The Fatal Boots, by William Makepeace Thackeray


Was there ever such confounded ill-luck? My whole life has been a tissue of ill-luck: although I have labored perhaps harder than any man to make a fortune, something always tumbled it down. In love and in war I was not like others. In my marriages, I had an eye to the main chance; and you see how some unlucky blow would come and throw them over. In the army I was just as prudent, and just as unfortunate. What with judicious betting, and horse-swapping, good-luck at billiards, and economy, I do believe I put by my pay every year — and that is what few can say who have but an allowance of a hundred a year.

I’ll tell you how it was. I used to be very kind to the young men; I chose their horses for them, and their wine: and showed them how to play billiards, or ecarte, of long mornings, when there was nothing better to do. I didn’t cheat: I’d rather die than cheat; — but if fellows WILL play, I wasn’t the man to say no — why should I? There was one young chap in our regiment of whom I really think I cleared 300L. a year.

His name was Dobble. He was a tailor’s son, and wanted to be a gentleman. A poor weak young creature; easy to be made tipsy; easy to be cheated; and easy to be frightened. It was a blessing for him that I found him; for if anybody else had, they would have plucked him of every shilling.

Ensign Dobble and I were sworn friends. I rode his horses for him, and chose his champagne, and did everything, in fact, that a superior mind does for an inferior — when the inferior has got the money. We were inseparables — hunting everywhere in couples. We even managed to fall in love with two sisters, as young soldiers will do, you know; for the dogs fall in love, with every change of quarters.

Well, once, in the year 1793 (it was just when the French had chopped poor Louis’s head off), Dobble and I, gay young chaps as ever wore sword by side, had cast our eyes upon two young ladies by the name of Brisket, daughters of a butcher in the town where we were quartered. The dear girls fell in love with us, of course. And many a pleasant walk in the country, many a treat to a tea-garden, many a smart ribbon and brooch used Dobble and I (for his father allowed him 600L., and our purses were in common) present to these young ladies. One day, fancy our pleasure at receiving a note couched thus:—

“DEER CAPTING STUBBS AND DOBBLE— Miss Briskets presents their compliments, and as it is probble that our papa will be till twelve at the corprayshun dinner, we request the pleasure of their company to tea.”

Didn’t we go! Punctually at six we were in the little back-parlor; we quaffed more Bohea, and made more love, than half a dozen ordinary men could. At nine, a little punch-bowl succeeded to the little teapot; and, bless the girls! a nice fresh steak was frizzling on the gridiron for our supper. Butchers were butchers then, and their parlor was their kitchen too; at least old Brisket’s was — one door leading into the shop, and one into the yard, on the other side of which was the slaughter-house.

Fancy, then, our horror when, just at this critical time, we heard the shop-door open, a heavy staggering step on the flags, and a loud husky voice from the shop, shouting, “Hallo, Susan; hallo, Betsy! show a light!” Dobble turned as white as a sheet; the two girls each as red as a lobster; I alone preserved my presence of mind. “The back-door,” says I—“The dog’s in the court,” say they. “He’s not so bad as the man,” said I. “Stop!” cries Susan, flinging open the door, and rushing to the fire. “Take THIS and perhaps it will quiet him.”

What do you think “THIS” was? I’m blest if it was not the STEAK!

She pushed us out, patted and hushed the dog, and was in again in a minute. The moon was shining on the court, and on the slaughter-house, where there hung the white ghastly-looking carcasses of a couple of sheep; a great gutter ran down the court — a gutter of BLOOD! The dog was devouring his beefsteak (OUR beefsteak) in silence; and we could see through the little window the girls hustling about to pack up the supper-things, and presently the shop-door being opened, old Brisket entering, staggering, angry, and drunk. What’s more, we could see, perched on a high stool, and nodding politely, as if to salute old Brisket, the FEATHER OF DOBBLE’S COCKED HAT! When Dobble saw it, he turned white, and deadly sick; and the poor fellow, in an agony of fright, sunk shivering down upon one of the butcher’s cutting-blocks, which was in the yard.

We saw old Brisket look steadily (as steadily as he could) at the confounded, impudent, pert, waggling feather; and then an idea began to dawn upon his mind, that there was a head to the hat; and then he slowly rose up — he was a man of six feet, and fifteen stone — he rose up, put on his apron and sleeves, and TOOK DOWN HIS CLEAVER.

“Betsy,” says he, “open the yard door.” But the poor girls screamed, and flung on their knees, and begged, and wept, and did their very best to prevent him. “OPEN THE YARD DOOR!” says he, with a thundering loud voice; and the great bull-dog, hearing it, started up and uttered a yell which sent me flying to the other end of the court. — Dobble couldn’t move; he was sitting on the block, blubbering like a baby.

The door opened, and out Mr. Brisket came.

“TO HIM, JOWLER!” says he. “KEEP HIM, JOWLER!”— and the horrid dog flew at me, and I flew back into the corner, and drew my sword, determining to sell my life dearly.

“That’s it,” says Brisket. “Keep him there — good dog — good dog! And now, sir,” says he, turning round to Dobble, “is this your hat?”

“Yes,” says Dobble, fit to choke with fright.

“Well, then,” says Brisket, “it’s my —(hic)— my painful duty to —(hic)— to tell you, that as I’ve got your hat, I must have your head; — it’s painful, but it must be done. You’d better —(hic)— settle yourself com — comfumarably against that —(hic)— that block, and I’ll chop it off before you can say Jack —(hic)— no, I mean Jack Robinson.”

Dobble went down on his knees and shrieked out, “I’m an only son, Mr. Brisket! I’ll marry her, sir; I will, upon my honor, sir. — Consider my mother, sir; consider my mother.”

“That’s it, sir,” says Brisket, “that’s a good —(hic)— a good boy; — just put your head down quietly — and I’ll have it off — yes, off — as if you were Louis the Six — the Sixtix — the Siktickleteenth. — I’ll chop the other CHAP AFTERWARDS.”

When I heard this, I made a sudden bound back, and gave such a cry as any man might who was in such a way. The ferocious Jowler, thinking I was going to escape, flew at my throat; screaming furious, I flung out my arms in a kind of desperation — and, to my wonder, down fell the dog, dead, and run through the body!


At this moment a posse of people rushed in upon old Brisket — one of his daughters had had the sense to summon them — and Dobble’s head was saved. And when they saw the dog lying dead at my feet, my ghastly look, my bloody sword, they gave me no small credit for my bravery. “A terrible fellow that Stubbs,” said they; and so the mess said, the next day.

I didn’t tell them that the dog had committed SUICIDE— why should I? And I didn’t say a word about Dobble’s cowardice. I said he was a brave fellow, and fought like a tiger; and this prevented HIM from telling tales. I had the dogskin made into a pair of pistol-holsters, and looked so fierce, and got such a name for courage in our regiment, that when we had to meet the regulars, Bob Stubbs was always the man put forward to support the honor of the corps. The women, you know, adore courage; and such was my reputation at this time, that I might have had my pick out of half a dozen, with three, four, or five thousand pounds apiece, who were dying for love of me and my red coat. But I wasn’t such a fool. I had been twice on the point of marriage, and twice disappointed; and I vowed by all the Saints to have a wife, and a rich one. Depend upon this, as an infallible maxim to guide you through life: IT’S AS EASY TO GET A RICH WIFE AS A POOR ONE; — the same bait that will hook a fly will hook a salmon.

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