His presents were after that in gold, and very frequent and large—often a hundred pistoles, never less than fifty at a time—and I must do myself the justice that I seemed rather backward to receive than craving and encroaching. Not that I had not an avaricious temper, nor was it that I did not foresee that this was my harvest in which I was to gather up and that it would not last long, but it was that really his bounty always anticipated my expectations and even my wishes, and he gave me money so fast that he rather poured it in upon me than left me room to ask it, so that before I could spend fifty pistoles I had always a hundred to make it up.
After I had been near a year and a half in his arms, as above, or thereabouts, I proved with child. I did not take any notice of it to him till I was satisfied that I was not deceived; when one morning early, when we were in bed together, I said to him, “My lord, I doubt Your Highness never gives yourself leave to think what the case should be if I should have the honour to be with child by you.” “Why, my dear,” says he, “we are able to keep it if such a thing should happen. I hope you are not concerned about that.” “No, my lord,” said I, “I should think myself very happy if I could bring Your Highness a son; I should hope to see him a lieutenant-general of the King’s armies, by the interest of his father and by his own merit.”
“Assure yourself, child,” says he, “if it should be so I will not refuse owning him for my son, though it be, as they call it, a natural son, and shall never slight or neglect him for the sake of his mother.” Then he began to importune me to know if it was so, but I positively denied it so long till at last I was able to give him the satisfaction of knowing it himself, by the motion of the child within me.
He professed himself overjoyed at the discovery, but told me that now it was absolutely necessary for me to quit the confinement which he said I had suffered for his sake, and to take a house somewhere in the country in order for health as well as for privacy against my lying-in. This was quite out of my way, but the Prince, who was a man of pleasure, had, it seems, several retreats of this kind which he made use of, I suppose, upon like occasions. And so leaving it, as it were, to his gentleman, he provided a very convenient house about four miles south of Paris, at the village of ——, where I had very agreeable lodgings, good gardens, and all things very easy to my content. But one thing did not please me at all, viz. that an old woman was provided and put into the house, to furnish everything necessary to my lying-in and to assist at my travail.
I did not like this old woman at all. She looked so like a spy upon me, or (as sometimes I was frighted to imagine) like one set privately to dispatch me out of the world as might best suit with the circumstances of my lying-in. And when His Highness came the next time to see me, which was not many days, I expostulated a little on the subject of the old woman, and by the management of my tongue as well as by the strength of reasoning I convinced him that it would not be at all convenient, that it would be the greater risk on his side, and that first or last it would certainly expose him and me also. I assured him that my servant, being an Englishwoman, never knew to that hour who His Highness was, that I always called him the Count de Clerac, and that she knew nothing else of him, nor ever should; that if he would give me leave to choose proper persons for my use, it should be so ordered that not one of them should know who he was or perhaps ever see his face, and that for the reality of the child that should be born, His Highness, who had alone been at the first of it, should if he pleased be present in the room all the time, so that he would need no witnesses on that account.
This discourse fully satisfied him, so that he ordered his gentleman to dismiss the old woman the same day; and without any difficulty I sent my maid Amy to Calais and thence to Dover, where she got an English midwife and an English nurse to come over on purpose to attend an English lady of quality, as they styled me, for four months certain. The midwife, Amy had agreed to pay a hundred guineas to, and bear her charges to Paris and back again to Dover; the poor woman that was to be my nurse had twenty pounds, and the same terms for charges as the other.
I was very easy when Amy returned, and the more because she brought with the midwife a good motherly sort of woman who was to be her assistant and would be very helpful on occasion, and bespoke a man-midwife at Paris too, if there should be any necessity for his help. Having thus made provision for everything, the Count, for so we all called him in public, came as often to see me as I could expect, and continued exceeding kind, as he had always been. One day, conversing together upon the subject of my being with child, I told him how all things were in order, but that I had a strange apprehension that I should die with that child. He smiled. “So all the ladies say, my dear,” says he, “when they are with child.” “Well, however, my lord,” said I, “it is but just that care should be taken that what you have bestowed in your excess of bounty upon me should not be lost.” And upon this I pulled a paper out of my bosom, folded up but not sealed, and I read it to him; wherein I had left order that all the plate and jewels and fine furniture which His Highness had given me should be restored to him by my woman, and the keys be immediately delivered to his gentleman in case of disaster.
Then I recommended my woman Amy to his favour for a hundred pistoles, on condition she gave up the keys, as above, to his gentleman, and his gentleman’s receipt for them. When he saw this, “My dear child,” said he, and took me in his arms; “what, have you been making your will and disposing your effects? Pray whom do you make your universal heir?” “So far as to do justice to Your Highness, in case of mortality, I have, my lord,” said I; “and who should I dispose the valuable things to which I have had from your hand as pledges of your favour and testimonies of your bounty, but to the giver of them? If the child should live, Your Highness will, I don’t question, act like yourself in that part, and I shall have the utmost satisfaction that it will be well used by your direction.”
I could see he took this very well. “I have forsaken all the ladies in Paris,” says he, “for you; and I have lived every day since I knew you to see that you know how to merit all that a man of honour can do for you. Be easy, child, I hope you shall not die; and all you have is your own, to do with it what you please.”
I was then within about two months of my time, and that soon wore off. When I found my time was come, it fell out very happily that he was in the house, and I entreated he would continue a few hours in the house, which he agreed to. They called His Highness to come into the room if he pleased, as I had offered, and as I desired him, and I sent word I would make as few cries as possible to prevent disturbing him. He came into the room once and called to me to be of good courage, it would soon be over, and then he withdrew again; and in about half an hour more Amy carried him the news that I was delivered and had brought him a charming boy. He gave her ten pistoles for her news, stayed till they had adjusted things about me, and then came into the room again, cheered me and spoke kindly to me, and looked on the child, then withdrew; and came again the next day to visit me.
Since this, and when I have looked back upon these things with eyes unpossessed with crime, when the wicked part has appeared in its clearer light and I have seen it in its own natural colours; when no more blinded with the glittering appearances which at that time deluded me, and, as in like cases, if I may guess at others by myself, too much possessed the mind—I say, since this I have often wondered with what pleasure or satisfaction the Prince could look upon the poor innocent infant, which, though his own, and that he might that way have some attachment in his affections to it, yet must always afterwards be a remembrancer to him of his most early crime; and, which was worse, must bear upon itself, unmerited, an eternal mark of infamy, which should be spoken of upon all occasions to its reproach, from the folly of its father and wickedness of its mother.
Great men are indeed delivered from the burden of their natural children, or bastards, as to their maintenance. This is the main affliction in other cases, where there is not substance sufficient without breaking into the fortunes of the family. In those cases either a man’s legitimate children suffer, which is very unnatural, or the unfortunate mother of that illegitimate birth has a dreadful affliction either of being turned off with her child and be left to starve, etc., or of seeing the poor infant packed off with a piece of money to some of those she-butchers who take children off their hands, as ’tis called—that is to say, starve ’em and, in a word, murder ’em.
Great men, I say, are delivered from this burden, because they are always furnished to supply the expense of their out-of-the-way offspring by making little assignments upon the Bank of Lyons or the Town House of Paris, and settling those sums to be received for the maintenance of such expense as they see cause.
Thus, in the case of this child of mine, while he and I conversed there was no need to make any appointment, as an appanage or maintenance for the child or its nurse, for he supplied me more than sufficiently for all those things. But afterwards, when time and a particular circumstance put an end to our conversing together—as such things always meet with a period and generally break off abruptly—I say, after that I found he appointed the children a settled allowance, by an assignment of annual rent upon the Bank of Lyons, which was sufficient for bringing them handsomely though privately up in the world, and that not in a manner unworthy of their father’s blood, though I came to be sunk and forgotten in the case; nor did the children ever know anything of their mother to this day, other than as you may have an account hereafter.
But to look back to the particular observation I was making, which I hope may be of use to those who read my story, I say it was something wonderful to me to see this person so exceedingly delighted at the birth of this child, and so pleased with it; for he would sit and look at it, and with an air of seriousness sometimes, a great while together, and particularly, I observed, he loved to look at it when it was asleep.
It was indeed a lovely, charming child, and had a certain vivacity in its countenance that is far from being common to all children so young; and he would often say to me that he believed there was something extraordinary in the child, and he did not doubt but he would come to be a great man.
I could never hear him say so, but though secretly it pleased me, yet it so closely touched me another way, that I could not refrain sighing, and sometimes tears; and one time in particular it so affected me that I could not conceal it from him. But when he saw tears run down my face there was no concealing the occasion from him, he was too importunate to be denied in a thing of that moment; so I frankly answered, “It sensibly affects me, my lord,” said I, “that whatever the merit of this little creature may be, he must always have a bend on his arms; the disaster of his birth will be always not a blot only to his honour, but a bar to his fortunes in the world; our affection will be ever his affliction, and his mother’s crime be the son’s reproach; the blot can never be wiped out by the most glorious actions; nay, if it lives to raise a family,” said I, “the infamy must descend even to its innocent posterity.”
He took the thought and sometimes told me afterwards that it made a deeper impression on him than he discovered to me at that time; but for the present he put it off with telling me these things could not be helped, that they served for a spur to the spirits of brave men, inspired them with the principles of gallantry and prompted them to brave actions; that though it might be true that the mention of illegitimacy might attend the name, yet that personal virtue placed a man of honour above the reproach of his birth; that as he had no share in the offence, he would have no concern at the blot; when having by his own merit placed himself out of the reach of scandal, his fame should drown the memory of his beginning.
That as it was usual for men of quality to make such little escapes, so the number of their natural children were so great, and they generally took such good care of their education, that some of the greatest men in the world had a bend in their coat of arms, and that it was of no consequence to them, especially when their fame began to rise upon the basis of their acquired merit. And upon this he began to reckon up to me some of the greatest families in France, and in England also.
This carried off our discourse for a time; but I went further with him once, removing the discourse from the part attending our children to the reproach which those children would be apt to throw upon us their originals; and when speaking a little too feelingly on the subject, he began to receive the impression a little deeper than I wished he had done. At last he told me I had almost acted the confessor to him, that I might perhaps preach a more dangerous doctrine to him than we should either of us like, or than I was aware of. “For, my dear,” says he, “if once we come to talk of repentance, we must talk of parting.”
If tears were in my eyes before, they flowed too fast now to be restrained, and I gave him but too much satisfaction by my looks that I had yet no reflections upon my mind strong enough to go that length, and that I could no more think of parting than he could.
He said a great many kind things which were great, like himself, and, extenuating our crime, intimated to me that he could no more part with me than I could with him. So we both, as I may say, even against our light and against our conviction, concluded to sin on; indeed, his affection to the child was one great tie to him, for he was extremely fond of it.
This child lived to be a considerable man. He was first an officer of the Garde du Corps of France, and afterwards colonel of a regiment of dragoons in Italy, and on many extraordinary occasions showed that he was not unworthy such a father, but many ways deserving a legitimate birth and a better mother. Of which hereafter.