Peg Plunkett's Memoirs - CHAP. VI.

Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson



Pure from the Rock springs forth the Virgin Stream,
And gently glides untainted and serene.
Its limpid surface gladdens all around,
Till, rolling down the mount, it meets a mass
Of stagnant waters in some muddy pool.
Then, if no kindly hand raises a bank
To turn it from Corruption, whilst its flood,
Is yet but slightly ting'd with waves impure,
It mingles with the foulness, and contracts
Each noxious quality the slime imparts;
O'erflows the brink, and, gath'ring as it spreads
The poisons it encounters, never more
Is pleasing to the taste, or wholesome drink.

            THOUGH left by my lover, I was not destitute, his generosity had afforded me means of every necessary comfort. But as I wanted his company, I found a void in my mind. To fill up which, I contracted an acquaintance with a certain Lady of fashion, who introduced me to some of the most elegant Demi-Reps in town. Knowing I was passionately found of music, she invited me to an entertainment she gave at a Tavern, in Smock-alley, which was accompanied by an enchanting concert. I soon became so attached to this lady, that we were scarce ever asunder, and my hours stole away without care, without attention, without reflection. As stinging thoughts would sometimes intervene uninvited, I banished them as soon as they intruded, and sought in a whirl of company and dissipation, for that calm I could not find in my own breast when I was alone.

            Mr. Caulfield hearing of my new acquaintance, called on me to warn me against her. He told me he entirely disapproved of this lady, that she was a very improper companion for me. That there were as many women ruined by their female as their male connections, and ended with forbidding me to see her. Asa my heart was weaned from him since his marriage, his remonstrances had little weight;            I found the society of this lady very agreeable, and I continued my intimacy with her, which so exasperated Mr. Caulfield, that he withdrew my annuity, though he continued that of my son, till he died of an inward complaint: when I again became destitute. Although I entirely owed my loss of independence to this lady, I was still fond of her, and refused to break off with her. My mind indeed, became again tortured by disappointment and anxiety, so that I could not find peace at home, and therefore fled to my old remedy of being constantly abroad. But a life of dissipation cannot be maintained without some funds. My constant companion said she would find soon a remedy for that defect; and a gentleman of the name of Jackson, was introduced to me, whose company and conversation were very agreeable. After a few weeks acquaintance, Mr. Jackson begged my permission to bring with him a very particular friend, to which I consented. This was a Mr. Lawless, a near relation of the Countess of Clonmel, who will be the subject of many pages of these memoirs. As both these gentlemen were equally assiduous in their attentions and endeavours to please, I was much divided to which of them I should give the preference. They had many amiable qualities, but those alone would not suffice; they neither of them was wealthy; and as money was absolutely necessary (especially in that line of life which I had unfortunately embraced) I devoted a considerable part of my time to an English gentleman, of the name of Leeson, who, as my wealthy friend, made up in the article of cash the deficiency therein of my other two friends.

            Whether it was that Mr. Leeson, wishing to have me entirely to himself, suspected that in my present lodging, I had too frequent opportunities of seeing my former acquaintance, he proposed to take apartments for me more elegant, and more convenient, and where he thought, perhaps, he should be more the master. As I had always a taste for show and splendour, I had no objections to a removal; but when he entreated me to drop at once all the connections I had formed, both female as well male, to reject all their visits, and confine myself solely to his society, I could not help thinking his proposal, ill-natured, selfish and tyrannical; yet, reflecting that he was to bear the sole expense of, not only every necessary, but of every comfort, convenience, and even luxury of life, I was to enjoy: that he declared his passion for me was solid, and unchanging, and that his character and disposition were honourable; I thought I owed a compliance with his wishes, and consented with much seeming complacency, well-judging I could so far sometimes elude his vigilance as to see an old acquaintance.—Ah! wretched lot of human nature! how constantly doth one evil quality draw others into its train! to my former errors, I now added avarice and deceit, and sought excuses for them in my own mind.

            My condescension increased Mr. Leeson's fondness for me, but that very fondness led him to suspicions and jealousies, that created uneasiness to us both; and he even dismissed my former mantua-maker, lest she should bring letters or messages from any of my old acquaintances, and introduced one of his own choosing. He had incessantly in his mind the ideas of Mr. Jackson, and Mr. Lawless. He sometimes beheld them passing by the door; and was sure it was on my account. At other times, he thought they were aiming at some stratagems to see me, and his mind was so agitated that at last, he resolved to take me out of Dublin, far from the reach of admirers. Accordingly we went to an excellent house, and beautiful demesne, he possessed in the county of Kildare; where we lived in perfect tranquillity and content. He, being freed from jealousy became placid in his temper, and every day more agreeable. And I, being thus weaned from other objects, placed my chief satisfaction in striving to please him.

            At length, a business of the greatest consequence demanded his presence in Dublin. His mind then began to be again agitated. As his business would necessarily oblige him to a residence for a considerable time, he could not entertain the idea of leaving me behind in the country; and as he well knew the city afforded numberless temptations and allurements to pleasure, which frequently seduce the innocent, much more one who had already tasted of the Circean cup, he trembled to expose me again to them. However, something must be determined, and he thought to provide against the worst. He took a neatly furnished house, at the skirt of town, on Ranelagh-road (now within a door of the Circular-road,) where he kept a very vigilant eye over me, and suffered no visitors but such as he introduced himself; and with none even of them did he suffer me to remain alone, for a single minute.

            In this manner we lived for a whole year, with the greatest good humour; and he was so pleased with my reserve, that he testified his esteem by every possible means, and declared his entire approbation of my conduct. He even became so thoroughly attached to me, that he proposed to make me his wife; and, as such a change would induce an alteration in his mode of living, he would look out for another house, which should be entirely furnished to my mode and fancy.

            This procedure in Mr. Leeson, was certainly very kind and good natured, and fully demonstrative of his regard: but however, I might have carried myself outwardly, a recluse and retired way of life was not agreeable to me. I thought it hard to be thus totally deprived of all society with my former intimates; and nothing but a fixed attention to my interest, could have enabled me to endure it. However, to speak candidly, I was not so absolutely reserved as Mr. Leeson thought me. Stolen pleasures are generally held to be very sweet, and in spite of his vigilance, I sometimes enjoyed them to compensate for the external constraint I was forced to assume. I sometimes gave admission to my old friend Mr. Lawless, through the parlour window; and sometimes also to Mr. Jackson, when I was sure that Mr. Leeson dined out, and was not to come home before a certain hour, against which time my lovers were removed, and all things ready for the quiet reception of my deceived keeper. Nay, I had gained his own servant so well in my interest, that whilst any other friend was with me, he would keep watch at the parlour window, lest his master should return unexpectedly and surprise us.

            Mr. Leeson, being, by my cautious conduct, fully satisfied that he was the sole God of my Idolatry, and was perfectly secure of my affections, left town for some time, to superintend some improvements he was making at his country seat.

            Prior to his setting out for the country, he had taken a house for me in Park-street, which was but just built; and having had it fitted up in an elegant manner, he pressed me to go and reside in it before he departed, that I might be introduced to some of his relations, who might frequently give me their company before we were married. This did not suit the mode of living I intended to follow in his absence, I therefore, after paying him my thanks for his kindness and attention, told him I feared the newness and dampness of the house would give me cold, of which I was remarkably susceptible, on which account, I would rather stay where I was till his return, by which time the house would be sufficiently dry and aired. Such was his tenderness, that I had only to speak my wishes for him to acquiesce. He consented, although (knowing that I was remarkably fond of milk) he had taken a field, at ten pounds an acre yearly, and put two cows into it. He also, gave me an unlimited Bill of Credit on a friend of his, who was a merchant, for any money I might want in his absence; and, then taking an affectionate leave of me, he departed for the country.

            Mr. Leeson had scarcely got down to his seat, but suspicions arose again in his mind. He fancied that I might have some private reasons, for staying in the house where I was; and therefore, though he admitted my excuse for not going to Park-street, he wrote to his friend the merchant, to get me another place of residence, and remove me from Ranelagh-road. His friend instantly complied with his instructions, and I yielded without the least hesitation. For the house in which he had taken lodgings for me, was kept by a very particular friend, to whom I could safely confide all my secrets, having by presents of considerable value, and proper douceurs, gained her over entirely to my interest. Besides, the very merchant was deeply interested for me; and indeed, I had myself recommended him to Mr. Leeson, as a person to whom he might consign my supplies, and though rather suspicious in everything else, he very unsuspiciously acceded to the proposal.

            I was quite contented in my new lodging, the people were devoted to me, my merchant ready to screen everything that I wished not to come to Mr. Leeson's knowledge; I could act just as I pleased, and I occasionally received the visits of Jackson and Lawless, particularly the latter, who was the greatest object of my affection.

            After some time, Mr. Leeson wrote to acquaint me that his affairs would detain him still a month longer in the country. This news gave me great pleasure, as I thought I could have my swing all that time—however, before the month was out he came, when he was least expected. I shall relate this at full, as it affords a striking instance, how easily men who think themselves the most cunning and secure may be completely duped.

            As I thought myself in the greatest security, I sometimes went and stayed for a few days at the lodgings of Mr. Lawless, my particular favourite. I was there, when one morning, between five and six o'clock, Mr. Leeson came to town and rapped at the door of my lodging. The people of the house were alarmed, and from the description I had given they immediately guessed who it was. As they knew I was from home, they readily concluded it would be improper to let him within the doors. They therefore denied that any such person as myself dwelt there, they bade him begone, and scolded him heartily for disturbing a family at such an undue hour. Mr. Leeson was enraged at being, as he thought, deceived by his friend the merchant, in telling him, he had taken a lodging for me in that house; and flew directly to him to upbraid him for his falsehood, and to know where I really was. The merchant arose and received him, assured him I lodged there, and asked if he signified his name to those who spoke to him from the window. He said he had, but instead of admitting him they only abused him. The merchant guessing how matters were, was much pleased that Leeson had not been let into the house, and told him that what had passed was a proof of his attention, and the care of the people of the house, not to suffer any visitor to see me in Mr. Leeson's absence; and as they had never yet seen him, he ought rather to applaud than to condemn their conduct; adding that if he would stay till he was dressed he would accompany him to me. This entirely calmed my gentleman's mind, he apologized to the merchant for his misconstruction; and waited with patience, till his friend was ready, which he delayed as long as he could, without giving any room for suspicion.

            In the meantime, the merchant dispatched a note to me, in which he briefly related what had passed, conjured me to get home directly, and to be ready to receive them, and give the people of the house their cue. The moment I received this news, I got a coach, drove to my lodgings, changed my clothes, put on a morning cap, and when Mr. Leeson and the merchant arrived, I was seated very calmly in the summer-house, attentively reading a book.

            When I perceived them coming up the walk, my heart began to beat at my consciousness of the deception, and that if in any wise detected it would be my ruin. But I had better fortune than I deserved. Mr. Leeson seemed quite happy at meeting me, received the apology of the good people of the house, with great satisfaction, and, even thanked them for their conduct; and remained quite confident at my virtue and attachment. Thanks to my friend the merchant, and those with whom I lodged.


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