§ 23

Daniel Defoe

AND NOW my spouse and I began to think of going over to Holland, where I had proposed to him to live, and in order to settle all the preliminaries of our future manner of living, I began to draw in my effects, so as to have them all at command upon whatever occasion we thought fit; after which, one morning I called my spouse up to me. “Hark ye, sir,” said I to him, “I have two very weighty questions to ask of you; I don’t know what answer you will give to the first, but I doubt you will be able to give but a sorry answer to the other, and yet, I assure you, it is of the last importance to yourself and towards the future part of your life, wherever it is to be.”

He did not seem to be much alarmed, because he could see I was speaking in a kind of merry way. “Let’s hear your questions, my dear,” says he, “and I’ll give the best answer I can to them.” “Why, first,” says I,

1. “You have married a wife here, made her a lady, and put her in expectation of being something else still when she comes abroad; pray have you examined whether you are able to supply all her extravagant demands when she comes abroad, and maintain an expensive Englishwoman in all her pride and vanity? In short, have you enquired whether you are able to keep her?

2. “You have married a wife here and given her a great many fine things, and you maintain her like a princess, and sometimes call her so; pray what portion have you had with her? what fortune has she been to you? and where does her estate lie, that you keep her so fine? I am afraid you keep her in a figure a great deal above her estate, at least above all that you have seen of it yet; are you sure you haven’t got a bite, and that you have not made a beggar a lady?”

“Well,” says he, “have you any more questions to ask? Let’s have them all together, perhaps they may be all answered in a few words, as well as these two.” “No,” says I, “these are the two grand questions, at least for the present.” “Why then,” says he, “I’ll answer you in a few words, that I am fully master of my own circumstances, and without further enquiry can let my wife you speak of know, that as I have made her a lady, I can maintain her as a lady wherever she goes with me, and this whether I have one pistole of her portion or whether she has any portion or not. And as I have not enquired whether she has any portion or not, so she shall not have the less respect showed her from me, or be obliged to live meaner or by any ways straitened on that account; on the contrary, if she goes abroad to live with me in my own country, I will make her more than a lady, and support the expense of it too without meddling with anything she has; and this I suppose,” says he, “contains an answer to both your questions together.”

He spoke this with a great deal more earnestness in his countenance than I had when I proposed my questions, and said a great many kind things upon it, as the consequences of former discourses, so that I was obliged to be in earnest too. “My dear,” says I, “I was but in jest in my questions, but they were proposed to introduce what I am going to say to you in earnest, namely, that if I am to go abroad, ’tis time I should let you know how things stand, and what I have to bring you with your wife; how it is to be disposed, and secured, and the like. And therefore, come,” says I, “sit down, and let me show you your bargain here; I hope you will find that you have not got a wife without a fortune.”

He told me then that since he found I was in earnest, he desired that I would adjourn it till to-morrow, and then we would do as the poor people do after they marry, feel in their pockets and see how much money they can bring together in the world. “Well,” says I, “with all my heart “; and so we ended our talk for that time.

As this was in the morning, my spouse went out after dinner to his goldsmith’s, as he said, and about three hours after, returns with a porter and two large boxes with him; and his servant brought another box, which I observed was almost as heavy as the two that the porter brought, and made the poor fellow sweat heartily. He dismissed the porter, and in a little while after went out again with his man, and returning at night, brought another porter with more boxes and bundles, and all was carried up and put into a chamber next to our bedchamber, and in the morning he called for a pretty large round table and began to unpack.

When the boxes were opened I found they were chiefly full of books and papers and parchment, I mean books of accounts and writings, and such things as were in themselves of no moment to me, because I understood them not; but I perceived he took them all out and spread them about him upon the table and chairs, and began to be very busy with them. So I withdrew and left him, and he was indeed so busy among them that he never missed me till I had been gone a good while; but when he had gone through all his papers and come to open a little box, he called for me again. “Now,” says he, and called me his countess, “I am ready to answer your first question; if you will sit down till I have opened this box, we will see how it stands.”

So we opened the box. There was in it indeed what I did not expect, for I thought he had sunk his estate rather than raised it; but he produced me in goldsmith’s bills, and stock in the English East India Company, about £16,000 sterling; then he gave into my hands nine assignments upon the Bank of Lyons in France, and two upon the rents of the Town House in Paris, amounting in the whole to 5,800 crowns per annum, or annual rent as ’tis called there; and lastly, the sum of 30,000 rix-dollars in the Bank of Amsterdam, besides some jewels and gold in the box to the value of about £1,500 or £1,600, among which was a very good necklace of pearl of about £200 value; and that he pulled out and tied about my neck, telling me that should not be reckoned into the account.

I was equally pleased and surprised, and it was with an inexpressible joy that I saw him so rich. “You might well tell me,” said I, “that you were able to make me countess and maintain me as such.” In short, he was immensely rich, for besides all this he showed me, which was the reason of his being so busy among the books—I say he showed me several adventures he had abroad in the business of his merchandise; as particularly an eighth share in an East India ship then abroad, an account-current with a merchant at Cadiz in Spain, about £3,000 lent upon bottomry upon ships gone to the Indies, and a large cargo of goods in a merchant’s hands for sale at Lisbon in Portugal; so that in his books there was about £12,000 more, all which put together made about £27,000 sterling, and £1,320 a year.

I stood amazed at this account, as well I might, and said nothing to him for a good while, and the rather because I saw him still busy looking over his books. After a while, as I was going to express my wonder, “Hold, my dear,” says he, “this is not all neither.” Then he pulled me out some old seals and small parchment rolls, which I did not understand, but he told me they were a right of reversion which he had to a paternal estate in his family, and a mortgage of 14,000 rix-dollars, which he had upon it, in the hands of the present possessor, so that was about £3,000 more.

“But now hold again,” says he, “for I must pay my debts out of all this, and they are very great, I assure you.” And the first, he said, was a black article of 8,000 pistoles, which he had a lawsuit about at Paris, but had it awarded against him, which was the loss he had told me of, and which made him leave Paris in disgust; that in other accounts he owed about £5,300 sterling, but after all this, upon the whole, he had still £17,000 clear stock in money, and £1,320 a year in rent.

After some pause it came to my turn to speak. “Well,” says I, “’tis very hard a gentleman with such a fortune as this should come over to England and marry a wife with nothing; it shall never,” says I, “be said but what I have I’ll bring into the public stock “; so I began to produce.

First, I pulled out the mortgage which good Sir Robert had procured for me, the annual rent £700 per annum, the principal money £14,000.

Secondly, I pulled out another mortgage upon land, procured by the same faithful friend, which at three times had advanced £12,000.

Thirdly, I pulled him out a parcel of little securities, procured by several hands, by fee-farm rents and such petty mortgages as those times awarded, amounting to £10,800 principal money, and paying £636 a year; so that in the whole there was £2,056 a year ready money constantly coming in.

When I had shown him all these, I laid them upon the table and bade him take them, that he might be able to give me an answer to the second question, viz. what fortune he had with his wife? and laughed a little at it.

He looked at them a while and then handed them all back again to me. “I will not touch them,” says he, “nor one of them, till they are all settled in trustees’ hands, for your own use, and the management wholly your own.”

I cannot omit what happened to me while all this was acting, though it was cheerful work in the main, yet I trembled every joint of me worse, for aught I know, than ever Belshazzar did at the handwriting on the wall, and the occasion was every way as just. “Unhappy wretch,” said I to myself, “shall my ill-got wealth, the product of prosperous lust and of a vile and vicious life of whoredom and adultery, be intermingled with the honest well-gotten estate of this innocent gentleman, to be a moth and a caterpillar among it, and bring the judgments of Heaven upon him and upon what he has, for my sake? Shall my wickedness blast his comforts? Shall I be fire in his wax, and be a means to provoke Heaven to curse his blessings? God forbid! I’ll keep them asunder if it be possible.”

This is the true reason why I have been so particular in the account of my vast acquired stock, and how his estate, which was perhaps the product of many years’ fortunate industry, and which was equal, if not superior, to mine at best, was at my request kept apart from mine, as is mentioned above.

I have told you how he gave back all my writings into my own hands again. “Well,” says I, “seeing you will have it be kept apart, it shall be so upon one condition which I have to propose, and no other.” “And what is the condition.” says he. “Why,” says I, “all the pretence I can have for the making over my own estate to me, is that in case of your mortality I may have it reserved for me if I outlive you.” “Well,” says he, ”that is true.” “But then,” said I, “the annual income is always received by the husband during his life, as ’tis supposed for the mutual subsistence of the family. Now,” says I, “here is £2,000 a year, which I believe is as much as we shall spend, and I desire none of it may be saved; and all the income of your own estate, the interest of the £17,000 and the £1,320 a year may be constantly laid by for the increase of your estate; and so,” added I, “by joining the interest every year to the capital, you will perhaps grow as rich as you would do if you were to trade with it all, if you were obliged to keep house out of it too.”

He liked the proposal very well and said it should be so, and this way I in some measure satisfied myself that I should not bring my husband under the blast of just Providence for mingling my cursed ill-gotten wealth with his honest estate. This was occasioned by the reflections which at some intervals of time came into my thoughts, of the justice of Heaven, which I had reason to expect would some time or other still fall upon me or my effects, for the dreadful life I had lived.

And let nobody conclude from the strange success I met with in all my wicked doings, and the vast estate which I had raised by it, that therefore I either was happy or easy. No, no, there was a dart struck into the liver; there was a secret hell within, even all the while when our joy was at the highest, but more especially now, after it was all over, and when according to all appearance I was one of the happiest women upon earth; all this while, I say, I had such a constant terror upon my mind as gave me every now and then very terrible shocks, and which made me expect something very frightful upon every accident of life.

In a word, it never lightened or thundered but I expected the next flash would penetrate my vitals, and melt the sword (soul) in this scabbard of flesh; it never blew a storm of wind but I expected the fall of some stack of chimneys, or some part of the house would bury me in its ruins; and so of other things.

But I shall perhaps have occasion to speak of all these things again by and by; the case before us was in a manner settled. We had full £4,000 per annum for our future subsistence, besides a vast sum in jewels and plate, and besides this I had about £8,000 reserved in money, which I kept back from him, to provide for my two daughters, of whom I have yet so much to say.

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