The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray


As the month of May is considered, by poets and other philosophers, to be devoted by Nature to the great purpose of love-making, I may as well take advantage of that season and acquaint you with the result of MY amours.

Young, gay, fascinating, and an ensign — I had completely won the heart of my Magdalen; and as for Miss Waters and her nasty uncle the Doctor, there was a complete split between us, as you may fancy; Miss pretending, forsooth, that she was glad I had broken off the match, though she would have given her eyes, the little minx, to have had it on again. But this was out of the question. My father, who had all sorts of queer notions, said I had acted like a rascal in the business; my mother took my part, in course, and declared I acted rightly, as I always did: and I got leave of absence from the regiment in order to press my beloved Magdalen to marry me out of hand — knowing, from reading and experience, the extraordinary mutability of human affairs.

Besides, as the dear girl was seventeen years older than myself, and as bad in health as she was in temper, how was I to know that the grim king of terrors might not carry her off before she became mine? With the tenderest warmth, then, and most delicate ardor, I continued to press my suit. The happy day was fixed — the ever memorable 10th of May, 1792. The wedding-clothes were ordered; and, to make things secure, I penned a little paragraph for the county paper to this effect:—“Marriage in High Life. We understand that Ensign Stubbs, of the North Bungay Fencibles, and son of Thomas Stubbs, of Sloffemsquiggle, Esquire, is about to lead to the hymeneal altar the lovely and accomplished daughter of Solomon Crutty, Esquire, of the same place. A fortune of twenty thousand pounds is, we hear, the lady’s portion. ‘None but the brave deserve the fair.’”


“Have you informed your relatives, my beloved?” said I to Magdalen, one day after sending the above notice; “will any of them attend at your marriage?”

“Uncle Sam will, I dare say,” said Miss Crutty, “dear mamma’s brother.”

“And who WAS your dear mamma?” said I: for Miss Crutty’s respected parent had been long since dead, and I never heard her name mentioned in the family.

Magdalen blushed, and cast down her eyes to the ground. “Mamma was a foreigner,” at last she said.

“And of what country?”

“A German. Papa married her when she was very young:— she was not of a very good family,” said Miss Crutty, hesitating.

“And what care I for family, my love!” said I, tenderly kissing the knuckles of the hand which I held. “She must have been an angel who gave birth to you.”

“She was a shoemaker’s daughter.”

“A GERMAN SHOEMAKER! Hang ’em,” thought I, “I have had enough of them;” and so broke up this conversation, which did not somehow please me.


Well, the day was drawing near: the clothes were ordered; the banns were read. My dear mamma had built a cake about the size of a washing-tub; and I was only waiting for a week to pass to put me in possession of twelve thousand pounds in the FIVE per Cents, as they were in those days, heaven bless ’em! Little did I know the storm that was brewing, and the disappointment which was to fall upon a young man who really did his best to get a fortune.


“Oh, Robert,” said my Magdalen to me, two days before the match was to come off, “I have SUCH a kind letter from uncle Sam in London. I wrote to him as you wished. He says that he is coming down tomorrow, that he has heard of you often, and knows your character very well; and that he has got a VERY HANDSOME PRESENT for us! What can it be, I wonder?”

“Is he rich, my soul’s adored?” says I.

“He is a bachelor, with a fine trade, and nobody to leave his money to.”

“His present can’t be less than a thousand pounds?” says I.

“Or, perhaps, a silver tea-set, and some corner-dishes,” says she.

But we could not agree to this: it was too little — too mean for a man of her uncle’s wealth; and we both determined it must be the thousand pounds.

“Dear good uncle! he’s to be here by the coach,” says Magdalen. “Let us ask a little party to meet him.” And so we did, and so they came: my father and mother, old Crutty in his best wig, and the parson who was to marry us the next day. The coach was to come in at six. And there was the tea-table, and there was the punch-bowl, and everybody ready and smiling to receive our dear uncle from London.

Six o’clock came, and the coach, and the man from the “Green Dragon” with a portmanteau, and a fat old gentleman walking behind, of whom I just caught a glimpse — a venerable old gentleman: I thought I’d seen him before.


Then there was a ring at the bell; then a scuffling and bumping in the passage: then old Crutty rushed out, and a great laughing and talking, and “HOW ARE YOU?” and so on, was heard at the door; and then the parlor-door was flung open, and Crutty cried out with a loud voice —

“Good people all! my brother-inlaw, Mr. STIFFELKIND!”

MR. STIFFELKIND! — I trembled as I heard the name!

Miss Crutty kissed him; mamma made him a curtsy, and papa made him a bow; and Dr. Snorter, the parson, seized his hand and shook it most warmly: then came my turn!

“Vat!” says he. “It is my dear goot yong frend from Doctor Schvis’hentail’s! is dis de yong gentleman’s honorable moder” (mamma smiled and made a curtsy), “and dis his fader? Sare and madam, you should be broud of soch a sonn. And you my niece, if you have him for a husband you vill be locky, dat is all. Vat dink you, broder Croty, and Madame Stobbs, I ‘ave made your sonn’s boots! Ha — ha!”

My mamma laughed, and said, “I did not know it, but I am sure, sir, he has as pretty a leg for a boot as any in the whole county.”

Old Stiffelkind roared louder. “A very nice leg, ma’am, and a very SHEAP BOOT TOO. Vat! did you not know I make his boots? Perhaps you did not know something else too — p’raps you did not know” (and here the monster clapped his hand on the table and made the punch-ladle tremble in the bowl)—“p’raps you did not know as dat yong man, dat Stobbs, dat sneaking, baltry, squinting fellow, is as vicked as he is ogly. He bot a pair of boots from me and never paid for dem. Dat is noting, nobody never pays; but he bought a pair of boots, and called himself Lord Cornvallis. And I was fool enough to believe him vonce. But look you, niece Magdalen, I ‘ave got five tousand pounds: if you marry him I vill not give you a benny. But look you what I will gif you: I bromised you a bresent, and I will give you DESE!”

And the old monster produced THOSE VERY BOOTS which Swishtail had made him take back.


I DIDN’T marry Miss Crutty: I am not sorry for it though. She was a nasty, ugly, ill-tempered wretch, and I’ve always said so ever since.

And all this arose from those infernal boots, and that unlucky paragraph in the county paper — I’ll tell you how.

In the first place, it was taken up as a quiz by one of the wicked, profligate, unprincipled organs of the London press, who chose to be very facetious about the “Marriage in High Life,” and made all sorts of jokes about me and my dear Miss Crutty.

Secondly, it was read in this London paper by my mortal enemy, Bunting, who had been introduced to old Stiffelkind’s acquaintance by my adventure with him, and had his shoes made regularly by that foreign upstart.

Thirdly, he happened to want a pair of shoes mended at this particular period, and as he was measured by the disgusting old High-Dutch cobbler, he told him his old friend Stubbs was going to be married.

“And to whom?” said old Stiffelkind. “To a voman wit geld, I vill take my oath.”

“Yes,” says Bunting, “a country girl — a Miss Magdalen Carotty or Crotty, at a place called Sloffemsquiggle.”

“SHLOFFEMSCHWIEGEL!” bursts out the dreadful bootmaker. “Mein Gott, mein Gott! das geht nicht! I tell you, sare, it is no go. Miss Crotty is my niece. I vill go down myself. I vill never let her marry dat goot-for-nothing schwindler and tief.” SUCH was the language that the scoundrel ventured to use regarding me!

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