'These wretches,' said the boy—'are many of them related to each other. There are husbands and wives there; mothers and children; brothers and sisters. Yet they all herd together, you see, without regard to nature or decency. Why the crime of incest is as common among them as dirt! I have known a mother and her son—a father and his daughter—a brother and sister—to be guilty of criminal intimacy! Those wretched children are many of them the offspring of such unnatural and beastly connections. In my opinion, those hogs have as good a claim to humanity, as those brutes in human form!'
'And how came those hogs to form part of the inhabitants of this infernal place?' asked the stranger.
'You must know,' replied the boy,'that these vaults communicate with the common street sewers of the city; well, those animals get into the sewers, to devour the vegetable matter, filth and offal that accumulate there; and, being unable to get out, they eventually find their way to these vaults. Here they are killed and eaten by the starving wretches. And would you believe it?—these people derive almost all their food from these sewers. They take out the decayed vegetables and other filth, which they actually eat; and the floating sticks and timber serve them for fuel. You remember the man we saw devouring the dead animal; well, he took that carcase from the sewer.'
'And what effect does such loathsome diet produce upon them?' asked the other.
'Oh,' was the reply—'it makes them insane in a short time; eventually they lose the faculty of speech, and howl like wild animals. Their bodies become diseased, their limbs rot, and finally they putrify and die.'
'And how do they dispose of the dead bodies?' asked the stranger.
'They throw them into the sewer,' answered the boy, with indifference. His listener shuddered.
'Come,' said the young guide—'you have only seen the wretched portion of the Dark Vaults. You are sick of such miseries, and well you may be—but we will now pay a visit to a quarter where there are no sickening sights. We will go to the Infernal Regions!'
Saying this, he led the way thro' a long, narrow passage, which was partially illumined by a bright light at the further end. As they advanced loud bursts of laughter greeted their ears; and finally they emerged into a large cavern, brilliantly illuminated by a multitude of candles, and furnished with a huge round table. Seated around this were about twenty men, whose appearance denoted them to be the most desperate and villainous characters which can infest a city. Not any of them were positively ragged or dirty; on the contrary, some of them were dressed richly and expensively; but there was no mistaking their true characters, for villain was written in their faces as plainly as though the word was branded on their faces with a hot iron.
Seated upon a stool in the centre of the table was a man of frightful appearance: his long, tangled hair hung over two eyes that gleamed with savage ferocity; his face was the most awful that can be imagined—long, lean, cadaverous and livid, it resembled that of a corpse. No stranger could view it without a shudder; it caused the spectator to recoil with horror. His form was tall and bony, and he was gifted with prodigious strength. This man, on account of his corpse-like appearance was known as 'the Dead Man.' He never went by any other title; and his real name was unknown.
The stupendous villainy and depravity of this man's character will appear hereafter. Upon the occasion of his first introduction in this narrative, he was acting as president of the carousals; he was the first one to notice the entrance of the boy and the stranger; and addressing the former, he said—
'How now, Kinchen—who have you brought with you? Is the cove cross or square—and what does he want in our ken?'
'He is a cross cove,' answered the boy—'he is just from quay; and wishes to make the acquaintance of the knights of the Round Table.'
'That being the case,' rejoined the Dead Man, 'he is welcome, provided he has the blunt to pay for the lush all round.'
The stranger, understanding the import of these words, threw upon the table a handful of money; this generosity instantly raised him high in the estimation of all present. He was provided with a seat at the table, and a bumper of brandy was handed him, which he merely tasted, without drinking.
The boy seated himself at the side of the stranger, and the Dead Man, addressing a person by the name of the 'Doctor,' requested him to resume the narration of his story, in which he had been interrupted by the two newcomers.
The 'Doctor,' a large, dark man, very showily dressed, complied, and spoke as follows:—
'As I was saying, gentlemen, I had become awfully reduced—not a cent in my possession, not a friend in the world, and clothed in rags. One night, half-crazed with hunger, I stationed myself at the Park, having armed myself with a paving stone, determined to rob the first person that came along, even if I should be obliged to dash out his brains.—After a while, a young gentleman approached my lurking place; I advanced towards him with my missile raised, and he drew a sword from his cane, prepared to act on the defensive—but when I mentioned that three days had elapsed since I had taken food, the generous young man, who might easily have overcome me, weak and reduced as I was—took from his pocket a fifty dollar bill, and gave it to me. This generous gift set me on my legs again, and now here am I, a Knight of the Round Table, with a pocket full of rocks, and good prospects in anticipation. Now, the only wish of my heart is to do that generous benefactor of mine a service; and if ever I can do a good action to him, to prove my gratitude, I shall be a happy fellow indeed.'
'Posh!' said the Dead Man, contemptuously—'don't talk to me of gratitude—if a man does me a service I hate him for it ever afterwards. I never rest till I repay him by some act of treachery or vengeance.'
As the hideous man gave utterance to this abominable sentiment, several females entered the apartment, one of whom led by the hand a small boy of five years of age. This woman was the wife of the Dead Man, and the child was his son.
The little fellow scrambled upon the table, and his father took him upon his knee, saying to the company—
'Pals, you know the blessed Bible tells us to 'train up a child in the way he should go;' very good—now you will see how well I have obeyed the command with this little kid. Attend to your catechism, my son. What is your name?'
'Jack the Prig,' answered the boy without hesitation.
'Who gave you that name?'
'The Jolly Knights of the Round Table.'
'Who made you?' asked the father.
'His Majesty, old Beelzebub!' said the child.
'For what purpose did he make you?'
'To be a bold thief all my life, and die like a man upon the gallows!'
Immense applause followed this answer.
'What is the whole duty of man?'
'To drink, lie, rob, and murder when necessary.'
'What do you think of the Bible?'
'It's all a cursed humbug!'
'What do you think of me—now speak up like a man!'
'You're the d——dest scoundrel that ever went unhung,' replied the boy, looking up in his father's face and smiling.
The roar of laughter that followed his answer was perfectly deafening, and was heartily joined in by the Dead Man himself, who had taught the child the very words—and those words were true as gospel. The Dead Man knew he was a villain, and gloried in the title. He gave the boy a glass of brandy to drink, as a reward for his cleverness; and further encouraged him by prophesying that he would one day become a great thief.
Room was now made at the table for the women, several of whom were young and good-looking. They were all depraved creatures, being common prostitutes, or very little better; and they drank, swore, and boasted of their exploits in thieving and other villainy, with as much gusto as their male companions. After an hour of so spent in riotous debauchery, the company, wearied with their excesses, broke up, and most of them went to their sleeping places; the Dead Man, the boy and the stranger, together with a man named Fred, remained at the table; and the former, addressing the stranger, said to him—
'And so, young man, you have just come out of quod, hey? Well, as you look rather hard up, and most likely haven't a great deal of blunt on hand, suppose I put you in the way of a little profitable business—eh?'
The stranger nodded approvingly.
'Well, then,' continued the Dead Man—'you must know that Fred Archer here and myself spotted a very pretty crib on Broadway, and we have determined to crack it. The house is occupied by a young gentleman named Sydney, and his wife—they have been married but a short time. We shall have no difficulty in getting into the crib, for Mr. Sydney's butler, a fellow named Davis, is bribed by me to admit us into the house, at a given signal. What say you—will you join us?'
'Yes—and devilish glad of the chance,' replied the stranger, gazing at Fred Archer with much interest. Fred was a good looking young man, genteelly dressed, but with a dissipated, rakish air.
'Very well—that matter is settled,' said the Dead Man. 'Three of us will be enough to do the job, and therefore we shan't want your assistance, Kinchen,' he added, addressing the boy. 'It must now be about six o'clock in the morning—we will meet here to-night at eleven precisely. Do not fail, for money is to be made in this affair.'
The stranger promised to be punctual at the appointed hour; and bidding him good night (for it was always night in that place), Fred and the Dead Man retired, leaving the Kinchen and the stranger alone together.
'Well,' said the Kinchen—'so it seems that you have got into business already. Well and good—but I must caution you to beware of that Dead Man, for he is treacherous as a rattlesnake. He will betray you, if anything is to be gained by it—and even when no advantage could be gained, he will play the traitor out of sheer malice. He is well aware that I, knowing his real character, would not join him in the business, and therefore he affected to think that my assistance was unnecessary.'
'I will look out for him,' rejoined the stranger—and then added, 'I will now thank you to conduct me out of this place, as I have matters to attend to elsewhere.'
The Kinchen complied, and in ten minutes they emerged into the street above, by the same way they had entered.
Here they parted, the stranger having first presented the boy with a liberal remuneration for his services as guide, and made an appointment to meet him on a future occasion.
The false wife, and the dishonest servant—scene in the Police Court—capture of the Burglars, and threat of vengeance.
Mr. Francis Sydney and his lady were seated at dinner, in the sumptuously furnished dining parlor of their elegant Broadway mansion. The gentleman looked somewhat pale and ill at ease, but the lady had never looked more superbly beautiful.
The table was waited upon by Davis, the butler, a respectable looking man of middle age, and Mr. Sydney, from time to time, glanced furtively from his wife to this man, with a very peculiar expression of countenance.
'My love,' said Mrs. Sydney, after a pause of several minutes—'I have a little favor to ask.'
'You have but to name it, Julia, to ensure it being granted,' was the reply.
'It is this,' said the lady;—'our present footman is a stupid Irishman, clumsy and awkward; and I really wish him to be discharged. And, my dear, I should be delighted to have the place filled by my father's black footman, who is called Nero. He is civil and attentive, and has been in my father's family many years. Let us receive him into our household.'
'Well Julia,' said the husband, 'I will consider on the subject. I should not like to part with our present footman, Dennis, without some reluctance—for though uncouth in his manners, he is an honest fellow, and has served me faithfully for many years. Honest servants are exceedingly scarce now-a-days.'
As he uttered these last words, Davis, the butler, cast a sudden and suspicious look upon his master, who appeared to be busily engaged with the contents of his plate, but who in reality was steadfastly regarding him from the corner of his eyes.
As soon as dinner was over, the lady retired to her boudoir; Davis removed the cloth and Mr. Sydney was left alone. After taking two or three turns up and down the room, he paused before the fireplace and soliloquized thus:
'Curses on my unhappy situation! My wife is an adulteress, and my servants in league with villains to rob me! These two letters confirm the first—and my last night's adventure in the Dark Vaults convinced me of the second. And then the woman just now had the damnable effrontery to request me to take her rascally paramour into my service, in place of my faithful Dennis! She wishes to carry on her amours under my very nose! And that scoundrel Davis—how demure, how innocently he looks—and yet how suspiciously he glanced at me, when I emphasized honest servants! He is a cursed villain, and yet not one-tenth part so guilty as this woman, whom I espoused in honorable marriage, supposing her to be pure and untainted and yet who was, previous to our marriage, defiled by co-habitation with a vile negro—and now after our marriage, is still desirous of continuing her beastly intrigues. Davis is nothing but a low-born menial, without education or position, but Julia is by birth a lady, the daughter of a man of reputation and honor, moving in a brilliant sphere, possessing education and talent, admired as much for her beauty as for her accomplishments and wit—and for her to surrender her person to the lewd embraces of any man—much more a negro menial—is horrible! And then to allow herself to be led to the altar, enhanced her guilt tenfold; but what caps the climax of her crimes, is this last movement of hers, to continue her adulterous intercourse! Heavens!—what a devil in the form of a lovely woman! But patience, patience! I must set about my plan of vengeance with patience.'
The reader of course need not be told, that the stranger of the Dark Vaults, and Frank Sydney, were one and the same person. The adventure had furnished him with the evidences of his wife's criminality and his servant's dishonesty and perfidy.
That same afternoon, the young gentleman sallied forth from his mansion, and took his way to the police office. On his way he mused thus:
'By capturing these two villains, the Dead Man and Fred Archer, I shall render an important service to the community. It is evident that the first of these men is a most diabolical wretch, capable of any crime; and the other, I am convinced, is the same Frederick Archer who is the husband of the unfortunate girl with whom I passed the night not long since, at which time she related to me her whole history. He must be a most infernal scoundrel to make his wife prostitute herself for his support; and he is a burglar too, it seems. Society will be benefited by the imprisonment of two such wretches—and this very night shall they both lodge in the Tombs.'
When Frank arrived at the police office, he found a large crowd assembled; a young thief had just been brought in, charged with having abstracted a gentleman's pocket-book from his coat pocket, in Chatham Street. What was Frank's surprise at recognizing in the prisoner, the same boy who had been his companion in the Dark Vaults, on the proceeding night! The lad did not know Frank, for there was no similarity between the ragged, vagabond looking fellow of the night before, and the elegantly dressed young gentleman who now surveyed him with pity and interest depicted in his handsome countenance.
It was a clear case—the young offender was seen in the act, and the pocket-book was found in his possession. The magistrate was about to make out his commitment, when Frank stepped forward, and required what amount of bail would be taken on the premises?
'I shall require surety to the amount of five hundred dollars, as the theft amounts to grand larceny,' replied the magistrate.
'I will bail him, then,' said Frank.
'Very well, Mr. Sydney,' observed the magistrate, who knew the young gentleman perfectly well, and highly respected him.
'You will wait here in the office for me, until I have transacted some business, and then accompany me to my residence,' said Frank—'I feel interested in you, and, if you are worthy of my confidence hereafter, your future welfare shall be promoted by me.'
Frank had a long private interview with the magistrate. After having made arrangements for the capture of the two burglars, the young man urged the police functionary to take immediate measures for the breaking up of the band of desperate villains who lurked in the Dark Vaults, and the relief of the miserable wretches who found a loathsome refuge in that terrible place. The magistrate listened with attention and then said—
'I have long been aware of the existence of the secret, subterranean Vaults of which you allude, and so have the officers of the police; yet the fact is known to very, very few of the citizens generally. Now you propose that an efficient and armed force of the police and watch, make a sudden descent into the den, with the view of capturing the villains who inhabit it. Ridiculous!—why, sir, the thing is impossible: they have a mysterious passage, unknown to any but themselves, by which they can escape and defy pursuit. The thing has been attempted twenty times, and as often failed. So much for the villains of the den;—now in regard to the wretched beings whom you have described, if we took them from that hole, what in the world should we do with them? Put them in the prisons and almshouse, you say. That would soon breed contagion throughout the establishments where they might be placed, and thus many lives would be sacrificed thro' a misdirected philanthropy. No, no—believe me, Mr. Sydney, that those who take up their abode in the Vaults, and become diseased, and rot, and die there, had much better be suffered to remain there, far removed from the community, than to come into contact with that community, and impart their disease and pollution to those who are now healthy and pure. Those vaults may be regarded as the moral sewers of the city—the scum and filth of our vast population accumulate in them. With reference to the desperadoes who congregate there, their living is made by robbery and outrage throughout the city; and all, sooner or later, are liable to be arrested and imprisoned for their offences.'
'I admit the force of your reasoning,' said Frank—'yet I cannot but deeply deplore the existence of such a den of horrors.'
'A den of horrors indeed!' rejoined the magistrate. 'Why, sir, there are at this moment no less than six murderers in the Vaults—one of whom escaped from his cell the night previous to the day on which he was to be hung. The gallows was erected in the prison yard—but when the sheriff went to bring the convict forth to pay the penalty of his crime, his cell was empty; and upon the wall was written with charcoal,—'Seek me in the Dark Vaults!' The police authorities once blocked up every known avenue to the caverns, with the design of starving out the inmates; but they might have waited till doomsday for the accomplishment of that object, as the secret outlet which I have mentioned enabled the villains to procure stores of provisions, and to pass in and out at pleasure. I am glad that your scheme, Mr. Sydney, will tonight place in the grip of the law, two of these miscreants, one of whom, the Dead Man, has long been known as the blackest villain that ever breathed. He is a fugitive from justice, having a year ago escaped from the State Prison, where he had been sentenced for life, for an atrocious murder; he had been reprieved from the gallows, thro' the mistaken clemency of the Executive. He will now be returned to his old quarters, to fulfil his original sentence, and pass the remainder of his accursed life in imprisonment and exclusion from the world, in which he is not fit to dwell.'
Frank now took leave of the magistrate, and, accompanied by the young pickpocket, returned to his own residence. It was now about five o'clock, and growing quite dark; a drizzly rain was falling intermingled with snow. Frank conducted the boy to his library, and having carefully closed and locked the door, said to him—
'Kinchen, don't you know me?'
The boy started, and gazed earnestly at him for a few moments, and then shook his head.
'Wait here a short time, and I will return,' said Frank, and he stepped into a closet adjoining the library, and shut the door.
Ten minutes elapsed; the closet door opened, and a ragged, dirty looking individual entered the library. The boy jumped to his feet in astonishment, and exclaimed—
'Why, old fellow, how the devil came you here?'
'Hush,' said Frank—'I am the man who accompanied you thro' the Vaults last night, and I am also the gentleman who bailed you to-day. Now listen; you can do me a service. You know that the Dead Man, Fred Archer and myself are to enter this house to-night; the two burglars little think that I am the master of the house. It is my intention to entrap those two villains. Take this pistol; conceal yourself in that closet, and remain quiet until you hear the noise of a struggle; then rush to the scene of the conflict, and aid me and the officers in capturing the two miscreants. Rather than either of them should escape, shoot him thro' the head. I am inclined to think that you will prove faithful to me; be honest, and in me you have secured a friend. But I must enlist another person in our cause.'
He rang a bell, and Dennis, the Irish footman, made his appearance. This individual was not surprised to see his master arrayed in that strange garb, for he had often assisted him in similar disguises. Dennis was a large, raw-looking Hibernian, yet possessing an honest open countenance.—Frank explained to him in a few words the state of the case, and the nature of the service required of him; and honest Dennis was delighted with the opportunity of displaying his personal prowess, and fidelity to his master.
'Och, be the powers!' he exclaimed—'it's nather a sword nor a pistol I want at all, but only a nate little bit of shillalab in my fist, to bate the thieves of the worruld, and scatter them like the praste scatters the divil wid holy water.'
'Very well,' said Frank—'now, Kinchen, you will take your station in the closet, for fear you should be seen by the servants, and you, Dennis, will bring him up some refreshments, and then attend to your ordinary duties as usual. Say not a word to anybody in regard to this affair, and give the other servants to understand that I have gone out, and will not return until tomorrow morning. I shall now leave the house, and at about midnight you may expect me, accompanied by the burglars.'
Saying this, Frank quitted the mansion by a private stair-case. Turning into Canal street, he walked towards the Bowery, and not far from where that broad thoroughfare joins Chatham street, he ascended the steps of a dwelling-house, and knocked gently at the door; it was soon opened by the young courtezan with whom Frank had passed the night at the commencement of this tale. She did not recognize the visitor in his altered garb, until he had whispered a few words in her ear, and then uttering an exclamation of pleasure, she requested him to follow her up-stairs.
Frank complied, and after seating himself in the well-remembered chamber, related to the young woman, as briefly as possible, the circumstances under which he had met her husband, Fred Archer, and the share he was to take in the burglary. He concluded by saying—
'I am sure, Mrs. Archer, that you will rejoice in the prospect of getting rid of such a husband. Once convicted and sent to the State Prison, he has no further claim upon you. You will be as effectually separated from him as though you were divorced.'
'I shall be most happy,' said Mrs. Archer—'to escape from the tyrannical power of that bad man. He has used me brutally of late, and I have often suffered for the common necessaries of life. Oh, how gladly would I abandon the dreadful trade of prostitution and live a life of virtue!'
'And so you shall, by Heavens!' cried Frank, in the warmth of his generous nature. 'Take courage, madam, and after the affairs of tonight are settled, your welfare shall be my special care. I will endeavor to procure you a comfortable home in some respectable family, where—'
At this moment the street door was opened, and some one was heard ascending the stairs.
'It is my husband!' whispered Mrs. Archer, and pointing to the bed, she requested Frank to conceal himself behind the curtains; he did so, and in a moment more, Fred Archer entered the room, and threw himself into a chair.
'Well, by G——!' he exclaimed—'it seems impossible for a man to make a living these times! Here I am, without a cursed cent in my pocket. Maria, what money have you in the house?'
'I have no money, Frederick,' replied his wife.
'No money—you lie, cursed strumpet! What do you do with the gains of your prostitution?'
'As God is my witness,' replied the wretched woman, bursting into tears—'I have not received a cent for the past week; I have even suffered for food; and the lady threatens to turn me out of doors this very night, if the rent is not paid. I know not what to do.'
'Do!—why, d——n you, do as other w——s do; go and parade Broadway, until you pick up a flat—ha, ha, ha!' and the ruffian laughed brutally. After a pause, he added—
'Well, I've got an appointment tonight, at eleven o'clock; a little job is to be done, that will fill my pocket with shiners. But don't you expect to get a farthing of the money—no, d——n you, you must earn your living as other prostitutes earn it. Good bye—I'm off.'
He departed, and Frank emerged from his hiding place. 'What a beastly scoundrel that fellow is!' he thought, as he gazed with pity at the weeping and wretched wife. He was about to address her with some words of comfort, when a loud knocking was heard on the chamber door. Mrs. Archer started, and whispered to Frank that it was the landlady, come to demand her rent—she then in a louder tone, requested the person to walk in.
A stout, vulgar looking woman entered the room and having violently shut the door and placed her back to it, said—
'I've come, Missus, or Miss, or whatever you are, to see if so be you can pay me my rent, as has now been due better nor four weeks, and you can't deny it, either.'
'I am sorry to say, madam,' replied Mrs. Archer,'that I am still unable to pay you. My husband has left me no money, and—'
'Then you will please to bundle out of this house as soon as possible,' retorted the woman, fiercely. 'What am I to let my furnished rooms to a lazy, good-for-nothing hussy like you, as is too proud to work and too good to go out and look for company in the streets, and can't pay me, an honest, hard-working woman, her rent! Am I to put up with—'
'Silence, woman!' interrupted Frank—'do not abuse this unfortunate female in this manner! Have you no sympathy—no pity?'
'And who are you, sir?' demanded the virago, dreadfully enraged—'how dare you interfere, you dirty, ragged, vagabond? Come, tramp out of this, both of you, this very instant, or I shall call in them as will make you!'
Frank made no reply, but very composedly drew from his pocket a handful of silver and gold; at the sight of the money, the landlady's eyes and mouth opened in astonishment—and her manner, from being most insufferably insolent, changed to the most abject servility.
'Oh, sir,' she said, simpering and curtsying—'I am sure I always had the greatest respect for Mrs. Archer, and I hope that neither you nor her will think hard of me for what I said—I only meant—'
'That will do,' cried Frank, contemptuously—and having inquired the amount due, paid her, and then desired her to withdraw, which she did, with many servile apologies for her insolent rudeness.
The young gentleman then prevailed upon Mrs. Archer to accept of a sum of money sufficient to place her beyond immediate want, and promised to call upon her again in a few days and see what could be done for her future subsistence. She thanked him for his kindness with tears in her eyes; and bidding her farewell, he left the house, and proceeded towards the Five Points.
He had no difficulty in finding the 'forty-foot cave,' the entrance of the Dark Vaults; but, previous to descending, curiosity prompted him to step into the crib of Bloody Mike, to see what was going on. He found the place crowded with a motley collection of vagrants, prostitutes, negroes and petty thieves; Ragged Pete was engaged in singing a shocking obscene song, the others joined in the chorus. Clothed in filthy rags, and stupidly drunk, was the man whom Frank had seen the night before so handsomely dressed; Bloody Mike, who had 'peeled' his coat, had since become the possessor of all his other genteel raiment, giving the poor wretch in exchange as much 'blue ruin' as he could drink, and the cast-off garments of a chimney-sweep!
Bloody Mike welcomed Frank with enthusiasm, and introduced him to the company as the 'gintleman that had thrated all hands last night.' At this announcement, the dingy throng gave a loud shout of applause, and crowded about him to shake his hand and assure him how glad they were to see him. These demonstrations of regard were anything but pleasing to our hero, who threw a dollar upon the counter, inviting them all to drink; and, while they were crowding around the bar to receive their liquor, he made his escape from the crib, and sought the entrance to the Dark Vaults. Having reached the bottom of the 'forty-foot cave' in safety, he proceeded cautiously along the dark passage which he had before traversed, and passing thro' the first Vault, soon emerged into the cavern of the desperadoes. Here he was met by Fred Archer and the Dead Man, who had been waiting for him.
'Ah, old fellow,' said the latter worthy—'here you are; it's somewhat before the appointed time, but so much the better. Put it down and drink a bumper of brandy to the success of our enterprise.'
The three seated themselves at the table, and remained over an hour drinking, smoking and conversing. Frank partook very sparingly of the liquor, but the others drank freely. At last the Dead Man arose, and announced that it was time to go. He then began to make his preparations.
Retiring for a short time to an inner cavern, he returned with his arms full of various articles. First, there were three large horse pistols, two of which he gave to his companions, retaining one for himself; then he produced three cloaks to be worn by them, the better to conceal any booty which they might carry off. There was also a dark lantern, and various implements used by burglars. The Dead Man then proceeded to adjust a mask over his hideous face, which so completely disguised him, that not one of his most intimate acquaintances would have known him. The mask was formed of certain flexible materials, and being colored with singular truthfulness to nature, bore a most wonderful resemblance to a human face. The Dead Man, who, without it, carried in his countenance the loathsome appearance of a putrefying corpse, with it was transformed into a person of comely looks. All the preparations being now complete, the party took up their line of march, under the directions of the Dead Man. To Frank's surprise, that worthy did not lead the way out of the cavern by means of the 'forty-foot cave,' but proceeded in a different course, along a passage, dark and damp, its obscurity but partially dispelled by the dim rays of the dark lantern, which was carried by the leader. After traversing this passage for a considerable distance, the Dead Man suddenly paused, and said to Frank—
'You are not acquainted with the Secret Outlet to these Vaults—and as you are not yet a Knight of the Round Table, I dare not trust you, a stranger, with the knowledge of it, until you join us, and prove yourself to be trustworthy. Therefore, we must blindfold you, until we reach the streets above. This is a precaution we use by every stranger who goes out this way.'
'But why do you not leave the Vaults by the 'forty-foot cave' thro' which I entered?' demanded Frank, who was fearful of some treachery.
'Because,' answered the Dead Man—'there are police officers in disguise constantly lurking around the entrance of that cave, ready to arrest the first suspicious character who may come forth. You were not arrested last night, because you were unknown to the police—but I, or Fred here, would be taken in a jiffy.'
'How would they know you in the disguise of that mask?' asked Frank.
'They might recognise me by my form—my gait—my air—my speech—damn it, they would almost know me by my smell! At all events, I prefer not to risk myself, while there is a safe outlet here. But, if you hesitate, you can return the way you came, and we will abandon the undertaking.'
'No,' said Frank—'I will proceed.'
The Dead Man bound a handkerchief tightly over Frank's eyes, and led him forward some distance; at length he was desired to step up about a foot, which he did, and found himself standing upon what appeared to be a wooden platform. The other two took their places beside him, and then he heard a noise similar to that produced by the turning of an iron crank; at the same time he became sensible that they were slowly ascending. Soon a dull, sluggish sound was heard, like the trickling of muddy water; and a foetid odor entered the nostrils, similar to the loathsome exhalations of a stagnant pool. Up, up they went, until Frank began to think that they must have attained a vast height from the place whence they had started; but at last the noise of the crank ceased, the platform stood still, and the Dead Man, after conversing for a short time in whispers with some person, took hold of Frank's arm, and led him forward thro' what appeared to be an entry. A door was opened, they passed out, and Frank, feeling the keen air, and snow beneath his feet, knew that they were in the open streets of the city. After walking some distance, and turning several corners the bandage was removed from his eyes, and he found himself in Pearl street, the Dead Man walking by his side, and Fred following on behind.
They soon turned into Broadway, and in less than ten minutes had reached the mansion of Mr. Sydney. The streets were silent and deserted for the hour was late; and the Dead Man whispered to his companions—
'We can now enter the house unobserved. In case of surprise, we must not hesitate to kill, sooner than be taken. I will now give the signal.'
He gave a low and peculiar whistle, and after the lapse of a few moments, repeated it. Instantly, the hall door was noiselessly opened by a person whom Frank recognized as Davis, the butler. The Dead Man beckoned the two others to follow him into the hall, which they did, and the door was closed.
Five minutes after they had entered the house two men who had been concealed behind a pile of bricks and rubbish on the opposite side of the street, crossed over, and passing around to the rear of the house, obtained access to the garden thro' the back gate which had been purposely left unfastened for them. These two men were police officers, who had been for some time on the watch for the burglars. They entered the house thro' the kitchen window, and stationed themselves upon the stairs, in readiness to rush to the assistance of Frank, as soon as he should give the appointed signal.
Meantime, the Dead Man had raised the slide of his dark lantern, and by its light he led the way into the back parlor, followed by the others. Davis had not the remotest suspicion that one of the men, whom he supposed to be a burglar, and whose appearance was that of a ruffian, was his master! No—he looked him full in the face without recognizing him in the slightest degree.
The Dead Man, approaching a side-board, poured out a bumper of wine and tossed it off, after which he drew from his pocket a small iron bar, (called by thieves a jimmy,) and applying it to a desk, broke it open in an instant. But it contained nothing of value;—and the burglar, addressing the others, said:
'We must disperse ourselves over the house, in order to do anything. I will rummage the first story: you, Fred, will explore the second, and our new friend here can try his luck in the third. As for you, Davis, you must descend into the kitchen, and collect what silver ware and plate you can find. So now to work.'
At this instant Frank threw himself upon the Dead Man, and exclaimed, in a loud voice:
'Damnation, we are betrayed!' muttered the ruffian, as with a mighty effort he threw Frank from him, and drew his horse pistol;—levelling it at the young man with a deadly aim, he was about to draw the fatal trigger, when Dennis, the Irish footman, who had been concealed beneath a large dining table, sprang nimbly behind him, and felled him to the carpet with a tremendous blow of his thick cudgel, crying:
'Lie there, ye spalpeen, and rest asy.'
Fred Archer and Davis instantly made for the door, with the intention of escaping—but they were seized by the two policemen, who now rushed to the scene of uproar; the butler and burglar, however, struggled desperately, and one of the policemen was stunned by a heavy blow on his head, with the butt of a pistol, dealt by the hand of Archer, who, thus freed from the grasp of his antagonist, dashed thro' the hall and effected his escape from the house. Davis, however, was quickly overpowered by the other officer, who slipped hand-cuffs upon his wrists, and thus secured him.
All these occurrences took place within the space of two minutes; and the Kinchen, who had been secreted in the library upstairs, arrived, pistol in hand, at the scene of action, just as the conflict had terminated.
The Dead Man lay motionless upon the carpet, and Frank began to fear that he was killed; but upon approaching and examining him, he discovered that he still breathed, though faintly. The blow from Dennis' cudgel had apparently rendered him insensible, and blood was flowing from a severe but not serious wound in his head.
The policeman who had been stunned was speedily brought to, by proper treatment;—and it was found that he had sustained but a trifling injury. Frank now approached Davis, and regarding him sternly, said—
'So, sir, you have leagued yourself with burglars, it seems. What induced you to act in this treacherous manner?'
'The promise of a liberal reward,' replied the man, sulkily.
'Your reward will now consist of a residence of several years in the State Prison,' observed his master as he walked away from him.
The noise of the conflict had aroused the inmates of the house from their slumbers, and much alarm prevailed among them, particularly the females, whose screams resounded throughout the building. To quiet them, Dennis was despatched as a messenger, with assurances that the robbers were in safe custody, and no cause for alarm existed. On passing the chamber of his mistress, that lady called to him, desiring to know the cause of the uproar; and when she had learned the details of the affair, she expressed her gratification at the result.
Frank ordered refreshments to be brought up, and while the whole party gathered around the table to partake of a substantial collation, he congratulated the two officers on having secured so desperate and dangerous a villain as the Dead Man. The form of that miscreant was still stretched upon the carpet directly behind Frank, who stood at the table; and as he was supposed to be insensible, from the effect of the heavy blow which he had received, no one deemed it necessary to bestow any attention upon him. But while the officers and others were eating and conversing, the Kinchen suddenly uttered an exclamation of alarm, and seizing a wine bottle which stood upon the table, dashed it at the head of the Dead Man, who had arisen upon his knees, and held in his hand a sharp, murderous-looking knife, which he was just on the point of plunging into the side of the unsuspecting Frank! The bottle was broken into shivers against the ruffian's head, and ere he could recover himself, he was disarmed and handcuffed by the officers, one of whom tore the mask from his face; and the spectators shrunk in horror at the ghastly and awful appearance of that corpse-like countenance! Turning his glaring eye upon Frank, he said, in tones of deepest hate—
'Sydney, look at me—me, the Dead Man—dead in heart, dead in pity, dead in everything save vengeance! You have won the game; but oh! think not your triumph will be a lasting one. No, by G——! there are no prison walls in the universe strong enough to keep me from wreaking upon you a terrible revenge! I will be your evil genius; I swear to follow you thro' life, and cling to you in death; yes—I will torture you in hell! Look for me at midnight, when you deem yourself most secure; I shall be in your chamber. Think of me in the halls of mirth and pleasure, for I shall be at your elbow. In the lonely forest, on the boundless sea, in far distant lands, I shall be ever near you, to tempt, to torture, and to drive you mad! From this hour you are blasted by my eternal curse!'
* * * * *
Half an hour afterwards, the Dead Man and Davis the butler were inmates of the 'Egyptian Tombs.'
The Subterranean Cellar—Capture and Imprisonment of the Black—the Outcast Wife—The Villain Husband—the Murder and Arrest.
The next day after the occurrence of the events detailed in the last chapter, Frank Sydney caused to be conveyed to the negro footman, Nero, the letter which his wife had addressed to him—which letter it will be recollected, had been stolen from the lady, in her reticule, by the young thief, who had sold it and another epistle from the black, to Frank, at the crib of Bloody Mike.
The plan adopted by the much injured husband for the punishment of his guilty wife and her negro paramour, will be developed in the course of the present chapter.
The black, upon receiving the letter, imagined that it came direct from the lady herself; and much rejoiced was he at the contents, resolving that very night to watch for the signal in the chamber window of the amorous fair one.
Beneath the building in which Frank resided, was a deep stone cellar, originally designed as a wine vault; it was built in the most substantial manner, the only entrance being protected by a massive iron door—the said door having been attached in order to prevent dishonest or dissolute servants from plundering the wine. In the course of the day upon which he had sent the letter to Nero, Frank paid a visit to this cellar, and having examined it with great care, said to himself—'This will answer the purpose admirably.'
He then summoned Dennis and the Kinchen—the latter of whom he retained in his service—and desired them to remove the few bottles and casks of wine which still remained in the cellar and deposit them elsewhere.—This being done, a quantity of straw was procured and thrown in one corner, and then the arrangements were complete.
'Now listen,' said Frank, addressing Dennis and the Kinchen; 'a certain person has injured me—irretrievably injured me—and it is my intention to confine him as a prisoner in this cellar. The matter must be kept a profound secret from the world; you must neither of you breathe a syllable in relation to it, to a living soul. My motive for confiding to you the secret, is this: I may at times find it necessary to be absent from home for a day or so, and it will devolve upon you two to supply the prisoner with his food. Be secret—be vigilant, and your faithfulness shall be rewarded.'
Both of his listeners expressed their willingness to serve him in the matter, and Frank dismissed them, with instructions to await his further orders.
Mrs. Sydney, having lost the letter which she had addressed to Nero (never dreaming that it had fallen into the hands of her husband,) that afternoon, while Frank was engaged in the wine cellar, wrote another letter to the black, couched in nearly the same language as her former one, and making precisely the same arrangement in reference to an interview with him in her chamber. This letter she gave to her maid, Susan, to convey privately to the black. It so happened that Frank, who had just finished his business in the wine cellar, encountered the girl as she was emerging from the rear of the house; she held her mistress' letter in her hand, and, confused at meeting Mr. Sydney so unexpectedly, thrust it hastily into her bosom. Frank saw the action, and suspecting the truth, forced the letter from her, broke the seal, and hastily glanced over the contents. It instantly occurred to him that, if he permitted this letter to reach its intended destination, the negro would naturally suspect something wrong, from the fact that he had received that morning a precisely similar letter; and thus Frank's plan might be frustrated. On the other hand, it was necessary for Mrs. Sydney to believe that the letter was safely delivered, in order that she might still suppose her husband to be ignorant of her amour with the black. In view of these considerations, Frank put the letter in his pocket, and then turning to the trembling Susan, said to her, sternly—
'Woman, your agency in this damnable intrigue is known to me, and if you would save yourself from ruin, you will do as I command you. Remain concealed in the house for half an hour, and then go to your mistress and tell her that you have delivered the letter to the black; and say to her that he sends word in reply, that should the signal be given to-night, he will come to her chamber. And do you, when you hear him knock thrice upon the gate, admit him, and conduct him to your mistress's chamber. Do this, and you are forgiven for the part you have taken in the business; but if you refuse, by the living God you shall die by my hand!'
'Oh, sir,' sobbed the girl, frightened at the threat, 'I will do all you wish me to.'
'Then you have nothing to fear—but remember, I am not to be trifled with.'
Half an hour afterwards, Susan went up to the chamber of her mistress, and said—
'Well, ma'am, I gave the letter to Nero.'
'And did he send any message?' asked the lady.
'Yes, ma'am,' replied the girl, in obedience to the instructions of Frank—'he said that if the signal is given to-night, he will come to your chamber.'
'Very well, Susan—you are a good girl, and here is a dollar for you,' said the lady, and then added—'you will be sure to admit him when he knocks?'
'Oh, yes, ma'am,' replied the maid; and thanking her mistress, she withdrew.
Left alone, the guilty, adulterous woman fell into a voluptuous reverie, in which she pictured to herself the delights which she anticipated from her approaching interview with her sable lover. The possibility of her husband's remaining at home that evening, thereby preventing that interview, did not once obtrude itself upon her mind—so regularly had he absented himself from home every night during the preceding two or three weeks; and as he had never returned before midnight, she apprehended no difficulty in getting her paramour out of the house undiscovered by him.
The conduct of this woman will doubtless appear very extraordinary and unaccountable to those who have not studied human nature very deeply; while the eccentricity of her passion, and the singular object of her desires, will excite disgust. But to the shrewd and intelligent observer of the female heart and its many impulses, the preferences of this frail lady are devoid of mystery. They are readily accounted for—pampered with luxury, and surrounded by all the appliances of a voluptuous leisure, a morbid craving for unusual indulgences had commingled with her passions—a raging desire, and mad appetite for a monstrous or unnatural intrigue—and hence her disgraceful liaison with the black.
Were we disposed, what astounding disclosures we could make, of beastly amours among the sons and daughters of the aristocracy! We have known many instances of unnatural births, unquestionably produced by unnatural cohabitations! We once visited the private cabinet of an eminent medical practitioner, whose collection comprised over a hundred half-human monstrosities, preserved;—and we were assured that many were the results of the most outrageous crimes conceivable.—But why dwell upon such a subject, so degrading to humanity? We will pursue the loathsome theme no longer.
Evening came, and after supper Mrs. Sydney retired to her chamber. To her surprise, her husband joined her there; but her surprise increased, and her annoyance was extreme, when he announced his intention of remaining with her that evening, at home!
Disguising her real feelings, and affecting a joy which was a stranger to her heart at the moment, she only smiled as if in approval of his determination. But in her heart she was most painfully disappointed.
'At all events,' she said to herself, 'I will not place a light in my window, which was the signal I arranged with Nero—so I am safe, at least.'
What was her astonishment and dismay, when her husband deliberately took the lamp from the table, and placed it in the window!
Amazed and trembling, she sat for some minutes in silence, while Frank, having lighted a cigar, began smoking with the utmost coolness. At length the conscience-stricken lady ventured to say—
'My dear, why do you place the light in the window?'
'Because it is my whim to do so,' replied Frank.
'It is a singular whim,' remarked his wife.
'Not so singular as the whim of a white lady of my acquaintance, who amalgamates with a negro,' said her husband.
'What do you mean?' demanded the guilty woman, ready to faint with terror and apprehension.
'I mean this, woman—that you are a vile adulteress!' exclaimed Frank, now thoroughly enraged—'I mean that your abominable conduct is known to me—your true character is discovered. Before your marriage you were defiled by that negro footman, Nero—and since our marriage you have sought the opportunity to renew the loathsome intimacy.'
'What proof have you of this?' murmured the wretched woman, ready to die with shame and terror.
'These letters—this one, addressed to you by the black, and this, which you wrote to him this very afternoon; but it did not reach its destination, for I intercepted it. The one which you wrote a few days ago, and which was stolen from you in your reticule, came into my possession in a manner almost providential—that letter I sent to the place this morning, and he, supposing it came from you, will come to-night to keep the appointment. He will observe the signal agreed upon, and will be admitted into the house, and conducted to this chamber, little imagining who is waiting for him. So you see, madam, both you and your friend are in my power.'
It is impossible to describe the expression of despair and misery which overspread the countenance of Mrs. Sydney during the utterance of these words. She attempted to speak, but could not articulate a single syllable—and in another moment had fallen insensible upon the carpet.
Frank raised her and placed her upon the bed; he had scarcely done so, when he heard some one stealthily ascending the stairs, and in another moment the door softly opened, and Nero, the African footman, entered.
Great was his astonishment and alarm on beholding the husband of the lady whom he had come to debauch. His first impulse was to retreat from the room and endeavor to make his escape from the house; but his design was frustrated by Frank, who rushed forward and seized him by the throat, exclaiming, in a tone of furious rage—
'Eternal curses on you, black ruffian, how dare you enter this house?'
The African, recovering somewhat his presence of mind, struggled to release himself from the fierce grasp of Frank, and would probably have succeeded, had not the Kinchen entered, and, seizing a chair, dealt him a blow with it which knocked him down. He then drew from his pocket a stout cord, and, with Frank's assistance, bound the negro's arms securely with it.
Nero, though a black, was both educated and intelligent; he knew that he was now in the power of the man who had been so foully wronged, and he conceived that there was but one way to extricate himself from the difficulty—namely, by promises and entreaties.
'Mr. Sydney,' said he, in an humble, submissive tone—'it is evident that you have discovered my intimacy with that lady, by what means I know not. You have just cause to be indignant and enraged; but I throw myself upon your mercy—and consider, sir, the lady made the first advances, and was I so much to blame for acceding to the wishes of such a lovely woman? Now, sir, if you will suffer me to depart, I promise to leave the city of New York forever, and never will I breathe to another ear the secret of my intimacy with your wife.'
'Think not, accursed miscreant, thus to escape my vengeance,' replied Frank. 'That you are less guilty than that adulterous woman who lies there,' he added, pointing to the bed, 'I admit, and her punishment shall be greater than yours, for she shall endure the pangs of infamy and disgrace, while you only suffer the physical inconvenience of a lengthened imprisonment. I cannot suffer you to go at large after this outrage on my honor as a husband and a man. Attempt no further parley—it is useless, for your fate is sealed.'
Frank took from a bureau drawer a brace of pistols, and commanded the negro to follow him, threatening to shoot him through the head if he made the least noise or resistance.—Nero obeyed, trembling with apprehension and dread. Descending the stairs, Frank conducted him to the cellar, and unlocking the massive iron door, bade him enter; the poor wretch began to supplicate for mercy, but his inexorable captor sternly ordered him to hold his peace, and having unbound his arms, forced him into the dark and gloomy vault, closed the door, and locked it. He then gave the key to the Kinchen, requesting him to use the utmost vigilance to prevent the escape of the prisoner, and to supply him every day with sufficient food and water.
'You perceive, my boy,' said Frank, 'that I am disposed to place the utmost confidence in your integrity and faithfulness. From the moment I first saw you, I have been impressed with the belief that you possess a good heart, and some principles of honor. Destitution and bad company have led you astray—but I trust that your future conduct will prove your sincere repentance. I will see the gentleman from whom you attempted to take the pocket-book, and I will compromise the matter with him, so that it shall never come to trial. Be honest—be faithful—be true—and in my house you shall ever have a home, and in me you shall ever have a steadfast friend.'
'Oh, sir,' said the Kinchen, his eyes filling with tears—'your kindness and generosity have made me a different being from what I was. I now view my former life with abhorrence, and sooner would I die than return to it. Ah, it is delightful to lead an honest life, to have a comfortable home, and a kind friend like you, sir. My faithful devotion to your interests will prove my gratitude. I should like, sometime, to tell you my history, Mr. Sydney; and when you have heard it, I am sure that you will say that I deserve some pity, as well as blame.'
'I shall be pleased to hear your story,' replied Frank. 'As you are now regularly in my service, you shall be no longer designated as Kinchen, for that name is associated with crime. What is your own proper name?'
'Clinton Romaine,' replied the boy.
'Well, Clinton, you shall hereafter be called by that name. To-morrow I will give you an order on my tailor for a new and complete wardrobe. You had better now retire to bed; as for myself,' he added, gloomily—'I shall probably enjoy but little rest or sleep to-night.'
Clinton bade his patron good night, and retired; Frank ascended to the chamber of his wife, and found that she had recovered from her swoon, though she was still pale from apprehension and shame. Averting her eyes from her husband's gaze, she sat in moody silence; after a pause of several minutes, Frank said—
'Julia, it is not my intention to waste my breath in upbraiding you—neither will I allude to your monstrous conduct further than to state it has determined me to cast you off forever. You are my wife no longer; you will leave this house to-night, and never again cross its threshold. Take with you your maid Susan, your wardrobe, your jewels—in short, all that belongs to you; you must relinquish the name of Sydney—cease to regard me as your husband, and never, never, let me see your face again.'
These words, uttered calmly and solemnly, produced an extraordinary effect upon the lady; so far from subduing or humiliating her, they aroused within her all the pride of her nature, notwithstanding her recent overwhelming shame. A rich color dyed her cheeks, her eyes sparkled, and her bosom heaved, as she arose, and boldly confronting Frank, said, in passionate tones—
'You cast me off forever!—I thank you for those words; they release me from a painful thralldom. Now am I mistress of my own actions—free to indulge to my heart's content in delightful amours!—I will not return to my father's house—no, for you will doubtless proclaim there the story of my shame, and my father would repulse me with loathing; and even if 'twere not so, I prefer liberty to follow my own inclinations, to the restraint of my parent's house.'
'Wretched woman,' exclaimed Franks—'are you indeed so lost—so depraved?'
'Fool!' returned the frail lady—'you cannot understand the fiery and insatiate cravings of my passions. I tell you that I consume with desire—but not for enjoyment with such as you, but for delicious amours which are recherche and unique! Ah, I would give more for one hour with my superb African, than for a year's dalliance with one like you, so ordinary, so excessively common-place! Now that the mask is torn from my face, reserve is needless. Know then that I have been a wanton since early girlhood. What strange star I was born under, I know not; but my nature is impregnated with desires and longings which you would pronounce absurd, unnatural, and criminal. Be it so: I care not what you or the world may say or think—my cravings must be satisfied at all hazards. As for relinquishing the name of Sydney, I do so with pleasure—that name has no pleasure for me; I never loved you, and at this moment I hate and despise you. Do you ask me wherefore?—Because you had wit enough to detect me in my intrigues. I shall leave your house tonight, and we meet no more. My future career is plainly marked out: I shall become an abandoned and licentious woman, yielding myself up unreservedly to the voluptuous promptings of my ardent soul. I part from you without regret, and without sorrow do I now bid you farewell forever.'
'Stay a moment,' said Frank, as she was about to leave the room—'I would not have you to be entirely destitute: I will fill you out a check for a sum of money sufficient to keep you from immediate want.'
He wrote out and signed a check for one thousand dollars, which he gave her, and then left her without saying another word. She received the donation with evident satisfaction, and immediately began to make her preparations for departure. Her maid, Susan, assisted her; and also informed her in what manner Frank had compelled her to assist in entrapping Nero into the house. Susan, herself being unobserved, had seen the African conveyed to the cellar, and locked in; this fact she also communicated to her mistress, who heard it with much pleasure, as she had anticipated that her paramour would meet with a worse fate than mere confinement.—She determined to effect his release, if possible, although she knew that some time must necessarily elapse before she could hope to accomplish that object.
When all was ready, Julia and her maid seated themselves in a hackney coach which had been procured, and were rapidly driven from that princely mansion, of which the guilty woman had so recently been the proud mistress, but from which she was now an outcast forever.
That night, Frank, in the solitude of his chamber, shed many bitter tears. He mourned over the fallen condition of that beautiful woman, whom, had she been worthy, he would have cherished as his wife, but who had proved herself not only undeserving of his affection, but depraved and wicked to an astonishing degree. Until the fatal moment when he was led to suspect her chastity, he had loved her devotedly and sincerely. How cruelly had he been deceived!
And that night, in the solitude and darkness of his cold and gloomy dungeon, Nero, the African, swore a terrible oath of vengeance upon the white man who had shut him up in that subterranean cell.
Within a week after the capture of the Dead Man and David the butler, those two villains were inmates of the State Prison at Sing Sing—the former to fulfil his original sentence of imprisonment for life, and the latter to undergo an imprisonment for five years, for his participation in the attempted robbery of Mr. Sydney.
Fred Archer, on escaping from the officer in the manner which we have described, made his way to the Dark Vaults, where he remained concealed for several days, not venturing to appear abroad. At the end of a week he began to grow impatient of the restraint, and, conceiving that no great danger would be incurred if he left his place of refuge in the darkness of night, he resolved to do so; moreover, he was destitute of money, and entertained some hope of being able to extort a sum from his unfortunate wife, whom he had driven to prostitution. Accordingly, at about eight o'clock in the evening, he left the Vaults by means of the secret outlet before alluded to and gaining the street, proceeded at a rapid pace towards the Bowery. In the breast of his coat he carried a huge Bowie knife, with which to defend himself in case any attempt should be made to arrest him.
That very day, Frank Sydney, mindful of his promise, had succeeded in obtaining a situation for Mrs. Archer, in the family of an old lady, an aunt of his, who required the attendance of a young woman as a companion and nurse, she being an invalid. In the afternoon, Mrs. Archer received a visit from the boy, Clinton, who came to announce to her the joyful intelligence of a good home having been secured for her; he then placed the following brief note from Frank in her hands:—
'Mrs. Archer,—Madame: I shall this evening call upon you, to confirm the words of my messenger. The unfortunate career which you have followed, is now nearly ended. Extortion and oppression shall triumph no longer. F.S.'
It was about eight o'clock in the evening when Frank knocked at the door of the house in which Mrs. Archer resided, and he was admitted by the mercenary landlady who figured not very creditably upon a former occasion. She immediately recognized the young gentleman, who was dressed in the garments of a laborer; and very civilly informing him that the young lady was at home, requested him to walk upstairs to her room.
Our hero assumed a disguise upon that occasion, for this reason: he did not know but that the house was publicly regarded as a brothel; and he therefore did not wish to hazard his reputation by being recognized either while entering or leaving the place.
He ascended the stairs and knocked gently at the chamber, which was immediately opened by Mrs. Archer, who pressed his hand with all the warmth of a grateful heart, and placed a chair for him near the fire.—Glancing around the room, Frank saw that she had made every arrangement for her departure: bandboxes and trunks were in readiness for removal, and all her little effects were heaped together in one corner. She herself was dressed with considerable elegance and taste; a close fitting dress of rich silk displayed the fine proportions of her symmetrical form to advantage.
'I know not how to thank you, Mr. Sydney,' she said, seating herself—'for your generous interest in my welfare; but oh! believe me, I am grateful for your kindness.'
Frank assured her that he had derived much satisfaction from what services it had been in his power to render, tending to her benefit. He then related to her all that had occurred on the night of the attempted robbery at his house—how her husband had made his escape, and was probably lurking in the Dark Vaults.
'Then he is still at large,' said Mrs. Archer, shuddering—'and I am not yet safe.'
'Fear nothing,' said her benefactor—'he dare not intrude into the respectable and quiet asylum where you are to be placed. No harm can reach you there.'
'God grant it may be so!' fervently ejaculated the young lady; and at that instant some one was heard stealthily ascending the stairs. 'It is Frederick!' she whispered—'you had better conceal yourself, to avoid useless altercation.' Frank quickly secreted himself behind the curtains of the bed, his former hiding place: and in another moment Fred Archer entered the room, and closed the door with extreme caution. 'Maria,' he said, roughly—'I must have money from you to-night; the affair which I spoke to you about, when I was last here, failed most infernally. One of the very fellows who were to assist me in the job, proved to be the owner of the house which we were going to plunder. He had a trap prepared for us, and two of my pals were taken, while I escaped just by a miracle. I dare not go abroad in daylight, for fear of being arrested; and I need money—give it to me!'
'Frederick,' said his wife, mildly—'I have but a few dollars, and you are welcome to them. I leave this house to-night; I am going to live hereafter a life of honesty and virtue.'
'Indeed!' exclaimed Archer, now observing for the first time the preparations for removal—'and may I ask where the devil you're going?'
'I do not wish to tell you, Frederick,' replied the lady—'I shall have a good and comfortable home; let that suffice. I will always pray for your welfare; but we must part forever.'
'Ha! is it so?' he hissed from between his clenched teeth, while the hot blood of anger mantled on his face, and his eyes were lit up with the fires of demoniac passions—'do you think to desert me and cast me off forever?'—As he spoke, his right hand was thrust into the breast of his coat.
'We must part; my resolution is fixed,' she replied firmly. 'Your treatment of me—'
She paused in affright, for her husband had seized her violently by the arm; then he plucked the gleaming Bowie knife from its sheath, and ere she could scream out, the murderous blade was buried in her heart!
From his place of concealment behind the curtains of the bed, Frank saw the atrocious deed perpetrated. The villain had struck the fatal blow ere he could rush forth and stay his murderous arm. The poor victim sank upon the floor, the lifeblood streaming from her heart.—Ere the horrified witness of the crime could seize the murderer, he had fled from the house with a celerity which defied pursuit.
Frank, overwhelmed with grief at the tragic fate of that erring but unfortunate woman, raised her body in his arms and placed it upon a sofa. He then drew from her bosom the reeking blade of the assassin, and as he did so, the warm blood spouted afresh from the gaping wound, staining his hands and garments with gore.
He bent over the corpse, and contemplated the pallid features with profound sorrow. As he thus gazed mournfully at the face of the dead, holding in his hand the blood-stained knife, the chamber door opened, and the landlady entered the room.
On beholding the awful scene—the bleeding, lifeless form stretched upon the sofa, and the young man standing with a gory knife grasped in his hand—the landlady made the house resound with her shrieks and cries of 'Murder!'
The street door below was forced open and men with hurried footsteps ascended the stairs—in a moment more the chamber was filled with watchmen and citizens.
'Seize the murderer!' exclaimed the landlady, pointing towards Frank. Two watchmen instantly grasped him by the arms, and took from him the bloody knife.
Frank turned deadly pale—he was speechless—his tongue refused its office, for then the dreadful conviction forced itself upon him, that he was regarded as the murderer of that young woman. And how could he prove his innocence? The weight of circumstantial evidence against him was tremendous and might produce his conviction and condemnation to an ignominious death!
Several persons present recognized him as the rich and (until then) respectable Mr. Sydney; and then they whispered among themselves, with significant looks, that he was disguised!—clad in the mean garb of a common laborer!
Now it happened that among the gentlemen who knew him, were two of the flatterers who supped with him in the first chapter of this narrative—namely, Messrs. Narcissus Nobbs and Solomon Jenks: the former of whom it will be recollected, was enthusiastic in his praises of Frank, upon that occasion, while the latter boisterously professed for him the strongest attachment and friendship. The sincerity of these worthies will be manifested by the following brief conversation which took place between them, in whispers—
'A precious ugly scrape your friend has got himself into,' said Mr. Nobbs.
'My friend, indeed!' responded Mr. Jenks, indignantly—'curse the fellow, he's no friend of mine! I always suspected that he was a d——d scoundrel at heart!'
'I always knew so,' rejoiced Mr. Nobbs.
Oh, hollow-hearted Jenks and false-souled Nobbs! Ye fitly represent the great world, in its adulation of prosperous patrons—its forgetfulness of unfortunate friends!
Frank Sydney was handcuffed, placed in a coach and driven to the Tombs. Here he was immured in the strong cell which had long borne the title of the 'murderer's room.'
Fred Archer was safely concealed in the secret recesses of the Dark Vaults.
[Footnote 2: The term Kinchen, in the flash language of the thieves, signifies a boy thief.]
The Masquerade Ball—the Curtain raised, and the Crimes of the Aristocracy exposed.
Mrs. Lucretia Franklin was a wealthy widow lady, who resided in an elegant mansion in Washington Place. In her younger days she had been a celebrated beauty; and though she was nearly forty at the period at which we write, she still continued to be an exceedingly attractive woman. Her features were handsome and expressive, and she possessed a figure remarkable for its voluptuous fullness.
Mrs. Franklin had two daughters: Josephine and Sophia. The former was eighteen years of age, and the latter sixteen. They were both beautiful girls, but vastly different in their style of beauty; Josephine being a superb brunette, with eyes and hair dark as night, while Sophia was a lovely blonde, with hair like a shower of sunbeams, and eyes of the azure hue of a summer sky.
In many other respects did the two beautiful sisters differ. The figure of Josephine was tall and majestic; her walk and gestures were imperative and commanding. Sophia's form was slight and sylph-like; her every movement was characterized by exquisite modesty and grace, and her voice had all the liquid melody of the Aeolean harp.
In mind and disposition they were as dissimilar as in their personal qualities. Josephine was passionate, fiery and haughty to an eminent degree; Sophia, on the contrary, possessed an angelic placidity of temper, and a sweetness of disposition which, like a fragrant flower, shed its grateful perfume upon the lowly and humble, as upon the wealthy and proud.
Mrs. Franklin's husband had died two years previous to the date of this narrative; he had been an enterprising and successful merchant, and at his death left a large fortune to his wife. Upon that fortune the lady and her two daughters lived in the enjoyment of every fashionable luxury which the metropolis could afford; and they moved in a sphere of society the most aristocratic and select.
Mr. Edgar Franklin, the lady's deceased husband, was a most excellent and exemplary man, a true philanthropist and a sincere Christian. He was scrupulously strict in his moral and religious notions—and resolutely set his face against the least departure from exact propriety, either in matters divine or temporal. The austerity of his opinions and habits was somewhat distasteful to his wife and eldest daughter, both of whom had a decided predilection for gay and fashionable amusements. Previous to his death, they were obliged to conform to his views and wishes; but after that event, they unreservedly participated in all the aristocratic pleasures of the 'upper ten': and their evenings were very frequently devoted to attendance at balls, parties, theatres, the opera, and other entertainments of the gay and wealthy inhabitants of the 'empire city.'
Mr. Franklin's death had occurred in a sudden and rather remarkable manner. He had retired to bed in his usual good health, and in the morning was found dead by the servant who went to call him.
The body was reclining upon one side in a natural position, and there was nothing in its appearance to indicate either a violent or painful death. Disease of the heart was ascribed as the cause of his sudden demise; and his remains were deposited in the family tomb in St. Paul's churchyard. Many were the tears shed at the funeral of that good man;—for his unaffected piety and universal benevolence had endeared him to a large circle of friends.
The grief of the bereaved widow and eldest daughter was manifested by loud lamentations and passionate floods of tears; but the sorrow of the gentle Sophia, though less violent, was none the less heart-felt and sincere.
There was little sympathy between the haughty, imperious Josephine and her mild, unobtrusive sister. Their natures were too dissimilar to admit of it; and yet Sophia loved the other, and at the same time feared her—she was so cold, so distant, so formal, so reserved. Josephine, on her part, viewed her sister as a mere child—not absolutely as an inferior, but as one unfitted by nature and disposition to be her companion and friend. Her treatment of Sophia was therefore marked by an air and tone of patronizing condescension, rather than by a tender, sisterly affection.
Mrs. Franklin loved both her daughters, but her preference manifestly inclined to Josephine, whose tastes were in exact accordance with her own. Sophia had little or no inclination for the excitement and tumult of fashionable pleasures; and therefore she was left much to herself, alone and dependent upon her own resources to beguile her time, while her mother and sister were abroad in the giddy whirl of patrician dissipation.
But upon the Sabbath, no family were more regular in their attendance at church than the Franklins. Punctually every Sunday morning, the mother and daughter would alight from their splendid carriage opposite St. Paul's church, and seating themselves in their luxuriously cushioned and furnished pew, listen to the brilliant eloquence of Dr. Sinclair, with profound attention. Then, when the pealing organ and the swelling anthem filled the vast dome with majestic harmony, the superb voice of Josephine Franklin would soar far above the rolling flood of melody, and her magnificent charms would become the cynosure of all eyes. Few noticed the fair young creature at her side, her golden hair parted simply over her pure brow, and her mild blue eyes cast modestly upon the page of the hymn-book before her.
Having now introduced Mrs. Lucretia Franklin and her two daughters to the reader, we shall proceed at once to bring them forward as active participants in the events of our history.
It was about three o'clock in the afternoon; in a sumptuous chamber of Franklin House (for by that high-sounding title was the residence of the wealthy widow known,) two ladies were engaged in the absorbing mysteries of a singular toilet.
One of these ladies was just issuing from a bath. Although not young, she was very handsome; and her partially denuded form exhibited all the matured fullness of a ripened womanhood. This lady was Mrs. Lucretia Franklin.
Her companion was her daughter Josephine. This beautiful creature was standing behind her mother; she had just drawn on a pair of broadcloth pants, and was in an attitude of graceful and charming perplexity, unaccustomed as she was to that article of dress. The undergarment she wore had slipped down from her shoulders, revealing voluptuous beauties which the envious fashion of ladies' ordinary attire, usually conceals.
Upon the carpet were a pair of elegant French boots and a cap, evidently designed for Miss Josephine. Various articles of decoration and costume were scattered about: upon a dressing-table (whereon stood a superb mirror,) were the usual luxurious trifles which appertain to a fashionable toilet—perfumes, cosmetics, &c.—and in one corner stood a magnificent bed.
This was the chamber of Josephine; that young lady and her mother were arraying themselves for a grand fancy and masquerade ball to be given that night, at the princely mansion of a millionaire.
By listening to their conversation, we shall probably obtain a good insight into their true characters.
'I am thinking, mamma,' said Josephine—'that I might have selected a better costume for this occasion, than these boys' clothes. I shall secure no admirers.'
'Silly girl,' responded her mother—'don't you know that the men will all run distracted after a pretty woman in male attire? Besides, such a costume will display your shape so admirably.'
'Ah, that is true,' remarked the beautiful girl, smiling so as to display her brilliant teeth; and removing her feminine garment, she stood before the mirror to admire her own distracting and voluptuous loveliness.
'And this costume of an Oriental Queen—do you think it will become me, my love,' asked her mother.
'Admirably,' replied Josephine—'it is exactly suitable to your figure. Ah, mamma, your days of conquest are not over yet.'
'And yours have just begun, my dear. Yours is a glorious destiny, Josephine; beautiful and rich, you can select a husband from among the handsomest and most desirable young gentlemen in the city. But you must profit by my experience: do not be in haste to unite yourself in marriage to a man who, when he becomes your husband, will restrict you in the enjoyment of those voluptuous pleasures in which you now take such delight. I 'married in haste and repented at leisure;' after my union with your father, I found him to be a cold formalist and canting religionist, continually boring me with his lectures on the sins and folly of 'fashionable dissipation,' as he termed the elegant amusements suitable to our wealth and rank and discoursing upon the pleasures of the domestic circle, and such humbugs. All this was exceedingly irksome to me, accustomed as I was to one unvarying round of excitement; but your father was as firm as he was puritanical—and obstinately interposed his authority as a husband, to prevent my indulging in my favorite entertainments. This state of affairs continued, my dear, until you attained the age of sixteen, when you began to feel a distaste for the insipidity of a domestic life, and longed for a change.—Our positions were then precisely similar: we both were debarred from the delights of gay society, for which we so ardently longed. One obstacle, and one only, lay in our way; that obstacle was your father—my husband. We were both sensible that we never could enjoy ourselves in our own way, while he lived; his death alone would release us from the condition of thralldom in which we were placed—but as his constitution was robust and his health invariably good, the agreeable prospect of his death was very remote—and we might have continued all our lives under the despotic rules of his stern morality, had we not rid ourselves of him by—'
'For Heaven's sake, mother,' said Josephine, hastily—'don't allude to that!'
'And why not,' asked the mother, calmly. 'You surely do not regret the act which removed our inexorable jailer, and opened to us such flowery avenues of pleasure? Ah, Josephine, the deed was admirably planned and skillfully executed. No one suspects—'
'Once more, mother, I entreat you to make no further allusion to that subject; it is disagreeable—painful to me,' interrupted the daughter, impatiently. 'Besides, sometimes the walls have ears.'
'Well, well, child—I will say no more about it. Let us now dress.'
Josephine, having arranged her clustering hair in a style as masculine as possible, proceeded to invest herself in the boyish habiliments which she had provided. First, she drew on over her luscious charms, a delicately embroidered shirt, of snowy whiteness, and then put on a splendid cravat, in the tasteful fold of which glittered a magnificent diamond. A superb Parisian waistcoat of figured satin was then closely laced over her rounded and swelling bust; a jacket of fine broadcloth, decorated with gold naval buttons and a little cap, similarly adorned, completed her costume. The character she was supposed to represent was that of 'the Royal Middy;' and her appearance was singularly captivating in that unique and splendid dress.
Mrs. Franklin, when attired as the Sultana or Oriental Queen, looked truly regal—the rich and glittering Eastern robes well became her voluptuous style of beauty.
The labor of the toilet being completed, the ladies found that it still lacked an hour or so of the time appointed for them to set out; and while they partook of a slight but elegant repast, they amused themselves and beguiled the time by lively and entertaining chat.
'These masquerade balls are delightful affairs; one can enjoy an intrigue with so much safety, beneath the concealing mask,' remarked Mrs. Franklin.
'And yet last Sabbath, you recollect, Dr. Sinclair denounced masquerades as one of Satan's most dangerous devices for the destruction of souls,' said Josephine.
'True—so he did,' assented her mother—'but he need never know that we attend them.'
'The Doctor is very strict—yet he is very fascinating,' rejoined her daughter;—'do you know, mamma, that I am desperately enamored of him? I would give the world could I entice him into an intrigue with me.' And as she spoke, her bosom heaved with voluptuous sensations.
'Naughty girl,' said Mrs. Franklin, smiling complacently—'I cannot blame you for conceiving a passion for our handsome young pastor. To confess the truth, I myself view him with high admiration, not only as a talented preacher, but also as one who would make a most delightful lover.'
'Delightful indeed!' sighed Josephine—'but then he is so pure, so strict, so truly and devotedly religious, that it would be useless to try to tempt him by any advances; I should only compromise myself thereby.'
'Well, my dear,' remarked Mrs. Franklin, 'there are other handsome young men in the world, besides our pastor—many who would grovel at your feet to enjoy your favors. By the way, who is your favored one at present?'
'Oh, a young fellow to whom I took a fancy the other day,' replied Josephine, 'he is a clerk, or something of the kind—respectable and educated, but poor. I encountered him in the street—liked his fresh, robust appearance—dropped my glove—smiled when he picked it up and handed it to me—encouraged him to walk me home—invited him in, and made him, as well as myself, extremely happy by my kindness. I permitted him to call frequently, but of course I soon grew tired of him—the affair lacked zeal, romance, piquancy; so, this morning when he visited me, I suffered him to take a last kiss, and dismissed him forever, with a twenty-dollar bill and an intimation that we were in future entire strangers. Poor fellow! he shed tears—but I only laughed, and rang the bell for the servant to show him out. Now, mamma, you must be equally communicative with me, and tell me who has the good fortune to be the recipient of your favors at present.'
'My dear Josey,' said Mrs. Franklin—'I must really decline according you the required information; you will only laugh at my folly.'
'By no means, mamma,' rejoined the young lady—'we have both at times been strangely eccentric in our tastes, and must not ridicule each other's preferences, however singular.'
'Well then, you must know that my lover is a very pretty youth of about fifteen, who reciprocates my passion with boyish ardor. You will acknowledge that to a woman of my age, such an amour must be delicious and unique. For a few days past I have not seen the youthful Adonis, who, by the bye, bears the very romantic name of Clinton Romaine. I first met him under very unusual and singular circumstances.'
'Pray, how was that, mamma?' asked Josephine.
'You shall hear,' replied her mother. 'The occurrence which I am about to relate took place a month ago. I was awakened one night from a sound sleep by a noise in my chamber, and starting up in affright, I beheld by the light of a lamp which was burning near the bed, a boy in the act of forcing open my escritoire, with a small instrument which caused the noise. I was about to scream for assistance, when the young rogue, perceiving that he was discovered, advanced to the bed, and quieted me by the assurance that he intended me no personal harm, and implored me to suffer him to depart without molestation, promising never to repeat his nocturnal visit. He then placed upon the table my watch, purse, a casket of jewels, which he had secured about his person—and, in answer to my inquiry as to how he had obtained an entrance into my chamber he informed me that he had climbed into the window by means of a ladder which he had found in the garden. While he was speaking, I regarded him attentively, and was struck with his boyish beauty; for the excitement of the adventure and the danger of his position had caused a flush upon his cheeks and a sparkle in his eyes, which captivated me. I found it impossible to resist the voluptuous feelings which began to steal over me—and I smiled tenderly upon the handsome youth; he, merely supposing this smile to be an indication of my having forgiven him, thanked me and was about to depart in the same manner in which he came, when I intimated to him my willingness to extend a much greater kindness than my pardon. In short, his offence was punished only by sweet imprisonment in my arms; and delighted with his precocity, I blessed the lucky chance which had so unexpectedly furnished me with a youthful and handsome lover. Ere daylight he departed; and has since then frequently visited me, always gaining access to my chamber by means of the gardener's ladder. To my regret he has of late discontinued his visits, and I know not what has become of my youthful gallant. And now my dear, you have heard the whole story.'
'Very interesting and romantic,' remarked Josephine, and consulting her gold watch, she announced that the hour was come for them to go to the masquerade.
The mother and daughter enveloped themselves in ample cloaks, and descending the stairs, took their seats in the carriage which was in readiness at the door. A quarter of an hour's drive brought them to the superb mansion wherein the entertainment was to be given. Alighting from the carriage, they were conducted by an obsequious attendant to a small ante-room, where they deposited their cloaks, and adjusted over their faces the sort of half-mask used on such occasions. A beautiful boy, dressed as a page, then led the way up a broad marble stair case, and throwing open a door, they were ushered into a scene of such magnificence, that for a moment they stood bewildered and amazed, tho' perfectly accustomed to all the splendors of fashionable life.
A fine-looking elderly man, without a mask and in plain clothes, advanced towards the mother and daughter; this gentleman was Mr. Philip Livingston, the host—a bachelor of fifty, reputed to be worth two millions of dollars. The page who had waited upon the two ladies, whispered their names in Mr. Livingston's ear; and after the usual compliments, he bowed, and they mingled with the glittering crowds which thronged the rooms.
We feel almost inadequate to the task of describing the wonders of that gorgeous festival; yet will make the attempt, for without it, our work would be incomplete.
Livingston House was an edifice of vast dimensions, built in the sombre but grand Gothic style of architecture. Extensive apartments communicated with each other by means of massive folding doors, which were now thrown open, and the eye wandered through a long vista of brilliantly lighted rooms, the extent of which seemed increased ten-fold by the multitude of immense mirrors placed on every side. Art, science and taste had combined to produce an effect the most grand and imposing; rare and costly paintings, exquisite statuary, gorgeous gildings, were there, in rich profusion. But the most magnificent feature of Livingston House was its conservatory, which was probably the finest in the country, second only in beauty to the famous conservatory of the Duke of Devonshire in England. A brief description of this gem of Livingston House may prove interesting to the reader.