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A Set of Rogues by Frank Barrett

Part 4 out of 6

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lies back in his high chair, his eyes closed, and a cigarro in the
corner of his mouth.

"I thank you with all my heart, Mr. Hopkins," says Mr. Godwin, warmly.
"I entreat you have this deed drawn up--if it be my wife's wish."

"You may count with certainty on that," says I; "for if my arguments
lacked power, I have but to say 'tis your desire, and 'twould be done
though it took the last penny from her."

He made no reply to this, but bending forward he gazed into the fire,
with a rapture in his face, pressing one hand within the other as if it
were his sweetheart's.

"In the meantime," says I, "if you have necessity for a hundred or two
in advance, you have but to give me your note of hand."

"Can you do me this service?" cries he, eagerly. "Can you let me have
five hundred by to-morrow?"

"I believe I can supply you to the extent of six or seven."

"All that you can," says he; "for besides a pressing need that will take
me to London to-morrow, I owe something to a friend here that I would
fain discharge."

Don Sanchez waived his hand cavalierly, though I do believe the subtle
Spaniard had hinted at this business as much for his own ends as for our
assurance.

"I will have it ready against we meet in the morning," says I. "You are
so certain of her sanction?" he asks in delight, as if he could not too
much assure himself of Moll's devotion.

"She has been guided by me in all matters relating to her estate, and
will be in this, I am convinced. But here's another question, sir,
which, while we are about business, might be discussed with advantage.
My rule here is nearly at an end. Have you decided who shall govern the
estate when I am gone?"

"Only that when I have authority that rascal Simon shall be turned from
his office, neck and crop. He loves me as little as he loves his
mistress, that he would set us by the ears for his own advantage."

"An honest man, nevertheless--in his peculiar way," observes the Don.

"Honest!" cries Mr. Godwin, hotly. "He honest who would have suffered
Judith to die in Barbary! He shall go."

"Then you will take in your own hands the control of your joint estate?"

"I? Why, I know no more of such matters than the man in the moon."

"With all respect to your cousin's abilities, I cannot think her
qualified for this office."

"Surely another steward can be found."

"Undoubtedly," says I. "But surely, sir, you'd not trust all to him
without some supervision. Large sums of money must pass through his
hands, and this must prove a great temptation to dishonest practices.
'Twould not be fair to any man."

"This is true," says he. "And yet from natural disinclination,
ignorance, and other reasons, I would keep out of it." Then after some
reflection he adds, "My cousin has told me how you have lost all your
fortune in saving her, and that 'tis not yet possible to repay you. May
I ask, sir, without offence, if you have any occupation for your time
when you leave us?"

"I went to London when I left you to see what might be done; but a
merchant without money is like a carpenter without tools."

"Then, sir, till your debt is discharged, or you can find some more
pleasant and profitable engagement, would you not consent to govern
these affairs? I do not ask you to stay here, though assuredly you will
ever be a welcome guest; but if you would have one of the houses on the
estate or come hither from time to time as it might fit your other
purposes, and take this office as a matter of business, I should regard
it as a most generous, friendly kindness on your part."

I promised him with some demur, and yet with the civility his offer
demanded, to consider of this; and so our debate ended, and I went to
bed, very well content with myself, for thus will vanity blind us to our
faults.

CHAPTER XXIV.

_I overcome Moll's honest compunctions, lay hold of three thousand
pounds more, and do otherwise play the part of rascal to perfection._

I got together six hundred pounds (out of the sum left us after paying
Don Sanchez his ten thousand), and delivered 'em to Mr. Godwin against
his note of hand, telling him at the same time that, having slept upon
his proposal, I was resolved to be his steward for three months, with
freedom on both sides to alter our position, according to our
convenience, at the end of that time, and would serve him and his lady
to the best of my power. Thanking me very heartily for my friendly
service to him (though, God knows, with little reason), he presently
left us. And Moll, coming back from taking tender leave of him at her
gates, appeared very downcast and pensive. However, after moping an hour
in her chamber, she comes to me in her hood, and begs I will take her a
walk to dispel her vapours. So we out across the common, it being a
fine, brisk, dry morning and the ground hard with a frost. Here, being
secure from observation, I showed her how I had settled matters with Mr.
Godwin, dividing the estate in such a manner as would enable her to draw
what funds she pleased, without let, hindrance, or any inconvenient
question.

At this she draws a deep sigh, fixing her eyes sadly enough on the
perspective, as if she were thinking rather of her absent lover than the
business in hand. Somewhat nettled to find she prized my efforts on her
behalf so lightly, I proceeded to show her the advantages of this
arrangement, adding that, to make her property the surer, I had
consented to manage both her affairs and Mr. Godwin's when they were
married.

"And so," says I, in conclusion, "you may have what money you want, and
dispose of it as you will, and I'll answer for it Mr. Godwin shall never
be a penny the wiser."

"Do what you find is necessary," says she, with passion. "But for
mercy's sake say no more on this matter to me. For all these hints do
stab my heart like sharp knives."

Not reading rightly the cause of her petulance, I was at first disposed
to resent it; but, reflecting that a maiden is no more responsible for
her tongue than a donkey for his heels in this season of life (but both
must be for ever a-flying out at some one when parted from the object of
their affections), I held my peace; and so we walked on in sullen
silence for a space; then, turning suddenly upon me, she cries in a
trembling voice:

"Won't you say something to me? Can't you see that I am unhappy?"

And now, seeing her eyes full of tears, her lips quivering, and her face
drawn with pain, my heart melted in a moment; so, taking her arm under
mine and pressing it to my side, I bade her be of good cheer, for her
lover would return in a day or two at the outside.

"No, not of him,--not of him," she entreats. "Talk to me of indifferent
things."

So, thinking to turn her thoughts to another furrow, I told her how I
had been to visit her father at Greenwich.

"My father," says she, stopping short. "Oh, what a heartless, selfish
creature am I! I have not thought of him in my happiness. Nay, had he
been dead I could not have forgot him more. You saw him--is he well?"

"As hearty as you could wish, and full of love for you, and rejoiced
beyond measure to know you are to marry a brave, honest gentleman." Then
I told how we had drunk to their health, and how her father had smashed
his mug for a fancy. And this bringing a smile to her cheek, I went on
to tell how he craved to see Mr. Godwin and grip his hand.

"Oh, if he could see what a noble, handsome man my Richard is!" cries
she. "I do think my heart would ache for pride."

"Why, so it shall," says I, "for your father does intend to come hither
before long."

"He is coming to see my dear husband!" says she, her face aglow with
joy.

"Aye, but he does promise to be most circumspect, and appear as if,
returning from a voyage, he had come but to see how you fare, and will
stay no longer than is reasonably civil."

"Only that," says she, her countenance falling again, "we are to hide
our love, pretend indifference, behave towards this dear father as if he
were nought to me but a friend."

"My dear," says I, "'tis no new part you have to play."

"I know it," she answers hotly, "but that makes it only the worse."

"Well, what would you?"

"Anything" (with passion). "I would do anything but cheat and cozen the
man I love." Then, after some moments' silence o' both sides, "Oh, if I
were really Judith Godwin!"

"If you were she, you'd be in Barbary now, and have neither father nor
lover; is that what you want?" says I, with some impatience.

"Bear with me," says she, with a humility as strange in her as these
new-born scruples of conscience.

"You may be sure of this, my dear," says I, in a gentler tone, "if you
were anything but what you are, Mr. Godwin would not marry you."

"Why, then, not tell him what I am?" asks she, boldly.

"That means that you would be to-morrow what you're not to-day."

"If he told me he had done wrong, I could forgive him, and love him none
the less."

"Your conditions are not the same. He is a gentleman by birth, you but a
player's daughter. Come, child, be reasonable. Ponder this matter but a
moment justly, and you shall see that you have all to lose and nought to
gain by yielding to this idle fancy. Is he lacking in affection, that
you would seek to stimulate his love by this hazardous experiment?"

"Oh, no, no, no!" cries she.

"Would he be happier knowing all?" (She shakes her head.) "Happier if
you force him to give you up and seek another wife?" (She starts as if
flicked with a whip.) "Would _you_ be happier stripped of your
possessions, cast out of your house, and forced to fly from justice with
your father?" (She looks at me in pale terror.) "Why, then, there's
nothing to be won, and what's to lose? the love of a noble, honest
gentleman, the joy of raising him from penury."

"Oh, say no more," cries she, in passion. "I know not what madness
possessed me to overlook such consequences. I kiss you for bringing me
to my senses" (with that she catches up my hand and presses her lips to
it again and again). "Look in my face," cries she, "and if you find a
lurking vestige of irresolution there, I'll tear it out."

Indeed, I could see nothing but set determination in her countenance,--a
most hard expression of fixed resolve, that seemed to age her by ten
years, astonishing me not less than those other phases in her rapidly
developing character.

"Now," says she, quickly, and with not a note of her repining tone,
"what was that you spoke of lately,--you are to be our steward?"

"Yes," says I, "for Mr. Godwin has declared most firmly that the moment
he has authority he will cast Simon out for his disloyalty."

"I will not leave that ungrateful duty to him," says she. "Take me to
this wretch at once, and choose the shortest path."

I led her back across the common, and coming to Simon's lodge, she
herself knocked loudly at the door.

Seeing who it was through his little grating, Simon quickly opens the
door, and with fawning humility entreats her to step into his poor room,
and there he stands, cringing and mopping his eyes, in dreadful
apprehension, as having doubtless gathered from some about the house how
matters stood betwixt Moll and Mr. Godwin.

"Where are your keys?" demands Moll, in a very hard, merciless voice.

Perceiving how the land lay, and finding himself thus beset, old Simon
falls to his usual artifices, turning this way and that, like a rat in a
pit, to find some hole for escape. First he feigns to misunderstand,
then, clapping his hands in his pockets, he knows not where he can have
laid them; after that fancies he must have given them to his man Peter,
who is gone out of an errand, etc.; until Moll, losing patience, cut him
short by declaring the loss of the keys unimportant, as doubtless a
locksmith could be found to open his boxes and drawers without 'em.

"My chief requirement is," adds she, "that you leave this house
forthwith, and return no more."

Upon this, finding further evasion impossible, the old man turns to bay,
and asks upon what grounds she would dismiss him without writ or
warrant.

"'Tis sufficient," returns she, "that this house is mine, and that I
will not have you a day longer for my tenant or my servant. If you
dispute my claim,--as I am told you do,--you may take what lawful means
you please to dispossess me of my estate, and at the same time redress
what wrong is done you."

Seeing his secret treachery discovered, Simon falls now to his whining
arts, telling once more of his constant toil to enrich her, his thrift
and self-denial; nay, he even carries it so far as to show that he did
but incite Mr. Godwin to dispute her title to the estate, that thereby
her claim should be justified before the law to the obtaining of her
succession without further delay, and at the expense of her cousin,
which did surpass anything I had ever heard of for artfulness. But this
only incensed Moll the more.

"What!" cries she, "you would make bad blood between two cousins, to the
ruin and disgrace of one, merely to save the expense of some beggarly
fees! I'll hear no more. Go at once, or I will send for my servants to
carry you out by force."

He stood some moments in deliberation, and then he says, with a certain
dignity unusual to him, "I will go." Then he casts his eye slowly round
the room, with a lingering regard for his piles of documents and
precious boxes of title deeds, as if he were bidding a last farewell to
all that was dear to him on earth, and grotesque as his appearance might
be, there was yet something pathetic in it. But even at this moment his
ruling passion prevailed.

"There is no need," says he, "to burst these goodly locks by force. I do
bethink me the keys are here" (opening a drawer, and laying them upon
the table). Then dropping his head, he goes slowly to the door, but
there he turns, lifting his head and fixing his rheumy eyes on Moll. "I
will take nothing from this house, not even the chattels that belong to
me, bought from the mean wage I have allowed myself. So shalt thou judge
of my honesty. They shall stand here till I return, for that I shall
return I am as fully persuaded as that a just God doth dispose of his
creatures. Thee hast might on thy side, woman, but whether thee hast
right as well, shall yet be proven--not by the laws of man, which are an
invention of the devil to fatten rogues upon the substance of fools, but
by the law of Heaven, to which I do appeal with all my soul" (lifting
high his shaking hands). "Morning and night I will pray that God shall
smite with heavy hand which of us two hath most wronged the other. Offer
the same prayer if thee darest."

I do confess that this parting shot went home to my conscience, and
troubled my mind considerably; for feeling that he was in the right of
it as regarded our relative honesty, I was constrained to think that his
prophecy might come true also to our shame and undoing. But Moll was
afflicted with no such qualms, her spirit being very combative and high,
and her conscience (such as it was) being hardened by our late
discussion to resist sharper slaps than this. Nay, maintaining that
Simon must be dishonest by the proof we had of his hypocrisy and double
dealing, she would have me enter upon my office at once by sending
letters to all her tenants, warning them to pay no rent to any one
lately in her service, but only to me; and these letters (which kept my
pen going all that afternoon) she signed with the name of Judith Godwin,
which seemed to me a very bold, dangerous piece of business; but she
would have it so, and did her signature with a strong hand and a
flourish of loops beneath like any queen.

Nor was this all; for the next morning she would have me go to that Mr.
Goodman, who had offered to buy her farm for ready money, and get what I
could from him, seeing that she must furnish herself with fresh gowns
and make other outlay for her coming marriage. So to him I go, and after
much haggling (having learnt from Simon that the land was worth more
than he offered for it), I brought him to give six thousand pounds
instead of five, and this was clearly better business on his side than
on mine at that, for that the bargain might not slip from his hands he
would have me take three thousand pounds down as a handsell, leaving the
rest to be paid when the deed of transference was drawn up.

And now as I jogged home with all this gold chinking in my pockets, I
did feel that I had thrust my head fairly into a halter, and no chance
left of drawing it out. Look at it how I might, this business wore a
most curst aspect, to be sure; nor could I regard myself as anything but
a thoroughpaced rogue.

"For," thinks I, "if old Simon's prayer be answered, what will become of
this poor Mr. Goodman? His title deeds will be wrested from him, for
they are but stolen goods he is paying for, and thus an innocent, honest
man will be utterly ruined. And for doing this villany I may count
myself lucky if my heels save my neck."

With this weight on my mind, I resolved to be very watchful and careful
of my safety, and before I fell asleep that night I had devised a dozen
schemes for making good my escape as soon as I perceived danger;
nevertheless, I could dream of nothing but prisons, scourgings, etc.,
and in every vision I perceived old Simon in his leather skull-cap
sitting on the top of Tyburn tree, with his handkercher a-hanging down
ready to strangle me.

CHAPTER XXV.

_A table of various accidents._

As your guide, showing you an exhibition of paintings, will linger over
the first room, and then pass the second in hurried review to come the
quicker to a third of greater interest, so I, having dwelt, may be, at
undue length upon some secondary passages in this history, must
economise my space by touching lightly on the events that came
immediately before Moll's marriage, and so get to those more moving
accidents which followed. Here, therefore, will I transcribe certain
notes (forming a brief chronicle) from that secret journal which, for
the clearer understanding of my position, I began to keep the day I took
possession of Simon's lodge and entered upon my new office.

_December 8._ Very busy all this forenoon setting my new house in order,
conveying, with the help of the gardener, all those domestic and
personal goods that belong to Simon into the attick; but Lord! so few
these things, and they so patched and worn, that altogether they are not
worth ten shillings of anybody's money. I find the house wondrous neat
and clean in every part, but so comfortless and prison-like, that I look
forward with little relish to living here when the time comes for me to
leave the Court. After this to examining books, papers, etc., and the
more closely I look into these, the more assured I am that never was any
servant more scrupulous, exact, and honest in his master's service than
this old steward, which puts me to the hope that I may be only half as
faithful to my trust as he, but I do fear I shall not.

Conversing privily with Don Sanchez after dinner, he gave me his opinion
that we had done a very unwise thing in turning out old Simon, showing
how by a little skill I might have persuaded Moll to leave this business
to Mr. Godwin as the proper ruler of her estate; how by such delay Mr.
Godwin's resentment would have abated and he willing to listen to good
argument in the steward's favour; how then we should have made Simon
more eager than ever to serve us in order to condone his late offence,
and how by abusing our opportunities we had changed this useful servant
to a dangerous enemy whose sole endeavour must be to undo us and recover
his former position, etc.... "Why, what have we to fear of this
miserable old man?" says I. "Unless he fetch Mrs. Godwin from Barbary,
he cannot disprove Moll's right to the estate, and what else can he do?"

"There's the mischief of it," answers he. "'Tis because you know not how
he may attack you that you have no means of defending yourself. 'Tis
ever the unseen trifle in our path which trips us up." And dismissing
this part of the subject with a hunch of his shoulders, he advises me
seriously to sell as many more farms as I may for ready money, and keep
it in some secret convenient corner where I may lay hands on it at a
moment's warning.

This discourse coming atop of a night's ill rest, depressed my mind to
such a degree that I could take no interest in my work, but sat there in
my naked room with my accounts before me, and no spirit to cast 'em up,
Nor was I much happier when I gave up work and returned to the Court.
For, besides having to wait an hour later than usual for dinner, Moll's
treatment of me was none of the best,--she being particularly perverse
and contrary, for having dressed herself in her best in expectation of
her lover's return, and he not coming when at last she permitted supper
to be dished. We were scarcely seated, however, when she springs up with
a cry of joy and runs from the room, crying she hears her Richard's
step, which was indeed true, though we had heard nothing more pleasant
than the rattle of our plates. Presently they come in, all radiant with
happiness, hand in hand, and thenceforth nought but sweetness and mirth
on the part of Mistress Moll, who before had been all frown and pout. At
supper Mr. Godwin tells us how his sweetheart hath certainly dispelled
the clouds that have hung so long over him, he having heard in London
that Sir Peter Lely, on seeing one of his pieces, desires to see him at
Hatfield (where he is painting) on good business, and to Hatfield he
will go to discharge this matter before his marriage; which joyeth Moll
less than me, I being pleased to see he is still of the same, stout
disposition to live an active life. In the evening he gives Moll a very
beautiful ring for a troth token, which transports her with joy, so that
she cannot enough caress her lover or this toy, but falls first to
kissing one and then t'other in a rapture. In return, she gives him a
ring from her finger. "'Tis too small for my finger, love," says he;
"but I will wear it against my heart as long as it beats." After that he
finds another case and puts it in Moll's hand, and she, opening it,
fetches her breath quickly and can say nothing for amazement; then,
turning it in the light, she regards it with winking eyes, as if dazzled
by some fierce brilliancy. And so closing the case as if it were too
much for her, she lays her face upon Mr. Godwin's breast, he having his
arm about her, murmuring some inarticulate words of passionate love.
Recovering her energies presently, she starts up, and putting the case
in her lover's hand, she bids him put on his gift, therewith pulling
down her kerchief to expose her beautiful bare neck, whereupon he draws
from the box a diamond collar and clasps it about her throat with a
pretty speech. And truly this was a gift worthy of a princess, the most
beautiful bauble I have ever seen, and must have cost him all he had of
me to the last shilling.

_December 10._ Finding amongst Simon's quittances a bill for law
expenses of one John Pearson, attorney, at Maidstone, I concluded this
must be the most trustworthy man of his kind in the country; and so set
forth early this morning to seek him,--a tedious, long journey, and the
roads exceedingly foul. By good luck I found Mr. Pearson at home,--a
very civil, shrewd man, as I think. Having laid my business before him,
he tells me there will be no difficulty in dividing the estate according
to the wish of Mr. Godwin and Moll, which may be done by a simple deed
of agreement; and this he promises to draw up, and send to us for
signature in a couple of days. But to get the seal to Moll's succession
will not be such an easy matter, and, unless we are willing to give
seven or eight hundred pounds in fees, we may be kept waiting a year,
with the chance of being put to greater expense to prove our right; for
he tells me the court and all about it are so corrupt that no minister
is valued if he do not, by straight or crooked ways, draw money into the
treasury, and that they will rather impede than aid the course of
justice if it be to the king's interest, and that none will stir a hand
to the advantage of any one but the king, unless it be secretly to his
own, etc. And, though he will say nothing against Simon, save (by way of
hint) that all men must be counted honest till they are proved guilty,
yet he do apprehend he will do all in his power to obstruct the granting
of this seal, which it is only reasonable to suppose he will. So, to
close this discussion, I agree he shall spend as much as one thousand
pounds in bribery, and he thinks we may certainly look to have it in a
month at that price. Home late, and very sore.

_December 11._ Much astonished this morning on going to my house to find
all changed within as if by inchantment--fine hangings to my windows,
handsome furniture in every room, all arranged in due order (with a pair
of pictures in my parlour), the linen press stocked with all that is
needful and more, and even the cellar well garnished with wines, etc.
And truly thus embellished my house looks no longer like a prison, but
as cheerful and pleasant a dwelling-place as the heart of man could
desire (in moderation), and better than any I have yet dreamt of
possessing. And 'twas easy to guess whose hands had worked this
transformation, even had I not recognised certain pieces of furniture as
coming from the Court, for 'twas of a piece with Moll's loving and
playful spirit to prepare this surprise for me while I was gone
yesterday to Maidstone. I am resolved I will sleep here
henceforth,--there being two bedrooms all properly furnished,--as being
more in keeping with my new position.

_December 13._ This day a little before dinner time came Dawson to the
Court, quite sober and looking as like a rough honest seaman as anything
could be, but evidently with his best shore-going manners on. And when
Moll very graciously offers him her hand, he whips out a red handkercher
and lays it over her hand before kissing it, which was a piece of
ceremony he must have observed at Greenwich, as also many odd phrases
and sea expressions with which he garnished his conversation.

"Captain Evans," says Moll, taking her lover's hand, "this is Mr.
Godwin, my cousin, and soon to be my husband."

Mr. Godwin holds forth his hand, but ere he would take it, Dawson looks
him full in the face a good minute; then, taking it in his great grimy
hand, and grasping it firmly, "Master," says Jack, "I see thou art an
honest man, and none lives who hath ever sold me tar for pitch, be he
never so double-faced, and so I wish you joy of your sweet wife. As for
you, Mistress" (turning to Moll) "who have ever been kind to me beyond
my deserts, I do wish you all the happiness in the world, and I count
all my hardships well paid in bringing you safely to this anchorage. For
sure I would sooner you were still Lala Mollah and a slave in Barbary
than the Queen of Chiney and ill-mated; and so Lord love the both of
you!"

After staying a couple of hours with us, he was for going (but not
before he had given us the instructive history of the torment he had
endured, by telling his wife, in an unguarded moment, of his gallantries
with Sukey Taylor), nor would he be persuaded to sleep at the Court and
leave next day, maintaining that whilst he had never a penny in the
world he could very honestly accept Moll's hospitality, but that now
being well-to-do, thanks to her bounty, he blessed Heaven he had
sufficient good breeding, and valued himself well enough not to take
advantage of her beneficence. However, hearing I had a house of my own,
and could offer him a bed, he willingly agreed to be my guest for the
night, regarding me as one of his own quality. We stayed to sup at the
Court, where he entertained us with a lengthy account of his late
voyage, and how being taken in a tempest, his masts had all been swept
by the board, and his craft so damaged that 'twas as much as she would
hold together till he brought her into Falmouth, where she must lie
a-repairing a good two months ere he could again venture to sea in her.
And this story he told with such an abundance of detail and so many
nautical particulars, that no one in the world could have dreamt he was
lying.

He explained to me later on that he had refused to lie at the Court, for
fear a glass or two after supper might lead his tongue astray, telling
me that he had touched nothing but penny ale all his long journey from
London, for fear of losing his head; and on my asking why he had
fabricated that long history of shipwreck he vowed I had put him to it
by saying I had a house of my own where he could lie; "For," says he,
"my ship being laid up will furnish me with a very good excuse for
coming to spend a day or two with you now and then. So may I get another
glimpse of my own dear Moll, and see her in the fulness of her joy."

He could not sufficiently cry up the excellence of Mr. Godwin, his noble
bearing, his frank, honest countenance, his tenderness for Moll, etc.,
and he did truly shed tears of gratitude to think that now, whatever
befell him, her welfare and happiness were assured; but this was when he
had emptied his bottle and had got to that stage of emotion which
usually preceded boisterous hilarity when he was in his cups.

And whilst I am speaking of bottles, it will not be amiss to note here,
for my future warning, a grave imprudence of mine, which I discovered on
leaving the room to seek more wine. On the flame of my candle blowing
aside, I perceived that I had left my door unfastened, so that it now
stood ajar. And, truly, this was as culpable a piece of oversight as I
could well have committed; for here, had an enemy, or even an idle
busybody, been passing, he might very well have entered the little
passage and overheard that which had been our undoing to have made
known.

CHAPTER XXVI.

_How Moll Dawson was married to Mr. Richard Godwin; brief account of
attendant circumstances._

_December 14._ Dawson left us this morning. In parting, Mr. Godwin
graciously begged him to come to his wedding feast on Christmas
day,--they having fixed upon Christmas eve to be married,--and Dawson
promised he would; but he did assure me afterwards, as we were walking
along the road to meet the stage waggon, that he would certainly feign
some reason for not coming. "For," says he, "I am not so foolhardy as to
jeopardise my Moll's happiness for the pleasure this feast would give
me. Nay, Kit, I do think 'twould break my heart indeed, if anything of
my doing should mar my Moll's happiness." And I was very well pleased to
find him in this humour, promising him that we would make amends for his
abstinence on this occasion by cracking many a bottle to Moll's joy when
we could come together again secretly at my house. In the afternoon Mr.
Pearson's clerk brought the deed of agreement for the settlement of the
estate upon Moll and Mr. Godwin, which they signed, and so that is
finished as we would have it. This clerk tells me his master hath
already gone to London about getting the seal. So all things look mighty
prosperous.

_December 17._ Fearing to displease Sir Peter Lely by longer delay, Mr.
Godwin set out for Hatfield Tuesday, we--that is, Moll, Don Sanchez, and
I--going with him as far as the borough, where Moll had a thousand
things to buy against her wedding. And here we found great activity of
commerce, and many shops filled with excellent good goods,--more than
ever there were before the great fire drove out so many tradesmen from
the city. Here Moll spends her money royally, buying whatever catches
her eye that is rich and beautiful, not only for her own personal
adornment, but for the embellishment of her house (as hangings, damasks,
toys, etc.), yet always with a consideration of Mr. Godwin's taste, so
that I think she would not buy a pair of stockings but she must ask
herself whether he would admire 'em. And the more she had, the more
eager she grew to have, buying by candle-light, which was an imprudence,
and making no sort of bargain, but giving all the shopkeepers asked for
their wares, which, to be sure, was another piece of recklessness. This
business seemed to me the most wearisome in the world, but it served
only to increase her energies, and she would not be persuaded to desist
until, the shops closing, she could lay out no more money that night.
Supped very well (but mighty late) at the Tabard inn, where we lay all
night. And the next morning, Moll's fever still unabated, we set out
again a-shopping, and no rest until we caught the stage (and that by a
miracle) at four; and so home, dead beat.

_December 18._ Moll mad all day because the carrier hath brought but
half her purchases, and they not what she wanted. By the evening waggon
come three seamstresses she engaged yesterday morning, and they are to
stay in the house till all is finished; but as yet nothing for them to
do, which is less grievous to them than to poor Moll, who, I believe,
would set 'em working all night for fear she shall not be fitted against
her wedding.

_December 19._ Thank God, the carrier brought all our packages this
morning, and they being all undone and laid out, there is no sitting
down anywhere with comfort, but all confusion, and no regularity
anywhere, so I was content to get my meals in the kitchen the best I
could. And here I do perceive the wisdom of Don Sanchez, who did not
return with us from London, and does intend (he told me) to stay there
till the wedding eve. _December 20._ Moll, bit by a new maggot, tells me
this morning she will have a great feast on Christmas day, and bids me
order matters accordingly. She will have a whole ox roasted before the
house by midday, and barrels of strong ale set up, that there may be
meat and drink for all who choose to take it; and at four she will have
a supper of geese, turkeys, and plum puddings for all her tenants, their
wives and sweethearts, with fiddles afterwards for dancing, etc. Lord
knows how we shall come out of this madness; but I have got the
innkeeper (a busy, capable man) to help me, and he does assure me all
will go well enough, and I pray he be right.

_December 21._ Sick with fears that all must end ill. For the place is a
very Babel for tradesmen and workpeople bringing in goods, and knowing
not where to set them, servants hurrying this way and that, one charged
with a dozen geese, another with silk petticoats, jostling each other,
laughing, quarrelling, and no sort of progress, as it seems, anywhere,
but all tumult and disorder.

_December 22._ Could not sleep a wink all last night for casting up
accounts of all this feasting and finery will cost us, and finding it
must eat up all that money we had of poor Mr. Goodman, and make a deep
hole in our quarter's rents besides, I fell a speculating whether our
tenants would pay me with the same punctuality they have used to pay old
Simon, with grievous fears to the contrary. For, assuredly, Simon hath
not been idle these past days, and will do us an ill turn if he can, by
throwing doubts before these same tenants whether they should pay or not
before Moll's succession is made sure. And I have good reason to fear
they will not, for I observed yesterday when I called upon Farmer Giles
to invite him to our feast, he seemed very jerky and ill at ease, which
perplexed me greatly, until, on quitting, I perceived through a door
that stood ajar old Simon seated in a side room. And 'tis but natural
that if they find prudent excuse for withholding their rents they will
keep their money in pocket, which will pinch us smartly when our bills
come to be paid. Yet I conceived that this feast would incline our
tenants to regard us kindly; but, on the other hand, thinks I, supposing
they regard this as a snare, and do avoid us altogether! Then shall we
be nipped another way; for, having no one to eat our feast but a few
idle rogues, who would get beef and ale for nothing, we shall but lay
ourselves open to mockery, and get further into discredit. Thus, betwixt
one fear and another, I lay like a toad under a harrow, all night, in a
mortal sweat and perturbation of spirit.

Nor has this day done much to allay my apprehension. For at the Court
all is still at sixes and sevens, none of a very cheerful spirit, but
all mighty anxious, save Moll, who throughout has kept a high, bold
spirit. And she does declare they will work all night, but everything
shall be in its place before her lover comes to-morrow. And, truly, I
pray they may, but do think they will not. For such a mighty business as
this should have been begun a full month back. But she will not endure
me in the house (though God knows I am as willing as any to help),
saying that I do hinder all, and damp their spirit for work with my
gloomy countenance, which is no more than the truth, I fear. The sky
very overcast, with wind in the south and the air very muggy, mild, and
close, so that I do apprehend our geese will be all stinking before they
are eat. And if it pour of rain on Christmas day how will the ox be
roast, and what sort of company can we expect? This puts me to another
taking for dread of a new fiasco.

_December 23._ Going to the Court about midday, I was dumbfounded to
find no sign of the disorder that prevailed there yesterday, but all
swept and garnished, and Moll in a brave new gown seated at her
fireside, reading a book with the utmost tranquillity,--though I suspect
she did assume something in this to increase my astonishment. She was
largely diverted by my amazement, and made very light of her
achievement; but she admitted that all had worked till daybreak, and she
had slept but two hours since. Nevertheless, no one could have looked
fresher and brighter than she, so healthy and vigorous are her natural
parts. About one comes Mr. Godwin to cap her happiness and give fresh
glory to her beauty. And sure a handsomer or better mated couple never
was, Mr. Godwin's shapely figure being now set off to advantage by a
very noble clothing, as becoming his condition. With him came also by
the morning stage Don Sanchez, mighty fine in a new head, of the latest
mode, and a figured silk coat and waistcoat. And seeing the brave show
they made at table, I was much humbled to think I had gone to no expense
in this particular. But I was yet more mortified when Don Sanchez
presents Moll with a handsome set of jewels for a wedding gift, to see
that I had nothing in the world to offer her, having as yet taken not a
penny of her money, save for the use of others and my bare necessities.
Moll, however, was too full of happiness to note this omission on my
part; she could think of no one now but her dear husband, and I counted
for nothing.

However, this little chagrin was no more than a little cloud on a
summer's day, which harms no one and is quickly dispelled by generous
heat; and the tender affection of these two for each other did impart a
glow of happiness to my heart. 'Tis strange to think how all things
to-night look bright and hopeful, which yesterday were gloomy and
awesome. Even the weather hath changed to keep in harmony with our
condition. A fresh wind sprang up from the north this morning, and
to-night every star shines out sharp and clear through the frosty air,
promising well for to-morrow and our Christmas feast. And smelling of
the geese, I do now find them all as sweet as nuts, which contents me
mightily, and so I shall go to bed this night blessing God for all
things.

_December 24._ Now this blessed day hath ended, and Moll is sure and
safely bound to Mr. Godwin in wedlock, thanks to Providence. Woke at
daybreak and joyed to find all white without and covered with rime,
sparkling like diamonds as the sun rose red and jolly above the firs;
and so I thought our dear Moll's life must sparkle as she looked out on
this, which is like to be the brightest, happiest day of her life.
Dressed in my best with great care, and put on the favour of white
ribbons given me by Moll's woman last night, and so very well pleased
with my looks, to the Court, where Moll is still a-dressing, but Mr.
Godwin and Don Sanchez, nobly arrayed, conversing before the fire. And
here a great bowpot on the table (which Mr. Godwin had made to come from
London this morning) of the most wondrous flowers I have ever seen at
this time of the year, so that I could not believe them real at first,
but they are indeed living; and Mr. Godwin tells me they are raised in
houses of glass very artificially heated. Presently comes in Moll with
her maids, she looking like any pearl, in a shining gown of white satin
decked with rich lace, the collar of diamonds glittering about her white
throat, her face suffused with happy blushes and past everything for
sprightly beauty. Mr. Godwin offers his bowpot and takes her into his
arms, and there for a moment she lay with closed eyes and a pallor
spreading over her cheek as if this joy were more than her heart could
bear; but recovering quickly, she was again all lively smiles and
radiance.

Then comes a letter, brought by the night carrier, from her father (a
most dirty, ill-written scrawl signed Robert Evans with his mark),
praying he may be excused, as his masts are to be stepped o' Wednesday,
and he must take the occasion of a ketch leaving Dartford for Falmouth
this day, and at the same time begging her acceptance of a canister of
China tea (which is, I learn, become a fashionable dish in London) as a
marriage offering. Soon after this a maid runs in to say the church
bells are a-ringing; so out we go into the crisp, fresh air, with not a
damp place to soil Moll's pretty shoes--she and Mr. Godwin first, her
maids next, carrying her train, and the Don and I closing the
procession, very stately. In the churchyard stand two rows of village
maids with baskets to strew rosemary and sweet herbs in our path, and
within the church a brave show of gentlefolks, friends and neighbours,
to honour the wedding.

But here was I put to a most horrid quaking the moment I passed the
door, to perceive old Simon standing foremost in the throng about the
altar, in his leather cap (which he would not remove for clerk or
sexton, but threatened them, as I am told, with the law if they lay a
finger on him). And seeing him there, I must needs conclude that he
intended to do us an ill turn, for his face wore the most wicked, cruel,
malicious look that ever thirst of vengeance could impart. Indeed, I
expected nothing less than that he would forbid the marriage on such
grounds as we had too good reason to fear; and with this dread I
regarded Moll, who also could not fail to see him. Her face whitened as
she looked at him, but her step never faltered, and this peril seemed
but to fortify her courage and resolution; and indeed I do think by her
high bearing and the defiance in her eye as she held her lover's arm
that she was fully prepared to make good answer if he challenged her
right to marry Mr. Godwin. But (the Lord be thanked!) he did not put her
to this trial, only he stood there like a thing of evil omen to mar the
joy of this day with fearful foreboding.

I can say nothing about the ceremony, for all my attention was fixed
upon this hideous Simon, and I had no relief until 'twas safely ended
and Moll's friends pressed forward to kiss the bride and offer their
good wishes; nor did I feel really at ease until we were back again at
the Court, and seated to a fine dinner, with all the friends who would
join us, whereof there were as many as could sit comfortably to the long
table. This feast was very joyous and merry, and except that the parson
would be facetious over his bottle, nothing unseemingly or immodest was
said. So we stayed at table in exceeding good fellowship till the
candles were lit, and then the parson, being very drunk, we made a
pretext of carrying him home to break up our company and leave the happy
couple to their joy.

_December 26._ Down betimes yesterday morning to find the sky still
clear, the air brisk and dry, and ample promise of a fair day. To the
Court, and there perceive the great ox spitted on a stout fir pole, and
the fire just kindling; John the gardener setting up the barrels of
beer, and a famous crowd of boys and beggars already standing before the
gates. And there they might have stayed till their dinner was cooked,
ere I had let them in, but Moll coming down from the house with her
husband, and seeing this shivering crew, their pinched cheeks yellow and
their noses blue with cold, and so famished with hunger they could
scarce find strength to cry, "God bless you, merry gentlefolks!" she
would have them taste at once some of that happiness with which her
heart was overflowing, and so did with her own hands unbolt the gates
and set them wide, bidding the halting wretches come in and warm
themselves. Not content with this, she sends up to the house for loaves
and gives every one a hunch of bread and a mug of ale to stay his empty
stomach. And Lord, 'twas a pleasure to see these poor folks' joy--how
they spread their hands out to the flames; how they cockered up the fire
here and there to brown their ox equally, with all hands now and then to
turn him on the spit; how they would set their bread to catch the
dropping gravy; and how they would lift their noses to catch the savoury
whiffs that came from the roasting beef.

This is all very well, thinks I, but how about our geese and turkeys?
will our tenants come, or shall we find that Simon hath spoilt their
appetite, and so be left with nought but starved beggars for our
company? However, before four o'clock an end was put to these doubts,
for some in waggons, others on horse, with their wives or sweethearts on
pillions behind, clasping their men tight, and the rest afoot, all came
that were asked by me, and more, and pretty jolly already with ale on
the road, and a great store of mistletoe amongst them for their further
merriment. And what pleased me as much as anything was to find all
mighty civil to Moll--nearly all offering her a Christmas box of fresh
eggs, honey, and such homely produce, which she received with the most
pretty, winning grace, that went home to every heart, so that the
hardest faces were softened with a glow of contentment and admiration.
Then down we sat to table, Moll at one end and her husband beside her;
Don Sanchez and I at t'other; and all the rest packed as close as sprats
in a barrel; but every lad squeezing closer to his lass to make room for
his neighbour, we found room for all and not a sour look anywhere. Dear
heart! what appetites they had, yet would waste nothing, but picked
every one his bone properly clean (which did satisfy me nothing was
amiss with our geese), and great cheering when the puddings and
flapdragons came in all aflame, and all as merry as grigs--flinging of
lighted plums at each other, but most mannerly not to fling any at Moll
or us. Then more shouting for joy when the bowls of wassail and posset
come in, and all standing to give three times three for their new
mistress and her husband. Hearing of which, the beggars without (now
tired of dancing about the embers) troop up to the door and give three
times three as well, and end with crying joy and long life to the wedded
pair. When this tumult was ended and the door shut, Mr. Godwin gave a
short oration, thanking our tenants for their company and good wishes;
and then he told them how his dear wife and he, wishing others to share
their joy and remember this day, had resolved to forgive every tenant
one-half of his quarter's rent. "And so, Mr. Hopkins," says he,
addressing me, "you will think of this to-morrow."

At first I was disposed to begrudge this munificence--thinking of my
accounts and the bills I should have to pay ere rent day came again; but
on second thoughts it rejoiced me much as being a counterblast to
anything Simon could do against us. For no tenant, thinks I, will be
fool enough to withold payment when he may get his quittance to-morrow
for half its value. And herein was I not mistaking; for to-day every
tenant hath paid with a cheerful countenance. So that this is very good
business, and I am not in any way astonished to find that our subtle
Spaniard was at the bottom of it, for indeed it was Don Sanchez who
(knowing my fears on this head and thinking them well-grounded)
suggested this act of generosity to Moll, which she, in her fulness of
heart, seized on at once. (Truly, I believe she would give the clothes
off her back, no matter what it cost her, to any one in need, so
reckless is she in love and pity.)

_December 27._ Don Sanchez took leave of us this day, he setting forth
for Spain to-morrow, with the hope to reach his friends there, for their
great feast of the New Year. And we are all mighty sorry to lose him;
for not only hath he been a rare good friend to us, but also he is a
most seemly gentleman (to keep us in countenance), and a very good
staunch and reliable companion. But this comprises not all our loss, he
having, as I confess, more wit in his little finger than we in all our
bodies, and being ever ready with an expedient in the hour of need; and
I know not why, but I look on his going as a sign of coming evil; nor am
I greatly comforted by his telling me privily that when we want him he
shall be found by a letter sent to the Albego Puerto del Sole, Toledo,
in Spain. And I pray Heaven we have no occasion to write to him.

To-night at supper I find Moll all cock-a-hoop with a new delight, by
reason of her dear husband offering to take her to London for a month to
visit the theatres and other diversions, which put me to a new quirk for
fear Moll should be known by any of our former playhouse companions. But
this I now perceive is a very absurd fear; for no one in the world who
had seen Moll three years ago--a half-starved, long-legged, raw
child--could recognise her now, a beautiful, well-proportioned young
woman in her fine clothes; and so my mind is at ease on this head. When
Moll was retired, Mr. Godwin asked if I could let him have a few
hundreds upon his account, and I answered very willingly he shall. And
now setting aside enough to pay all bills and furnish our wants till
next quarter day, I am resolved to give him every farthing left of the
rents paid yesterday, and shall be most hearty glad to be rid of it, for
this money do seem to scar my hands every time I touch it; nor can I
look at it but my heart is wrung with pity for those poor tenants who
paid so gleefully yesterday, for surely their quittances will hold good
for no more than spoilt paper if ever our roguery is discovered.

_December 28._ This day Moll and Mr. Godwin set out for London, all
smiles and gladness, and Moll did make me promise to visit them there,
and share their pleasures. But if I have no more appetite for gaiety
than I feel at this moment, I shall do better to stay here and mind my
business; though I do expect to find little pleasure in that, and must
abide by a month of very dull, gloomy days.

CHAPTER XXVII.

_Of the great change in Moll, and the likely explanation thereof._

A week before the promised month was up, Moll and her husband came back
to the Court, and lest I should imagine that her pleasures had been
curtailed by his caprice, she was at great pains to convince me that he
had yielded to her insistence in this matter, declaring she was sick of
theatres, ridottos, masquerades, and sight-seeing, and had sighed to be
home ere she had been in London a week. This surprised me exceedingly,
knowing how passionate fond she had ever been of the playhouse and
diversions of any kind, and remembering how eager she was to go to town
with her husband; and I perceived there was more significance in the
present distaste for diversion than she would have known. And I observed
further (when the joy of return and ordering her household subsided)
that she herself had changed in these past three weeks, more than was to
be expected in so short a time. For, though she seemed to love her
husband more than ever she had loved him as her lover, and could not be
happy two minutes out of his company, 'twas not that glad, joyous love
of the earlier days, but a yearning, clinging passion, that made me sad
to see, for I could not look upon the strained, anxious tenderness in
her young face without bethinking me of my poor sister, as she knelt
praying by her babe's cot for God to spare its frail life.

Yet her husband never looked more hearty and strong, and every look and
word of his bespoke increasing love. The change in her was not
unperceived by him, and often he would look down into her wistful,
craving eyes as if he would ask of her, "What is it, love? tell me all."
And she, as understanding this appeal, would answer nothing, but only
shake her head, still gazing into his kind eyes as if she would have him
believe she had nought to tell.

These things made me very thoughtful and urgent to find some
satisfactory explanation. To be sure, thinks I, marriage is but the
beginning of a woman's real life, and so one may not reasonably expect
her to be what she was as a thoughtless child. And 'tis no less natural
that a young wife should love to be alone with her husband, rather than
in the midst of people who must distract his thoughts from her; as also
it is right and proper she should wish to be in her own home, directing
her domestic affairs and tending to her husband--showing him withal she
is a good and thoughtful housewife. But why these pensive tristful
looks, now she hath her heart's desire? Then, finding I must seek some
better explanation of her case, I bethought me she must have had a very
hard, difficult task in London to conceal from one, who was now a part
of herself, her knowledge of so many things it was unbefitting she
should reveal. At the playhouse she must feign astonishment at all she
saw, as having never visited one before, and keep constant guard upon
herself lest some word slipped her lips to reveal her acquaintance with
the players and their art. At the ridotto she must equally feign
ignorance of modish dancing--she whose nimble feet had tripped to every
measure since she could stand alone. There was scarcely a subject on
which she would dare to speak without deliberation, and she must check
her old habit of singing and be silent, lest she fall by hazard to
humming some known tune. Truly, under such continuous strain (which none
but such a trained actress could maintain for a single day) her spirit
must have wearied. And if this part was hard to play in public, where we
are all, I take it, actors of some sort and on the alert to sustain the
character we would have our own, how much more difficult must it be in
private when we drop our disguise and lay our hearts open to those we
love! And here, as it seemed to me, I did hit rightly at the true cause
of her present secret distress; for at home as abroad she must still be
acting a part, weighing her words, guarding her acts--for ever to be
hiding of something from her dearest friend--ever denying him that
confidence he appealed for--ever keeping a cruel, biting bond upon the
most generous impulse of her heart, closing that heart when it was
bursting to open to her dear mate.

Soon after their return Mr. Godwin set to work painting the head of a
Sybil, which the Lord of Hatfield House had commanded, on the
recommendation of Sir Peter Lely, taking Anne Fitch for his model, and
she sitting in that room of the Court house he had prepared for his
workshop. Here he would be at it every day, as long as there was light
for his purpose, Moll, near at hand, watching him, ready to chat or hold
her peace, according to his inclination--just as she had done when he
was a-painting of the ceiling, only that now her regard was more intent
upon him than his work, and when he turned to look at her, 'twas with
interchange of undisguised love in their fond eyes. She ever had a piece
of work or a book in her lap, but she made not half a dozen stitches or
turned a single page in the whole day, for he was the sole occupation of
her mind; the living book, ever yielding her sweet thoughts.

This persevering, patient toil on his part did at first engender in my
mind suspicion that some doubting thoughts urged him to assume his
independence against any accident that might befall the estate; but now
I believe 'twas nothing but a love of work and of his art, and that his
mind was free from any taint of misgiving, as regards his wife's
honesty. 'Tis likely enough, that spite her caution, many a word and
sign escaped Moll, which an enemy would have quickly seized on to prove
her culpable; but we do never see the faults of those we love (or,
seeing them, have ready at a moment excuse to prove them no faults at
all), and at this time Mr. Godwin's heart was so full of love, there was
no place for other feeling. Venom from a rose had seemed to him more
possible than evil, from one so natural, sweet, and beautiful as Moll.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

_Moll plays us a mad prank for the last time in her life._

About once in a fortnight I contrived to go to London for a couple of
days on some pretext of business, and best part of this time I spent
with Dawson. And the first visit I paid him after the return of Moll and
her husband, telling him of their complete happiness, Moll's increasing
womanly beauty, and the prosperous aspect of our affairs (for I had that
day positive assurance our seal would be obtained within a month), I
concluded by asking if his mast might not now be stepped, and he be in a
position to come to Chislehurst and see her as he had before.

"No, Kit, thanking ye kindly," says he, after fighting it out with
himself in silence a minute or two, "better not. I am getting in a
manner used to this solitude, and bar two or three days a week when I
feel a bit hangdog and hipped a-thinking there's not much in this world
for an old fellow to live for when he's lost his child, I am pretty well
content. It would only undo me. If you had a child--your own flesh and
blood--part of your life--a child that had been to you what my sweet
Moll hath been to me, you would comprehend better how I feel. To pretend
indifference when you're longing to hug her to your heart, to talk of
fair weather and foul when you're thinking of old times, and then to bow
and scrape and go away without a single desire of your aching heart
satisfied,--'tis more than a man with a spark of warmth in his soul can
bear." And then he proceeded to give a dozen other reasons for declining
the tempting bait,--the sum of all proving to my conviction that he was
dying to see Moll, and I feared he would soon be doing by stealth that
which it were much safer he should do openly.

About a week after this I got a letter from him, asking me to come again
as soon as I might, he having cut his hand with a chisel, "so that I
cannot work my lathe, and having nothing to occupy my mind, do plague
myself beyond endurance."

Much concerned for my old friend, I lose no time in repairing to
Greenwich, where I find him sitting idle before his lathe, with an arm
hanging in a handkerchief, and his face very yellow; but this, I think,
was of drinking too much ale. And here he fell speedily discoursing of
Moll, saying he could not sleep of nights for thinking of the pranks she
used to play us, our merry vagabond life together in Spain ere we got to
Elche, etc., and how he missed her now more than ever he did before.
After that, as I anticipated, he came in a shuffling, roundabout way (as
one ashamed to own his weakness) to hinting at seeing Moll by stealth,
declaring he would rather see her for two minutes now and again peering
through a bush, though she should never cast a glance his way, than have
her treat him as if she were not his child and ceased to feel any love
for him. But seeing the peril of such ways, I would by no means consent
to his hanging about the Court like a thief, and told him plainly that
unless he would undo us all and ruin Moll, he must come openly as before
or not at all.

Without further demur he consents to be guided by me, and then, very
eagerly, asks when it will be proper for him to come; and we agree that
if he come in a week's time, there will be no thought in anybody's mind
of our having conspired to this end.

As the fates would have it, Mr. Godwin finished his painting on the
Saturday following (the most wonderful piece of its kind I ever saw, or
any one else, in my belief), and being justly proud of his work and
anxious Sir Peter Lely should see it soon, he resolved he would carry it
to Hatfield on Monday. Moll, who was prouder of her husband's piece than
if it were of her own doing, was not less eager it should be seen; yet
the thought that she must lose him for four days (for this journey could
not well be accomplished in less time) cast down her spirits
exceedingly. 'Twas painful to see her efforts to be cheerful despite of
herself. And, seeing how incapable she was of concealing her real
feeling from him whom she would cheer, she at length confessed to him
her trouble. "I would have you go, and yet I'd have you stay, love,"
says she.

"'Tis but a little while we shall be parted," says he.

"A little while?" says she, trembling and wringing one hand within the
other. "It seems to me as if we were parting for ever."

"Why, then," returns he, laughing, "we will not part at all. You shall
come with me, chuck. What should prevent you?"

She starts with joy at this, then looks at him incredulous for a moment,
and so her countenance falling again, she shakes her head as thinking, I
take it, that if it were advisable she should go with him, he would have
proposed it before.

"No," says she, "'twas an idle fancy, and I'll not yield to it. I shall
become a burden, rather than a helpmate, if you cannot stir from home
without me. Nay," adds she, when he would override this objection, "you
must not tempt me to be weak, but rather aid me to do that which I feel
right."

And she would not be persuaded from this resolution, but bore herself
most bravely, even to the moment when she and her husband clasped each
for the last time in a farewell embrace.

She stood where he had left her for some moments after he was gone.
Suddenly she ran a few paces with parted lips and outstretched hands, as
if she would call him back; then, as sharply she halts, clasping her
hands, and so presently turns back, looking across her shoulder, with
such terror in her white face, that I do think her strong imagination
figured some accusing spirits, threatening the end of all her joys.

I followed her into the house, but there I learnt from Mrs. Butterby
that her mistress was gone to her own chamber.

As I was sitting in my office in the afternoon, Jack Dawson came to me
in his seaman's dress, his hand still wrapped up, but his face more
healthful for his long ride and cheerful thoughts.

"Why, this could not have fallen out better," says I, when we had
exchanged greetings; "for Moll is all alone, and down in the dumps by
reason of her husband having left her this morning on business, that
will hold him absent for three or four days. We will go up presently and
have supper with her."

"No, Kit," says he, very resolutely, "I'll not. I am resolved I won't go
there till to-morrow, for this is no hour to be a-calling on ladies, and
her husband being away 'twill look as if we had ordered it of purpose.
Besides, if Moll's in trouble, how am I to pretend I know nothing of the
matter and care less, and this Mother Butterby and a parcel of sly,
observant servants about to surprise one at any moment? Say no
more--'tis useless--for I won't be persuaded against my judgment."

"As you will," says I.

"There's another reason, if other's needed," says he, "and that's this
plaguey thirst of mine, which seizes me when I'm doleful or joyful, with
a force there's no resisting. And chiefly it seizes me in the later part
of the day; therefore, I'd have you take me to the Court to-morrow
morning betimes, ere it's at its worst. My throat's like any limekiln
for dryness now; so do pray, Kit, fasten the door snug, and give me a
mug of ale."

This ended our discussion; but, as it was necessary I should give some
reason for not supping with Moll, I left Dawson with a bottle, and went
up to the house to find Moll. There I learnt that she was still in her
chamber, and sleeping, as Mrs. Butterby believed; so I bade the good
woman tell her mistress when she awoke that Captain Evans had come to
spend the night with me, and he would call to pay her his devoirs the
next morning.

Here, that nothing may be unaccounted for in the sequence of events, I
must depart from my train of present observation to speak from
after-knowledge.

I have said that when Moll started forward, as if to overtake her
husband, she suddenly stopped as if confronted by some menacing spectre.
And this indeed was the case; for at that moment there appeared to her
heated imagination (for no living soul was there) a little, bent old
woman, clothed in a single white garment of Moorish fashion, and Moll
knew that she was Mrs. Godwin (though seeing her now for the first
time), come from Barbary to claim her own, and separate Moll from the
husband she had won by fraud.

She stood there (says Moll) within her gates, with raised hand and a
most bitter, unforgiving look upon her wasted face, barring the way by
which Moll might regain her husband; and as the poor wife halted,
trembling in dreadful awe, the old woman advanced with the sure foot of
right and justice. What reproach she had to make, what malediction to
pronounce, Moll dared not stay to hear, but turning her back fled to the
house, where, gaining her chamber, she locked the door, and flung
herself upon her husband's bed; and in this last dear refuge, shutting
her eyes, clasping her ears, as if by dulling her senses to escape the
phantom, she lay in a convulsion of terror for the mere dread that such
a thing might be.

Then, at the thought that she might never again be enfolded here in her
husband's arms, an agony of grief succeeded her fit of maddening fear,
and she wept till her mind grew calm from sheer exhaustion. And so,
little by little, as her courage revived, she began to reason with
herself as how 'twas the least likely thing in the world that if Mrs.
Godwin were in England, she should come to the Court unattended and in
her Moorish clothes; and then, seeing the folly of abandoning herself to
a foolish fancy, she rose, washed the tears from her face, and set
herself to find some occupation to distract her thoughts. And what
employment is nearer to her thoughts or dearer to her heart than making
things straight for her husband; so she goes into the next room where he
worked, and falls to washing his brushes, cleaning his paint-board, and
putting all things in order against his return, that he may lose no time
in setting to work at another picture. And at dinner time, finding her
face still disfigured with her late emotions and ashamed of her late
folly, she bids her maid bring a snack to her room, under the pretence
that she feels unwell. This meal she eats, still working in her
husband's room; for one improvement prompting another, she finds plenty
to do there: now bethinking her that the hangings of her own private
room (being handsomer) will look better on these walls, whereas t'others
are more fit for hers, where they are less seen; that this corner looks
naked, and will look better for her little French table standing there,
with a china image atop, and so forth. Thus, then, did she devote her
time till sundown, whereabouts Mrs. Butterby raps at her door to know if
she will have a cup of warm caudle to comfort her, at the same time
telling her that Mr. Hopkins will not sup with her, as he has Captain
Evans for his guest at the lodge.

And now Moll, by that natural succession of extremes which seems to be a
governing law of nature (as the flow the ebb, the calm the storm, day
the night, etc.), was not less elated than she had been depressed in the
early part of the day,--but still, I take it, in a nervous, excitable
condition. And hearing her father, whom she has not seen so long, is
here, a thousand mad projects enter her lively imagination. So, when
Mrs. Butterby, after the refusal of her warm caudle, proposes she shall
bring Madam a tray of victuals, that she may pick something in bed,
Moll, stifling a merry thought, asks, in a feeble voice, what there is
in the larder.

"Why, Madam," says Mrs. Butterby, from the outside, "there's the
partridges you did not eat at breakfast, there's a cold pigeon pasty and
a nice fresh ham, and a lovely hasty pudding I made with my own hands,
in the pot."

"Bring 'em all," says Moll, in the same aching voice; "and I'll pick
what tempts me."

Therewith, she silently slips the bolt back, whips on her nightgown, and
whips into bed.

Presently, up comes Mrs. Butterby, carrying a wax candle, followed by a
couple of maids charged with all the provisions Moll had commanded.
Having permission to enter, the good woman sets down her candle, puts on
her glasses, and, coming to the bedside, says she can see very well by
her poor looks, that her dear mistress has got a disorder of the
biliaries on her, and prays Heaven it may not turn to something worse.

"Nay," says Moll, very faintly, "I shall be well again when I am
relieved of this headache, and if I can only fall asleep,--as I feel
disposed to,--you will see me to-morrow morning in my usual health. I
shan't attempt to rise this evening" ("For mercy's sake, don't," cries
Mrs. Butterby), "and so, I pray you, order that no one shall come near
my room to disturb me" ("I'll see that no one so much as sets a foot on
your stair, Madam, poor dear!" says t'other), "and you will see that all
is closed carefully. And so good-night, mother, and good-night to you,
Jane and Betsy--oh, my poor head!"

With a whispered "Good-night, dear madam," Mrs. Butterby and the maids
leave the room a-tiptoe, closing the door behind them as if 'twere of
gingerbread; and no sooner are they gone than Moll, big with her mad
design, nips out of bed, strips off her nightgown, and finding nothing
more convenient for her purpose, puts the ham, pasty, and partridges in
a clean pillow-slip. This done, she puts on her cloak and hood, and
having with great caution set the door open and seen all safe and quiet
below, she takes up her bag of victuals, blows out the candle, and as
silent as any mouse makes her way to the little private staircase at the
end of the stairs. And now, with less fear of encountering Mrs. Godwin
than Black Bogey, she feels her way down the dark, narrow staircase,
reaches the lower door, unbolts it, and steps out on the path at the
back of the house.

There is still a faint twilight, and this enables her to find her way to
the wicket gate opposite Anne Fitch's cottage. Not a soul is to be seen;
and so, with her hood drawn well over her head, she speeds on, and in
five minutes reaches my house. Here finding the door fastened, she gives
a couple of knocks, and on my opening she asks meekly in a feigned
voice, which for the life of me I should not have known for hers, if I
am minded to buy a couple of partridges a friend has sent and she has no
use for.

"Partridges!" cries Dawson, from within. "Have 'em, Kit, for your bread
and cheese is mighty every-day fare."

"Let me see 'em, good woman," says I.

"Yes, sir," answers she, meekly, putting her pillow-slip in my hand,
which perplexed me vastly by its weight and bulk.

"They seem to be pretty big birds by the feel of 'em," says I. "You can
come in and shut the door after you."

Moll shuts the door and shoots the bolt, then tripping behind me into
the light she casts back her hood and flings her arms round her father's
neck with a peal of joyful laughter.

"What!" cries I. "Why, what can have brought you here?"

"Why, I knew you'd have nothing to give my poor old dad but mouldy
cheese, so I've brought you a brace of partridges, if you please, sir,"
says she, concluding in her feigned voice, as she emptied the ham,
pasty, and partridges all higgledy-piggledy out of the slip on to the
table.

"But, Mrs. Godwin--" says I, in alarm.

"Oh, call me Moll," cries she, wildly. "Let me be myself for this one
night."

CHAPTER XXIX.

_Of the subtile means whereby Simon leads Mr. Godwin to doubt his wife._

Again must I draw upon matter of after-knowledge to show you how all
things came to pass on this fatal night.

When Mr. Godwin reached London, he went to Sir Peter Lely's house in
Lincoln's Inn, to know if he was still at Hatfield, and there learning
he was gone hence to Hampton, and no one answering for certainty when he
would return, Mr. Godwin, seeing that he might linger in London for days
to no purpose, and bethinking him how pale and sorrowful his dear wife
was when they parted, concludes to leave his picture at Sir Peter Lely's
and post back to Chislehurst, counting to give his wife a happy
surprise.

About eight o'clock he reaches the Court, to find all shut and barred by
the prudent housekeeper, who, on letting him in (with many exclamations
of joy and wonder), falls presently to sighing and shaking her head, as
she tells how her mistress has lain abed since dinner, and is sick of
the biliaries.

In great concern, Mr. Godwin takes the candle from Mrs. Butterby's hand,
and hastes up to his wife's room. Opening the door softly, he enters, to
find the bed tumbled, indeed, but empty. He calls her in a soft voice,
going into the next room, and, getting no reply, nor finding her there,
he calls again, more loudly, and there is no response. Then, as he
stands irresolute and amazed, he hears a knock at the door below, and
concluding that 'tis his wife, who has had occasion to go out, seeking
fresh air for her comfort maybe, he runs swiftly down and opens, ere a
servant can answer the call. And there he is faced, not by sweet Moll,
but the jaundiced, wicked old Simon, gasping and panting for breath.

"Dost thee know," says he, fetching his breath at every other word,
"dost thee know where the woman thy wife is?"

"Where is she?" cries Mr. Godwin, in quick alarm, thinking by this
fellow's sweating haste that some accident had befallen his dear wife.

"I will show thee where she is; aye, and what she is," gasps the old
man, and then, clasping his hands, he adds, "Verily, the Lord hath heard
my prayers and delivered mine enemies into my hand."

Mr. Godwin, who had stepped aside to catch up his hat from the table,
where he had flung it on entering, stopped short, hearing this fervent
note of praise, and turning about, with misgivings of Simon's purpose,
cries:

"What are your enemies to me?"

"Everything," cries Simon. "Mine enemies are thine, for as they have
cheated me so have they cheated thee."

"Enough of this," cries Mr. Godwin. "Tell me where my wife is, and be
done with it."

"I say I will show thee where she is and what she is."

"Tell me where she is," cries Mr. Godwin, with passion.

"That is my secret, and too precious to throw away."

"I comprehend you, now," says Mr. Godwin, bethinking him of the fellow's
greed. "You shall be paid. Tell me where she is and name your price."

"The price is this," returns the other, "thy promise to be secret, to
catch them in this trap, and give no opening for escape. Oh, I know
them; they are as serpents, that slip through a man's fingers and turn
to bite. They shall not serve me so again. Promise--"

"Nothing. Think you I'm of your own base kind, to deal with you in
treachery? You had my answer before, when you would poison my mind,
rascal. But," adds he, with fury, "you shall tell me where my wife is."

"I would tear the tongue from my throat ere it should undo the work of
Providence. If they escape the present vengeance of Heaven, thee shalt
answer for it, not I. Yet I will give thee a clue to find this woman who
hath fooled thee. Seek her where there are thieves and drunkards to mock
at thy simplicity, to jeer at their easy gull, for I say again thy wife
never was in Barbary, but playing the farded, wanton--"

The patience with which Mr. Godwin had harkened to this tirade, doubting
by his passion that Simon was stark mad, gave way before this vile
aspersion on his wife, and clutching the old man by the throat he flung
him across the threshold and shut the door upon him.

But where was his wife? That question was still uppermost in his
thoughts. His sole misgiving was that accident had befallen her, and
that somewhere in the house he should find her lying cold and
insensible.

With this terror in his mind, he ran again upstairs. On the landing he
was met by Mrs. Butterby, who (prudent soul), at the first hint of
misconduct on her mistress's part, had bundled the gaping servants up to
their rooms.

"Mercy on us, dear master!" says she. "Where can our dear lady be? For a
surety she hath not left the house, for I locked all up, as she bade me
when we carried up her supper, and had the key in my pocket when you
knocked. 'See the house safe,' says she, poor soul, with a voice could
scarce be heared, 'and let no one disturb me, for I do feel most heavy
with sleep.'"

Mr. Godwin passed into his wife's room and then into the next, looking
about him in distraction.

"Lord! here's the sweet thing's nightgown," exclaims Mrs. Butterby, from
the next room, whither she had followed Mr. Godwin. "But dear heart o'
me, where's the ham gone?"

Mr. Godwin, entering from the next room, looked at her as doubting
whether he or all the world had taken leave of their wits.

"And the pigeon pasty?" added Mrs. Butterby, regarding the table laid
out beside her mistress's bed.

"And the cold partridge," adds she, in redoubled astonishment. "Why,
here's nought left but my pudding, and that as cold as a stone."

Mr. Godwin, with the candle flaring in his hand, passed hastily by her,
too wrought by fear to regard either the ludicrous or incomprehensible
side of Mrs. Butterby's consternation; and so, going down the corridor
away from the stairs, he comes to the door of the little back stairs,
standing wide open, and seeming to bid him descend. He goes quickly
down, yet trembling with fear that he may find her at the bottom, broken
by a fall; but all he discovers is the bolt drawn and the door ajar. As
he pushes it open a gust of wind blows out the light, and here he stood
in the darkness, eager to be doing, yet knowing not which way to turn or
how to act.

Clearly, his wife had gone out by this door, and so far this gave
support to Simon's statement that he knew where she was; and with this a
flame was kindled within him that seemed to sear his very soul. If Simon
spoke truth in one particular, why should he lie in others? Why had his
wife refused to go with him to Hatfield? Why had she bid no one come
near her room? Why had she gone forth by this secret stair, alone? Then,
cursing himself for the unnamed suspicion that could thus, though but
for a moment, disfigure the fair image that he worshipped, he asked
himself why his wife should not be free to follow a caprice. But where
was she? Ever that question surged upwards in the tumult of his
thoughts. Where should he seek her? Suddenly it struck him that I might
help him to find her, and acting instantly upon this hope he made his
way in breathless haste to the road, and so towards my lodge.

Ere he has gone a hundred yards, Simon steps out of the shadow, and
stands before him like a shade in the dimness.

"I crave thy pardon, Master," says he, humbly. "I spoke like a fool in
my passion."

"If you will have my pardon, tell me where to find my wife; if not,
stand aside," answers Mr. Godwin.

"Wilt thee hear me speak for two minutes if I promise to tell thee where
she is and suffer thee to find her how thee willst. 'Twill save thee
time."

"Speak," says Mr. Godwin.

"Thy wife is there," says Simon, under his breath, pointing towards my
house. "She is revelling with Hopkins and Captain Evans,--men that she
did tramp the country with as vagabond players, ere the Spaniard taught
them more profitable wickedness. Knock at the door,--which thee mayst be
sure is fast,--and while one holds thee in parley the rest will set the
room in order, and find a plausible tale to hoodwink thee afresh. Be
guided by me, and thee shalt enter the house unknown to them, as I did
an hour since, and there thee shalt know, of thine own senses, how thy
wife doth profit by thy blindness. If this truth be not proved, if thee
canst then say that I have lied from malice, envy, and evil purpose,
this knife," says he, showing a blade in his hand, "this knife will I
thrust into my own heart, though I stand the next instant before the
Eternal Judge, my hands wet with my own blood, to answer for my crime."

"Have you finished?" asks Mr. Godwin.

"No, not yet; I hold thee to thy promise," returns Simon, with eager
haste. "Why do men lie? for their own profit. What profit have I in
lying, when I pray thee to put my word to the proof and not take it on
trust, with the certainty of punishment even if the proof be doubtful.
Thee believest this woman is what she pretends to be; what does that
show?--your simplicity, not hers. How would women trick their husbands
without such skill to blind them by a pretence of love and virtue?"

"Say no more," cries Mr. Godwin, hoarsely, "or I may strangle you before
you pass trial. Go your devilish way, I'll follow."

"Now God be praised for this!" cries Simon. "Softly, softly!" adds he,
creeping in the shade of the bank towards the house.

But ere he has gone a dozen paces Mr. Godwin repents him again, with
shame in his heart, and stopping, says:

"I'll go no further."

"Then thee doubtest my word no longer," whispers Simon, quickly. "'Tis
fear that makest thee halt,--the fear of finding thy wife a wanton and a
trickster."

"No, no, by God!"

"If that be so, then art thee bound to prove her innocent, that I may
not say to all the world, thee mightest have put her honour to the test
and dared not--choosing rather to cheat thyself and be cheated by her,
than know thyself dishonoured. If thee dost truly love this woman and
believe her guiltless, then for her honour must thee put me--not her--to
this trial."

"No madman could reason like this," says Mr. Godwin. "I accept this
trial, and Heaven forgive me if I do wrong."

CHAPTER XXX.

_How we are discovered and utterly undone._

"What!" cries Dawson, catching his daughter in his arms and hugging her
to his breast, when the first shock of surprise was past. "My own sweet
Moll--come hither to warm her old father's heart?"

"And my own," says she, tenderly, "which I fear hath grown a little
wanting in love for ye since I have been mated. But, though my dear Dick
draws so deeply from my well of affection, there is still somewhere down
here" (clapping her hand upon her heart) "a source that first sprang for
you and can never dry."

"Aye, and 'tis a proof," says he, "your coming here where we may speak
and act without restraint, though it be but for five minutes."

"Five minutes!" cries she, springing up with her natural vivacity, "why,
I'll not leave you before the morning, unless you weary of me." And then
with infinite relish and sly humour, she told of her device for leaving
the Court without suspicion.

I do confess I was at first greatly alarmed for the safe issue of this
escapade; but she assuring me 'twas a dirty night, and she had passed no
one on the road, I felt a little reassured. To be sure, thinks I, Mr.
Godwin by some accident may return, but finding her gone, and hearing
Captain Evans keeps me to my house, he must conclude she has come
hither, and think no harm of her for that neither--seeing we are old
friends and sobered with years, for 'tis the most natural thing in the
world that, feeling lonely and dejected for the loss of her husband, she
should seek such harmless diversion as may be had in our society.

However, for the sake of appearances I thought it would be wise to get
this provision of ham and birds out of sight, for fear of misadventure,
and also I took instant precaution to turn the key in my street door.
Being but two men, and neither of us over-nice in the formalities, I had
set a cheese, a loaf, and a bottle betwixt us on the bare table of my
office room, for each to serve himself as he would; but I now proposed
that, having a lady in our company, we should pay more regard to the
decencies by going upstairs to my parlour, and there laying a tablecloth
and napkins for our repast.

"Aye, certainly!" cries Moll, who had grown mighty fastidious in these
particulars since she had been mistress of Hurst Court; "this dirty
table would spoil the best appetite in the world."

So I carried a faggot and some apple logs upstairs, and soon had a brave
fire leaping up the chimney, by which time Moll and her father, with
abundant mirth, had set forth our victuals on a clean white cloth, and
to each of us a clean plate, knife, and fork, most proper. Then, all
things being to our hand, we sat down and made a most hearty meal of
Mrs. Butterby's good cheer, and all three of us as merry as grigs, with
not a shadow of misgiving.

There had seemed something piteous to me in that appeal of Moll's, that
she might be herself for this night; and indeed I marvelled now how she
could have so trained her natural disposition to an artificial manner,
and did no longer wonder at the look of fatigue and weariness in her
face on her return to London. For the old reckless, careless, daredevil
spirit was still alive in her, as I could plainly see now that she
abandoned herself entirely to the free sway of impulse; the old twinkle
of mirth and mischief was in her eyes; she was no longer a fine lady,
but a merry vagabond again, and when she laughed 'twas with her hands
clasping her sides, her head thrown back, and all her white teeth
gleaming in the light.

"Now," says I, when at length our meal was finished, "I will clear the
table."

"Hoop!" cries she, catching up the corners of the tablecloth, and
flinging them over the fragments; "'tis done. Let us draw round the
fire, and tell old tales. Here's a pipe, dear dad; I love the smell of
tobacco; and you" (to me) "do fetch me a pipkin, that I may brew a good
drink to keep our tongues going."

About the time this drink was brewed, Simon, leading Mr. Godwin by a
circuitous way, came through the garden to the back of the house, where
was a door, which I had never opened for lack of a key to fit the lock.
This key was now in Simon's hand, and putting it with infinite care into
the hole, he softly turned it in the wards. Then, with the like
precaution, he lifts the latch and gently thrusts the door open,
listening at every inch to catch the sounds within. At length 'tis
opened wide; and so, turning his face to Mr. Godwin, who waits behind,
sick with mingled shame and creeping dread, he beckons him to follow.

Above, Dawson was singing at the top of his voice, a sea-song he had
learnt of a mariner at the inn he frequented at Greenwich, with a troll
at the end, taken up by Moll and me. And to hear his wife's voice
bearing part in this rude song, made Mr. Godwin's heart to sink within
him. Under cover of this noise, Simon mounted the stairs without
hesitation, Mr. Godwin following at his heels, in a kind of sick
bewilderment. 'Twas pitch dark up there, and Simon, stretching forth his
hands to know if Mr. Godwin was by, touched his hand, which was deadly
cold and quivering; for here at the door he was seized with a sweating
faintness, which so sapped his vigour that he was forced to hold by the
wall to save himself from falling.

"Art thee ready?" asks Simon; but he can get no answer, for Mr. Godwin's
energies, quickened by a word from within like a jaded beast by the
sting of a whip, is straining his ears to catch what is passing within.
And what hears he?--The song is ended, and Dawson cries:

"You han't lost your old knack of catching a tune, Moll. Come hither,
wench, and sit upon my knee, for I do love ye more than ever. Give me a
buss, chuck; this fine husband of thine shall not have all thy sweetness
to himself."

At this moment, Simon, having lifted the latch under his thumb, pushes
wide open the door, and there through the thick cloud of tobacco smoke
Mr. Godwin sees the table in disorder, the white cloth flung back over
the remnants of our repast and stained with a patch of liquor from an
overturned mug, a smutty pipkin set upon the board beside a dish of
tobacco, and a broken pipe--me sitting o' one side the hearth heavy and
drowsy with too much good cheer, and on t'other side his young wife,
sitting on Dawson's knee, with one arm about his neck, and he in his
uncouth seaman's garb, with a pipe in one hand, the other about Moll's
waist, a-kissing her yielded cheek. With a cry of fury, like any wild
beast, he springs forward and clutches at a knife that lies ready to his
hand upon the board, and this cry is answered with a shriek from Moll as
she starts to her feet.

"Who is this drunken villain?" he cries, stretching the knife in his
hand towards Dawson.

And Moll, flinging herself betwixt the knife and Dawson, with fear for
his life, and yet with some dignity in her voice and gesture, answers
swiftly:

"This drunken villain is my father."

CHAPTER XXXI.

_Moll's conscience is quickened by grief and humiliation beyond the
ordinary._

"Stand aside, Moll," cries Dawson, stepping to the fore, and facing Mr.
Godwin. "This is my crime, and I will answer for it with my blood. Here
is my breast" (tearing open his jerkin). "Strike, for I alone have done
you wrong, this child of mine being but an instrument to my purpose."

Mr. Godwin's hand fell by his side, and the knife slipped from his
fingers.

"Speak," says he, thickly, after a moment of horrible silence broken
only by the sound of the knife striking the floor. "If this is your
daughter,--if she has lied to me,--what in God's name is the truth? Who
are you, I ask?"

"John Dawson, a player," answers he, seeing the time is past for lying.

Mr. Godwin makes no response, but turns his eyes upon Moll, who stands
before him with bowed head and clasped hands, wrung to her innermost
fibre with shame, remorse, and awful dread, and for a terrible space I
heard nothing but the deep, painful breathing of this poor, overwrought
man.

"You are my wife," says he, at length. "Follow me," and with that he
turns about and goes from the room. Then Moll, without a look at us,
without a word, her face ghastly pale and drawn with agony, with
faltering steps, obeys, catching at table and chair, as she passes, for
support.

Dawson made a step forward, as if he would have overtaken her; but I
withheld him, shaking my head, and himself seeing 'twas in vain, he
dropped into a chair, and, spreading his arms upon the table, hides his
face in them with a groan of despair.

Moll totters down the dark stairs, and finds her husband standing in the
doorway, his figure revealed against the patch of grey light beyond, for
the moon was risen, though veiled by a thick pall of cloud. He sees, as
she comes to his side, that she has neither cloak nor hood to protect
her from the winter wind, and in silence he takes off his own cloak and
lays it on her shoulder. At this act of mercy a ray of hope animates
Moll's numbed soul, and she catches at her husband's hand to press it to
her lips, yet can find never a word to express her gratitude. But his
hand is cold as ice, and he draws it away from her firmly, with obvious
repugnance. There was no love in this little act of giving her his
cloak; 'twas but the outcome of that chivalry in gentlemen which doth
exact lenience even to an enemy.

So he goes on his way, she following like a whipped dog at his heels,
till they reach the Court gates, and these being fast locked, on a
little further, to the wicket gate. And there, as Mr. Godwin is about to
enter, there confronts him Peter, that sturdy Puritan hireling of old
Simon's.

"Thee canst not enter here, friend," says he, in his canting voice, as
he sets his foot against the gate.

"Know you who I am?" asks Mr. Godwin.

"Yea, friend; and I know who thy woman is also. I am bidden by friend
Simon, the true and faithful steward of Mistress Godwin in Barbary, to
defend her house and lands against robbers and evil-doers of every kind,
and without respect of their degree; and, with the Lord's help," adds
he, showing a stout cudgel, "that will I do, friend."

"'Tis true, fellow," returns Mr. Godwin. "I have no right to enter
here."

And then, turning about, he stands irresolute, as not knowing whither he
shall go to find shelter for his wife. For very shame, he does not take
her to the village inn, to be questioned by gaping servants and
landlord, who, ere long, must catch the flying news of her shameful
condition and overthrow. A faint light in the lattice of Anne Fitch's
cottage catches his eye, and he crosses to her door, still humbly
followed by poor Moll. There he finds the thumb-piece gone from the
latch, to him a well-known sign that Mother Fitch has gone out
a-nursing; so, pulling the hidden string he wots of, he lifts the latch
within, and the door opens to his hand. A rush is burning in a cup of
oil upon the table, casting a feeble glimmer round the empty room. He
closes the door when Moll has entered, sets a chair before the hearth,
and rakes the embers together to give her warmth.

"Forgive me, oh, forgive me!" cries Moll, casting herself at his feet as
he turns, and clasping his knees to her stricken heart.

[Illustration: "FORGIVE ME, OH, FORGIVE ME!"]

"Forgive you!" says he, bitterly. "Forgive you for dragging me down to
the level of rogues and thieves, for making me party to this vile
conspiracy of plunder. A conspiracy that, if it bring me not beneath the
lash of Justice, must blast my name and fame for ever. You know not what
you ask. As well might you bid me take you back to finish the night in
drunken riot with those others of our gang."

"Oh, no, not now! not now!" cries Moll, in agony. "Do but say that some
day long hence, you will forgive me. Give me that hope, for I cannot
live without it."

"That hope's my fear!" says he. "I have known men who, by mere contact
with depravity, have so dulled their sense of shame that they could make
light of sins that once appalled them. Who knows but that one day I may
forgive you, chat easily upon this villany, maybe, regret I went no
further in it."

"Oh, God forbid that shall be of my doing!" cries Moll, springing to her
feet. "Broken as I am, I'll not accept forgiveness on such terms. Think
you I'm like those plague-stricken wretches who, of wanton wickedness,
ran from their beds to infect the clean with their foul ill? Not I."

"I spoke in heat," says Mr. Godwin, quickly. "I repent even now what I
said."

"Am I so steeped in infamy," continues she, "that I am past all cure?
Think," adds she, piteously, "I am not eighteen yet. I was but a child a
year ago, with no more judgment of right and wrong than a savage
creature. Until I loved you, I think I scarcely knew the meaning of
conscience. The knowledge came when I yearned to keep no secret from
you. I do remember the first struggle to do right. 'Twas on the little
bridge; and there I balanced awhile, 'twixt cheating you and robbing
myself. And then, for fear you would not marry me, I dared not own the
truth. Oh, had I thought you'd only keep me for your mistress, I'd have
told you I was not your cousin. Little as this is, there's surely hope
in't. Is it more impossible that you, a strong man, should lift me, than
that I, a weak girl,--no more than that,--should drag you down?"

"I did not weigh my words."

"Yet, they were true," says she. "'Tis bred in my body--part of my
nature, this spirit of evil, and 'twill exist as long as I. For, even
now, I do feel that I would do this wickedness again, and worse, to win
you once more."

"My poor wife," says he, touched with pity; and holding forth his arms,
she goes to them and lays her cheek against his breast, and there stands
crying very silently with mingled thoughts--now of the room she had
prepared with such delight against his return, of her little table in
the corner, with the chiney image atop, and other trifles with which she
had dreamed to give him pleasure--all lost! No more would she sit by his
side there watching, with wonder and pride, the growth of beauty 'neath
his dexterous hand; and then she feels that 'tis compassion, not love,
that hath opened his arms to her, that she hath killed his respect for
her, and with it his love. And so, stifling the sobs that rise in her
throat, she weeps on, till her tears trickling from her cheek fall upon
his hand.

The icy barrier of resentment is melted by the first warm tear,--this
silent testimony of her smothered grief,--and bursting from the bonds of
reason, he yields to the passionate impulse of his heart, and clasping
this poor sorrowing wife to his breast, he seeks to kiss away the tears
from her cheek, and soothe her with gentle words. She responds to his
passion, kiss for kiss, as she clasps her hands about his head; but
still her tears flow on, for with her readier wit she perceives that
this is but the transport of passion on his side, and not the untaxed
outcome of enduring love, proving again the truth of his unmeditated
prophecy; for how can he stand who yields so quickly to the first
assault, and if he cannot stand, how can he raise her? Surely and more
surely, little by little, they must sink together to some lower depth,
and one day, thinks she, repeating his words, "We may chat easily upon
this villany and regret we went no further in it."

Mr. Godwin leads her to the adjoining chamber, which had been his, and
says:

"Lie down, love. To-morrow we shall see things clearer, and think more
reasonably."

"Yes," says she, in return, "more reasonably," and with that she does
his bidding; and he returns to sit before the embers and meditate. And
here he stays, striving in vain to bring the tumult of his thoughts to
some coherent shape, until from sheer exhaustion he falls into a kind of
lethargy of sleep.

Meanwhile, Moll, lying in the dark, had been thinking also, but (as
women will at such times) with clearer perception, so that her ideas
forming in logical sequence, and growing more clear and decisive (as an
argument becomes more lively and conclusive by successful reasoning)
served to stimulate her intellect and excite her activity. And the end
of it was that she rose quickly from her bed and looked into the next
room, where she saw her husband sitting, with his chin upon his breast
and his hands folded upon his knee before the dead fire. Then wrapping
his cloak about her, she steals toward the outer door; but passing him
she must needs pause at his back to staunch her tears a moment, and look
down upon him for the last time. The light shines in his brown hair, and
she bending down till her lips touch a stray curl, they part silently,
and she breathes upon him from her very soul, a mute "Fare thee well,
dear love."

But she will wait no longer, fearing her courage may give way, and the
next minute she is out in the night, softly drawing the door to that
separates these two for ever.

CHAPTER XXXII.

_How we fought a most bloody battle with Simon, the constable, and
others._

For some time we spoke never a word, Dawson and I,--he with his head
lying on his arm, I seated in a chair with my hands hanging down by my
side, quite stunned by the blow that had fallen upon us. At length,
raising his head, his eyes puffed, and his face bedaubed with tears, he
says:

"Han't you a word of comfort, Kit, for a broken-hearted man?"

I stammered a few words that had more sound than sense; but indeed I
needed consolation myself, seeing my own responsibility for bringing
this misfortune upon Moll, and being most heartily ashamed of my roguery
now 'twas discovered.

"You don't think he'll be too hard on poor Moll, tell me that, Kit?"

"Aye, he'll forgive her," says I, "sooner than us, or we ourselves."

"And you don't think he'll be for ever a-casting it in her teeth that
her father's a--a drunken vagabond, eh?"

"Nay; I believe he is too good a man for that."

"Then," says he, standing up, "I'll go and tell him the whole story, and
you shall come with me to bear me out."

"To-morrow will be time enough," says I, flinching from this office;
"'tis late now."

"No matter for that. Time enough to sleep when we've settled this
business. We'll not leave poor Moll to bear all the punishment of our
getting. Mr. Godwin shall know what an innocent, simple child she was
when we pushed her into this knavery, and how we dared not tell her of
our purpose lest she should draw back. He shall know how she was ever an
obedient, docile, artless girl, yielding always to my guidance; and you
can stretch a point, Kit, to say you have ever known me for a
headstrong, masterful sort of a fellow, who would take denial from none,
but must have my own way in all things. I'll take all the blame on my
own shoulders, as I should have done at first, but I was so staggered by
this fall."

"Well," says I, "if you will have it so--"

"I will," says he, stoutly. "And now give me a bucket of water that I
may souse my head, and wear a brave look. I would have him think the
worst of me that he may feel the kinder to poor Moll. And I'll make what
atonement I can," adds he, as I led him into my bed-chamber. "If he
desire it, I will promise never to see Moll again; nay, I will offer to
take the king's bounty, and go a-sailoring; and so, betwixt sickness and
the Dutch, there'll be an end of Jack Dawson in a very short space."

When he had ducked his head in a bowl of water, and got our cloaks from
the room below, we went to the door, and there, to my dismay, I found
the lock fast and the key which I had left in its socket gone.

"What's amiss, Kit?" asks Dawson, perceiving my consternation.

"The key, the key!" says I, holding the candle here and there to seek it
on the floor, then, giving up my search as it struck me that Mr. Godwin
and Moll could not have left the house had the door been locked on the
inside; "I do believe we are locked in and made prisoners," says I.

"Why, sure, this is not Mr. Godwin's doing!" cries he.

"'Tis Simon," says I, with conviction, seeing him again in my mind,
standing behind Mr. Godwin, with wicked triumph in his face.

"Is there no other door but this one?" asks Dawson.

"There is one at the back, but I have never yet opened that, for lack of
a key." And now setting one thing against another, and recalling how I
had before found the door open, when I felt sure I had locked it fast,
the truth appeared to me; namely, that Simon had that key and did get in
the back way, going out by the front on that former occasion in haste
upon some sudden alarm.

"Is there never a window we can slip through?" asks Jack.

"Only those above stairs; the lower are all barred."

"A fig for his bars. Does he think we have neither hands nor wits to be
hindered by this silly woman's trick?"

"'Tis no silly trick. He's not the man to do an idle thing. There's
mischief in this."

"What mischief can he do us more than he has done?--for I see his hand
in our misfortune. What mischief, I say?--out with it, man, for your
looks betray a fear of something worse."

"Faith, Jack, I dread he has gone to fetch help and will lodge us in
gaol for this business."

"Gaol!" cries he, in a passion of desperation. "Why, this will undo Moll
for ever. Her husband can never forgive her putting such shame upon him.
Rouse yourself, man, from your stupor. Get me something in the shape of
a hammer, for God's sake, that we may burst our way from this accursed
trap."

I bethought me of an axe for splitting wood, that lay in the kitchen,
and fetching it quickly, I put it in his hand. Bidding me stand aside,
he let fly at the door like a madman. The splinters flew, but the door
held good; and when he stayed a moment to take a new grip on his axe, I
heard a clamour of voices outside--Simon's, higher than the rest,
crying, "My new door, that cost me seven and eightpence!"

"The lock, the lock!" says I. "Strike that off."

Down came the axe, striking a spark of fire from the lock, which fell
with a clatter at the next blow; but ere we had time to open the door,
Simon and his party, entering by the back door, forced us to turn for
our defence. Perceiving Dawson armed with an axe, however, these fellows
paused, and the leader, whom I recognised for the constable of our
parish, carrying a staff in one hand and a lanthorn in t'other, cried to
us in the king's name to surrender ourselves.

"Take us, if you can," cries Dawson; "and the Lord have mercy on the
first who comes within my reach!"

Deftly enough, old Simon, snatching the fellow's cap who stood next him,
flings it at the candle that stands flaring on the floor, and justles
the constable's lanthorn from his hand, so that in a moment we were all
in darkness. Taking us at this disadvantage (for Dawson dared not lay
about him with his axe, for fear of hitting me by misadventure), the
rascals closed at once; and a most bloody, desperate fight ensued. For,
after the first onslaught, in which Dawson (dropping his axe, as being
useless at such close quarters) and I grappled each our man, the rest,
knowing not friend from foe in the obscurity, and urged on by fear, fell
upon each other,--this one striking out at the first he met, and that
giving as good as he had taken,--and so all fell a-mauling and
belabouring with such lust of vengeance that presently the whole place
was of an uproar with the din of cursing, howling, and hard blows. For
my own lot I had old Simon to deal with, as I knew at once by the cold,
greasy feel of his leathern jerkin, he being enraged to make me his
prisoner for the ill I had done him. Hooking his horny fingers about my
throat, he clung to me like any wildcat; but stumbling, shortly, over
two who were rolling on the floor, we went down both with a crack, and
with such violence that he, being undermost, was stunned by the fall.
Then, my blood boiling at this treatment, I got astride of him, and
roasted his ribs royally, and with more force than ever I had conceived
myself to be possessed of. And, growing beside myself with this passion
of war, I do think I should have pounded him into a pulp, but that two
other combatants, falling across me with their whole weight, knocked all
the wind out of my body, oppressing me so grievously, that 'twas as much
as I could do to draw myself out of the fray, and get a gasp of breath
again.

About this time the uproar began to subside, for those who had got the
worst of the battle thought it advisable to sneak out of the house for
safety, and those who had fared better, fearing a reverse of fortune,
counted they had done enough for this bout, and so also withdrew.

"Are you living, Kit?" asks Dawson, then.

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