However, I explained myself negatively, that it was one that did not go to service, to do house-work; they were mightily pleased, and liked my little prattle to them, which, it seems, was agreeable enough to them, and they gave me money too. As for my money, I gave it all to my mistress-nurse, as I called her, and told her she should have all I got when I was a gentlewoman as well as now.
By this and some other of my talk, my old tutoress began to understand what I meant by being a gentlewoman, and that it was no more than to be able to get my bread by my own work; and at last she asked me whether it was not so. I did not understand anything of that; but I answered, 'I am sure they call her madam, and she does not go to service, nor do house-work'; and therefore I insisted that she was a gentlewoman, and I would be such a gentlewoman as that. The ladies were told all this again, and they made themselves merry with it, and every now and then Mr Mayor's daughters would come and see me, and ask where the little gentlewoman was, which made me not a little proud of myself besides.
I was often visited by these young ladies, and sometimes they brought others with them; so that I was known by it almost all over the town. I was now about ten years old, and began to look a little womanish, for I was mighty grave, very mannerly, and as I had often heard the ladies say I was pretty, and would be very handsome, you may be sure it made me not a little proud. However, that pride had no ill effect upon me yet; only, as they often gave me money, and I gave it my old nurse, she, honest woman, was so just as to lay it out again for me, and gave me head dresses, and linen, and gloves, and I went very neat, for if I had rags on, I would always be clean, or else I would dabble them in water myself; but, I say, my good nurse, when I had money given me, very honestly laid it out for me, and would always tell the ladies this or that was bought with their money; and this made them give me more, till at last I was indeed called upon by the magistrates to go out to service.
But then I was become so good a workwoman myself, and the ladies were so kind to me, that I was past it; for I could earn as much for my nurse as was enough to keep me; so she told them, that if they would give her leave, she would keep the gentlewoman, as she called me, to be her assistant, and teach the children, which I was very well able to do; for I was very nimble at my work, though I was yet very young.
But the kindness of the ladies did not end here, for when they understood that I was no more maintained by the town as before, they gave me money oftener; and, as I grew up, they brought me work to do for them, such as linen to make, laces to mend, and heads to dress up, and not only paid me for doing them, but even taught me how to do them; so that I was a gentlewoman indeed, as I understood that word; for before I was twelve years old, I not only found myself clothes, and paid my nurse for my keeping, but got money in my pocket too.
The ladies also gave me clothes frequently of their own, or their children's; some stockings, some petticoats, some gowns, some one thing, some another; and these my old woman managed for me like a mother, and kept them for me, obliged me to mend them, and turn them to the best advantage, for she was a rare housewife. At last one of the ladies took such a fancy to me that she would have me home to her house, for a month, she said, to be among her daughters.
Now, though this was exceeding kind in her, yet, as my good woman said to her, unless she resolved to keep me for good and all, she would do the little gentlewoman more harm than good. This was prudently managed enough, and I went to the lady's house; but I was so pleased there with the young ladies, and they so pleased with me, that I had enough to do to come away, and they were as unwilling to part with me. However, I did come away, and lived almost a year more with my honest old woman, and began now to be very helpful to her; for I was almost fourteen years old, was tall of my age, and looked a little womanish; but I had such a taste of genteel living at the lady's house that I was not so easy in my old quarters as I used to be, and I thought it was fine to be a gentlewoman indeed, for I had quite other notions of a gentlewoman now than I had before; and as I thought that it was fine to be a gentlewoman, so I loved to be among gentlewomen, and therefore I longed to be there again.
When I was about fourteen years and a quarter old, my good old nurse, mother I ought to call her, fell sick and died. I was then in a sad condition indeed, for, as there is no great bustle in putting an end to a poor body's family when once they are carried to the grave, so the poor good woman being buried, the parish children were immediately removed by the churchwardens; the school was at an end, and the day children of it had no more to do but just stay at home till they were sent somewhere else.
As for what she left, a daughter, a married woman, came and swept it all away, and removing the goods, they had no more to say to me than to jest with me, and tell me that the little gentlewoman might set up for herself if she pleased.
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I was frighted out of my wits almost, and knew not what to do; for I was, as it were, turned out of doors to the wide world, and that which was still worse, the old, honest woman had two-and-twenty shillings of mine in her hand, which was all the estate the little gentlewoman had in the world; and, when I asked the daughter for it, she huffed me, and told me she had nothing to do with it. It was true the good, poor woman had told her daughter of it, and that it lay in such a place, that it was the child's money, and had called once or twice for me to give it me, but I was unhappily out of the way, and, when I came back, she was past being in a condition to speak of it.
However, the daughter was so honest afterwards as to give it me, though at first she used me cruelly about it. Now was I a poor gentlewoman indeed, and I was just that very night to be turned into the wide world; for the daughter removed all the goods, and I had not so much as a lodging to go to, or a bit of bread to eat. But it seems some of the neighbours took so much compassion of me as to acquaint the lady in whose family I had been; and immediately she sent her maid to fetch me, and away I went with them bag and baggage, and with a glad heart, you may be sure.
The fright of my condition had made such an impression upon me that I did not want now to be a gentlewoman, but was very willing to be a servant, and that any kind of servant they thought fit to have me be.
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But my new generous mistress had better thoughts for me. I was no sooner carried away, as I have said, by this good gentlewoman, but the first lady, that is to say, the Mayoress that was, sent her daughters to take care of me; and another family which had taken notice of me when I was the little gentlewoman sent for me after her, so that I was mightily made of; nay, and they were not a little angry, especially the Mayoress, that her friend had taken me away from her; for, as she said, I was hers by right, she having been the first that took any notice of me.
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But they that had me would not part with me; and as for me, I could not be better than where I was. Here I continued till I was between seventeen and eighteen years old, and here I had all the advantages for my education that could be imagined; the lady had masters home to teach her daughters to dance, and to speak French, and to write, and others to teach them music; and, as I was always with them, I learned as fast as they; and though the masters were not appointed to teach me, yet I learned by imitation and inquiry all that they learned by instruction and direction; so that, in short, I learned to dance and speak French as well as any of them, and to sing much better, for I had a better voice than any of them.
I could not so readily come at playing the harpsichord or the spinet, because I had no instrument of my own to practise on, and could only come at theirs in the intervals when they left it; but yet I learned tolerably well, and the young ladies at length got two instruments, that is to say, a harpsichord and a spinet too, and then they taught me themselves.
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But as to dancing, they could hardly help my learning country-dances, because they always wanted me to make up even number; and, on the other hand, they were as heartily willing to learn me everything that they had been taught themselves as I could be to take the learning. By this means I had, as I have said, all the advantages of education that I could have had if I had been as much a gentlewoman as they were with whom I lived; and in some things I had the advantage of my ladies, though they were my superiors, viz. First, I was apparently handsomer than any of them; secondly, I was better shaped; and, thirdly, I sang better, by which I mean, I had a better voice; in all which you will, I hope, allow me to say, I do not speak my own conceit, but the opinion of all that knew the family.
I had, with all these, the common vanity of my sex, viz. Thus far I have had a smooth story to tell of myself, and in all this part of my life I not only had the reputation of living in a very good family, and a family noted and respected everywhere for virtue and sobriety, and for every valuable thing, but I had the character too of a very sober, modest, and virtuous young woman, and such I had always been; neither had I yet any occasion to think of anything else, or to know what a temptation to wickedness meant.
But that which I was too vain of, was my ruin, or rather my vanity was the cause of it. The eldest, a gay gentleman, that knew the town as well as the country, and, though he had levity enough to do an ill-natured thing, yet had too much judgment of things to pay too dear for his pleasures; he began with that unhappy snare to all women, viz. His sisters would return softly to him, 'Hush, brother, she will hear you; she is but in the next room. After he had thus baited his hook, and found easily enough the method how to lay it in my way, he played an open game; and one day, going by his sister's chamber when I was there, he comes in with an air of gaiety.
Don't your cheeks burn, Mrs Betty? Her younger brother, who was by, cried, 'Hold, sister, you run too fast; I am an exception to your rule. I assure you, if I find a woman so accomplished as you talk of, I won't trouble myself about the money. You are none of them that want a fortune, whatever else you want.
It happened one day that he came running upstairs, towards the room where his sisters used to sit and work, as he often used to do; and calling to them before he came in, as was his way too, I being there alone, stepped to the door, and said 'Sir, the ladies are not here; they are walked down the garden. That's better still; I want to speak with you more than I do with them'; and then, having me in his arms, he kissed me three or four times. I struggled to get away, and yet did it but faintly neither, and he held me fast, and still kissed me, till he was out of breath, and, sitting down, says he, 'Dear Betty, I am in love with you.
His words, I must confess, fired my blood; all my spirits flew about my heart, and put me into disorder enough.
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He repeated it afterwards several times, that he was in love with me, and my heart spoke as plain as a voice that I liked it; nay, whenever he said 'I am in love with you', my blushes plainly replied 'Would you were, sir. He had stayed longer with me, but he happened to look out at the window and see his sisters coming up the garden, so he took his leave, kissed me again, told me he was very serious, and I should hear more of him very quickly, and away he went infinitely pleased; and had there not been one misfortune in it, I had been in the right, but the mistake lay here, that Mrs Betty was in earnest, and the gentleman was not.
From this time my head ran upon strange things, and I may truly say I was not myself, to have such a gentleman talk to me of being in love with me, and of my being such a charming creature, as he told me I was. These were things I knew not how to bear; my vanity was elevated to the last degree. It is true I had my head full of pride, but, knowing nothing of the wickedness of the times, I had not one thought of my virtue about me; and, had my young master offered it at first sight, he might have taken any liberty he thought fit with me; but he did not see his advantage, which was my happiness for that time.
It was not long but he found an opportunity to catch me again, and almost in the same posture; indeed, it had more of design in it on his part, though not on my part. It was thus: the young ladies were gone a-visiting with their mother; his brother was out of town; and, as for his father, he had been at London for a week before.
It was his younger sister's chamber that I was in, and, as there was nobody in the house but the maid below-stairs, he was, it may be, the ruder; in short, he began to be in earnest with me indeed. Perhaps he found me a little too easy, for I made no resistance to him while he only held me in his arms and kissed me; indeed, I was too well pleased with it to resist him much.
Well, tired with that kind of work, we sat down, and there he talked with me a great while; he said he was charmed with me, and that he could not rest till he had told me how he was in love with me, and, if I could love him again and would make him happy, I should be the saving of his life, and many such fine things. I said little to him again, but easily discovered that I was a fool, and that I did not in the least perceive what he meant.
Then he walked about the room, and, taking me by the hand, I walked with him; and by-and-by, taking his advantage, he threw me down upon the bed, and kissed me there most violently; but, to give him his due, offered no manner of rudeness to me—only kissed me a great while. After this he thought he had heard somebody come upstairs, so he got off from the bed, lifted me up, professing a great deal of love for me; but told me it was all an honest affection, and that he meant no ill to me, and with that put five guineas into my hand, and went downstairs.
I was more confounded with the money than I was before with the love, and began to be so elevated that I scarce knew the ground I stood on. I am the more particular in this, that, if it comes to be read by any innocent young body, they may learn from it to guard themselves against the mischiefs which attend an early knowledge of their own beauty.
If a young woman once thinks herself handsome, she never doubts the truth of any man that tells her he is in love with her; for if she believes herself charming enough to captivate him, 'tis natural to expect the effects of it. This gentleman had now fired his inclination as much as he had my vanity, and, as if he had found that he had an opportunity, and was sorry he did not take hold of it, he comes up again in about half-an-hour, and falls to work with me again just as he did before, only with a little less introduction. And first, when he entered the room, he turned about and shut the door.
And now, though I was still on fire with his first visit, and said little, he did as it were put words in my mouth, telling me how passionately he loved me, and that, though he could not till he came to his estate, yet he was resolved to make me happy then, and himself too; that is to say, to marry me, and abundance of such things, which I, poor fool, did not understand the drift of, but acted as if there was no kind of love but that which tended to matrimony; and if he had spoken of that, I had no room, as well as no power, to have said no; but we were not come to that length yet.
However, though he took these freedoms with me, it did not go to that which they call the last favour, which, to do him justice, he did not attempt; and he made that self-denial of his a plea for all his freedoms with me upon other occasions after this. When this was over he stayed but a little while, but he put almost a handful of gold in my hand, and left me a thousand protestations of his passion for me, and of his loving me above all the women in the world.
It will not be strange if I now began ta think; but, alas! I had a most unbounded stock of vanity and pride, and but a very little stock of virtue. I did indeed cast some times with myself what my young master aimed at, but thought of nothing but the fine words and the gold; whether he intended to marry me or not seemed a matter of no great consequence to me; nor did I so much as think of making any capitulation for myself till he made a kind of formal proposal to me, as you shall hear presently.
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