Peg Plunkett's Memoirs - CHAP. II.

Memoirs of Mrs. Margaret Leeson


            HAVING NATURALLY a good flow of spirits, I was ever very lively when not under the immediate pressure of ill-treatment, or the dread of its approach. I therefore gave way to cheerfulness, and enjoyed much pleasure in Tullamore. The change of scene, and variety of company, speedily restored me from the languor into which I had fallen. Our frequent walking parties were delightful, and some of the military in the garrison constantly mixing with us, and showing a politeness for which they are generally remarked, increased the pleasure of our promenades. I had not been long in Tullamore, when a proposal for me was made to my brother-in-law, Smith. The inamorato was not an object calculated either to flatter my pride, or engage my attention. He was a grocer, of a disgusting person, being ill made, hard-featured, with the countenance of a baboon, shabbily dressed, and to complete my dislike, wore a wig. This circumstance alone would have been sufficient to confirm a thorough dislike; for as I had been accustomed to view the smart, well powdered toupees of the officers, I could not separate the ideas of clownishness and a wig, however incongruous they might appear to others. But what gave my admirer merit in his own eyes, and emboldened him to a proposal for me, was that he was rich. But that was no charm to me when connected with so many ill qualities. It was in vain that my friends constantly extolled his goodness of heart, his great humanity, and his mild and gentle disposition: All this might be true, but he was a grocer, he was ugly, and—he wore a wig—insuperable objections.

            But, to say the truth, I had another ground for my refusal of the periwigged grocer—namely, a dawning attachment to another, and, in my youthful and giddy mind a preferable object. There lived in Tullamore, near to my brother, a Mrs. Shannon, whose husband had been dead but a few months. With her dwelt a young man, who having served his time with her husband, now managed and conducted her business. He was really of a most engaging person and winning address, and from my first coming to town, had showed me every possible mark of attention and respect, which, whilst it attracted my notice, did not escape the observation of the widow. She had sat him down as her own, and it seems only waited till decency would permit her to make him master of the business and of herself. She began to find that in proportion as his attention to me increased, it diminished with respect to her. She watched our looks with the eyes of jealousy; and being experienced in the silent language of Love, soon construed their real meaning. I also soon found how she was affected, and my pride was agreeably flattered at the preference that was so visibly given to me. In her person, she had indeed some pretensions to beauty, but I had greatly the advantage over her, in two capital points, namely, youth and vivacity. I enjoyed my conquest, and could not avoid secretly rejoicing at my triumph over her, and felt the greater pleasure in proportion to her apparent uneasiness. This attached me still more to my lover; and in spite of all Mrs. Shannon's vigilance, we found frequent opportunities of conversing together in private.

            Whilst matters were thus depending, Mr. Smith had conveyed the proposals of the grocer to my father. They had been duly considered in every point of view, and his formal consent was returned; with the proviso indeed, that I would give mine, and cordially agree to the match. Upon this reply my persecution, as I called it, was redoubled; but my aversion hourly augmented. My uneasiness at the constant solicitations of Mr. Smith, and Mrs. Shannon; my vexation at the unceasing application of the grocer; my dread of my brother's ill-usage when I should return to Killough, which I doubted not would be soon, in consequence of my obstinate refusal; together with the affection I had conceived for Mrs. Shannon's man of business, so wrought all together on my mind, and threw me into such a perturbation, that I thought I could avoid all these evils by no better means than by acceding to my lover's proposal, of going off to Mullingar, and there being married.

            Having come to this determination, and acquainted my inamorato with my resolves, we were not long before we began to put them into practice. He, therefore, procured horses, and as soon as it grew dusk, we mounted and set off, accompanied by a friend of his. We never alighted till we came to Kilbeggan, where we stopped, only to take a slight refreshment of wine and cake, and bait the horses.

            But alas! we had not taken our measures so secretly, but we were soon missed. Mrs. Shannon's piercing eyes had discovered what my brother-in-law had not once perceived. She, with little less rage than that of tigress robbed of her whelps, ran to Mr. Smith, acquainted him with her well founded conjecture, and urged him to a pursuit before the fatal knot should be tied, that would rob her for ever of the completion of what she had been so long endeavouring to accomplish. Strongly pressed by her, incited by the clamours of the grocer, his friend, and earnestly wishing to save me from what he thought an inadequate match, Mr. Smith, attended by two friends, sat out after us; and we had not been a quarter of a hour in the Inn, at Kilbeggan, when our pursuers came to the door, and with pistols in their hands, broke into the room where we were.—I was thrown into the greatest consternation, and utterly unable to reply to the reproaches of my brother-in-law, who insisted on my instant return, offering to tie my hands, and threatening to shoot me if I showed the least reluctance. My lover had made his escape out of the back-window immediately on Mr. Smith's entrance, and I was instantly brought like a condemned criminal, to the place from whence I came.

            What short-sighted mortals we are! How frequently do we run into the very evils, we wish to shun, by the very steps we take to avoid them! My dread of returning to the control of a harsh unfeeling brother, had been my principal motive for the inconsiderate step I had taken; and that elopement hastened what I so much dreaded; for I was sent home to Killough the next morning. Indeed, Mr. Smith had the generosity not to inform my father, or brother of my misconduct, and I thereby escaped any censure on that account. At my return home, I experienced a renewal of my brother's barbarity, the bitterness of which was aggrevated by contrasting it with the comfort I enjoyed from home. My poor sister made a dreadful recital of what she had undergone in my absence. Her gentle spirit was entirely broken, a settled gloom hung upon her, she had become quite emaciated, and she soon after took to her bed and died, an absolute victim to her brother's cruelty and the unassisting weakness of my poor father, who severely lamented her death.

            My brother Garret and myself then remained the sole victims of Christopher's tyranny; and indeed we severely felt it. My father, confined to his bed, saw little of it, and we were loth to grieve him by a recital of our misery. If I was invited out by any neighbour, and pressed to stay to supper, Christopher would order the doors be locked sooner than usual; and on my return, I have been frequently suffered to remain for a full hour in the midst of snow or rain, till benumbed with cold, before Mr. Christopher would deign to let me be admitted within the door; and then not infrequently, he would banish the cold by warming me with his horse-whip. At length, one Sunday I had gone to prayers, when I returned he asked me how I had dared to take the horse on which I rode. I answered, that I had my father's permission; with no other provocation, he beat me with his horse-whip so vehemently that the sleeves of my riding-habit, could not be got off my swelled arms till they were slit open: and I kept my bed ten days from the bruises I had received.

            The measure of my sufferings was now filled to the brim, I resolved to endure no more. As soon as I was able to crawl from my bed, went to that of my father, and with a flood of tears, told him my sorrowful condition; that let what would betide, I would live no longer under the same roof with a savage, who forgot every tie of nature and humanity, and with whom my youth, my sex, and the near relation in which I stood to him, could be no pleas for decent and humane treatment. I added, that if I were forced to continue, I felt I should soon follow my unhappy sister; and therefore, I earnestly besought him to send me to my sister in Dublin, where I could dwell with comfort, and avoid a fate that must be grievous to him, and which otherwise must inevitably fall upon me.

            My father was shocked so much at my relation, that in consideration of his grief and infirmities, I really repented I had said so much—but my poor heart was so full of grief, that it would have burst had I not given it vent. He wept bitterly, and consented I should go to my sister; but desired I would stay till he could procure some money for me, of which at present he had no command, since he had given the property over to Christopher.

            My father kept his word, and taking the first opportunity of his son's absence, got as much money from the tenants as enabled me not only to bear my expenses to Dublin, but left some in my pocket, and I arrived at my sister's house, which I regarded as a safe haven after a dreadful storm.

            In my absence, my brother having no one on whom he could wreak his habitual malice, but his younger brother Garret, he frequently beat him with great severity. This the young lad bore with patience for some time; till at length, the strokes became too frequent to be borne; and though but a stripling, and several years younger than his persecutor, he resolved to pluck up a spirit; and the next blow he got from Christopher he hazarded a return. A conflict ensued, the contest was severe, long, and for a while doubtful. But Garret, deriving strength and courage from resentment, gave his elder brother such a drubbing, that he never after ventured another combat, but suffered him to live in peace. Of this I was informed by a letter from the victorious combatant, which at the same time acquainted me that my father's increasing infirmities made him desirous to see me; and that I might return in safety, for Christopher had not only given his word that he would treat me kindly; but that he himself would be my protector and defender against his brother's oppression, if he should break his word.

            Tenderly loving my father, pleased with this assurance, and eager to embrace my brother Garret, I hastened home; and never did Andromeda behold her deliverer Perseus; nor the wife of Hector, see her husband return victorious from a well-fought field, with greater joy than I viewed, my young hero, Garret; and for three whole months, peace and tranquillity inhabited our dwelling.

            I here would apologize to my readers for dwelling so long on the evil qualities of my brother Christopher; were it not that I conceive it somewhat necessary to lay before them events, which they have too much sameness to be amusing, are yet necessary, if not for an entire excuse at least for some alleviation of censure on my subsequent conduct in life. It must be obvious to everyone that my wanderings, and every occurrence that may appear blameable in me, were originally owing to his behaviour. Had I been treated with the same humanity and tenderness that other girls of like condition experienced, my youth had glided pleasantly along. I might have been honourably married, and settled in life; might have made some deserving man happy, and received from him mutual content. Had slid into the vale of years without reproach, and have adorned, not debased a respectable name and family. But what was the alternative? My rising prospects rendered gloomy—every suitable proposal rejected—my temper soured, my resentments roused, and my spirits agitated by ill-treatment. Frequently driven to desperation by savage cruelty, and reckless what became of me. Every relaxation of my misery, was beheld in such a pleasurable light, that my mind, like a bow too long and too harshly bent, was no sooner loosed than it sprang wider than its pitch, and became almost masterless. My inexperienced youth, left without any friendly guidance, to ramble wild, and fall a prey to the artifices of designing men: every door shut against a return from errors, caused by unrestrained passions, roused by nature, heated by flattery, and kept alive by gratification—reflect on this, ye stern inquisitors for virtue! and then condemn as truth and justice bids—but to return to the last narrative I shall give respecting my brother Christopher.

            For three months after I came back from Dublin, as I have said, we lived in tranquillity—happy had it been for me, had it continued. But the AEthiop cannot change his hue, nor the Leopard his spots. My wretched brother, tired with the long restraint over his inherent barbarity, let it break forth with redoubled fury. The family of Dardistown, continuing their attention to me, sought every opportunity of being in my company—one while, they would come and spend a day at Killough—that is, when Christopher was from home—and at other times, they would have me with them. They gave a ball to a few select friends, and I was invited. As it continued till it was too late—or rather too early for my return home, Mrs. Fetherston insisted on my taking a bed with her. The next morning before I went home, she dispatched a servant to my father, to acquaint him that she had kept me, and to request he would not be displeased at my stay. Secure then, as I thought myself from any anger, I went home; but alas! I had no sooner entered the door, than my brother Christopher fell on me with his horse-whip, and beat me so cruelly that I vomited blood, and kept my bed near three months with the bruises he had given me: being several times at the point of death, and nothing but my youth and the natural strength of my constitution could have brought me through it.

            Whilst this abominable exercise was going on, my shrieks and cries reached the ears of my poor father, who, as soon as a servant could help him on with his clothes, came down to my assistance; though he was so much debilitated by the rheumatism, that he could scarce feed himself without help. When he appeared, my brother left off beating me, rather from his arm being tired from the length and excess of his exertions, than from any awe at the presence of his infirm parent. He could do nothing more than scold my inhuman tyrant, which he did in the strongest terms he could utter. He ordered me to be put to bed, and then was carried, shedding a torrent of tears, to his own.

            This last proof of the unconquerable cruelty of Christopher, confirmed me in the opinion that no peace could be obtained for me, in that house. Whilst I was confined by my ill-usage, my dear father would frequently cause himself to be brought to my room, where he would mingle his tears with mine, sympathize with my sufferings, and console me with the assurance, that as soon as I was able to be removed I should go to Dublin. For however grievous to him the parting with his dear child must be, he could not bear to expose me any longer to ill-usage, which he was too weak and powerless to prevent. This promise acted as a cordial to me, and contributed greatly to my recovery; but I was too impatient to wait for its being perfectly completeed, and my father having procured some money from the tenants, as soon as I was able to sit upright in a carriage (which, as I said before, was not till the end of three months) I bade adieu to my sorrowing father, and sat out once more for Dublin. My brother and sister Smith, had quitted Tullamore, and occupied the house and carried on the business of the China-shop, in Arran-street, with my sister Beatty; and beside their natural affection, the knowledge I had acquired of the China trade whilst I had been in Dublin twice before, rendered me a welcome guest. I was received in the most cordial manner. They lamented the miseries I had suffered, deplored the weak and emaciated condition in which I came to town, and assured me of every comfort in their power to bestow to render my life happy. They most religiously kept their word, until I forfeited their esteem by my own imprudence.


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