With this purpose, the author chose for the subject of his story a woman named Catherine Hayes, who was burned at Tyburn, in 1726, for the deliberate murder of her husband, under very revolting circumstances. Mr. Thackeray's aim obviously was to describe the career of this wretched woman and her associates with such fidelity to truth as to exhibit the danger and folly of investing such persons with heroic and romantic qualities.
It will not be necessary, for the purpose of this history, to follow out very closely all the adventures which occurred to Mrs. Catherine from the period when she quitted the "Bugle" and became the Captain's lady; for although it would be just as easy to show as not, that the young woman, by following the man of her heart, had only yielded to an innocent impulse, and by remaining with him for a certain period, had proved the depth and strength of her affection for him - although we might make very tender and eloquent apologies for the error of both parties, the reader might possibly be disgusted at such descriptions and such arguments: which, besides, are already done to his hand in the novel of Ernest Maltravers before mentioned.
From the gentleman's manner towards Mrs. Catherine, and from his brilliant and immediate success, the reader will doubtless have concluded, in the first place, that Gustavus Adolphus had not a very violent affection for Mrs. Cat; in the second place, that he was a professional lady-killer, and therefore likely at some period to resume his profession; thirdly, and to conclude, that a connection so begun, must, in the nature of things, be likely to end speedily.
And so, to do the Count justice, it would, if he had been allowed to follow his own inclination entirely; for (as many young gentlemen will, and yet no praise to them) in about a week he began to be indifferent, in a month to be weary, in two months to be angry, in three to proceed to blows and curses; and, in short, to repent most bitterly the hour when he had ever been induced to present Mrs. Catherine the toe of his boot, for the purpose of lifting her on to his horse.
"Egad!" said he to the Corporal one day, when confiding his griefs to Mr. Brock, "I wish my toe had been cut off before ever it served as a ladder to this little vixen."
"Or perhaps your honour would wish to kick her downstairs with it?" delicately suggested Mr. Brock.
"Kick her! why, the wench would hold so fast by the banisters that I could not kick her down, Mr. Brock. To tell you a bit of a secret, I have tried as much - not to kick her - no, no, not kick her, certainly: that's ungentlemanly - but to induce her to go back to that cursed pot-house where we fell in with her. I have given her many hints-"
"Oh, yes, I saw your honour give her one yesterday - with a mug of beer. By the laws, as the ale run all down her face, and she clutched a knife to run at you, I don't think I ever saw such a she-devil! That woman will do for your honour some day, if you provoke her."
"Do for me ? No, hang it, Mr. Brock, never! She loves every hair of my head, sir: she worships me, Corporal. Egad, yes! she worships me; and would much sooner apply a knife to her own weasand than scratch my little finger!"
"I think she does," said Mr. Brock.
"I'm sure of it," said the Captain. "Women, look you, are like dogs, they like to be ill-treated: they like it, sir; I know they do. I never had anything to do with a woman in my life but I ill-treated her, and she liked me the better."
"Mrs. Hall ought to be very fond of you then, sure enough!" said Mr. Corporal.
"Very fond - ha, ha! Corporal, you wag you - and so she is very fond. Yesterday, after the knife-and-beer scene - no wonder I threw the liquor in her face: it was so dev'lish flat that no gentleman could drink it: and I told her never to draw it till dinner-time-"
"Oh, it was enough to put an angel in a fury!" said Brock.
"Well, yesterday, after the knife business, when you had got the carver out of her hand, off she flings to her bedroom, will not eat a bit of dinner forsooth, and remains locked up for a couple of hours. At two o'clock afternoon (I was over a tankard), out comes the little she-devil, her face pale, her eyes bleared, and the tip of her nose as red as fire with sniffling