I was now in good circumstances indeed, if I could have known my time for leaving off, and my governess often said I was the richest of the trade in England; and so I believe I was, for I had 700 pounds by me in money, besides clothes, rings, some plate, and two gold watches, and all of them stolen, for I had innumerable jobs besides these I have mentioned.
Oh! had I even now had the grace of repentance, I had still leisure to have looked back upon my follies, and have made some reparation; but the satisfaction I was to make for the public mischiefs I had done was yet left behind; and I could not forbear going abroad again, as I called it now, than any more I could when my extremity really drove me out for bread.
It was not long after the affair with the mercer was made up, that I went out in an equipage quite different from any I had ever appeared in before. I dressed myself like a beggar woman, in the coarsest and most despicable rags I could get, and I walked about peering and peeping into every door and window I came near; and indeed I was in such a plight now that I knew as ill how to behave in as ever I did in any. I naturally abhorred dirt and rags; I had been bred up tight and cleanly, and could be no other, whatever condition I was in; so that this was the most uneasy disguise to me that ever I put on.
I said presently to myself that this would not do, for this was a dress that everybody was shy and afraid of; and I thought everybody looked at me, as if they were afraid I should come near them, lest I should take something from them, or afraid to come near me, lest they should get something from me. I wandered about all the evening the first time I went out, and made nothing of it, but came home again wet, draggled, and tired. However, I went out again the next night, and then I met with a little adventure, which had like to have cost me dear.
As I was standing near a tavern door, there comes a gentleman on horseback, and lights at the door, and wanting to go into the tavern, he calls one of the drawers to hold his horse. He stayed pretty long in the tavern, and the drawer heard his master call, and thought he would be angry with him. Seeing me stand by him, he called to me, 'Here, woman,' says he, 'hold this horse a while, till I go in; if the gentleman comes, he'll give you something.' 'Yes,' says I, and takes the horse, and walks off with him very soberly, and carried him to my governess.
This had been a booty to those that had understood it; but never was poor thief more at a loss to know what to do with anything that was stolen; for when I came home, my governess was quite confounded, and what to do with the creature, we neither of us knew. To send him to a stable was doing nothing, for it was certain that public notice would be given in the Gazette, and the horse described, so that we durst not go to fetch it again.
All the remedy we had for this unlucky adventure was to go and set up the horse at an inn, and send a note by a porter to the tavern, that the gentleman's horse that was lost such a time was left at such an inn, and that he might be had there; that the poor woman that held him, having led him about the street, not being able to lead him back again, had left him there. We might have waited till the owner had published and offered a reward, but we did not care to venture the receiving the reward.
So this was a robbery and no robbery, for little was lost by it, and nothing was got by it, and I was quite sick of going out in a beggar's dress; it did not answer at all, and besides, I thought it was ominous and threatening.
While I was in this disguise, I fell in with a parcel of folks of a worse kind than any I ever sorted with, and I saw a little into their ways too. These were coiners of money, and they made some very good offers to me, as to profit; but the part they would have had me have embarked in was the most dangerous part. I mean that of the very working the die, as they call it, which, had I been taken, had been certain death, and that at a stake — I say, to be burnt to death at a stake; so that though I was to appearance but a beggar, and they promised mountains of gold and silver to me to engage, yet it would not do.
It is true, if I had been really a beggar, or had been desperate as when I began, I might perhaps have closed with it; for what care they to die that can't tell how to live? But at present this was not my condition, at least I was for no such terrible risks as those; besides, the very thoughts of being burnt at a stake struck terror into my very soul, chilled my blood, and gave me the vapours to such a degree, as I could not think of it without trembling.
This put an end to my disguise too, for as I did not like the proposal, so I did not tell them so, but seemed to relish it, and promised to meet again. But I durst see them no more; for if I had seen them, and not complied, though I had declined it with the greatest assurance of secrecy in the world, they would have gone near to have murdered me, to make sure work, and make themselves easy, as they call it. What kind of easiness that is, they may best judge that understand how easy men are that can murder people to prevent danger.
This and horse-stealing were things quite out of my way, and I might easily resolve I would have no more to say to them; my business seemed to lie another way, and though it had hazard enough in it too, yet it was more suitable to me, and what had more of art in it, and more room to escape, and more chances for a-coming off if a surprise should happen.
I had several proposals made also to me about that time, to come into a gang of house-breakers; but that was a thing I had no mind to venture at neither, any more than I had at the coining trade. I offered to go along with two men and a woman, that made it their business to get into houses by stratagem, and with them I was willing enough to venture. But there were three of them already, and they did not care to part, nor I to have too many in a gang, so I did not close with them, but declined them, and they paid dear for their next attempt.
But at length I met with a woman that had often told me what adventures she had made, and with success, at the waterside, and I closed with her, and we drove on our business pretty well. One day we came among some Dutch people at St. Catherine's, where we went on pretence to buy goods that were privately got on shore. I was two or three times in a house where we saw a good quantity of prohibited goods, and my companion once brought away three pieces of Dutch black silk that turned to good account, and I had my share of it; but in all the journeys I made by myself, I could not get an opportunity to do anything, so I laid it aside, for I had been so often, that they began to suspect something, and were so shy, that I saw nothing was to be done.
This baulked me a little, and I resolved to push at something or other, for I was not used to come back so often without purchase; so the next day I dressed myself up fine, and took a walk to the other end of the town. I passed through the Exchange in the Strand, but had no notion of finding anything to do there, when on a sudden I saw a great cluttering in the place, and all the people, shopkeepers as well as others, standing up and staring; and what should it be but some great duchess come into the Exchange, and they said the queen was coming.
I set myself close up to a shop-side with my back to the counter, as if to let the crowd pass by, when keeping my eye upon a parcel of lace which the shopkeeper was showing to some ladies that stood by me, the shopkeeper and her maid were so taken up with looking to see who was coming, and what shop they would go to, that I found means to slip a paper of lace into my pocket and come clear off with it; so the lady-milliner paid dear enough for her gaping after the queen.
I went off from the shop, as if driven along by the throng, and mingling myself with the crowd, went out at the other door of the Exchange, and so got away before they missed their lace; and because I would not be followed, I called a coach and shut myself up in it. I had scarce shut the coach doors up, but I saw the milliner's maid and five or six more come running out into the street, and crying out as if they were frightened. They did not cry 'Stop thief!' because nobody ran away, but I could hear the word 'robbed,' and 'lace,' two or three times, and saw the wench wringing her hands, and run staring to and again, like one scared.
The coachman that had taken me up was getting up into the box, but was not quite up, so that the horse had not begun to move; so that I was terrible uneasy, and I took the packet of lace and laid it ready to have dropped it out at the flap of the coach, which opens before, just behind the coachman; but to my great satisfaction, in less than a minute the coach began to move, that is to say, as soon as the coachman had got up and spoken to his horses; so he drove away without any interruption, and I brought off my purchase, which was work near 20 pounds.
The next day I dressed up again, but in quite different clothes, and walked the same way again, but nothing offered till I came into St. James's Park, where I saw abundance of fine ladies in the Park, walking in the Mall, and among the rest there was a little miss, a young lady of about twelve or thirteen years old, and she had a sister, as I suppose it was, with her, that might be about nine years old. I observed the biggest had a fine gold watch on, and a good necklace of pearl, and they had a footman in livery with them; but as it is not usual for the footman to go behind the ladies in the Mall, so I observed the footman stopped at their going into the Mall, and the biggest of the sisters spoke to him, which I perceived was to bid him be just there when they came back.
When I heard her dismiss the footman, I stepped up to him and asked him, what little lady that was? and held a little chat with him about what a pretty child it was with her, and how genteel and well-carriaged the lady, the eldest, would be: how womanish, and how grave; and the fool of a fellow told me presently who she was; that she was Sir Thomas—'s eldest daughter, of Essex, and that she was a great fortune; that her mother was not come to town yet; but she was with Sir William—'s lady, of Suffolk, at her lodging in Suffolk Street, and a great deal more; that they had a maid and a woman to wait on them, besides Sir Thomas's coach, the coachman, and himself; and that young lady was governess to the whole family, as well here as at home too; and, in short, told me abundance of things enough for my business.
I was very well dressed, and had my gold watch as well as she; so I left the footman, and I puts myself in a rank with this young lady, having stayed till she had taken one double turn in the Mall, and was going forward again; by and by I saluted her by her name, with the title of Lady Betty. I asked her when she heard from her father; when my lady her mother would be in town, and how she did.
I talked so familiarly to her of her whole family that she could not suspect but that I knew them all intimately. I asked her why she would come abroad without Mrs. Chime with her (that was the name of her woman) to take of Mrs. Judith, that was her sister. Then I entered into a long chat with her about her sister, what a fine little lady she was, and asked her if she had learned French, and a thousand such little things to entertain her, when on a sudden we saw the guards come, and the crowd ran to see the king go by to the Parliament House.
The ladies ran all to the side of the Mall, and I helped my lady to stand upon the edge of the boards on the side of the Mall, that she might be high enough to see; and took the little one and lifted her quite up; during which, I took care to convey the gold watch so clean away from the Lady Betty, that she never felt it, nor missed it, till all the crowd was gone, and she was gotten into the middle of the Mall among the other ladies.
I took my leave of her in the very crowd, and said to her, as if in haste, 'Dear Lady Betty, take care of your little sister.' And so the crowd did as it were thrust me away from her, and that I was obliged unwillingly to take my leave.
The hurry in such cases is immediately over, and the place clear as soon as the king is gone by; but as there is always a great running and clutter just as the king passes, so having dropped the two little ladies, and done my business with them without any miscarriage, I kept hurrying on among the crowd, as if I ran to see the king, and so I got before the crowd and kept so till I came to the end of the Mall, when the king going on towards the Horse Guards, I went forward to the passage, which went then through against the lower end of the Haymarket, and there I bestowed a coach upon myself, and made off, and I confess I have not yet been so good as my word, viz. to go and visit my Lady Betty.
I was once of the mind to venture staying with Lady Betty till she missed the watch, and so have made a great outcry about it with her, and have got her into the coach, and put myself in the coach with her, and have gone home with her; for she appeared so fond of me, and so perfectly deceived by my so readily talking to her of all her relations and family, that I thought it was very easy to push the thing farther, and to have got at least the necklace of pearl; but when I considered that though the child would not perhaps have suspected me, other people might, and that if I was searched I should be discovered, I thought it was best to go off with what I had got, and be satisfied.
I came accidentally afterwards to hear, that when the young lady missed her watch, she made a great outcry in the Park, and sent her footman up and down to see if he could find me out, she having described me so perfectly that he knew presently that it was the same person that had stood and talked so long with him, and asked him so many questions about them; but I gone far enough out of their reach before she could come at her footman to tell him the story.
I made another adventure after this, of a nature different from all I had been concerned in yet, and this was at a gaming-house near Covent Garden.
I saw several people go in and out; and I stood in the passage a good while with another woman with me, and seeing a gentleman go up that seemed to be of more than ordinary fashion, I said to him, 'Sir, pray don't they give women leave to go up?' 'Yes, madam,' says he, 'and to play too, if they please.' 'I mean so, sir,' said I. And with that he said he would introduce me if I had a mind; so I followed him to the door, and he looking in, 'There, madam,' says he, 'are the gamesters, if you have a mind to venture.'
I looked in and said to my comrade aloud, 'Here's nothing but men; I won't venture among them.' At which one of the gentlemen cried out, 'You need not be afraid, madam, here's none but fair gamesters; you are very welcome to come and set what you please.' so I went a little nearer and looked on, and some of them brought me a chair, and I sat down and saw the box and dice go round apace; then I said to my comrade, 'The gentlemen play too high for us; come, let us go.'
The people were all very civil, and one gentleman in particular encouraged me, and said, 'Come, madam, if you please to venture, if you dare trust me, I'll answer for it you shall have nothing put upon you here.' 'No, sir,' said I, smiling, 'I hope the gentlemen would not cheat a woman.' But still I declined venturing, though I pulled out a purse with money in it, that they might see I did not want money.
After I had sat a while, one gentleman said to me, jeering, 'Come, madam, I see you are afraid to venture for yourself; I always had good luck with the ladies, you shall set for me, if you won't set for yourself.' I told him, 'sir, I should be very loth to lose your money,' though I added, 'I am pretty lucky too; but the gentlemen play so high, that I dare not indeed venture my own.'
'Well, well,' says he, 'there's ten guineas, madam; set them for me.' so I took his money and set, himself looking on. I ran out nine of the guineas by one and two at a time, and then the box coming to the next man to me, my gentleman gave me ten guineas more, and made me set five of them at once, and the gentleman who had the box threw out, so there was five guineas of his money again. He was encouraged at this, and made me take the box, which was a bold venture. However, I held the box so long that I had gained him his whole money, and had a good handful of guineas in my lap, and which was the better luck, when I threw out, I threw but at one or two of those that had set me, and so went off easy.
When I was come this length, I offered the gentleman all the gold, for it was his own; and so would have had him play for himself, pretending I did not understand the game well enough. He laughed, and said if I had but good luck, it was no matter whether I understood the game or no; but I should not leave off. However, he took out the fifteen guineas that he had put in at first, and bade me play with the rest. I would have told them to see how much I had got, but he said, 'No, no, don't tell them, I believe you are very honest, and 'tis bad luck to tell them'; so I played on.
I understood the game well enough, though I pretended I did not, and played cautiously. It was to keep a good stock in my lap, out of which I every now and then conveyed some into my pocket, but in such a manner, and at such convenient times, as I was sure he could not see it.
I played a great while, and had very good luck for him; but the last time I held the box, they set me high, and I threw boldly at all; I held the box till I gained near fourscore guineas, but lost above half of it back in the last throw; so I got up, for I was afraid I should lose it all back again, and said to him, 'Pray come, sir, now, and take it and play for yourself; I think I have done pretty well for you.' He would have had me play on, but it grew late, and I desired to be excused.
When I gave it up to him, I told him I hoped he would give me leave to tell it now, that I might see what I had gained, and how lucky I had been for him; when I told them, there were threescore and three guineas. 'Ay,' says I, 'if it had not been for that unlucky throw, I had got you a hundred guineas.' So I gave him all the money, but he would not take it till I had put my hand into it, and taken some for myself, and bid me please myself. I refused it, and was positive I would not take it myself; if he had a mind to anything of that kind, it should be all his own doings.
The rest of the gentlemen seeing us striving cried, 'Give it her all'; but I absolutely refused that. Then one of them said, 'D—n ye, Jack, halve it with her; don't you know you should be always upon even terms with the ladies.' So, in short, he divided it with me, and I brought away thirty guineas, besides about forty-three which I had stole privately, which I was sorry for afterward, because he was so generous.
Thus I brought home seventy-three guineas, and let my old governess see what good luck I had at play. However, it was her advice that I should not venture again, and I took her counsel, for I never went there any more; for I knew as well as she, if the itch of play came in, I might soon lose that, and all the rest of what I had got.
Fortune had smiled upon me to that degree, and I had thriven so much, and my governess too, for she always had a share with me, that really the old gentlewoman began to talk of leaving off while we were well, and being satisfied with what we had got; but, I know not what fate guided me, I was as backward to it now as she was when I proposed it to her before, and so in an ill hour we gave over the thoughts of it for the present, and, in a word, I grew more hardened and audacious than ever, and the success I had made my name as famous as any thief of my sort ever had been at Newgate, and in the Old Bailey.
I had sometime taken the liberty to play the same game over again, which is not according to practice, which however succeeded not amiss; but generally I took up new figures, and contrived to appear in new shapes every time I went abroad.
It was not a rumbling time of the year, and the gentlemen being most of them gone out of town, Tunbridge, and Epsom, and such places were full of people. But the city was thin, and I thought our trade felt it a little, as well as other; so that at the latter end of the year I joined myself with a gang who usually go every year to Stourbridge Fair, and from thence to Bury Fair, in Suffolk. We promised ourselves great things there, but when I came to see how things were, I was weary of it presently; for except mere picking of pockets, there was little worth meddling with; neither, if a booty had been made, was it so easy carrying it off, nor was there such a variety of occasion for business in our way, as in London; all that I made of the whole journey was a gold watch at Bury Fair, and a small parcel of linen at Cambridge, which gave me an occasion to take leave of the place. It was on old bite, and I thought might do with a country shopkeeper, though in London it would not.
I bought at a linen-draper's shop, not in the fair, but in the town of Cambridge, as much fine holland and other things as came to about seven pounds; when I had done, I bade them be sent to such an inn, where I had purposely taken up my being the same morning, as if I was to lodge there that night.
I ordered the draper to send them home to me, about such an hour, to the inn where I lay, and I would pay him his money. At the time appointed the draper sends the goods, and I placed one of our gang at the chamber door, and when the innkeeper's maid brought the messenger to the door, who was a young fellow, an apprentice, almost a man, she tells him her mistress was asleep, but if he would leave the things and call in about an hour, I should be awake, and he might have the money.
He left the parcel very readily, and goes his way, and in about half an hour my maid and I walked off, and that very evening I hired a horse, and a man to ride before me, and went to Newmarket, and from thence got my passage in a coach that was not quite full to St. Edmund's Bury, where, as I told you, I could make but little of my trade, only at a little country opera-house made a shift to carry off a gold watch from a lady's side, who was not only intolerably merry, but, as I thought, a little fuddled, which made my work much easier.
I made off with this little booty to Ipswich, and from thence to Harwich, where I went into an inn, as if I had newly arrived from Holland, not doubting but I should make some purchase among the foreigners that came on shore there; but I found them generally empty of things of value, except what was in their portmanteaux and Dutch hampers, which were generally guarded by footmen; however, I fairly got one of their portmanteaux one evening out of the chamber where the gentleman lay, the footman being fast asleep on the bed, and I suppose very drunk.
The room in which I lodged lay next to the Dutchman's, and having dragged the heavy thing with much ado out of the chamber into mine, I went out into the street, to see if I could find any possibility of carrying it off. I walked about a great while, but could see no probability either of getting out the thing, or of conveying away the goods that were in it if I had opened it, the town being so small, and I a perfect stranger in it; so I was returning with a resolution to carry it back again, and leave it where I found it.
Just in that very moment I heard a man make a noise to some people to make haste, for the boat was going to put off, and the tide would be spent. I called to the fellow, 'What boat is it, friend,' says I, 'that you belong to?' 'The Ipswich wherry, madam,' says he. 'When do you go off?' says I. 'This moment, madam,' says he; 'do you want to go thither?' 'Yes,' said I, 'if you can stay till I fetch my things.' 'Where are your things, madam?' says he. 'At such an inn,' said I. 'Well, I'll go with you, madam,' says he, very civilly, 'and bring them for you.' 'Come away, then,' says I, and takes him with me.
The people of the inn were in a great hurry, the packet-boat from Holland being just come in, and two coaches just come also with passengers from London, for another packet-boat that was going off for Holland, which coaches were to go back next day with the passengers that were just landed. In this hurry it was not much minded that I came to the bar and paid my reckoning, telling my landlady I had gotten my passage by sea in a wherry.
These wherries are large vessels, with good accommodation for carrying passengers from Harwich to London; and though they are called wherries, which is a word used in the Thames for a small boat rowed with one or two men, yet these are vessels able to carry twenty passengers, and ten or fifteen tons of goods, and fitted to bear the sea. All this I had found out by inquiring the night before into the several ways of going to London.
My landlady was very courteous, took my money for my reckoning, but was called away, all the house being in a hurry. So I left her, took the fellow up to my chamber, gave him the trunk, or portmanteau, for it was like a trunk, and wrapped it about with an old apron, and he went directly to his boat with it, and I after him, nobody asking us the least question about it; as for the drunken Dutch footman he was still asleep, and his master with other foreign gentlemen at supper, and very merry below, so I went clean off with it to Ipswich; and going in the night, the people of the house knew nothing but that I was gone to London by the Harwich wherry, as I had told my landlady.
I was plagued at Ipswich with the custom-house officers, who stopped my trunk, as I called it, and would open and search it. I was willing, I told them, they should search it, but my husband had the key, and he was not yet come from Harwich; this I said, that if upon searching it they should find all the things be such as properly belonged to a man rather than a woman, it should not seem strange to them. However, they being positive to open the trunk I consented to have it be broken open, that is to say, to have the lock taken off, which was not difficult.
They found nothing for their turn, for the trunk had been searched before, but they discovered several things very much to my satisfaction, as particularly a parcel of money in French pistols, and some Dutch ducatoons or rix-dollars, and the rest was chiefly two periwigs, wearing-linen, and razors, wash-balls, perfumes, and other useful things necessary for a gentleman, which all passed for my husband's, and so I was quit to them.
It was now very early in the morning, and not light, and I knew not well what course to take; for I made no doubt but I should be pursued in the morning, and perhaps be taken with the things about me; so I resolved upon taking new measures. I went publicly to an inn in the town with my trunk, as I called it, and having taken the substance out, I did not think the lumber of it worth my concern; however, I gave it the landlady of the house with a charge to take great care of it, and lay it up safe till I should come again, and away I walked in to the street.
When I was got into the town a great way from the inn, I met with an ancient woman who had just opened her door, and I fell into chat with her, and asked her a great many wild questions of things all remote to my purpose and design; but in my discourse I found by her how the town was situated, that I was in a street that went out towards Hadley, but that such a street went towards the water-side, such a street towards Colchester, and so the London road lay there.
I had soon my ends of this old woman, for I only wanted to know which was the London road, and away I walked as fast as I could; not that I intended to go on foot, either to London or to Colchester, but I wanted to get quietly away from Ipswich.
I walked about two or three miles, and then I met a plain countryman, who was busy about some husbandry work, I did not know what, and I asked him a great many questions first, not much to the purpose, but at last told him I was going for London, and the coach was full, and I could not get a passage, and asked him if he could tell me where to hire a horse that would carry double, and an honest man to ride before me to Colchester, that so I might get a place there in the coaches.
The honest clown looked earnestly at me, and said nothing for above half a minute, when, scratching his poll, 'A horse, say you and to Colchester, to carry double? why yes, mistress, alack-a-day, you may have horses enough for money.' 'Well, friend,' says I, 'that I take for granted; I don't expect it without money.' 'Why, but, mistress,' says he, 'how much are you willing to give?' 'Nay,' says I again, 'friend, I don't know what your rates are in the country here, for I am a stranger; but if you can get one for me, get it as cheap as you can, and I'll give you somewhat for your pains.'
'Why, that's honestly said too,' says the countryman. 'Not so honest, neither,' said I to myself, 'if thou knewest all.' 'Why, mistress,' says he, 'I have a horse that will carry double, and I don't much care if I go myself with you,' and the like. 'Will you?' says I; 'well, I believe you are an honest man; if you will, I shall be glad of it; I'll pay you in reason.' 'Why, look ye, mistress,' says he, 'I won't be out of reason with you, then; if I carry you to Colchester, it will be worth five shillings for myself and my horse, for I shall hardly come back tonight.'
In short, I hired the honest man and his horse; but when we came to a town upon the road (I do not remember the name of it, but it stands upon a river), I pretended myself very ill, and I could go no farther that night but if he would stay there with me, because I was a stranger, I would pay him for himself and his horse with all my heart.
This I did because I knew the Dutch gentlemen and their servants would be upon the road that day, either in the stagecoaches or riding post, and I did not know but the drunken fellow, or somebody else that might have seen me at Harwich, might see me again, and so I thought that in one day's stop they would be all gone by.
We lay all that night there, and the next morning it was not very early when I set out, so that it was near ten o'clock by the time I got to Colchester. It was no little pleasure that I saw the town where I had so many pleasant days, and I made many inquiries after the good old friends I had once had there, but could make little out; they were all dead or removed. The young ladies had been all married or gone to London; the old gentleman and the old lady that had been my early benefactress all dead; and which troubled me most, the young gentleman my first lover, and afterwards my brother-in-law, was dead; but two sons, men grown, were left of him, but they too were transplanted to London.
I dismissed my old man here, and stayed incognito for three or four days in Colchester, and then took a passage in a waggon, because I would not venture being seen in the Harwich coaches. But I needed not have used so much caution, for there was nobody in Harwich but the woman of the house could have known me; nor was it rational to think that she, considering the hurry she was in, and that she never saw me but once, and that by candlelight, should have ever discovered me.
I was now returned to London, and though by the accident of the last adventure I got something considerable, yet I was not fond of any more country rambles, nor should I have ventured abroad again if I had carried the trade on to the end of my days. I gave my governess a history of my travels; she liked the Harwich journey well enough, and in discoursing of these things between ourselves she observed, that a thief being a creature that watches the advantages of other people's mistakes, 'tis impossible but that to one that is vigilant and industrious many opportunities must happen, and therefore she thought that one so exquisitely keen in the trade as I was, would scarce fail of something extraordinary wherever I went.
On the other hand, every branch of my story, if duly considered, may be useful to honest people, and afford a due caution to people of some sort or other to guard against the like surprises, and to have their eyes about them when they have to do with strangers of any kind, for 'tis very seldom that some snare or other is not in their way. The moral, indeed, of all my history is left to be gathered by the senses and judgment of the reader; I am not qualified to preach to them. Let the experience of one creature completely wicked, and completely miserable, be a storehouse of useful warning to those that read.
I am drawing now towards a new variety of the scenes of life. Upon my return, being hardened by along race of crime, and success unparalleled, at least in the reach of my own knowledge, I had, as I have said, no thoughts of laying down a trade which, if I was to judge by the example of other, must, however, end at last in misery and sorrow.
It was on the Christmas day following, in the evening, that, to finish a long train of wickedness, I went abroad to see what might offer in my way; when going by a working silversmith's in Foster Lane, I saw a tempting bait indeed, and not be resisted by one of my occupation, for the shop had nobody in it, as I could see, and a great deal of loose plate lay in the window, and at the seat of the man, who usually, as I suppose, worked at one side of the shop.
I went boldly in, and was just going to lay my hand upon a piece of plate, and might have done it, and carried it clear off, for any care that the men who belonged to the shop had taken of it; but an officious fellow in a house, not a shop, on the other side of the way, seeing me go in, and observing that there was nobody in the shop, comes running over the street, and into the shop, and without asking me what I was, or who, seizes upon me, an cries out for the people of the house.
I had not, as I said above, touched anything in the shop, and seeing a glimpse of somebody running over to the shop, I had so much presence of mind as to knock very hard with my foot on the floor of the house, and was just calling out too, when the fellow laid hands on me.
However, as I had always most courage when I was in most danger, so when the fellow laid hands on me, I stood very high upon it, that I came in to buy half a dozen of silver spoons; and to my good fortune, it was a silversmith's that sold plate, as well as worked plate for other shops. The fellow laughed at that part, and put such a value upon the service that he had done his neighbour, that he would have it be that I came not to buy, but to steal; and raising a great crowd. I said to the master of the shop, who by this time was fetched home from some neighbouring place, that it was in vain to make noise, and enter into talk there of the case; the fellow had insisted that I came to steal, and he must prove it, and I desired we might go before a magistrate without any more words; for I began to see I should be too hard for the man that had seized me.
The master and mistress of the shop were really not so violent as the man from t'other side of the way; and the man said, 'Mistress, you might come into the shop with a good design for aught I know, but it seemed a dangerous thing for you to come into such a shop as mine is, when you see nobody there; and I cannot do justice to my neighbour, who was so kind to me, as not to acknowledge he had reason on his side; though, upon the whole, I do not find you attempted to take anything, and I really know not what to do in it.' I pressed him to go before a magistrate with me, and if anything could be proved on me that was like a design of robbery, I should willingly submit, but if not, I expected reparation.
Just while we were in this debate, and a crowd of people gathered about the door, came by Sir T. B., an alderman of the city, and justice of the peace, and the goldsmith hearing of it, goes out, and entreated his worship to come in and decide the case.
Give the goldsmith his due, he told his story with a great deal of justice and moderation, and the fellow that had come over, and seized upon me, told his with as much heat and foolish passion, which did me good still, rather than harm. It came then to my turn to speak, and I told his worship that I was a stranger in London, being newly come out of the north; that I lodged in such a place, that I was passing this street, and went into the goldsmith's shop to buy half a dozen of spoons. By great luck I had an old silver spoon in my pocket, which I pulled out, and told him I had carried that spoon to match it with half a dozen of new ones, that it might match some I had in the country.
That seeing nobody I the shop, I knocked with my foot very hard to make the people hear, and had also called aloud with my voice; 'tis true, there was loose plate in the shop, but that nobody could say I had touched any of it, or gone near it; that a fellow came running into the shop out of the street, and laid hands on me in a furious manner, in the very moments while I was calling for the people of the house; that if he had really had a mind to have done his neighbour any service, he should have stood at a distance, and silently watched to see whether I had touched anything or no, and then have clapped in upon me, and taken me in the fact.
'That is very true,' says Mr. Alderman, and turning to the fellow that stopped me, he asked him if it was true that I knocked with my foot? He said, yes, I had knocked, but that might be because of his coming. 'Nay,' says the alderman, taking him short, 'now you contradict yourself, for just now you said she was in the shop with her back to you, and did not see you till you came upon her.' Now it was true that my back was partly to the street, but yet as my business was of a kind that required me to have my eyes every way, so I really had a glance of him running over, as I said before, though he did not perceive it.
After a full hearing, the alderman gave it as his opinion that his neighbour was under a mistake, and that I was innocent, and the goldsmith acquiesced in it too, and his wife, and so I was dismissed; but as I was going to depart, Mr. Alderman said, 'But hold, madam, if you were designing to buy spoons, I hope you will not let my friend here lose his customer by the mistake.' I readily answered, 'No, sir, I'll buy the spoons still, if he can match my odd spoon, which I brought for a pattern'; and the goldsmith showed me some of the very same fashion. So he weighed the spoons, and they came to five-and-thirty shillings, so I pulls out my purse to pay him, in which I had near twenty guineas, for I never went without such a sum about me, whatever might happen, and I found it of use at other times as well as now.
When Mr. Alderman saw my money, he said, 'Well, madam, now I am satisfied you were wronged, and it was for this reason that I moved you should buy the spoons, and stayed till you had bought them, for if you had not had money to pay for them, I should have suspected that you did not come into the shop with an intent to buy, for indeed the sort of people who come upon these designs that you have been charged with, are seldom troubled with much gold in their pockets, as I see you are.'
I smiled, and told his worship, that then I owed something of his favour to my money, but I hoped he saw reason also in the justice he had done me before. He said, yes, he had, but this had confirmed his opinion, and he was fully satisfied now of my having been injured. So I came off with flying colours, though from an affair in which I was at the very brink of destruction.
It was but three days after this, that not at all made cautious by my former danger, as I used to be, and still pursuing the art which I had so long been employed in, I ventured into a house where I saw the doors open, and furnished myself, as I though verily without being perceived, with two pieces of flowered silks, such as they call brocaded silk, very rich. It was not a mercer's shop, nor a warehouse of a mercer, but looked like a private dwelling-house, and was, it seems, inhabited by a man that sold goods for the weavers to the mercers, like a broker or factor.
That I may make short of this black part of this story, I was attacked by two wenches that came open-mouthed at me just as I was going out at the door, and one of them pulled me back into the room, while the other shut the door upon me. I would have given them good words, but there was no room for it, two fiery dragons could not have been more furious than they were; they tore my clothes, bullied and roared as if they would have murdered me; the mistress of the house came next, and then the master, and all outrageous, for a while especially.
I gave the master very good words, told him the door was open, and things were a temptation to me, that I was poor and distressed, and poverty was when many could not resist, and begged him with tears to have pity on me. The mistress of the house was moved with compassion, and inclined to have let me go, and had almost persuaded her husband to it also, but the saucy wenches were run, even before they were sent, and had fetched a constable, and then the master said he could not go back, I must go before a justice, and answered his wife that he might come into trouble himself if he should let me go.
The sight of the constable, indeed, struck me with terror, and I thought I should have sunk into the ground. I fell into faintings, and indeed the people themselves thought I would have died, when the woman argued again for me, and entreated her husband, seeing they had lost nothing, to let me go. I offered him to pay for the two pieces, whatever the value was, though I had not got them, and argued that as he had his goods, and had really lost nothing, it would be cruel to pursue me to death, and have my blood for the bare attempt of taking them.
I put the constable in mind that I had broke no doors, nor carried anything away; and when I came to the justice, and pleaded there that I had neither broken anything to get in, nor carried anything out, the justice was inclined to have released me; but the first saucy jade that stopped me, affirming that I was going out with the goods, but that she stopped me and pulled me back as I was upon the threshold, the justice upon that point committed me, and I was carried to Newgate.
That horrid place! my very blood chills at the mention of its name; the place where so many of my comrades had been locked up, and from whence they went to the fatal tree; the place where my mother suffered so deeply, where I was brought into the world, and from whence I expected no redemption but by an infamous death: to conclude, the place that had so long expected me, and which with so much art and success I had so long avoided.
I was not fixed indeed; 'tis impossible to describe the terror of my mind, when I was first brought in, and when I looked around upon all the horrors of that dismal place. I looked on myself as lost, and that I had nothing to think of but of going out of the world, and that with the utmost infamy: the hellish noise, the roaring, swearing, and clamour, the stench and nastiness, and all the dreadful crowd of afflicting things that I saw there, joined together to make the place seem an emblem of hell itself, and a kind of an entrance into it.
Now I reproached myself with the many hints I had had, as I have mentioned above, from my own reason, from the sense of my good circumstances, and of the many dangers I had escaped, to leave off while I was well, and how I had withstood them all, and hardened my thoughts against all fear. It seemed to me that I was hurried on by an inevitable and unseen fate to this day of misery, and that now I was to expiate all my offences at the gallows; that I was now to give satisfaction to justice with my blood, and that I was come to the last hour of my life and of my wickedness together. These things poured themselves in upon my thoughts in a confused manner, and left me overwhelmed with melancholy and despair.
Then I repented heartily of all my life past, but that repentance yielded me no satisfaction, no peace, no, not in the least, because, as I said to myself, it was repenting after the power of further sinning was taken away. I seemed not to mourn that I had committed such crimes, and for the fact as it was an offence against God and my neighbour, but I mourned that I was to be punished for it. I was a penitent, as I thought, not that I had sinned, but that I was to suffer, and this took away all the comfort, and even the hope of my repentance in my own thoughts.
I got no sleep for several nights or days after I came into that wretched place, and glad I would have been for some time to have died there, though I did not consider dying as it ought to be considered neither; indeed, nothing could be filled with more horror to my imagination than the very place, nothing was more odious to me than the company that was there. Oh! if I had but been sent to any place in the world, and not to Newgate, I should have thought myself happy.
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