Roxana's Plight In Poverty
From Roxana, Or The Fortunate Mistress by Daniel Defoe (1724)

BUT you will easily allow, that as time run on, a week, two weeks, a month, two months, and so on, I was dreadfully frightened at last, and the more when I looked into my own circumstances, and considered the condition in which I was left, with five children, and not one farthing subsistence for them, other than about seventy pounds in money, and what few things of value I had about me, which, though considerable in themselves, were yet nothing to feed a family, and for a length of time too.

What to do I knew not, nor to whom to have recourse; to keep in the house where I was, I could not, the rent being too great; and to leave it without his orders, if my husband should return, I could not think of that neither; so that I continued extremely perplexed, melancholy, and discouraged to the last degree.

I remained in this dejected condition near a twelve-month. My husband had two sisters, who were married, and lived very well, and some other near relations that I knew of, and I hoped would do something for me; and I frequently sent to these, to know if they could give me any account of my vagrant creature; but they all declared to me in answer, that they knew nothing about him; and after frequent sending, began to think me troublesome, and to let me know they thought so too, by their treating my maid with very slight and unhandsome returns to her inquiries.

This grated hard, and added to my affliction, but I had no recourse but to my tears, for I had not a friend of my own left me in the world. I should have observed, that it was about half a year before this elopement of my husband, that the disaster I mentioned above befell my brother, who broke, and that in such bad circumstances, that I had the mortification to hear, not only that he was in prison, but that there would be little or nothing to be had by way of composition.

Misfortunes seldom come alone: this was the forerunner of my husband's flight; and as my expectations were cut off on that side, my husband gone, and my family of children on my hands, and nothing to subsist them, my condition was the most deplorable that words can express.

I had some plate and some jewels, as might be supposed, my fortune and former circumstances considered; and my husband, who had never stayed to be distressed, had not been put to the necessity of rifling me, as husbands usually do in such cases. But as I had seen an end of all the ready money during the long time I had lived in a state of expecta-tion for my husband, so I began to make away one thing after another, till those few things of value which I had began to lessen apace, and I saw nothing but misery and the utmost distress before me, even to have my children starve before my face. I leave any one that is a mother of children, and has lived in plenty and good fashion, to consider and reflect what must be my condition. As to my husband, I had now no hope or expectation of seeing him any more; and indeed, if I had, he was the man, of all the men in the world, the least able to help me, or to have turned his hand to the gaining one shilling towards lessening our distress; he neither had the capacity or the inclination; he could have been no clerk, for he scarce wrote a legible hand; he was so far from being able to write sense, that he could not make sense of what others wrote; he was so far from understanding good English, that he could not spell good English; to be out of all business was his delight, and he would stand leaning against a post for half an hour together, with a pipe in his mouth, with all the tranquillity in the world, smoking, like Dryden's countryman,

that whistled as he went for want of thought, and this even when his family was, as it were, starving, that little he had wasting, and that we were all bleeding to death; he not knowing, and as little considering, where to get another shilling when the last was spent.

This being his temper, and the extent of his capacity, I confess I did not see so much loss in his parting with me as at first thought I did; though it was hard and cruel to the last degree in him, not giving me the least notice of his design; and indeed that which I was most astonished at was, that seeing he must certainly have intended this excursion some few moments at least before he put it in practice, yet he did not come and take what little stock of money we had left, or at least a share of it, to bear his expense for a little while, but he did not; and I am morally certain he had not five guineas with him in the world when he went away. All that I could come to the knowledge of about him was, that he left his hunting-horn, which he called the French horn, in the stable, and his hunting-saddle, went away in a hand-some furniture, as they call it, which he used sometimes to travel with, having an embroidered housing, a case of pistols, and other things belonging to them; and one of his servants had another saddle with pistols, though plain, and the other a long gun, so that they did not go out as sportsmen, but rather as travellers; what part of the world they went to I never heard for many years.

As I have said, I sent to his relations, but they sent me short and surly answers; nor did any one of them offer to come to see me, or to see the children, or so much as to inquire after them, well perceiving that I was in a condition that was likely to be soon troublesome to them; but it was no time now to dally with them, or with the world; I left off sending to them, and went myself among them, laid my circumstances open to them, told them my whole case, and the condition I was reduced to, begged they would advise me what course to take, laid myself as low as they could desire, and entreated them to consider that I was not in a condition to help myself, and that without some assistance we must all inevitably perish. I told them, that if I had had but one child, or two children, I would have done my endeavour to have worked for them with my needle, and should only have come to them to beg them to help me to some work, that I might get our bread by my labour; but to think of one single woman, not bred to work, and at a loss where to get employment, to get the bread of five children, that was not possible, some of my children being young too, and none of them big enough to help one another.

It was all one; I received not one farthing of assistance from anybody, was hardly asked to sit down at the two sisters' houses, nor offered to eat or drink at two more near relations. The fifth, an ancient gentlewoman, aunt-in-law to my husband, a widow, and the least able also of any of the rest, did, indeed, ask me to sit down, gave me a dinner, and refreshed me with a kinder treatment than any of the rest, but added the melancholy part, viz., that she would have helped me, but that indeed, she was not able, which, however, I was satisfied was very true.

Here I relieved myself with the constant assistant of the afflicted, I mean tears, for, relating to her how I was received by the other of my husband's relations, it made me burst into tears, and I cried vehemently for a great while together, till I made the good old gentlewoman cry too several times.

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