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could get it for a sixth part of what it was worth. But if the ow presumed to ask for its real value, then she had sudden qualms of conscience, instantly suspected the things were stolen, and gave herself airs of honesty, which often took in poor silly people, and gave her a sort of half-reputation among the needy and the ignorant, whose friend she hypocritically pretended to be.
To this artful woman, Betty carried the cook's pilferings; and as Mrs. Sponge would give no great price for these in money, the cook was willing to receive payment for her eatables in Mrs. Sponge's drinkables; for she dealt in all kinds of spirits. I shall only just remark here, that one receiver, like Mrs. Sponge, makes many pilferers; who are tempted to commit these petty thieveries, by knowing how easy it is to dispose of them at such iniquitous houses.
Betty was faithful to both her employers; which is extraordinary, considering the greatness of the temptation, and her utter ignorance of good and evil. One day she ventured to ask Mrs. Sponge, if she could not assist her to get into a more settled way of life. She told her, that, when she rose in the morning, she never knew where she should lie at night, nor was she ever sure of a meal beforehand. Mrs. Sponge asked her what she thought herself fit for; Betty, with fear and trembling, said, there was one trade for which she thought herself qualified, but she had not the arobition to look so high; it was far above her humble views; this was, to have a barrow, and sell fruit, as several other of Mrs. Sponge's customers did, whom she had often looked up to with envy, little expecting herself ever to attain so independent a station.
Mrs. Sponge was an artful woman. Bad as she was, she was always aiming at something of a character; this was a great help to her trade. While she watched keenly to make everything turn to her own profit, she had a false fawning way of seeming to do all she did out of pity and kindness to the distressed; and she seldom committed an extortion, but she tried to make the persons she cheated believe themselves highly obliged to her kindness. By thus pretending to be their friend, she gained their confidence ; and she grew rich herself, while they thought she was only showing favour to them. Various were the arts she had of getting rich; and the money she got by grinding the poor, she spent in the most luxurious living: while she would haggle with her hungry customers for a farthing, she would spend pounds on the most costly delicacies for herself.
Mrs. Sponge, laying aside that haughty look and voice well known to such as had the misfortune to be in her debt, put on the hypocritical smile and soft canting tone, which she always assumed when she meant to flatter her superiors, or take in her dependants. “Betty," said she, “ I am resolved to stand your friend. These are sad times, to be sure. Money is money now. Yet I am resolved to put you into a handsome way of living. You shall have a barrow, and well furnished too.” Betty could not have felt more joy or gratitude, if she had been told that she should have a coach. “Oh, madam !” said Betty, “it is impossible. I have not a penny in the world towards belping me to set up.” “I will take care of that,” said Mrs. Sponge ; “ only you must do as I bid you. You must pay me interest for my money; and you will of course, be glad
also to pay so much every night for a nice hot supper which I get ready, quite out of kindness, for a number of poor working people. This will be a great comfort for such a friendless girl as you, for my victuals and drink are the best, and my company the merriest of auy house in all St. Giles's.” Betty thought all this only so many more favours, and, curtsying to the ground, said, “ To be sure, ma'am, and thank you a thousand times into the bargain. I never could hope for such a rise in life.”
Mrs. Sponge knew what she was about. Betty was a lively girl, who had a knack at learning anything; and so well looking, through all her dirt and rags, that there was little doubt she would get custom. A barrow was soon provided, and five shillings put into Betty's hands. Mrs. Sponge kindly condescended to go to show her how to buy the fruit; for it was a rule with this prudent gentlewoman, and one from which she never departed, that no one should cheat but herself ; and suspecting from her own heart the fraud of all other dealers, she was seldom guilty of the weakness of being imposed upon.
Betty had never possessed such a sum before. She grudged to lay it out all at once, and was ready to fancy she could live upon the capital. The crown, however, was laid out to the best advantage. Betty was carefully taught in what manner to cry her oranges; and received many useful lessons how to get off the bad with the good, and the stale with the fresh. Mrs. Sponge also lent her a few bad sixpences, for which she ordered her to bring home good ones at night. Betty stared. Mrs. Sponge said, “Betty, those who would get money, must not be too nice about trifles. Keep one of these sixpences in your hand, and if an ignorant young customer gives you a good sixpence, do you immediately slip it into your other hand, and give him the bad one, declaring that it is the very one you have just received, and be ready to swear that you have not another sixpence in the world. You must also learn how to treat different sorts of customers. To some you may put off, with safety, goods which would be quite unsaleable to others. Never offer bad fruit, Betty, to those who know better; never waste the good on those who may be put off with worse ; put good oranges at top to attract the eye, and the mouldy ones under for sale."
Poor Betty had not a nice conscience, for she had never learnt that grand but simple rule of all moral obligation, “Never do that to another, which you would not have another do to you.” She set off with her barrow, as proud and as happy as if she had been set up in the finest shop in Covent Garden. Betty had a sort of natural good temper which made her unwilling to impose, but she had no principle which told her it was a sin to do so. She had such good success, that, when night came, she had not an orange left. With a light heart, she drove her empty barrow to Mrs. Sponge's door. She went in with a merry face, and threw down on the counter every farthing she had taken. “Betty,” said Mrs. Sponge, “ I have a right to it all, as it was got by my money. But I am too generous to take it. I will therefore only take sixpence for this day's use of my five shillings. This is a most reasonable interest, and I will lend you the same sum to trade with to-morrow, and so on ; you only paying me sixpence for the use of it every night, which will be a great bargain to you. You must also pay me my price every night for your supper, and
you shall have an excellent lodging above-stairs ; so you see everything will now be provided for you in a genteel manner, through my generosity."
Poor Betty's gratitude blinded her so completely, that she forgot to calculate the vast proportion which this generous benefactress was to receive out of her little gain. She thought herself a happy creature, and went in to supper with a number of others of her own class. For this supper, and for more porter and gin than she ought to have drunk, Betty was forced to pay so high, that it ate up all the profits of the day, which, added to the daily interest, made Mrs. Sponge a rich return for her five shillings.
Betty was reminded again of the gentility of her new situation, as she crept up to bed in one of Mrs. Sponge's garrets, five stories high. This loft, to be sure, was small, and had no window, but what it wanted in light was made up in company, as it had three beds, and thrice as many lodgers. Those gentry had one night, in a drunken frolic, broken down the door, which happily had never been replaced ; for, since that time, the lodgers had died much seldomer of infectious distempers, than when they were close shut in. For this lodging, Betty paid twice as much to her good friend as she would have done to a stranger. Thus she continued, with great industry and a thriving trade, as poor as on the first day; and not a bit nearer to saving money enough to buy her even a pair of shoes, though her feet were nearly on the ground.
One day, as Betty was driving her barrow through a street near Holborn, a lady from a window called out to her that she wanted some oranges. While the servant went to fetch a plate, the lady entered into some talk with Betty; having been struck with her honest countenance and civil manner. She questioned her as to her way of life, and the profits of her trade; and Betty, who had never been so kindly treated before by so genteel a person, was very communicative. She told her little history as far as she knew it, and dwelt much on the generosity of Mrs. Sponge, in keeping her in her house, and trusting her with so large a capital as five shillings. At first it sounded like a very good-natured thing ; but the lady, whose husband was one of the justices of the new police, happened to know more of Mrs. Sponge than was good, which led her to inquire still further. Betty owned, that, to be sure, it was not all clear profit, for that, besides that the high price of the supper and bed ran away with all she got, she paid sixpence a day for the use of the five shillings. “And how long have you done this?" said the lady.
“ About a year, madam.”
The lady's eyes were at once opened. My poor girl,” said she, “ do you know that you have already paid for that single five shillings, the enormous sum of 71. 108. ? I believe it is the most profitable five shillings Mrs. Sponge ever laid out.” “Oh, no, madam,” said the girl, “that good gentlewoman does the same kindness to ten or twelve other poor
friendless creatures like me." “Does she so ?" said the lady, “then I never heard of a more lucrative trade than this woman carries on, under the mask of charity, at the expense of her poor deluded fellow-creatures."
“ But, madam,” said Betty, who did not comprehend this lady's arithmetic, “ what can I do? I now contrive to pick up a morsel of bread
without begging or stealing. - Mrs. Sponge has been very good to me ; and I don't see how I can help myself.”
“I will tell you," said the lady : “if you will follow my advice, you may not only maintain yourself honestly, but independently. Only oblige yourself to live hard for a little time, till you have saved five shillings out of your own earnings. Give up that expensive supper at night, drink only one pint of porter, and no gin at all. As soon as you have scraped together the five shillings, carry it back to your false friend ; and if you are industrious, you will, at the end of the year, have saved 71. 10s. If you can make a shift to live now, when you have this heavy interest to pay, judge how things will mend when your capital becomes your own. You will put some clothes on your back ; and, by leaving the use of spirits, and the company in which you drink them, your health, your morals, and your condition will mend.” The lady did not talk thus to save her money.
She would willingly have given the girl the five shillings; but she thought it was beginning at the wrong end. She wanted to try her. Besides, she knew there was more pleasure, as well as honour, in possessing five shillings of one's own saving, than of another's giving. Betty promised to obey. She owned she bad got no good by the company or the liquor at Mrs. Sponge's. She promised that very night to begin saving the expense of the supper; and that she would not taste a drop of gin till she had the five shillings beforehand. The lady, who knew the power of good habits, was contented with this ; thinking, that if the girl could abstain for a certain time, it would become easy to her. She therefore at present, said little about the sin of drinking, and only insisted on the expense of it.
In a very few weeks Betty had saved up the five shillings. She went to carry back this money with great gratitude to Mrs. Sponge. This kind friend began to abuse her most unmercifully. She called her many hard names, not fit to repeat, for having forsaken the supper, by which she swore she herself got nothing at all; but as she had the charity to dress it for such beggarly wretches, she insisted they should pay for it, whether they ate it or not. She also brought in a heavy score for lodging, though Betty had paid for it every night, and had given notice of her intending to quit her. By all these false pretences, she got from her not only her own five shillings, but all the little capital with which Betty was going to set up for herself. All was not sufficient to answer her demands; she declared she would send her to prison : but while she went to call a constable, Betty contrived to make off.
With a light pocket and a heavy heart, she went back to the lady; and with many tears told her sad story. The lady's husband, the justice, condescended to listen to Betty's tale. He said, Mrs. Sponge had long been upon his books as a receiver of stolen goods. Betty's evidence strengthened his bad opinion of her. “This petty system of usury,” said the magistrate,“ may be thought trifling; but it will no longer appear so, when you reflect, that if one of these female sharpers possesses a capital of seventy shillings, or 31. 108., with fourteen steady regular customers, she can realize a fixed income of one hundred guineas a year. Add to this the influence such a loan gives her over these friendless creatures, by compelling them to eat at her house, or lodge, or buy liquors, or by taking their
will see the extent of the evil. I pity these poor victims: you, Betty, shall point out some of them to me.
I will endeavour to open their eyes on their own bad management. It is not by giving to the importunate shillings and half-crowns, and turning them adrift to wait for the next accidental relief, that much good is done. It saves trouble, indeed, but that trouble, being the most valuable part of charity, ought not to be spared ; at least by those who have leisure as well as affluence. It is one of the greatest acts of kindness to the poor to mend their economy, and to give them right views of laying out their little money to advantage. These poor
blinded creatures look no farther than to be able to pay this heavy interest every night, and to obtain the same loan on the same hard terms the next day. Thus are they kept in poverty and bondage all their lives ; but I hope as many as hear of this will get on a better plan, and I shall be ready to help any who are willing to help themselves.” This worthy magistrate went directly to Mrs. Sponge’s with proper officers ; and he soon got to the bottom of many iniquities. He not only made her refund poor Betty's money, but committed her to prison for receiving stolen goods, and various other offences, which may, perhaps, make the subject of another history.
Betty was now set up in trade to her heart's content. She had found the benefit of leaving off spirits, and she resolved to drink them no more. The first fruits of this resolution was, that in a fortnight she bought her a new pair of shoes; and as there was now no deduction for interest, or for gin, her earnings became considerable. The lady made her a present of a gown and a hat, on the easy condition that she should go to church. She accepted the terms, at first rather as an act of obedience to the lady, than from a sense of higher duty. But she soon began to go from a better motive. This constant attendance at church, joined to the instructions of the lady, opened a new world to Betty. She now heard, for the first time, that she was a sinner; that God had given a law which was holy, just, and good ; that she had broken this law, had been a swearer, a sabbath-breaker, and had lived “ without God in the world.” All this was sad news to Betty ; she knew, indeed, before, that there were sinners, but she thought they were only to be found in the prisons, or at Botany Bay, or in those mournful carts which she had sometimes followed with her barrow, with the unthinking crowd, to Tyburn. She was deeply struck with the great truths revealed in the Scriptures, which were quite new to her; her heart smote her, and she became anxious “ to flee from the wrath to come.” She was desirous of improvement, and said, “she would give up all the profits of her barrow, and go into the hardest service, rather than live in sin and ignorance."
Betty,” said the lady, “I am glad to see you so well disposed, and will do what I can for you. Your present way of life, to be sure, exposes you to much danger ; but the trade is not unlawful in itself, and we may please God in any calling, provided it be not a dishonest one. In this great town there must be barrow-women to sell fruit. Do you then, instead of forsaking your business, set a good example to those in it, and show them, that though a dangerous trade, it need not be a wicked one. Till Providence points out some safer way of getting your bread, let your companions sce, that it is possible to be good even in this. Your trade