Summary and Analysis
Chapter 17 - A Clever Escape and a Disguise
Once, Moll was almost caught as she tried to steal a gold watch from a lady. Using the techniques she had learned from her first accomplice, Moll discovered that the watch was too securely fastened to the lady's side. Realizing that she was in danger of being discovered, Moll herself called out, as though she had been "attempted" by pickpockets. Since Moll was very well-dressed, as was her custom when she was on these adventures, she was not suspected as the would-be thief. In fact, a young fellow a little farther in the crowd was caught in the act of pickpocketing and was seized by the crowd. This was a narrow escape for Moll, so she did not try stealing gold watches for a while.
Also, Moll discovered that her old governess had once been a pickpocket, had been caught, convicted, and ordered to transportation. She had managed to talk and buy her way into being put ashore in Ireland, where she had practiced her trade for a number of years. Then she had turned midwife and procuress, and had become "pretty well known." She had returned to England, and continued to prosper as a midwife until the lawsuit had stripped her of her wealth. It was through this woman's advice and help that Moll had been able, through her five years of stealing, to avoid the authorities at Newgate, although they had heard a lot about her.
One of Moll's greatest dangers was that she was too well-known by other thieves. She feared that, because of their envy of her never having been caught, they might betray her. Moll never knew why these thieves gave her the name of Moll Flanders. Although she had once gone by the name of Mrs. Flanders when she had hidden in the Mint, she felt that they did not know about this.
When she learned that some of those in Newgate were going to betray her, she remained indoors for a long while. Soon, however, due to her governess's impatience, Moll disguised herself as a man and continued stealing, with a young man as her new accomplice.
Because of the foolish daring of this accomplice, they were once nearly caught. He was pursued more intently than she, because he had the stolen goods. Moll ran into her governess's house, with a crowd in hot pursuit. While she discarded her disguise, her governess insisted to the crowd that no man had run into the house. When Moll was prepared, the governess opened the door and followed the men, who searched the house from top to bottom but found nothing out of order.
The young man who had been with Moll had his indictment deferred when he promised to give the name of his accomplice. He did so, but the name he gave was Gabriel Spencer; he knew nothing, in fact, about Moll, not even that she was a woman.
This whole incident frightened Moll so much that she left her governess for a while and went to Dunstable. There she spent five weeks with the couple who had been her landlady and landlord when she had lived there with her Lancashire husband. She made them believe she was to meet her husband at their house. While there, Moll received several letters from her governess, including one which said that Moll's young accomplice had been hanged. Moll told her landlady that she had received word from her husband to the effect that his business would not permit him to leave Ireland and that she had to return without him. With this she left.
Notice how Moll became slightly annoyed with her governess when the woman expressed dissatisfaction with Moll's suspension of criminal activities because she feared arrest. Moll made a point of saying that she took all the risks while her governess shared the profits. Here, too, Moll focused on the foolish risk her male partner had taken. This has implications for Moll's future criminal activities.