Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress/Chapter XXVIII

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Having thus secured my going away the next day, I had nothing to do but to furnish my faithful agent the Quaker with some instructions what to say to this tormentor (for such she proved afterwards), and how to manage her if she made any more visits than ordinary. I had a great mind to leave Amy behind too, as an assistant, because she understood so perfectly well what to advise upon any emergence; and Amy importuned me to do so. But I know not what secret impulse prevailed over my thoughts against it, I could not do it for fear the wicked jade should make her away, which my very soul abhorred the thoughts of; which, however, Amy found means to bring to pass afterwards, as I may in time relate more particularly.

It is true I wanted as much to be delivered from her as ever a sick man did from a third-day ague, and had she dropped into the grave by any fair way, as I may call it—I mean had she died by any ordinary distemper—I should have shed but very few tears for her. But I was not arrived to such a pitch of obstinate wickedness as to commit murder, especially such as to murder my own child, or so much as to harbour a thought so barbarous in my mind. But, as I said, Amy effected all afterwards without my knowledge, for which I gave her my hearty curse, though I could do little more; for to have fallen upon Amy had been to have murdered myself. But this tragedy requires a longer story than I have room for here. I return to my journey.

My dear friend the Quaker was kind, and yet honest, and would do anything that was just and upright to serve me, but nothing wicked or dishonourable. That she might be able to say boldly to the creature, if she came, she did not know where I was gone, she desired I would not let her know; and to make her ignorance the more absolutely safe to herself, and likewise to me, I allowed her to say that she heard us talk of going to Newmarket, etc. She liked that part, and I left all the rest to her, to act as she thought fit, only charged her that if the girl entered into the story of the Pall Mall, she should not entertain much talk about it, but let her understand that we all thought she spoke of it a little too particularly, and that the lady (meaning me) took it a little ill to be so likened to a public mistress or a stage-player, and the like; and so bring her, if possible, to say no more of it. However, though I did not tell my friend the Quaker how to write to me or where I was, yet I left a sealed paper with her maid to give her, in which I gave her a direction how to write to Amy, and so in effect to myself.

It was but a few days after I was gone, but the impatient girl came to my lodgings on pretence to see how I did, and to hear if I intended to go the voyage, and the like. My trusty agent was at home, and received her coldly at the door, but told her that the lady which she supposed she meant was gone from her house.

This was a full stop to all she could say for a good while; but as she stood musing some time at the door, considering what to begin a talk upon, she perceived my friend the Quaker looked a little uneasy, as if she wanted to go in and shut the door, which stung her to the quick; and the wary Quaker had not so much as asked her to come in; for seeing her alone, she expected she would be very impertinent, and concluded that I did not care how coldly she received her.

But she was not to be put off so. She said if the Lady —— was not to be spoken with, she desired to speak two or three words with her, meaning my friend the Quaker. Upon that the Quaker civilly but coldly asked her to walk in, which was what she wanted. Note, she did not carry her into her best parlour as formerly, but into a little outer room where the servants usually waited.

By the first of her discourse she did not stick to insinuate as if she believed I was in the house but was unwilling to be seen, and pressed earnestly that she might speak but two words with me; to which she added earnest entreaties, and at last tears.

“I am sorry,” says my good creature the Quaker, “thou hast so ill an opinion of me as to think I would tell thee an untruth, and say that the Lady —— was gone from my house if she was not. I assure thee I do not use any such method, nor does the Lady —— desire any such kind of service from me as I know of. If she had been in the house, I should have told thee so.”

She said little to that, but said it was business of the utmost importance that she desired to speak with me about; and then cried again very much.

“Thou seem’st to be sorely afflicted,” says the Quaker, “I wish I could give thee any relief; but if nothing will comfort thee but seeing the Lady ——, it is not in my power.”

“I hope it is,” says she again; “to be sure it is of great consequence to me, so much that I am undone without it.”

“Thou troublest me very much to hear thee say so,” says the Quaker; “but why then didst thou not speak to her apart when thou wast here before?”

“I had no opportunity,” says she, “to speak to her alone, and I could not do it in company; if I could have spoken but two words to her alone, I would have throw’n myself at her foot and asked her blessing.”

“I am surprised at thee; I do not understand thee,” says the Quaker.

“Oh!” says she, “stand my friend, if you have any charity, or if you have any compassion for the miserable, for I am utterly undone!”

“Thou terrifiest me,” says the Quaker, “with such passionate expressions, for verily I cannot comprehend thee.”

“Oh!” says she, “she is my mother; she is my mother, and she does not own me.”

“Thy mother!” says the Quaker, and began to be greatly moved indeed; “I am astonished at thee; what dost thou mean?”

“I mean nothing but what I say,” says she, “I say again she is my mother! and will not own me “; and with that she stopped with a flood of tears.

“Not own thee!” says the Quaker; and the tender, good creature wept too. “Why, she says she does not know thee, and never saw thee before.”

“No,” says the girl, “I believe she does not know me, but I know her, and I know that she is my mother.”

“It’s impossible! Thou talkest mystery,” says the Quaker; “wilt thou explain thyself a little to me?”

“Yes, yes,” says she, “I can explain it well enough; I am sure she is my mother, and I have broken my heart to search for her; and now to lose her again, when I was so sure I had found her, will break my heart more effectually.”

“Well, but if she be thy mother,” says the Quaker, “how can it be that she should not know thee?”

“Alas!” says she, “I have been lost to her ever since I was a child. She has never seen me.”

“And hast thou never seen her?” says the Quaker.

“Yes,” says she, “I have seen her, often enough I saw her, for when she was the Lady Roxana I was her housemaid, being a servant, but I did not know her then, nor she me, but it has all come out since; has she not a maid named Amy?” (Note, the honest Quaker was nonplussed, and greatly surprised at that question.) “Truly,” says she, “the Lady —— has several women-servants, but I do not know all their names.”

“But her woman, her favourite,” adds the girl; “is not her name Amy?”

“Why, truly,” says the Quaker with a very happy turn of wit, “I do not like to be examined; but lest thou shouldst take up any mistakes by reason of my backwardness to speak, I will answer thee for once that what her woman’s name is I know not, but they call her Cherry.”

N.B.—My husband gave her that name in jest on our wedding day, and we had called her by it ever since, so that she spoke literally true at that time.

The girl replied very modestly that she was sorry if she gave her any offence in asking, that she did not design to be rude to her or pretend to examine her, but that she was in such an agony at this disaster, that she knew not what she did or said; and that she should be very sorry to disoblige her, but begged of her again, as she was a Christian and a woman, and had been a mother of children, that she would take pity on her, and if possible assist her, so that she might come to me and speak a few words to me.

The tender-hearted Quaker told me the girl spoke this with such moving eloquence that it forced tears from her, but she was obliged to say that she neither knew where I was gone nor how to write to me, but that if she did ever see me again she would not fail to give me an account of all she had said to her or that she should yet think fit to say, and to take my answer to it if I thought fit to give any.

Then the Quaker took the freedom to ask a few particulars about this wonderful story, as she called it; at which, the girl beginning at the first distresses of my life, and indeed of her own, went through all the history of her miserable education, her service under the Lady Roxana, as she called me, and her relief by Mrs. Amy; with the reasons she had to believe that as Amy owned herself to be the same that lived with her mother, and especially that Amy was the Lady Roxana’s maid too and came out of France with her, she was by those circumstances, and several others in her conversation, as fully convinced that the Lady Roxana was her mother, as she was that the Lady —— at her house (the Quaker’s) was the very same Roxana that she had been servant to.

My good friend the Quaker, though terribly shocked at the story, and not well knowing what to say, yet was too much my friend to seem convinced in a thing which she did not know to be true, and which, if it was true, she could see plainly I had a mind should not be known; so she turned her discourse to argue the girl out of it. She insisted upon the slender evidence she had of the fact itself, and the rudeness of claiming so near a relation of one so much above her, and of whose concern in it she had no knowledge, at least not sufficient proof; that as the lady at her house was a person above any disguises, so she could not believe that she would deny her being her daughter if she was really her mother; that she was able sufficiently to have provided for her if she had not a mind to have her known; and therefore, seeing she had heard all she had said of the Lady Roxana, and was so far from owning herself to be the person, so she had censured that sham lady, as a cheat and a common woman; and that ’Twas certain she could never be brought to own a name and character she had so justly exposed.

Besides, she told her that her lodger (meaning me) was not a sham lady, but the real wife of a knight baronet, and that she knew her to be honestly such, and far above such a person as she had described. She then added that she had another reason why it was not very possible to be true; “and that is,” says she, “thy age is in the way; for thou acknowledgest that thou art four-and-twenty years old, and that thou wast the youngest of three of thy mother’s children, so that by thy account thy mother must be extremely young, or this lady cannot be thy mother; for thou seest,” says she, “and any one may see, she is but a young woman now, and cannot be supposed to be above forty years old, if she is so much, and is now big with child at her going into the country. So that I cannot give any credit to thy notion of her being thy mother; and if I might counsel thee, it should be to give over that thought as an improbable story that does but serve to disorder thee and disturb thy head; for,” added she, “I perceive thou art much disturbed indeed.”

But this was all nothing. She could be satisfied with nothing but seeing me; but the Quaker defended herself very well, and insisted on it that she could not give her any account of me. And finding her still importunate, she affected at last being a little disgusted that she should not believe her, and added that indeed if she had known where I was gone, she would not have given anyone an account of it unless I had given her orders to do so. “But seeing she has not acquainted me,” says she, “where she is gone, ’tis an intimation to me she was not desirous it should be publicly known.” And with this she rose up, which was as plain a desiring her to rise up too and be gone as could be expressed, except the downright showing her the door.

Well, the girl rejected all this, and told her she could not indeed expect that she (the Quaker) should be affected with the story she had told her, however moving, or that she should take any pity on her. That it was her misfortune that when she was at the house before, and in the room with me, she did not beg to speak a word with me in private, or throw herself upon the floor at my feet and claim what the affection of a mother would have done for her; but since she had slipped her opportunity, she would wait for another. That she found by her (the Quaker’s) talk that she had not quite left her lodgings, but was gone into the country, she supposed, for the air; and she was resolved she would take so much knight-errantry upon her, that she would visit all the airing places in the nation, and even all the kingdom over, ay, and Holland too, but she would find me; for she was satisfied she could so convince me that she was my own child, that I would not deny it, and she was sure I was so tender and compassionate, I would not let her perish after I was convinced that she was my own flesh and blood. And in saying she would visit all the airing-places in England, she reckoned them all up by name, and began with Tunbridge, the very place I was gone to; then reckoning up Epsom, Northall, Barnet, Newmarket, Bury, and at last the Bath. And with this she took her leave.