Catherine: A Story by William Makepeace Thackeray - HTML preview
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Chapter 7Which Embraces A Period Of Seven Years
The recovery of so considerable a portion of his property from the clutches of Brock was, as may be imagined, no trifling source of joy to that excellent young man, Count Gustavus Adolphus de Galgenstein; and he was often known to say, with much archness, and a proper feeling of gratitude to the Fate which had ordained things so, that the robbery was, in reality, one of the best things that could have happened to him: for, in event of Mr. Brock's NOT stealing the money, his Excellency the Count would have had to pay the whole to the Warwickshire Squire, who had won it from him at play. He was enabled, in the present instance, to plead his notorious poverty as an excuse; and the Warwickshire conqueror got off with nothing, except a very badly written autograph of the Count's, simply acknowledging the debt.
This point his Excellency conceded with the greatest candour; but (as, doubtless, the reader may have remarked in the course of his experience) to owe is not quite the same thing as to pay; and from the day of his winning the money until the day of his death the Warwickshire Squire did never, by any chance, touch a single bob, tizzy, tester, moidore, maravedi, doubloon, tomaun, or rupee, of the sum which Monsieur de Galgenstein had lost to him.
That young nobleman was, as Mr. Brock hinted in the little autobiographical sketch which we gave in a former chapter, incarcerated for a certain period, and for certain other debts, in the donjons of Shrewsbury; but he released himself from them by that noble and consolatory method of whitewashing which the law has provided for gentlemen in his oppressed condition; and he had not been a week in London, when he fell in with, and overcame, or put to flight, Captain Wood, alias Brock, and immediately seized upon the remainder of his property. After receiving this, the Count, with commendable discretion, disappeared from England altogether for a while; nor are we at all authorised to state that any of his debts to his tradesmen were discharged, any more than his debts of honour, as they are pleasantly called.
Having thus settled with his creditors, the gallant Count had interest enough with some of the great folk to procure for himself a post abroad, and was absent in Holland for some time. It was here that he became acquainted with the lovely Madam Silverkoop, the widow of a deceased gentleman of Leyden; and although the lady was not at that age at which tender passions are usually inspired--being sixty--and though she could not, like Mademoiselle Ninon de l'Enclos, then at Paris, boast of charms which defied the progress of time,--for Mrs. Silverkoop was as red as a boiled lobster, and as unwieldy as a porpoise; and although her mental attractions did by no means make up for her personal deficiencies,--for she was jealous, violent, vulgar, drunken, and stingy to a miracle: yet her charms had an immediate effect on Monsieur de Galgenstein; and hence, perhaps, the reader (the rogue! how well he knows the world!) will be led to conclude that the honest widow was RICH.
Such, indeed, she was; and Count Gustavus, despising the difference between his twenty quarterings and her twenty thousand pounds, laid the most desperate siege to her, and finished by causing her to capitulate; as I do believe, after a reasonable degree of pressing, any woman will do to any man: such, at least, has been MY experience in the matter.
The Count then married; and it was curious to see how he--who, as we have seen in the case of Mrs. Cat, had been as great a tiger and domestic bully as any extant--now, by degrees, fell into a quiet submission towards his enormous Countess; who ordered him up and down as a lady orders her footman, who permitted him speedily not to have a will of his own, and who did not allow him a shilling of her money without receiving for the same an accurate account.
How was it that he, the abject slave of Madam Silverkoop, had been victorious over Mrs. Cat? The first blow is, I believe, the decisive one in these cases, and the Countess had stricken it a week after their marriage;--establishing a supremacy which the Count never afterwards attempted to question.
We have alluded to his Excellency's marriage, as in duty bound, because it will be necessary to account for his appearance hereafter in a more splendid fashion than that under which he has hitherto been known to us; and just comforting the reader by the knowledge that the union, though prosperous in a worldly point of view, was, in reality, extremely unhappy, we must say no more from this time forth of the fat and legitimate Madam de Galgenstein. Our darling is Mrs. Catherine, who had formerly acted in her stead; and only in so much as the fat Countess did influence in any way the destinies of our heroine, or those wise and virtuous persons who have appeared and are to follow her to her end, shall we in any degree allow her name to figure here. It is an awful thing to get a glimpse, as one sometimes does, when the time is past, of some little little wheel which works the whole mighty machinery of FATE, and see how our destinies turn on a minute's delay or advance, or on the turning of a street, or on somebody else's turning of a street, or on somebody else's doing of something else in Downing Street or in Timbuctoo, now or a thousand years ago. Thus, for instance, if Miss Poots, in the year 1695, had never been the lovely inmate of a Spielhaus at Amsterdam, Mr. Van Silverkoop would never have seen her; if the day had not been extraordinarily hot, the worthy merchant would never have gone thither; if he had not been fond of Rhenish wine and sugar, he never would have called for any such delicacies; if he had not called for them, Miss Ottilia Poots would never have brought them, and partaken of them; if he had not been rich, she would certainly have rejected all the advances made to her by Silverkoop; if he had not been so fond of Rhenish and sugar, he never would have died; and Mrs. Silverkoop would have been neither rich nor a widow, nor a wife to Count von Galgenstein. Nay, nor would this history have ever been written; for if Count Galgenstein had not married the rich widow, Mrs. Catherine would never have-- Oh, my dear madam! you thought we were going to tell you. Pooh! nonsense!--no such thing! not for two or three and seventy pages or so,--when, perhaps, you MAY know what Mrs. Catherine never would have done.
The reader will remember, in the second chapter of these Memoirs, the announcement that Mrs. Catherine had given to the world a child, who might bear, if he chose, the arms of Galgenstein, with the further adornment of a bar-sinister. This child had been put out to nurse some time before its mother's elopement from the Count; and as that nobleman was in funds at the time (having had that success at play which we duly chronicled), he paid a sum of no less than twenty guineas, which was to be the yearly reward of the nurse into whose charge the boy was put. The woman grew fond of the brat; and when, after the first year, she had no further news or remittances from father or mother, she determined, for a while at least, to maintain the infant at her own expense; for, when rebuked by her neighbours on this score, she stoutly swore that no parents could ever desert their children, and that some day or other she should not fail to be rewarded for her trouble with this one.
Under this strange mental hallucination poor Goody Billings, who had five children and a husband of her own, continued to give food and shelter to little Tom for a period of no less than seven years; and though it must be acknowledged that the young gentleman did not in the slightest degree merit the kindnesses shown to him, Goody Billings, who was of a very soft and pitiful disposition, continued to bestow them upon him: because, she said, he was lonely and unprotected, and deserved them more than other children who had fathers and mothers to look after them. If, then, any difference was made between Tom's treatment and that of her own brood, it was considerably in favour of the former; to whom the largest proportions of treacle were allotted for his bread, and the handsomest supplies of hasty pudding. Besides, to do Mrs. Billings justice, there WAS a party against him; and that consisted not only of her husband and her five children, but of every single person in the neighbourhood who had an opportunity of seeing and becoming acquainted with Master Tom.
A celebrated philosopher--I think Miss Edgeworth--has broached the consolatory doctrine, that in intellect and disposition all human beings are entirely equal, and that circumstance and education are the causes of the distinctions and divisions which afterwards unhappily take place among them. Not to argue this question, which places Jack Howard and Jack Thurtell on an exact level,--which would have us to believe that Lord Melbourne is by natural gifts and excellences a man as honest, brave, and farsighted as the Duke of Wellington,--which would make out that Lord Lyndhurst is, in point of principle, eloquence, and political honesty, no better than Mr. O'Connell,--not, I say, arguing this doctrine, let us simply state that Master Thomas Billings (for, having no other, he took the name of the worthy people who adopted him) was in his long-coats fearfully passionate, screaming and roaring perpetually, and showing all the ill that he COULD show. At the age of two, when his strength enabled him to toddle abroad, his favourite resort was the coal-hole or the dung-heap: his roarings had not diminished in the least, and he had added to his former virtues two new ones,--a love of fighting and stealing; both which amiable qualities he had many opportunities of exercising every day. He fought his little adoptive brothers and sisters; he kicked and cuffed his father and mother; he fought the cat, stamped upon the kittens, was worsted in a severe battle with the hen in the backyard; but, in revenge, nearly beat a little sucking-pig to death, whom he caught alone and rambling near his favourite haunt, the dung-hill. As for stealing, he stole the eggs, which he perforated and emptied; the butter, which he ate with or without bread, as he could find it; the sugar, which he cunningly secreted in the leaves of a "Baker's Chronicle," that nobody in the establishment could read; and thus from the pages of history he used to suck in all he knew--thieving and lying namely; in which, for his years, he made wonderful progress. If any followers of Miss Edgeworth and the philosophers are inclined to disbelieve this statement, or to set it down as overcharged and distorted, let them be assured that just this very picture was, of all the pictures in the world, taken from nature. I, Ikey Solomons, once had a dear little brother who could steal before he could walk (and this not from encouragement,--for, if you know the world, you must know that in families of our profession the point of honour is sacred at home,--but from pure nature)--who could steal, I say, before he could walk, and lie before he could speak; and who, at four and a half years of age, having attacked my sister Rebecca on some question of lollipops, had smitten her on the elbow with a fire-shovel, apologising to us by saying simply, "---- her, I wish it had been her head!" Dear, dear Aminadab! I think of you, and laugh these philosophers to scorn. Nature made you for that career which you fulfilled: you were from your birth to your dying a scoundrel; you COULDN'T have been anything else, however your lot was cast; and blessed it was that you were born among the prigs,- -for had you been of any other profession, alas! alas! what ills might you have done! As I have heard the author of "Richelieu," "Siamese Twins," etc. say "Poeta nascitur non fit," which means that though he had tried ever so much to be a poet, it was all moonshine: in the like manner, I say, "ROAGUS nascitur, non fit." We have it from nature, and so a fig for Miss Edgeworth.
In this manner, then, while his father, blessed with a wealthy wife, was leading, in a fine house, the life of a galley-slave; while his mother, married to Mr. Hayes, and made an honest women of, as the saying is, was passing her time respectably in Warwickshire, Mr. Thomas Billings was inhabiting the same county, not cared for by either of them; but ordained by Fate to join them one day, and have a mighty influence upon the fortunes of both. For, as it has often happened to the traveller in the York or the Exeter coach to fall snugly asleep in his corner, and on awaking suddenly to find himself sixty or seventy miles from the place where Somnus first visited him: as, we say, although you sit still, Time, poor wretch, keeps perpetually running on, and so must run day and night, with never a pause or a halt of five minutes to get a drink, until his dying day; let the reader imagine that since he left Mrs. Hayes and all the other worthy personages of this history, in the last chapter, seven years have sped away; during which, all our heroes and heroines have been accomplishing their destinies.
Seven years of country carpentering, or rather trading, on the part of a husband, of ceaseless scolding, violence, and discontent on the part of a wife, are not pleasant to describe: so we shall omit altogether any account of the early married life of Mr. and Mrs. John Hayes. The "Newgate Calendar" (to which excellent compilation we and the OTHER popular novelists of the day can never be sufficiently grateful) states that Hayes left his house three or four times during this period, and, urged by the restless humours of his wife, tried several professions: returning, however, as he grew weary of each, to his wife and his paternal home. After a certain time his parents died, and by their demise he succeeded to a small property, and the carpentering business, which he for some time followed.
What, then, in the meanwhile, had become of Captain Wood, or Brock, and Ensign Macshane?--the only persons now to be accounted for in our catalogue. For about six months after their capture and release of Mr. Hayes, those noble gentlemen had followed, with much prudence and success, that trade which the celebrated and polite Duval, the ingenious Sheppard, the dauntless Turpin, and indeed many other heroes of our most popular novels, had pursued,--or were pursuing, in their time. And so considerable were said to be Captain Wood's gains, that reports were abroad of his having somewhere a buried treasure; to which he might have added more, had not Fate suddenly cut short his career as a prig. He and the Ensign were--shame to say-transported for stealing three pewter-pots off a railing at Exeter; and not being known in the town, which they had only reached that morning, they were detained by no further charges, but simply condemned on this one. For this misdemeanour, Her Majesty's Government vindictively sent them for seven years beyond the sea; and, as the fashion then was, sold the use of their bodies to Virginian planters during that space of time. It is thus, alas! that the strong are always used to deal with the weak, and many an honest fellow has been led to rue his unfortunate difference with the law.
Thus, then, we have settled all scores. The Count is in Holland with his wife; Mrs. Cat in Warwickshire along with her excellent husband; Master Thomas Billings with his adoptive parents in the same county; and the two military gentlemen watching the progress and cultivation of the tobacco and cotton plant in the New World. All these things having passed between the acts, dingaring-a-dingaring-a-dingledingleding, the drop draws up, and the next act begins. By the way, the play ENDS with a drop: but that is neither here nor there.* * *
(Here, as in a theatre, the orchestra is supposed to play something melodious. The people get up, shake themselves, yawn, and settle down in their seats again. "Porter, ale, ginger-beer, cider," comes round, squeezing through the legs of the gentlemen in the pit. Nobody takes anything, as usual; and lo! the curtain rises again. "Sh, 'shsh, 'shshshhh! Hats off!" says everybody.)* * *
Mrs. Hayes had now been for six years the adored wife of Mr. Hayes, and no offspring had arisen to bless their loves and perpetuate their name. She had obtained a complete mastery over her lord and master; and having had, as far as was in that gentleman's power, every single wish gratified that she could demand, in the way of dress, treats to Coventry and Birmingham, drink, and what not--for, though a hard man, John Hayes had learned to spend his money pretty freely on himself and her--having had all her wishes gratified, it was natural that she should begin to find out some more; and the next whim she hit upon was to be restored to her child. It may be as well to state that she had never informed her husband of the existence of that phenomenon, although he was aware of his wife's former connection with the Count,--Mrs. Hayes, in their matrimonial quarrels, invariably taunting him with accounts of her former splendour and happiness, and with his own meanness of taste in condescending to take up with his Excellency's leavings.
She determined, then (but as yet had not confided her determination to her husband), she would have her boy; although in her seven years' residence within twenty miles of him she had never once thought of seeing him: and the kind reader knows that when his excellent lady determines on a thing--a shawl, or an opera-box, or a new carriage, or twenty-four singing-lessons from Tamburini, or a night at the "Eagle Tavern," City Road, or a ride in a 'bus to Richmond and tea and brandy-and-water at "Rose Cottage Hotel"-the reader, high or low, knows that when Mrs. Reader desires a thing have it she will; you may just as well talk of avoiding her as of avoiding gout, bills, or grey hairs--and that, you know, is impossible. I, for my part, have had all three--ay, and a wife too.
I say that when a woman is resolved on a thing, happen it will; if husbands refuse, Fate will interfere (flectere si nequeo, etc.; but quotations are odious). And some hidden power was working in the case of Mrs. Hayes, and, for its own awful purposes, lending her its aid.
Who has not felt how he works--the dreadful conquering Spirit of Ill? Who cannot see, in the circle of his own society, the fated and foredoomed to woe and evil? Some call the doctrine of destiny a dark creed; but, for me, I would fain try and think it a consolatory one. It is better, with all one's sins upon one's head, to deem oneself in the hands of Fate, than to think--with our fierce passions and weak repentances; with our resolves so loud, so vain, so ludicrously, despicably weak and frail; with our dim, wavering, wretched conceits about virtue, and our irresistible propensity to wrong,--that we are the workers of our future sorrow or happiness. If we depend on our strength, what is it against mighty circumstance? If we look to ourselves, what hope have we? Look back at the whole of your life, and see how Fate has mastered you and it. Think of your disappointments and your successes. Has YOUR striving influenced one or the other? A fit of indigestion puts itself between you and honours and reputation; an apple plops on your nose and makes you a world's wonder and glory; a fit of poverty makes a rascal of you, who were, and are still, an honest man; clubs, trumps, or six lucky mains at dice, make an honest man for life of you, who ever were, will be, and are a rascal. Who sends the illness? who causes the apple to fall? who deprives you of your worldly goods? or who shuffles the cards, and brings trumps, honour, virtue, and prosperity back again? You call it chance; ay, and so it is chance that when the floor gives way, and the rope stretches tight, the poor wretch before St. Sepulchre's clock dies. Only with us, clear-sighted mortals as we are, we can't SEE the rope by which we hang, and know not when or how the drop may fall.
But revenons a nos moutons: let us return to that sweet lamb Master Thomas, and the milk-white ewe Mrs. Cat. Seven years had passed away, and she began to think that she should very much like to see her child once more. It was written that she should; and you shall hear how, soon after, without any great exertions of hers, back he came to her.
In the month of July, in the year 1715, there came down a road about ten miles from the city of Worcester, two gentlemen; not mounted, Templar-like, upon one horse, but having a horse between them--a sorry bay, with a sorry saddle, and a large pack behind it; on which each by turn took a ride. Of the two, one was a man of excessive stature, with red hair, a very prominent nose, and a faded military dress; while the other, an old weather-beaten, sober-looking personage, wore the costume of a civilian--both man and dress appearing to have reached the autumnal, or seedy state. However, the pair seemed, in spite of their apparent poverty, to be passably merry. The old gentleman rode the horse; and had, in the course of their journey, ridden him two miles at least in every three. The tall one walked with immense strides by his side; and seemed, indeed, as if he could have quickly outstripped the four-footed animal, had he chosen to exert his speed, or had not affection for his comrade retained him at his stirrup.
A short time previously the horse had cast a shoe; and this the tall man on foot had gathered up, and was holding in his hand: it having been voted that the first blacksmith to whose shop they should come should be called upon to fit it again upon the bay horse.
"Do you remimber this counthry, Meejor?" said the tall man, who was looking about him very much pleased, and sucking a flower. "I think thim green cornfields is prettier looking at than the d----- tobacky out yondther, and bad lack to it!"
"I recollect the place right well, and some queer pranks we played here seven years agone," responded the gentleman addressed as Major. "You remember that man and his wife, whom we took in pawn at the 'Three Rooks'?""And the landlady only hung last Michaelmas?" said the tall man, parenthetically.
"Hang the landlady!--we've got all we ever would out of HER, you know. But about the man and woman. You went after the chap's mother, and, like a jackass, as you are, let him loose. Well, the woman was that Catherine that you've often heard me talk about. I like the wench, ---- her, for I almost brought her up; and she was for a year or two along with that scoundrel Galgenstein, who has been the cause of my ruin.""The inferrnal blackguard and ruffian!" said the tall man; who, with his companion, has no doubt been recognised by the reader.
"Well, this Catherine had a child by Galgenstein; and somewhere here hard by the woman lived to whom we carried the brat to nurse. She was the wife of a blacksmith, one Billings: it won't be out of the way to get our horse shod at his house, if he is alive still, and we may learn something about the little beast. I should be glad to see the mother well enough."
"Do I remimber her?" said the Ensign. "Do I remimber whisky? Sure I do, and the snivelling sneak her husband, and the stout old lady her mother-in-law, and the dirty one-eyed ruffian who sold me the parson's hat that had so nearly brought me into trouble. Oh but it was a rare rise we got out of them chaps, and the old landlady that's hanged too!" And here both Ensign Macshane and Major Brock, or Wood, grinned, and showed much satisfaction.
It will be necessary to explain the reason of it. We gave the British public to understand that the landlady of the "Three Rooks," at Worcester, was a notorious fence, or banker of thieves; that is, a purchaser of their merchandise. In her hands Mr. Brock and his companion had left property to the amount of sixty or seventy pounds, which was secreted in a cunning recess in a chamber of the "Three Rooks" known only to the landlady and the gentlemen who banked with her; and in this place, Mr. Sicklop, the one-eyed man who had joined in the Hayes adventure, his comrade, and one or two of the topping prigs of the county, were free. Mr. Sicklop had been shot dead in a night attack near Bath: the landlady had been suddenly hanged, as an accomplice in another case of robbery; and when, on their return from Virginia, our two heroes, whose hopes of livelihood depended upon it, had bent their steps towards Worcester, they were not a little frightened to hear of the cruel fate of the hostess and many of the amiable frequenters of the "Three Rooks." All the goodly company were separated; the house was no longer an inn. Was the money gone too? At least it was worth while to look-- which Messrs. Brock and Macshane determined to do.
The house being now a private one, Mr. Brock, with a genius that was above his station, visited its owner, with a huge portfolio under his arm, and, in the character of a painter, requested permission to take a particular sketch from a particular window. The Ensign followed with the artist's materials (consisting simply of a screwdriver and a crowbar); and it is hardly necessary to say that, when admission was granted to them, they opened the well-known door, and to their inexpressible satisfaction discovered, not their own peculiar savings exactly, for these had been appropriated instantly, on hearing of their transportation, but stores of money and goods to the amount of near three hundred pounds: to which Mr. Macshane said they had as just and honourable a right as anybody else. And so they had as just a right as anybody--except the original owners: but who was to discover them?
With this booty they set out on their journey--anywhere, for they knew not whither; and it so chanced that when their horse's shoe came off, they were within a few furlongs of the cottage of Mr. Billings, the blacksmith. As they came near, they were saluted by tremendous roars issuing from the smithy. A small boy was held across the bellows, two or three children of smaller and larger growth were holding him down, and many others of the village were gazing in at the window, while a man, half-naked, was lashing the little boy with a whip, and occasioning the cries heard by the travellers. As the horse drew up, the operator looked at the new- comers for a moment, and then proceeded incontinently with his work; belabouring the child more fiercely than ever.
When he had done, he turned round to the new-comers and asked how he could serve them? whereupon Mr. Wood (for such was the name he adopted, and by such we shall call him to the end) wittily remarked that however he might wish to serve THEM, he seemed mightily inclined to serve that young gentleman first.
"It's no joking matter," said the blacksmith: "if I don't serve him so now, he'll be worse off in his old age. He'll come to the gallows, as sure as his name is Bill---never mind what his name is." And so saying, he gave the urchin another cut; which elicited, of course, another scream."Oh! his name is Bill?" said Captain Wood.
"His name's NOT Bill!" said the blacksmith, sulkily. "He's no name; and no heart, neither. My wife took the brat in, seven years ago, from a beggarly French chap to nurse, and she kept him, for she was a good soul" (here his eyes began to wink), "and she's--she's gone now" (here he began fairly to blubber). "And d--- him, out of love for her, I kept him too, and the scoundrel is a liar and a thief. This blessed day, merely to vex me and my boys here, he spoke ill of her, he did, and I'll--cut--his--life--out--I--will!" and with each word honest Mulciber applied a whack on the body of little Tom Billings; who, by shrill shrieks, and oaths in treble, acknowledged the receipt of the blows."Come, come," said Mr. Wood, "set the boy down, and the bellows a-going; my horse wants shoeing, and the poor lad has had strapping enough."
The blacksmith obeyed, and cast poor Master Thomas loose. As he staggered away and looked back at his tormentor, his countenance assumed an expression which made Mr. Wood say, grasping hold of Macshane's arm, "It's the boy, it's the boy! When his mother gave Galgenstein the laudanum, she had the self-same look with her!""Had she really now?" said Mr. Macshane. "And pree, Meejor, who WAS his mother?" "Mrs. Cat, you fool!" answered Wood. "Then, upon my secred word of honour, she has a mighty fine KITTEN anyhow, my dear. Aha!"
"They don't DROWN such kittens," said Mr. Wood, archly; and Macshane, taking the allusion, clapped his finger to his nose in token of perfect approbation of his commander's sentiment.
While the blacksmith was shoeing the horse, Mr. Wood asked him many questions concerning the lad whom he had just been chastising, and succeeded, beyond a doubt, in establishing his identity with the child whom Catherine Hall had brought into the world seven years since. Billings told him of all the virtues of his wife, and the manifold crimes of the lad: how he stole, and fought, and lied, and swore; and though the youngest under his roof, exercised the most baneful influence over all the rest of his family. He was determined at last, he said, to put him to the parish, for he did not dare to keep him."He's a fine whelp, and would fetch ten pieces in Virginny," sighed the Ensign. "Crimp, of Bristol, would give five for him," said Mr. Wood, ruminating. "Why not take him?" said the Ensign.
"Faith, why not?" said Mr. Wood. "His keep, meanwhile, will not be sixpence a day." Then turning round to the blacksmith, "Mr. Billings," said he, "you will be surprised, perhaps, to hear that I know everything regarding that poor lad's history. His mother was an unfortunate lady of high family, now no more; his father a German nobleman, Count de Galgenstein by name.""The very man!" said Billings: "a young, fair-haired man, who came here with the child, and a dragoon sergeant." "Count de Galgenstein by name, who, on the point of death, recommended the infant to me." "And did he pay you seven years' boarding?" said Mr. Billings, who was quite alive at the very idea. "Alas, sir, not a jot! He died, sir, six hundred pounds in my debt; didn't he, Ensign?" "Six hundred, upon my secred honour! I remember when he got into the house along with the poli--"
"Psha! what matters it?" here broke out Mr. Wood, looking fiercely at the Ensign. "Six hundred pounds he owes me: how was he to pay you? But he told me to take charge of this boy, if I found him; and found him I have, and WILL take charge of him, if you will hand him over."
"Send our Tom!" cried Billings. And when that youth appeared, scowling, and yet trembling, and prepared, as it seemed, for another castigation, his father, to his surprise, asked him if he was willing to go along with those gentlemen, or whether he would be a good lad and stay with him.Mr. Tom replied immediately, "I won't be a good lad, and I'd rather go to ---- than stay with you!" "Will you leave your brothers and sisters?" said Billings, looking very dismal. "Hang my brothers and sisters--I hate 'em; and, besides, I haven't got any!" "But you had a good mother, hadn't you, Tom?" Tom paused for a moment. "Mother's gone," said he, "and you flog me, and I'll go with these men." "Well, then, go thy ways," said Billings, starting up in a passion: "go thy ways for a graceless reprobate; and if this gentleman will take you, he may do so."
After some further parley, the conversation ended, and the next morning Mr. Wood's party consisted of three: a little boy being mounted upon the bay horse, in addition to the Ensign or himself; and the whole company went journeying towards Bristol.* * *
We have said that Mrs. Hayes had, on a sudden, taken a fit of maternal affection, and was bent upon being restored to her child; and that benign destiny which watched over the life of this lucky lady instantly set about gratifying her wish, and, without cost to herself of coach-hire or saddle-horse, sent the young gentleman very quickly to her arms. The village in which the Hayeses dwelt was but a very few miles out of the road from Bristol; whither, on the benevolent mission above, hinted at, our party of worthies were bound: and coming, towards the afternoon, in sight of the house of that very Justice Ballance who had been so nearly the ruin of Ensign Macshane, that officer narrated, for the hundredth time, and with much glee, the circumstances which had then befallen him, and the manner in which Mrs. Hayes the elder had come forward to his rescue.
"Suppose we go and see the old girl?" suggested Mr. Wood. "No harm can come to us now." And his comrade always assenting, they wound their way towards the village, and reached it as the evening came on. In the public-house where they rested, Wood made inquiries concerning the Hayes family; was informed of the death of the old couple, of the establishment of John Hayes and his wife in their place, and of the kind of life that these latter led together. When all these points had been imparted to him, he ruminated much: an expression of sublime triumph and exultation at length lighted up his features. "I think, Tim," said he at last, "that we can make more than five pieces of that boy.""Oh, in coorse!" said Timothy Macshane, Esquire; who always agreed with his "Meejor." "In coorse, you fool! and how? I'll tell you how. This Hayes is well to do in the world, and--"
"And we'll nab him again--ha, ha!" roared out Macshane. "By my secred honour, Meejor, there never was a gineral like you at a strathyjam!"
"Peace, you bellowing donkey, and don't wake the child. The man is well to do, his wife rules him, and they have no children. Now, either she will be very glad to have the boy back again, and pay for the finding of him, or else she has said nothing about him, and will pay us for being silent too: or, at any rate, Hayes himself will be ashamed at finding his wife the mother of a child a year older than his marriage, and will pay for the keeping of the brat away. There's profit, my dear, in any one of the cases, or my name's not Peter Brock."
When the Ensign understood this wondrous argument, he would fain have fallen on his knees and worshipped his friend and guide. They began operations, almost immediately, by an attack on Mrs. Hayes. On hearing, as she did in private interview with the ex-corporal the next morning, that her son was found, she was agitated by both of the passions which Wood attributed to her. She longed to have the boy back, and would give any reasonable sum to see him; but she dreaded exposure, and would pay equally to avoid that. How could she gain the one point and escape the other?
Mrs. Hayes hit upon an expedient which, I am given to understand, is not uncommon nowadays. She suddenly discovered that she had a dear brother, who had been obliged to fly the country in consequence of having joined the Pretender, and had died in France, leaving behind him an only son. This boy her brother had, with his last breath, recommended to her protection, and had confided him to the charge of a brother officer who was now in the country, and would speedily make his appearance; and, to put the story beyond a doubt, Mr. Wood wrote the letter from her brother stating all these particulars, and Ensign Macshane received full instructions how to perform the part of the "brother officer." What consideration Mr. Wood received for his services, we cannot say; only it is well known that Mr. Hayes caused to be committed to gaol a young apprentice in his service, charged with having broken open a cupboard in which Mr. Hayes had forty guineas in gold and silver, and to which none but he and his wife had access.
Having made these arrangements, the Corporal and his little party decamped to a short distance, and Mrs. Catherine was left to prepare her husband for a speedy addition to his family, in the shape of this darling nephew. John Hayes received the news with anything but pleasure. He had never heard of any brother of Catherine's; she had been bred at the workhouse, and nobody ever hinted that she had relatives: but it is easy for a lady of moderate genius to invent circumstances; and with lies, tears, threats, coaxings, oaths, and other blandishments, she compelled him to submit.
Two days afterwards, as Mr. Hayes was working in his shop with his lady seated beside him, the trampling of a horse was heard in his courtyard, and a gentleman, of huge stature, descended from it, and strode into the shop. His figure was wrapped in a large cloak; but Mr. Hayes could not help fancying that he had somewhere seen his face before.
"This, I preshoom," said the gentleman, "is Misther Hayes, that I have come so many miles to see, and this is his amiable lady? I was the most intimate frind, madam, of your laminted brother, who died in King Lewis's service, and whose last touching letthers I despatched to you two days ago. I have with me a further precious token of my dear friend, Captain Hall--it is HERE."
And so saying, the military gentleman, with one arm, removed his cloak, and stretching forward the other into Hayes's face almost, stretched likewise forward a little boy, grinning and sprawling in the air, and prevented only from falling to the ground by the hold which the Ensign kept of the waistband of his little coat and breeches."Isn't he a pretty boy?" said Mrs. Hayes, sidling up to her husband tenderly, and pressing one of Mr. Hayes's hands. * * * About the lad's beauty it is needless to say what the carpenter thought; but that night, and for many many nights after, the lad stayed at Mr. Hayes's.
Chapter 8Enumerates The Accomplishments Of Master Thomas Billings--Introduces Brock As Doctor Wood--And Announces The Execution Of Ensign Macshane
We are obliged, in recording this history, to follow accurately that great authority, the "Calendarium Newgaticum Roagorumque Registerium," of which every lover of literature, in the present day knows the value; and as that remarkable work totally discards all the unities in its narratives, and reckons the life of its heroes only by their actions, and not by periods of time, we must follow in the wake of this mighty ark--a humble cock-boat. When it pauses, we pause; when it runs ten knots an hour, we run with the same celerity; and as, in order to carry the reader from the penultimate chapter of this work unto the last chapter, we were compelled to make him leap over a gap of seven blank years, ten years more must likewise be granted to us before we are at liberty to resume our history.
During that period, Master Thomas Billings had been under the especial care of his mother; and, as may be imagined, he rather increased than diminished the accomplishments for which he had been remarkable while under the roof of his fosterfather. And with this advantage, that while at the blacksmith's, and only three or four years of age, his virtues were necessarily appreciated only in his family circle and among those few acquaintances of his own time of life whom a youth of three can be expected to meet in the alleys or over the gutters of a small country hamlet,--in his mothers residence, his circle extended with his own growth, and he began to give proofs of those powers of which in infancy there had been only encouraging indications. Thus it was nowise remarkable that a child of four years should not know his letters, and should have had a great disinclination to learn them; but when a young man of fifteen showed the same creditable ignorance, the same undeviating dislike, it was easy to see that he possessed much resolution and perseverance. When it was remarked, too, that, in case of any difference, he not only beat the usher, but by no means disdained to torment and bully the very smallest boys of the school, it was easy to see that his mind was comprehensive and careful, as well as courageous and grasping. As it was said of the Duke of Wellington, in the Peninsula, that he had a thought for everybody--from Lord Hill to the smallest drummer in the army--in like manner Tom Billings bestowed HIS attention on high and low; but in the shape of blows: he would fight the strongest and kick the smallest, and was always at work with one or the other. At thirteen, when he was removed from the establishment whither he had been sent, he was the cock of the school out of doors, and the very last boy in. He used to let the little boys and newcomers pass him by, and laugh; but he always belaboured them unmercifully afterwards; and then it was, he said, HIS turn to laugh. With such a pugnacious turn, Tom Billings ought to have been made a soldier, and might have died a marshal; but, by an unlucky ordinance of fate, he was made a tailor, and died a--never mind what for the present; suffice it to say, that he was suddenly cut off, at a very early period of his existence, by a disease which has exercised considerable ravages among the British youth.
By consulting the authority above mentioned, we find that Hayes did not confine himself to the profession of a carpenter, or remain long established in the country; but was induced, by the eager spirit of Mrs. Catherine most probably, to try his fortune in the metropolis; where he lived, flourished, and died. Oxford Road, Saint Giles's, and Tottenham Court were, at various periods of his residence in town, inhabited by him. At one place he carried on the business of greengrocer and small-coalman; in another, he was carpenter, undertaker, and lender of money to the poor; finally, he was a lodginghouse keeper in the Oxford or Tyburn Road; but continued to exercise the last-named charitable profession.
Lending as he did upon pledges, and carrying on a pretty large trade, it was not for him, of course, to inquire into the pedigree of all the pieces of plate, the bales of cloth, swords, watches, wigs, shoe-buckles, etc. that were confided by his friends to his keeping; but it is clear that his friends had the requisite confidence in him, and that he enjoyed the esteem of a class of characters who still live in history, and are admired unto this very day. The mind loves to think that, perhaps, in Mr. Hayes's back parlour the gallant Turpin might have hob-and-nobbed with Mrs. Catherine; that here, perhaps, the noble Sheppard might have cracked his joke, or quaffed his pint of rum. Who knows but that Macheath and Paul Clifford may have crossed legs under Hayes's dinner-table? But why pause to speculate on things that might have been? why desert reality for fond imagination, or call up from their honoured graves the sacred dead? I know not: and yet, in sooth, I can never pass Cumberland Gate without a sigh, as I think of the gallant cavaliers who traversed that road in old time. Pious priests accompanied their triumphs; their chariots were surrounded by hosts of glittering javelin-men. As the slave at the car of the Roman conqueror shouted, "Remember thou art mortal!", before the eyes of the British warrior rode the undertaker and his coffin, telling him that he too must die! Mark well the spot! A hundred years ago Albion Street (where comic Power dwelt, Milesia's darling son)- -Albion Street was a desert. The square of Connaught was without its penultimate, and, strictly speaking, NAUGHT. The Edgware Road was then a road, 'tis true; with tinkling waggons passing now and then, and fragrant walls of snowy hawthorn blossoms. The ploughman whistled over Nutford Place; down the green solitudes of Sovereign Street the merry milkmaid led the lowing kine. Here, then, in the midst of green fields and sweet air--before ever omnibuses were, and when Pineapple Turnpike and Terrace were alike unknown--here stood Tyburn: and on the road towards it, perhaps to enjoy the prospect, stood, in the year 1725, the habitation of Mr. John Hayes.
One fine morning in the year 1725, Mrs. Hayes, who had been abroad in her best hat and riding-hood; Mr. Hayes, who for a wonder had accompanied her; and Mrs. Springatt, a lodger, who for a remuneration had the honour of sharing Mrs. Hayes's friendship and table: all returned, smiling and rosy, at about half-past ten o'clock, from a walk which they had taken to Bayswater. Many thousands of people were likewise seen flocking down the Oxford Road; and you would rather have thought, from the smartness of their appearance and the pleasure depicted in their countenances, that they were just issuing from a sermon, than quitting the ceremony which they had been to attend. The fact is, that they had just been to see a gentleman hanged,--a cheap pleasure, which the Hayes family never denied themselves; and they returned home with a good appetite to breakfast, braced by the walk, and tickled into hunger, as it were, by the spectacle. I can recollect, when I was a gyp at Cambridge, that the "men" used to have breakfast-parties for the very same purpose; and the exhibition of the morning acted infallibly upon the stomach, and caused the young students to eat with much voracity.
Well, Mrs. Catherine, a handsome, well-dressed, plump, rosy woman of three or four and thirty (and when, my dear, is a woman handsomer than at that age?), came in quite merrily from her walk, and entered the back-parlour, which looked into a pleasant yard, or garden, whereon the sun was shining very gaily; and where, at a table covered with a nice white cloth, laid out with some silver mugs, too, and knives, all with different crests and patterns, sat an old gentleman reading in an old book.
"Here we are at last, Doctor," said Mrs. Hayes, "and here's his speech." She produced the little halfpenny tract, which to this day is sold at the gallows-foot upon the death of every offender. "I've seen a many men turned off, to be sure; but I never did see one who bore it more like a man than he did.""My dear," said the gentleman addressed as Doctor, "he was as cool and as brave as steel, and no more minded hanging than tooth-drawing." "It was the drink that ruined him," said Mrs. Cat.
"Drink, and bad company. I warned him, my dear,--I warned him years ago: and directly he got into Wild's gang, I knew that he had not a year to run. Ah, why, my love, will men continue such dangerous courses," continued the Doctor, with a sigh, "and jeopardy their lives for a miserable watch or a snuff-box, of which Mr. Wild takes three-fourths of the produce? But here comes the breakfast; and, egad, I am as hungry as a lad of twenty."
Indeed, at this moment Mrs. Hayes's servant appeared with a smoking dish of bacon and greens; and Mr. Hayes himself ascended from the cellar (of which he kept the key), bearing with him a tolerably large jug of small-beer. To this repast the Doctor, Mrs. Springatt (the other lodger), and Mr. and Mrs. Hayes, proceeded with great alacrity. A fifth cover was laid, but not used; the company remarking that "Tom had very likely found some acquaintances at Tyburn, with whom he might choose to pass the morning."
Tom was Master Thomas Billings, now of the age of sixteen: slim, smart, five feet ten inches in height, handsome, sallow in complexion, black-eyed and black-haired. Mr. Billings was apprentice to a tailor, of tolerable practice, who was to take him into partnership at the end of his term. It was supposed, and with reason, that Tom would not fail to make a fortune in this business; of which the present head was one Beinkleider, a German. Beinkleider was skilful in his trade (after the manner of his nation, which in breeches and metaphysics--in inexpressibles and incomprehensibles-may instruct all Europe), but too fond of his pleasure. Some promissory notes of his had found their way into Hayes's hands, and had given him the means not only of providing Master Billings with a cheap apprenticeship, and a cheap partnership afterwards; but would empower him, in one or two years after the young partner had joined the firm, to eject the old one altogether. So that there was every prospect that, when Mr. Billings was twenty-one years of age, poor Beinkleider would have to act, not as his master, but his journeyman.
Tom was a very precocious youth; was supplied by a doting mother with plenty of pocket-money, and spent it with a number of lively companions of both sexes, at plays, bull-baitings, fairs, jolly parties on the river, and such-like innocent amusements. He could throw a main, too, as well as his elders; had pinked his man, in a row at Madam King's in the Piazza; and was much respected at the Roundhouse.
Mr. Hayes was not very fond of this promising young gentleman; indeed, he had the baseness to bear malice, because, in a quarrel which occurred about two years previously, he, Hayes, being desirous to chastise Mr. Billings, had found himself not only quite incompetent, but actually at the mercy of the boy; who struck him over the head with a joint-stool, felled him to the ground, and swore he would have his life. The Doctor, who was then also a lodger at Mr. Hayes's, interposed, and restored the combatants, not to friendship, but to peace. Hayes never afterwards attempted to lift his hand to the young man, but contented himself with hating him profoundly. In this sentiment Mr. Billings participated cordially; and, quite unlike Mr. Hayes, who never dared to show his dislike, used on every occasion when they met, by actions, looks, words, sneers, and curses, to let his stepfather know the opinion which he had of him. Why did not Hayes discard the boy altogether? Because, if he did so, he was really afraid of his life, and because he trembled before Mrs. Hayes, his lady, as the leaf trembles before the tempest in October. His breath was not his own, but hers; his money, too, had been chiefly of her getting,--for though he was as stingy and mean as mortal man can be, and so likely to save much, he had not the genius for GETTING which Mrs. Hayes possessed. She kept his books (for she had learned to read and write by this time), she made his bargains, and she directed the operations of the poorspirited little capitalist. When bills became due, and debtors pressed for time, then she brought Hayes's own professional merits into play. The man was as deaf and cold as a rock; never did poor tradesmen gain a penny from him; never were the bailiffs delayed one single minute from their prey. The Beinkleider business, for instance, showed pretty well the genius of the two. Hayes was for closing with him at once; but his wife saw the vast profits which might be drawn out of him, and arranged the apprenticeship and the partnership before alluded to. The woman heartily scorned and spit upon her husband, who fawned upon her like a spaniel. She loved good cheer; she did not want for a certain kind of generosity. The only feeling that Hayes had for anyone except himself was for his wife, whom he held in a cowardly awe and attachment: he liked drink, too, which made him chirping and merry, and accepted willingly any treats that his acquaintances might offer him; but he would suffer agonies when his wife brought or ordered from the cellar a bottle of wine.
And now for the Doctor. He was about seventy years of age. He had been much abroad; he was of a sober, cheerful aspect; he dressed handsomely and quietly in a broad hat and cassock; but saw no company except the few friends whom he met at the coffee-house. He had an income of about one hundred pounds, which he promised to leave to young Billings. He was amused with the lad, and fond of his mother, and had boarded with them for some years past. The Doctor, in fact, was our old friend Corporal Brock, the Reverend Doctor Wood now, as he had been Major Wood fifteen years back.
Anyone who has read the former part of this history must have seen that we have spoken throughout with invariable respect of Mr. Brock; and that in every circumstance in which he has appeared, he has acted not only with prudence, but often with genius. The early obstacle to Mr. Brock's success was want of conduct simply. Drink, women, play--how many a brave fellow have they ruined!--had pulled Brock down as often as his merit had carried him up. When a man's passion for play has brought him to be a scoundrel, it at once ceases to be hurtful to him in a worldly point of view; he cheats, and wins. It is only for the idle and luxurious that women retain their fascinations to a very late period; and Brock's passions had been whipped out of him in Virginia; where much ill-health, ill-treatment, hard labour, and hard food, speedily put an end to them. He forgot there even how to drink; rum or wine made this poor declining gentleman so ill that he could indulge in them no longer; and so his three vices were cured.
Had he been ambitious, there is little doubt but that Mr. Brock, on his return from transportation, might have risen in the world; but he was old and a philosopher: he did not care about rising. Living was cheaper in those days, and interest for money higher: when he had amassed about six hundred pounds, he purchased an annuity of seventytwo pounds, and gave out--why should he not?--that he had the capital as well as the interest. After leaving the Hayes family in the country, he found them again in London: he took up his abode with them, and was attached to the mother and the son. Do you suppose that rascals have not affections like other people? hearts, madam--ay, hearts-and family ties which they cherish? As the Doctor lived on with this charming family he began to regret that he had sunk all his money in annuities, and could not, as he repeatedly vowed he would, leave his savings to his adopted children.
He felt an indescribable pleasure ("suave mari magno," etc.) in watching the storms and tempests of the Hayes menage. He used to encourage Mrs. Catherine into anger when, haply, that lady's fits of calm would last too long; he used to warm up the disputes between wife and husband, mother and son, and enjoy them beyond expression: they served him for daily amusement; and he used to laugh until the tears ran down his venerable cheeks at the accounts which young Tom continually brought him of his pranks abroad, among watchmen and constables, at taverns or elsewhere.
When, therefore, as the party were discussing their bacon and cabbage, before which the Reverend Doctor with much gravity said grace, Master Tom entered. Doctor Wood, who had before been rather gloomy, immediately brightened up, and made a place for Billings between himself and Mrs. Catherine.
"How do, old cock?" said that young gentleman familiarly. "How goes it, mother?" And so saying, he seized eagerly upon the jug of beer which Mr. Hayes had drawn, and from which the latter was about to help himself, and poured down his throat exactly one quart.
"Ah!" said Mr. Billings, drawing breath after a draught which he had learned accurately to gauge from the habit of drinking out of pewter measures which held precisely that quantity.--" Ah!" said Mr. Billings, drawing breath, and wiping his mouth with his sleeves, "this is very thin stuff, old Squaretoes; but my coppers have been red-hot since last night, and they wanted a sluicing.""Should you like some ale, dear?" said Mrs. Hayes, that fond and judicious parent. "A quart of brandy, Tom?" said Doctor Wood. "Your papa will run down to the cellar for it in a minute." "I'll see him hanged first!" cried Mr. Hayes, quite frightened. "Oh, fie, now, you unnatural father!" said the Doctor. The very name of father used to put Mr. Hayes in a fury. "I'm not his father, thank Heaven!" said he. "No, nor nobody else's," said Tom. Mr. Hayes only muttered "Base-born brat!"
"His father was a gentleman,--that's more than you ever were!" screamed Mrs. Hayes. "His father was a man of spirit; no cowardly sneak of a carpenter, Mr Hayes! Tom has noble blood in his veins, for all he has a tailor's appearance; and if his mother had had her right, she would be now in a coach-and-six."
"I wish I could find my father," said Tom; "for I think Polly Briggs and I would look mighty well in a coach-and-six." Tom fancied that if his father was a count at the time of his birth, he must be a prince now; and, indeed, went among his companions by the latter august title."Ay, Tom, that you would," cried his mother, looking at him fondly. "With a sword by my side, and a hat and feather there's never a lord at St. James's would cut a finer figure."
After a little more of this talk, in which Mrs. Hayes let the company know her high opinion of her son--who, as usual, took care to show his extreme contempt for his stepfather--the latter retired to his occupations; the lodger, Mrs. Springatt, who had never said a word all this time, retired to her apartment on the second floor; and, pulling out their pipes and tobacco, the old gentleman and the young one solaced themselves with half-an-hour's more talk and smoking; while the thrifty Mrs. Hayes, opposite to them, was busy with her books."What's in the confessions?" said Mr. Billings to Doctor Wood. "There were six of 'em besides Mac: two for sheep, four housebreakers; but nothing of consequence, I fancy." "There's the paper," said Wood, archly. "Read for yourself, Tom."
Mr. Tom looked at the same time very fierce and very foolish; for, though he could drink, swear, and fight as well as any lad of his inches in England, reading was not among his accomplishments. "I tell you what, Doctor," said he, "---- you! have no bantering with me,--for I'm not the man that will bear it,-- me!" and he threw a tremendous swaggering look across the table.
"I want you to learn to read, Tommy dear. Look at your mother there over her books: she keeps them as neat as a scrivener now, and at twenty she could make never a stroke."
"Your godfather speaks for your good, child; and for me, thou knowest that I have promised thee a gold-headed cane and periwig on the first day that thou canst read me a column of the Flying Post.""Hang the periwig!" said Mr. Tom, testily. "Let my godfather read the paper himself, if he has a liking for it."
Whereupon the old gentleman put on his spectacles, and glanced over the sheet of whity-brown paper, which, ornamented with a picture of a gallows at the top, contained the biographies of the seven unlucky individuals who had that morning suffered the penalty of the law. With the six heroes who came first in the list we have nothing to do; but have before us a copy of the paper containing the life of No. 7, and which the Doctor read in an audible voice."CAPTAIN MACSHANE. "The seventh victim to his own crimes was the famous highwayman, Captain Macshane, so well known as the Irish Fire-eater.
"The Captain came to the ground in a fine white lawn shirt and nightcap; and, being a Papist in his religion, was attended by Father O'Flaherty, Popish priest, and chaplain to the Bavarian Envoy.
"Captain Macshane was born of respectable parents, in the town of Clonakilty, in Ireland, being descended from most of the kings in that country. He had the honour of serving their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, and Her Majesty Queen Anne, in Flanders and Spain, and obtained much credit from my Lords Marlborough and Peterborough for his valour."But being placed on half-pay at the end of the war, Ensign Macshane took to evil courses; and, frequenting the bagnios and dice-houses, was speedily brought to ruin.
"Being at this pass, he fell in with the notorious Captain Wood, and they two together committed many atrocious robberies in the inland counties; but these being too hot to hold them, they went into the west, where they were unknown. Here, however, the day of retribution arrived; for, having stolen three pewter-pots from a public-house, they, under false names, were tried at Exeter, and transported for seven years beyond the sea. Thus it is seen that Justice never sleeps; but, sooner or latter, is sure to overtake the criminal.
"On their return from Virginia, a quarrel about booty arose between these two, and Macshane killed Wood in a combat that took place between them near to the town of Bristol; but a waggon coming up, Macshane was obliged to fly without the ill-gotten wealth: so true is it, that wickedness never prospers.
"Two days afterwards, Macshane met the coach of Miss Macraw, a Scotch lady and heiress, going, for lumbago and gout, to the Bath. He at first would have robbed this lady; but such were his arts, that he induced her to marry him; and they lived together for seven years in the town of Eddenboro, in Scotland,--he passing under the name of Colonel Geraldine. The lady dying, and Macshane having expended all her wealth, he was obliged to resume his former evil courses, in order to save himself from starvation; whereupon he robbed a Scotch lord, by name the Lord of Whistlebinkie, of a mull of snuff; for which crime he was condemned to the Tolbooth prison at Eddenboro, in Scotland, and whipped many times in publick.
"These deserved punishments did not at all alter Captain Macshane's disposition; and on the 17th of February last, he stopped the Bavarian Envoy's coach on Blackheath, coming from Dover, and robbed his Excellency and his chaplain; taking from the former his money, watches, star, a fur-cloak, his sword (a very valuable one); and from the latter a Romish missal, out of which he was then reading, and a case-bottle."
"The Bavarian Envoy!" said Tom parenthetically. "My master, Beinkleider, was his Lordship's regimental tailor in Germany, and is now making a Court suit for him. It will be a matter of a hundred pounds to him, I warrant."Doctor Wood resumed his reading. "Hum--hum! A Romish missal, out of which he was reading, and a case-bottle.
"By means of the famous Mr. Wild, this notorious criminal was brought to justice, and the case-bottle and missal have been restored to Father O'Flaherty.
"During his confinement in Newgate, Mr. Macshane could not be brought to express any contrition for his crimes, except that of having killed his commanding officer. For this Wood he pretended an excessive sorrow, and vowed that usquebaugh had been the cause of his death,--indeed, in prison he partook of no other liquor, and drunk a bottle of it on the day before his death.
"He was visited by several of the clergy and gentry in his cell; among others, by the Popish priest whom he had robbed, Father O'FIaherty, before mentioned, who attended him likewise in his last moments (if that idolatrous worship may be called attention), and likewise by the Father's patron, the Bavarian Ambassador, his Excellency Count Maximilian de Galgenstein."As old Wood came to these words, he paused to give them utterance. "What! Max?" screamed Mrs. Hayes, letting her ink-bottle fall over her ledgers. "Why, be hanged if it ben't my father!" said Mr. Billings. "Your father, sure enough, unless there be others of his name, and unless the scoundrel is hanged," said the Doctor--sinking his voice, however, at the end of the sentence. Mr. Billings broke his pipe in an agony of joy. "I think we'll have the coach now, Mother," says he; "and I'm blessed if Polly Briggs shall not look as fine as a duchess."
"Polly Briggs is a low slut, Tom, and not fit for the likes of you, his Excellency's son. Oh, fie! You must be a gentleman now, sirrah; and I doubt whether I shan't take you away from that odious tailor's shop altogether."
To this proposition Mr. Billings objected altogether; for, besides Mrs. Briggs before alluded to, the young gentleman was much attached to his master's daughter, Mrs. Margaret Gretel, or Gretchen Beinkleider.
"No," says he. "There will be time to think of that hereafter, ma'am. If my pa makes a man of me, why, of course, the shop may go to the deuce, for what I care; but we had better wait, look you, for something certain before we give up such a pretty bird in the hand as this.""He speaks like Solomon," said the Doctor.
"I always said he would be a credit to his old mother, didn't I, Brock?" cried Mrs. Cat, embracing her son very affectionately. "A credit to her; ay, I warrant, a real blessing! And dost thou want any money, Tom? for a lord's son must not go about without a few pieces in his pocket. And I tell thee, Tommy, thou must go and see his Lordship; and thou shalt have a piece of brocade for a waistcoat, thou shalt; ay, and the silver-hilted sword I told thee of; but oh, Tommy, Tommy! have a care, and don't be a-drawing of it in naughty company at the gaming-houses, or at the--"
"A drawing of fiddlesticks, Mother! If I go to see my father, I must have a reason for it; and instead of going with a sword in my hand, I shall take something else in it."
"The lad IS a lad of nous," cried Doctor Wood, "although his mother does spoil him so cruelly. Look you, Madam Cat: did you not hear what he said about Beinkleider and the clothes? Tommy will just wait on the Count with his Lordship's breeches. A man may learn a deal of news in the trying on of a pair of breeches."
And so it was agreed that in this manner the son should at first make his appearance before his father. Mrs. Cat gave him the piece of brocade, which, in the course of the day, was fashioned into a smart waistcoat (for Beinkleider's shop was close by, in Cavendish Square). Mrs. Gretel, with many blushes, tied a fine blue riband round his neck; and, in a pair of silk stockings, with gold buckles to his shoes, Master Billings looked a very proper young gentleman.
"And, Tommy," said his mother, blushing and hesitating, "should Max--should his Lordship ask after your--want to know if your mother is alive, you can say she is, and well, and often talks of old times. And, Tommy" (after another pause), "you needn't say anything about Mr. Hayes; only say I'm quite well."
Mrs. Hayes looked at him as he marched down the street, a long long way. Tom was proud and gay in his new costume, and was not unlike his father. As she looked, lo! Oxford Street disappeared, and she saw a green common, and a village, and a little inn. There was a soldier leading a pair of horses about on the green common; and in the inn sat a cavalier, so young, so merry, so beautiful! Oh, what slim white hands he had; and winning words, and tender, gentle blue eyes! Was it not an honour to a country lass that such a noble gentleman should look at her for a moment? Had he not some charm about him that she must needs obey when he whispered in her ear, "Come, follow me!" As she walked towards the lane that morning, how well she remembered each spot as she passed it, and the look it wore for the last time! How the smoke was rising from the pastures, how the fish were jumping and plashing in the mill-stream! There was the church, with all its windows lighted up with gold, and yonder were the reapers sweeping down the brown corn. She tried to sing as she went up the hill--what was it? She could not remember; but oh, how well she remembered the sound of the horse's hoofs, as they came quicker, quicker--nearer, nearer! How noble he looked on his great horse! Was he thinking of her, or were they all silly words which he spoke last night, merely to pass away the time and deceive poor girls with? Would he remember them,--would he?"Cat my dear," here cried Mr. Brock, alias Captain, alias Doctor Wood, "here's the meat a-getting cold, and I am longing for my breakfast."
As they went in he looked her hard in the face. "What, still at it, you silly girl? I've been watching you these five minutes, Cat; and be hanged but I think a word from Galgenstein, and you would follow him as a fly does a treacle-pot!"
They went in to breakfast; but though there was a hot shoulder of mutton and onionsauce--Mrs. Catherine's favourite dish--she never touched a morsel of it.
In the meanwhile Mr. Thomas Billings, in his new clothes which his mamma had given him, in his new riband which the fair Miss Beinkleider had tied round his neck, and having his Excellency's breeches wrapped in a silk handkerchief in his right hand, turned down in the direction of Whitehall, where the Bavarian Envoy lodged. But, before he waited on him, Mr. Billings, being excessively pleased with his personal appearance, made an early visit to Mrs. Briggs, who lived in the neighbourhood of Swallow Street; and who, after expressing herself with much enthusiasm regarding her Tommy's good looks, immediately asked him what he would stand to drink? Raspberry gin being suggested, a pint of that liquor was sent for; and so great was the confidence and intimacy subsisting between these two young people, that the reader will be glad to hear that Mrs. Polly accepted every shilling of the money which Tom Billings had received from his mamma the day before; nay, could with difficulty be prevented from seizing upon the cut-velvet breeches which he was carrying to the nobleman for whom they were made. Having paid his adieux to Mrs. Polly, Mr. Billings departed to visit his father.
Chapter 9Interview Between Count Galgenstein And Master Thomas Billings, When He Informs The Count Of His Parentage
I don't know in all this miserable world a more miserable spectacle than that of a young fellow of five or six and forty. The British army, that nursery of valour, turns out many of the young fellows I mean: who, having flaunted in dragoon uniforms from seventeen to six-and-thirty; having bought, sold, or swapped during that period some two hundred horses; having played, say, fifteen thousand games at billiards; having drunk some six thousand bottles of wine; having consumed a reasonable number of Nugee coats, split many dozen pairs of high-heeled Hoby boots, and read the newspaper and the army-list duly, retire from the service when they have attained their eighth lustre, and saunter through the world, trailing from London to Cheltenham, and from Boulogne to Paris, and from Paris to Baden, their idleness, their ill-health, and their ennui. "In the morning of youth," and when seen along with whole troops of their companions, these flowers look gaudy and brilliant enough; but there is no object more dismal than one of them alone, and in its autumnal, or seedy state. My friend, Captain Popjoy, is one who has arrived at this condition, and whom everybody knows by his title of Father Pop. A kinder, simpler, more empty-headed fellow does not exist. He is forty-seven years old, and appears a young, good-looking man of sixty. At the time of the Army of Occupation he really was as good-looking a man as any in the Dragoons. He now uses all sorts of stratagems to cover the bald place on his head, by combing certain thin grey sidelocks over it. He has, in revenge, a pair of enormous moustaches, which he dyes of the richest blue-black. His nose is a good deal larger and redder than it used to be; his eyelids have grown flat and heavy; and a little pair of red, watery eyeballs float in the midst of them: it seems as if the light which was once in those sickly green pupils had extravasated into the white part of the eye. If Pop's legs are not so firm and muscular as they used to be in those days when he took such leaps into White's buckskins, in revenge his waist is much larger. He wears a very good coat, however, and a waistband, which he lets out after dinner. Before ladies he blushes, and is as silent as a schoolboy. He calls them "modest women." His society is chiefly among young lads belonging to his former profession. He knows the best wine to be had at each tavern or cafe, and the waiters treat him with much respectful familiarity. He knows the names of every one of them; and shouts out, "Send Markwell here!" or, "Tell Cuttriss to give us a bottle of the yellow seal!" or, "Dizzy voo, Monsure Borrel, noo donny shampang frappy," etc. He always makes the salad or the punch, and dines out three hundred days in the year: the other days you see him in a two-franc eating-house at Paris, or prowling about Rupert Street, or St. Martin's Court, where you get a capital cut of meat for eightpence. He has decent lodgings and scrupulously clean linen; his animal functions are still tolerably well preserved, his spiritual have evaporated long since; he sleeps well, has no conscience, believes himself to be a respectable fellow, and is tolerably happy on the days when he is asked out to dinner.
Poor Pop is not very high in the scale of created beings; but, if you fancy there is none lower, you are in egregious error. There was once a man who had a mysterious exhibition of an animal, quite unknown to naturalists, called "the wusser." Those curious individuals who desired to see the wusser were introduced into an apartment where appeared before them nothing more than a little lean shrivelled hideous blear-eyed mangy pig. Everyone cried out "Swindle!" and "Shame!" "Patience, gentlemen, be heasy," said the showman: "look at that there hanimal; it's a perfect phenomaly of hugliness: I engage you never see such a pig." Nobody ever had seen. "Now, gentlemen," said he, "I'll keep my promise, has per bill; and bad as that there pig is, look at this here" (he showed another). "Look at this here, and you'll see at once that it's A WUSSER." In like manner the Popjoy breed is bad enough, but it serves only to show off the Galgenstein race; which is WUSSER.
Galgenstein had led a very gay life, as the saying is, for the last fifteen years; such a gay one, that he had lost all capacity of enjoyment by this time, and only possessed inclinations without powers of gratifying them. He had grown to be exquisitely curious and fastidious about meat and drink, for instance, and all that he wanted was an appetite. He carried about with him a French cook, who could not make him eat; a doctor, who could not make him well; a mistress, of whom he was heartily sick after two days; a priest, who had been a favourite of the exemplary Dubois, and by turns used to tickle him by the imposition of penance, or by the repetition of a tale from the recueil of Noce, or La Fare. All his appetites were wasted and worn; only some monstrosity would galvanise them into momentary action. He was in that effete state to which many noblemen of his time had arrived; who were ready to believe in ghost-raising or in goldmaking, or to retire into monasteries and wear hair-shirts, or to dabble in conspiracies, or to die in love with little cook-maids of fifteen, or to pine for the smiles or at the frowns of a prince of the blood, or to go mad at the refusal of a chamberlain's key. The last gratification he remembered to have enjoyed was that of riding bareheaded in a soaking rain for three hours by the side of his Grand Duke's mistress's coach; taking the pas of Count Krahwinkel, who challenged him, and was run through the body for this very dispute. Galgenstein gained a rheumatic gout by it, which put him to tortures for many months; and was further gratified with the post of English Envoy. He had a fortune, he asked no salary, and could look the envoy very well. Father O'Flaherty did all the duties, and furthermore acted as a spy over the ambassador--a sinecure post, for the man had no feelings, wishes, or opinions--absolutely none.
"Upon my life, father," said this worthy man, "I care for nothing. You have been talking for an hour about the Regent's death, and the Duchess of Phalaris, and sly old Fleury, and what not; and I care just as much as if you told me that one of my bauers at Galgenstein had killed a pig; or as if my lacquey, La Rose yonder, had made love to my mistress."
"He does!" said the reverend gentleman. "Ah, Monsieur l'Abbe!" said La Rose, who was arranging his master's enormous Court periwig, "you are, helas! wrong. Monsieur le Comte will not be angry at my saying that I wish the accusation were true."The Count did not take the slightest notice of La Rose's wit, but continued his own complaints.
"I tell you, Abbe, I care for nothing. I lost a thousand guineas t'other night at basset; I wish to my heart I could have been vexed about it. Egad! I remember the day when to lose a hundred made me half mad for a month. Well, next day I had my revenge at dice, and threw thirteen mains. There was some delay; a call for fresh bones, I think; and would you believe it?--I fell asleep with the box in my hand!""A desperate case, indeed," said the Abbe. "If it had not been for Krahwinkel, I should have been a dead man, that's positive. That pinking him saved me." "I make no doubt of it," said the Abbe. "Had your Excellency not run him through, he, without a doubt, would have done the same for you."
"Psha! you mistake my words, Monsieur l'Abbe" (yawning). "I mean--what cursed chocolate!--that I was dying for want of excitement. Not that I cared for dying; no, d---- me if I do!""WHEN you do, your Excellency means," said the Abbe, a fat grey-haired Irishman, from the Irlandois College at Paris.
His Excellency did not laugh, nor understand jokes of any kind; he was of an undeviating stupidity, and only replied, "Sir, I mean what I say. I don't care for living: no, nor for dying either; but I can speak as well as another, and I'll thank you not to be correcting my phrases as if I were one of your cursed schoolboys, and not a gentleman of fortune and blood."
Herewith the Count, who had uttered four sentences about himself (he never spoke of anything else), sunk back on his pillows again, quite exhausted by his eloquence. The Abbe, who had a seat and a table by the bedside, resumed the labours which had brought him into the room in the morning, and busied himself with papers, which occasionally he handed over to his superior for approval.Presently Monsieur la Rose appeared.
"Here is a person with clothes from Mr. Beinkleider's. Will your Excellency see him, or shall I bid him leave the clothes?"
The Count was very much fatigued by this time; he had signed three papers, and read the first half-a-dozen lines of a pair of them.
"Bid the fellow come in, La Rose; and, hark ye, give me my wig: one must show one's self to be a gentleman before these scoundrels." And he therefore mounted a large chestnut-coloured, orange-scented pyramid of horsehair, which was to awe the newcomer.
He was a lad of about seventeen, in a smart waistcoat and a blue riband: our friend Tom Billings, indeed. He carried under his arm the Count's destined breeches. He did not seem in the least awed, however, by his Excellency's appearance, but looked at him with a great degree of curiosity and boldness. In the same manner he surveyed the chaplain, and then nodded to him with a kind look of recognition."Where have I seen the lad?" said the father. "Oh, I have it! My good friend, you were at the hanging yesterday, I think?" Mr. Billings gave a very significant nod with his head. "I never miss," said he. "What a young Turk! And pray, sir, do you go for pleasure, or for business?" "Business! what do you mean by business?" "Oh, I did not know whether you might be brought up to the trade, or your relations be undergoing the operation."
"My relations," said Mr. Billings, proudly, and staring the Count full in the face, "was not made for no such thing. I'm a tailor now, but I'm a gentleman's son: as good a man, ay, as his lordship there: for YOU a'n't his lordship--you're the Popish priest you are; and we were very near giving you a touch of a few Protestant stones, master."The Count began to be a little amused: he was pleased to see the Abbe look alarmed, or even foolish. "Egad, Abbe," said he, "you turn as white as a sheet."
"I don't fancy being murdered, my Lord," said the Abbe, hastily; "and murdered for a good work. It was but to be useful to yonder poor Irishman, who saved me as a prisoner in Flanders, when Marlborough would have hung me up like poor Macshane himself was yesterday."
"Ah!" said the Count, bursting out with some energy, "I was thinking who the fellow could be, ever since he robbed me on the Heath. I recollect the scoundrel now: he was a second in a duel I had here in the year six."
"Along with Major Wood, behind Montague House," said Mr. Billings. "I'VE heard on it." And here he looked more knowing than ever.
"My mother's name was Hayes," continued Billings, in a solemn voice. "I was put out to a nurse along with John Billings, a blacksmith; and my father run away. NOW do you know who I am?""Why, upon honour, now," said the Count, who was amused,--"upon honour, Mr. Billings, I have not that advantage." "Well, then, my Lord, YOU'RE MY FATHER!"
Mr. Billings when he said this came forward to the Count with a theatrical air; and, flinging down the breeches of which he was the bearer, held out his arms and stared, having very little doubt but that his Lordship would forthwith spring out of bed and hug him to his heart. A similar piece of naivete many fathers of families have, I have no doubt, remarked in their children; who, not caring for their parents a single doit, conceive, nevertheless, that the latter are bound to show all sorts of affection for them. His lordship did move, but backwards towards the wall, and began pulling at the bellrope with an expression of the most intense alarm.
"Keep back, sirrah!--keep back! Suppose I AM your father, do you want to murder me? Good heavens! how the boy smells of gin and tobacco! Don't turn away, my lad; sit down there at a proper distance. And, La Rose, give him some eau-de-Cologne, and get a cup of coffee. Well, now, go on with your story. Egad, my dear Abbe, I think it is very likely that what the lad says is true.""If it is a family conversation," said the Abbe, "I had better leave you."
"Oh, for Heaven's sake, no! I could not stand the boy alone. Now, Mister ah!--What'syour-name? Have the goodness to tell your story."
Mr. Billings was woefully disconcerted; for his mother and he had agreed that as soon as his father saw him he would be recognised at once, and, mayhap, made heir to the estates and title; in which being disappointed, he very sulkily went on with his narrative, and detailed many of those events with which the reader has already been made acquainted. The Count asked the boy's mother's Christian name, and being told it, his memory at once returned to him.
"What! are you little Cat's son?" said his Excellency. "By heavens, mon cher Abbe, a charming creature, but a tigress--positively a tigress. I recollect the whole affair now. She's a little fresh black-haired woman, a'n't she? with a sharp nose and thick eyebrows, ay? Ah yes, yes!" went on my Lord, "I recollect her, I recollect her. It was at Birmingham I first met her: she was my Lady Trippet's woman, wasn't she?""She was no such thing," said Mr. Billings, hotly. "Her aunt kept the 'Bugle Inn' on Waltham Green, and your Lordship seduced her."
"Seduced her! Oh, 'gad, so I did. Stap me, now, I did. Yes, I made her jump on my black horse, and bore her off like--like Aeneas bore his wife away from the siege of Rome! hey, l'Abbe?""The events were precisely similar," said the Abbe. "It is wonderful what a memory you have!"
"I was always remarkable for it," continued his Excellency. "Well, where was I,--at the black horse? Yes, at the black horse. Well, I mounted her on the black horse, and rode her en croupe, egad--ha, ha!--to Birmingham; and there we billed and cooed together like a pair of turtle-doves: yes--ha!--that we did!""And this, I suppose, is the end of some of the BILLINGS?" said the Abbe, pointing to Mr. Tom.
"Billings! what do you mean? Yes--oh--ah--a pun, a calembourg. Fi donc, M. l'Abbe." And then, after the wont of very stupid people, M. de Galgenstein went on to explain to the Abbe his own pun. "Well, but to proceed," cries he. "We lived together at Birmingham, and I was going to be married to a rich heiress, egad! when what do you think this little Cat does? She murders me, egad! and makes me manquer the marriage. Twenty thousand, I think it was; and I wanted the money in those days. Now, wasn't she an abominable monster, that mother of yours, hey, Mr. a--What's-your-name?""She served you right!" said Mr. Billings, with a great oath, starting up out of all patience.
"Fellow!" said his Excellency, quite aghast, "do you know to whom you speak?--to a nobleman of seventy-eight descents; a count of the Holy Roman Empire; a representative of a sovereign? Ha, egad! Don't stamp, fellow, if you hope for my protection."
"D--n your protection!" said Mr. Billings, in a fury. "Curse you and your protection too! I'm a free-born Briton, and no ---- French Papist! And any man who insults my mother-ay, or calls me feller-- had better look to himself and the two eyes in his head, I can tell him!" And with this Mr. Billings put himself into the most approved attitude of the Cockpit, and invited his father, the reverend gentleman, and Monsieur la Rose the valet, to engage with him in a pugilistic encounter. The two latter, the Abbe especially, seemed dreadfully frightened; but the Count now looked on with much interest; and, giving utterance to a feeble kind of chuckle, which lasted for about half a minute, said,--
"Paws off, Pompey! You young hangdog, you--egad, yes, aha! 'pon honour, you're a lad of spirit; some of your father's spunk in you, hey? I know him by that oath. Why, sir, when I was sixteen, I used to swear--to swear, egad, like a Thames waterman, and exactly in this fellow's way! Buss me, my lad; no, kiss my hand. That will do"--and he held out a very lean yellow hand, peering from a pair of yellow ruffles. It shook very much, and the shaking made all the rings upon it shine only the more."Well," says Mr. Billings, "if you wasn't a-going to abuse me nor mother, I don't care if I shake hands with you. I ain't proud!"
The Abbe laughed with great glee; and that very evening sent off to his Court a most ludicrous spicy description of the whole scene of meeting between this amiable father and child; in which he said that young Billings was the eleve favori of M. Kitch, Ecuyer, le bourreau de Londres, and which made the Duke's mistress laugh so much that she vowed that the Abbe should have a bishopric on his return: for, with such store of wisdom, look you, my son, was the world governed in those days.
The Count and his offspring meanwhile conversed with some cordiality. The former informed the latter of all the diseases to which he was subject, his manner of curing them, his great consideration as chamberlain to the Duke of Bavaria; how he wore his Court suits, and of a particular powder which he had invented for the hair; how, when he was seventeen, he had run away with a canoness, egad! who was afterwards locked up in a convent, and grew to be sixteen stone in weight; how he remembered the time when ladies did not wear patches; and how the Duchess of Marlborough boxed his ears when he was so high, because he wanted to kiss her.
All these important anecdotes took some time in the telling, and were accompanied by many profound moral remarks; such as, "I can't abide garlic, nor white-wine, stap me! nor Sauerkraut, though his Highness eats half a bushel per day. I ate it the first time at Court; but when they brought it me a second time, I refused--refused, split me and grill me if I didn't! Everybody stared; his Highness looked as fierce as a Turk; and that infernal Krahwinkel (my dear, I did for him afterwards)--that cursed Krahwinkel, I say, looked as pleased as possible, and whispered to Countess Fritsch, 'Blitzchen, Frau Grafinn,' says he, 'it's all over with Galgenstein.' What did I do? I had the entree, and demanded it. 'Altesse,' says I, falling on one knee, 'I ate no kraut at dinner to-day. You remarked it: I saw your Highness remark it.'
"'I did, M. le Comte,' said his Highness, gravely.
"I had almost tears in my eyes; but it was necessary to come to a resolution, you know. 'Sir,' said I, 'I speak with deep grief to your Highness, who are my benefactor, my friend, my father; but of this I am resolved, I WILL NEVER EAT SAUERKRAUT MORE: it don't agree with me. After being laid up for four weeks by the last dish of Sauerkraut of which I partook, I may say with confidence--IT DON'T agree with me. By impairing my health, it impairs my intellect, and weakens my strength; and both I would keep for your Highness's service.'"'Tut, tut!' said his Highness. 'Tut, tut, tut!' Those were his very words.
"'Give me my sword or my pen,' said I. 'Give me my sword or my pen, and with these Maximilian de Galgenstein is ready to serve you; but sure,--sure, a great prince will pity the weak health of a faithful subject, who does not know how to eat Sauerkraut?' His Highness was walking about the room: I was still on my knees, and stretched forward my hand to seize his coat.
"'GEHT ZUM TEUFEL, Sir!' said he, in a loud voice (it means 'Go to the deuce,' my dear),--'Geht zum Teufel, and eat what you like!' With this he went out of the room abruptly; leaving in my hand one of his buttons, which I keep to this day. As soon as I was alone, amazed by his great goodness and bounty, I sobbed aloud--cried like a child" (the Count's eyes filled and winked at the very recollection), "and when I went back into the card-room, stepping up to Krahwinkel, 'Count,' says I, 'who looks foolish now?'--Hey there, La Rose, give me the diamond-- Yes, that was the very pun I made, and very good it was thought. 'Krahwinkel,' says I, 'WHO LOOKS FOOLISH NOW?' and from that day to this I was never at a Court-day asked to eat Sauerkraut--NEVER!"
"Hey there, La Rose! Bring me that diamond snuff-box in the drawer of my secretaire;" and the snuff-box was brought. "Look at it, my dear," said the Count, "for I saw you seemed to doubt. There is the button--the very one that came off his Grace's coat."
Mr. Billings received it, and twisted it about with a stupid air. The story had quite mystified him; for he did not dare yet to think his father was a fool--his respect for the aristocracy prevented him.
When the Count's communications had ceased, which they did as soon as the story of the Sauerkraut was finished, a silence of some minutes ensued. Mr. Billings was trying to comprehend the circumstances above narrated; his Lordship was exhausted; the chaplain had quitted the room directly the word Sauerkraut was mentioned--he knew what was coming. His Lordship looked for some time at his son; who returned the gaze with his mouth wide open. "Well," said the Count--"well, sir? What are you sitting there for? If you have nothing to say, sir, you had better go. I had you here to amuse me--split me--and not to sit there staring!"
Mr. Billings rose in a fury. "Hark ye, my lad," said the Count, "tell La Rose to give thee five guineas, and, ah--come again some morning. A nice well-grown young lad," mused the Count, as Master Tommy walked wondering out of the apartment; "a pretty fellow enough, and intelligent too."
"Well, he IS an odd fellow, my father," thought Mr. Billings, as he walked out, having received the sum offered to him. And he immediately went to call upon his friend Polly Briggs, from whom he had separated in the morning.
What was the result of their interview is not at all necessary to the progress of this history. Having made her, however, acquainted with the particulars of his visit to his father, he went to his mother's, and related to her all that had occurred.Poor thing, she was very differently interested in the issue of it!
Chapter 10Showing How Galgenstein And Mrs. Cat Recognise Each Other In Marylebone Gardens--And How The Count Drives Her Home In His Carriage
About a month after the touching conversation above related, there was given, at Marylebone Gardens, a grand concert and entertainment, at which the celebrated Madame Amenaide, a dancer of the theatre at Paris, was to perform, under the patronage of several English and foreign noblemen; among whom was his Excellency the Bavarian Envoy. Madame Amenaide was, in fact, no other than the maitresse en titre of the Monsieur de Galgenstein, who had her a great bargain from the Duke de Rohan-Chabot at Paris.
It is not our purpose to make a great and learned display here, otherwise the costumes of the company assembled at this fete might afford scope for at least half-a-dozen pages of fine writing; and we might give, if need were, specimens of the very songs and music sung on the occasion. Does not the Burney collection of music, at the British Museum, afford one an ample store of songs from which to choose? Are there not the memoirs of Colley Cibber? those of Mrs. Clark, the daughter of Colley? Is there not Congreve, and Farquhar--nay, and at a pinch, the "Dramatic Biography," or even the Spectator, from which the observant genius might borrow passages, and construct pretty antiquarian figments? Leave we these trifles to meaner souls! Our business is not with the breeches and periwigs, with the hoops and patches, but with the divine hearts of men, and the passions which agitate them. What need, therefore, have we to say that on this evening, after the dancing, the music, and the fireworks, Monsieur de Galgenstein felt the strange and welcome pangs of appetite, and was picking a cold chicken, along with some other friends in an arbour--a cold chicken, with an accompaniment of a bottle of champagne--when he was led to remark that a very handsome plump little person, in a gorgeous stiff damask gown and petticoat, was sauntering up and down the walk running opposite his supping-place, and bestowing continual glances towards his Excellency. The lady, whoever she was, was in a mask, such as ladies of high and low fashion wore at public places in those days, and had a male companion. He was a lad of only seventeen, marvellously well dressed--indeed, no other than the Count's own son, Mr. Thomas Billings; who had at length received from his mother the silver-hilted sword, and the wig, which that affectionate parent had promised to him.
In the course of the month which had elapsed since the interview that has been described in the former chapter, Mr. Billings had several times had occasion to wait on his father; but though he had, according to her wishes, frequently alluded to the existence of his mother, the Count had never at any time expressed the slightest wish to renew his acquaintance with that lady; who, if she had seen him, had only seen him by stealth.
The fact is, that after Billings had related to her the particulars of his first meeting with his Excellency; which ended, like many of the latter visits, in nothing at all; Mrs. Hayes had found some pressing business, which continually took her to Whitehall, and had been prowling from day to day about Monsieur de Galgenstein's lodgings. Four or five times in the week, as his Excellency stepped into his coach, he might have remarked, had he chosen, a woman in a black hood, who was looking most eagerly into his eyes: but those eyes had long since left off the practice of observing; and Madam Catherine's visits had so far gone for nothing.
On this night, however, inspired by gaiety and drink, the Count had been amazingly stricken by the gait and ogling of the lady in the mask. The Reverend O'Flaherty, who was with him, and had observed the figure in the black cloak, recognised, or thought he recognised, her. "It is the woman who dogs your Excellency every day," said he. "She is with that tailor lad who loves to see people hanged--your Excellency's son, I mean." And he was just about to warn the Count of a conspiracy evidently made against him, and that the son had brought, most likely, the mother to play her arts upon him--he was just about, I say, to show to the Count the folly and danger of renewing an old liaison with a woman such as he had described Mrs. Cat to be, when his Excellency, starting up, and interrupting his ghostly adviser at the very beginning of his sentence, said, "Egad, l'Abbe, you are right--it IS my son, and a mighty smart-looking creature with him. Hey! Mr. What's-your-name--Tom, you rogue, don't you know your own father?" And so saying, and cocking his beaver on one side, Monsieur de Galgenstein strutted jauntily after Mr. Billings and the lady.It was the first time that the Count had formally recognised his son.
"Tom, you rogue," stopped at this, and the Count came up. He had a white velvet suit, covered over with stars and orders, a neat modest wig and bag, and peach-coloured silk-stockings with silver clasps. The lady in the mask gave a start as his Excellency came forward. "Law, mother, don't squeege so," said Tom. The poor woman was trembling in every limb, but she had presence of mind to "squeege" Tom a great deal harder; and the latter took the hint, I suppose, and was silent.
The splendid Count came up. Ye gods, how his embroidery glittered in the lamps! What a royal exhalation of musk and bergamot came from his wig, his handkerchief, and his grand lace ruffles and frills! A broad yellow riband passed across his breast, and ended at his hip in a shining diamond cross--a diamond cross, and a diamond sword-hilt! Was anything ever seen so beautiful? And might not a poor woman tremble when such a noble creature drew near to her, and deigned, from the height of his rank and splendour, to look down upon her? As Jove came down to Semele in state, in his habits of ceremony, with all the grand cordons of his orders blazing about his imperial person-thus dazzling, magnificent, triumphant, the great Galgenstein descended towards Mrs. Catherine. Her cheeks glowed red-hot under her coy velvet mask, her heart thumped against the whalebone prison of her stays. What a delicious storm of vanity was raging in her bosom! What a rush of long-pent recollections burst forth at the sound of that enchanting voice!
As you wind up a hundred-guinea chronometer with a twopenny watch-key--as by means of a dirty wooden plug you set all the waters of Versailles a-raging, and splashing, and storming--in like manner, and by like humble agents, were Mrs. Catherine's tumultuous passions set going. The Count, we have said, slipped up to his son, and merely saying, "How do, Tom?" cut the young gentleman altogether, and passing round to the lady's side, said, "Madam, 'tis a charming evening--egad it is!" She almost fainted: it was the old voice. There he was, after seventeen years, once more at her side!
Now I know what I could have done. I can turn out a quotation from Sophocles (by looking to the index) as well as another: I can throw off a bit of fine writing too, with passion, similes, and a moral at the end. What, pray, is the last sentence but one but the very finest writing? Suppose, for example, I had made Maximilian, as he stood by the side of Catherine, look up towards the clouds, and exclaim, in the words of the voluptuous Cornelius Nepos,'Aenaoi nephelai 'Arthoomen phanerai Droseran phusin euageetoi, k.t.l. * * Anglicised version of the author's original Greek text. Or suppose, again, I had said, in a style still more popular:--
The Count advanced towards the maiden. They both were mute for a while; and only the beating of her heart interrupted that thrilling and passionate silence. Ah, what years of buried joys and fears, hopes and disappointments, arose from their graves in the far past, and in those brief moments flitted before the united ones! How sad was that delicious retrospect, and oh, how sweet! The tears that rolled down the cheek of each were bubbles from the choked and moss-grown wells of youth; the sigh that heaved each bosom had some lurking odours in it--memories of the fragrance of boyhood, echoes of the hymns of the young heart! Thus is it ever--for these blessed recollections the soul always has a place; and while crime perishes, and sorrow is forgotten, the beautiful alone is eternal.
"O golden legends, written in the skies!" mused De Galgenstein, "ye shine as ye did in the olden days! WE change, but YE speak ever the same language. Gazing in your abysmal depths, the feeble ratioci--"* * * * *
There, now, are six columns* of the best writing to be found in this or any other book. Galgenstein has quoted Euripides thrice, Plato once, Lycophron nine times, besides extracts from the Latin syntax and the minor Greek poets. Catherine's passionate embreathings are of the most fashionable order; and I call upon the ingenious critic of the X---- newspaper to say whether they do not possess the real impress of the giants of the olden time--the real Platonic smack, in a word? Not that I want in the least to show off; but it is as well, every now and then, to show the public what one CAN do.
(* There WERE six columns, as mentioned by the accurate Mr. Solomons; but we have withdrawn two pages and three-quarters, because, although our correspondent has been excessively eloquent, according to custom, we were anxious to come to the facts of the story.Mr. Solomons, by sending to our office, may have the cancelled passages.--O.Y.)
Instead, however, of all this rant and nonsense, how much finer is the speech that the Count really did make! "It is a very fine evening,--egad it is!" The "egad" did the whole business: Mrs. Cat was as much in love with him now as ever she had been; and, gathering up all her energies, she said, "It is dreadful hot too, I think;" and with this she made a curtsey."Stifling, split me!" added his Excellency. "What do you say, madam, to a rest in an arbour, and a drink of something cool?" "Sir!" said the lady, drawing back.
"Oh, a drink--a drink by all means," exclaimed Mr. Billings, who was troubled with a perpetual thirst. "Come, mo--, Mrs. Jones, I mean. you're fond of a glass of cold punch, you know; and the rum here is prime, I can tell you."
The lady in the mask consented with some difficulty to the proposal of Mr. Billings, and was led by the two gentlemen into an arbour, where she was seated between them; and some wax-candles being lighted, punch was brought.
She drank one or two glasses very eagerly, and so did her two companions; although it was evident to see, from the flushed looks of both of them, that they had little need of any such stimulus. The Count, in the midst of his champagne, it must be said, had been amazingly stricken and scandalised by the appearance of such a youth as Billings in a public place with a lady under his arm. He was, the reader will therefore understand, in the moral stage of liquor; and when he issued out, it was not merely with the intention of examining Mr. Billings's female companion, but of administering to him some sound correction for venturing, at his early period of life, to form any such acquaintances. On joining Billings, his Excellency's first step was naturally to examine the lady. After they had been sitting for a while over their punch, he bethought him of his original purpose, and began to address a number of moral remarks to his son.
We have already given some specimens of Monsieur de Galgenstein's sober conversation; and it is hardly necessary to trouble the reader with any further reports of his speeches. They were intolerably stupid and dull; as egotistical as his morning lecture had been, and a hundred times more rambling and prosy. If Cat had been in the possession of her sober senses, she would have seen in five minutes that her ancient lover was a ninny, and have left him with scorn; but she was under the charm of old recollections, and the sound of that silly voice was to her magical. As for Mr. Billings, he allowed his Excellency to continue his prattle; only frowning, yawning, cursing occasionally, but drinking continually.
So the Count descanted at length upon the enormity of young Billings's early liaisons; and then he told his own, in the year four, with a burgomaster's daughter at Ratisbon, when he was in the Elector of Bavaria's service--then, after Blenheim, when he had come over to the Duke of Marlborough, when a physician's wife at Bonn poisoned herself for him, etc. etc.; of a piece with the story of the canoness, which has been recorded before. All the tales were true. A clever, ugly man every now and then is successful with the ladies; but a handsome fool is irresistible. Mrs. Cat listened and listened. Good heavens! she had heard all these tales before, and recollected the place and the time--how she was hemming a handkerchief for Max; who came round and kissed her, vowing that the physician's wife was nothing compared to her--how he was tired, and lying on the sofa, just come home from shooting. How handsome he looked! Cat thought he was only the handsomer now; and looked more grave and thoughtful, the dear fellow!
The garden was filled with a vast deal of company of all kinds, and parties were passing every moment before the arbour where our trio sat. About half-an-hour after his Excellency had quitted his own box and party, the Rev. Mr. O'Flaherty came discreetly round, to examine the proceedings of his diplomatical chef. The lady in the mask was listening with all her might; Mr. Billings was drawing figures on the table with punch; and the Count talking incessantly. The Father Confessor listened for a moment; and then, with something resembling an oath, walked away to the entry of the gardens, where his Excellency's gilt coach, with three footmen, was waiting to carry him back to London. "Get me a chair, Joseph," said his Reverence, who infinitely preferred a seat gratis in the coach. "That fool," muttered he, "will not move for this hour." The reverend gentleman knew that, when the Count was on the subject of the physician's wife, his discourses were intolerably long; and took upon himself, therefore, to disappear, along with the rest of the Count's party; who procured other conveyances, and returned to their homes.
After this quiet shadow had passed before the Count's box, many groups of persons passed and repassed; and among them was no other than Mrs. Polly Briggs, to whom we have been already introduced. Mrs. Polly was in company with one or two other ladies, and leaning on the arm of a gentleman with large shoulders and calves, a fierce cock to his hat, and a shabby genteel air. His name was Mr. Moffat, and his present occupation was that of doorkeeper at a gambling- house in Covent Garden; where, though he saw many thousands pass daily under his eyes, his own salary amounted to no more than four-and-sixpence weekly,--a sum quite insufficient to maintain him in the rank which he held.
Mr. Moffat had, however, received some funds--amounting indeed, to a matter of twelve guineas--within the last month, and was treating Mrs. Briggs very generously to the concert. It may be as well to say that every one of the twelve guineas had come out of Mrs. Polly's own pocket; who, in return, had received them from Mr. Billings. And as the reader may remember that, on the day of Tommy's first interview with his father, he had previously paid a visit to Mrs. Briggs, having under his arm a pair of breeches, which Mrs. Briggs coveted--he should now be informed that she desired these breeches, not for pincushions, but for Mr. Moffat, who had long been in want of a pair.
Having thus episodically narrated Mr. Moffat's history, let us state that he, his lady, and their friends, passed before the Count's arbour, joining in a melodious chorus to a song which one of the society, an actor of Betterton's, was singing:"'Tis my will, when I'm dead, that no tear shall be shed, No 'Hic jacet' be graved on my stone; But pour o'er my ashes a bottle of red, And say a good fellow is gone, My brave boys! And say a good fellow is gone."
"My brave boys" was given with vast emphasis by the party; Mr. Moffat growling it in a rich bass, and Mrs. Briggs in a soaring treble. As to the notes, when quavering up to the skies, they excited various emotions among the people in the gardens. "Silence them blackguards!" shouted a barber, who was taking a pint of small beer along with his lady. "Stop that there infernal screeching!" said a couple of ladies, who were sipping ratafia in company with two pretty fellows.
"Dang it, it's Polly!" said Mr. Tom Billings, bolting out of the box, and rushing towards the sweet-voiced Mrs. Briggs. When he reached her, which he did quickly, and made his arrival known by tipping Mrs. Briggs slightly on the waist, and suddenly bouncing down before her and her friend, both of the latter drew back somewhat startled."Law, Mr. Billings!" says Mrs. Polly, rather coolly, "is it you? Who thought of seeing you here?" "Who's this here young feller?" says towering Mr. Moffat, with his bass voice. "It's Mr. Billings, cousin, a friend of mine," said Mrs. Polly, beseechingly.
"Oh, cousin, if it's a friend of yours, he should know better how to conduct himself, that's all. Har you a dancing-master, young feller, that you cut them there capers before gentlemen?" growled Mr. Moffat; who hated Mr. Billings, for the excellent reason that he lived upon him.
"Dancing-master be hanged!" said Mr. Billings, with becoming spirit: "if you call me dancing-master, I'll pull your nose."
"What!" roared Mr. Moffat, "pull my nose? MY NOSE! I'll tell you what, my lad, if you durst move me, I'll cut your throat, curse me!"
"Oh, Moffy--cousin, I mean--'tis a shame to treat the poor boy so. Go away, Tommy; do go away; my cousin's in liquor," whimpered Madam Briggs, who really thought that the great doorkeeper would put his threat into execution.
"Tommy!" said Mr. Moffat, frowning horribly; "Tommy to me too? Dog, get out of my ssss---" SIGHT was the word which Mr. Moffat intended to utter; but he was interrupted; for, to the astonishment of his friends and himself, Mr. Billings did actually make a spring at the monster's nose, and caught it so firmly, that the latter could not finish his sentence.
The operation was performed with amazing celerity; and, having concluded it, Mr. Billings sprang back, and whisked from out its sheath that new silver-hilted sword which his mamma had given him. "Now," said he, with a fierce kind of calmness, "now for the throat-cutting, cousin: I'm your man!"
How the brawl might have ended, no one can say, had the two gentlemen actually crossed swords; but Mrs. Polly, with a wonderful presence of mind, restored peace by exclaiming, "Hush, hush! the beaks, the beaks!" Upon which, with one common instinct, the whole party made a rush for the garden gates, and disappeared into the fields. Mrs. Briggs knew her company: there was something in the very name of a constable which sent them all a-flying.
After running a reasonable time, Mr. Billings stopped. But the great Moffat was nowhere to be seen, and Polly Briggs had likewise vanished. Then Tom bethought him that he would go back to his mother; but, arriving at the gate of the gardens, was refused admittance, as he had not a shilling in his pocket. "I've left," says Tommy, giving himself the airs of a gentleman, "some friends in the gardens. I'm with his Excellency the Bavarian henvy.""Then you had better go away with him," said the gate people. "But I tell you I left him there, in the grand circle, with a lady; and, what's more, in the dark walk, I have left a silver-hilted sword." "Oh, my Lord, I'll go and tell him then," cried one of the porters, "if you will wait."
Mr. Billings seated himself on a post near the gate, and there consented to remain until the return of his messenger. The latter went straight to the dark walk, and found the sword, sure enough. But, instead of returning it to its owner this discourteous knight broke the trenchant blade at the hilt; and flinging the steel away, pocketed the baser silver metal, and lurked off by the private door consecrated to the waiters and fiddlers. In the meantime, Mr. Billings waited and waited. And what was the conversation of his worthy parents inside the garden? I cannot say; but one of the waiters declared that he had served the great foreign Count with two bowls of rack-punch, and some biscuits, in No. 3: that in the box with him were first a young gentleman, who went away, and a lady, splendidly dressed and masked: that when the lady and his Lordship were alone, she edged away to the further end of the table, and they had much talk: that at last, when his Grace had pressed her very much, she took off her mask and said, "Don't you know me now, Max?" that he cried out, "My own Catherine, thou art more beautiful than ever!" and wanted to kneel down and vow eternal love to her; but she begged him not to do so in a place where all the world would see: that then his Highness paid, and they left the gardens, the lady putting on her mask again.
When they issued from the gardens, "Ho! Joseph la Rose, my coach!" shouted his Excellency, in rather a husky voice; and the men who had been waiting came up with the carriage. A young gentleman, who was dosing on one of the posts at the entry, woke up suddenly at the blaze of the torches and the noise of the footmen. The Count gave his arm to the lady in the mask, who slipped in; and he was whispering La Rose, when the lad who had been sleeping hit his Excellency on the shoulder, and said, "I say, Count, you can give ME a cast home too," and jumped into the coach.
When Catherine saw her son, she threw herself into his arms, and kissed him with a burst of hysterical tears; of which Mr. Billings was at a loss to understand the meaning. The Count joined them, looking not a little disconcerted; and the pair were landed at their own door, where stood Mr. Hayes, in his nightcap, ready to receive them, and astounded at the splendour of the equipage in which his wife returned to him.
Chapter 11Of Some Domestic Quarrels, And The Consequence Thereof An ingenious magazine-writer, who lived in the time of Mr. Brock and the Duke of Marlborough, compared the latter gentleman's conduct in battle, when he
"In peaceful thought the field of death surveyed, To fainting squadrons lent the timely aid; Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught the doubtful battle where to rage"--Mr. Joseph Addison, I say, compared the Duke of Marlborough to an angel, who is sent by Divine command to chastise a guilty people-- "And pleased his Master's orders to perform, Rides on the whirlwind, and directs the storm."
The first four of these novel lines touch off the Duke's disposition and genius to a tittle. He had a love for such scenes of strife: in the midst of them his spirit rose calm and supreme, soaring (like an angel or not, but anyway the compliment is a very pretty one) on the battle-clouds majestic, and causing to ebb or to flow the mighty tide of war.
But as this famous simile might apply with equal propriety--to a bad angel as to a good one, it may in like manner be employed to illustrate small quarrels as well as great--a little family squabble, in which two or three people are engaged, as well as a vast national dispute, argued on each side by the roaring throats of five hundred angry cannon. The poet means, in fact, that the Duke of Marlborough had an immense genius for mischief.
Our friend Brock, or Wood (whose actions we love to illustrate by the very handsomest similes), possessed this genius in common with his Grace; and was never so happy, or seen to so much advantage, as when he was employed in setting people by the ears. His spirits, usually dull, then rose into the utmost gaiety and good-humour. When the doubtful battle flagged, he by his art would instantly restore it. When, for instance, Tom's repulsed battalions of rhetoric fled from his mamma's fire, a few words of apt sneer or encouragement on Wood's part would bring the fight round again; or when Mr. Hayes's fainting squadrons of abuse broke upon the stubborn squares of Tom's bristling obstinacy, it was Wood's delight to rally the former, and bring him once more to the charge. A great share had this man in making those bad people worse. Many fierce words and bad passions, many falsehoods and knaveries on Tom's part, much bitterness, scorn, and jealousy on the part of Hayes and Catherine, might be attributed to this hoary old tempter, whose joy and occupation it was to raise and direct the domestic storms and whirlwinds of the family of which he was a member. And do not let us be accused of an undue propensity to use sounding words, because we compare three scoundrels in the Tyburn Road to so many armies, and Mr. Wood to a mighty field-marshal. My dear sir, when you have well studied the world--how supremely great the meanest thing in this world is, and how infinitely mean the greatest--I am mistaken if you do not make a strange and proper jumble of the sublime and the ridiculous, the lofty and the low. I have looked at the world, for my part, and come to the conclusion that I know not which is which.
Well, then, on the night when Mrs Hayes, as recorded by us, had been to the Marylebone Gardens, Mr. Wood had found the sincerest enjoyment in plying her husband with drink; so that, when Catherine arrived at home, Mr. Hayes came forward to meet her in a manner which showed he was not only surly, but drunk. Tom stepped out of the coach first; and Hayes asked him, with an oath, where he had been? The oath Mr. Billings sternly flung back again (with another in its company), and at the same time refused to give his stepfather any sort of answer to his query.
"The old man is drunk, mother," said he to Mrs. Hayes, as he handed that lady out of the coach (before leaving which she had to withdraw her hand rather violently from the grasp of the Count, who was inside). Hayes instantly showed the correctness of his surmise by slamming the door courageously in Tom's face, when he attempted to enter the house with his mother. And when Mrs. Catherine remonstrated, according to her wont, in a very angry and supercilious tone, Mr. Hayes replied with equal haughtiness, and a regular quarrel ensued.
People were accustomed in those days to use much more simple and expressive terms of language than are now thought polite; and it would be dangerous to give, in this present year 1840, the exact words of reproach which passed between Hayes and his wife in 1726. Mr. Wood sat near, laughing his sides out. Mr. Hayes swore that his wife should not go abroad to tea-gardens in search of vile Popish noblemen; to which Mrs. Hayes replied, that Mr. Hayes was a pitiful, lying, sneaking cur, and that she would go where she pleased. Mr. Hayes rejoined that if she said much more he would take a stick to her. Mr. Wood whispered, "And serve her right." Mrs. Hayes thereupon swore she had stood his cowardly blows once or twice before, but that if ever he did so again, as sure as she was born, she would stab him. Mr. Wood said, "Curse me, but I like her spirit."Mr. Hayes took another line of argument, and said, "The neighbours would talk, madam." "Ay, that they will, no doubt," said Mr. Wood.
"Then let them," said Catherine. "What do we care about the neighbours? Didn't the neighbours talk when you sent Widow Wilkins to gaol? Didn't the neighbours talk when you levied on poor old Thomson? You didn't mind THEN, Mr, Hayes."
"Business, ma'am, is business; and if I did distrain on Thomson, and lock up Wilkins, I think you knew about it as much as I."
"I say, ma'am, that we've been a-drinking together; and when we've been a-drinking together, I say that a man is my friend. Doctor Wood is my friend, madam--the Reverend Doctor Wood. We've passed the evening in company, talking about politics, madam--politics and riddle-iddle-igion. We've not been flaunting in tea-gardens, and ogling the men.""It's a lie!" shrieked Mrs. Hayes. "I went with Tom--you know I did: the boy wouldn't let me rest till I promised to go." "Hang him, I hate him," said Mr. Hayes: "he's always in my way." "He's the only friend I have in the world, and the only being I care a pin for," said Catherine.
"He's an impudent idle good-for-nothing scoundrel, and I hope to see him hanged!" shouted Mr. Hayes. "And pray, madam, whose carriage was that as you came home in? I warrant you paid something for the ride--ha, ha!""Another lie!" screamed Cat, and clutched hold of a supper-knife. "Say it again, John Hayes, and, by ------ I'll do for you." "Do for me? Hang me," said Mr. Hayes, flourishing a stick, and perfectly pot-valiant, "do you think I care for a bastard and a--?"
He did not finish the sentence, for the woman ran at him like a savage, knife in hand. He bounded back, flinging his arms about wildly, and struck her with his staff sharply across the forehead. The woman went down instantly. A lucky blow was it for Hayes and her: it saved him from death, perhaps, and her from murder.
All this scene--a very important one of our drama--might have been described at much greater length; but, in truth, the author has a natural horror of dwelling too long upon such hideous spectacles: nor would the reader be much edified by a full and accurate knowledge of what took place. The quarrel, however, though not more violent than many that had previously taken place between Hayes and his wife, was about to cause vast changes in the condition of this unhappy pair.
Hayes was at the first moment of his victory very much alarmed; he feared that he had killed the woman; and Wood started up rather anxiously too, with the same fancy. But she soon began to recover. Water was brought; her head was raised and bound up; and in a short time Mrs. Catherine gave vent to a copious fit of tears, which relieved her somewhat. These did not affect Hayes much--they rather pleased him, for he saw he had got the better; and although Cat fiercely turned upon him when he made some small attempt towards reconciliation, he did not heed her anger, but smiled and winked in a self-satisfied way at Wood. The coward was quite proud of his victory; and finding Catherine asleep, or apparently so, when he followed her to bed, speedily gave himself up to slumber too, and had some pleasant dreams to his portion.
Mr. Wood also went sniggering and happy upstairs to his chamber. The quarrel had been a real treat to him; it excited the old man- -tickled him into good-humour; and he promised himself a rare continuation of the fun when Tom should be made acquainted with the circumstances of the dispute. As for his Excellency the Count, the ride from Marylebone Gardens, and a tender squeeze of the hand, which Catherine permitted to him on parting, had so inflamed the passions of the nobleman, that, after sleeping for nine hours, and taking his chocolate as usual the next morning, he actually delayed to read the newspaper, and kept waiting a toy-shop lady from Cornhill (with the sweetest bargain of Mechlin lace), in order to discourse to his chaplain on the charms of Mrs. Hayes.
She, poor thing, never closed her lids, except when she would have had Mr. Hayes imagine that she slumbered; but lay beside him, tossing and tumbling, with hot eyes wide open and heart thumping, and pulse of a hundred and ten, and heard the heavy hours tolling; and at last the day came peering, haggard, through the window-curtains, and found her still wakeful and wretched.
Mrs. Hayes had never been, as we have seen, especially fond of her lord; but now, as the day made visible to her the sleeping figure and countenance of that gentleman, she looked at him with a contempt and loathing such as she had never felt even in all the years of her wedded life. Mr. Hayes was snoring profoundly: by his bedside, on his ledger, stood a large greasy tin candlestick, containing a lank tallow-candle, turned down in the shaft; and in the lower part, his keys, purse, and tobacco-pipe; his feet were huddled up in his greasy threadbare clothes; his head and half his sallow face muffled up in a red woollen nightcap; his beard was of several days' growth; his mouth was wide open, and he was snoring profoundly: on a more despicable little creature the sun never shone. And to this sordid wretch was Catherine united for ever. What a pretty rascal history might be read in yonder greasy day-book, which never left the miser!--he never read in any other. Of what a treasure were yonder keys and purse the keepers! not a shilling they guarded but was picked from the pocket of necessity, plundered from needy wantonness, or pitilessly squeezed from starvation. "A fool, a miser, and a coward! Why was I bound to this wretch?" thought Catherine: "I, who am high-spirited and beautiful (did not HE tell me so?); I who, born a beggar, have raised myself to competence, and might have mounted--who knows whither?--if cursed Fortune had not baulked me!"
As Mrs. Cat did not utter these sentiments, but only thought them, we have a right to clothe her thoughts in the genteelest possible language; and, to the best of our power, have done so. If the reader examines Mrs. Hayes's train of reasoning, he will not, we should think, fail to perceive how ingeniously she managed to fix all the wrong upon her husband, and yet to twist out some consolatory arguments for her own vanity. This perverse argumentation we have all of us, no doubt, employed in our time. How often have we,--we poets, politicians, philosophers, family-men,--found charming excuses for our own rascalities in the monstrous wickedness of the world about us; how loudly have we abused the times and our neighbours! All this devil's logic did Mrs. Catherine, lying wakeful in her bed on the night of the Marylebone fete, exert in gloomy triumph.
It must, however, be confessed, that nothing could be more just than Mrs. Hayes's sense of her husband's scoundrelism and meanness; for if we have not proved these in the course of this history, we have proved nothing. Mrs. Cat had a shrewd observing mind; and if she wanted for proofs against Hayes, she had but to look before and about her to find them. This amiable pair were lying in a large walnut-bed, with faded silk furniture, which had been taken from under a respectable old invalid widow, who had become security for a prodigal son; the room was hung round with an antique tapestry (representing Rebecca at the Well, Bathsheba Bathing, Judith and Holofernes, and other subjects from Holy Writ), which had been many score times sold for fifty pounds, and bought back by Mr. Hayes for two, in those accommodating bargains which he made with young gentlemen, who received fifty pounds of money and fifty of tapestry in consideration of their hundred-pound bills. Against this tapestry, and just cutting off Holofernes's head, stood an enormous ominous black clock, the spoil of some other usurious transaction. Some chairs, and a dismal old black cabinet, completed the furniture of this apartment: it wanted but a ghost to render its gloom complete.
Mrs. Hayes sat up in the bed sternly regarding her husband. There is, be sure, a strong magnetic influence in wakeful eyes so examining a sleeping person (do not you, as a boy, remember waking of bright summer mornings and finding your mother looking over you? had not the gaze of her tender eyes stolen into your senses long before you woke, and cast over your slumbering spirit a sweet spell of peace, and love, and fresh springing joy?) Some such influence had Catherine's looks upon her husband: for, as he slept under them, the man began to writhe about uneasily, and to burrow his head in the pillow, and to utter quick, strange moans and cries, such as have often jarred one's ear while watching at the bed of the feverish sleeper. It was just upon six, and presently the clock began to utter those dismal grinding sounds, which issue from clocks at such periods, and which sound like the death-rattle of the departing hour. Then the bell struck the knell of it; and with this Mr. Hayes awoke, and looked up, and saw Catherine gazing at him.
Their eyes met for an instant, and Catherine turned away, burning red, and looking as if she had been caught in the commission of a crime.
A kind of blank terror seized upon old Hayes's soul: a horrible icy fear, and presentiment of coming evil; and yet the woman had but looked at him. He thought rapidly over the occurrences of the last night, the quarrel, and the end of it. He had often struck her before when angry, and heaped all kinds of bitter words upon her; but, in the morning, she bore no malice, and the previous quarrel was forgotten, or, at least, passed over. Why should the last night's dispute not have the same end? Hayes calculated all this, and tried to smile."I hope we're friends, Cat?" said he. "You know I was in liquor last night, and sadly put out by the loss of that fifty pound. They'll ruin me, dear--I know they will." Mrs. Hayes did not answer.
"I should like to see the country again, dear," said he, in his most wheedling way. "I've a mind, do you know, to call in all our money? It's you who've made every farthing of it, that's sure; and it's a matter of two thousand pound by this time. Suppose we go into Warwickshire, Cat, and buy a farm, and live genteel. Shouldn't you like to live a lady in your own county again? How they'd stare at Birmingham! hey, Cat?"And with this Mr. Hayes made a motion as if he would seize his wife's hand, but she flung his back again. "Coward!" said she, "you want liquor to give you courage, and then you've only heart enough to strike women." "It was only in self-defence, my dear," said Hayes, whose courage had all gone. "You tried, you know, to--to--"
"To STAB you, and I wish I had!" said Mrs. Hayes, setting her teeth, and glaring at him like a demon; and so saying she sprung out of bed. There was a great stain of blood on her pillow. "Look at it," said she. "That blood's of your shedding!" and at this Hayes fairly began to weep, so utterly downcast and frightened was the miserable man. The wretch's tears only inspired his wife with a still greater rage and loathing; she cared not so much for the blow, but she hated the man: the man to whom she was tied for ever-for ever! The bar between her and wealth, happiness, love, rank perhaps. "If I were free," thought Mrs. Hayes (the thought had been sitting at her pillow all night, and whispering ceaselessly into her ear)--,"If I were free, Max would marry me; I know he would:--he said so yesterday!"* * *
As if by a kind of intuition, old Wood seemed to read all this woman's thoughts; for he said that day with a sneer, that he would wager she was thinking how much better it would be to be a Count's lady than a poor miser's wife. "And faith," said he, "a Count and a chariot-and-six is better than an old skinflint with a cudgel." And then he asked her if her head was better, and supposed that she was used to beating; and cut sundry other jokes, which made the poor wretch's wounds of mind and body feel a thousand times sorer.
Tom, too, was made acquainted with the dispute, and swore his accustomed vengeance against his stepfather. Such feelings, Wood, with a dexterous malice, would never let rest; it was his joy, at first quite a disinterested one, to goad Catherine and to frighten Hayes: though, in truth, that unfortunate creature had no occasion for incitements from without to keep up the dreadful state of terror and depression into which he had fallen.
For, from the morning after the quarrel, the horrible words and looks of Catherine never left Hayes's memory; but a cold fear followed him--a dreadful prescience. He strove to overcome this fate as a coward would--to kneel to it for compassion--to coax and wheedle it into forgiveness. He was slavishly gentle to Catherine, and bore her fierce taunts with mean resignation. He trembled before young Billings, who was now established in the house (his mother said, to protect her against the violence of her husband), and suffered his brutal language and conduct without venturing to resist.
The young man and his mother lorded over the house: Hayes hardly dared to speak in their presence; seldom sat with the family except at meals; but slipped away to his chamber (he slept apart now from his wife) or passed the evening at the public-house, where he was constrained to drink--to spend some of his beloved sixpences for drink!
And, of course, the neighbours began to say, "John Hayes neglects his wife." "He tyrannises over her, and beats her." "Always at the public-house, leaving an honest woman alone at home!"
The unfortunate wretch did NOT hate his wife. He was used to her--fond of her as much as he could be fond--sighed to be friends with her again--repeatedly would creep, whimpering, to Wood's room, when the latter was alone, and begged him to bring about a reconciliation. They WERE reconciled, as much as ever they could be. The woman looked at him, thought what she might be but for him, and scorned and loathed him with a feeling that almost amounted to insanity. What nights she lay awake, weeping, and cursing herself and him! His humility and beseeching looks only made him more despicable and hateful to her.
If Hayes did not hate the mother, however, he hated the boy--hated and feared him dreadfully. He would have poisoned him if he had had the courage; but he dared not: he dared not even look at him as he sat there, the master of the house, in insolent triumph. O God! how the lad's brutal laughter rung in Hayes's ears; and how the stare of his fierce bold black eyes pursued him! Of a truth, if Mr. Wood loved mischief, as he did, honestly and purely for mischief's sake, he had enough here. There was mean malice, and fierce scorn, and black revenge, and sinful desire, boiling up in the hearts of these wretched people, enough to content Mr. Wood's great master himself.
Hayes's business, as we have said, was nominally that of a carpenter; but since, for the last few years, he had added to it that of a lender of money, the carpenter's trade had been neglected altogether for one so much more profitable. Mrs. Hayes had exerted herself, with much benefit to her husband, in his usurious business. She was a resolute, clear-sighted, keen woman, that did not love money, but loved to be rich and push her way in the world. She would have nothing to do with the trade now, however, and told her husband to manage it himself. She felt that she was separated from him for ever, and could no more be brought to consider her interests as connected with his own.
The man was well fitted for the creeping and niggling of his dastardly trade; and gathered his moneys, and busied himself with his lawyer, and acted as his own bookkeeper and clerk, not without satisfaction. His wife's speculations, when they worked in concert, used often to frighten him. He never sent out his capital without a pang, and only because he dared not question her superior judgment and will. He began now to lend no more: he could not let the money out of his sight. His sole pleasure was to creep up into his room, and count and recount it. When Billings came into the house, Hayes had taken a room next to that of Wood. It was a protection to him; for Wood would often rebuke the lad for using Hayes ill: and both Catherine and Tom treated the old man with deference.
At last--it was after he had collected a good deal of his money-- Hayes began to reason with himself, "Why should I stay?--stay to be insulted by that boy, or murdered by him? He is ready for any crime." He determined to fly. He would send Catherine money every year. No--she had the furniture; let her let lodgings--that would support her. He would go, and live away, abroad in some cheap place--away from that boy and his horrible threats. The idea of freedom was agreeable to the poor wretch; and he began to wind up his affairs as quickly as he could.
Hayes would now allow no one to make his bed or enter his room; and Wood could hear him through the panels fidgeting perpetually to and fro, opening and shutting of chests, and clinking of coin. At the least sound he would start up, and would go to Billings's door and listen. Wood used to hear him creeping through the passages, and returning stealthily to his own chamber.
One day the woman and her son had been angrily taunting him in the presence of a neighbour. The neighbour retired soon; and Hayes, who had gone with him to the door, heard, on returning, the voice of Wood in the parlour. The old man laughed in his usual saturnine way, and said, "Have a care, Mrs. Cat; for if Hayes were to die suddenly, by the laws, the neighbours would accuse thee of his death."
Hayes started as if he had been shot. "He too is in the plot," thought he. "They are all leagued against me: they WILL kill me: they are only biding their time." Fear seized him, and he thought of flying that instant and leaving all; and he stole into his room and gathered his money together. But only a half of it was there: in a few weeks all would have come in. He had not the heart to go. But that night Wood heard Hayes pause at HIS door, before he went to listen at Mrs. Catherine's. "What is the man thinking of?" said Wood. "He is gathering his money together. Has he a hoard yonder unknown to us all?"
Wood thought he would watch him. There was a closet between the two rooms: Wood bored a hole in the panel, and peeped through. Hayes had a brace of pistols, and four or five little bags before him on the table. One of these he opened, and placed, one by one, five-and-twenty guineas into it. Such a sum had been due that day--Catherine spoke of it only in the morning; for the debtor's name had by chance been mentioned in the conversation. Hayes commonly kept but a few guineas in the house. For what was he amassing all these? The next day, Wood asked for change for a twenty-pound bill. Hayes said he had but three guineas. And, when asked by Catherine where the money was that was paid the day before, said that it was at the banker's. "The man is going to fly," said Wood; "that is sure: if he does, I know him--he will leave his wife without a shilling."
He watched him for several days regularly: two or three more bags were added to the former number. "They are pretty things, guineas," thought Wood, "and tell no tales, like bank-bills." And he thought over the days when he and Macshane used to ride abroad in search of them.
I don't know what thoughts entered into Mr. Wood's brain; but the next day, after seeing young Billings, to whom he actually made a present of a guinea, that young man, in conversing with his mother, said, "Do you know, mother, that if you were free, and married the Count, I should be a lord? It's the German law, Mr. Wood says; and you know he was in them countries with Marlborough.""Ay, that he would," said Mr. Wood, "in Germany: but Germany isn't England; and it's no use talking of such things." "Hush, child!" said Mrs. Hayes, quite eagerly: "how can _I_ marry the Count? Besides, a'n't I married, and isn't he too great a lord for me?"
"Too great a lord?--not a whit, mother. If it wasn't for Hayes, I might be a lord now. He gave me five guineas only last week; but curse the skinflint who never will part with a shilling."
"It's not so bad as his striking your mother, Tom. I had my stick up, and was ready to fell him t'other night," added Mr. Wood. And herewith he smiled, and looked steadily in Mrs. Catherine's face. She dared not look again; but she felt that the old man knew a secret that she had been trying to hide from herself. Fool! he knew it; and Hayes knew it dimly: and never, never, since that day of the gala, had it left her, sleeping or waking. When Hayes, in his fear, had proposed to sleep away from her, she started with joy: she had been afraid that she might talk in her sleep, and so let slip her horrible confession. Old Wood knew all her history since the period of the Marylebone fete. He had wormed it out of her, day by day; he had counselled her how to act; warned her not to yield; to procure, at least, a certain provision for her son, and a handsome settlement for herself, if she determined on quitting her husband. The old man looked on the business in a proper philosophical light, told her bluntly that he saw she was bent upon going off with the Count, and bade her take precautions: else she might be left as she had been before.
Catherine denied all these charges; but she saw the Count daily, notwithstanding, and took all the measures which Wood had recommended to her. They were very prudent ones. Galgenstein grew hourly more in love: never had he felt such a flame; not in the best days of his youth; not for the fairest princess, countess, or actress, from Vienna to Paris.
At length--it was the night after he had seen Hayes counting his money-bags--old Wood spoke to Mrs. Hayes very seriously. "That husband of yours, Cat," said he, "meditates some treason; ay, and fancies we are about such. He listens nightly at your door and at mine: he is going to leave you, be sure on't; and if he leaves you, he leaves you to starve.""I can be rich elsewhere," said Mrs. Cat. "What, with Max?" "Ay, with Max: and why not?" said Mrs. Hayes.
"Why not, fool! Do you recollect Birmingham? Do you think that Galgenstein, who is so tender now because he HASN'T won you, will be faithful because he HAS? Psha, woman, men are not made so! Don't go to him until you are sure: if you were a widow now, he would marry you; but never leave yourself at his mercy: if you were to leave your husband to go to him, he would desert you in a fortnight!"She might have been a Countess! she knew she might, but for this cursed barrier between her and her fortune. Wood knew what she was thinking of, and smiled grimly.
"Besides," he continued, "remember Tom. As sure as you leave Hayes without some security from Max, the boy's ruined: he who might be a lord, if his mother had but--Psha! never mind: that boy will go on the road, as sure as my name's Wood. He's a Turpin cock in his eye, my dear,--a regular Tyburn look. He knows too many of that sort already; and is too fond of a bottle and a girl to resist and be honest when it comes to the pinch.""It's all true," said Mrs. Hayes. "Tom's a high mettlesome fellow, and would no more mind a ride on Hounslow Heath than he does a walk now in the Mall." "Do you want him hanged, my dear?" said Wood. "Ah, Doctor!"
"It IS a pity, and that's sure," concluded Mr. Wood, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and closing this interesting conversation. "It is a pity that that old skinflint should be in the way of both your fortunes; and he about to fling you over, too!"
Mrs. Catherine retired musing, as Mr. Billings had previously done; a sweet smile of contentment lighted up the venerable features of Doctor Wood, and he walked abroad into the streets as happy a fellow as any in London.
Chapter 12Treats Of Love, And Prepares For Death And to begin this chapter, we cannot do better than quote a part of a letter from M. l'Abbe O'Flaherty to Madame la Comtesse de X----- at Paris:
"MADAM,--The little Arouet de Voltaire, who hath come 'hither to take a turn in England,' as I see by the Post of this morning, hath brought me a charming pacquet from your Ladyship's hands, which ought to render a reasonable man happy; but, alas! makes your slave miserable. I think of dear Paris (and something more dear than all Paris, of which, Madam, I may not venture to speak further)--I think of dear Paris, and find myself in this dismal Vitehall, where, when the fog clears up, I can catch a glimpse of muddy Thames, and of that fatal palace which the kings of England have been obliged to exchange for your noble castle of Saint Germains, that stands so stately by silver Seine. Truly, no bad bargain. For my part, I would give my grand ambassadorial saloons, hangings, gildings, feasts, valets, ambassadors and all, for a bicoque in sight of the Thuilleries' towers, or my little cell in the Irlandois.
"My last sheets have given you a pretty notion of our ambassador's public doings; now for a pretty piece of private scandal respecting that great man. Figure to yourself, Madam, his Excellency is in love; actually in love, talking day and night about a certain fair one whom he hath picked out of a gutter; who is well nigh forty years old; who was his mistress when he was in England a captain of dragoons, some sixty, seventy, or a hundred years since; who hath had a son by him, moreover, a sprightly lad, apprentice to a tailor of eminence that has the honour of making his Excellency's breeches.
"Since one fatal night when he met this fair creature at a certain place of publique resort, called Marylebone Gardens, our Cyrus hath been an altered creature. Love hath mastered this brainless ambassador, and his antics afford me food for perpetual mirth. He sits now opposite to me at a table inditing a letter to his Catherine, and copying it from--what do you think?--from the 'Grand Cyrus.' 'I swear, madam, that my happiness would be to offer you this hand, as I have my heart long ago, and I beg you to bear in mind this declaration.' I have just dictated to him the above tender words; for our Envoy, I need not tell you, is not strong at writing or thinking.
"The fair Catherine, I must tell you, is no less than a carpenter's wife, a well-to-do bourgeois, living at the Tyburn, or Gallows Road. She found out her ancient lover very soon after our arrival, and hath a marvellous hankering to be a Count's lady. A pretty little creature is this Madam Catherine. Billets, breakfasts, pretty walks, presents of silks and satins, pass daily between the pair; but, strange to say, the lady is as virtuous as Diana, and hath resisted all my Count's cajoleries hitherto. The poor fellow told me, with tears in his eyes, that he believed he should have carried her by storm on the very first night of their meeting, but that her son stepped into the way; and he or somebody else hath been in the way ever since. Madam will never appear alone. I believe it is this wondrous chastity of the lady that has elicited this wondrous constancy of the gentleman. She is holding out for a settlement; who knows if not for a marriage? Her husband, she says, is ailing; her lover is fool enough, and she herself conducts her negotiations, as I must honestly own, with a pretty notion of diplomacy."* * *
This is the only part of the reverend gentleman's letter that directly affects this history. The rest contains some scandal concerning greater personages about the Court, a great share of abuse of the Elector of Hanover, and a pretty description of a boxingmatch at Mr. Figg's amphitheatre in Oxford Road, where John Wells, of Edmund Bury (as by the papers may be seen), master of the noble science of self-defence, did engage with Edward Sutton, of Gravesend, master of the said science; and the issue of the combat.
"N. B."--adds the Father, in a postscript--"Monsieur Figue gives a hat to be cudgelled for before the Master mount; and the whole of this fashionable information hath been given me by Monseigneur's son, Monsieur Billings, garcon-tailleur, Chevalier de Galgenstein."
Mr. Billings was, in fact, a frequent visitor at the Ambassador's house; to whose presence he, by a general order, was always admitted. As for the connection between Mrs. Catherine and her former admirer, the Abbe's history of it is perfectly correct; nor can it be said that this wretched woman, whose tale now begins to wear a darker hue, was, in anything but SOUL, faithless to her husband. But she hated him, longed to leave him, and loved another: the end was coming quickly, and every one of our unknowing actors and actresses were to be implicated, more or less, in the catastrophe.
It will be seen that Mrs. Cat had followed pretty closely the injunctions of Mr. Wood in regard to her dealings with the Count; who grew more heart-stricken and tender daily, as the completion of his wishes was delayed, and his desires goaded by contradiction. The Abbe has quoted one portion of a letter written by him; here is the entire performance, extracted, as the holy father said, chiefly from the romance of the "Grand Cyrus"."Unhappy Maximilian unto unjust Catherina.
"MADAM,--It must needs be that I love you better than any ever did, since, notwithstanding your injustice in calling me perfidious, I love you no less than I did before. On the contrary, my passion is so violent, and your unjust accusation makes me so sensible of it, that if you did but know the resentments of my soule, you would confess your selfe the most cruell and unjust woman in the world. You shall, ere long, Madam, see me at your feete; and as you were my first passion, so you will be my last.
"On my knees I will tell you, at the first handsom opportunity, that the grandure of my passion can only be equalled by your beauty; it hath driven me to such a fatall necessity, as that I cannot hide the misery which you have caused. Sure, the hostil goddes have, to plague me, ordayned that fatal marridge, by which you are bound to one so infinitly below you in degree. Were that bond of ill-omind Hymen cut in twayn witch binds you, I swear, Madam, that my happiniss woulde be to offer you this hande, as I have my harte long agoe. And I praye you to beare in minde this declaracion, which I here sign with my hande, and witch I pray you may one day be called upon to prove the truth on. Beleave me, Madam, that there is none in the World who doth more honor to your vertue than myselfe, nor who wishes your happinesse with more zeal than-MAXIMILIAN."From my lodgings in Whitehall, this 25th of February. "To the incomparable Catherina, these, with a scarlet satten petticoat."
The Count had debated about the sentence promising marriage in event of Hayes's death; but the honest Abbe cut these scruples very short, by saying, justly, that, because he wrote in that manner, there was no need for him to act so; that he had better not sign and address the note in full; and that he presumed his Excellency was not quite so timid as to fancy that the woman would follow him all the way to Germany, when his diplomatic duties would be ended; as they would soon.
The receipt of this billet caused such a flush of joy and exultation to unhappy happy Mrs. Catherine, that Wood did not fail to remark it, and speedily learned the contents of the letter. Wood had no need to bid the poor wretch guard it very carefully: it never from that day forth left her; it was her title of nobility,--her pass to rank, wealth, happiness. She began to look down on her neighbours; her manner to her husband grew more than ordinarily scornful; the poor vain wretch longed to tell her secret, and to take her place openly in the world. She a Countess, and Tom a Count's son! She felt that she should royally become the title!
About this time--and Hayes was very much frightened at the prevalence of the rumour-it suddenly began to be about in his quarter that he was going to quit the country. The story was in everybody's mouth; people used to sneer when he turned pale, and wept, and passionately denied it.
It was said, too, that Mrs. Hayes was not his wife, but his mistress--everybody had this story--his mistress, whom he treated most cruelly, and was about to desert. The tale of the blow which had felled her to the ground was known in all quarters. When he declared that the woman tried to stab him, nobody believed him: the women said he would have been served right if she had done so. How had these stories gone abroad? "Three days more, and I WILL fly," thought Hayes; "and the world may say what it pleases."Ay, fool, fly--away so swiftly that Fate cannot overtake thee: hide so cunningly that Death shall not find thy place of refuge! Being A Preparation For The End The reader, doubtless, doth now partly understand what dark acts of conspiracy are beginning to gather around Mr. Hayes; and possibly hath comprehended-- 1. That if the rumour was universally credited which declared that Mrs. Catherine was only Hayes's mistress, and not his wife, She might, if she so inclined, marry another person; and thereby not injure her fame and excite wonderment, but actually add to her reputation. 2. That if all the world did steadfastly believe that Mr. Hayes intended to desert this woman, after having cruelly maltreated her,
The direction which his journey might take would be of no consequence; and he might go to Highgate, to Edinburgh, to Constantinople, nay, down a well, and no soul would care to ask whither he had gone.
These points Mr. Hayes had not considered duly. The latter case had been put to him, and annoyed him, as we have seen; the former had actually been pressed upon him by Mrs. Hayes herself; who, in almost the only communication she had had with him since their last quarrel, had asked him, angrily, in the presence of Wood and her son, whether he had dared to utter such lies, and how it came to pass that the neighbours looked scornfully at her, and avoided her?
To this charge Mr. Hayes pleaded, very meekly, that he was not guilty; and young Billings, taking him by the collar, and clinching his fist in his face, swore a dreadful oath that he would have the life of him if he dared abuse his mother. Mrs. Hayes then spoke of the general report abroad, that he was going to desert her; which, if he attempted to do, Mr. Billings vowed that he would follow him to Jerusalem and have his blood. These threats, and the insolent language of young Billings, rather calmed Hayes than agitated him: he longed to be on his journey; but he began to hope that no obstacle would be placed in the way of it. For the first time since many days, he began to enjoy a feeling something akin to security, and could look with tolerable confidence towards a comfortable completion of his own schemes of treason.
These points being duly settled, we are now arrived, O public, at a point for which the author's soul hath been yearning ever since this history commenced. We are now come, O critic, to a stage of the work when this tale begins to assume an appearance so interestingly horrific, that you must have a heart of stone if you are not interested by it. O candid and discerning reader, who art sick of the hideous scenes of brutal bloodshed which have of late come forth from pens of certain eminent wits,* if you turn away disgusted from the book, remember that this passage hath not been written for you, or such as you, who have taste to know and hate the style in which it hath been composed; but for the public, which hath no such taste:--for the public, which can patronise four different representations of Jack Sheppard,--for the public whom its literary providers have gorged with blood and foul Newgate garbage,--and to whom we poor creatures, humbly following at the tail of our great high-priests and prophets of the press, may, as in duty bound, offer some small gift of our own: a little mite truly, but given with good-will. Come up, then, fair Catherine and brave Count;--appear, gallant Brock, and faultless Billings;--hasten hither, honest John Hayes: the former chapters are but flowers in which we have been decking you for the sacrifice. Ascend to the altar, ye innocent lambs, and prepare for the final act: lo! the knife is sharpened, and the sacrificer ready! Stretch your throats, sweet ones,--for the public is thirsty, and must have blood!* This was written in 1840. 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.
* * *
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.)
Mr. Hayes did not join the family the next day; and it appears that the previous night's reconciliation was not very durable; for when Mrs. Springatt asked Wood for Hayes, Mr. Wood stated that Hayes had gone away without saying whither he was bound, or how long he might be absent. He only said, in rather a sulky tone, that he should probably pass the night at a friend's house. "For my part, I know of no friend he hath," added Mr. Wood; "and pray Heaven that he may not think of deserting his poor wife, whom he hath beaten and ill-used so already!" In this prayer Mrs. Springatt joined; and so these two worthy people parted.
What business Billings was about cannot be said; but he was this night bound towards Marylebone Fields, as he was the night before for the Strand and Westminster; and, although the night was very stormy and rainy, as the previous evening had been fine, old Wood good-naturedly resolved upon accompanying him; and forth they sallied together.
Mrs. Catherine, too, had HER business, as we have seen; but this was of a very delicate nature. At nine o'clock, she had an appointment with the Count; and faithfully, by that hour, had found her way to Saint Margaret's churchyard, near Westminster Abbey, where she awaited Monsieur de Galgenstein.
The spot was convenient, being very lonely, and at the same time close to the Count's lodgings at Whitehall. His Excellency came, but somewhat after the hour; for, to say the truth, being a freethinker, he had the most firm belief in ghosts and demons, and did not care to pace a churchyard alone. He was comforted, therefore, when he saw a woman muffled in a cloak, who held out her hand to him at the gate, and said, "Is that you?" He took her hand,--it was very clammy and cold; and at her desire he bade his confidential footman, who had attended him with a torch, to retire, and leave him to himself.
The torch-bearer retired, and left them quite in darkness; and the pair entered the little cemetery, cautiously threading their way among the tombs. They sat down on one, underneath a tree it seemed to be; the wind was very cold, and its piteous howling was the only noise that broke the silence of the place. Catherine's teeth were chattering, for all her wraps; and when Max drew her close to him, and encircled her waist with one arm, and pressed her hand, she did not repulse him, but rather came close to him, and with her own damp fingers feebly returned his pressure.
The poor thing was very wretched and weeping. She confided to Max the cause of her grief. She was alone in the world,--alone and penniless. Her husband had left her; she had that very day received a letter from him which confirmed all that she had suspected so long. He had left her, carried away all his property, and would not return! If we say that a selfish joy filled the breast of Monsieur de Galgenstein, the reader will not be astonished. A heartless libertine, he felt glad at the prospect of Catherine's ruin; for he hoped that necessity would make her his own. He clasped the poor thing to his heart, and vowed that he would replace the husband she had lost, and that his fortune should be hers."Will you replace him?" said she. "Yes, truly, in everything but the name, dear Catherine; and when he dies, I swear you shall be Countess of Galgenstein." "Will you swear?" she cried, eagerly. "By everything that is most sacred: were you free now, I would" (and here he swore a terrific oath) "at once make you mine."
We have seen before that it cost Monsieur de Galgenstein nothing to make these vows. Hayes was likely, too, to live as long as Catherine--as long, at least, as the Count's connection with her; but he was caught in his own snare.
She took his hand and kissed it repeatedly, and bathed it in her tears, and pressed it to her bosom. "Max," she said, "I AM FREE! Be mine, and I will love you as I have done for years and years."Max started back. "What, is he dead?" he said. "No, no, not dead: but he never was my husband."
He let go her hand, and, interrupting her, said sharply, "Indeed, madam, if this carpenter never was your husband, I see no cause why _I_ should be. If a lady, who hath been for twenty years the mistress of a miserable country boor, cannot find it in her heart to put up with the protection of a nobleman--a sovereign's representative--she may seek a husband elsewhere!"
"I was no man's mistress except yours," sobbed Catherine, wringing her hands and sobbing wildly; "but, O Heaven! I deserved this. Because I was a child, and you saw, and ruined, and left me--because, in my sorrow and repentance, I wished to repair my crime, and was touched by that man's love, and married him--because he too deceives and leaves me--because, after loving you--madly loving you for twenty years--I will not now forfeit your respect, and degrade myself by yielding to your will, you too must scorn me! It is too much--too much--O Heaven!" And the wretched woman fell back almost fainting.
Max was almost frightened by this burst of sorrow on her part, and was coming forward to support her; but she motioned him away, and, taking from her bosom a letter, said, "If it were light, you could see, Max, how cruelly I have been betrayed by that man who called himself my husband. Long before he married me, he was married to another. This woman is still living, he says; and he says he leaves me for ever."
At this moment the moon, which had been hidden behind Westminster Abbey, rose above the vast black mass of that edifice, and poured a flood of silver light upon the little church of St. Margaret's, and the spot where the lovers stood. Max was at a little distance from Catherine, pacing gloomily up and down the flags. She remained at her old position at the tombstone under the tree, or pillar, as it seemed to be, as the moon got up. She was leaning against the pillar, and holding out to Max, with an arm beautifully white and rounded, the letter she had received from her husband: "Read it, Max," she said: "I asked for light, and here is Heaven's own, by which you may read."
But Max did not come forward to receive it. On a sudden his face assumed a look of the most dreadful surprise and agony. He stood still, and stared with wild eyes starting from their sockets; he stared upwards, at a point seemingly above Catherine's head. At last he raised up his finger slowly and said, "Look, Cat--THE HEAD--THE HEAD!" Then uttering a horrible laugh, he fell down grovelling among the stones, gibbering and writhing in a fit of epilepsy.
Catherine started forward and looked up. She had been standing against a post, not a tree--the moon was shining full on it now; and on the summit strangely distinct, and smiling ghastly, was a livid human head.
The wretched woman fled--she dared look no more. And some hours afterwards, when, alarmed by the Count's continued absence, his confidential servant came back to seek for him in the churchyard, he was found sitting on the flags, staring full at the head, and laughing, and talking to it wildly, and nodding at it. He was taken up a hopeless idiot, and so lived for years and years; clanking the chain, and moaning under the lash, and howling through long nights when the moon peered through the bars of his solitary cell, and he buried his face in the straw.* * *
There--the murder is out! And having indulged himself in a chapter of the very finest writing, the author begs the attention of the British public towards it; humbly conceiving that it possesses some of those peculiar merits which have rendered the fine writing in other chapters of the works of other authors so famous.
Without bragging at all, let us just point out the chief claims of the above pleasing piece of composition. In the first place, it is perfectly stilted and unnatural; the dialogue and the sentiments being artfully arranged, so as to be as strong and majestic as possible. Our dear Cat is but a poor illiterate country wench, who has come from cutting her husband's throat; and yet, see! she talks and looks like a tragedy princess, who is suffering in the most virtuous blank verse. This is the proper end of fiction, and one of the greatest triumphs that a novelist can achieve: for to make people sympathise with virtue is a vulgar trick that any common fellow can do; but it is not everybody who can take a scoundrel, and cause us to weep and whimper over him as though he were a very saint. Give a young lady of five years old a skein of silk and a brace of nettingneedles, and she will in a short time turn you out a decent silk purse--anybody can; but try her with a sow's ear, and see whether she can make a silk purse out of THAT. That is the work for your real great artist; and pleasant it is to see how many have succeeded in these latter days.The subject is strictly historical, as anyone may see by referring to the Daily Post of March 3, 1726, which contains the following paragraph:
"Yesterday morning, early, a man's head, that by the freshness of it seemed to have been newly cut off from the body, having its own hair on, was found by the river's side, near Millbank, Westminster, and was afterwards exposed to public view in St. Margaret's churchyard, where thousands of people have seen it; but none could tell who the unhappy person was, much less who committed such a horrid and barbarous action. There are various conjectures relating to the deceased; but there being nothing certain, we omit them. The head was much hacked and mangled in the cutting off."
The head which caused such an impression upon Monsieur de Galgenstein was, indeed, once on the shoulders of Mr. John Hayes, who lost it under the following circumstances. We have seen how Mr. Hayes was induced to drink. Mr. Hayes having been encouraged in drinking the wine, and growing very merry therewith, he sang and danced about the room; but his wife, fearing the quantity he had drunk would not have the wished-for effect on him, she sent away for another bottle, of which he drank also. This effectually answered their expectations; and Mr. Hayes became thereby intoxicated, and deprived of his understanding.
He, however, made shift to get into the other room, and, throwing himself upon the bed, fell asleep; upon which Mrs. Hayes reminded them of the affair in hand, and told them that was the most proper juncture to finish the business. ** * *
* The description of the murder and the execution of the culprits, which here follows in the original, was taken from the newspapers of the day. Coming from such a source they have, as may be imagined, no literary merit whatever. The details of the crime are simply horrible, without one touch of even that sort of romance which sometimes gives a little dignity to murder. As such they precisely suited Mr. Thackeray's purpose at the time--which was to show the real manners and customs of the Sheppards and Turpins who were then the popular heroes of fiction. But nowadays there is no such purpose to serve, and therefore these too literal details are omitted.* * *
Ring, ding, ding! the gloomy green curtain drops, the dramatis personae are duly disposed of, the nimble candle snuffers put out the lights, and the audience goeth pondering home. If the critic take the pains to ask why the author, who hath been so diffuse in describing the early and fabulous acts of Mrs. Catherine's existence, should so hurry off the catastrophe where a deal of the very finest writing might have been employed, Solomons replies that the "ordinary" narrative is far more emphatic than any composition of his own could be, with all the rhetorical graces which he might employ. Mr. Aram's trial, as taken by the penny-a-liners of those days, had always interested him more than the lengthened and poetical report which an eminent novelist has given of the same. Mr. Turpin's adventures are more instructive and agreeable to him in the account of the Newgate Plutarch, than in the learned Ainsworth's Biographical Dictionary. And as he believes that the professional gentlemen who are employed to invest such heroes with the rewards that their great actions merit, will go through the ceremony of the grand cordon with much more accuracy and despatch than can be shown by the most distinguished amateur; in like manner he thinks that the history of such investitures should be written by people directly concerned, and not by admiring persons without, who must be ignorant of many of the secrets of Ketchcraft. We very much doubt if Milton himself could make a description of an execution half so horrible as the simple lines in the Daily Post of a hundred and ten years since, that now lies before us--"herrlich wie am ersten Tag,"--as bright and clean as on the day of publication. Think of it! it has been read by Belinda at her toilet, scanned at "Button's" and "Will's," sneered at by wits, talked of in palaces and cottages, by a busy race in wigs, red heels, hoops, patches, and rags of all variety--a busy race that hath long since plunged and vanished in the unfathomable gulf towards which we march so briskly.
Where are they? "Afflavit Deus"--and they are gone! Hark! is not the same wind roaring still that shall sweep us down? and yonder stands the compositor at his types who shall put up a pretty paragraph some day to say how, "Yesterday, at his house in Grosvenor Square," or "At Botany Bay, universally regretted," died So-and-So. Into what profound moralities is the paragraph concerning Mrs. Catherine's burning leading us!
Ay, truly, and to that very point have we wished to come; for, having finished our delectable meal, it behoves us to say a word or two by way of grace at its conclusion, and be heartily thankful that it is over. It has been the writer's object carefully to exclude from his drama (except in two very insignificant instances--mere walking-gentlemen parts), any characters but those of scoundrels of the very highest degree. That he has not altogether failed in the object he had in view, is evident from some newspaper critiques which he has had the good fortune to see; and which abuse the tale of "Catherine" as one of the dullest, most vulgar, and immoral works extant. It is highly gratifying to the author to find that such opinions are abroad, as they convince him that the taste for Newgate literature is on the wane, and that when the public critic has right down undisguised immorality set before him, the honest creature is shocked at it, as he should be, and can declare his indignation in good round terms of abuse. The characters of the tale ARE immoral, and no doubt of it; but the writer humbly hopes the end is not so. The public was, in our notion, dosed and poisoned by the prevailing style of literary practice, and it was necessary to administer some medicine that would produce a wholesome nausea, and afterwards bring about a more healthy habit. And, thank Heaven, this effect HAS been produced in very many instances, and that the "Catherine" cathartic has acted most efficaciously. The author has been pleased at the disgust which his work has excited, and has watched with benevolent carefulness the wry faces that have been made by many of the patients who have swallowed the dose. Solomons remembers, at the establishment in Birchin Lane where he had the honour of receiving his education, there used to be administered to the boys a certain coughmedicine, which was so excessively agreeable that all the lads longed to have colds in order to partake of the remedy. Some of our popular novelists have compounded their drugs in a similar way, and made them so palatable that a public, once healthy and honest, has been well-nigh poisoned by their wares. Solomons defies anyone to say the like of himself--that his doses have been as pleasant as champagne, and his pills as sweet as barley-sugar;--it has been his attempt to make vice to appear entirely vicious; and in those instances where he hath occasionally introduced something like virtue, to make the sham as evident as possible, and not allow the meanest capacity a single chance to mistake it.And what has been the consequence? That wholesome nausea which it has been his good fortune to create wherever he has been allowed to practise in his humble circle.
Has anyone thrown away a halfpennyworth of sympathy upon any person mentioned in this history? Surely no. But abler and more famous men than Solomons have taken a different plan; and it becomes every man in his vocation to cry out against such, and expose their errors as best he may.
Labouring under such ideas, Mr. Isaac Solomons, junior, produced the romance of Mrs. Cat, and confesses himself completely happy to have brought it to a conclusion. His poem may be dull--ay, and probably is. The great Blackmore, the great Dennis, the great Sprat, the great Pomfret, not to mention great men of our own time--have they not also been dull, and had pretty reputations too? Be it granted Solomons IS dull; but don't attack his morality; he humbly submits that, in his poem, no man shall mistake virtue for vice, no man shall allow a single sentiment of pity or admiration to enter his bosom for any character of the piece: it being, from beginning to end, a scene of unmixed rascality performed by persons who never deviate into good feeling. And although he doth not pretend to equal the great modern authors, whom he hath mentioned, in wit or descriptive power; yet, in the point of moral, he meekly believes that he has been their superior; feeling the greatest disgust for the characters he describes, and using his humble endeavour to cause the public also to hate them.Horsemonger Lane: January 1840. ** End **