The Lining of the Patch-Work Screen, by Jane Barker

The Story of Young Jack Mechant.

I was mightily pleas'd (said the Boy) to go along with my Father, on the little Horse he had bought for me, especially, being to go to London, a Place I so much longed to see, as most Boys do of my Age. We travell'd till I was very weary, and I was glad when we got to a Town, which we did a pretty while before Night. We came to an Inn, where there happened to be some Persons pretending to be Pressmasters raising Men to go to Sea. They scrap'd acquaintance with me, and I with them; they told me such fine Stories of the Sea, and of Foreign Countries, such strange things, that I wish'd to go along with them. I pass'd the Evening with them, they continuing to amuse me with their Stories, Flatteries and Cajoleries, till such time as Drowsiness call'd my Father and me to Bed, where my Day's Weariness caused me to sleep very sound, insomuch that in the Morning I never heard, or felt my Father when he rose: For he got up pretty early, and went away, leaving word with the Host, that I should come along with those Gentlemen, i.e. the pretended Press−Gang, and meet him at London, he pretending he had Business there which required Haste; so he left me to travel with those Gentlemen at leisure. I mistrusted nothing, but kept along with them very well satisfied.

When we came to London, and I did not see my Father, I began to cry; but they wheedled me, and told me, he was busie on Ship−board, so they would carry me to him, and there I should see the Sea, and Ships, the most wonderful things in the World. I then went with them in a Boat, where there were several Boys and Girls, and so came amongst many Ships; at last we got to one, into which we mounted: They shew'd me the Ropes, and Tackling of all sorts, amusing me, with telling the Use of them: At last, we were to go down to eat some Sweet meats, and drink some Punch; and very merry we all were.

Here I staid with my Companions, playing, and fooling with one another, till all on a sudden, we were lock'd down in this Place. Then our Mirth turned into Sighs and Tears, being doubly frighted, when we were told, we were sailing to the Indies. However, they wheedled us all, according to our respective Circumstances; in particular, they told me, I should meet my Father there, he being gone in another Ship, which they pretended was thro' Mistake: But I had now learn'd to believe nothing they said; but found we were, what they call'd kid−knap'd.

Thus, we all sate in Grief, till the Sea began to turn our Sorrow into Sickness; and a Storm arising, added Fright to the rest. The Cries amongst us were grievous; one crying, he should never again see his Father, and another, his Mother, this or that Play−fellow, and so on. But, amongst the rest, a Girl of about a dozen or fourteen Years old, with whom I had made a particular acquaintance, wept grievously, because she should never see Jackey Mechantany more. I wonder'd to hear her name my Name; so I ask'd her, who Jackey Mechant was? She said, he was a very pretty Boy, that lived next House to her Father and Mother, and was her Play−fellow, and used to lie with her till his Mother began to think her with Child; then it was that his Father and he together, brought her to this Captain; to whom they sold her, and Jackey was to have the mony for himself. He promised me, continued she, that he would be sure to come to me on board, and go along with me to the Indies; but he is not come according to his word.

While we were in this Discourse, the Captain came into the Hold, bringing with him another Passenger, which he had bought just before he set sail; and promis'd to keep him in his Cabbin, and teach him Navigation; but in the storm his Cries and Fears were troublesome to the Mariners, so he told that Boy, he being so Hen−hearted, must e'en go amongst the other Slaves; the Girl looking up, and wiping her blubbered Face, soon found our new Passenger to be Jackey Mechant; we asked him why he was put to Sea, he said, that his Father had sold him to that Captain, for Faults he was forbid to tell till he got into the Indies; but with much persuasion, he told us, that it was for calling his Mother, Whore; for, said he, one of my Play−fellows, call'd me Bastard and Son of a Whore,for which we quarrelled, and I got him down; and in my Fury hurt is Eye so, that he is like to lose it, and I had like to be hang'd for it, if taken; but one of them bigger and older than the rest, told me, that my Mother was not Squire Mechant's Wife; but one that had been his Wife's Chambermaid; and much more to this purpose.

Dorinda hearing all this, knew, that this Boy, her Son spake of, must needs have been her Husband's Bastard; she said, he was alike cruel to one as to the other; she then bid him go on, and tell how he got out of the Ship; the Storm was great (added he) and a cross Wind continued, which drove us on the Coast of Portugal, where the Captain cast Anchor for a little time; there he let us out of the Hold, to come on the Deck for Air, having been very Sick during the Storm. I seeing my self at liberty, and pretty near the Land, knowing I could swim very well, having practis'd the same among the Boys in the Country, I leaped into the Sea, and so got to Land; here I found some difficulty, having no Language but English.

At last I met with this English Gentleman who took me into his Service, and I attended him faithfully in divers places of his Travels, till I am arrived at the Feet of you, my dear Mother. She embraced him most tenderly; and many Tears were shed on both sides, till dinner came, which caus'd a Cessation of these Endearments; the poor Dorinda, not only din'd heartily, but the good Meal she made, was attended with great satisfaction, or rather Transport.

As we sat at Dinner, reflecting on divers of these. Occurrences, we heard a Hawker cry in the Streets, The Tryal, Condemnation, and Execution, of John Mechant at Tyburn, for having barbarously murdered a Woman by whom he had a Child; and because she ask'd him for Money to maintain it, he most inhumanly stab'd her.

We listened to the Repetition of the Cry, and Dorinda plainly found it was the Name of her Husband, as indeed, it prov'd to be the same Person.

You may imagine, that great was her Surprize, Horrour, and Amazement. She retired to her Chamber; and I went to and out the bottom, whether it was so; and what could be made out for her support, which I hope will be pretty well; there being something considerable in the State−funds, besides those Farms in the Country; try; in all which I will be as helpful to her as I can.

You will do extreamly well said Galecia; and since your Wife is dead, when you have brought things to a Period, e'en take the Widow for your pains. The whole Story has been a Romantick Chain, of very odd Contingencies; so make that the last Link. Very well contriv'd, said the Gentleman. I will go home and

Take Counsel of my Pillow.

The Gentleman being gone, Galecia reflected on his Discourse, as also on those other Stories she had heard amongst the Ladies: She began to think the World was made up with Extravagant Adventures. Amongst the Old Romances, said she to her self, we find strange and improbable Performances, very surprizing Turns and Rencounters; yet still all tended to vertuous Ends, and the Abhorrence of Vice; But here is the Quintessence of Wickedness design'd and practiced, in a special manner, in the story of Jack Mechant, who sold both his lawful and natural Son, and murdered his Concubine because she did not starve her Child.

Those honourable Romances of old Arcadia, Cleopatra, Cassandra, &c. discover a Genius of Vertue and Honour, which reign'd in the time of those Heroes, and Heroines, as well as in the Authors that report them; but the Stories of our Times are so black, that the Authors, can hardly escape being smutted, or defil'd in touching such Pitch.

As she was in these Reflections, she heard a Noise in the Street; and looking out, she saw every body gazing up at a strange Light in the Sky: Good God! said our Galecia sure the general Conflagation is begun, when the Almighty will purge the World from its Dross, by Fire as heretofore he did from its Filth by Water.

As Galecia was in these Thoughts, her Friend Miranda came up into her Appartment, being frighted with that Light. She said, she durst go no farther; but beg'd House−room that Night; I can sit in a Chair by the Fire, said she, and not trouble you with a Bed fellow: But Galecia readily offered her part of her Bed; telling her, they would take a Walk together in the Morning over the Park, to visit their old Friend Amarantha. They had some Confabulation together, Miranda telling Galecia, how ill her Husband us'd her, how he had left her with Child, and went away with a Mistress; I will not say a Whore, said she, because the Creature is a Gentlewoman; otherwise she deserves no other Name. What is become of him, I know not. When he was landed in Flanders, he writ to me to Inform me he was got safe over Sea, but was soon to remove from thence; so bid me not write to him till I heard from him again: For he said, he was going home into his own Country, he having quitted his Post in the Army; whether he took this Lady with him as a Wife; or what else was the Mystery, I know not; but I have never heard from him since.

My Child dyed in few Weeks after it was born; which was an Addition to my Grief; However, it is happy; for the Count, his Father left me in such narrow Circumstances, I should have had much difficulty to have supported my self and him.

The Men of all Qualities, Countries, and Stations, said Galecia, are alike; there is no such thing as Vertue and Honour left amongst 'em, at least, in regard of their Wives; from the Lady to the Porter's Wife; I hear, all Womankind complain of the Unkindness of their Husbands. All which, said Miranda, proceeds from the Multitude of lewd Strumpets; who reign amongst us with Impunity. You are happy Galecia, continu'd she, that amongst your many Tribulations, you have not had the Affliction of an ill Husband to torment you; nor a good one, said Galecia, to consolate and protect me; But all these things are in the hands of Providence; in whose Protection let us recommend our selves this dreadful Night; for behold, the Sky seems more and more inflam'd; that, God only knows who shall live to see the Morning−Sun; or, perhaps, his bright Lamp may be put out.

Thus, our two Friends retired to their Rest, as if they were to rise to Immortality: to which we may apply the Proverb,

A good Conscience, is a continual Feast.

Vertue and Innocence are always safeguards; and screen'd our two Friends from fear that dreadful Night, so that they slept sound, and wak'd in the morning in due time to take a walk over the Park, to breakfast with their Friend Amarantha, who received them with all the marks of sincere Kindness and Friendship, as far as her melancholy circumstance would permit; for she had buried her Husband, since she had seen them, and tho' she had been a Widow some Years, yet the sight of these old Friends renew'd her Grief, and, spight of all Endeavours, made her shed a flood of Tears.

They endeavour'd to consolate each other with what Arguments they could on such an occasion. Ah me, said she, I could not be just to his memory, if I should cease to lament him as long as I live, his Loss being irreparable: He was the best of Husbands, best of Friends, best of Masters, a true Lover of his King, and the Laws of his Country, facetious amongst Friends, grave amongst Strangers, pleasant amongst the Young, and a Pattern to his Elders. In fine, his Deportment was instructive, and agreeable to all; but above all, to me, whom he most tenderly lov'd, and accordingly, was in every thing entirely obliging. In all which, replied Galecia, he did but render Justice to your Merit. But there are so few Husbands who do so in these Days, that one ought to prize that Man very much, who treats his Wife with common Civility, and does not place his Prostitute in competition with, or rather above her, not only in Affection, but even in external Behaviour; of which, this our beautiful Friend Miranda is an Example. To which Miranda replied, That she was not worthy to be an Example in Discourse; so beg'd them to call another Cause: In particular, said she to Amarantha, tell us, if you can, what is become of our old Friend and Play−fellow Bellemien? Alas, said Amarantha, that poor Girl has been very unfortunate in her Marriage, as I shall relate to you, when Breakfast is over.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31