|94||THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS|
blackest and most frightful form; and, as I was very free with my governess, whom I had now learned to call mother, I represented to her all the dark thoughts which I had about it, and told her what distress I was in. She seemed graver by much at this part than at the other; but as she was hardened in these things beyond all possibility of being touched with the religious part, and the scruples about the murder, so she was equally impenetrable in that part which related to affection. She asked me if she had not been careful and tender of me in my lying-in, as if I had been her own child. I told her I owned she had. 'Well, my dear', says she, 'and when you are gone, what are you to me? And what would it be to me if you were to be hanged? Do you think there are not women who, as it is their trade, and they get their bread by it, value themselves upon their being as careful of children as their own mothers? Yes, yes, child', says she, 'fear it not; how were we nursed ourselves? Are you sure you were nursed up by your own mother? and yet you look fat and fair, child', says the old beldam; and with that she stroked me over the face. 'Never be concerned, child', says she, going on in her drolling way; 'I have no murderers about me; I employ the best nurses that can be had, and have as few children miscarry under their hands as there would if they were all nursed by mothers; we want neither care nor skill.'
She touched me to the quick when she asked if I was sure that I was nursed by my own mother; on the contrary, I was sure I was not; and I trembled and looked pale at the very expression. Sure, said I to myself, this creature cannot be a witch, or have any conversation with a spirit, that can inform her what I was, before I was able to know it myself; and I looked at her as if I had been frighted; but reflecting that it could not be possible for her to know anything about me, that went off, and I began to be easy, but it was not presently.
She perceived the disorder I was in, but did not know the meaning of it; so she ran on in her wild talk upon the weakness of my supposing that children were murdered because they were not all nursed by the mother, and to persuade me that the children she disposed of were as well used as if the mothers had the nursing of them themselves.
'It may be true, mother', says I, 'for aught I know, but my doubts are very strongly grounded.' 'Come, then', says she, 'let's hear some of them.' 'Why, first', says I, 'you give a piece of money to these people to take the child off the parent's hands, and to take care of it as long as it lives. Now we know, mother', said I, 'that those are poor people, and their gain consists in being quit of the charge as soon as they can; how can I doubt but that, as it is best for them to have the child die, they are not over solicitous about its life?'
'This is all vapours and fancy', says she; 'I tell you their credit depends upon the child's life, and they are as careful as any mother of you all.'
'O mother', says I, 'if I was but sure my little baby would be carefully looked to, and have justice done it, I should be happy; but it is impossible I can be satisfied in that point unless I saw it, and to see it would be ruin and destruction, as my case now stands; so what to do I know not.'
'A fine story!' says the governess. 'You would see the child, and you would not see the child; you would be concealed and discovered both together. These are things impossible, my dear, and so you must e'en do as other conscientious mothers have done before you, and be contented with things as they must be, though not as you wish them to be.'