Book I - Chapter IX
Containing matters which will surprize the reader.
Jenny returned home well pleased with the reception she had met with from Mr Allworthy, whose indulgence to her she industriously made public; partly perhaps as a sacrifice to her own pride, and partly from the more prudent motive of reconciling her neighbours to her, and silencing their clamours.
But though this latter view, if she indeed had it, may appear reasonable enough, yet the event did not answer her expectation; for when she was convened before the justice, and it was universally apprehended that the house of correction would have been her fate, though some of the young women cryed out "It was good enough for her," and diverted themselves with the thoughts of her beating hemp in a silk gown; yet there were many others who began to pity her condition: but when it was known in what manner Mr Allworthy had behaved, the tide turned against her. One said, "I'll assure you, madam hath had good luck." A second cryed, "See what it is to be a favourite!" A third, "Ay, this comes of her learning." Every person made some malicious comment or other on the occasion, and reflected on the partiality of the justice.
The behaviour of these people may appear impolitic and ungrateful to the reader, who considers the power and benevolence of Mr Allworthy. But as to his power, he never used it; and as to his benevolence, he exerted so much, that he had thereby disobliged all his neighbours; for it is a secret well known to great men, that, by conferring an obligation, they do not always procure a friend, but are certain of creating many enemies.
Jenny was, however, by the care and goodness of Mr Allworthy, soon removed out of the reach of reproach; when malice being no longer able to vent its rage on her, began to seek another object of its bitterness, and this was no less than Mr Allworthy, himself; for a whisper soon went abroad, that he himself was the father of the foundling child.
This supposition so well reconciled his conduct to the general opinion, that it met with universal assent; and the outcry against his lenity soon began to take another turn, and was changed into an invective against his cruelty to the poor girl. Very grave and good women exclaimed against men who begot children, and then disowned them. Nor were there wanting some, who, after the departure of Jenny, insinuated that she was spirited away with a design too black to be mentioned, and who gave frequent hints that a legal inquiry ought to be made into the whole matter, and that some people should be forced to produce the girl.
These calumnies might have probably produced ill consequences, at the least might have occasioned some trouble, to a person of a more doubtful and suspicious character than Mr Allworthy was blessed with; but in his case they had no such effect; and, being heartily despised by him, they served only to afford an innocent amusement to the good gossips of the neighbourhood.
But as we cannot possibly divine what complection our reader may be of, and as it will be some time before he will hear any more of Jenny, we think proper to give him a very early intimation, that Mr Allworthy was, and will hereafter appear to be, absolutely innocent of any criminal intention whatever. He had indeed committed no other than an error in politics, by tempering justice with mercy, and by refusing to gratify the good-natured disposition of the mob,[*] with an object for their compassion to work on in the person of poor Jenny, whom, in order to pity, they desired to have seen sacrificed to ruin and infamy, by a shameful correction in Bridewell.
[*]Whenever this word occurs in our writings, it intends persons
without virtue or sense, in all stations; and many of the highest
rank are often meant by it.
So far from complying with this their inclination, by which all hopes of reformation would have been abolished, and even the gate shut against her if her own inclinations should ever hereafter lead her to chuse the road of virtue, Mr Allworthy rather chose to encourage the girl to return thither by the only possible means; for too true I am afraid it is, that many women have become abandoned, and have sunk to the last degree of vice, by being unable to retrieve the first slip. This will be, I am afraid, always the case while they remain among their former acquaintance; it was therefore wisely done by Mr Allworthy, to remove Jenny to a place where she might enjoy the pleasure of reputation, after having tasted the ill consequences of losing it.
To this place therefore, wherever it was, we will wish her a good journey, and for the present take leave of her, and of the little foundling her child, having matters of much higher importance to communicate to the reader.Next