§ 24

Daniel Defoe

WITH THIS estate settled as you have heard, and with the best husband in the world, I left England again. I had not only in human prudence and by the nature of the thing, being now married and settled in so glorious a manner—I say I had not only abandoned all the gay and wicked course which I had gone through before, but I began to look back upon it with that horror and that detestation which is the certain companion, if not the forerunner, of repentance.

Sometimes the wonders of my present circumstances would work upon me, and I should have some raptures upon my soul upon the subject of my coming so smoothly out of the arms of hell, that I was not engulfed in ruin, as most who lead such lives are, first or last; but this was a flight too high for me. I was not come to that repentance that is raised from a sense of Heaven’s goodness; I repented of the crime, but it was of another and lower kind of repentance, and rather moved by my fears of vengeance than from a sense of being spared from being punished and landed safe after a storm.

The first thing which happened after our coming to The Hague (where we lodged for a while) was that my spouse saluted me one morning with the title of Countess; as he said he intended to do, by having the inheritance to which the honour was annexed made over to him. It is true it was a reversion, but it soon fell, and in the meantime, as all the brothers of a Count are called Counts, so I had the title by courtesy about three years before I had it in reality.

I was agreeably surprised at this coming so soon, and would have had my spouse to have taken the money which it cost him out of my stock, but he laughed at me and went on.

I was now in the height of my glory and prosperity, and I was called the Countess de ——, for I had obtained that, unlooked for, which I secretly aimed at, and was really the main reason of my coming abroad. I took now more servants, lived in a kind of magnificence that I had not been acquainted with, was called Your Honour at every word, and had a coronet behind my coach, though at the same time I knew little or nothing of my new pedigree.

The first thing that my spouse took upon him to manage was to declare ourselves married eleven years before our arriving in Holland, and consequently to acknowledge our little son, who was yet in England, to be legitimate, order him to be brought over and added to his family, and acknowledge him to be our own.

This was done by giving notice to his people at Nimeguen, where his children (which were two sons and a daughter) were brought up, that he was come over from England, and that he was arrived at The Hague with his wife and should reside there some time, and that he would have his two sons brought down to see him, which accordingly was done, and where I entertained them with all the kindness and tenderness that they could expect from their mother-in-law, and who pretended to be so ever since they were two or three years old.

This supposing us to have been so long married was not difficult at all in a country where we had been seen together about that time, viz. eleven years and a half before, and where we had never been seen afterwards till we now returned together; this being seen together was also openly owned, and acknowledged of course, by our friend the merchant at Rotterdam, and also by the people in the house where we both lodged, in the same city, and where our first intimacies began, and who, as it happened, were all alive; and therefore to make it the more public we made a tour to Rotterdam again, lodged in the same house, and was visited there by our friend the merchant, and afterwards invited frequently to his house, where he treated us very handsomely.

This conduct of my spouse, and which he managed very cleverly, was indeed a testimony of a wonderful degree of honesty and affection to our little son, for it was done purely for the sake of the child.

I call it an honest affection, because it was from a principle of honesty that he so earnestly concerned himself to prevent the scandal which would otherwise have fallen upon the child, who was itself innocent. And as it was from this principle of justice that he so earnestly solicited me, and conjured me by the natural affections of a mother, to marry him when it was yet young within me and unborn, that the child might not suffer for the sin of its father and mother, so though at the same time he really loved me very well, yet I had reason to believe that it was from this principle of justice to the child that he came to England again to seek me, with design to marry me and, as he called it, save the innocent lamb from an infamy worse than death.

It is with just reproach to myself that I must repeat it again, that I had not the same concern for it though it was the child of my own body, nor had I ever the hearty affectionate love to the child that he had. What the reason of it was I cannot tell, and indeed I had shown a general neglect of the child through all the gay years of my London revels, except that I sent Amy to look upon it now and then and to pay for its nursing. As for me, I scarce saw it four times in the first four years of its life, and often wished it would go quietly out of the world; whereas a son which I had by the jeweller I took a different care of, and showed a differing concern for, though I did not let him know me, for I provided very well for him, had him put out very well to school, and when he came to years fit for it, let him go over with a person of honesty and good business to the Indies; and, after he had lived there some time and began to act for himself, sent him over the value of £2,000 at several times, with which he traded and grew rich, and, as ’tis to be hoped, may at last come over again with forty or fifty thousand pounds in his pocket, as many do who have not such encouragement at their beginning.

I also sent him over a wife, a beautiful young lady, well bred, an exceeding good-natured, pleasant creature; but the nice young fellow did not like her, and had the impudence to write to me, that is, to the person I employed to correspond with him, to send him another, and promised that he would marry her I had sent him to a friend of his, who liked her better than he did; but I took it so ill that I would not send him another, and withal, stopped another article of £1,000 which I had appointed to send him. He considered of it afterwards, and offered to take her; but then truly she took so ill the first affront he put upon her, that she would not have him, and I sent him word I thought she was very much in the right. However, after courting her two years, and some friends interposing, she took him, and made him an excellent wife, as I knew she would; but I never sent him the £1,000 cargo, so that he lost that money for misusing me, and took the lady at last without it.

My new spouse and I lived a very regular, contemplative life, and in itself certainly a life filled with all human felicity. But if I looked upon my present situation with satisfaction, as I certainly did, so in proportion I on all occasions looked back on former things with detestation and with the utmost affliction; and now indeed, and not till now, those reflections began to prey upon my comforts and lessen the sweets of my other enjoyments. They might be said to have gnawed a hole in my heart before, but now they made a hole quite through it; now they ate into all my pleasant things, made bitter every sweet, and mixed my sighs with every smile.

Not all the affluence of a plentiful fortune, not a hundred thousand pounds estate (for between us we had little less), not honour and titles, attendants and equipages—in a word, not all the things we call pleasure could give me any relish or sweeten the taste of things to me, at least not so much, but I grew sad, heavy, pensive, and melancholy, slept little and ate little, dreamed continually of the most frightful and terrible things imaginable; nothing but apparitions, of devils and monsters, falling into gulfs, and off from steep and high precipices, and the like; so that in the morning, when I should rise and be refreshed with the blessing of rest, I was hag-ridden with frights and terrible things formed merely in the imagination, and was either tired and wanted sleep, or overrun with vapours, and not fit for conversing with my family or any one else.

My husband, the tenderest creature in the world, and particularly so to me, was in great concern for me, and did everything that lay in his power to comfort and restore me; strove to reason me out of it, then tried all the ways possible to divert me, but it was all to no purpose, or to but very little.

My only relief was sometimes to unbosom myself to poor Amy when she and I were alone, and she did all she could to comfort me, but all was to little effect there; for though Amy was the better penitent before, when we had been in the storm, Amy was just where she used to be, now a wild, gay, loose wretch, and not much the graver for her age; for Amy was between forty and fifty by this time too.

But to go on with my own story. As I had no comforter, so I had no counsellor; it was well, as I often thought, that I was not a Roman Catholic, for what a piece of work should I have made, to have gone to a priest with such a history as I had to tell him, and what penance would any father confessor have obliged me to perform, especially if he had been honest and true to his office?

However, as I had none of the recourse, so I had none of the absolution by which the criminal confessing goes away comforted; but I went about with a heart loaded with crime, and altogether in the dark as to what I was to do, and in this condition I languished near two years. I may well call it languishing, for if Providence had not relieved me, I should have died in little time. But of that hereafter.

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