Catherine: a story, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Chapter the Last

That Mr. Hayes had some notion of the attachment of Monsieur de Galgenstein for his wife is very certain: the man could not but perceive that she was more gaily dressed, and more frequently absent than usual; and must have been quite aware that from the day of the quarrel until the present period, Catherine had never asked him for a shilling for the house expenses. He had not the heart to offer, however; nor, in truth, did she seem to remember that money was due.

She received, in fact, many sums from the tender Count. Tom was likewise liberally provided by the same personage; who was, moreover, continually sending presents of various kinds to the person on whom his affections were centred.

One of these gifts was a hamper of choice mountain-wine, which had been some weeks in the house, and excited the longing of Mr. Hayes, who loved wine very much. This liquor was generally drunk by Wood and Billings, who applauded it greatly; and many times, in passing through the back-parlour — which he had to traverse in order to reach the stair, Hayes had cast a tender eye towards the drink; of which, had he dared, he would have partaken.

On the 1st of March, in the year 1726, Mr. Hayes had gathered together almost the whole sum with which he intended to decamp; and having on that very day recovered the amount of a bill which he thought almost hopeless, he returned home in tolerable good-humour; and feeling, so near was his period of departure, something like security. Nobody had attempted the least violence on him: besides, he was armed with pistols, had his money in bills in a belt about his person, and really reasoned with himself that there was no danger for him to apprehend.

He entered the house about dusk, at five o’clock. Mrs. Hayes was absent with Mr. Billings; only Mr. Wood was smoking, according to his wont, in the little back-parlour; and as Mr. Hayes passed, the old gentleman addressed him in a friendly voice, and, wondering that he had been such a stranger, invited him to sit and take a glass of wine. There was a light and a foreman in the shop; Mr. Hayes gave his injunctions to that person, and saw no objection to Mr. Wood’s invitation.

The conversation, at first a little stiff between the two gentlemen, began speedily to grow more easy and confidential: and so particularly bland and good-humoured was Mr., or Doctor Wood, that his companion was quite caught, and softened by the charm of his manner; and the pair became as good friends as in the former days of their intercourse.

“I wish you would come down sometimes of evenings,” quoth Doctor Wood; “for, though no book-learned man, Mr. Hayes, look you, you are a man of the world, and I can’t abide the society of boys. There’s Tom, now, since this tiff with Mrs. Cat, the scoundrel plays the Grank Turk here! The pair of ’em, betwixt them, have completely gotten the upper hand of you. Confess that you are beaten, Master Hayes, and don’t like the boy?”

“No more I do,” said Hayes; “and that’s the truth on’t. A man doth not like to have his wife’s sins flung in his face, nor to be perpetually bullied in his own house by such a fiery sprig as that.”

“Mischief, sir — mischief only,” said Wood: “’tis the fun of youth, sir, and will go off as age comes to the lad. Bad as you may think him — and he is as skittish and fierce, sure enough, as a young colt —— there is good stuff in him; and though he hath, or fancies he hath, the right to abuse every one, by the Lord he will let none others do so! Last week, now, didn’t he tell Mrs. Cat that you served her right in the last beating matter? and weren’t they coming to knives, just as in your case? By my faith, they were. Ay, and at the “Braund’s Head,” when some fellow said that you were a bloody Bluebeard, and would murder your wife, stab me if Tom wasn’t up in an instant and knocked the fellow down for abusing of you!”

The first of these stories was quite true; the second was only a charitable invention of Mr. Wood, and employed, doubtless, for the amiable purpose of bringing the old and young men together. The scheme partially succeeded; for, though Hayes was not so far mollified towards Tom as to entertain any affection for a young man whom he had cordially detested ever since he knew him, yet he felt more at ease and cheerful regarding himself: and surely not without reason. While indulging in these benevolent sentiments, Mrs. Catherine and her son arrived, and found, somewhat to their astonishment, Mr. Hayes seated in the back-parlour, as in former times; and they were invited by Mr. Wood to sit down and drink.

We have said that certain bottles of mountain-wine were presented by the Count to Mrs. Catherine: these were, at Mr. Wood’s suggestion, produced; and Hayes, who had long been coveting them, was charmed to have an opportunity to drink his fill. He forthwith began bragging of his great powers as a drinker, and vowed that he could manage eight bottles without becoming intoxicated.

Mr. Wood grinned strangely, and looked in a peculiar way at Tom Billings, who grinned too. Mrs. Cat’s eyes were turned towards the ground: but her face was deadly pale.

The party began drinking. Hayes kept up his reputation as a toper, and swallowed one, two, three bottles without wincing. He grew talkative and merry, and began to sing songs and to cut jokes; at which Wood laughed hugely, and Billings after him. Mrs. Cat could not laugh; but sat silent.

What ailed her? Was she thinking of the Count? She had been with Max that day, and had promised him, for the next night at ten, an interview near his lodgings at Whitehall. It was the first time that she would see him alone. They were to meet (not a very cheerful place for a love-tryst) at St. Margaret’s churchyard, near Westminster Abbey. Of this, no doubt, Cat was thinking; but what could she mean by whispering to Wood, “No, no! for God’s sake, not tonight!”

“She means we are to have no more liquor,” said Wood to Mr. Hayes; who heard this sentence, and seemed rather alarmed.

“That’s it — no more liquor,” said Catherine eagerly; “you have had enough to-night. Go to bed, and lock your door, and sleep, Mr. Hayes.”

“But I say I’ve NOT had enough drink!” screamed Hayes; “I’m good for five bottles more, and wager I will drink them too.”

“Done, for a guinea!” said Wood.

“Done, and done!” said Billings.

“Be YOU quiet!” growled Hayes, scowling at the lad. “I will drink what I please, and ask no counsel of yours.” And he muttered some more curses against young Billings, which showed what his feelings were towards his wife’s son; and which the latter, for a wonder, only received with a scornful smile, and a knowing look at Wood.

Well! the five extra bottles were brought, and drunk by Mr. Hayes; and seasoned by many songs from the recueil of Mr. Thomas d’Urfey and others. The chief part of the talk and merriment was on Hayes’s part; as, indeed, was natural — for, while he drank bottle after bottle of wine, the other two gentlemen confined themselves to small beer — both pleading illness as an excuse for their sobriety.

And now might we depict, with much accuracy, the course of Mr. Hayes’s intoxication, as it rose from the merriment of the three-bottle point to the madness of the four — from the uproarious quarrelsomeness of the sixth bottle to the sickly stupidity of the seventh; but we are desirous of bringing this tale to a conclusion, and must pretermit all consideration of a subject so curious, so instructive, and so delightful. Suffice it to say, as a matter of history, that Mr. Hayes did actually drink seven bottles of mountain-wine; and that Mr. Thomas Billings went to the “Braund’s Head,” in Bond Street, and purchased another, which Hayes likewise drank.

“That’ll do,” said Mr. Wood to young Billings; and they led Hayes up to bed, whither, in truth, he was unable to walk himself.

* * *

Mrs. Springatt, the lodger, came down to ask what the noise was. “’Tis only Tom Billings making merry with some friends from the country,” answered Mrs. Hayes; whereupon Springatt retired, and the house was quiet.

* * *

Some scuffling and stamping was heard about eleven o’clock.

* * *

After they had seen Mr. Hayes to bed, Billings remembered that he had a parcel to carry to some person in the neighbourhood of the Strand; and, as the night was remarkably fine, he and Mr. Wood agreed to walk together, and set forth accordingly.

(Here follows a description of the THAMES AT MIDNIGHT, in a fine historical style; with an account of Lambeth, Westminster, the Savoy, Baynard’s Castle, Arundel House, the Temple; of Old London Bridge, with its twenty arches, “on which be houses builded, so that it seemeth rather a continuall street than a bridge;"— of Bankside, and the “Globe” and the “Fortune” Theatres; of the ferries across the river, and of the pirates who infest the same — namely, tinklermen, petermen, hebbermen, trawlermen; of the fleet of barges that lay at the Savoy steps; and of the long lines of slim wherries sleeping on the river banks and basking and shining in the moonbeams. A combat on the river is described, that takes place between the crews of a tinklerman’s boat and the water-bailiffs. Shouting his war-cry, “St. Mary Overy a la rescousse!” the water-bailiff sprung at the throat of the tinklerman captain. The crews of both vessels, as if aware that the struggle of their chiefs would decide the contest, ceased hostilities, and awaited on their respective poops the issue of the death-shock. It was not long coming. “Yield, dog!” said the water-bailiff. The tinklerman could not answer — for his throat was grasped too tight in the iron clench of the city champion; but drawing his snickersnee, he plunged it seven times in the bailiff’s chest: still the latter fell not. The death-rattle gurgled in the throat of his opponent; his arms fell heavily to his side. Foot to foot, each standing at the side of his boat, stood the brave men — THEY WERE BOTH DEAD! “In the name of St. Clement Danes,” said the master, “give way, my men!” and, thrusting forward his halberd (seven feet long, richly decorated with velvet and brass nails, and having the city arms, argent, a cross gules, and in the first quarter a dagger displayed of the second), he thrust the tinklerman’s boat away from his own; and at once the bodies of the captains plunged down, down, down, down in the unfathomable waters.

After this follows another episode. Two masked ladies quarrel at the door of a tavern overlooking the Thames: they turn out to be Stella and Vanessa, who have followed Swift thither; who is in the act of reading “Gulliver’s Travels” to Gay, Arbuthnot, Bolingbroke, and Pope. Two fellows are sitting shuddering under a doorway; to one of them Tom Billings flung a sixpence. He little knew that the names of those two young men were — Samuel Johnson and Richard Savage.)

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00