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Her eyes with scalding rheum were gall’d and red;
As I was musing on this description, and comparing it with the object before me, the knight told me, that this very old woman had the reputation
of a witch all over the country, that her lips were 5 observed to be always in motion, and that there
was not a switch about her house which her neighbors did not believe had carried her several hundreds of miles. If she chanced to stumble, they always
found sticks or straws that lay in the figure of a 10 cross before her. If she made any mistake at
church, and cried Amen in a wrong place, they never failed to conclude that she was saying her prayers backwards. There was not a maid in the
parish that would take a pin of her, though she 15 should offer a bag of money with it. She goes by
the name of Moll White, and has made the country ring with several imaginary exploits which are palmed upon her. If the dairy-maid does not make
her butter come so soon as she would have it, 20 Moll White is at the bottom of the churn. If a
horse sweats in the stable, Moll White has been upon his back. If a hare makes an unexpected
escape from the hounds, the huntsman curses Moll White. “Nay,” says Sir Roger, “I have known the master of the pack, upon such an occasion, send one of his servants to see if Moll White had been out that morning.”
This account raised my curiosity so far that I begged my friend Sir Roger to go with me into her hovel, which stood in a solitary corner under the side of the wood. Upon our first entering, Sir Roger winked to me, and pointed at something that stood 10 behind the door, which upon looking that way, I found to be an old broom-staff. At the same time he whispered me in the ear to take notice of a tabby cat that sate in the chimney corner, which, as the old knight told me, lay under as bad a report as 15 Moll White herself; for besides that Moll is said often to accompany her in the same shape, the cat is reported to have spoken twice or thrice in her life, and to have played several pranks above the capacity of an ordinary cat.
I was secretly concerned to see human nature in so much wretchedness and disgrace, but at the same time could not forbear smiling to hear Sir Roger, who is a little puzzled about the old woman, advising her as a justice of peace to avoid all communication 25 with the devil, and never to hurt any of her neighbors' cattle. We concluded our visit with a bounty, which was very acceptable.
In our return home Sir Roger told me, that old
Moll had been often brought before him for making children spit pins, and giving maids the nightmare; and that the country people would be tossing her
into a pond and trying experiments with her every 5 day, if it was not for him and his chaplain.
I have since found upon inquiry, that Sir Roger was several times staggered with the reports that had been brought him concerning this old woman,
and would frequently have bound her over to the 10 country sessions, had not his chaplain with much ado persuaded him to the contrary.
I have been the more particular in this account, because I hear there is scarce a village in England
that has not a Moll White in it. When an old 15 woman begins to doat, and grow chargeable to a
parish, she is generally turned into a witch, and fills the whole country with extravagant fancies, imaginary distempers, and terrifying dreams. In
the meantime, the poor wretch that is the innocent 20 occasion of so many evils, begins to be frighted at
herself, and sometimes confesses secret commerces and familiarities that her imagination forms in a delirious old age. This frequently cuts off charity
from the greatest objects of compassion, and inspires 25 people with a malevolence towards those poor de
crepit parts of our species in whom human nature is defaced by infirmity and dotage.
No. 17. Sir Roger in Love
Hæret lateri lethalis arundo.1
Virg. Æn. iv. 73.
This agreeable seat is surrounded with so many pleasing walks, which are struck out of a wood, in the midst of which the house stands, that one can hardly ever be weary of rambling from one labyrinth of delight to another. To one used to live in a city 5 the charms of the country are so exquisite, that the mind is lost in a certain transport which raises us above ordinary life, and yet is not strong enough to be inconsistent with tranquility. This state of mind was I in, ravished with the murmur of waters, 10 the whisper of breezes, the singing of birds; and whether I looked up to the heavens, down on the earth, or turned to the prospects around me, still struck with new sense of pleasure; when I found by the voice of my friend, who walked by me, that we 15 had insensibly strolled into the grove sacred to the widow. "This woman," says he,"is of all others the most unintelligible; she either designs to marry, or she does not. What is the most perplexing of all is, that she does not either say to her lovers she 20 has any resolution against that condition of life in general, or that she banishes them; but, conscious of her own merit, she permits their addresses, with
out fear of any ill consequence, or want of respect, from their rage or despair. She has that in her aspect, against which it is impossible to offend.
A man whose thoughts are constantly bent upon 5 so agreeable an object, must be excused if the
ordinary occurrences in conversation are below his attention. I call her indeed perverse, but alas! why do I call her so? Because her superior merit
is such, that I cannot approach her without awe, 10 that my heart is checked by too much esteem: I
am angry that her charms are not more accessible, that I am more inclined to worship than salute ? her. How often have I wished her unhappy, that
I might have an opportunity of serving her? and 15 how often troubled in that very imagination, at
giving her the pain of being obliged? Well, I have led a miserable life in secret upon her account; but fancy she would have condescended to have some
regard for me, if it had not been for that watchful 20 animal her confidant.
“Of all persons under the sun" (continued he, calling me by name), “be sure to set a mark upon confidants: they are of all people the most imperti
nent. What is most pleasant to observe in them, is, 25 that they assume to themselves the merit of the
persons whom they have in their custody. Orestilla is a great fortune, and in wonderful danger of surprises, therefore full of suspicions of the least indifferent thing, particularly careful of new ac