The Kidnapper Trap
Or, the Treacherous Husband Caught in his own Trap, being a pleasant and true relation of a man in this town that would have sold his wife to Virginia, how he bargained with the master of a ship for forty-five shillings, telling him she was a slut* that followed him, and that he could not be rid of her; but afterwards the master discovering that she was his wife, released her, and clapping him into the hold, carried him away in her stead.
Supposing I tell you a story generally known, I shall forbear to particularise in the names of the persons concerned, or the place where they lived; but only I say in general, there lived a person in this town (between Charing Cross and the Royal Exchange) who, though he was but of an ordinary profession, yet was called ‘master’ all over the parish where he lived; and had so much of a gentleman in him as to keep a she-friend, who in times of pleasure, or necessity, supplied the room of his wife. This modest mechanic groaning under the burden of wedlock, like a porter under a chest of sugar, was resolved to be rid of it at any rate. Many a conference had old Nick and he about it, and laying their heads together, had run over as many contrivances to make a woman away. as the devil or man could invent. But at last it was agreed that she should march off to some foreign plantation. This was looked upon as a notable contrivance. And so taking his leave of him for the present, away he goes to the Royal Exchange in order to put the design in execution.
Being come there he falls to examining the pillars, and found a cruel company of hard names that he could not tell what to make off, but at last meeting very happily with a ship bound for Virginia and just ready to depart, he agreed upon that as the most suitable to his design, both as to the time and place. Joyful with this lucky opportunity, home he returns to his wife. Very sweet he was upon her, and like an old cunning rat-catcher he mixed sugar with his poison that it might take the better. She wonderfully pleased with his unusual kindness, provided something extraordinary for his dinner, and such joy there was as they had never known since their wedding day.
The merriment being a little over, and the afternoon fair, he pretended business at the place where the vessel lay, and desired his wife to bear him company. I know the reader is presently concluding that she was ready to go with him, but he’s mistaken, for having three small bantlings at home, that could never a one of them shift for itself, the good woman was very unwilling to leave them. But however overcome by the treacherous kindness of the good man, she at last got a neighbourly woman to give the little one the teat, and spread bread and butter for the rest, and away they trudged together as lovingly as any couple in the parish.
Hitherto all things seemed to favour the project, for being come to the key, the first man he met with chanced to be the master of the said vessel to which the bill had directed him. Hereupon he took an opportunity to discourse him in the thing and, in short, covenanted for five shillings in the hand and forty shillings more to be paid when the ship had past the blockhouse at Graves End.
Nothing was more to be done now but the delivery of the goods, of which both the master and the husband were equally impatient. And in this they found very little difficulty, for the former inviting the latter on board, he could do no less than desire the company of his wife; nor she, than comply with his kind request, having no mistrust of his intention. Being come on board, they were entertained with such things as the ship (I had almost said “house”) afforded, and after some considerable stay, her husband absenting himself longer than ordinary, she desired the master he might be called for, as she had three small children at home that wanted her dearly.
The master somewhat startled hereat, demanded of her if she were married, for as yet he had not discovered that they were man and wife. She replied, “Yes,” and that the person who came with her was her husband. He, presently smoking the design, told her the long and short of the business, in the manner that I have related it, which so surprised the woman that upon a sudden she lost that little sense she had and fell into a swoon. Her husband returning in this interval inquired into the cause which he no sooner understood, but it is said he had like to have born her company, for he was a pitiful low-hearted rascal (as I have already intimated to you) that would have been more wicked if he had been more courageous. Gape he did and was going to say something in excuse of himself, but his wife coming to herself told him he lied at a venture, clapping her hands and scolding at such a rate, that she made the cabin ring again. “Sirrah,” says she, “is this your kindness? I thought it would come to this (though in this I dare swear she lied). Did not I marry you, and give you five pounds to buy your wedding clothes, when you had not a tatter to your arse (for in her haste she did not stand upon fine words)? And yet for all this have not you used me like a dog, and kept a whore under my nose? And now at last to betray me and sell me?” - More she would have said to this purpose; and to say truth, if ever a woman may be justified in her scolding she had occasion enough, but the master being an honest fellow, and not caring for too much noise on one hand, nor too much villainy on the other, bid her be quiet, and all should be well enough.
So taking the husband to task, “Sirrah,” says he, “did not you tell me that this was an impudent baggage that dogged you up and down to marry her? That she resolved to father a child upon you that another had begot? Which for ought I know may be true enough too. But when I asked you whether she were your wife or no, did you not very impudently forswear it?”
“Yes, and please your worship,” says the poor sneaking cur, “I did,” and if it had been false, he durst not have denied it for his ears. But on the master proceeds in his hard language, swearing by all the flesh upon his back (which considering the corpulency of the man was a pretty swinging oath) that he should never set foot ashore till he came to Virginia. “And for your part, mistress,” says he, “you may even go quietly ashore, and say it is the best day’s work that ever you did since your mother bound your head.” But she for all, like a fond fool fell snivelling and wringing her hands, desiring the master that he would not carry away her dear husband, for let him do what he would yet still he was her husband, and in that clamorous impertinence, I’ll warrant you she repeated the word “husband” above a hundred times, whereat the master (being a little hasty) replied, “a pox a take ye, then ye may go both together.”
The fellow between joy and haste had like to have leapt over board, concluding he was discharged, but the woman taking it in the right sense, calling to mind both the unkindness of her husband and the sad condition her little ones would be left in, was contented to intreat for herself and to submit to the master’s pleasure as to the other, but for all she could not forbear offering all the money she had for his releasement, for which she was heartily laughed at and sent away. I hope I need not take much pains to persuade you that the fellow begged very heartily to come ashore: but I do assure you if the master keeps his word (as I think he will) he is not like to set foot on land till he come to Chuck a Tuck in James River in Virginia, whether he is very fairly bound, and for the master’s sake (my particular friend) I wish him a good voyage.
Printed in 1675.
* I was curious about the use of the word “slut”, not knowing for how long it has been in use. It turns out that the first attested use of the word was in 1402 when Thomas Hoccleve said in Letter of Cupid, “the foulest slutte of al a tovne [town].”