As bear baiting was the passion of her life, so she was scrupulous in the care and training of her dogs. She gave them each a trundle-bed, wrapping them from the cold in sheets and blankets, while their food would not have dishonoured a gentleman's table. Parrots, too, gave a sense of colour and companionship to her house; and it was in this love of pets, and her devotion to cleanliness, that she showed a trace of dormant womanhood. Abroad a ribald and a scold, at home she was the neatest of housewives, and her parlour, with its mirrors and its manifold ornaments, was the envy of the neighbours. So her trade flourished, and she lived a life of comfort, of plenty even, until the Civil War threw her out of work. When an unnatural conflict set the whole country at loggerheads, what occasion was there for the honest prig? And it is not surprising that, like all the gentlemen adventurers of the age, Moll remained most stubbornly loyal to the King's cause. She made the conduit in Fleet Street run with wine when Charles came to London in 1638; and it was her amiable pleasantry to give the name of Strafford to a clever, cunning bull, and to dub the dogs that assailed him Pym, Hampden, and the rest, that right heartily she might applaud the courage of Strafford as he threw off his unwary assailants.
So long as the quarrel lasted, she was compelled to follow a profession more ancient than the fence's; for there is one passion which war itself cannot extinguish. When once the King had laid his head `down as upon a bed,' when once the Protector had proclaimed his supremacy, the industry of the road revived; and there was not a single diver or rumpad that did not declare eternal war upon the black-hearted Regicides. With a laudable devotion to her chosen cause, Moll despatched the most experienced of her gang to rob Lady Fairfax on her way to church; and there is a tradition that the Roaring Girl, hearing that Fairfax himself would pass by Hounslow, rode forth to meet him, and with her own voice bade him stand and deliver. One would like to believe it; yet it is scarce credible. If Fairfax had spent the balance of an ignominious career in being plundered by a band of loyal brigands, he would not have had time to justify the innumerable legends of pockets emptied and pistols levelled at his head. Moreover, Moll herself was laden with years, and she had always preferred the council chamber to the battlefield. But it is certain that, with Captain Hind and Mull Sack to aid, she schemed many a clever plot against the Roundheads, and nobly she played her part in avenging the martyred King.
Thus she declined into old age, attended, like Queen Mary, by her maids, who would card, reel, spin, and beguile her leisure with sweet singing. Though her spirit was untamed, the burden of her years compelled her to a tranquil life. She, who formerly never missed a bull-baiting, must now content herself with tick-tack. Her fortune, moreover, had been wrecked in the Civil War. Though silver shells still jingled in her pocket, time was she knew the rattle of the yellow boys. But she never lost courage, and died at last of a dropsy, in placid contentment with her lot. Assuredly she was born at a time well suited to her genius. Had she lived to-day, she might have been a `Pioneer'; she might even have discussed some paltry problem of sex in a printed obscenity.
In her own freer, wiser age, she was not man's detractor, but his rival; and if she never knew the passion of love, she was always loyal to the obligation of friendship. By her will she left twenty pounds to celebrate the Second Charles's restoration to his kingdom; and you contemplate her career with the single regret that she died a brief year before the red wine, thus generously bestowed, bubbled at the fountain.
WHEN Jonathan Wild and the Count La Ruse, in Fielding's narrative, took a hand at cards, Jonathan picked his opponent's pocket, though he knew it was empty, while the Count, from sheer force of habit, stacked the cards, though Wild had not a farthing to lose. And if in his uncultured youth the great man stooped to prig with his own hand, he was early cured of the weakness: so that Fielding's picture of the hero taking a bottle-screw from the Ordinary's pocket in the very moment of death is entirely fanciful. For `this Machiavel of Thieves,' as a contemporary styled him, left others to accomplish what his ingenuity had planned. His was the high policy of theft. If he lived on terms of familiar intimacy with the mill-kens, the bridle-culls, the buttock-and-files of London, he was none the less the friend and minister of justice. He enjoyed the freedom of Newgate and the Old Bailey. He came and went as he liked: he packed juries, he procured bail, he manufactured evidence; and there was scarce an assize or a sessions passed but he slew his man.
The world knew him for a robber, yet could not refuse his brilliant service. At the Poultry Counter, you are told, he laid the foundations of his future greatness, and to the Poultry Counter he was committed for some trifling debt ere he had fully served his apprenticeship to the art and mystery of buckle- making. There he learned his craft, and at his enlargement he was able forthwith to commence thief-catcher. His plan was conceived with an effrontery that was nothing less than genius. On the one side he was the factor, or rather the tyrant, of the cross-coves: on the other he was the trusted agent of justice, the benefactor of the outraged and the plundered. Among his earliest exploits was the recovery of the Countess of G--d--n's chair, impudently carried off when her ladyship had but just alighted; and the courage wherewith he brought to justice the murderers of one Mrs. Knap, who had been slain for some trifling booty, established his reputation as upon a rock. He at once advertised himself in the public prints as Thief-Catcher General of Great Britain and Ireland, and proceeded to send to the gallows every scoundrel that dared dispute his position.
His opportunities of gain were infinite. Even if he did not organise the robbery which his cunning was presently to discover, he had spies in every hole and corner to set him on the felon's track. Nor did he leave a single enterprise to chance: `He divided the city and suburbs into wards or divisions, and appointed the persons who were to attend each ward, and kept them strictly to their duty.' If a subordinate dared to disobey or to shrink from murder, Jonathan hanged him at the next assize, and happily for him he had not a single confederate whose neck he might not put in the halter when he chose. Thus he preserved the union and the fidelity of his gang, punishing by judicial murder the smallest insubordination, the faintest suspicion of rivalry. Even when he had shut his victim up in Newgate, he did not leave him so long as there was a chance of blackmail. He would make the most generous offers of evidence and defence to every thief that had a stiver left him. But whether or not he kept his bargain--that depended upon policy and inclination. On one occasion, when he had brought a friend to the Old Bailey, and relented at the last moment, he kept the prosecutor drunk from the noble motive of self-interest, until the case was over. And so esteemed was he of the officers of the law that even this interference did but procure a reprimand.
His meanest action marked him out from his fellows, but it was not until he habitually pillaged the treasures he afterwards restored to their grateful owners for a handsome consideration, that his art reached the highest point of excellence. The event was managed by him with amazing adroitness from beginning to end.