on account, doubtless, of her age and unprepossessing appearance) many opportunities of indulging in her favorite pastime, made up for lost time by immense activity whenever she could get a partner. In vain, at the end of the hour, would Springbock exclaim, “Amalia, my soul’s blessing, the time is up!” “Play on, dear Alphonso!” would the old lady exclaim, whisking me round: and though I had not the least pleasure in such a homely partner, yet for the sake of perfecting myself I waltzed and waltzed with her, until we were both half dead with fatigue.

At the end of three weeks I could waltz as well as any man in Germany.

At the end of four weeks there was a grand ball at court in honor of H. H. the Prince of Dummerland and his Princess, and THEN I determined I would come out in public. I dressed myself with unusual care and splendor. My hair was curled and my moustache dyed to a nicety; and of the four hundred gentlemen present, if the girls of Kalbsbraten DID select one who wore an English hussar uniform, why should I disguise the fact? In spite of my silence, the news had somehow got abroad, as news will in such small towns — Herr von Fitz-Boodle was coming out in a waltz that evening. His Highness the Duke even made an allusion to the circumstance. When on this eventful night, I went, as usual, and made him my bow in the presentation, “Vous, monsieur,” said he —“vous qui etes si jeune, devez aimer la danse.” I blushed as red as my trousers, and bowing, went away.

I stepped up to Dorothea. Heavens! how beautiful she looked! and how archly she smiled as, with a thumping heart, I asked her hand for a WALTZ! She took out her little mother-of-pearl dancing-book, she wrote down my name with her pencil: we were engaged for the fourth waltz, and till then I left her to other partners.

Who says that his first waltz is not a nervous moment? I vow I was more excited than by any duel I ever fought. I would not dance any contre-danse or galop. I repeatedly went to the buffet and got glasses of punch (dear simple Germany! ’tis with rum-punch and egg-flip thy children strengthen themselves for the dance!) I went into the ball-room and looked — the couples bounded before me, the music clashed and rung in my ears — all was fiery, feverish, indistinct. The gleaming white columns, the polished oaken floors in which the innumerable tapers were reflected — all together swam before my eyes, and I was in a pitch of madness almost when the fourth waltz at length came. “WILL YOU DANCE WITH YOUR SWORD ON?” said the sweetest voice in the world. I blushed, and stammered, and trembled, as I laid down that weapon and my cap, and hark! the music began!

Oh, how my hand trembled as I placed it round the waist of Dorothea! With my left hand I took her right — did she squeeze it? I think she did — to this day I think she did. Away we went! we tripped over the polished oak floor like two young fairies. “Courage, monsieur,” said she, with her sweet smile. Then it was “Tres bien, monsieur.” Then I heard the voices humming and buzzing about. “Il danse bien, l’Anglais.” “Ma foi, oui,” says another. On we went, twirling and twisting, and turning and whirling; couple after couple dropped panting off. Little Klingenspohr himself was obliged to give in. All eyes were upon us — we were going round ALONE. Dorothea was almost exhausted, when

* * * * *

I have been sitting for two hours since I marked the asterisks, thinking — thinking. I have committed crimes in my life — who hasn’t? But talk of remorse, what remorse is there like THAT which rushes up in a flood to my brain sometimes when I am alone, and causes me to blush when I’m a-bed in the dark?

I fell, sir, on that infernal slippery floor. Down we came like shot; we rolled over and over in the midst of the ballroom, the music going ten miles an hour, 800 pairs of eyes fixed upon us, a cursed shriek of laughter bursting out from all sides. Heavens! how clear I heard it, as we went on rolling and rolling! “My child! my Dorothea!” shrieked out Madame Speck, rushing forward, and as soon as she had breath to do so, Dorothea of course screamed too; then she fainted, then she was disentangled from out my spurs, and borne off by a bevy of tittering women. “Clumsy brute!” said Madame Speck, turning her fat back upon me. I remained upon my seant, wild, ghastly, looking about. It was all up with me — I knew it was. I wished I could have died there, and I wish so still.

Klingenspohr married her, that is the long and short; but before that event I placed a sabre-cut across the young scoundrel’s nose, which destroyed HIS beauty for ever.

O Dorothea! you can’t forgive me — you oughtn’t to forgive me; but I love you madly still.

My next flame was Ottilia: but let us keep her for another number; my feelings overpower me at present.

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