§ 5

Daniel Defoe

I WAS in a strange country, and, though I had a pretty many acquaintances, had but very few friends that I could consult on this occasion. All possible enquiry was made after the rogues that had been thus barbarous, but nothing could be heard of them; nor was it possible that the footman could make any discovery of them by his description, for they knocked him down immediately, so that he knew nothing of what was done afterwards. The coachman was the only man that could say anything, and all his account amounted to no more than this, that one of them had soldier’s clothes, but he could not remember the particulars of his mounting so as to know what regiment he belonged to; and as to their faces, that he could know nothing of, because they had all of them masks on.

I had him buried as decently as the place would permit a Protestant stranger to be buried, and made some of the scruples and difficulties on that account easy by the help of money to a certain person, who went impudently to the curate of the parish St. Sulpice in Paris and told him that the gentleman that was killed was a Catholic, that the thieves had taken from him a cross of gold set with diamonds, worth 6,000 livres, that his widow was a Catholic and had sent by him sixty crowns to the Church of —— for Masses to be said for the repose of his soul. Upon all which, though not one word of it was true, he was buried with all the ceremonies of the Roman Church.

I think I almost cried myself to death for him, for I abandoned myself to all the excesses of grief, and indeed I loved him to a degree inexpressible; and considering what kindness he had shown me at first, and how tenderly he had used me to the last, what could I do less?

Then the manner of his death was terrible and frightful to me, and, above all, the strange notices I had of it. I had never pretended to the second sight or anything of that kind, but certainly if any one ever had such a thing, I had it at this time, for I saw him as plainly in all those terrible shapes as above. First, as a skeleton, not dead only, but rotten and wasted; secondly, as killed, and his face bloody; and thirdly, his clothes bloody; and all within the space of one minute, or indeed of a very few moments.

These things amazed me, and I was a good while as one stupid. However, after some time I began to recover and look into my affairs. I had the satisfaction not to be left in distress or in danger of poverty; on the contrary, besides what he had put into my hands fairly in his lifetime, which amounted to a very considerable value, I found above seven hundred pistoles in gold in his escritoire, of which he had given me the key, and I found foreign bills accepted for about 12,000 livres; so that, in a word, I found myself possessed of almost ten thousand pounds sterling in a very few days after the disaster.

The first thing I did upon this occasion was to send a letter to my maid (as I still called her) Amy, wherein I gave her an account of my disaster; how my husband as she called him (for I never called him so), was murdered, and as I did not know how his relations or his wife’s friends might act upon that occasion, I ordered her to convey away all the plate, linen, and other things of value and to secure them in a person’s hands that I directed her to, and then to sell or dispose the furniture of the house if she could, and so, without acquainting anybody with the reason of her going, withdraw, sending notice to his head manager at London that the house was quitted by the tenant, and they might come and take possession of it for the executors. Amy was so dexterous, and did her work so nimbly, that she gutted the house, and sent the key to the said manager almost as soon as he had notice of the misfortune that befell their master.

Upon their receiving the surprising news of his death, the head manager came over to Paris and came to the house. I made no scruple of calling myself Madame ——, the widow of Monsieur ——, the English jeweller; and as I spoke French naturally, I did not let him know but that I was his wife, married in France, and that I had not heard that he had any wife in England, but pretended to be surprised, and exclaimed against him for so base an action; and that I had good friends in Poitou, where I was born, who would take care to have justice done me in England out of his estate.

I should have observed that as soon as the news was public of a man being murdered, and that he was a jeweller, fame did me the favour as to publish presently that he was robbed of his casket of jewels, which he always carried about with him. I confirmed this, among my daily lamentations, for his disaster, and added that he had with him a fine diamond ring which he was known to wear frequently about him, valued at 100 pistoles, a gold watch, and a great quantity of diamonds of inestimable value in his casket, which jewels he was carrying to the Prince of ——, to show some of them to him; and the Prince owned that he had spoken to him to bring some such jewels to let him see them. But I sorely repented this part afterwards, as you shall hear.

This rumour put an end to all enquiry after his jewels, his ring, or his watch; and as for the 700 pistoles, that I secured. For the bills which were in hand, I owned I had them; but that as, I said, I brought my husband 30,000 livres portion, I claimed the said bills, which came to not above 12,000 livres, for my amende; and this, with the plate and the household stuff, was the principal of all his estate which they could come at. As to the foreign bill which he was going to Versailles to get accepted, it was really lost with him; but his manager, who had remitted the bill to him by way of Amsterdam, bringing over the second bill, the money was saved, as they called it, which would otherwise have been also gone. The thieves who robbed and murdered him were, to be sure, afraid to send anybody to get the bill accepted, for that would undoubtedly have discovered them.

By this time my maid Amy was arrived, and she gave me an account of her management and how she had secured everything, and that she had quitted the house and sent the key to the head manager of his business, and let me know how much she had made of everything, very punctually and honestly.

I should have observed in the account of his dwelling with me so long at ——, that he never passed for anything there but a lodger in the house, and though he was landlord, that did not alter the case; so that at his death, Amy coming to quit the house and give them the key, there was no affinity between that and the case of their master who was newly killed.

I got good advice at Paris from an eminent lawyer, a counsellor of the parliament there, and, laying my case before him, he directed me to make a process in dower upon the estate for making good my new fortune upon matrimony, which accordingly I did; and, upon the whole, the manager went back to England well satisfied that he had gotten the unaccepted bills of exchange, which was for £2,500, with some other things, which together amounted to 17,000 livres, and thus I got rid of him.

I was visited with great civility on this sad occasion of the loss of my husband (as they thought him) by a great many ladies of quality; and the Prince of —— to whom it was reported he was carrying the jewels, sent his gentleman with a very handsome compliment of condolence to me; and his gentleman, whether with or without order, hinted as if His Highness did intend to have visited me himself, but that some accident, which he made a long story of, had prevented him.

By the concourse of ladies and others that thus came to visit me I began to be much known, and as I did not forget to set myself out with all possible advantage, considering the dress of a widow, which in those days was a most frightful thing—I say, as I did thus from my own vanity, for I was not ignorant that I was very handsome—I say, on this account I was soon made very public, and was known by the name of La belle veuve de Poitou, or ‘The pretty widow of Poitou.’ As I was very well pleased to see myself thus handsomely used in my affliction, it soon dried up all my tears; and though I appeared as a widow, yet, as we say in England, it was of a widow comforted. I took care to let the ladies see that I knew how to receive them, that I was not at a loss how to behave to any of them; and, in short, I began to be very popular there. But I had an occasion afterwards which made me decline that kind of management, as you shall hear presently.

About four days after I had received the compliments of condolence from the Prince of ——, the same gentleman he had sent before came to tell me that His Highness was coming to give me a visit. I was indeed surprised at that, and perfectly at a loss how to behave. However, as there was no remedy, I prepared to receive him as well as I could. It was not many minutes after but he was at the door, and came in, introduced by his own gentleman, as above, and after by my woman Amy.

He treated me with abundance of civility, and condoled handsomely the loss of my husband and likewise the manner of it. He told me he understood he was coming to Versailles, to himself, to show him some jewels; that it was true that he had discoursed with him about jewels, but could not imagine how any villains should hear of his coming at that time with them; that he had not ordered him to attend with them at Versailles, but told him that he would come to Paris by such a day, so that he was no way accessory to the disaster. I told him gravely I knew very well that all His Highness had said of that part was true, that these villains knew his profession, and knew, no doubt, that he always carried a casket of jewels about him, and that he always wore a diamond ring on his finger worth a hundred pistoles, which report had magnified to five hundred; and that if he had been going to any other place, it would have been the same thing. After this His Highness rose up to go, and told me he had resolved, however, to make me some reparation, and with these words put a silk purse into my hand with a hundred pistoles, and told me he would make a further compliment of a small pension, which his gentleman would inform me of.

You may be sure I behaved with a due sense of so much goodness, and offered to kneel to kiss his hand, but he took me up and saluted me, and sat down again (though before he made as if he was going away), making me sit down by him.

He then began to talk with me more familiarly; told me he hoped I was not left in bad circumstances; that Mr. —— was reputed to be very rich, and that he had gained lately great sums by some jewels; and he hoped, he said, that I had still a fortune agreeable to the condition I had lived in before.

I replied, with some tears, which I confess were a little forced, that I believed if Mr. —— had lived we should have been out of danger of want, but that it was impossible to estimate the loss which I had sustained, besides that of the life of my husband; that by the opinion of those that knew something of his affairs and of what value the jewels were which he intended to have shown to His Highness, he could not have less about him than the value of a hundred thousand livres; that it was a fatal blow to me and to his whole family, especially that they should be lost in such a manner.

His Highness returned, with an air of concern, that he was very sorry for it, but he hoped if I settled in Paris I might find ways to restore my fortune. At the same time he complimented me upon my being very handsome, as he was pleased to call it, and that I could not fail of admirers. I stood up and humbly thanked His Highness, but told him I had no expectations of that kind; that I thought I should be obliged to go over to England to look after my husband’s effects there, which I was told were considerable; but that I did not know what justice a poor stranger would get among them; and as for Paris, my fortune being so impaired, I saw nothing before me but to go back to Poitou to my friends, where some of my relations, I hoped, might do something for me, and added that one of my brothers was an Abbot at ——, near Poitiers.

He stood up and, taking me by the hand, led me to a large looking-glass which made up the pier in the front of the parlour. “Look there, madam,” said he; “is it fit that face,” pointing to my figure in the glass, “should go back to Poitou? No, madam,” says he, “stay and make some gentleman of quality happy, that may in return make you forget all your sorrows “; and with that he took me in his arms and, kissing me twice, told me he would see me again, but with less ceremony.

Some little time after this, but the same day, his gentleman came to me again, and with great ceremony and respect delivered me a black box tied with a scarlet riband and sealed with a noble coat of arms, which I suppose was the Prince’s. There was in it a grant from His Highness, or an assignment, I know not which to call it, with a warrant to his banker to pay me two thousand livres a year during my stay in Paris, as the widow of Monsieur —— the jeweller, mentioning the horrid murder of my late husband as the occasion of it, as above.

I received it with great submission and expressions of being infinitely obliged to his master, and of my showing myself on all occasions His Highness’s most obedient servant; and after giving my most humble duty to His Highness, with the utmost acknowledgments of the obligation, etc., I went to a little cabinet, and taking out some money, which made a little sound in taking it out, offered to give him five pistoles.

He drew back, but with the greatest respect, and told me he humbly thanked me, but that he durst not take a farthing; that His Highness would take it so ill of him, he was sure he would never see his face more; but that he would not fail to acquaint His Highness what respect I had offered; and added, “I assure you, madam, you are more in the good graces of my master, the Prince of ——, than you are aware of, and I believe you will hear more of him.”

Now I began to understand him, and resolved, if His Highness did come again, he should see me under no disadvantages if I could help it. I told him if His Highness did me the honour to see me again, I hoped he would not let me be so surprised as I was before; that I would be glad to have some little notice of it, and would be obliged to him if he would procure it me. He told me he was very sure that when His Highness intended to visit me he should be sent before to give me notice of it, and that he would give me as much warning of it as possible.

He came several times after this on the same errand, that is, about the settlement, the grant, requiring several things yet to be done for making it payable, without going every time to the Prince again for a fresh warrant. The particulars of this part I did not understand, but as soon as it was finished, which was above two months, the gentleman came one afternoon and said His Highness designed to visit me in the evening, but desired to be admitted without ceremony.

I prepared not my rooms only but myself, and when he came in there was nobody appeared in the house but his gentleman and my maid Amy; and of her I bid the gentleman acquaint His Highness that she was an Englishwoman, that she did not understand a word of French, and that she was one also that might be trusted.

When he came into my room I fell down at his feet before he could come to salute me, and with words that I had prepared, full of duty and respect, thanked him for his bounty and goodness to a poor desolate woman, oppressed by the weight of so terrible a disaster, and refused to rise till he would allow me the honour to kiss his hand. “Levez-mous donc,” says the Prince, taking me in his arms, “I design more favours for you than this trifle “; and going on, he added, “you shall, for the future, find a friend where you did not look for it, and I resolve to let you see how kind I can be to one who is to me the most agreeable creature on earth.”

I was dressed in a kind of half-mourning, had turned off my weeds, and my head, though I had yet no ribands or lace, was so dressed as failed not to set me out with advantage enough, for I began to understand his meaning; and the Prince protested I was the most beautiful creature on earth. “And where have I lived,” says he, “and how ill have I been served that I should never till now be shown the finest woman in France?”

This was the way, in all the world, the most likely to break in upon my virtue, if I had been mistress of any, for I was now become the vainest creature upon earth, and particularly of my beauty; which, as other people admired, so I became every day more foolishly in love with myself than before.

He said some very kind things to me after this and sat down with me for an hour or more, when, getting up and calling his gentleman by his name, he threw open the door. “Au boire,” says he; upon which his gentleman immediately brought up a little table covered with a fine damask cloth, the table no bigger than he could bring in his two hands, but upon it was set two decanters, one of champagne and the other of water, six silver plates, and a service of fine sweetmeats in fine china dishes, on a set of rings standing up about twenty inches high, one above another; below was three roasted partridges and a quail. As soon as his gentleman had set it all down he ordered him to withdraw. “Now,” says the Prince, “I intend to sup with you.”

When he sent away his gentleman I stood up and offered to wait on His Highness while he ate, but he positively refused, and told me “No; to-morrow you shall be the widow of Monsieur —— the jeweller, but to-night you shall be my mistress; therefore sit here,” says he, “and eat with me, or I will get up and serve.”

I would then have called up my woman Amy, but I thought that would not be proper neither, so I made my excuse that since His Highness would not let his own servant wait I would not presume to let my woman come up, but if he would please to let me wait, it would be my honour to fill His Highness’s wine; but, as before, he would by no means allow me, so we sat and ate together.

“Now, madam,” says the Prince, “give me leave to lay aside my character, let us talk together with the freedom of equals. My quality sets me at a distance from you and makes you ceremonious, your beauty exalts you to more than an equality; I must then treat you as lovers do their mistresses, but I cannot speak the language; ’tis enough to tell you how agreeable you are to me, how I am surprised at your beauty, and resolve to make you happy and to be happy with you.”

I knew not what to say to him for a good while, but blushed and, looking up towards him, said I was already made happy in the favour of a person of such rank, and had nothing to ask of His Highness but that he would believe me infinitely obliged.

After he had eaten he poured the sweetmeats into my lap, and the wine being out he called his gentleman again to take away the table, who at first only took the cloth and the remains of what was to eat away, and laying another cloth, set the table on one side of the room, with a noble service of plate upon it worth at least 200 pistoles; then having set the two decanters again upon the table, filled as before, he withdrew, for I found the fellow understood his business very well, and his lord’s business too.

About half an hour after, the Prince told me that I offered to wait a little before, that if I would now take the trouble he would give me leave to give him some wine. So I went to the table, filled a glass of wine, and brought it to him on a fine salver which the glasses stood on, and brought the bottle, or decanter for water, in my other hand, to mix it as he thought fit.

He smiled and bid me look on that salver, which I did, and admired it much, for it was a very fine one indeed. “You may see,” says he, “I resolve to have more of your company, for my servant shall leave you that plate for my use.” I told him I believed His Highness would not take it ill that I was not furnished fit to entertain a person of his rank, and that I would take great care of it, and value myself infinitely upon the honour of His Highness’s visit.

It now began to grow late and he began to take notice of it. “But,” says he, “I cannot leave you; have you not a spare lodging for one night?” I told him I had but a homely lodging to entertain such a guest. He said something exceedingly kind on that head, but not fit to repeat, adding that my company would make him amends.

About midnight he sent his gentleman on an errand, after telling him aloud that he intended to stay here all night. In a little time his gentleman brought him a nightgown, slippers, two caps, a neckcloth, and a shirt, which he gave me to carry into his chamber, and sent his man home; and then, turning to me, said I should do him the honour to be his chamberlain of the household, and his dresser also. I smiled, and told him I would do myself the honour to wait on him upon all occasions.

About one in the morning, while his gentleman was yet with him, I begged leave to withdraw, supposing he would go to bed; but he took the hint, and said, “I’m not going to bed yet, pray let me see you again.”

I took this time to undress me and to come in a new dress, which was in a manner un déshabillé, but so fine, and all about me so clean and so agreeable, that he seemed surprised. “I thought,” says he, “you could not have dressed to more advantage than you had done before; but now,” says he, “you charm me a thousand times more, if that be possible.”

“It is only a loose habit, my lord,” said I, “that I may the better wait on Your Highness.” He pulls me to him. “You are perfectly obliging,” says he; and sitting on the bedside, says he, “Now you shall be a princess and know what it is to oblige the gratefullest man alive “; and with that he took me in his arms. . . . I can go no further in the particulars of what passed at that time, but it ended in this, that, in short, I lay with him all night.

I have given you the whole detail of this story, to lay it down as a black scheme of the way how unhappy women are ruined by great men; for though poverty and want is an irresistible temptation to the poor, vanity and great things are as irresistible to others. To be courted by a prince, and by a prince who was first a benefactor, then an admirer, to be called handsome, the finest woman in France, and to be treated as a woman fit for the bed of a prince: these are things a woman must have no vanity in her, nay, no corruption in her, that is not overcome by it; and my case was such, that, as before, I had enough of both.

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