19th Century

Harriet Owen, the Fisherman’s Daughter (1857) | Pierce Egan the Younger

Pierce Egan the Younger was a Victorian writer and journalist who was the author of several best-selling novels during the 1840s and 1850s. Transcribed by Stephen Basdeo

Part One

Mark Owen was a fisherman, dwelling in a small cottage upon the sea-coast, not far from Weston-super-Mare in the West of England. He was a widower, with one a child, about ten years. of age, named Harriet. He was moderately well to do; that is to say, he was the owner of a fishing-vessel and two pleasure-boats, which, during the season, were occupied in taking the visitors to Weston-super-Mare on little sea excursions,—so charming on calm days, but not altogether so deliciously gratifying in a smart breeze, or when there is a ground swell on. He lived frugally and temperately; and those people who will talk about their neighbours, and will reckon them up in their own style of casting, said he was saving money—that, in fact, if the “ ‘gran’ folk who kept t’bank were minded to let folk know what they know’d, and what Mark Owen kept to hissen’, every one in those parts ‘ud know that Mark had no ’casion to fish anymore, for he’d enough gold and silver ’uns in his net, to last un his life, and make Har’yet independent of her husband, if ever she got one.”

Mark Owen certainly did not expend much money in household affairs, nor did he recklessly squander it upon his daughter, who bid fair to be the prettiest girl in the whole neighbourhood. Nay, it is doubtful if she would have even been taught to read and write, if the minister of his parish, who kept a debtor and creditor account of good works and sound morals, with the individual members of the flock under his charge, had not taken upon himself—knowing the girl was a motherless child—to keep Mark up to the performance of some of his duties; the education of his child, and her constant attendance at church, being made special obligations, which, on no account, he was permitted to shirk or evade. In fact, when the clergyman fairly got Mark in harness, the performance of these duties went on as regularly and certainly as did those connected with the occupation by which he obtained his livelihood.

Mark was lucky as a fisherman,—his hauls were usually good, and he was generally fortunate enough to sell them well. Then his pleasure-boats, being well built and sprucely painted, and managed by civil men, earned him during the season a good round sum; so that, upon consideration, there appeared to be some foundation for the reports in circulation respecting the funds he had lodged with his bankers, and the probability that he could give his daughter a tolerable dowry upon her marriage.

Suddenly, there arose a rumour that Mark Owen was “walking ” with Susan Ray, the daughter of old Ray, the baker,—an individual also credited with having more money with the same bankers who held Owen’s money, than many persons had who held their heads much higher than him in the world.

Between old Ray and Mark Owen there were many points of resemblance. Both were widowers; both had one child—girls; both affected very moderate means, and both had the credit of being enviably rich. There was, however, a difference between the age of the two girls. Harriet was only ten years old,—Susan was nineteen.

Now, old Ray gave Susan, grudgingly, an education such as it was. She had been to school, where the schoolmistress was old, and the charge low; she had learned to read well enough to stumble through the murders and robberies, and remarkable police-cases in the Sunday paper, and had made herself sufficiently mistress of arithmetic and writing to make out her father’s bills. When she was strong enough, she was taken from school to do the house-work and serve in the shop; and an old woman who had hitherto done it for her food was discharged, to find refuge in the workhouse.

Susan Ray was, unhappily, very, very pretty. She was not to say handsome, but her features altogether, without being faultless, made up an extremely pretty countenance. Her eyes were perhaps the most charming: feature in her face; they were large, clear, and possessed a very arch expression. It was impossible for her to speak to any one without their fancying that she was smiling upon them, or believing that some lurking thought was running through her brain which had no business there. Thus it was she was pestered and annoyed by every fool or fellow who got the chance of speaking to her.

In one sense, her incessant labour in the house and shop, from dawn to dark, was perhaps serviceable to her, for she was unable to get abroad, and was thus saved from becoming, at an early and unreflecting age, the victim of some worthless villain; but it threw her much into the company of Mark Owen—that is, during the long winter evenings, when he was on shore, not engaged in net-mending, or repairing such parts on his boats as might need his labour.

On such unemployed evenings he would call at the “Saucy Sarah” for half a gallon of beer, armed with which, he would proceed to old Ray’s, and there, over a pipe, go through the process of swallowing it—Ray finding tobacco. When Mark, however, furnished the fragrant weed, Ray supplied the porter—giving, however, a penny per pot less for it than Owen did.

Now, Mark Owen frequently basked in the sunshine of Susan’s pretty eyes, and as he could not fail to be pleased with their expression, he was kind to her in manner and speech—which her father was not—and at times he brought her a ribbon or some lace; things essential to womanly attire, but which her father scouted as vanities; though, after all, he liked to see them daintily arranged, and adorning the person of his daughter—when they cost him nothing.

That which followed all this was a natural sequence. Susan liked Mark Owen, for he was kind end considerate to her: she thought him such a nice “old” fellow, and betrayed her liking in her manner, in her smiles, in her bright glances, and in the pressure of her hand.

Mark Owen was mortal man! Such conduct from a pretty girl to him, a widower, free, and, as it were, unencumbered, exercised necessarily great influence over him: his visits became more frequent than ever to old Ray’s. He found beer and tobacco, too—a liberality which overwhelmed old Ray, and plunged him into speechless ecstasy; he brought occasionally some wine for “Susy,” but always some little present—useful, be it understood—anything an observant eye told him she wanted; and, therefore, his gifts coming opportunely, were the more appreciated. Away, out at sea, in the clear starlit heavens he would see her bright eyes; and in “imagination fancy free,” see her fair face in the clear depths of the blue waters of the deep on which his boat idly rocked. This crew, who were certainly not accustomed to hear him sing, now heard him; in somewhat husky tones, it is true, frequently repeat,—

‘Oh, Susan, Susan, lovely dear,

My vows shall ever true remain ;

Let me kiss off that falling tear—

We only part, to meet again.”

Well, it came at last. One night old Ray was in a very bad temper, and scolded his daughter most furiously,—not the less because he was compelled to go to a customer about a disputed bill, leaving upon the table fresh beer of a splendid October brew, and tobaceo the fragrance of which nearly took his senses away—Mark Owen all the time steadily consuming both.

When he was gone, Mark Owen began to smoke furiously, for he saw tears glittering in Susan’s eyes; and, altogether, she looked too sad for even her mirthful eyes to conceal the sorrow at her heart. He began to speak to her about it, and then she wept bitterly, pausing only to make a confidant of him, who had been, as she considered, so kind a friend to her,—telling him how unhappy she was at home, for her life was that of a slave, without one redeeming feature. “Toil on, toil ever.” She was permitted no relaxation, no amusement, and denied even the necessary articles of attire to make her appear decent.

Mark Owen, as her sobs drowned her words, stretched out his broad, horny palm, and said, “If you will take that hand, girl, and be Susan Owen instead of Susan Ray, I’ll try and make you a happy woman, so help me God!” Susan Ray jumped to her feet, and looked him steadfastly in the face as he concluded. The expression on her pale face was one of utter astonishment and bewildered surprise. There is no disguising that. It was painfully evident she had not, up to that moment, entertained any notion that he had such views. Such a result—such an union had never presented itself to her. She was really attached to him, in simple return for his repeated kindnesses; but to love—to wed him—it had never occurred to her.

It did now, and with tremendous force. She had speculated upon going out of her dreamy life in the dead night-time, from the summit of a high cliff into the black depths of the moaning sea beneath her. Here was an alternative.

But, oh! there was one whom, some five years back, when but fourteen and he eighteen, she passionately loved. Why did his form rise up, and stand between her and Mark? He had been gone away five long years, and not a word had he written to her. She knew not if he lived. She knew only that he went to sea—far, far away to the uttermost end of the world—and she had heard nothing of him since. Still, his phantom—misty, thick, but yet plainly defined—stood between her and Mark, and made her feel that if she were to fall dead at his feet, it would be to her a blissful release.

She sunk in agony upon her knees, and burying her face in her hands, bowed her head upon a chair, and said, in tones of intense anguish, “Oh, my God! Hear me, and guide me; for, indeed, indeed I am prostrate at thy mercy!”

There was a silence, broken only by her hysterical sobs. At length Mark spoke:— “Look ye, girl,” he said; “ don’t let me add to your trouble. “What I offered, I offered freely—offered that you might have a better home than you’ve got. If it would make you unhappy to be my wife, say so, and there’s an end on it. I tell’ee, girl, it would gi’ me some sore smarting hereaway,” he said, striking his breast; “but better be I to suffer than thee—so don’t be afeard to run free, and tell me the truth. Say, “Mark, it can’t be done!—I should be more miserable still to do it!—I mought be sorry—nay, Susan, my lass, I should be sorry—but I should never be ill-friends with you because you preferred to break your heart beneath your father’s roof, instead of under mine. There’s my hand, Susy! Yea or nay!”

Susan rose to her feet—a throng of images rushing through her brain, and almost distracting her; but, pressing her hands to her temples, she said,—

“Mark Owen! I loved another! My girlish heart was given in the very fulness of its spring-time; with all its gushing unselfish tenderness, to one from whom I have been parted five long years,—who, doubtless, has forgotten me. I have never heard from, or of him, since he left this; yet my heart has been true to him until this moment—until this offer of yours, Mark. Knowing this long-cherished secret-—I have no other—if you will take me as I am—I—I—Yes—Mark! I will be yours!—and try to be to you all you can wish me!”

Mark uprose from his seat as she uttered these words—grasping his hand as she did so—and he kissed her on the forehead.

“Thou’rt my wife, Susan!” he said. “I respect your truth to him who’s away, and I will never in the time to come mention it to you!”

“Ah, Mark!” she sobbed, “that is noble of you! You have won me to you more by that promise than by aught else!” And she kissed his cheek tenderly as she uttered those words.

This passage was but just over, when old Ray made his appearance. He fastened his eye upon the state of the beer and tobacco, as a hawk would upon a brace of birds upon which he contemplated regaling; there was a larger quantity remaining than he expected; and, having obtained the amount of the disputed bill, his previous ill-temper dissipated; so he grew quite festive—a rather unusual temperament for him to be detected in exhibiting.

He was no sooner safe behind his pipe, than Mark Owen, having refilled his and lighted it, motioned to Susan to quit the room. She, guessing his object, took the first opportunity to disappear, and Mark, for a moment, puffed away furiously at his pipe: He was, however, a man of few words, and generally came to the point at once.

“Ray!” he said, as soon as he had decided what he should say,—“old Ray! I’m going to be married!”

“Going to be married?” repeated old Ray, as if Mark had taken leave of his senses. “You going to marry! The devil!”

“No, old Ray !—not the devil—but your daughter!”

“Mark Owen!”

“Fact! I like her—she fancies she can be comfortable with me—and so we have agreed to a splice! I have got plenty to keep us, and I don’t want a farden from you—I wouldn’t take it! So I suppose, as you’re not likely to have a better offer, and the girl’s willing, you won’t say no?”

Now, Susan was of a certain value to the old man—that is to say, when she left, he would be compelled to hire some one, and pay wages,—and he wanted to know what equivalent he was to have for that?

Mark, however, replied in such a manner to him as to shame the old curmudgeon, and wrung from him a reluctant consent,—it being quite understood that he was not expected to buy his daughter a wedding outfit, nor even supply a wedding-dinner. Mark Owen assented readily to this, for it was not his intention to be married in Weston-super-Mare, but at a neighbouring parish church, to avoid the talk, the gatherings, and the noisy congratulations he would be compelled to endure—and, what was not less important in his eyes, the largess he would be called upon by the fisher-people to contribute on the festive occasion.

So he “walked” with Susan Ray, and the gossiping report was true, after all.

The marriage was fixed for a Sunday at no distant date. Susan Ray, as one who heeded little what became of her, cared not how soon the event took place which brought her some change, and therefore interposed no objection. Accompanied by her father, and a girl, more of an acquaintance than a friend, as bridesmaid, she met Mark Owen, with the mate of his fishing-lugger as bridesman, at the village where the banns had been put up, and they proceeded to the church. There, by the rites of her religion, she was transferred from the custody of a task-master to one yet harder, and to a bondage yet more servile and unendurable than that she had quitted.

Mark Owen took her to Exeter for a few days; and then he brought her home to take charge of his child, his house, and his chattels.

At first things went smoothly, and Susan was happy under the change she had made. She was kind to Harriet Owen; and the child became very fond of her. There were not many comforts in the cottage, and Mark refused to add to them;—nay, he seemed to grow more close-fisted and miserly than he had ever been. The presents of clothes and ribbons to Susan ceased; the kind looks with which he was wont to regard her beneath her father’s roof faded by degrees, and settled down into a stern, harsh expression, habitually worn; and ere two years had passed his manner to her became rough and his language frequently brutal.

What was the cause of this change in him? She had done her duty by him faithfully and unmurmuringly; she had scarce even complained of the scanty conveniences, or the too often mended attire both she and the child were compelled to wear. And she was about to become a mother. Surely that should have softened the asperity of his manner towards her!—should have made him tenderer in manner and gentler in language to her and rather have induced him to add to than diminish the comforts of what was, through his parsimony, barely removed from a cheerless home.

The fact was, that Mark Owen was by nature suspicious and distrustful. He was thirty-five years of age when he married his first wife, a young girl of twenty. They were wedded ten years before she had a child, and its advent was so unexpected that Mark’s faith in his wife’s truth—without the smallest foundation on which to build a doubt—was shaken, and within two years after the birth of Harriet his cruelty and tyranny were rewarded by her death. He had loved her well: and truly, in spite of his brutality to her, her loss was a severe blow from which he had never really recovered, and his temper had by no means improved under his affliction. The affair with Susan Ray had, after all, been but an episode, if from it could be eliminated the affection that he began to entertain for her as soon as he had engaged to marry her; that made it an era in his life, and he might have gradually lost much of his moroseness and some of his hard, narrow selfishness, but for that which should have made him proud and joyous—the coming infant.

He was now in his fifty-seventh year and the idle remarks remarks of mischiefmaking fools roused once more his jealous suspicions. He could not realize the possibility of a young girl so pretty and so desirable as Susan being true to him, a hard-featured, grizzly man, calculated in all respects to repel than to raise love or esteem. He forgot, or was ignorant, how much kindness will do; and he commenced rebelling against the likelihood of her unfaithfulness to him by treating her with unfeeling harshness—by insinuating his doubts of her chastity, and by throwing in her teeth the circumstances connected with her first love, which he had solemnly promised never to mention to her again.

He did not strike or beat her—that was all. The transition from liking to hating, on her part, therefore, if somewhat slow in its progress, was at least very sure.

The only solace and comfort in her misery was little Harriet. She became very fond of her, and the child responded to it with a warmth of affection the greater, because her father, scarcely viewing her as his own, always treated her roughly, and invariably repulsed her little childish displays of affection for him.

At length Susan Ray became a mother: she was delivered of a fine boy, and for a time she cared little for the harsh treatment and coarse remarks of her husband, in the gratification her child gave her. She caressed and she fondled it; she loved it, even though she hated and despised its father; and he reviled it, turned from it with loathing, and became to her yet more brutal than ever.

Engraving from the first issue of The Fisherman’s Daughter in Reynolds’s Miscellany

Thus passed nine months, the latter part of which disclosed a marked change in the demeanour of Susan. She became thoughtful, gloomy, reserved; she rarely spoke to her husband; a cloud seemed ever settled on her brow; and she appeared to have taken a strange, unnatural dislike towards her child. She weaned it suddenly, and put it from her as frequently as she could, as though it were some loathly thing, the possession of which kept her shuddering.

Upon Harriet, who was now thirteen years of age, devolved the task of rearing the child, for Susan took but little heed of it. It would be wrong to say that she was cruel or even unkind to the little helpless thing, but she did not display to it any manner in which there was the least trace of motherly tenderness.

Harriet nursed it, washed, dressed, fed it, and bore it about in her arms from dawn to dark; she carried it down to the beach into the sunshine, to let the fresh sea breezes play on its pretty face; she laid it in its cradle when weary, and rocked it into dreamless slumber, and never pouted or looked cross, or ceased to be the most fond, patient, gentle nurse conceivable.

Sometimes Susan would fling her arms round Harriet’s neck and kiss her with a fervour almost violent, and then always a vehement burst of weeping followed, but she said not a word, not one word, complaining or otherwise.

One night, Mark Owen, who was as usual now, after having preluded his departure by an exhibition of fierce brutality to his wife, quitted the cottage with the purpose of proceeding to sea to fish, expecting, from certain indications, to have a “good take.” He had not long departed from the shore when Susan quitted the cottage, and Harriet was left alone with the weeping child. The infant was not well, and was with difficulty rocked to sleep by its tender and attentive nurse.

Midnight came, and Harriet was still alone with the child, with no other companion save the faithful dog Cutter, who kept watch with her, laying down on one side of the rude cradle, and looking up wistfully in Harriet’s face as she hummed, in low tones, some little song to keep the sickly child sleeping.

So the long night wore away, and the dawn broke, casting its pale, grey light on the white, jaded face of the young girl, as, yet at her post, she lulled the moaning infant to rest,—and on the reclining form of the dog, still watching silently and fulfilling the duty it had intuitively undertaken.

It was not long after the breaking of dawn that Mark Owen’s bark ran into the bay, and was beached. It brought with it tidings of ill success. Not a fish had been caught by any vessel of the fleet that sailed the night before, save one belonging to a man with whom Mark was at enmity—the man who had jeered at the probability of the child born to Mark being his own; the fellow, indeed, whose coarse jests might be traced to Mark’s ill usage of Susan.

Mark appeared at his cottage door, wrathful, feverish, and irritated. He dashed it open, and entered with lowering brow and flushed features. He looked around. Susan was not there to receive the outpourings of his wrath. He at once concluded she was yet sleeping in her bed, and he instantly determined to drag her out of it by the hair of her head,—the first act of violence of which he would have been guilty towards her.

He bent his eyes fiercely on Harriet, and said, “Where’s th’moother?”

Harriet turned her wan face towards him, and as her tearful eyes rested on his, she said, meekly and timidly, “I don’t know, father.”

“Don’t know!” he iterated in a voice of thunder.

“Don’t know!—what dost th’ mean?”

“She went away last night soon after you was gone, father.”

“Went out!” he shouted. “Went out! Who did she go with? Who—tell me, girl—who—who was it?”

“She went out alone,” returned Harriet, “but when she came back there was some one with her.”

“A man?” gasped Mark. “A man?”

A—a gentleman,” replied Harriet, affrighted by the expression of her father’s features.

“Go—on!”—he cried. “‘Go on!—tell me all! I will kill her—I’ll kill her, if I be hung for’t!”

“Qh, father! don’t say such dreadful things! She was very, very sad when she left.”

“Damn her!” growled Mark.

“She left for you this letter,” continued Harriet, the tears streaming down her cheeks. “She said it would tell you why she had left you for ever.”

Mark took the letter mechanically, and staggered back a pace or two, as though he had received a violent blow. He tried to articulate some words, but they died on his lips. Harriet went on:—

“She took me in her arms,” she said, “and hugged me to her breast. She cried over me sadly, and begged me to pray for her. She called on heaven to judge her, as she spoke the truth, when she declared she would never have parted from us, but for the constant and undeserved unkindness she had experienced from you; and she prayed me, when others spoke ill of her, and gave her harsh and cruel names, that I would remember how she had loved me, and try to think charitably of her!”

Harriet sobbed bitterly as she spoke; while Mark, unconscious of what he did, tore up the letter he held in his hand piece by piece, letting the fragments fall upon the floor.

“And then she turned to baby—”

Mark uttered a fearful imprecation as those words left her lips. He cursed the child in awful terms; and swore he would dash its life out of its feeble frame against the door-post. He strode to the cradle; but Harriet, shrieking, fell on her knees and clung to him; while the dog, as if he instinctively knew the man’s murderous intention, sprung on to the cradle, shielded the child with his body, and, growling angrily, exhibited his fangs in token of his determination to fasten on Mark, if he attempted to lay violent hands upon it.

Harriet struggled with her father with a strength which in her at the moment seemed superhuman.

“Father! father!” she screamed, ‘have mercy on your own flesh and blood!—have mercy on the little helpless thing! It is-your own child, father!—you cannot kill your own child!”

“It is-not mine!” he roared; and again a torrent of oaths almost choked him as he strove, to prosecute his foul purpose. But Harriet clung so frantically to him, called-on him so agonizedly to slay her, but to-spare the child; and the fiery, glaring eyes of the dog, as with hair erect, he sprung up and showed unmistakable signs of taking part in a conflict if one ensued, had such effect, that Mark was diverted from his horrible- intention.

Staggering to a chair, he sank on it groaning, and buried his face in his hands. There was a silence of nearly a quarter of an hour, and then Mark rose up and said to Harriet in cold and composed tones as he pointed to the sobbing child, which Harriet was hushing to her breast, “How did she part from that brat?”

“She knelt over it, and kissed it, and prayed fervently to God to make its life happier than hers had been.”

She could pray! Could! She did!

“As she did so, the strange gentleman bade her dress it and take it with her. “No! she replied: “it is his child—his own, I swear !—and being his, I could not bear to have it ever in my sight. Leave it in the care of one who will be more tender and loving to it than I should ever be, though its mother.” And so, kissing me again, she placed in my hands that letter, and said that you would know with whom she had left your roof, when you were told that the lost one was found; that he who had gone away years before had returned, and that she was going with him to his home in a far distant land and then they went away together, and I was left here alone.”

Thus Harriet concluded her sad tale, yet weeping at the remembrance of the heart-breaking parting which the night before had taken place between her and Susan.

Mark drew himself straight up and looked upon her and the child for a moment.

“I am accursed by fate!” he shouted. “The children of other men claim me as father!”

He-uttered a wild screeching laugh, and rushed out of the cottage.

He came back no more.[1]

Part Two

Poor Harriet for two or three days contrived to support herself and the child upon what was in the house, and then she went to the wife of the clergyman and told her her pitiful story. The good lady communicated it to her husband, who took up the matter—for Harriet had been his pupil, and the regularity of her attendance at church had pleased him. He made every inquiry after Mark Owen, in vain. All he ascertained was, that he had drawn out the sum he had at his banker’s on the morning of his departure, but whither he went “‘no man knew.” Inquiries after Susan were equally fruitless. Old Ray did not, or would not, know anything about her, and he stoutly refused to have anything to do with either Harriet or the child. The clergyman thereupon proceeded to act upon his own responsibility for the benefit of the two children. The cottage, which had been Mark Owen’s property, he cleared of its furniture, and let it. The lugger realized a good sum, for it was nearly a new boat and a fast sailer; the two pleasure-boats brought a fair sum; and these amounts, added to by a liberal subscription on the part of the gentry around, amounted to upwards of two hundred pounds.

This sum he invested to support the infant, while Harriet, by the influence of his wife’s: connexions in London, was placed in a house of business to learn the dress-making. She was apprenticed for five years; she was to be clothed and fed, but there was to be no money for her as wages until she was out of her time. The little boy—christened Mark Ray Owen, after his father and mother—was placed with a married woman in London, who, having no children, was delighted to, undertake the task of bringing the child up; thinking less of the remuneration than of the pleasure of performing those maternal duties nature had denied her to fulfil towards her own offspring.

Six years elapsed!

Harriet had grown into an elegantly-formed and beautifully-featured girl. She had been out of her time twelve months, and had been induced, by plausible arguments, to remain with the “lady”: to whom she had been apprenticed as a day worker, at the liberal remuneration of eighteen pence per day and her tea. Out of this stipend, she had to pay for her lodging, and find herself in clothes; to be at work by nine in the morning; on no account to leave it before nine at night—but too frequently, not until midnight;—extra labour, which, though highly remunerative to the mistress, made no difference in the amount of the miserable weekly stipend; a scandalous and wicked robbery, constantly perpetrated upon those who cannot redress their wrongs, which it is impossible to find language sufficiently strong to reprobate.

Poor Harriet’s life was a hard one; it was with no small difficulty that she could keep her rent paid, find food enough to save her from starving, and, now and then, add, something to her attire—for shoes were a serious item in her expenditure.

To add to her trials, the clergyman at Weston-super-Mare died suddenly; and as the money to keep young Mark came through him, it ceased; so she was called upon to take young Mark Ray Owen, and keep him herself. The woman who had brought him up was, to give her credit, fiercely opposed to parting with the child; but her husband, a hard, selfish man, found the boy too expensive to maintain merely from a sentiment of fondness for him: he therefore persisted in sending him away—and send him to Harriet he did.

It cost no more to keep Mark than it did herself—one lodging sheltered both—but then she was away the whole day, and she was compelled to pay her landlady an extra sum for taking charge of him. Her miserable pittance had thus inroads made upon it more than it could stand, and how to increase it she knew not.

There soon came to her side one to suggest to her how she could do this, and by what means she might give up the slavery of underpaid needlework to live in ease and luxury.

One day there came to Harriet’s employer a lady patroness to give an order. She had with her a son, a fashionably-attired, good-looking young man, and he accompanied her into the show-room. In the accidental absence of the mistress and the forewoman, Harriet was called upon to take the order, and the son of course, during the whole time it was being repeated to her, stared her out of countenance, until she was so embarrassed she knew not which way to look. He left his gloves behind him on leaving, that he might return alone, speak to her, and look sufficiently again at her to make her readily comprehend that she had made a conquest of him. He engaged a person to find out her name, her private lodgings, and the route she took on her way home, and at what time she left her place of business.

Then he waylaid her; and then followed a systematic series of persecutions skilfully disguised, but not skilfully carried out, or haplessly she, like many another poor girl similarly placed, might have  fallen a victim to the machinations directed to destroy-her virtue.

The first night this man commenced the prosecution of his design it slightly rained, and appearing to overtake her, he addressed her by name, and offered her part of his umbrella, which, after much urging, she accepted, and he saw her to her door. He found her as innocent and guileless as a child; and after he had four or five times, as if by accident, either met or overtaken her and walked with her, he was in possession of her history and her wants. With well-affected philanthropy he proffered her some money for the child, which she accepted: he subsequently offered her money for herself, which she refused; and then he began to enlarge on the pleasure and delight of living free from work, in absolute luxury, as a lady, with the boy well taken care of at a good boarding school, and his future prosperity ensured. It was a beautiful dream, and she sighed as she thought of the impossibility of realizing it.

Hitherto, that was a point at which this man stopped short: he feared to alarm her by abruptness, but he feared too that a girl so extremely beautiful would be snatched from him by some one more daring in design, if he delayed too long bringing about an eclaircissement. He refrained too from persisting in his offer of money, for he knew that it was through her fiercely griping poverty that he must make her his. He therefore thus determined, went privately to the landlady, and bribed her to raise her rent. Harriet had not time to look for fresh lodging: she was forced to assent, almost at the sacrifice of her daily dinner. Then the child fell ill, and the doctor was sent for, an expense she knew it would be impossible to pay, and she became almost frantic at her position. She was unable to work so well or so nimbly for her sorrow; and the cravings of a half-satisfied nature made her unequal to the performance of the duties required of her,—which her mistress observing, she, with that Christian charity which distinguishes so many of her class, told her that she must really do better or go. She looked, she said, peaking and ill; and she had no business to come there to keep out the strong and able. She could not have sickly people in her establishment, and unless she got better and did better, she must leave.

Heart-broken, at night Harriet put on her things to leave. She had no dinner in store for the morrow, and no money to buy it with. Had her persecutor met her that night, it would indeed have been a miracle had she escaped his toils. But it so happened that one of her companions in slavery observed that she had not dined, and that she ate with avidity the two wretched thin slices of bread and butter doled out for tea. Within her own mind she guessed the truth, and resolved she should have a good supper, where she knew one would be provided. She would take no denial to her invitation; and though Harriet really did not wish to go, she was too faint, too worn, weak, broken spirited to resist; and so she went, and in going, missed an interview with the man who had resolved on her destruction. Her friend, Judith Steele, had a kind mother—a woman of the world, with a large heart, full of human sympathy; and she had a brother—an upright, honourable young man, in a large warehouse in the City. By these people Harriet was received in a manner which brought—easily brought, in her weak condition—the tears into her eyes. She was tenderly and respectfully treated; and when, with delicate tact, Mrs. Steele elicited her painful story, there was not a dry eye among them.

Before she left that night, Mrs. Steele arranged for her to lodge with her, saying, “You are too young and too pretty, my dear, to live so unprotected. I will see after you as I would my own girl. We are not well off—all of us are obliged to do something to help, but we can make room for you.”

“And we will, mother,” cried the brother and sister, together.

Harriet hardly knew how to express her thanks, and most gladly availed herself of the offer. Edwin Steele escorted her to her lodging to which she returned with a lighter heart than she had ever done since she had entered it.

By dawn the next morning she arose, gathered her little valuables, paid her landlady with money advanced to her by Mrs. Steele, and, with Mark, prepared to go to her new abode. Edwin met her, and carried her bundle. He and Harriet laughed and joked all the way; while Mark, though yet weak and poorly, all but capered before them, delighted at the prospect of a change; for he hated the woman they had just left.

Breakfast with Mrs. Steele over, Harriet and Judith went to work; and the white slave-driver, before the day had ended, noted the change in Harriet graciously: she had done more work, and done it better.

That night, going home, the anonymous pseudo-friend was encountered. He, too, saw there was a change; and, fearing to lose such a prize, he came abruptly to his offer to her—to become his mistress. Bewildered with indignation, she scarcely knew how to reply; a few words, however, served to show her scorn at the proposition and her indignation at the insult. He, however, would not take a denial, but grew importunate, and seized her. Both Harriet and Judith screamed, and the sounds of their voices, calling for help, quickened the pace at which Edmund Steele was advancing to meet them. So he arrived in time to liberate Harriet, and kick her assailant from one end of the street to the other.

On their way home, Edwin said to Harriet, “I came to meet you, Miss Owen, because I believe I have good news for you; and good news, in my opinion, cannot fly too fast.”

And then he told her that he had seen an advertisement in the Times of that day, which he presumed related to her and to her half-brother. So, when they got home, he unfolded the paper, and pointed out to her a notice which ran thus:—

“The next of kin, or nearest living relatives of Mark Owen, late of Weston-super-Mare, master mariner, are requested to apply to Messrs. Paywell and Fairly, solicitors, 5, Hare Court, Temple, when they will hear of something to their advantage.”

With a beating heart Harriet listened to the reading of this advertisement,—that it referred to her father there could not be the shadow of a doubt; and on the following morning, instead of going to her work, she went, accompanied by Mark and Mrs. Steele, to the Temple.

On stating her name and her business to a smartly dressed lawyer’s clerk, who darted glances at her highly expressive of his approbation of her beauty, he ushered her and her companions into an inner apartment, where she saw an elderly gentleman, with grey hair, addressing a veiled lady and a tall, officer-like gentleman.

“Here is a young lady, sir—and a little boy, sir,” exclaimed the clerk to his principal, “who claim being the daughter and son of the late Mr. Mark Owen, of Weston-Super-Mare.”

There was an instant bustle. The lady uttered a cry of mingled joy and astonishment. She ran up to Harriet, and stared her hard in the face.

“Harriet!” she exclaimed, in a sobbing voice,—“Harriet, have you forgotten me?”

Harriet grew red and white by turns, and murmured, “You were my father’s—”

“Oh, Harriet! Slave—dog—drudge—not his wife! you cannot have forgotten that!” exclaimed Susan Owen—for it was her—with passionate earnestness. “You are old enough now to see the error and the disgrace attached to the step I took; but you were old enough then to know what I suffered, what I endured before I took it! Do you, knowing this, shut your heart against me?”

Harriet held out her arms.

“I remember, mother, that you were ever gentle, kind, and good to me. I wish to remember no more.”

Susan caught her to her breast, and kissed her almost frantically.

“I knew your heart, Harriet,” she sobbed; ‘I knew you, at least, would not discard me from it; and you will find that I am not unworthy of your good opinion.”

Little Mark Rey Owen now went through the ordeal of a mother’s reviving affection: her caresses of the boy, who looked rather bewildered at the fervour of her fondness, were not less ardent than those she had bestowed on Harriet; and although on quitting the child, she seemed to regard it almost’ with loathing, she now took it to her heart, as if no such feeling had ever moved her.

She held his hand tightly, fearing to lose him; and he took hold of Harriet’s as though he feared to be parted from her,—although Susan, with a look of affectionate tenderness in Harriet’s beaming eyes, declared they should never be sundered more.

Now came an explanation.

Mark Owen drew out his money on leaving: the cottage, and came to London, where the greatest part of his wealth was invested; and here he lived in seclusion, almost denying himself common necessaries, that he might accumulate a large sum—with what purpose, never appeared. He succeeded in accomplishing his object, and just as he had done so, he was stricken with death; and when he found that he could not live but a few hours, a sense of the wrong and injury he had done his children, caused him to wipe out his unworthy suspicions from his mind, and to leave the whole of the fortune he had gathered together, save an annuity of two hundred pounds to Susan Owen, his wife, whom in his last moments, and by that last will and testament, he forgave for leaving him; acknowledging that he had driven her to take the step by his own harsh treatment of her.

Harriet was now heiress to two thousand a year, and Mark Ray Owen heir to four thousand per annum. Susan was not in need of her annuity, for she had been married, after obtaining a divorce, to her first love, Major Langton. He had returned from India to marry her, when he found her wedded to old Owen. He was bitterly hurt to find that she had thus blighted his hopes; but he sought her out, nevertheless, that he might hear the truth; and when he heard her sad tale,—when he understood the misery in which she lived, he prevailed upon her to quit her husband, and to sue for a divorce, which, through great influence, was obtained, although some of the provisions insisted upon by the ecclesiastical law were not enforced.

Thus she had abstained from bringing shame upon her son’s head, in spite of the pleadings of love; and she was absolved from her first marriage vows, and duly married again, ere she lived with Major Langton as his wife. The major had recently come into a large fortune, which had brought him back from India, whither he had returned with his wife on the expiration of his furlough. Susan’s attempts to find Harriet were futile, until the advertisement for the next of kin reunited them; and after that, so to say, they never parted again.

But we must acknowledge that a division did spring up in the family, and at no very distant date, either. And thus it came about: Harriet forgot not those who were kind to her in adversity, and took to live with her Mrs. Steele and Judith Steele, and Edwin Steele. In finding out; as she somehow did, that he loved her, she actually gave her hand to him, and they were married.

He had for a wife the prettiest girl in the kingdom, and thus the little division in the families was brought to pass. It is very likely that Judith Steele got married, too, and it is quite certain that they “all lived happy for ever afterwards.”[2]

[1] Original citation: Pierce Egan, ‘The Fisherman’s Daughter’, Reynolds’s Miscellany, 18 April 1857, 177–79.

[2] Original citation: Pierce Egan, ‘The Fisherman’s Daughter’, Reynolds’s Miscellany, 25 April 1857, 196–97.