There was in the stage coach a young woman and her maid; she was sitting in a very melancholy posture, for she was in the coach before me, and sighed most dreadfully all the way, and whenever her maid spoke to her, she burst out into tears; I was not long in the coach with her, but, seeing she made such a dismal figure, I offered to comfort her a little, and inquired into the occasion of her affliction, but she would not speak a word; but her maid, with a force of crying too, said her master was dead, at which word the lady burst out again into a passion of crying, and between mistress and maid, this was all I could get for the morning part of that day. When we came to dine, I offered the lady, that seeing, I supposed, she would not dine with the company, if she would please to dine with me, I would dine in a separate room, for the rest of the company were foreigners. Her maid thanked me in her mistress's name, but her mistress could eat nothing, and desired to be private.
Here, however, I had some discourse with the maid from whom I learned that the lady was wife to a captain of a ship, who was outward bound to somewhere in the Straits, I think it was to Zant and Venice; that, being gone no farther than the Downs, he was taken sick, and, after about ten days' illness had died at Deal; that his wife, hearing of his sickness, had gone to Deal to see him, and had come but just time enough to see him die; had stayed there to bury him, and was now coming to London in a sad disconsolate condition indeed.
I heartily pitied the young gentlewoman indeed, and said some things to her in the coach, to let her know I did so, which she gave no answer to, but in civility, now and then made a bow, but never gave me the least opportunity to see her face, or so much as to know whether she had a face or no, much less to guess what form of a face it was. It was winter time, and the coach put up at Rochester, not going through in a day, as was usual in summer; and a little before we came to Rochester, I told the lady I understood she had eat nothing to-day, that such a course would but make her sick, and, doing her harm, could do her deceased husband no good; and therefore I entreated her, that, as I was a stranger, and only offered a civility to her, in order to abate her severely afflicting herself, she would yield so far to matters of ceremony, as let us sup together as passengers; for as to the strangers, they did not seem to understand the custom, or to desire it.
She bowed, but gave no answer, only after pressing her by arguments, which she could not deny was very civil and kind, she returned, she gave me thanks, but she not eat. Well, madam, said I, do but sit down, though you think you cannot eat, perhaps you may eat a bit; indeed you must eat, or you will destroy yourself at this rate of living, and upon the road too: in a word you will be sick indeed. I argued with her; the maid put in a word, and said, Do madam, pray try to divert yourself a little. I pressed her again, and she bowed to me very respectfully, but still said, No, and she could not eat; the maid continued to importune her, and said, Dear madam, do, the gentleman is a civil gentleman, pray madam do; and then, turning to me, said, My mistress will, sir, I hope, and seemed pleased, and indeed was so.
However, I went on to persuade her; and, taking no notice of what her maid said, that I was a civil gentleman, I told her, I am a stranger to you madam, but if I thought you were shy of me on any account, as to civility, I will send my supper up to you in your own chamber, and stay below myself; she bowed then to me twice, and looked up, which was the first time, and said, she had no suspicion of that kind; that my offer was so civil, that she was as much ashamed to refuse it as she should be ashamed to accept it, if she was where she was known; that she thought I was not quite a stranger to her, for she had seen me before; that she would accept my offer, so far as to sit at table, because I desired it, but she could not promise me to eat, and that she hoped I would take the other as a constraint upon her, in return to so much kindness.
She startled me, when she said she had seen me before, for I had not the least knowledge of her, nor did I remember so much as to have heard of her name, for I had asked her name of her maid; and indeed it made me almost repent my compliment; for it was many ways essential to me not to be known. However, I could not go back, and besides, if I was known, it was essentially necessary to me to 'know who it was that knew me, and by what circumstances; so I went on with my compliment.
We came to the inn but just before it was dark. I offered to hand my widow out of the coach, and she could not decline it, but though her hoods were not then much over her face, yet, being dark, I could see little of her then. I waited on her then to the stairfoot, and led her up the inn stairs to a dining-room, which the master of the house offered to show us, as if for the whole company; but she declined going in there, and said she desired rather to go directly to her chamber, and, turning to her maid, bade her speak to the innkeeper to show her to her lodging-room; so I waited on her to the door, and took my leave, telling her I would expect her at supper.
In order to treat her moderately well, and not extravagantly, for I had no thoughts of anything farther than civility, which was the effect of mere compassion for the unhappiness of the most truly disconsolate woman that I ever met with; I say, in order to treat her handsomely, but not extravagantly, I provided what the house afforded, which was a couple of partridges, and a very good dish of stewed oysters; they brought us up afterwards, a neat's tongue, and a ham, that was almost cut quite down, but we eat none of it, for the other was fully enough for us both, and the maid made her supper of the oysters we had left, which were enough.
I mention this, because it should appear I did not treat her as a person I was making any court to, for I had nothing of that in my thoughts; but merely in pity to the poor woman, who I saw in a circumstance that was indeed very unhappy.
When I gave her maid notice that supper was ready, she fetched her mistress, coming in before her with a candle in her hand, and then it was that I saw her face, and being in her dishabille, she had no hood over her eyes, or black upon her head, when I was truly surprised to see one of the most beautiful faces upon earth. I saluted her, and led her to the fire-side, the table, though spread, being too far from the fire, the weather being cold.
She was now something sociable, though very grave, and sighed often, on account of her circumstances; but she so handsomely governed her grief, yet so artfully made it mingle itself with all her discourse, that it added exceedingly to her behaviour, which was every way most exquisitely genteel. I had a great deal of discourse with her, and upon many subjects, and by degrees look her name, that is to say from herself, as I had done before from her maid; also the place where she lived, viz., near Ratcliff, or rather Stepney, where I asked her leave to pay her a visit, when she thought fit to admit company, which she seemed to intimate would not be a great while.
It is a subject too surfeiting to entertain people with the beauty of a person they will never see; let it suffice to tell them she was the most beautiful creature of her sex that I ever saw before or since; and it cannot be wondered if I was charmed with her, the very first moment I saw her face; her behaviour was likewise a beauty in itself, and was so extraordinary, that I cannot say I can describe it.
The next day she was much more free than she was the first night, and I had so much conversation, as to enter into particulars of things on both sides; also she gave me leave to come and see her house, which, however, I did not do under a fortnight, or thereabouts, because I did not know how far she would dispense with the ceremony which it was necessary to keep up at the beginning of the mourning.
However, I came as a man that had business with her, relating to the ship her husband was dead out of, and the first time I came was admitted, and, in short, the first time I came I made love to her; she received that proposal with disdain; I cannot indeed say she treated me with any disrespect, but she said she abhorred the offer, and would hear no more of it.
And, to cut the story short, as I did my courtship, in about five months I got her in the mind, and we were privately married, and that with so very exact a concealment that her maid that was so instrumental in it, yet had no knowledge of it for near a month more.
|« START »||« Defoe's Works »||« Biographies »||« Library »||« Home »|