Peg Plunkett's Memoirs - CHAP. VII.

Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson

CHAP. VII.

 

What gudgeons are we men,
Ev'ry woman's easy prey?
Though we have felt the hook, again
We bite and they betray.
GAY

 

The pleasure surely is as great,
In being cheated, as to cheat.
HUDIBRAS

 

The man that's robb'd not knowing what he loses,
Tell him not of it, he's not robb'd at all.
I found not Cassio's kisses on her lips.
SHAKESPEARE

            AT THIS PERIOD of my narrative, I doubt not but most of my readers will exclaim against me, and ask what excuse I can now offer for my conduct—I will candidly answer-NONE—I confess it was absolutely inexcusable. Yet, although I own it can have no palliation in the eyes of the world; though I confess I cannot plead ill-usage to drive me, want or poverty to urge me, temptation to excite me, or love to allure me to what I was doing, yet, I was not without some reasons that appeared plausible, at least in my own eyes, for my excesses.

            There were sundry notions that I had imbibed from the arguments of some of my companions, and from my own reflections, which had great weight with me; especially as they coincided with my inclinations, and quieted some scruples that from time to time, would obtrude themselves in my mind.

            I, at that time, was fully persuaded that Polygamy was not wrong in its own nature, but merely as it was a great difference between what was evil in itself and what was evil by human prohibition, which I think they called malum in se and malum prohibitum: that there were many customs sanctioned by law far worse in their effects than a Polygamy, which the law forbids. If the law forbids a plurality of wives, it might be understood that it equally forbids a plurality of husbands, but the express letter of the law, as I am told, does not condemn a plurality of husbands. Some indeed, may urge, that as I had no husband this reasoning would not apply. But I looked upon marriage merely as a human institution, calculated chiefly to fix the legitimation of children, and oblige their parents to breed them up and provide for them; to ascertain the descent of property; and also to bind two persons together, even after they might be disgusted with, and heartily tired of each other. Nay, it was pointed out to me, that though the Church of Rome, to which I belonged, exalted marriage into a sacrament, yet at the same time it strongly recommended, and in many cases obliged its professors to a single life. Now, I concluded that if marriage was what I thought it, and that there was no express law against a plurality of husbands, there could be none against a plurality of gallants; and that I, as yet single, should commit much less sin in admitting them than if I were married. I have long since seen the fallacy of those arguments, but at that time, they were deemed of considerable force; and by them I excused my conduct to myself

            I have hitherto introduced some occasional reflections for the consideration of my female readers, and will now beg leave to offer one to those of the other sex.

            My conduct, with respect to Mr. Leeson, will fully show, that neither pleasure, content, affluence nor gratitude, can bind a woman of a loose turn of mind, and changeable disposition, to the man who has formed an illicit connection with her.—That he can have no confidence in an affection, however strong it may appear, that is not founded on Delicacy and Virtue.—That her chief concern is how to raise pecuniary advantages from his infatuated fondness, and blind attachment to her; and will even prodigal the superfluities of his misguided bounty on another man who may be more agreeable in her eyes.—That she will exercise her cunning to deceive him, and hide her infidelities from his knowledge; and when she has deceived, will laugh at his credulity.—And—that a man who keeps a woman, experiences every possible inconvenience of marriage, without reaping any one of its advantages. Mr. Leeson was sufficient wealthy and handsome, and I ought to have been contented with him, but I liked Mr. Lawless better; yet, whilst I esteemed him most, I entertained his friend Jackson. And great as his love seemed to be, when he found he had not wealth sufficient to satiate my desires, and the continual demands of Caprice, Luxury, and Extravagance, his delicacy did not make him object to my living with Mr. Leeson, who could supply his deficiencies. He was of a different opinion with Othello, who said

 

—I'd rather be a toad,
And live upon the vapours of a dunghill,
Than keep a corner in the thing I love,
For other's uses.

            Though I had escaped so well, and avoided detection of my ramble to Mr. Lawless's lodgings, at this time, yet my good fortune did not long continue. Mr. Leeson, after living with me with great content, for some time, and enjoying with singular pleasure every amusement I proposed, he had another call to the country. But whether he entertained any suspicions of his friend, the merchant's, partiality to me; or was resolved before he married me to have still farther proofs of my fidelity; he engaged an Englishman, named Van Nost, to watch my steps. Which indeed, he did to some purpose; for being lulled into security, by my past escapes, the very next day after Mr. Leeson had gone into the country, this new spy beheld Mr. Lawless, and Mr. Jackson, enter my lodgings with a band of music. He heard the concert, saw the entertainment go in, and did not see them depart. He made a strict enquiry through the neighbourhood, and when he had collected news enough to fill his budget, he wrote the whole account very circumstantially to Mr. Leeson.

            What were the feelings of Mr. Leeson, when he received the detail of my faithlessness (too circumstantial to be denied, and too well authenticated to be doubted) may be imagined, from the consequence. He wrote immediately to the merchant to stop paying me any more money from that day; and the same post brought another letter to me; in which, after sufficiently upbraiding me with my faithless, and abandoned conduct, he declared—he had done with me for ever.

            In many of our punishments Providence gives striking proofs of a just retaliation. When I received this letter, I was sitting in the same summerhouse, in which, but a few weeks before, I sat and hugged myself in the success of the deceit I had practised on Mr. Leeson. The moment I cast my eyes on the letter, and before I knew anything farther than that I was cast off and abandoned, this circumstance darted into my mind. Wretch that I am! (I cried) not content with the love and esteem of a worthy man, I basely deceived him. Here in this very spot, I beguiled his eyes, and made him believe my attachment to him was sincere. He weakly condemned himself for having entertained any suspicions of me.—Now he has found his suspicions were too well founded. My treachery is manifest, and he has abandoned me for ever: and here, where I committed the fault, I justly receive an account of the punishment I so truly deserve. When my sobs and tears would give me leave, I read the whole letter and was distracted. I now saw myself without any means of support, I called to mind the misery, sorrow, poverty and distress I had already undergone, and saw them all about to be renewed. I sincerely regretted my ingratitude to Mr. Leeson. Yet, fond, amiable, and generous as he had been to me, I candidly confess I was more distressed with the loss of his purse than his person.

            I was sitting in this distracted state, which was verging to a stupid inattention to all things around me, when Mr. Lawless entered. He was shocked to see me in that condition, and with every tender and soothing endearment, roused me from my anxiety, and enquired the cause of my distress. The fatal letter was yet in my hand, and I had only to reach it to him, to make him acquainted with my sorrowful situation. When he had read it, he besought me to raise my spirits, and banish my apprehensions of want, for that whilst he possessed a shilling I should partake of it. He added, that luckily he had it now more in his power to provide for me than heretofore, for but a few days had passed since his eldest brother had died, and though he inherited no real estate from him, yet, he had bequeathed to him his whole personal property, which would enable him to support expenses that hitherto he had been unable to afford.

            From the first time I saw Mr. Lawless, he had been the foremost in my esteem. I really loved him, and during every connection I had formed, I never failed to give him every proof he could desire. Therefore, it is not wonderful that I yielded to pleasing sensations at finding him still attached to me as strongly as ever; and that he had the power as well as the inclination, to quiet my fears of falling into poverty. Great as my trouble was, I was soon lulled into a calm. We entered the house, and there made the necessary arrangements for our future life. I promised sincerely he should have the sole possession of my heart and my person; and he, on his part, assured me of a like return. I inwardly rejoiced that I should have an opportunity of quitting that kind of life, to which I had submitted during Mr. Leeson's reign, and live in uninterrupted felicity with the man of my heart.

            We presently returned to Dublin, where we passed five years and a half together, during which time no wife was ever more fond, virtuous and faithful than I was to him; and to give him his due, no man ever treated his wife for the first three years, with more attention than Mr. Lawless showed to me. In those five years I bore him five children, each of which appeared as a new link of a chain to secure our mutual affections; and my care of them filled up every vacant hour of time.—Happy period—happy should I have been had its duration been extended through life. But alas! I was destined to meet content only as gleams of sunshine in a showery day, which merely serve to darken the gloom, when they are over-cast and hidden from our eyes.

            For three years, Mr. Lawless never partook of any public or private amusement without my participation. His love daily increased, even to a height that sometimes proved disagreeable, and indeed, was the only impediment to our mutual felicity. If I was seen, or spoken to by any of my former acquaintance, female as well as male, he was uneasy and became peevish. If, at the play, I even accepted an orange, or returned a salute from any gentleman he immediately insisted on our return home, though the performance was not half over. This was frequently very disagreeable to me. Conscious to myself of my strict fidelity to him, I thought myself greatly injured by his suspicions; and as my temper was naturally warm, and my passions highly irritable, I was not always placid upon those occasions; and we had sometimes high altercations.

 

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