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Chapter 5
"MY FATHER," said Jemima, "seduced my mother, a pretty girl, with whom he
lived fellow-servant; and she no sooner perceived the natural, the dreaded
consequence, than the terrible conviction flashed on her--that she was ruined.
Honesty, and a regard for her reputation, had been the only principles inculcated
by her mother; and they had been so forcibly impressed, that she feared shame,
more than the poverty to which it would lead. Her incessant importunities to
prevail upon my father to screen her from reproach by marrying her, as he had
promised in the fervour of seduction, estranged him from her so completely, that
her very person became distasteful to him; and he began to hate, as well as
despise me, before I was born.
"My mother, grieved to the soul by his neglect, and unkind treatment, actually
resolved to famish herself; and injured her health by the attempt; though she had
not sufficient resolution to adhere to her project, or renounce it entirely. Death
came not at her call; yet sorrow, and the methods she adopted to conceal her
condition, still doing the work of a house-maid, had such an effect on her
constitution, that she died in the wretched garret, where her virtuous mistress
had forced her to take refuge in the very pangs of labour, though my father, after
a slight reproof, was allowed to remain in his place--allowed by the mother of six
children, who, scarcely permitting a footstep to be heard, during her month's
indulgence, felt no sympathy for the poor wretch, denied every comfort required
by her situation.
"The day my mother, died, the ninth after my birth, I was consigned to the
care of the cheapest nurse my father could find; who suckled her own child at the
same time, and lodged as many more as she could get, in two cellar-like
"Poverty, and the habit of seeing children die off her hands, had so hardened
her heart, that the office of a mother did not awaken the tenderness of a woman;
nor were the feminine caresses which seem a part of the rearing of a child, ever
bestowed on me. The chicken has a wing to shelter under; but I had no bosom to
nestle in, no kindred warmth to foster me. Left in dirt, to cry with cold and hunger
till I was weary, and sleep without ever being prepared by exercise, or lulled by
kindness to rest; could I be expected to become any thing but a weak and rickety
babe? Still, in spite of neglect, I continued to exist, to learn to curse existence,
[her countenance grew ferocious as she spoke,] and the treatment that rendered
me miserable, seemed to sharpen my wits. Confined then in a damp hovel, to
rock the cradle of the succeeding tribe, I looked like a little old woman, or a hag
shrivelling into nothing. The furrows of reflection and care contracted the youthful
cheek, and gave a sort of supernatural wildness to the ever watchful eye. During
this period, my father had married another fellow-servant, who loved him less,
and knew better how to manage his passion, than my mother. She likewise
proving with child, they agreed to keep a shop: my step-mother, if, being an
illegitimate offspring, I may venture thus to characterize her, having obtained a
sum of a rich relation, for that purpose.