Poor Jack

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In which i learn the history of old nanny.

The next day, as soon as I had finished a letter to Bessy, in which I gave her a detail of what had passed, I went to old Nanny's to persuade her, if possible, to tell me her history. She was not at home, the door of her house was locked and the shutters of the shop fastened. I was about to return to Fisher's Alley, when I perceived her hobbling down the street. I thought it better to make it appear as if I met her by accident; so I crossed over the way and walked toward her. "Well, mother," said I, "are you out so early?"

"Ah, Jack, is it you? Yes, it is through you that I have had to take so long a walk."

"Through me?"

"Yes, those presents you brought me. I'm almost dead. Why do you bring such things? But I did not do badly, that's the truth."

I knew from this admission that old Nanny had sold them for more than she expected; indeed, she proved it by saying, as she arrived at her house, "Well, Jack, it's very troublesome to have to walk so far; but as you cannot get me bottles or those kind of things, you must bring me what you can, and I must make the best of them. I don't mind trouble for your sake, Jack. Now take the key, unlock the door, and then take down the shutters; and mind how you walk about, Jack, or you'll break half the things in my shop." I did as she requested, and then we sat down together at the door as usual.

"I think I shall go away to-morrow, or early the next morning, mother," said I, "for Bramble is here, and he never stays long from his work"

"That's all right, he sets a good example; and, Jack, if you do go, see if you can't beg a few more shells for me. I like shells."

"Yes, mother, I will not forget; but, as this is the last day I shall see you for some time, will you not keep your promise to me, and tell me your history?"

"Jack, Jack, you are the most persevering creature I ever did see. I'm sure I shall be worried out of my life until I tell you, and so I may as well tell you at once, and there'll be an end of it; but I wish you had not asked me. Jack, I do indeed. I thought of it last night when I was in bed, and at one time I made up my mind that I would not tell you, and then I thought again that I would; for, Jack, as I said yesterday, there's a lesson in every life, and a warning in too many, and maybe mine will prove a warning to you, so far as to make you prevent a mother from being so foolish as I have been.

"Now, Jack, listen to me: mine is an old story, but in most cases the consequences have not been so fatal. I shall not tell you my name; it was once a fair one, but now tarnished. I was the only daughter of a merchant and ship-owner, a rich man, and the first person in consequence in the seaport town where I was born and brought up. I never knew my mother, who died a year after I was born. I was brought up as most girls are who have no mother or brothers; in short, I was much indulged by my father and flattered by other people. I was well educated, as you may suppose; and, moreover, what you may not credit quite so easily, I was very handsome. In short, I was a beauty and a fortune, at the head of the society of the place, caressed, indulged, and flattered by all. This, if it did not spoil me, at least made me willful. I had many offers, and many intended offers, which I nipped in the bud, and I was twenty-three before I saw any one who pleased me. At last a vessel came in consigned to the house, and the captain was invited to dinner. He was a handsome careless young man, constantly talking about the qualities of his ship, and, to my surprise, paying me little or none of that attention which I now considered as my due. This piqued me, and in the end I set my affections on him; either he did not or would not perceive it, and he sailed without showing me any preference. In six months he returned, and whether it was that he was told of by others, or at last perceived, my feelings toward him, he joined the crowd of suitors, made a proposal in his offhand manner, as if he was indifferent as to my reply, and was accepted. My father, to whom he communicated the intelligence as carelessly as if he were talking about freight, did not approve of the match. 'Very well,' replied he, 'I shall say no more; as long as a man has a ship he does not want a wife.' He returned and stated what had passed, and my father also spoke to me. I was self-willed and determined, and my father yielded. We were married, and I certainly had no reason to complain of my husband, who was very kind to me. But I was jealous of—what do you think? Of his ship! For he cared more for it than he did for me; and three months after our marriage, notwithstanding all my tears and entreaties, and the expostulations of my father, he would sail again. He offered to take me with him, and I would gladly have gone, but my father would not listen to it. He sailed, and I never saw him again; his vessel, with all hands, foundered, with many others, in a heavy gale. The news did not arrive until many months afterward, and I had not been a mother more than six weeks when I found that I was a widow. I have passed all this over quickly, Jack, because it is of less moment—my trials had not commenced.

"The loss of my husband, as may be supposed, only endeared my child the more to me, and I wept over him as he smiled upon me in his cradle. My father had reverses in his business, but those I cared little for. He did, however: he had been the richest man in the town, he was now comparatively poor; his pride was crushed, it broke his heart, and he died; the whole of his assets at the winding up of his affairs not exceeding ten thousand pounds. This was, however, quite enough, and more than enough, for me. I thought but of one object—it was my darling boy; he represented to me all I had lost; in him I saw my husband, father, and everything. I lived but for him. He was my idolatry, Jack. I worshiped the creature instead of the Creator.

"As he grew up I indulged him in everything; he never was checked; I worried myself day and night to please him, and yet he never was pleased. He was so spoiled that he did not know what he wanted. He was a misery to himself and all about him, except to me, who was so blinded by my love. As he advanced to manhood his temper showed itself to be violent and uncontrollable; he was the terror of others, and prudent people would shake their heads and prophesy. He would not submit to any profession; the only wish that he had was to go to sea, and that was my terror. I implored him on my knees not to think of it, but in vain; at first he used to threaten when he wanted money for his extravagances, and it was a sure way to obtain it; but one day I discovered that he had quitted the port without saying farewell, and that he had sailed in a vessel bound to the coast of Africa. A short letter and a heavy bill was received from Portsmouth, and I did not hear of him for two years. I was heartbroken, but not weaned from him; I counted the days for his return. At last he came—browned by the climate, full of oaths, savage in his bearing, and occasionally referring to scenes which made me shudder; but he was my son, my only son, and I loved him as much as ever. He was now but seldom at home, for he lived almost at the gaming-tables; if he came to me, it was to extort money, and he never failed. I sold out my property to support his extravagance, and by degrees it was rapidly diminishing. I begged him, I entreated him, to be more prudent, but he laughed, and promised to return me all the first lucky hit he should make; but that lucky hit never came, and at last I had but two thousand pounds left. This I positively refused to part with: the interest of it was barely sufficient for my wants; I asked no more, but I expostulated and I reasoned with him in vain. He only begged me for five hundred pounds; if I sold the money out, he would tell me where I might have as good interest for the fifteen hundred pounds as I now received for the two thousand pounds. He begged and entreated me, he kissed, and he even wept. I could not withstand his importunities: I sold out the money, and gave him the sum he wanted; the fifteen hundred pounds I put by in my desk, to invest as he had pointed out. That very night he forced the lock, took out the money, and left me without a sixpence in the world."

"What a villain!" exclaimed I.

"Yes, you may so. Jack; but who made him such a villain but his foolish doting mother? Had I done him justice, had I checked him when young, had I brought him up as I ought to have done, he might now have been a happiness and a blessing to his mother. I was the person to blame, not he; and many years of anguish have I lamented my folly and my wretchedness."

"You loved him too much, mother, but it was a fault on the right side."

"No, Jack, that is an error of yours; it was a fault on the wrong side. There is no credit to a mother in loving her children, for she cannot help it. It is a natural instinct implanted in the mother's heart by the Almighty, and in following this instinct we do no more than the beasts of the field. The duty of a mother is to check that feeling as far as it interferes with the happiness and well-doing of her children, and it is her duty to do so, and to punish herself in correcting her children. Jack, it is a selfish feeling which induces mothers to spoil their children."

"At all events my mother has never spoiled me," replied I.

"No, Jack, she has not; but observe the consequence. You said just now that excessive tenderness was a fault on the right side; now, how completely have you proved the contrary! I do not intend to defend your mother's conduct toward you; she has been unkind to you in your childhood, and has never shown the affection that a mother ought; but is not her fault a fault on the right side? Jack, you recollect my saying 'what a difference,' when you told me what you had done for your mother; I then referred to my son and to you. I indulged him in everything, sacrificed everything, and he robbed me and left me a beggar. Your mother has been severe upon you, and yet the first time you have the means of showing your duty you give her all the money you have in the world. You mother may not be right, Jack, but I was dreadfully wrong, and the result has proved it."

"Well, mother, go on, pray."

"My story is now soon told. I struggled on how I could for more than two years by selling my furniture and a few ornaments, then the blow came. When I heard it I would not remain in the town; I left for London, picked up my living how I could and where I could, till at last I came down here. Time was as a dream; reflection was too painful. I felt that it was all my fault, all my own doing. My heart became hardened, and continued so till I loved you, Jack; and now I have better feelings, at least I think so."

"But, mother, what was the blow? Is he dead?"

"Yes, Jack, dead—dead on the gibbet. He was hanged for piracy at Port Royal, Jamaica. Jack," said Nanny, seizing my hand, and pressing it in her long fingers, "this is a secret; recollect, a secret deep as the grave; promise me, as you hope for heaven!"

"I do, mother, as I hope for heaven."

"Now, Jack, leave me. Good-by. You will come and see me when you return, and never bring this subject up again. Bless you, my child! bless you!"

I left poor old Nanny with her face buried in her apron; and it was in a very melancholy mood that I returned home. I could not help thinking of the picture in the spelling-book, where the young man at the gallows is biting off the ear of his mother, who, by her indulgence, had brought him to that disgrace.

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