This grated hard and added to my affliction, but I had no recourse but to my tears, for I had not a friend of my own left me in the world. I should have observed that it was about half a year before this elopement of my husband that the disaster I mentioned above befell my brother, who broke, and that in such bad circumstances that I had the mortification to hear not only that he was in prison, but that there would be little or nothing to be had by way of composition.
Misfortunes seldom come alone. This was the forerunner of my husband’s flight, and as my expectations were cut off on that side, my husband gone, and my family of children on my hands and nothing to subsist them, my condition was the most deplorable that words can express.
I had some plate and some jewels, as might be supposed, my fortune and former circumstances considered, and my husband, who had never stayed to be distressed, had not been put to the necessity of rifling me, as husbands usually do in such cases. But as I had seen an end of all the ready money during the long time I had lived in a state of expectation for my husband, so I began to make away one thing after another, till those few things of value which I had began to lessen apace, and I saw nothing but misery and the utmost distress before me, even to have my children starve before my face. I leave any one that is a mother of children, and has lived in plenty and good fashion, to consider and reflect what must be my condition. As to my husband, I had now no hope or expectation of seeing him any more, and indeed, if I had, he was the man of all the men in the world the least able to help me, or to have turned his hand to the gaining one shilling towards lessening our distress. He neither had the capacity nor the inclination; he could have been no clerk, for he scarce wrote a legible hand; he was so far from being able to write sense, that he could not make sense of what others wrote; he was so far from understanding good English, that he could not spell good English. To be out of all business was his delight, and he would stand leaning against a post for half an hour together, with pipe in his mouth, with all the tranquillity in the world, smoking, like Dryden’s countryman that whistled as he went, for want of thought; and this even when his family was, as it were, starving, that little he had wasting, and that we were all bleeding to death, he not knowing, and as little considering, where to get another shilling when the last was spent.
This being his temper and the extent of his capacity, I confess I did not see so much loss in his parting with me as at first I thought I did, though it was hard and cruel to the last degree in him not giving me the least notice of his design; and indeed, that which I was most astonished at was that, seeing he must certainly have intended this excursion some few moments at least before he put it in practice, yet he did not come and take what little stock of money we had left, or at least a share of it, to bear his expense for a little while; but he did not, and I am morally certain he had not five guineas with him in the world when he went away. All that I could come to the knowledge of about him was that he left his hunting horn, which he called the French horn, in the stable, and his hunting saddle, went away in a handsome furniture as they call it, which he used sometimes to travel with, having an embroidered housing, a case of pistols, and other things belonging to them; and one of his servants had another saddle with pistols, though plain, and the other a long gun; so that they did not go out as sportsmen, but rather as travellers. What part of the world they went to I never heard for many years.
As I have said, I sent to his relations, but they sent me short and surly answers; nor did any one of them offer to come to see me or to see the children, or so much as to enquire after them, well perceiving that I was in a condition that was likely to be soon troublesome to them. But it was no time now to dally with them or with the world. I left off sending to them and went myself among them, laid my circumstances open to them, told them my whole case and the condition I was reduced to, begged they would advise me what course to take, laid myself as low as they could desire, and entreated them to consider that I was not in a condition to help myself, and that without some assistance we must all inevitably perish. I told them that if I had but one child, or two children, I would have done my endeavour to have worked for them with my needle, and should only have come to them to beg them to help me to some work, that I might get our bread by my labour; but to think of one single woman not bred to work, and at a loss where to get employment, to get the bread of five children, that was not possible, some of my children being young too, and none of them big enough to help one another.
It was all one; I received not one farthing of assistance from anybody, was hardly asked to sit down at the two sisters’ houses, nor offered to eat or drink at two more near relations. The fifth, an ancient gentlewoman, aunt-in-law to my husband, a widow, and the least able also of any of the rest, did indeed ask me to sit down, gave me a dinner, and refreshed me with a kinder treatment than any of the rest, but added the melancholy part, viz. that she would have helped me, but that indeed she was not able; which, however, I was satisfied was very true.
Here I relieved myself with the constant assistant of the afflicted, I mean tears; for, relating to her how I was received by the other of my husband’s relations, it made me burst into tears, and I cried vehemently for a great while together, till I made the good old gentlewoman cry too several times.
However, I came home from them all without any relief, and went on at home till I was reduced to such inexpressible distress, that it is not to be described. I had been several times after this at the old aunt’s, for I prevailed with her to promise me to go and talk with the other relations; at least, that if possible she could bring some of them to take off the children or to contribute something towards their maintenance; and to do her justice, she did use her endeavour with them, but all was to no purpose, they would do nothing, at least that way. I think, with much entreaty, she obtained by a kind of collection among them all, about eleven or twelve shillings in money, which, though it was a present comfort, was yet not to be named as capable to deliver me from any part of the load that lay upon me.
There was a poor woman that had been a kind of a dependent upon our family, and who I had often, among the rest of the relations, been very kind to. My maid put it into my head one morning to send to this poor woman and to see whether she might not be able to help in this dreadful case.
I must remember it here, to the praise of this poor girl, my maid, that though I was not able to give her any wages, and had told her so, nay, I was not able to pay her the wages that I was in arrears to her, yet she would not leave me; nay, and as long as she had any money when I had none, she would help me out of her own; for which, though I acknowledged her kindness and fidelity, yet it was but a bad coin that she was paid in at last, as will appear in its place.
Amy (for that was her name) put it into my thoughts to send for this poor woman to come to me, for I was now in great distress, and I resolved to do so; but just the very morning that I intended it, the old aunt, with the poor woman in her company, came to see me. The good old gentlewoman was, it seems, heartily concerned for me, and had been talking again among those people, to see what she could do for me, but to very little purpose.
You shall judge a little of my present distress by the posture she found me in. I had five little children, the eldest was under ten years old, and I had not a shilling in the house to buy them victuals, but had sent Amy out with a silver spoon to sell it and bring home something from the butcher’s, and I was in a parlour, sitting on the ground with a great heap of old rags, linen, and other things about me, looking them over to see if I had anything among them that would sell or pawn for a little money, and had been crying ready to burst myself to think what I should do next.
At this juncture they knocked at the door. I thought it had been Amy, so I did not rise up, but one of the children opened the door and they came directly into the room where I was, and where they found me in that posture and crying vehemently, as above. I was surprised at their coming, you may be sure, especially seeing the person I had but just before resolved to send for. But when they saw me, how I looked, for my eyes were swelled with crying, and what a condition I was in as to the house and the heaps of things that were about me, and especially when I told them what I was doing and on what occasion, they sat down, like Job’s three comforters, and said not one word to me for a great while, but both of them cried as fast and as heartily as I did.
The truth was, there was no need of much discourse in the case, the thing spoke for itself. They saw me in rags and dirt, who was but a little before riding in my coach; thin, and looking almost like one starved, who was before fat and beautiful. The house, that was before handsomely furnished with pictures and ornaments, cabinets, pier-glasses, and everything suitable, was now stripped and naked, most of the goods having been seized by the landlord for rent or sold to buy necessaries. In a word, all was misery and distress, the face of ruin was everywhere to be seen; we had eaten up almost everything, and little remained, unless, like one of the pitiful women of Jerusalem, I should eat up my very children themselves.
After these two good creatures had sat, as I say, in silence some time, and had then looked about them, my maid Amy came in and brought with her a small breast of mutton and two great bunches of turnips, which she intended to stew for our dinner. As for me, my heart was so overwhelmed at seeing these two friends, for such they were, though poor, and at their seeing me in such a condition, that I fell into another violent fit of crying; so that, in short, I could not speak to them again for a great while longer.
During my being in such an agony they went to my maid Amy at another part of the same room, and talked with her. Amy told them all my circumstances, and set them forth in such moving terms and so to the life, that I could not upon any terms have done it like her myself; and, in a word, affected them both with it in such a manner, that the old aunt came to me, and though hardly able to speak for tears, “Look ye, cousin,” said she in a few words, “things must not stand thus; some course must be taken, and that forthwith. Pray, where were these children born?” I told her the parish where we lived before; that four of them were born there and one in the house where I now was, where the landlord, after having seized my goods for the rent past, not then knowing my circumstances, had now given me leave to live for a whole year more without any rent, being moved with compassion, but that this year was now almost expired.
Upon hearing this account they came to this resolution: that the children should be all carried by them to the door of one of the relations mentioned above and be set down there by the maid Amy, and that I, the mother, should remove for some days, shut up the doors, and be gone; that the people should be told that if they did not think fit to take some care of the children, they might send for the churchwardens if they thought that better, for that they were born in that parish and there they must be provided for; as for the other child which was born in the parish of ——, that was already taken care of by the parish officers there, for indeed they were so sensible of the distress of the family, that they had at first word done what was their part to do.
This was what these good women proposed, and bade me leave the rest to them. I was at first sadly afflicted at the thoughts of parting with my children, and especially at that terrible thing their being taken into the parish keeping; and then a hundred terrible things came into my thoughts, viz. of parish children being starved at nurse, of their being ruined, let grow crooked, lamed, and the like for want of being taken care of, and this sank my very heart within me.
But the misery of my own circumstances hardened my heart against my own flesh and blood, and when I considered they must inevitably be starved, and I too, if I continued to keep them about me, I began to be reconciled to parting with them all, anyhow and anywhere, that I might be freed from the dreadful necessity of seeing them all perish and perishing with them myself. So I agreed to go away out of the house and leave the management of the whole matter to my maid Amy and to them; and accordingly I did so, and the same afternoon they carried them all away to one of their aunts.
Amy, a resolute girl, knocked at the door with the children all with her, and bade the eldest, as soon as the door was open, run in, and the rest after her. She set them all down at the door before she knocked, and when she knocked she stayed till a maidservant came to the door. “Sweetheart,” said she, “pray go in and tell your mistress, here are her little cousins come to see her from ——,” naming the town where we lived; at which the maid offered to go back. “Here, child,” says Amy, “take one of them in your hand, and I’ll bring the rest.” So she gives her the least, and the wench goes in mighty innocently with the little one in her hand; upon which Amy turns the rest in after her, shuts the door softly, and marches off as fast as she could.
Just in the interval of this, and even while the maid and her mistress were quarrelling, for the mistress raved and scolded at her like a mad-woman, and had ordered her to go and stop the maid Amy and turn all the children out of the doors again, but she had been at the door and Amy was gone, and the wench was out of her wits and the mistress too—I say, just at this juncture came the poor old woman, not the aunt, but the other of the two that had been with me, and knocks at the door. The aunt did not go because she had pretended to advocate for me, and they would have suspected her of some contrivance; but as for the other woman, they did not so much as know that she had kept up any correspondence with me.
Amy and she had contrived this between them, and it was well enough contrived that they did so. When she came into the house the mistress was fuming and raging like one distracted, and calling the maid all the foolish jades and sluts that she could think of, and that she would take the children and turn them all out into the streets. The good poor woman, seeing her in such a passion, turned about as if she would be gone again, and said, “Madam, I’ll come another time, I see you are engaged.” “No, no, Mrs. ——,” says the mistress, “I am not much engaged; sit down. This senseless creature here has brought in my fool of a brother’s whole house of children upon me, and tells me that a wench brought them to the door and thrust them in and bade her carry them to me; but it shall be no disturbance to me, for I have ordered them to be set in the street without the door, and so let the churchwardens take care of them, or else make this dull jade carry them back to —— again and let her that brought them into the world look after them if she will. What does she send her brats to me for?”
“The last indeed had been the best of the two,” says the poor woman, “if it had been to be done; and that brings me to tell you my errand and the occasion of my coming, for I came on purpose about this very business, and to have prevented this being put upon you if I could; but I see I am come too late.”
“How do you mean too late?” says the mistress. “What, have you been concerned in this affair, then? What, have you helped bring this family slur upon us?”
“I hope you do not think such a thing of me, madam,” says the poor woman; “but I went this morning to —— to see my old mistress and benefactor, for she had been very kind to me, and when I came to the door I found all fast locked and bolted, and the house looking as if nobody was at home.
“I knocked at the door but nobody came, till at last some of the neighbours’ servants called to me and said, ‘There’s nobody lives there, mistress, what do you knock for?’ I seemed surprised at that. ‘What, nobody live there!’ said I; ‘what d’ye mean? Does not Mrs. —— live there?’ The answer was, ‘No, she is gone’; at which I parleyed with one of them and asked her what was the matter. ‘Matter,’ says she, ‘why, ’tis matter enough; the poor gentlewoman has lived there all alone, and without anything to subsist her, a long time, and this morning the landlord turned her out of doors.’
“‘Out of doors!’ says I; ‘what, with all her children! poor lambs, what is become of them?’ ‘Why, truly nothing worse,’ said they, ‘can come to them than staying here, for they were almost starved with hunger.’ So the neighbours seeing the poor lady in such distress, for she stood crying and wringing her hands over her children like one distracted, sent for the churchwardens to take care of the children; and they when they came took the youngest, which was born in this parish, and have got it a very good nurse and taken care of it; but as for the other four, they had sent them away to some of their father’s relations, who were very substantial people and who, besides that, lived in the parish where they were born.
“I was not so surprised at this as not presently to foresee that this trouble would be brought upon you or upon Mr. ——, so I came immediately to bring you word of it, that you might be prepared for it and might not be surprised, but I see they have been too nimble for me, so that I know not what to advise. The poor woman, it seems, is turned out of doors into the street, and another of the neighbours there told me that when they took her children from her she swooned away, and when they recovered her out of that she ran distracted, and is put into a madhouse by the parish, for there is nobody else to take any care of her.”
This was all acted to the life by this good, kind, poor creature; for though her design was perfectly good and charitable, yet there was not one word of it true in fact; for I was not turned out of doors by the landlord, nor gone distracted. It was true indeed that at parting with my poor children I fainted, and was like one mad when I came to myself and found they were gone, but I remained in the house a good while after that, as you shall hear.
While the poor woman was telling this dismal story, in came the gentlewoman’s husband, and though her heart was hardened against all pity, who was really and nearly related to the children, for they were the children of her own brother, yet the good man was quite softened with the dismal relation of the circumstances of the family; and when the poor woman had done he said to his wife, “This is a dismal case, my dear, indeed, and something must be done.” His wife fell a-raving at him. “What!” says she, “do you want to have four children to keep? Have we not children of our own? Would you have these brats come and eat up my children’s bread? No, no, let them go to the parish, and let them take care of them; I’ll take care of my own.”
“Come, come, my dear,” says the husband, “charity is a duty to the poor, and he that gives to the poor lends to the Lord; let us lend our heavenly Father a little of our children’s bread, as you call it; it will be a store well laid up for them, and will be the best security that our children shall never come to want charity or be turned out of doors as these poor innocent creatures are.”
“Don’t tell me of security,” says the wife; “’tis a good security for our children to keep what we have together and provide for them, and then ’tis time enough to help to keep other folks’ children. Charity begins at home.”
“Well, my dear,” says he again, “I only talk of putting out a little money to interest; our Maker is a good borrower. Never fear making a bad debt there, child, I’ll be bound for it.”
“Don’t banter me with your charity and your allegories,” says the wife angrily; “I tell you they are my relations, not yours, and they shall not roost here, they shall go to the parish.”
“All your relations are my relations now,” says the good gentleman very calmly, “and I won’t see your relations in distress and not pity them, any more than I would my own. Indeed, my dear, they shan’t go to the parish; I assure you none of my wife’s relations shall come to the parish if I can help it.”
“What! will you take four children to keep?” says the wife.
“No, no, my dear,” says he, “there’s your sister ——, I’ll go and talk with her; and your uncle ——, I’ll send for him and the rest. I’ll warrant you when we are all together we will find ways and means to keep four poor little creatures from beggary and starving, or else it will be very hard; we are none of us in so bad circumstances but we are able to spare a mite for the fatherless; don’t shut up your bowels of compassion against your own flesh and blood. Could you hear these poor innocent children cry at your door for hunger and give them no bread?”
“Prithee, why need they cry at our door?” says she, “’tis the business of the parish to provide for them. They shan’t cry at our door; if they do, I’ll give them nothing.” “Won’t you?” says he; “but I will. Remember that dreadful Scripture is directly against us, Prov. 21. 13: ‘Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.’”
“Well, well,” said she, “you must do what you will, because you pretend to be master; but if I had my will, I would send them where they ought to be sent, I would send them from whence they came.”
Then the poor woman put in and said, “But, madam, that is sending them to starve indeed, for the parish has no obligation to take care of them, and so they would lie and perish in the street.”
“Or be sent back again,” says the husband, “to our parish in a cripple-cart by the Justice’s warrant, and so expose us and all the relations to the last degree among our neighbours, and among those who knew the good old gentleman their grandfather, who lived and flourished in this parish so many years and was so well beloved among all people, and deserved it so well.”
“I don’t value that one farthing, not I,” says the wife, “I’ll keep none of them.”
“Well, my dear,” says her husband, “but I value it, for I won’t have such a blot lie upon the family and upon your children; he was a worthy, ancient, and good man, and his name is respected among all his neighbours; it will be a reproach to you that are his daughter, and to our children that are his grandchildren, that we should let your brother’s children perish, or come to be a charge to the public, in the very place where your family once flourished. Come, say no more, I’ll see what can be done.”
Upon this he sends and gathers all the relations together at a tavern hard by, and sent for the four little children that they might see them, and they all at first word agreed to have them taken care of; and because his wife was so furious that she would not suffer one of them to be kept at home, they agreed to keep them all together for a while. So they committed them to the poor woman that had managed the affair for them, and entered into obligations to one another to supply the needful sums for their maintenance; and not to have one separated from the rest, they sent for the youngest from the parish where it was taken in, and had them all brought up together.
It would take up too long a part of this story to give a particular account with what a charitable tenderness this good person, who was but uncle-in-law to them, managed that affair; how careful he was of them, went constantly to see them, and to see that they were well provided for, clothed, put to school, and at last put out in the world for their advantage; but ’tis enough to say he acted more like a father to them than an uncle-in-law, though all along much against his wife’s consent, who was of a disposition not so tender and compassionate as her husband.
You may believe I heard this with the same pleasure which I now feel at the relating it again, for I was terribly frighted at the apprehensions of my children being brought to misery and distress, as these must be who have no friends but are left to parish benevolence.