Her voice and speech were suited to the galligaskin. She was a true disciple of Maltre Fran
Her companion in many a fantastical adventure was Banks, the vintner of Cheapside, that same Banks who taught his horse to dance and shod him with silver. Now once upon a time a right witty sport was devised between them. The vintner bet Moll
The hoyden took him up in a moment, and added of her own devilry a trumpet and banner. She set out from Charing Cross bravely enough, and a trumpeter being an unwonted spectacle, the eyes of all the town were clapped upon her. Yet none knew her until she reached Bishopsgate, where an orange-wench set up the cry, `Moll Cutpurse on horseback!' Instantly the cavalier was surrounded by a noisy mob. Some would have torn her from the saddle for an imagined insult upon womanhood, others, more wisely minded, laughed at the prank with good-humoured merriment. Every minute the throng grew denser, and it had fared hardly with roystering Moll, had not a wedding and the arrest of a debtor presently distracted the gaping idlers. As the mob turned to gaze at the fresh wonder, she spurred her horse until she gained Newington by an unfrequented lane. There she waited until night should cover her progress to Shoreditch, and thus peacefully she returned home to lighten the vintner's pocket of twenty pounds.
The fame of the adventure spread abroad, and that the scandal should not be repeated Moll was summoned before the Court of Arches to answer a charge of appearing publicly in mannish apparel. The august tribunal had no terror for her, and she received her sentence to do penance in a white sheet at Paul's Cross during morning-service on a Sunday with an audacious contempt. `They might as well have shamed a black dog as me,' she proudly exclaimed; and why should she dread the white sheet, when all the spectators looked with a lenient eye upon her professed discomfiture?' For a halfpenny,' she said, `she would have travelled to every market-town of England in the guise of a penitent,' and having tippled off three quarts of sack she swaggered to Paul's Cross in the maddest of humours. But not all the courts on earth could lengthen her petticoat, or contract the Dutch slop by a single fold. For a while, perhaps, she chastened her costume, yet she soon reverted to the ancient mode, and to her dying day went habited as a man.
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.