§ 17

Daniel Defoe

I HELD this wicked scene of life out eight years, reckoning from my first coming to England, and though my Lord found no fault, yet I found without much examining that anyone who looked in my face might see I was above twenty years old, and yet, without flattering myself, I carried my age, which was above fifty, very well too.

I may venture to say that no woman ever lived a life like me, of six and twenty years of wickedness, without the least signals of remorse, without any signs of repentance, or without so much as a wish to put an end to it. I had so long habituated myself to a life of vice, that really it appeared to be no vice to me, I went on smooth and pleasant. I wallowed in wealth, and it flowed in upon me at such a rate, having taken the frugal measures that the good knight directed, so that I had at the end of the eight years £2,800 coming in yearly, of which I did not spend one penny, being maintained by my allowance from my Lord ——, and more than maintained, by above £200 per annum; for though he did not contract for a year, as I made dumb signs to have it be, yet he gave me money so often, and that in such large parcels, that I had seldom so little as £700 to £800 a year of him, one year with another.

I must go back here, after telling openly wicked things I did, to mention something which, however, had the face of doing good. I remembered that when I went from England, which was fifteen years before, I had left five little children, turned out, as it were, to the wide world, and to the charity of their father’s relations. The eldest was not six years old, for we had not been married full seven years when their father went away.

After my coming to England I was greatly desirous to hear how things stood with them, and whether they were all alive or not, and in what manner they had been maintained; and yet I resolved not to discover myself to them in the least, or to let any of the people that had the breeding of them up know that there was such a body left in the world as their mother.

Amy was the only body I could trust with such a commission, and I sent her into Spitalfields to the old aunt, and to the poor woman that was so instrumental in disposing the relations to take some care of the children, but they were both gone, dead and buried some years. The next enquiry she made was at the house where she carried the poor children and turned them in at the door. When she came there she found the house inhabited by other people, so that she could make little or nothing of her enquiries, and came back with an answer that was indeed no answer to me, for it gave me no satisfaction at all. I sent her back to enquire in the neighbourhood what was become of the family that lived in that house, and if they were removed, where they lived and what circumstances they were in, and withal, if she could, what became of the poor children, and how they lived and where, how they had been treated, and the like.

She brought me back word upon this second going that she heard as to the family, that the husband, who though but uncle-in-law to the children had yet been kindest to them, was dead, and that the widow was left but in mean circumstances, that is to say, she did not want, but that she was not so well in the world as she was thought to be when her husband was alive.

That as to the poor children, two of them, it seems, had been kept by her, that is to say, by her husband while he lived, for that it was against her will, that we all knew; but the honest neighbours pitied the poor children, they said, heartily; for that their aunt used them barbarously and made them little better than servants in the house, to wait upon her and her children, and scarce allowed them clothes fit to wear.

These were, it seems, my eldest and third, which were daughters; the second was a son, the fourth a daughter, and the youngest a son.

To finish the melancholy part of this history of my two unhappy girls, she brought me word that as soon as they were able to go out and get any work, they went from her; and some said she had turned them out of doors, but it seems she had not done so, but she used them so cruelly that they left her, and one of them went to service to a neighbour’s a little way off, who knew her, an honest, substantial weaver’s wife, to whom she was chambermaid, and in a little time she took her sister out of the bridewell of her aunt’s house and got her a place too.

This was all melancholy and dull. I sent her then to the weaver’s house, where the eldest had lived, but found that her mistress being dead, she was gone, and nobody knew there whither she went; only that they heard she had lived with a great lady at the other end of the town, but they did not know who that lady was.

These enquiries took us up three or four weeks, and I was not one jot the better for it, for I could hear nothing to my satisfaction. I sent her next to find out the honest man who, as in the beginning of my story I observed, made them be entertained, and caused the youngest to be fetched from the town where we lived, and where the parish officers had taken care of him. This gentleman was still alive; and there she heard that my youngest daughter and eldest son were dead also, but that my youngest son was alive and was at that time about seventeen years old, and that he was put out apprentice by the kindness and charity of his uncle, but to a mean trade, and at which he was obliged to work very hard.

Amy was so curious in this part that she went immediately to see him, and found him all dirty and hard at work. She had no remembrance at all of the youth, for she had not seen him since he was about two years old, and it was evident he could have no knowledge of her.

However, she talked with him and found him a good, sensible, mannerly youth; that he knew little of the story of his father or mother, and had no view of anything but to work hard for his living; and she did not think fit to put any great things into his head, lest it should take him off his business and perhaps make him turn giddy-headed and be good for nothing; but she went and found out that kind man his benefactor who had put him out, and finding him a plain, well-meaning, honest, and kind-hearted man, she opened her tale to him the easier. She made a long story, how she had a prodigious kindness for the child because she had the same for his father and mother; told him that she was the servant-maid that brought all of them to their aunt’s door and ran away and left them; that their poor mother wanted bread, and what came of her after, she would have been glad to know. She added that her circumstances had happened to mend in the world, and that as she was in condition, so she was disposed to show some kindness to the children if she could find them out.

He received her with all the civility that so kind a proposal demanded, gave her an account of what he had done for the child; how he had maintained him, fed and clothed him, put him to school, and at last put him out to a trade. She said he had indeed been a father to the child. “But, sir,” says she, “’tis a very laborious, hard-working trade, and he is but a thin weak boy.” “That’s true,” says he, “but the boy chose the trade, and I assure you I gave £20 with him, and am to find him clothes all his apprenticeship. And as to its being a hard trade,” says he, “that’s the fate of his circumstances, poor boy; I could not well do better for him.”

“Well, sir, as you did all for him in charity.” says she, “it was exceeding well; but as my resolution is to do something for him, I desire you will if possible take him away again from that place where he works so hard, for I cannot bear to see the child work so very hard for his bread, and I will do something for him that shall make him live without such hard labour.”

He smiled at that. “I can indeed,” says he, “take him away, but then I must lose my £20 that I gave with him.”

“Well, sir,” said Amy, “I’ll enable you to lose that £20 immediately “; and so she puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out her purse.

He began to be a little amazed at her and looked her hard in the face, and that so very much that she took notice of it and said, “Sir, I fancy by your looking at me you think you know me, but I am assured you do not, for I never saw your face before; I think you have done enough for the child, and that you ought to be acknowledged as a father to him, but you ought not to lose by your kindness to him, more than the kindness of bringing him up obliges you to; and therefore there’s the £20,” added she, “and pray let him be fetched away.”

“Well, madam,” says he, “I will thank you for the boy, as well as for myself, but will you please to tell me what I must do with him,”

“Sir,” says Amy, “as you have been so kind to keep him so many years, I beg you will take him home again one year more, and I’ll bring you £100 more, which I will desire you to lay out in schooling and clothes for him, and to pay you for his board; perhaps I may put him in a condition to return your kindness.”

He looked pleased, but surprised very much, and enquired of Amy, but with very great respect, what he should go to school to learn, and what trade she would please to put him out to.

Amy said he should put him to learn a little Latin, and then merchants’ accounts, and to write a good hand, for she would have him be put to a Turkey merchant.

“Madam,” says he, “I am glad for his sake to hear you talk so, but do you know that a Turkey merchant will not take him under four or five hundred pounds?”

“Yes, sir,” says Amy, “I know it very well.”

“And,” says he, “that it will require as many thousands to set him up?”

“Yes, sir,” says Amy, “I know that very well too”; and resolving to talk very big, she added, “I have no children of my own and I resolve to make him my heir, and if ten thousand pounds would be required to set him up, he shall not want it; I was but his mother’s servant when he was born, and I mourned heartily for the disaster of the family, and I always said if ever I was worth anything in the world I would take the child for my own, and I’ll be as good as my word now, though I did not then foresee that it would be with me as it has been since.” And so Amy told him a long story, how she was troubled for me, and what she would give to hear whether I was dead or alive, and what circumstances I was in; that if she could but find me, if I was ever so poor, she would take care of me and make a gentlewoman of me again.

He told her, that as to the child’s mother, she had been reduced to the last extremity, and was obliged (as he supposed she knew) to send the children all among her husband’s friends; and if it had not been for him, they had all been sent to the parish, but that he obliged the other relations to share the charge among them; that he had taken two, whereof he had lost the eldest, who died of the smallpox, but that he had been as careful of this as of his own, and had made very little difference in their breeding up; only that when he came to put him out, he thought it was best for the boy to put him to a trade which he might set up in without a stock, for otherwise his time would be lost; and that as to his mother, he had never been able to hear one word of her, no, not though he had made the utmost enquiry after her; that there went a report that she had drowned herself, but that he could never meet anybody that could give him a certain account of it.

Amy counterfeited a cry for her poor mistress, told him she would give anything in the world to see her if she was alive, and a great deal more such-like talk they had about that; then they returned to speak of the boy.

He enquired of her why she did not seek after the child before, that he might have been brought up from a younger age suitable to what she designed to do for him.

She told him she had been out of England, and was but newly returned from the East Indies. That she had been out of England, and was but newly returned, was true, but the latter was false, and was put in to blind him and provide against further enquiries, for it was not a strange thing for young women to go away poor to the East Indies and come home vastly rich. So she went on with directions about him, and both agreed in this, that the boy should by no means be told what was intended for him, but only that he should be taken home again to his uncle’s, that his uncle thought the trade too hard for him, and the like.

About three days after this Amy goes again, and carried him the hundred pounds she promised him; but then Amy made quite another figure than she did before, for she went in my coach with two footmen after her, and dressed very fine also, with jewels and a gold watch; and there was indeed no great difficulty to make Amy look like a lady, for she was a very handsome, well-shaped woman, and genteel enough; the coachman and servants were particularly ordered to show her the same respect as they would to me, and to call her Madam Collins if they were asked any questions about her.

When the gentleman saw what a figure she made, it added to the former surprise, and he entertained her in the most respectful manner possible, congratulated her advancement in fortune, and particularly rejoiced that it should fall to the poor child’s lot to be so provided for contrary to all expectation.

Well, Amy talked big, but very free and familiar, told them she had no pride in her good fortune (and that was true enough, for, to give Amy her due, she was far from it, and was as good-humoured a creature as ever lived), that she was the same as ever, and that she always loved this boy and was resolved to do something extraordinary for him.

Then she pulled out her money and paid him down £120, which, she said, she paid him that he might be sure he should be no loser by taking him home again, and that she would come and see him again and talk further about things with him, that so all might be settled for him in such a manner, as the accidents, such as mortality or anything else, should make no alteration to the child’s prejudice.

At this meeting the uncle brought his wife out, a good, motherly, comely, grave woman, who spoke very tenderly of the youth and, as it appeared, had been very good to him, though she had several children of her own. After a long discourse she put in a word of her own. “Madam,” says she, “I am heartily glad of the good intentions you have for this poor orphan, and I rejoice sincerely in it for his sake, but, madam, you know, I suppose, that there are two sisters alive too, may we not speak a word for them? Poor girls,” says she, “they have not been so kindly used as he has, and are turned out to the wide world.”

“Where are they, madam?” says Amy.

“Poor creatures,” says the gentlewoman, “they are out at service, nobody knows where but themselves; their case is very hard.”

“Well, madam,” says Amy, “though, if I could find them, I would assist them, yet my concern is for my boy, as I call him, and I will put him into a condition to take care of his sisters.”

“But, madam,” says the good, compassionate creature, “he may not be so charitable perhaps by his own inclination, for brothers are not fathers; and they have been cruelly used already, poor girls; we have often relieved them, both with victuals and clothes too, even while they were pretended to be kept by their barbarous aunt.”

“Well, madam,” says Amy, “what can I do for them? They are gone, it seems, and cannot be heard of. When I see them, ’tis time enough.”

She pressed Amy then to oblige their brother, out of. the plentiful fortune he was like to have, to do something for his sisters when he should be able.

Amy spoke coldly of that still, but said she would consider of it, and so they parted for that time. They had several meetings after this, for Amy went to see her adopted son, and ordered his schooling, clothes, and other things, but enjoined them not to tell the young man anything but that they thought the trade he was at too hard for him, and they would keep him at home a little longer and give him some schooling to fit him for better business; and Amy appeared to him as she did before, only as one that had known his mother and had some kindness for him.

Thus this matter passed on for near a twelvemonth, when it happened that one of my maidservants having asked Amy leave, for Amy was mistress of the servants, and took and put out such as she pleased—I say, having asked leave to go into the city to see her friends, came home crying bitterly, and in a most grievous agony she was, and continued so several days, till Amy perceiving the excess, and that the maid would certainly cry herself sick, she took an opportunity with her and examined her about it.

The maid told her a long story, that she had been to see her brother, the only brother she had in the world, and that she knew he was put out apprentice to a ——, but there had come a lady in a coach to his uncle ——, who had brought him up, and made him take him home again; and so the wench ran on with the whole story, just as ’tis told above, till she came to the part that belonged to herself. “And there,” says she, “I had not let them know where I lived, and the lady would have taken me, and they say would have provided for me too as she has done for my brother, but nobody could tell where to find me, and so I have lost it all and all the hopes of being anything but a poor servant all my days “; and then the girl fell a-crying again.

Amy said, “What’s all this story? Who could this lady be? It must be some trick sure?” No, she said, it was not a trick, for she had made them take her brother home from apprentice, and bought him new clothes, and put him to have more learning; and the gentlewoman said she would make him her heir.

“Her heir!” says Amy; “what does that amount to? It may be she had nothing to leave him, she might make anybody her heir.”

“No, no,” says the girl, “she came in a fine coach and horses, and I don’t know how many footmen to attend her, and brought a great bag of gold and gave it to my uncle ——, he that brought up my brother, to buy him clothes and to pay for his schooling and board.”

“He that brought up your brother!” says Amy. “Why, did not he bring you up too as well as your brother? Pray, who brought you up then?”

Here the poor girl told a melancholy story, how an aunt had brought up her and her sister, and how barbarously she had used them, as we have heard.

By this time Amy had her head full enough, and her heart too, and did not know how to hold it or what to do, for she was satisfied that this was no other than my own daughter; for she told her all the history of her father and mother, and how she was carried by their maid to her aunt’s door just as is related in the beginning of my story.

Amy did not tell me this story for a great while, nor did she well know what course to take in it, but as she had authority to manage everything in the family, she took occasion some time after, without letting me know anything of it, to find some fault with the maid and turn her away.

Her reasons were good, though at first I was not pleased when I heard of it, but I was convinced afterwards that she was in the right; for if she had told me of it I should have been in great perplexity, between the difficulty of concealing myself from my own child and the inconvenience of having my way of living be known among my first husband’s relations, and even to my husband himself; for as to his being dead at Paris, Amy, seeing me resolved against marrying any more, had told me that she had formed the story only to make me easy when I was in Holland, if anything should offer to my liking.

However, I was too tender a mother still, notwithstanding what I had done, to let this poor girl go about the world drudging, as it were, for bread, and slaving at the fire and in the kitchen as a cook-maid. Besides, it came into my head that she might perhaps marry some poor devil of a footman or a coachman, or some such thing, and be undone that way; or, which was worse, be drawn into lie with some of that coarse cursed kind and be with child, and be utterly ruined that way; and in the midst of all my prosperity this gave me great uneasiness.

As to sending Amy to her, there was no doing that now, for as she had been servant in the house, she knew Amy as well as Amy knew me; and no doubt, though I was much out of her sight, yet she might have had the curiosity to have peeped at me, and seen me enough to know me again if I had discovered myself to her; so that, in short, there was nothing to be done that way.

However, Amy, a diligent, indefatigable creature, found out another woman and gave her her errand, and sent her to the honest man’s house in Spitalfields, whither she supposed the girl would go after she was out of her place, and bade her talk with her and tell her at a distance that as something had been done for her brother, so something would be done for her too; and that she should not be discouraged, she carried her £20 to buy her clothes, and bade her not to go to service any more but think of other things; that she should take a lodging in some good family, and that she should soon hear further.

The girl was overjoyed with this news, you may be sure, and at first a little too much elevated with it, and dressed herself very handsomely indeed, and, as soon as she had done so, came and paid a visit to Madam Amy to let her see how fine she was. Amy congratulated her and lavished it might be all as she expected, but admonished her not to be elevated with it too much; told her humility was the best ornament of a gentlewoman, and a great deal of good advice she gave her, but discovered nothing.

All this was acted in the first years of my setting up my new figure here in town, and while the masks and balls were in agitation; and Amy carried on the affair of setting out my son into the world, which we were assisted in by the sage advice of my faithful counsellor, Sir Robert Clayton, who procured us a master for him, by whom he was afterwards sent abroad to Italy, as you shall hear in its place; and Amy managed my daughter too, very well, though by a third hand.

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