Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress/Chapter XIV

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Thus blinded by my own vanity, I threw away the only opportunity I then had to have effectually settled my fortunes, and secured them for this world; and I am a memorial to all that shall read my story, a standing monument of the madness and distraction which pride and infatuations from hell run us into; how ill our passions guide us, and how dangerously we act when we follow the dictates of an ambitious mind. I was rich, beautiful and agreeable, and not yet old. I had known something of the influence I had had upon the fancies of men, even of the highest rank; I never forgot that the Prince de —— had said with an ecstasy that I was the finest woman in France. I knew I could make a figure at London, and how well I could grace that figure. I was not at a loss how to behave; and having already been adored by princes, I thought of nothing less than of being mistress to the King himself. But I go back to my immediate circumstances at that time.

I got over the absence of my honest merchant but slowly at first. It was with infinite regret that I let him go at all, and when I read the letter he left I was quite confounded. As soon as he was out of call and irrecoverable, I would have given half I had in the world for him back again; my notions of things changed in an instant, and I called myself a thousand fools for casting myself upon a life of scandal and hazard, when after the shipwreck of virtue, honour, and principle, and sailing at the utmost risk in the stormy seas of crime and abominable levity, I had a safe harbour presented and no heart to cast anchor in it.

His predictions terrified me; his promises of kindness if I came to distress melted me into tears, but frighted me with the apprehensions of ever coming into such distress, and filled my head with a thousand anxieties and thoughts, how it should be possible for me, who had now such a fortune, to sink again into misery.

Then the dreadful scene of my life, when I was left with my five children, etc., as I have related, represented itself again to me, and I sat considering what measures I might take to bring myself to such a state of desolation again, and how I should act to avoid it.

But these things wore off gradually. As to my friend the merchant, he was gone, and gone irrecoverably, for I durst not follow him to Paris, for the reasons mentioned above. Again, I was afraid to write to him to return lest he should have refused, as I verily believed he would. So I sat and cried intolerably for some days, nay, I may say, for some weeks; but I say it wore off gradually, and as I had a great deal of business for managing my effects, the hurry of that particular part served to divert my thoughts, and in part to wear out the impressions which had been made upon my mind.

I had sold my jewels, all but the fine diamond ring which my gentleman the jeweller used to wear, and this at proper times I wore myself, as also the diamond necklace which the Prince had given me, and a pair of extraordinary ear-rings, worth about 600 pistoles; the other, which was a fine casket, he left with me at his going to Versailles, and a small case with some rubies and emeralds, etc.—I say I sold them at The Hague for 7,600 pistoles. I had received all the bills which the merchant had helped me to at Paris, and with the money I brought with me they made up 13,900 pistoles more; so that I had in ready money, and in account in the bank at Amsterdam, above 21,000 pistoles, besides jewels; and how to get this treasure to England was my next care.

The business I had had now with a great many people for receiving such large sums and selling jewels of such considerable value gave me opportunity to know and converse with several of the best merchants of the place, so that I wanted no direction now how to get my money remitted to England. Applying therefore to several merchants, that I might neither risk it all on the credit of one merchant nor suffer any single man to know the quantity of money I had—I say, applying myself to several merchants, I got bills of exchange payable in London for all my money. The first bills I took with me, the second bills I left in trust (in case of any disaster at sea) in the hands of the first merchant, him to whom I was recommended by my friend from Paris.

Having thus spent nine months in Holland, refused the best offer ever woman in my circumstances had, parted unkindly and indeed barbarously with the best friend and honestest man in the world, got all my money in my pocket and a bastard in my belly, I took shipping at the Briel, in the packet-boat, and arrived safe at Harwich, where my woman Amy was come, by my direction, to meet me.

I would willingly have given ten thousand pounds of my money to have been rid of the burthen I had in my belly, as above; but it could not be, so I was obliged to bear with that part and get rid of it by the ordinary method of patience and a hard travail.

I was above the contemptible usage that women in my circumstances oftentimes meet with. I had considered all that beforehand; and having sent Amy beforehand and remitted her money to do it, she had taken me a very handsome house in —— Street near Charing Cross, had hired me two maids and a footman, whom she had put in a good livery, and having hired a glass coach and four horses she came with them and the manservant to Harwich to meet me, and had been there near a week before I came. So I had nothing to do but to go away to London to my own house, where I arrived in very good health, and where I passed for a French lady by the title of ——.

My first business was to get all my bills accepted, which, to cut the story short, was all both accepted and currently paid; and I then resolved to take me a country lodging somewhere near the town to be incognito till I was brought to bed, which, appearing in such a figure and having such an equipage, I easily managed without anybody’s offering the usual insults of parish enquiries. I did not appear in my new house for some time, and afterwards I thought fit, for particular reasons, to quit that house and not come to it at all, but take handsome large apartments in the Pall Mall, in a house out of which was a private door into the King’s garden, by the permission of the chief gardener, who had lived in the house.

I had now all my effects secured; but my money being my great concern at that time, I found it a difficulty how to dispose of it so as to bring me in an annual interest. However, in some time I got a substantial safe mortgage for £14,000 by the assistance of the famous Sir Robert Clayton, for which I had an estate of £1,800 a year bound to me, and had £700 per annum interest for it.

This with some other securities made me a very handsome estate of above £1,000 a year, enough, one would think, to keep any woman in England from being a whore.

I lay in at ——, about four miles from London, and brought a fine boy into the world, and, according to my promise, sent an account of it to my friend at Paris, the father of it, and in the letter told him how sorry I was for his going away, and did as good as intimate that if he would come once more to see me I should use him better than I had done. He gave me a very kind and obliging answer, but took not the least notice of what I had said of his coming over, so I found my interest lost there for ever. He gave me joy of the child and hinted that he hoped I would make good what he had begged for the poor infant, as I had promised; and I sent him word again that I would fulfil his order to a tittle; and such a fool, and so weak I was in this last letter, notwithstanding what I have said of his not taking notice of my invitation as to ask his pardon almost for the usage I gave him at Rotterdam, and stooped so low as to expostulate with him for not taking notice of my inviting him to come to me again as I had done; and which was still more, went so far as to make a second sort of an offer to him, telling him almost in plain words that if he would come over now I would have him. But he never gave me the least reply to it at all, which was as absolute a denial to me as he was ever able to give. So I sat down, I cannot say contented, but vexed heartily that I had made the offer at all; for he had, as I may say, his full revenge of me, in scorning to answer, and to let me twice ask that of him which he with so much importunity begged of me before.

I was now up again, and soon came to my city lodgings in the Pall Mall, and here I began to make a figure suitable to my estate, which was very great; and I shall give you an account of my equipage in a few words, and of myself too.

I paid £60 a year for my near apartments, for I took them by the year; but then, they were handsome lodgings indeed, and very richly furnished. I kept my own servants to clean and look after them, found my own kitchen-ware and firing. My equipage was handsome, but not very great; I had a coach, a coachman, a footman, my woman Amy, whom I now dressed like a gentlewoman and made her my companion, and three maids. And thus I lived for a time. I dressed to the height of every mode, went extremely rich in clothes, and as for jewels, I wanted none. I gave a very good livery laced with silver, and as rich as anybody below the nobility could be seen with. And thus I appeared, leaving the world to guess who or what I was, without offering to put myself forward.

I walked sometimes in the Mall with my woman Amy, but I kept no company and made no acquaintances, only made as gay a show as I was able to do, and that upon all occasions. I found, however, the world was not altogether so unconcerned about me as I seemed to be about them; and first, I understood that the neighbours began to be mighty inquisitive about me, as who I was and what my circumstances were.

Amy was the only person who could answer their curiosity or give any account of me, and she, a tattling woman and a true gossip, took care to do that with all the art that she was mistress of. She let them know that I was the widow of a person of quality in France, that I was very rich, that I came over hither to look after an estate that fell to me by some of my relations who died here, that I was worth £40,000 all in my own hands, and the like.

This was all wrong in Amy, and in me too, though we did not see it at first, for this recommended me indeed to those sort of gentlemen they call fortune-hunters, and who always besieged ladies, as they called it, on purpose to take them prisoners, as I called it; that is to say, to marry the women and have the spending of their money. But if I was wrong in refusing the honourable proposals of the Dutch merchant, who offered me the disposal of my whole estate and had as much of his own to maintain me with, I was right now in refusing those offers which came generally from gentlemen of good families and good estates, but who, living to the extent of them, were always needy and necessitous, and wanted a sum of money to make themselves easy, as they call it—that is to say, to pay off incumbrances, sisters’ portions, and the like—and then the woman is prisoner for life and may live as they please to give her leave. This life I had seen into clearly enough, and therefore I was not to be caught that way. However, as I said, the reputation of my money brought several of those sort of gentry about me, and they found means, by one stratagem or other, to get access to my ladyship; but, in short, I answered them all well enough, that I lived single and was happy, that as I had no occasion to change my condition for an estate, so I did not see that by the best offer that any of them could make me, I could mend my fortune; that I might be honoured with titles indeed, and in time rank on public occasions with the peeresses—I mention that because one that offered at me was the eldest son of a peer—but that I was as well without the title as long as I had the estate; and while I had £2,000 a year of my own, I was happier than I could be in being prisoner of state to a nobleman, for I took the ladies of that rank to be little better.

As I have mentioned Sir Robert Clayton, with whom I had the good fortune to become acquainted on account of the mortgage which he helped me to, it is necessary to take notice that I had much advantage in my ordinary affairs by his advice, and therefore I call it my good fortune. For as he paid me so considerable an annual income as £700 a year, so I am to acknowledge myself much a debtor, not only to the justice of his dealings with me, but to the prudence and conduct which he guided me to, by his advice, for the management of my estate; and as he found I was not inclined to marry, he frequently took occasion to hint how soon I might raise my fortune to a prodigious height, if I would but order my family economy so far within my revenue as to lay up every year something to add to the capital.

I was convinced of the truth of what he said, and agreed to the advantages of it. You are to take it as you go that Sir Robert supposed by my own discourse, and especially by my woman Amy, that I had £2,000 a year income. He judged, as he said, by my way of living, that I could not spend above £1,000; and so, he added, I might prudently lay by £1,000 every year to add to the capital, and by adding every year the additional interest or income of the money to the capital, he proved to me that in ten years I should double the £1,000 per annum that I laid by. And he drew me out a table, as he called it, of the increase, for me to judge by; and by which, he said, if the gentlemen of England would but act so, every family of them would increase their fortunes to a great degree, just as merchants do by trade; whereas now, says Sir Robert, by the humour of living up to the extent of their fortunes, and rather beyond, the gentlemen, says he, ay, and the nobility too, are, almost all of them, borrowers, and all in necessitous circumstances.

As Sir Robert frequently visited me and was (if I may say so from his own mouth) very well pleased with my way of conversing with him, for he knew nothing nor so much as guessed at what I had been—I say, as he came often to see me, so he always entertained me with this scheme of frugality. And one time he brought another paper, wherein he showed me much to the same purpose as the former, to what degree I should increase my estate if I would come into his method of contracting my expenses; and by this scheme of his, it appeared, that laying up £1,000 a year, and every year adding the interest to it, I should in twelve years’ time have in bank £21,058; after which, I might lay up £2,000 a year.

I objected that I was a young woman, that I had been used to live plentifully and with a good appearance, and that I knew not how to be a miser.

He told me that if I thought I had enough, it was well, but if I desired to have more, this was the way; that in another twelve years I should be too rich, so that I should not know what to do with it.

“Ay, sir,” says I, “you are contriving how to make me a rich old woman, but that won’t answer my end; I had rather have £20,000 now than £60,000 when I am fifty years old.”

“Then, madam,” says he, “I suppose your honour has no children?”

“None, Sir Robert,” said I, “but what are provided for ”; so I left him in the dark as much as I found him. However, I considered his scheme very well, though I said no more to him at that time, and I resolved, though I would make a very good figure—I say, I resolved to abate a little of my expense and draw in, live closer, and save something, if not so much as he proposed to me. It was near the end of the year that Sir Robert made this proposal to me, and when the year was up I went to his house in the city, and there I told him I came to thank him for his scheme of frugality, that I had been studying much upon it, and though I had not been able to mortify myself so much as to lay up £1,000 a year, yet as I had not come to him for my interest half-yearly, as was usual, I was now come to let him know that I had resolved to lay up that £700 a year and never use a penny of it, desiring him to help me to put it out to advantage.

Sir Robert, a man thoroughly versed in arts of improving money, but thoroughly honest, said to me, “Madam, I am glad you approve of the method that I proposed to you, but you have begun wrong. You should have come for your interest at the half-year, and then you had had the money to put out; now you have lost half a year’s interest of £350, which is £9,” for I had but 5 per cent. on the mortgage.

“Well, well, sir,” says I, “can you put this out for me now?”

“Let it lie, madam,” says he, “till the next year, and then I’ll put out your £1,400 together, and in the meantime I’ll pay you interest for the £700.” So he gave me his bill for the money, which he told me should be no less than 6 per cent.—Sir Robert Clayton’s bill was what nobody would refuse—so I thanked him and let it lie, and next year I did the same, and the third year Sir Robert got me a good mortgage for £2,200 at 6 per cent. interest. So I had £132 a year added to my income, which was a very satisfying article.

But I return to my history. As I have said, I found that my measures were all wrong; the posture I set up in exposed me to innumerable visitors of the kind I have mentioned above. I was cried up for a vast fortune, and one that Sir Robert Clayton managed for; and Sir Robert Clayton was courted for me as much as I was for myself. But I had given Sir Robert his cue. I had told him my opinion of matrimony in just the same terms as I had done my merchant, and he came into it presently. He owned that my observation was just, and that if I valued my liberty, as I knew my fortune and that it was in my own hands, I was to blame if I gave it away to any one.

But Sir Robert knew nothing of my design, that I aimed at being a kept mistress and to have a handsome maintenance, and that I was still for getting money, and laying it up too, as much as he could desire me, only by a worse way.

However, Sir Robert came seriously to me one day and told me he had an offer of matrimony to make to me that was beyond all that he had heard had offered themselves, and this was a merchant. Sir Robert and I agreed exactly in our notions of a merchant. Sir Robert said, and I found it to be true, that a true-bred merchant is the best gentleman in the nation; that in knowledge, in manners, in judgment of things, the merchant outdid many of the nobility; that having once mastered the world and being above the demand of business, though no real estate, they were then superior to most gentlemen even in estate; that a merchant in flush business and a capital stock is able to spend more money than a gentleman of £5,000 a year estate; that while a merchant spent, he only spent what he got, and not that, and that he laid up great sums every year.

That an estate is a pond, but that a trade was a spring; that if the first is once mortgaged it seldom gets clear, but embarrasses the person for ever; but the merchant had his estate continually flowing; and upon this he named me merchants who lived in more real splendour and spent more money than most of the noblemen in England could singly expend, and that they still grew immensely rich.

He went on to tell me that even the tradesmen in London, speaking of the better sort of trades, could spend more money in their families and yet give better fortunes to their children than, generally speaking, the gentry of England from £1,000 a year downward could do, and yet grow rich too.

The upshot of all this was to recommend to me rather the bestowing my fortune upon some eminent merchant who lived already in the first figure of a merchant, and who, not being in want or scarcity of money, but having a flourishing business and a flowing cash, would at the first word settle all my fortune on myself and children and maintain me like a queen.

This was certainly right, and had I taken his advice I had been really happy; but my heart was bent upon an independency of fortune, and I told him I knew no state of matrimony but what was at best a state of inferiority, if not of bondage; that I had no notion of it, that I lived a life of absolute liberty now, was free as I was born, and, having a plentiful fortune, I did not understand what coherence the words Honour and Obey had with the liberty of a free woman; that I knew no reason the men had to engross the whole liberty of the race and make the women, notwithstanding any disparity of fortune, be subject to the laws of marriage of their own making; that it was my misfortune to be a woman, but I was resolved it should not be made worse by the sex, and seeing liberty seemed to be the men’s property, I would be a man-woman; for as I was born free, I would die so.

Sir Robert smiled, and told me I talked a kind of amazonian language; that he found few women of my mind, or that if they were, they wanted resolution to go on with it; that notwithstanding all my notions, which he could not but say had once some weight in them, yet he understood I had broken in upon them and had been married. I answered I had so, but he did not hear me say that I had any encouragement from what was past to make a second venture; that I was got well out of the toil, and if I came in again I should have nobody to blame but myself.

Sir Robert laughed heartily at me but gave over offering any more arguments, only told me he had pointed me out for some of the best merchants in London, but since I forbade him, he would give me no disturbance of that kind. He applauded my way of managing my money, and told me I should soon be monstrous rich; but he neither knew nor mistrusted that with all this wealth I was yet a whore, and was not averse to adding to my estate at the further expense of my virtue.