Relating the history of a milliner
THE fair princess of lace and ribbons, who now took possession of our hero, had gone through a great variety of fortunes before she fell into her present way of life; some of which perhaps may be worth relating. She was originally daughter of a country gentleman, who had lived, as it is called, up to his income-, by which means he obtained the character of a generous hospitable man in his neighbourhood, and died without making the leas l provision for his family. His widow soon afterwards married a wealthy lawyer in a large market-town, who like a great vulture preyed at large over the country, and suffered no other attorney to thrive within the regions of his plunder. The gentlemen round-about made him court-keeper-general of their estates; and the poor people flocked to him with a kind of superstitious opinion, that he could model the laws according to his pleasure. The mayor and aldermen too resorted to him for advice in all dubious cases, and he was a kind of petty viceroy in the town where he lived. Success had made him insolent and overbearing, and when he flaunted through the streets on a market-day in his night-gown, he looked prouder than a grandee of Spain.
The young lady, who was now to call him father-in-law, was not at all pleased with her new situation, thinking herself much degraded by her mother's marriage. When therefore the wives and daughters of the town came to visit her in their best gowns, she received them very coldly, disdained to be present at any of their public tea-drinkings, and always affected to confound their names. She was as little pleased with the company of her new father, and excepting the small time spent at meals, used to lock herself up all the rest of the day in a little closet, to read Cowley's Poems, and the History of Pamela Andrews. Gripe the attorney soon observed and resented this behaviour; and her mother too, thinking it a reflection on the choice she had made, began to take her roundly to task about it. She told her, she wondered what she meant by giving herself such airs, for she had no fortune to support them: 'And pray, Madam, said she, what is your birth, that you are so proud of, without money?' to this the young lady answered, 'that if some people could demean themselves, she saw no reason why other people should be obliged to do the same; and for her part, she sound no charms in the company of tradesmen and stinking shop-keepers.' Many altercations of this kind happened between them, till at length her mother fairly told her, that if she disliked her present condition, she might even seek for a better wherever she could. It was not long before she followed this advice, and married a young officer, who was quartered in the town, without consulting anybody's inclinations but her own. This was a fair pretence for her parents to get rid of her; they complained loudly of her disobedience in not asking their advice, represented her as a bold forward hussy, and renounced all correspondence with her for the future. The young officer swaggered a little at first, talked much of his honour, and threatened to cane her father-in-law; but finding the attorney despise his menaces, he prudently suffered his anger to cool, and proceeded no farther than words.
The regiment, to which this gentleman belonged, was soon afterwards ordered into Flanders; and as the young couple was then in the honeymoon of their love, the bride prevailed to make a campaign with her husband. He consented, and fixed her in lodgings at Brussels; near to which city the army was at that time quartered. There she had leisure to observe the lace manufacture, and learnt the first rudiments of millinery, which afterwards became her profession. In a little time the news of a battle arrived, and with it a piece of news more terrible to the ears of a young bride, that her husband was among the number of the slain. This broke all her measures and hopes of life, and she was obliged to return into England, with scarce money enough to pay for her voyage, or maintain her on the road. On her arrival she began to consider, whether she should not proceed to her mother, and endeavour to obtain a reconciliation; but pride soon banished that thought; her high spirit would not suffer her to sue for pardon, and she resolved, as a better expedient, to go to service. Accordingly, she procured herself the office of a waiting-gentlewoman, in an agreeable family, but unluckily there was no table for upper servants, and her pride could not endure to sit down to dinner with menials. Preferably to this she would dine upon a plate of cold victuals in her bed-chamber; thus gratifying her vanity at the expense of her appetite.
From this place she removed to another more agreeable to her wishes, where there was a separate apartment for the higher servants, and her own dominion was pretty considerable. In this family all was pleasure. The lady of it having a husband she despised, filled his house with eternal parties of company, studied to be expensive, and seemed resolved to see the end of his estate before she died, without regarding what became of her children after her death. The husband himself was almost an idiot, and could hardly be said to live, for he spent his days chiefly in dozing, and constantly sell asleep in his chair after dinner. His wife treated him always with the highest superiority, would sometimes spit in his face, sometimes sling his wig into the fire, and never scrupled calling him fool and block-head before all companies. This would now and then provoke him to mutter a surly oath or two, but he had not spirit or courage to resent it in a proper manner. For her part, she gave herself up to all the luxuries of life, and her house was a general rendezvous of pleasure, while her slumbering spouse was considered both by herself and servants as nothing better than a cipher.
Our milliner having lived a few years in this family, in which time she saved some money, resolved now to execute a project she had long been forming. She had always been a great reader of plays, novels, romances, and the like; and when she saw tragedy-queens sweeping the stage with their trains at the playhouse, her imagination would be fired with envy at the sight; she longed to sit in a flowered elbow-chair, surrounded with guards and attendants; and was quite wild to give herself airs of high-life in the superior parts of a comedy. With these hopes she offered herself to the stage, and was received by the managers of Drury-Lane: but her genius did not make so quick a progress as she imagined; her ambition every day was mortified with refusals; and though she desired only to play the part of Lady Townley, as a specimen at first, the ignorant managers could not be brought to comply with-her solicitations. In short, she trod the stage near two years without once wearing a crown, or wielding a sceptre: the parts allotted her were always of the most trifling kind, and she had little else to do, than to appear on the stage as a mute, to make up the retinue of a princess, or sympathize in silence with the sorrows of a dying heroine, by applying a white handkerchief to her eyes.
But though she could not make a fortune by her genius, her beauty was more successful, and she had the luck to make a conquest of one of those pretty gentlemen, who appear in laced stocks behind the scenes, or more properly on the middle of the stage. He attended her in the green-room every evening, and at last made her the offer of a settlement, if she could be contented to sacrifice her ambition to love. She was at first a little unwilling to leave the theatre, where she foresaw such advantages from her genius; but thinking her merit not enough regarded, and despairing of better treatment (for she had not yet been permitted to play Lady Townley) she resigned herself to the proposals of her gallant, and set out with him immediately for the country. There they lived in solitude and retirement for a year, and probably might have done longer, had not death spitefully interrupted their amour, and snatched away the fond keeper from the arms of his theatrical mistress. In his will she found herself rewarded for her constancy with a legacy of seventy pounds per annum; with which she returned to London, and set up a milliner's shop. She had a good fancy at new fashions, and soon recommended herself to the notice of people of quality; by which means in time she became a milliner of vogue, and had the art to raise a considerable fortune from lace and ribbons. The best part of her house she let out for lodgings, reserving to herself only a shop, a kitchen, and a little parlour, which at night served for a bed-chamber.
Such was Pompey's present mistress, who now lived in great ease and comfort, after a life of much vexation and disappointment.