I had dressed myself up in a very mean habit, for as I had several shapes to appear in, I was now in an ordinary stuff-gown, a blue apron, and a straw hat and I placed myself at the door of the Three Cups Inn in St. John Street. There were several carriers used the inn, and the stage-coaches for Barnet, for Totteridge, and other towns that way stood always in the street in the evening, when they prepared to set out, so that I was ready for anything that offered, for either one or other. The meaning was this; people come frequently with bundles and small parcels to those inns, and call for such carriers or coaches as they want, to carry them into the country; and there generally attend women, porters’ wives or daughters, ready to take in such things for their respective people that employ them.
It happened very oddly that I was standing at the inn gate, and a woman that had stood there before, and which was the porter’s wife belonging to the Barnet stage-coach, having observed me, asked if I waited for any of the coaches. I told her Yes, I waited for my mistress, that was coming to go to Barnet. She asked me who was my mistress, and I told her any madam’s name that came next me; but as it seemed, I happened upon a name, a family of which name lived at Hadley, just beyond Barnet.
I said no more to her, or she to me, a good while; but by and by, somebody calling her at a door a little way off, she desired me that if anybody called for the Barnet coach, I would step and call her at the house, which it seems was an alehouse. I said Yes, very readily, and away she went.
She was no sooner gone but comes a wench and a child, puffing and sweating, and asks for the Barnet coach. I answered presently, ‘Here.’ ‘Do you belong to the Barnet coach?’ says she. ‘Yes, sweetheart,’ said I; ‘what do ye want?’ ‘I want room for two passengers,’ says she. ‘Where are they, sweetheart?’ said I. ‘Here’s this girl, pray let her go into the coach,’ says she, ‘and I’ll go and fetch my mistress.’ ‘Make haste, then, sweetheart,’ says I, ‘for we may be full else.’ The maid had a great bundle under her arm; so she put the child into the coach, and I said, ‘You had best put your bundle into the coach too.’ ‘No,’ says she, ‘I am afraid somebody should slip it away from the child.’ ‘Give to me, then,’ said I, ‘and I’ll take care of it.’ ‘Do, then,’ says she, ‘and be sure you take of it.’ ‘I’ll answer for it,’ said I, ‘if it were for £20 value.’ ‘There, take it, then,’ says she, and away she goes.
As soon as I had got the bundle, and the maid was out of sight, I goes on towards the alehouse, where the porter’s wife was, so that if I had met her, I had then only been going to give her the bundle, and to call her to her business, as if I was going away, and could stay no longer; but as I did not meet her, I walked away, and turning into Charterhouse Lane, then crossed into Batholomew Close, so into Little Britain, and through the Bluecoat Hospital, into Newgate Street.
To prevent my being known, I pulled off my blue apron, and wrapped the bundle in it, which before was made up in a piece of painted calico, and very remarkable; I also wrapped up my straw hat in it, and so put the bundle upon my head; and it was very well that I did thus, for coming through the Bluecoat Hospital, who should I meet but the wench that had given me the bundle to hold. It seems she was going with her mistress, whom she had been gone to fetch, to the Barnet coaches.
I saw she was in haste, and I had no business to stop her; so away she went, and I brought my bundle safe home to my governess. There was no money, nor plate, or jewels in the bundle, but a very good suit of Indian damask, a gown and a petticoat, a laced-head and ruffles of very good Flanders lace, and some linen and other things, such as I knew very well the value of.
This was not indeed my own invention, but was given me by one that had practised it with success, and my governess liked it extremely; and indeed I tried it again several times, though never twice near the same place; for the next time I tried it in White Chapel, just by the corner of Petticoat Lane, where the coaches stand that go out to Stratford and Bow, and that side of the country, and another time at the Flying Horse, without Bishopgate, where the Cheston coaches then lay; and I had always the good luck to come off with some booty.
Another time I placed myself at a warehouse by the waterside, where the coasting vessels from the north come, such as from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sunderland, and other places. Here, the warehouses being shut, comes a young fellow with a letter; and he wanted a box and a hamper that was come from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I asked him if he had the marks of it; so he shows me the letter, by virtue of which he was to ask for it, and which gave an account of the contents, the box being full of linen, and the hamper full of glass ware. I read the letter, and took care to see the name, and the marks, the name of the person that sent the goods, the name of the person that they were sent to; then I bade the messenger come in the morning, for that the warehouse-keeper would not be there any more that night.
Away went I, and getting materials in a public house, I wrote a letter from Mr. John Richardson of Newcastle to his dear cousin Jemmy Cole, in London, with an account that he sent by such a vessel (for I remembered all the particulars to a title), so many pieces of huckaback linen, so many ells of Dutch holland and the like, in a box, and a hamper of flint glasses from Mr. Henzill’s glasshouse; and that the box was marked I. C. No. 1, and the hamper was directed by a label on the cording.
About an hour after, I came to the warehouse, found the warehouse-keeper, and had the goods delivered me without any scruple; the value of the linen being about £22.
I could fill up this whole discourse with the variety of such adventures, which daily invention directed to, and which I managed with the utmost dexterity, and always with success.
At length—as when does the pitcher come safe home that goes so very often to the well?—I fell into some small broils, which though they could not affect me fatally, yet made me known, which was the worst thing next to being found guilty that could befall me.
I had taken up the disguise of a widow’s dress; it was without any real design in view, but only waiting for anything that might offer, as I often did. It happened that while I was going along the street in Covent Garden, there was a great cry of ‘Stop thief! Stop thief!’ some artists had, it seems, put a trick upon a shopkeeper, and being pursued, some of them fled one way, and some another; and one of them was, they said, dressed up in widow’s weeds, upon which the mob gathered about me, and some said I was the person, others said no. Immediately came the mercer’s journeyman, and he swore aloud I was the person, and so seized on me. However, when I was brought back by the mob to the mercer’s shop, the master of the house said freely that I was not the woman that was in his shop, and would have let me go immediately; but another fellow said gravely, ‘Pray stay till Mr.——’ (meaning the journeyman) ‘comes back, for he knows her.’ So they kept me by force near half an hour. They had called a constable, and he stood in the shop as my jailer; and in talking with the constable I inquired where he lived, and what trade he was; the man not apprehending in the least what happened afterwards, readily told me his name, and trade, and where he lived; and told me as a jest, that I might be sure to hear of his name when I came to the Old Bailey.
Some of the servants likewise used me saucily, and had much ado to keep their hands off me; the master indeed was civiller to me than they, but he would not yet let me go, though he owned he could not say I was in his shop before.
I began to be a little surly with him, and told him I hoped he would not take it ill if I made myself amends upon him in a more legal way another time; and desired I might send for friends to see me have right done me. No, he said, he could give no such liberty; I might ask it when I came before the justice of peace; and seeing I threatened him, he would take care of me in the meantime, and would lodge me safe in Newgate. I told him it was his time now, but it would be mine by and by, and governed my passion as well as I was able. However, I spoke to the constable to call me a porter, which he did, and then I called for pen, ink, and paper, but they would let me have none. I asked the porter his name, and where he lived, and the poor man told it me very willingly. I bade him observe and remember how I was treated there; that he saw I was detained there by force. I told him I should want his evidence in another place, and it should not be the worse for him to speak. The porter said he would serve me with all his heart. ‘But, madam,’ says he, ‘let me hear them refuse to let you go, then I may be able to speak the plainer.’
With that I spoke aloud to the master of the shop, and said, ‘Sir, you know in your own conscience that I am not the person you look for, and that I was not in your shop before, therefore I demand that you detain me here no longer, or tell me the reason of your stopping me.’ The fellow grew surlier upon this than before, and said he would do neither till he thought fit. ‘Very well,’ said I to the constable and to the porter; ‘you will be pleased to remember this, gentlemen, another time.’ The porter said, ‘Yes, madam’; and the constable began not to like it, and would have persuaded the mercer to dismiss him, and let me go, since, as he said, he owned I was not the person. ‘Good, sir,’ says the mercer to him tauntingly, ‘are you a justice of peace or a constable? I charged you with her; pray do you do your duty.’ The constable told him, a little moved, but very handsomely, ‘I know my duty, and what I am, sir; I doubt you hardly know what you are doing.’ They had some other hard words, and in the meantime the journeyman, impudent and unmanly to the last degree, used me barbarously, and one of them, the same that first seized upon me, pretended he would search me, and began to lay hands on me. I spit in his face, called out to the constable, and bade him to take notice of my usage. ‘And pray, Mr. Constable,’ said I, ‘ask that villain’s name,’ pointing to the man. The constable reproved him decently, told him that he did not know what he did, for he knew that his master acknowledged I was not the person that was in his shop; ‘and,’ says the constable, ‘I am afraid your master is bringing himself, and me too, into trouble, if this gentlewoman comes to prove who she is, and where she was, and it appears that she is not the woman you pretend to.’ ‘Damn her,’ says the fellow again, with a impudent, hardened face, ‘she is the lady, you may depend upon it; I’ll swear she is the same body that was in the shop, and that I gave the pieces of satin that is lost into her own hand. You shall hear more of it when Mr. William and Mr. Anthony (those were other journeymen) come back; they will know her again as well as I.’
Just as the insolent rogue was talking thus to the constable, comes back Mr. William and Mr. Anthony, as he called them, and a great rabble with them, bringing along with them the true widow that I was pretended to be; and they came sweating and blowing into the shop, and with a great deal of triumph, dragging the poor creature in the most butcherly manner up towards their master, who was in the back shop, and cried out aloud, ‘Here’s the widow, sir; we have catcher her at last.’ ‘What do ye mean by that?’ says the master. ‘Why, we have her already; there she sits,’ says he, ‘and Mr.——,’ says he, ‘can swear this is she.’ The other man, whom they called Mr. Anthony, replied, ‘Mr.——may say what he will, and swear what he will, but this is the woman, and there’s the remnant of satin she stole; I took it out of her clothes with my own hand.’
I sat still now, and began to take a better heart, but smiled and said nothing; the master looked pale; the constable turned about and looked at me. ‘Let ’em alone, Mr. Constable,’ said I; ‘let ’em go on.’ The case was plain and could not be denied, so the constable was charged with the right thief, and the mercer told me very civilly he was sorry for the mistake, and hoped I would not take it ill; that they had so many things of this nature put upon them every day, that they could not be blamed for being very sharp in doing themselves justice. ‘Not take it ill, sir!’ said I; ‘how can I take it well! If you had dismissed me when your insolent fellow seized on me it the street, and brought me to you, and when you yourself acknowledged I was not the person, I would have put it by, and not taken it ill, because of the many ill things I believe you have put upon you daily; but your treatment of me since has been insufferable, and especially that of your servant; I must and will have reparation for that.’
Then he began to parley with me, said he would make me any reasonable satisfaction, and would fain have had me tell him what it was I expected. I told him that I should not be my own judge, the law should decide it for me; and as I was to be carried before a magistrate, I should let him hear there what I had to say. He told me there was no occasion to go before the justice now, I was at liberty to go where I pleased; and so, calling to the constable, told him he might let me go, for I was discharged. The constable said calmly to him, ‘sir, you asked me just now if I knew whether I was a constable or justice, and bade me do my duty, and charged me with this gentlewoman as a prisoner. Now, sir, I find you do not understand what is my duty, for you would make me a justice indeed; but I must tell you it is not in my power. I may keep a prisoner when I am charged with him, but ’tis the law and the magistrate alone that can discharge that prisoner; therefore ’tis a mistake, sir; I must carry her before a justice now, whether you think well of it or not.’ The mercer was very high with the constable at first; but the constable happening to be not a hired officer, but a good, substantial kind of man (I think he was a corn-handler), and a man of good sense, stood to his business, would not discharge me without going to a justice of the peace; and I insisted upon it too. When the mercer saw that, ‘Well,’ says he to the constable, ‘you may carry her where you please; I have nothing to say to her.’ ‘But, sir,’ says the constable, ‘you will go with us, I hope, for ’tis you that charged me with her.’ ‘No, not I,’ says the mercer; ‘I tell you I have nothing to say to her.’ ‘But pray, sir, do,’ says the constable; ‘I desire it of you for your own sake, for the justice can do nothing without you.’ ‘Prithee, fellow,’ says the mercer, ‘go about your business; I tell you I have nothing to say to the gentlewoman. I charge you in the king’s name to dismiss her.’ ‘Sir,’ says the constable, ‘I find you don’t know what it is to be constable; I beg of you don’t oblige me to be rude to you.’ ‘I think I need not; you are rude enough already,’ says the mercer. ‘No, sir,’ says the constable, ‘I am not rude; you have broken the peace in bringing an honest woman out of the street, when she was about her lawful occasion, confining her in your shop, and ill-using her here by your servants; and now can you say I am rude to you? I think I am civil to you in not commanding or charging you in the king’s name to go with me, and charging every man I see that passes your door to aid and assist me in carrying you by force; this you cannot but know I have power to do, and yet I forbear it, and once more entreat you to go with me.’ Well, he would not for all this, and gave the constable ill language. However, the constable kept his temper, and would not be provoked; and then I put in and said, ‘Come, Mr. Constable, let him alone; I shall find ways enough to fetch him before a magistrate, I don’t fear that; but there’s the fellow,’ says I, ‘he was the man that seized on me as I was innocently going along the street, and you are a witness of the violence with me since; give me leave to charge you with him, and carry him before the justice.’ ‘Yes, madam,’ says the constable; and turning to the fellow ‘Come, young gentleman,’ says he to the journeyman, ‘you must go along with us; I hope you are not above the constable’s power, though your master is.’
The fellow looked like a condemned thief, and hung back, then looked at his master, as if he could help him; and he, like a fool, encourage the fellow to be rude, and he truly resisted the constable, and pushed him back with a good force when he went to lay hold on him, at which the constable knocked him down, and called out for help; and immediately the shop was filled with people, and the constable seized the master and man, and all his servants.
This first ill consequence of this fray was, that the woman they had taken, who was really the thief, made off, and got clear away in the crowd; and two other that they had stopped also; whether they were really guilty or not, that I can say nothing to.
By this time some of his neighbours having come in, and, upon inquiry, seeing how things went, had endeavoured to bring the hot-brained mercer to his senses, and he began to be convinced that he was in the wrong; and so at length we went all very quietly before the justice, with a mob of about five hundred people at our heels; and all the way I went I could hear the people ask what was the matter, and other reply and say, a mercer had stopped a gentlewoman instead of a thief, and had afterwards taken the thief, and now the gentlewoman had taken the mercer, and was carrying him before the justice. This pleased the people strangely, and made the crowd increase, and they cried out as they went, ‘Which is the rogue? which is the mercer?’ and especially the women. Then when they saw him they cried out, ‘That’s he, that’s he’; and every now and then came a good dab of dirt at him; and thus we marched a good while, till the mercer thought fit to desire the constable to call a coach to protect himself from the rabble; so we rode the rest of the way, the constable and I, and the mercer and his man.
When we came to the justice, which was an ancient gentleman in Bloomsbury, the constable giving first a summary account of the matter, the justice bade me speak, and tell what I had to say. And first he asked my name, which I was very loth to give, but there was no remedy, so I told him my name was Mary Flanders, that I was a widow, my husband being a sea captain, died on a voyage to Virginia; and some other circumstances I told which he could never contradict, and that I lodged at present in town with such a person, naming my governess; but that I was preparing to go over to America, where my husband’s effects lay, and that I was going that day to buy some clothes to put myself into second mourning, but had not yet been in any shop, when that fellow, pointing to the mercer’s journeyman, came rushing upon me with such fury as very much frighted me, and carried me back to his master’s shop, where, though his master acknowledged I was not the person, yet he would not dismiss me, but charged a constable with me.
Then I proceeded to tell how the journeyman treated me; how they would not suffer me to send for any of my friends; how afterwards they found the real thief, and took the very goods they had lost upon her, and all the particulars as before.
Then the constable related his case: his dialogue with the mercer about discharging me, and at last his servant’s refusing to go with him, when he had charged him with him, and his master encouraging him to do so, and at last his striking the constable, and the like, all as I have told it already.
The justice then heard the mercer and his man. The mercer indeed made a long harangue of the great loss they have daily by lifters and thieves; that it was easy for them to mistake, and that when he found it he would have dismissed me, etc., as above. As to the journeyman, he had very little to say, but that he pretended other of the servants told him that I was really the person.
Upon the whole, the justice first of all told me very courteously I was discharged; that he was very sorry that the mercer’s man should in his eager pursuit have so little discretion as to take up an innocent person for a guilty person; that if he had not been so unjust as to detain me afterward, he believed I would have forgiven the first affront; that, however, it was not in his power to award me any reparation for anything, other than by openly reproving them, which he should do; but he supposed I would apply to such methods as the law directed; in the meantime he would bind him over.
But as to the breach of the peace committed by the journeyman, he told me he should give me some satisfaction for that, for he should commit him to Newgate for assaulting the constable, and for assaulting me also.
Accordingly he sent the fellow to Newgate for that assault, and his master gave bail, and so we came away; but I had the satisfaction of seeing the mob wait upon them both, as they came out, hallooing and throwing stones and dirt at the coaches they rode in; and so I came home to my governess.
After this hustle, coming home and telling my governess the story, she falls a-laughing at me. ‘Why are you merry?’ says I; ‘the story has not so much laughing room in it as you imagine; I am sure I have had a great deal of hurry and fright too, with a pack of ugly rogues.’ ‘Laugh!’ says my governess; ‘I laugh, child, to see what a lucky creature you are; why, this job will be the best bargain to you that ever you made in your life, if you manage it well. I warrant you,’ says she, ‘you shall make the mercer pay you £500 for damages, besides what you shall get out of the journeyman.’
I had other thoughts of the matter than she had; and especially, because I had given in my name to the justice of peace; and I knew that my name was so well known among the people at Hick’s Hall, the Old Bailey, and such places, that if this cause came to be tried openly, and my name came to be inquired into, no court would give much damages, for the reputation of a person of such a character. However, I was obliged to begin a prosecution in form, and accordingly my governess found me out a very creditable sort of a man to manage it, being an attorney of very good business, and of a good reputation, and she was certainly in the right of this; for had she employed a pettifogging hedge solicitor, or a man not known, and not in good reputation, I should have brought it to but little.
I met this attorney, and gave him all the particulars at large, as they are recited above; and he assured me it was a case, as he said, that would very well support itself, and that he did not question but that a jury would give very considerable damages on such an occasion; so taking his full instructions he began the prosecution, and the mercer being arrested, gave bail. A few days after his giving bail, he comes with his attorney to my attorney, to let him know that he desired to accommodate the matter; that it was all carried on in the heat of an unhappy passion; that his client, meaning me, had a sharp provoking tongue, that I used them ill, gibing at them, and jeering them, even while they believed me to be the very person, and that I had provoked them, and the like.
My attorney managed as well on my side; made them believe I was a widow of fortune, that I was able to do myself justice, and had great friends to stand by me too, who had all made me promise to sue to the utmost, and that if it cost me a thousand pounds I would be sure to have satisfaction, for that the affronts I had received were insufferable.
However, they brought my attorney to this, that he promised he would not blow the coals, that if I inclined to accommodation, he would not hinder me, and that he would rather persuade me to peace than to war; for which they told him he should be no loser; all which he told me very honestly, and told me that if they offered him any bribe, I should certainly know it; but upon the whole he told me very honestly that if I would take his opinion, he would advise me to make it up with them, for that as they were in a great fright, and were desirous above all things to make it up, and knew that, let it be what it would, they would be allotted to bear all the costs of the suit; he believed they would give me freely more than any jury or court of justice would give upon a trial. I asked him what he thought they would be brought to. He told me he could not tell as to that, but he would tell me more when I saw him again. Some time after this, they came again to know if he had talked with me. He told them he had; that he found me not so averse to an accommodation as some of my friends were, who resented the disgrace offered me, and set me on; that they blowed the coals in secret, prompting me to revenge, or do myself justice, as they called it; so that he could not tell what to say to it; he told them he would do his endeavour to persuade me, but he ought to be able to tell me what proposal they made. They pretended they could not make any proposal, because it might be made use of against them; and he told them, that by the same rule he could not make any offers, for that might be pleaded in abatement of what damages a jury might be inclined to give. However, after some discourse and mutual promises that no advantage should be taken on either side, by what was transacted then or at any other of those meetings, they came to a kind of a treaty; but so remote, and so wide from one another, that nothing could be expected from it; for my attorney demanded £500 and charges, and they offered £50 without charges; so they broke off, and the mercer proposed to have a meeting with me myself; and my attorney agreed to that very readily.
My attorney gave me notice to come to this meeting in good clothes, and with some state, that the mercer might see I was something more than I seemed to be that time they had me. Accordingly I came in a new suit of second mourning, according to what I had said at the justice’s. I set myself out, too, as well as a widow’s dress in second mourning would admit; my governess also furnished me with a good pearl necklace, that shut in behind with a locket of diamonds, which she had in pawn; and I had a very good figure; and as I stayed till I was sure they were come, I came in a coach to the door, with my maid with me.
When I came into the room the mercer was surprised. He stood up and made his bow, which I took a little notice of, and but a little, and went and sat down where my own attorney had pointed to me to sit, for it was his house. After a little while the mercer said, he did not know me again, and began to make some compliments his way. I told him, I believed he did not know me at first, and that if he had, I believed he would not have treated me as he did.
He told me he was very sorry for what had happened, and that it was to testify the willingness he had to make all possible reparation that he had appointed this meeting; that he hoped I would not carry things to extremity, which might be not only too great a loss to him, but might be the ruin of his business and shop, in which case I might have the satisfaction of repaying an injury with an injury ten times greater; but that I would then get nothing, whereas he was willing to do me any justice that was in his power, without putting himself or me to the trouble or charge of a suit at law.
I told him I was glad to hear him talk so much more like a man of sense than he did before; that it was true, acknowledgment in most cases of affronts was counted reparation sufficient; but this had gone too far to be made up so; that I was not revengeful, nor did I seek his ruin, or any man’s else, but that all my friends were unanimous not to let me so far neglect my character as to adjust a thing of this kind without a sufficient reparation of honour; that to be taken up for a thief was such an indignity as could not be put up; that my character was above being treated so by any that knew me, but because in my condition of a widow I had been for some time careless of myself, and negligent of myself, I might be taken for such a creature, but that for the particular usage I had from him afterwards,—and then I repeated all as before; it was so provoking I had scarce patience to repeat it.
Well, he acknowledged all, and was might humble indeed; he made proposals very handsome; he came up to £100 and to pay all the law charges, and added that he would make me a present of a very good suit of clothes. I came down to £300, and I demanded that I should publish an advertisement of the particulars in the common newspapers.
This was a clause he never could comply with. However, at last he came up, by good management of my attorney, to £150 and a suit of black silk clothes; and there I agree, and as it were, at my attorney’s request, complied with it, he paying my attorney’s bill and charges, and gave us a good supper into the bargain.
When I came to receive the money, I brought my governess with me, dressed like an old duchess, and a gentleman very well dressed, who we pretended courted me, but I called him cousin, and the lawyer was only to hint privately to him that his gentleman courted the widow.
He treated us handsomely indeed, and paid the money cheerfully enough; so that it cost him £200 in all, or rather more. At our last meeting, when all was agreed, the case of the journeyman came up, and the mercer begged very hard for him; told me he was a man that had kept a shop of his own, and been in good business, had a wife, and several children, and was very poor; that he had nothing to make satisfaction with, but he should come to beg my pardon on his knees, if I desired it, as openly as I pleased. I had no spleen at the saucy rogue, nor were his submissions anything to me, since there was nothing to be got by him, so I thought it was as good to throw that in generously as not; so I told him I did not desire the ruin of any man, and therefore at his request I would forgive the wretch; it was below me to seek any revenge.
When we were at supper he brought the poor fellow in to make acknowledgment, which he would have done with as much mean humility as his offence was with insulting haughtiness and pride, in which he was an instance of a complete baseness of spirit, impious, cruel, and relentless when uppermost and in prosperity, abject and low-spirited when down in affliction. However, I abated his cringes, told him I forgave him, and desired he might withdraw, as if I did not care for the sight of him, though I had forgiven him.