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Catherine: A Story By William Makepeace Thackeray Characters: 29498

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

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'faith, I believe you're a pair," said Mr. Wood.

"Pray, sir, keep your tongue to yourself. Your opinion isn't asked anyhow-no, nor your company wanted neither," cried Mrs. Catherine, with proper spirit.

At which remark Mr. Wood only whistled.

"I have asked this here gentleman to pass this evening along with me. We've been drinking together, ma'am."

"That we have", said Mr. Wood, looking at Mrs. Cat with the most perfect good-humour.

"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 Ha

yes'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.

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