Unnatural Children” is a caution to parents—and also to young readers. Youth’s Companion was meant to appeal to all ages.

“Unnatural Children” (from Youth’s Companion, November 22, 1849; p. 119)

A certain man, possessing one of the best houses, and one of the largest farms in the place, had three sons just grown up and married. He had already assisted them with property sufficient to enable them to live and thrive very well, with proper industry; and he proposed to divide his estate equally between them at his death. With a view to this, he had deeds prepared and executed—signed and sealed, but not delivered. He laid them away in his desk; they were of no validity as yet, because they were retained in his own hands, and were not put on the town records. He preferred this method to making a will, having perhaps that irrational aversion to making such an instrument which some people have, appearing to be superstitious about it, as if it presaged their death.

The sons, eager to anticipate the inheritance, broke open the desk, got possession of the deeds, and had them recorded. And now they were valid. Whether the father might have proved the fraudulency of the measure, and so made it null and void, I do not know; he did not do it; and so the property stood as legally theirs.

Their next step, at which they did not long hesitate, was to eject him, and take possession. They compelled their father and mother, now considerably in years, to retire to an old decayed house, on a solitary road, away from neighbors, and almost in the shade of a gloomy forest. There they spent the rest of their days, sorrowful, lone and poor—they who had been so affluent; and the worst of their affliction was to think of the ingratitude of their children. So solitary was the house, that squirrels made their nest in it, and were quite welcome to the aged pair, as their gambols sometimes diverted them from their sorrow. Birds also built their nests about them, quite familiarly, and reared their young, without experiencing such ungrateful returns from their offspring as they experienced from theirs.

The sons supplied them with the necessaries of life for a while, but soon, as might be expected from such unnatural children, began to neglect and leave them to want. A man passing by, one day, and observing that all was still, like the Sabbath, looked in at the window. He saw the old gentleman sitting alone, with his face in his hands, weeping; and asking the cause, “I am hungry,” he replied, “and have nothing to eat.”

The eldest son occupied the paternal mansion. There he lived in plenty. He had a little daughter, Grace. She was old enough to understand something of the wrong that had been done her grand-parents. As often as she could, she would go to see them, and would carry them some little thing for their comfort, if it were only a couple of eggs taken from the nest or a bit of cake. She did not feel that this was stealing, for she knew that the property rightfully belonged to them, and that she was but giving them their own. One day her grandfather came to the house, and asked for a little vinegar. “I will draw it for you, grandpa,” said Grace, taking the jug from his hand, and running down cellar. Instead of vinegar, she filled it with molasses; and was in great fear lest her parents should find it out. So, to hasten her grandfather, she snatched her bonnet, saying she would go with him a part of the way, and carry the jug. She did so, and we may well believe that the afforded her grandparents a hundred-fold more pleasure than the molasses.

But how did those sons prosper? I do not know their history minutely, but in brief it was this: one of them, while yet in the bloom of life, fell through the ice and was drowned, his wife witnessing the calamitous event. Another, the father of Grace, soon run through with his property, and died poor. The third suffered disgrace and mortification in the conduct of one of his daughters. He kept his property while he lived, and bequeathed it all to a selfish and prodigal only son. Then, in consequence of the will, came bitter contentions between that son and his sisters; and the widow was left to shift for herself, by them all. While the son built him a grand house, and flourished away, the poor mother pined in poverty, and used actually to pass by his door, and come to my parents for assistance. In the behavior of her children, she reaped the natural fruits of the like behaviour of the man she married, and whose wife she was at the time of his unfilial conduct towards her parents-in-law, without, perhaps, opposing it. Her son, after a very few years, became bankrupt, both in property and in character, fled “between two days,” went West, and dragged out a miserable life there, and finally died a sot.

Few of the descendants of those three men have, so far as I know, been prospered. With a number of the third generation I was personally acquainted. It would he painful to describe the character and end of some of them. The sea swallowed up three of them. The iniquities of the fathers appear to have been visited upon the children unto the third generation; of the fourth, I have no knowledge.

But Grace is an exception. She married into a respectable and pious family, has never wanted any good thing, and now (for she is still living, at a venerable age,) is amply and affectionately provided for in the family of a pious and wealthy daughter. More than all, she lives in hope of the glory of God, having early in life professed faith in Christ. Thus God has remembered her tenderness to her grandparents. And I dare say she was to her own parents better daughter than they had reason to expect.

“Honor thy father and mother, (which is the first command with promise,) that it lay be well with thee, and that thou mayst live long on the earth.”—Recollections of Maternal Influence.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.