Summary and Analysis
Chapter 19 - A Return to Crime
A few months after the relationship terminated, Moll returned to her old trade. Disguised as an ordinary working woman, she waited outside an inn which was used as a stopping place for several stage-coaches. Servants would come to the inn and give various parcels and bundles to the coachmen to take to their employers in the country. Moll had the opportunity to be entrusted with a bundle of goods by a servant, who then went off in search of her mistress. As soon as the servant had gone, Moll removed her apron, wrapped the bundle and her straw hat in the apron, and then put the bundle on her head. Thus she escaped detection when the woman who had given her the bundle passed by. Moll took the bundle, which contained some good cloth and lace, home to her governess. Since Moll had had such a successful adventure, she was given encouragement by her governess to try this criminal technique on several other occasions in different places.
It was not long after these various adventures that Moll finally became known to the authorities. While disguised as a widow, Moll heard the cry of "Stop thief!" Though for once Moll was not involved in any crime, the mob mistook her for the real thief, another woman dressed as a widow, and gathered around her. Although the shopkeeper said she was not the thief, Moll was kept for almost an hour waiting for the journeyman to return to identify her.
Meanwhile, the servants were very rude to Moll. The shop-owner refused to say Moll had stolen from him, but he would not let her go or send for friends. She, therefore, became very annoyed and said she would enter a counter charge. Moll asked the constable to call for a porter to bring her a pen, ink, and paper. She was refused this request. Then Moll asked the porter his name and address and told him to be a witness to how she was being treated. The porter asked for proof that the shop-owner would not release Moll. Moll inquired in a loud voice for him to do so; he refused. The porter agreed to bear witness to this interchange. After watching this scene, the constable wanted to release Moll, but the shop-owner taunted him, "Are you a justice of peace or a constable? I charged you with her; pray do your duty." Finally, the journeyman returned with the real thief and the shop-owner apologized to Moll. She, however, insisted on some sort of "reparation" for her humiliation and harsh treatment, and wanted to be taken to a magistrate. At this the journeyman and the constable fell to quarreling and fighting; during the confusion, the real thief escaped — as Moll herself had so often done in the past.
When the group finally appeared before the judge, and the constable had given a summary of the scene, Moll was asked her name; reluctantly, she said that she was Mary Flanders and that she lived with her governess, whose name she also gave. Then she proceeded to tell how she had been abused and mistreated and how the real thief had been caught and then lost. The constable, the shop-owner, and the journeyman told their accounts of what had happened. The consequence of all this was that Moll was released and the journeyman was sent to Newgate for striking the constable.
After this Moll went home to her governess. The governess saw much humor in the story, informed Moll that she was a lucky woman, and encouraged her to sue the shop-owner for £500 in damages and to sue the journeyman as well.
Because she had given her name to the justice of peace and because that name was so well-known to authorities and criminals alike, Moll feared an open trial for damages. The governess, though, found an attorney with a good reputation to take the case. The shop-owner wanted to settle the case out of court and asked Moll's attorney to persuade her to do likewise. After haggling over the amount, Moll finally accepted £150, a suit of black silk clothes, and payment of the attorney's fees. The shop-owner begged Moll to drop her charges against the journeyman, saying that the man would be ruined by the suit. Moll "generously" agreed to forget the matter.
In Chapter 17, we learned that Moll was known to the authorities only by the name, Moll Flanders, that had been given her by other criminals. By using disguises and fictitious names she had been able to avoid detection. Here we see that Moll had to appear before a judge and give her name. She gave the name of Mary Flanders, Moll being a diminutive of Mary.