King of the Beggars - Chapter XXV

Chapter XXV

His Benevolence towards an Unfortunate Child; He Travels to France and Meets the Charitable Mrs. Horner

            Landing at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, he visited his wife's relations, and then set forward for Devonshire, travelling all the way in the character of a shipwrecked seaman. Meeting at Exeter with his beloved wife, and likewise with his friend Coleman and his wife, they travelled together for some time, during which Coleman's wife was delivered of a daughter; but as they found so helpless an infant a great hindrance to their travelling, Mr. Carew contrived a stratagem to get rid of it, and at the same time advanced the fortune of the child.

            There was in the town, where they then were, a gay bachelor, who lived with his mother and sisters, and was a great admirer of that order of female travellers called Cousin Betties. Coleman's wife had been with him some months before in that character, was very well entertained, and, amongst other favours, received a present of a silk handkerchief. They therefore dressed up the babe very neatly, wrapped it up exceeding warm, and put it in a hand-basket, taking care to put in the handkerchief Coleman's wife had received from this gay bachelor; then getting a large boar cat, in the dusk of the evening they tied it to the knocker of the door, setting down before it the basket with the helpless infant. The cat, not liking the treatment, made a hideous squalling, and with his struggling, rap, rap, rap, went the knocker of the door; out ran the gentleman, with his mother, sisters, and servants, and the neighbourhood gathered about the door to see what this noise could mean. Mr. Carew and Coleman mingled among them to learn what would be the event of their stratagem. The cat, by long struggling, got free of the knocker, and ran away, only leaving part of the tail behind. The basket alone now engaged the attention of every one, and being delivered to the gentleman to open, the feeble cries of an infant soon reached their ears. The mother and sisters, alarmed at this unexpected salutation, snatched the basket from him, and upon the child's breast found a note in these words:

            "Remember, sir, where you last met me, you have not been so kind as you often promised and swore you would: however, it justly belongs to you. I have made bold to send you the fruits of our meeting, and this handkerchief which you made me as a token. Be kind to our infant daughter; and the unfortunate mother on her part, will forgive you.
            "Yours, &c."

            The horrid squalling of the cat did not grate so disagreeably upon the gentleman's ears, as the reading of these words; so that his hat and wig were flung off, and he ran about stamping and swearing that the child was none of his, neither did he know anything of the mother. On the other hand, his mother and sisters flew into a violent rage, assailing his ears on every side with reproaches; so that he would at that time have thought deafness preferable to anyone of the senses. "Dost thou deny the child to be thine?" cried the mother: "has it not thy very eyes, nose, and mouth? and is this not thy very handkerchief? this thou canst not deny, for I can safely swear it was thine." The poor gentleman, thus beset on all sides, was obliged to quit the field; the child was taken into the house, and brought up and educated there, and is at this day a very accomplished fine lady.

            Some time after this adventure, Mr. Carew took passage at Folkstone, in Kent, for Boulogne in France, where he arrived safe, and proceeded to Paris and other cities in that kingdom. His habit was now tolerably good, his countenance grave, his behaviour sober and decent, pretending to be a Roman-catholic, who left England, his native country, out of an ardent zeal of spending his days in the bosom of the catholic church. This story readily gained belief; his zeal was universally applauded, and handsome contributions made for him; but at the same time he was so zealous a Roman-catholic, with a little change of habit, he used to address those English he heard of in any place as a protestant shipwrecked seaman. He had the good fortune, in this character, to meet an English physician at Paris, to whom he told his deplorable tale, who was so much affected by it, that he not only relieved him very handsomely, but, what was more, recommended him to that noble pattern of unexhausted benevolence, Mrs. Horner, who was on her travels, from whom he received ten guineas, and from some other company with her, five more.

            Here, reader, if thou hast a good heart, we cannot entertain thee better, than by drawing a true though faint picture of this generous lady; for, were benevolence and generosity real beings, we are persuaded they would act just like her; with such an unsparing hand would they bestow their bounties, and with such magnificence reward desert; with such godlike compassion cheer the afflicted, and just so make happy all around them: but thou canst form no adequate idea, unless thou hast been in the neighbourhood of that noble mansion, [Note: the seat of Mrs. Horner, at Mulberry, Dorsetshire] where benevolence has fixed her seat. Permit me, therefore, to transport thee thither, to bless thy sight with the delightful scene. See, already an eat and decent temple [Note: the parish church, rebuilt at her expense] strikes the eye; it is she that has erected it to the honour of her God. Thou art surprised, I see, to behold the grave doctor [Note: an eminent physician, who is allowed a constant salary by her to visit the poor sick in her neighbourhood] coming out of his chariot to enter the wretched huts of poverty; but know, she has already paid his fees: see here another compounding the choicest drugs and medicines for a whole neighbourhood; it is her bounty that has supplied them. Cast your eye the other way, and behold that company of aged and decrepit poor; they are going to receive their daily bread at her table. But let us enter the poor cottage; see, here are the holy Scriptures and other books of pious instruction; and, hark! the lisping child is reading distinctly in one of them; her munificence has bestowed these useful gifts, and instilled instruction into that tender mind. Behold, with how dejected a look and grief-swollen heart, with what a load of care, yon person enters the mansion: but see, he returns—how changed his aspect! joy sparkles in his eye, and thankfulness swells his exulting heart; content sits cheerful upon his brow, and he no longer bends under his care: what wonderful magic has wrought this sudden change?—the opening only of her beneficent hand has done it.

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