Leaving the hall through an arch tastefully decorated with flowers and evergreens, the visitor descended a flight of marble steps, and entered the conservatory, which occupied an extensive area of ground, and was entirely roofed with glass. Though the season was winter and the weather intensely cold, a delightful warmth pervaded the place, produced by invisible pipes of heated water. The atmosphere was as mild and genial as a summer's eve; and the illusion was rendered still more complete by a large lamp, suspended high above, and shaped like a full moon; this lamp, being provided with a peculiar kind of glass, shed a mild, subdued lustre around, producing the beautiful effect of a moonlit eve! On every side rare exotics and choice plants exhaled a delicious perfume; tropic fruits grew from the carefully nurtured soil;—orange, pomegranate, citron, &c. Gravelled walks led through rich shrubbery, darkened by overhanging foliage. Mossy paths, of charming intricacy, invited the wanderer to explore their mysterious windings. At every turn a marble statue, life-sized, met the eye: here the sylvan god Pan, with rustic pipes in hand—here the huntress Diana, with drawn bow—here the amorous god Cupid, upon a beautiful pedestal on which was sculptured these lines, said to have been once written by Voltaire under a statue of the heathen divinity:
'Whoe'er thou art, thy master see;— He was, or is, or is to be.'
In the centre of this miniature Paradise was an artificial cascade, which fell over a large rock into a lake o'er whose glassy waters several swans with snow white plumage were gliding; and on the brink of this crystal expanse, romantic grottos and classic temples formed convenient retreats for the weary dancers from the crowded halls. In short, this magnificent conservatory was furnished with every beautiful rarity which the proprietor's immense wealth could procure, and every classic and graceful adornment which his refined and superior taste could suggest.
Mrs. Franklin and her daughter, who had come on purpose to engage in amorous intrigues, agreed to separate, and accordingly they parted, the mother remaining in the ball room, while Josephine resolved to seek for adventures amid the mysterious shades of the conservatory.
Over five hundred persons had now assembled in the halls appropriated to dancing; and these were arrayed in every variety of fancy and picturesque costume possible to be conceived. The grave Turk, the stately Spanish cavalier, the Italian bandit and the Grecian corsair, mingled together without reserve;—and the fairer portion of creation was represented by fairies, nuns, queens, peasant girls and goddesses.
Mrs. Franklin soon observed that she was followed by a person in the dress of a Savoyard; he was closely masked, and his figure was slight and youthful. Determined to give him an opportunity to address her, the lady strolled to a remote corner of the hall, whither she was followed by the young Savoyard, who after some apparent hesitation, said to her—
'Fair Sultana, pardon my presumption, but methinks I have seen that queenly form before.'
'Ah, that voice!' exclaimed the delighted lady—'thou art my little lover, Clinton Romaine.'
'It is indeed so,' said the boy, gallantly kissing her hand. The lady surveyed him with wanton eye.
'Naughty truant!' she murmured, drawing him towards her—'why have you absented yourself from me so long? Do you no longer desire my favors?'
'Dear madam,' replied Clinton—'I am never so happy as when in your arms; but I have recently entered the service of a good, kind gentleman, who has been my benefactor; and my time is devoted to him.'
'Come with me,' said the lady, 'to a private room, for I wish to converse with you without being observed.'
She led the way to a small anteroom, and having carefully fastened the door to prevent intrusion, clasped the young Savoyard in her arms.
* * * * *
Half an hour afterwards, the boy and his aristocratic mistress issued from the ante-room, and parted. Clinton wandered thro' the halls, and descending into the conservatory, entered a temple which stood upon the margin of the little lake, threw himself upon a luxurious ottoman, and abandoned himself to his reflections.
'How ungrateful I am,' he said half aloud—'to engage in an intrigue with that wicked, licentious woman, while my poor master, Mr. Sydney, is languishing in a prison cell, charged with the dreadful crime of murder! And yet I know he is innocent. I remember carrying his note to Mrs. Archer on the fatal day; I knew not its contents, but I recollect the words which he instructed me to say to her—they were words of friendship, conveying to her an assurance that he had procured for her a situation with his aunt. Surely, after sending such a message, he would not go and murder her! And his aunt can testify that such an arrangement was made, in reference to Mrs. Archer. Oh, that I could obtain admission to the cell of my poor master, to try to comfort him, to whom I owe so much! But alas! the keepers will not admit me; they remember that I was once a thief, and drive me from the prison door with curses.
'I am persuaded in my own mind,' continued Clinton, following the course of his reflections—'that Fred Archer is the murderer of that woman. I know he secretes himself in the Dark Vaults, but I dare not venture there to seek him, for my agency in the arrest of the Dead Man is known to the 'Knights of the Round Table,' and were I to fall in their power, they would assuredly kill me. Now, what has brought me here to-night?—Not a desire for pleasure; but a faint hope of encountering amid the masked visitors, the villain Archer; for I know that he, as well as the other desperadoes in the Vaults, frequently attends masquerade balls, in disguise, on account of the facilities afforded for robbery and other crimes. Oh that I might meet him here to-night—I would boldly accuse him of the murder, and have him taken into custody, trusting to chance for the proofs of his guilt, and the innocence of my master.'
It may be well here to observe that it was comparatively easy for such characters as Archer and his companions to gain admission to such a masquerade ball as we are describing. In the bustle and confusion of receiving such a large company, they found but little difficulty in slipping in, unnoticed and unsuspected.
'And that horrible Dead Man,' continued Clinton—'thank God, he is now safe within the strong walls of the State Prison, there to pass the remainder of his earthly existence. How awfully he glared upon me, on the night of his capture! Oh, if he were at large, my life would be in continued danger; I should not sleep at night, for terror; I should tremble lest his corpse-like face should appear at my bedside, and his bony fingers grapple me by the throat! Yes, thank God—he is deprived of the power to injure me; I am safe from his fiend-like malice.'
At this moment, Clinton heard foot-steps approaching, and presently some one said—
'Let us enter this little temple, where we can talk without being overheard.'
The blood rushed swiftly through Clinton's veins, and his heart beat violently; for these words were spoken in the well-known voice of Fred Archer! With great presence of mind he instantly crept beneath the ottoman on which he had been lying; and the next moment two persons entered the temple, and seated themselves directly above him.
'It was, as you say,' remarked Archer to his companion in a low tone—'a most extraordinary piece of good luck for me that Sydney was taken for that murder which I committed; suspicions are diverted from me, and he will swing for it, that's certain. I'm safe in regard to that business.'
'And yet, I almost regret, Fred,' said the other, speaking in an almost inaudible whisper—'that Sydney is in the grip of the Philistines; my vengeance upon him would have been more terrible than a thousand deaths by hanging. Well, since it is so, let him swing, and be d——d to him!'
A long conversation here followed, but the two men spoke in such a low tone, that Clinton could only hear a word now and then. He was, however, certain as to the identity of Fred Archer; and he determined not to lose sight of that ruffian without endeavoring to have him taken into custody.
At length the two men arose and quitted the temple, followed at a safe distance by the boy.
At the bottom of the marble steps which led to the halls above, Fred Archer and his companion paused for a few moments, and conversed in whispers; then the two parted, the former ascending the steps, while the latter turned and advanced slowly towards Clinton.
The boy instantly started in pursuit of Archer; but as he was about to pass the person who had just quitted the company of that villain, his progress was arrested by a strong arm, and a voice whispered in his ear—'Ah, Kinchen, well met!—come with me!'
Clinton attempted to shake off the stranger's grasp—but he was no match for his adversary, who dragged him back into the little temple before mentioned, and regarded him with a terrible look.
'Who are you—and what means this treatment of me?' demanded the boy, trembling with affright.
The mysterious unknown replied not by words—but slowly raised the mask from his face. Clinton's blood ran cold with horror; for, by the dim and uncertain light, he beheld the ghastly, awful features of THE DEAD MAN!
'Said I not truly that no prison could hold me?—vain are all stone walls and iron chains, for I can burst them asunder at will! I had hoped to avenge myself on that accursed Sydney, in a terrible appalling manner; but the law has become the avenger—he will die upon the gallows, and I am content. Ha, ha, ha! how he will writhe, and choke while I shall be at liberty, to read the account of his execution in the papers, and gloat over the description of his dying agonies! But I have an account to settle with you, Kinchen; you recollect how you hurled the wine-bottle at my head, as I was about to stab Sydney on the night of my capture—thereby preventing me from securing a speedy and deadly revenge at that time? Now, what punishment do you deserve for that damnable piece of treachery to an old comrade?'
Thus spoke the terrible Dead Man, as he glared menacingly upon the affrighted and trembling Clinton, whose fears deprived him of all power of utterance.
'Sydney will hang like a dog,' continued the hideous miscreant, the words hissing from between his clenched teeth—'My revenge in that quarter shall be consummated, while you, d——d young villain that you are, shall—'
'Sydney shall not suffer such a fate, monster!' exclaimed Clinton, his indignation getting the better of his fears, as he looked the villain boldly in the face—'there are two witnesses, whose testimony can and will prove his innocence.'
'And who may those two witnesses be?' demanded the Dead Man scornfully.
'I am one—and Sydney's aunt, Mrs. Stevens, who resides at No. —— Grand Street, is the other,' replied Clinton.
'And what can you testify to in Sydney's favor?' asked the other in a milder tone.
'I can swear that Mr. Sydney sent me with a note to the lady who was murdered, and desired me to inform her that he had procured a good situation for her with his aunt—thus plainly showing the friendly nature of his feelings and intentions towards her,' replied Clinton.
'And this aunt—what will be the nature of her testimony?' inquired the Dead Man, with assumed indifference.
'Mrs. Stevens can testify that the nephew Mr. Sydney strongly recommended her to receive the poor unfortunate lady into her service—and that arrangements were made to that effect,' answered the boy, unsuspiciously.
The Dead Man seemed for a moment lost in deep thought. 'So it appears that there are two witnesses whose testimony might tend to the acquittal of Sydney,' he thought to himself. 'Those two witnesses must be put out of the way; one of them is now in my power—he is done for; I am acquainted with the name and residence of the other, and by G——d, she shall be done for, too!—Kinchen,' he said aloud, turning savagely to the boy—'You must accompany me to the Dark Vaults.'
'Never,' exclaimed Clinton, resolutely—'rather will I die here. If you attempt to carry me forcibly with you, I will struggle and resist—I will proclaim to the guests in the ball room your dread character and name; the mask will be torn from your face, and you will be dragged back to prison, from whence you escaped.'
For the second time did the Dead Man pause, and reflect profoundly. He thought somewhat in this wise:—'There is no possible means of egress from this place, except thro' the ball room, which is crowded with guests. True, I might bind and gag the Kinchen, but his struggles would be sure to attract attention—and my discovery and capture would be the result. It is evident, therefore, that I cannot carry him forcibly hence, with safety to myself. Shall I murder him? No, damn it, 'tis hardly worth my while to do that—and somehow or other, these murders almost invariably lead to detection. The devil himself couldn't save my neck if I were to be hauled up on another murder—yet, by hell, I must risk it in reference to that Mrs. Stevens, whose testimony would be apt to save her accursed nephew, Sydney, from the gallows. Yes, I must slit the old lady's windpipe; but the Kinchen—what the devil shall I do to keep him from blabbing, since I can't make up my mind to kill him?'
Suddenly, a horrible thought flashed through the villain's mind.
'Kinchen,' he whispered, with a fiend-like laugh—'I have thought of a plan by which to silence your tongue forever.'
He drew a huge clasp-knife from his pocket. Ere Clinton could cry out for assistance, the monster grasped him by the throat with his vice-like fingers—the poor boy's tongue protruded from his mouth—and oh, horrible! the incarnate devil, suddenly loosening his hold on the throat, quick as lightning caught hold of the tongue, and forcibly drew it out to its utmost tension—then, with one rapid stroke of his sharp knife, he cut it off, and threw it from him with a howl of savage satisfaction. 'Now, d——n you,' exclaimed the Dead Man—'see if you can testify in court!'
The victim sank upon the floor, weltering in his blood, while the barbarian who had perpetrated the monstrous outrage, fled from the conservatory, passed through the ball room and proceeded with rapid strides towards the residence of Mrs. Stevens, Sydney's aunt, in Grand Street, having first put on the mask which he wore to conceal the repulsive aspect of his countenance. He found the house without difficulty, for he remembered the number which poor Clinton had given him; and ascending the steps, he knocked boldly at the door.
The summons was speedily answered by a servant who ushered the Dead Man into a parlor, saying that her mistress would be down directly. In a few moments the door opened and Mrs. Stevens entered the room.
This lady was a widow, somewhat advanced in years, and in affluent circumstances. Her countenance was the index of a benevolent and excellent heart; and in truth she was a most estimable woman.
'Madam,' said the Dead Man—'I have called upon you at the request of your unfortunate nephew, Francis Sydney.'
'Oh, sir,' exclaimed the old lady, shedding tears—'how is the poor young man—and how does he bear his cruel and unjust punishment?—for unjust it is, as he is innocent of the dreadful crime imputed to him. Alas! the very day the poor lady was murdered, he called and entreated me to take her into my service, to which I readily consented. Oh, he is innocent, I am sure.'
'Mrs. Stevens,' said the villain—'I have something of a most important nature to communicate, relative to your nephew; are we certain of no interruption here?—for my intelligence must be delivered in strict privacy.'
'We are alone in this house,' replied the unsuspecting lady. 'The servant who admitted you has gone out on a short errand, and you need fear no interruption.'
'Then, madam, I have to inform you that—'
While uttering these words, the Dead Man advanced towards Mrs. Stevens, who stood in the centre of the apartment; he assumed an air of profound mystery, and she, supposing that he was about to whisper in her ear, inclined her head toward him. That movement was her last on earth; in another instant she was prostrate upon the carpet, her throat encircled by the fingers of the ghastly monster; her countenance became suffused with a dark purple—blood gushed from her mouth, eyes and nostrils—and in a few minutes all was over!
The murderer arose from his appalling work, and his loathsome face assumed, beneath his mask, an expression of demoniac satisfaction.
''Tis done!' he muttered—'damn the old fool, she thought I was a friend of her accursed nephew's. But I must leave the corpse in such a situation that it may be supposed the old woman committed suicide.'
He tore off the large shawl which the poor lady had worn, and fastened it about her neck; then he hung the body upon the parlor door, and placed an overturned chair near its feet, to lead to the supposition that she had stood upon the chair while adjusting the shawl about her neck and then overturned it in giving the fatal spring. This arrangement the Dead Man effected with the utmost rapidity and then forcing open a bureau which stood in the parlor, he took from the drawer various articles of value, jewelry, &c., and a pocket-book containing a considerable sum of money—forgetting, in his blind stupidity, that the circumstances of a robbery having taken place, would destroy the impression that the unfortunate old lady had come to her death voluntarily by her own hands.
The murderer then fled from the house and that night he and Archer, in the mysterious depths of the Dark Vaults, celebrated their bloody exploits by mad orgies, horrid blasphemy, and demoniac laughter.
We left Clinton weltering in his blood upon the floor of the temple in the conservatory. The poor mangled youth was discovered in that deplorable situation shortly after the perpetration of the abominable outrage which had deprived him of the blessed gift of speech forever. He was conveyed to the residence of Dr. Schultz, a medical gentleman of eminent skill, who stopped the effusion of blood, and pronounced his eventual recovery certain. But oh! who can imagine the feelings of the unfortunate boy, when returning consciousness brought with it the appalling conviction that the faculty of expressing his thoughts in words was gone forever, and henceforward he was hopelessly dumb! By great exertion he scrawled upon a piece of paper his name and residence; a carriage was procured, and he was soon beneath the roof of his master, Mr. Sydney, under the kind care of honest Dennis and the benevolent housekeeper.
And Sydney—alas for him! Immured in that awful sepulchre of crime, the Tombs—charged with the deed of murder, and adjudged guilty by public opinion—deserted by those whom he had regarded as his friends, suffering from confinement in a noisome cell, and dreading the ignominy of a trial and the horrors of a public execution—his fair fame blasted forever by the taint of crime—what wonder that he, so young, so rich, so gifted with every qualification to enjoy life, should begin to doubt the justice of divine dispensation, and, loathing existence, pray for death to terminate his state of suspense and misery!
But we must not lose sight of Josephine Franklin; her adventures at the masquerade hall were of too amorous and exciting a nature to be passed lightly over, in this mirror of the fashions, follies and crimes of city life.—Our next chapter will duly record the particulars of the fair lady's romantic intrigues on that brilliant and memorable occasion.
The Amours of Josephine—The Spanish Ambassador, and the Ecclesiastical Lover.
Josephine, dressed as the 'Royal Middy,' entered the conservatory, and strolled leisurely along a gravelled walk which led to a little grotto composed of rare minerals and shells. Entering this picturesque retreat, she placed herself upon a seat exquisitely sculptured from marble, and listened to the beautiful strains of music which proceeded from the ball room.
While thus abandoning herself to the voluptuous feelings of the moment, she observed that a tall, finely formed person in the costume of a Spanish cavalier, passed the grotto several times, each time gazing at her with evident admiration. He was masked, but Josephine had removed her mask, and her superb countenance was fully revealed. The cavalier had followed her from the ball-room, but she did not perceive him until he passed the grotto.
'I have secured an admirer already,' she said to herself, as a smile of satisfaction parted her rosy lips. 'I must encourage him, and perhaps he may prove to be a desirable conquest.'
The cavalier saw her smile and, encouraged by that token of her complaisance, paused before the grotto, and addressed her in a slightly foreign accent:—
'Fair lady, will you suffer me to repose myself for a while in this fairy-like retreat?'
'I shall play off a little prank upon this stranger,' thought Josephine to herself—'it will serve to amuse me.' And then she burst into a merry laugh, as she replied—
'I have no objection in the world, sir, to your sharing this grotto with me; but really, you make a great mistake—you suppose me to be a lady; but I'm no more a lady than you are, don't you see that I'm a boy?'
'Indeed!—a boy!' Exclaimed the stranger, surveying Josephine with great interest. 'By heaven, I took you for a female; and though you are a boy, I will say that you are an extremely pretty one.'
He entered into the grotto, and seated himself at her side. Taking her hand, he said—
'This hand is wonderfully fair and soft for a boy's. Confess, now—are you not deceiving me?'
'Why should I deceive you?' asked Josephine—'if my hand is fair and soft, it is because I have been brought up as a gentleman, and it has never become soiled or hardened by labor.'
'And yet,' rejoined the stranger, passing his hand over the swelling outlines of her bosom, which no disguise could entirely conceal—'there seems to me to be something feminine in these pretty proportions.'
'You doubtless think so,' replied Josephine, removing his hand—'but you greatly err. The fact is, my appearance is naturally very effeminate, and sometimes it is my whim to encourage the belief that I am a female. I came here to-night, resolved to produce that impression; and you see with what a successful result—you yourself imagined me to be a lady dressed in male attire, but again I assure you that you never were more mistaken in your life. The fullness of my bosom is accounted for, when I inform you that my vest is very skillfully padded. So now I hope you will be no longer skeptical in regard to my true sex.'
'I no longer doubt you, my dear boy,' said the stranger, gazing at Josephine with increased admiration. 'Were you a lady, you would be beautiful, but as a boy you are doubly charming. Be not surprised when I assure you that you please me ten times—aye, ten thousand times more, as a boy, than as a woman. By heaven, I must kiss those ripe lips!'
'Kiss me!' responded Josephine, laughing—'come, sire, this is too good—you must be joking.'
'No, beautiful boy, I am serious,' exclaimed the stranger, vehemently—'you may pronounce my passion strange, unaccountable, and absurd, if you will—but 'tis none the less violent or sincere. I am a native of Spain, a country whose ardent souls confine not their affections to the fairest portion of the human race alone, but—'
'What mean you?' demanded Josephine, in astonishment. The stranger whispered a few words in her ear, and she drew back in horror and disgust.
'Nay, hear me,' exclaimed the Spaniard, passionately—'it is no low-born or vulgar person who solicits this favor; for know,' he continued, removing his mask—'that I am Don Jose Velasquez, ambassador to this country from the court of Spain; and however high my rank, I kneel at your feet and—'
'Say no more, sir,' said Josephine, interrupting him, and rising as she spoke—'it is time that you should know that your first supposition in reference to me was correct. I am a woman. I did but pretend, in accordance with a suddenly conceived notion, to deceive you for a while, but that deception has developed an iniquity in the human character, the existence of which I have heard before, but never fully believed till today. Your unnatural iniquity inspires me with abhorrence; leave me instantly and attempt not to follow me, or I shall expose you to the guests, in which case His Excellency Don Jose Velasquez, ambassador to this country from the court of Spain, would become an object of derision and contempt.'
The Spaniard muttered a threat of vengeance and strode hastily away. Josephine put on her mask, and leaving the grotto, was about to return to the ball-room, when a gentleman, plainly but richly attired in black velvet, and closely masked, thus accosted her in a respectful tone—
'Lady—for your graceful figure and gait betray you, notwithstanding your boyish disguise—suffer me to depart so far from the formality of fashionable etiquette as to entreat your acceptance of me as your chaperon through this beautiful place.'
This gentleman's speech was distinguished by a voice uncommonly melodious, and an accent peculiarly refined; he was evidently a person of education and respectable social position. The tones of his voice struck Josephine as being familiar to her; yet she could not divine who he was, and concluded that there only existed an accidental resemblance between his voice and that of some one of her friends. His manner being so frank, and at the same time so gentleman-like and courteous, that she replied without hesitation—
'I thank you, sir—I will avail myself of your kindness.' She took his proffered arm, and they began slowly to promenade the principal avenue of the conservatory, engaged at first in that polite and desultory discourse which might be supposed to arise between a lady and gentleman who meet under such circumstances.
At length, becoming fatigued, they entered a pretty little arbor quite remote from observation, and seated themselves upon a moss-covered trunk. After a few commonplace observations, the gentleman suddenly addressed Josephine in a start of ardent passion.
'Lady,' he exclaimed, taking her hand and pressing it tenderly, 'pardon my rudeness; but I am overcome by feelings which I never before experienced. Although your face is concealed by your mask, I know you are beautiful—the rich luxuriance of your raven hair, and the exquisite proportions of this fair hand, are proofs of the angelic loveliness of your countenance. Am I presumptuous and bold—does my language give you offence?—if so, I will tear myself from your side, though it will rend my heart with anguish to do so. You do not speak—you are offended with me; farewell, then—'
'Stay,' murmured Josephine—'I am not offended, sire—far from it; you are courteous and gallant, and why should I be displeased?' The gentleman kissed her hand with rapture.
'Oh,' said he, in a low tone—'I am entranced by your kindness. You will be surprised when I assure you that I am but a novice in the way of love; and yet I most solemnly declare that never before have I pressed woman's hand with passion—never before has my heart beat with the tumult of amorous inclination—never before have I clasped woman's lovely form as I now clasp yours.' And he encircled the yielding form of Josephine with his arms.
'Why have you been such a novice in the delights of love?' she asked, permitting him to clasp her passionately to his breast.
'Dear lady,' he replied—'my position in life is one that precludes me in a great measure from the enjoyment of sensual indulgences; and I have heretofore imagined myself impervious to the attacks of Venus; but ah! you have conquered me. My leisure moments have been devoted to study and contemplation; I ventured here to-night to be a spectator of the joys of others, not designing to participate in those joys myself. The graceful voluptuousness of your form, developed by this boyish costume, fired my soul with new and strange sensations, which, so help me heaven! I never experienced before. Ah, I would give half of my existence to be allowed to kiss those luscious lips!'
'You can have your wish at a far less expense,' murmured the lady, her bosom heaving with passionate emotions.
'But first remove that mask,' said the gentleman, enraptured at the success of the first intrigue of his life.
'I have no objection to uncover my countenance, provided you bestow upon me a similar favor,' replied Josephine.
'I am most anxious to preserve my incognito,' said the gentleman, in a tone of hesitation. 'My standing and peculiar occupation in life are entirely incompatible with such a festival as this, and my reputation would be dangerously compromised, if not utterly ruined. Nay, then, since you insist upon it, fair creature, I will unmask, trusting to your honor as a lady to keep my secret.'
He uncovered his face, and Josephine was thunderstruck when she recognized in the amorous stranger, no less a personage than Dr. Sinclair, the pious and eloquent rector of St. Paul's.
Yes—that learned and talented divine, who had so often denounced the sins and follies of the fashionable world, and declaimed particularly against the demoralizing influences of masquerade balls—that young and handsome preacher, whose exalted reputation for sanctity and holiness had induced the amorous Josephine and her licentious mother to suppose him inaccessible to their lustful glances, and far removed from the power of temptation—that model of purity and virtue was now present at this scene of profligate dissipation, gazing into the wanton eyes of a beautiful siren, his face flushed with excitement, and his heart palpitating with eager desire!
For a few moments Josephine sat overcome by astonishment, and could not utter a single syllable.
'You seem surprised, dear lady,' said Dr. Sinclair—'may I ask if you have ever seen me before?'
'You can read in my countenance an answer to your question,' replied Josephine, taking off her mask.
'Heavens, Miss Franklin!' exclaimed the divine. It was now his turn to be astonished.
'We meet under extraordinary circumstances,' said Dr. Sinclair after a short and somewhat embarrassing pause. 'Had I known that you are one who every Sabbath sits under my ministration, no earthly consideration would have induced me to disclose myself—not even the certainty of enjoying your favors. However, you know me now, and 'tis impossible to recall the past; therefore, beautiful Miss Franklin, do not withhold from the preacher that kindness which you would have granted to the private gentleman.—Let us religiously preserve our secret from the knowledge of the world: when we meet in company, let it be with the cold formality which exists between persons who are almost strangers; but now let us revel in the joys of love.'
The superb but profligate Josephine needed no urgent persuasion to induce her to become a guilty participator in a criminal liaison with the handsome young rector whom she had so long regarded with the eyes of desire;—hers was the conquest, that unprincipled lady of fashion; and he was the victim, that recreant fallen minister of the gospel.
Humbled and conscience-stricken, Dr. Sinclair left Livingston House and returned to his own luxurious but solitary home; while Josephine was driven in her carriage to Franklin House, the flush of triumph on her cheeks and her proud, guilty heart reeling with exultation.
The Condemnation to Death—the Burglar's Confession and Awful Fate in the Iron Coffin.
The arrest of Frank Sydney for the murder of Maria Archer created an immense excitement throughout the whole community.—His wealth, standing in society, and former respectability caused many to believe him innocent of the dreadful crime imputed to him; but public opinion generally pronounced him guilty. The following article, extracted from a newspaper published at that period, will throw some light upon the views held in reference to the unhappy young man, and show how the circumstances under which he was arrested operated prejudicially to him:—
'ATROCIOUS MURDER. Last night, about nine o'clock, cries of murder were heard proceeding from the house No.—Bowery. The door was forced open by several citizens and watchmen, who, on entering a room on the second story, found the body of a young woman named Maria Archer stretched upon a sofa, her throat cut in a horrible manner, and standing over the corpse a young gentleman named Francis Sydney, holding in his hand a large Bowie knife, covered with blood. The landlady, Mrs. Flint, stated that Maria had that afternoon announced her intention to remove from the house in the evening; at about eight o'clock, Mr. Sydney called, disguised, and went up into the room of the deceased;—after a while, she (the landlady), being surprised that Maria did not begin to remove, went up to her room, and on opening the door, saw the young woman lying upon the sofa, her throat cut, and Mr. Sydney standing over her with the knife in his hand. On seeing this she screamed for assistance, and her cries had brought the watchman and citizens into the house, as we have stated.
'Mr. Sydney is a very wealthy young man, and has heretofore been highly respected. There can be no doubt of his guilt. He had probably formed a criminal connection with Mrs. Archer, whose character for chastity did not stand very high; it is supposed that it was in consequence of this intimacy that Mrs. Sydney recently separated from her husband. It is also presumed that a quarrel arose between Sydney and his paramour in consequence of his refusal to supply her with what money she demanded. This belief is predicated upon the following note, in the handwriting of Sydney, which was found upon the person of his murdered victim:—
'Mrs. Archer.—Madam: 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.'
'This note, it will be perceived, accuses her of extortion and contains a threat, &c. Alarmed at this, the poor young woman determined to leave the house that night—but was prevented by her paramour who barbarously slew her.
'The prisoner, whose appearance and behavior after his arrest proved his guilt, was conveyed to the Tombs, to await his trial for one of the most atrocious murders that has stained our criminal courts for many years.'
Thus it will be seen that poor, innocent Frank was regarded as the murderer.
It is needless for us to enter into the particulars of his trial: suffice it to say, he was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. The evidence, though entirely circumstantial, was deemed positive against him. Mrs. Flint testifying that he was the only person who had entered the house that evening, and the situation in which she had discovered him, the murderous weapon in his hand, and his clothes stained with blood, admitted not a doubt of his guilt in the minds of the jury, who did not hesitate to bring in their fatal verdict, conscientiously believing it to be a just one.
A few days previous to his trial, the public were astounded by the intelligence that Mrs. Stevens, the prisoner's aunt, had committed suicide by hanging; and her nephew's disgrace and peril were supposed to have been the cause of the rash act. But when it came to be discovered that a robbery had been committed in the house, and it was stated by the servant that a strange man had sought and obtained an interview with the unfortunate old lady that evening, the public opinion took a different turn, and the belief became general that she had been murdered by some unknown miscreant, whose object was to plunder the house. No one suspected that she had been slain to prevent her from giving favorable testimony at the trial of her nephew Francis Sydney.
The diabolical outrage perpetrated upon the boy Clinton at the masquerade ball soon became noised abroad, and gave rise to many surmises, and much indignation; tho' no one as yet imagined that any connection existed between that horrible affair and the brutal murder of Mrs. Stevens.
After his conviction and condemnation to death, Sydney was placed in irons, and treated with but little indulgence by the petty officials who have charge of the Tombs. An application on his behalf was made to the Governor, in the hope of either obtaining a pardon, or a commutation of his sentence to imprisonment, but the executive functionary refused to interfere, and Frank prepared for death.
The day before that fixed upon for his execution, a lady applied for admission to the prisoner's cell, her request was granted, and Frank was astonished by the entrance of Julia, his guilty and discarded wife!
Did she come to entreat his forgiveness for her crime, and to endeavor to administer consolation and comfort to him in this his last extremity?
No, the remorseless and vindictive woman had come to exult over his misfortunes, and triumph over his downfall!
'So, miserable wretch,' she said, in a tone of contempt—'You are at last placed in a situation in which I can rejoice over your degradation and shame! A convicted, chained murderer, to die to-morrow—ha, ha, ha!' and she laughed with hellish glee.
'Accursed woman,' cried Frank, with indignation—'why have you come to mock my misery? Have you the heart to rejoice over my awful and undeserved fate?' and the poor young man, folding his arms, wept bitterly, for his noble and manly nature was for the time overcome by the horror of his situation.
'Yes, I have come to gloat upon your misery,' replied the vile, unfeeling woman. 'To-morrow you will die upon the gallows, and your memory will be hated and condemned by those who believe you to be guilty. I am convinced in my own mind that you are innocent of the murder; yet I rejoice none the less in your fate. Your death will free me from all restraint; I can adopt an assumed name, and removing to some distant city, entrap some rich fool into a marriage with me, whose wealth will administer to my extravagance, while I secretly abandon myself to licentious pleasures. Sydney, I never loved you—and when you discovered my intimacy with my dear African, I hated you—oh, how bitterly! When you cast me off, I vowed revenge upon you; but my vengeance will be satisfied to-morrow, when you pay the forfeit of another's crime. And now in the hour of your disgrace and death, I spit upon and despise you!'
'Begone, vile strumpet that you are,' exclaimed Frank, starting to his feet—'taunt me no more, or you will drive me to commit an actual murder, and send your blackened soul into the presence of your offended Creator!'
'Farewell, forever,' said Julia, in a tone of indifference, and she left her poor, wronged husband to his own bitter reflections. Shortly after her departure, a clergyman entered the cell, and remained with the prisoner until long after midnight, preparing him for the awful change he was to undergo on the morrow.
* * * * *
That very night Fred Archer issued from the secret outlet of the Dark Vaults, and bent his steps in the direction of Wall street.
This street is the great focus around which all the most extensive financial operations of the great metropolis are carried on. It is occupied exclusively by banks, brokers' and insurance offices, and establishments of the like character.
It was midnight when Archer turned into Wall street from Broadway. The moon was obscured by clouds, and the street was entirely deserted. He paused before a large, massive building in the neighborhood of the Exchange, and glanced around him in every direction to assure himself that he was unobserved. Seeing no one, he ascended the marble steps, drew from his pocket a huge key, and with it unlocked the door; he entered, and closing the door after him, carefully re-locked it.
'So far all is well,' muttered the burglar, as he ignited a match and lighted a piece of wax candle which he had brought with him. 'It's lucky that I obtained an impression of that lock in wax, and from it made this key, or I might have had the devil's trouble in getting in.'
He advanced along the passageway, and opening a large door covered with green baize, entered a commodious apartment, containing a long table covered with papers, a desk, chairs, and other furniture, suitable to a business office. In one corner stood an immense safe, six feet in height and four in depth; this safe, made of massive plates of iron and protected by a door of prodigious strength, contained the books, valuable papers, and cash belonging to the —— Insurance Company. Archer advanced to the safe, and took from his pocket a piece of paper, on which some words were written; this paper he examined with much attention.
'Here,' said he, 'I have the written directions, furnished me by the locksmith who made the lock attached to the safe, by which I can open it. Curse the fellow, a cool hundred dollars was a round sum of money to give him for this little bit of paper, but without it I never could see the interior of his iron closet, tho' I have an exact model of the key belonging to it, made from an impression in wax, which I bribed the clerk to get for me.'
Pursuing the directions contained in the paper, he touched a small spring concealed in the masonry adjoining the safe, and instantly a slide drew back in a panel of the door, revealing a key-hole. In this he inserted a key, and turned it, but found that he could not unlock it; he therefore had recourse to his paper a second time, which communicated the secret of the only method by which to open the door. Following those directions implicitly, he soon had the satisfaction of turning back the massive bolts which secured the door; a spring now only held it fast, but this was easily turned by means of a small brass knob, and the heavy door swung back upon its gigantic hinges, to the intense delight of the burglar, who anticipated securing a rich booty.
Nor was he likely to be disappointed; for upon examination he found that the safe contained money to a large amount. A small tin cash box was full of bank-notes of various denominations; and in a drawer were several thousands of dollars in gold.
'My fortune is made, by G——d!' exclaimed the burglar, as he stood within the safe, and began hastily to transfer the treasures to his pockets. The light of his candle, which he held in his hand, shed a faint glow upon the walls and ceiling of the apartment.
'The devil!' muttered Archer—'my success thus far must not destroy my prudence. If that light were to be seen from these windows, suspicion would be excited and I might be disagreeably interrupted.'
Reaching out his arm, he caught hold of the door of the safe, and pulled it violently towards him so that the light of his candle might not betray him. The immense mass of iron swung heavingly upon its hinges, and closed with a sharp click; the spring held it fast, and on the inside of the door there was no means of turning back that spring. Like lightning the awful conviction flashed through the burglar's mind that he was entombed alive!
Vain, vain were his efforts to burst forth from his iron coffin; as well might he attempt to move the solid rock! He shrieked aloud for assistance—but no sound could penetrate through those iron walls! He called upon God to pity him in that moment of his awful distress—but that God, whom he had so often blasphemed, now interposed not His power to succor the vile wretch, thus so signally punished.
No friendly crevice admitted one mouthful of air into the safe, and Archer soon began to breathe with difficulty; he became sensible that he must die a terrible death by suffocation. Oh, how he longed for someone to arrive and release him from his dreadful situation, even though the remainder of his days were passed within the gloomy walls of a prison! How he cursed the money, to obtain which he had entered that safe, wherein he was now imprisoned as securely as if buried far down in the bowels of the earth! With the howl of a demon he dashed the banknotes and glittering gold beneath his feet, and trampled on them. Then, sinking down upon the floor of the safe, he abandoned himself to despair.
Already had the air of that small, confined place become fetid and noisome; and the burglar began to pant with agony, while the hot blood swelled his veins almost to bursting. A hundred thousand dollars lay within his grasp—he would have given it all for one breath of fresh air, or one draught of cold water.
As the agonies of his body increased, the horrors of his guilty conscience tortured his soul. The remembrance of the many crimes he had committed arose before him; the spirit of his murdered wife hovered over him, ghastly, pale and bloody. Then he recollected that an innocent man was to be hung on the morrow, for that dreadful deed which he had perpetrated; and the thought added to the mental tortures which he was enduring.
A thought struck the dying wretch; it was perhaps in his power to make some atonement for his crimes—he might save an innocent man from an ignominious death. No sooner had that thought suggested itself to his mind, than he acted upon it, for he knew that his moments were few; already he felt the cold hand of death upon him. He took a piece of chalk from his pocket, and with a feeble hand traced the following words upon the iron door of the safe:—
'My last hour is come, and I call on God, in whose awful presence I am shortly to appear, to witness the truth of this dying declaration. I do confess myself to be the murderer of Maria Archer. The young man Sydney is innocent of that crime. God have mercy—'
He could write no more; his brain grew dizzy and his senses fled. It seemed as if his iron coffin was red-hot, and he writhed in all the agony of a death by fire. Terrible shapes crowded around him, and the spirit of his murdered wife beckoned him to follow her to perdition. A mighty and crushing weight oppressed him; blood gushed from the pores of his skin; his eyes almost leaped from their sockets, and his brain seemed swimming in molten lead. At length Death came, and snapped asunder the chord of his existence; the soul of the murderer was in the presence of its Maker.
* * * * *
Morning dawned upon the doomed Sydney, in his prison cell; the glad sunbeams penetrated into that gloomy apartment, shedding a glow of ruddy light upon the white walls. That day at the hour of noon, he was to be led forth to die—he, the noble, generous Sydney, whose heart teemed with the most admirable qualities, and who would not wantonly have injured the lowest creature that crawls upon the Creator's footstool—he to die the death of a malefactor, upon the scaffold!
The day wore heavily on; Frank, composed and resigned, was ready to meet his fate like a man. He had heard the deep voice of the Sheriff, in the hall of the prison, commanding his subordinates to put up the scaffold; he had heard them removing that cumbrous engine of death from an unoccupied cell, and his ear had caught the sound of its being erected in the prison yard. Then he knelt down and prayed.
His hour had come. They came and removed his irons; they clothed him in the fearful livery of the grave. His step was firm and his eye undaunted as he passed into the prison yard, and stood beneath the black and frowning gallows.
The last prayer was said; the last farewell spoken; and many a hard-hearted jailer and cruel official turned aside to conceal the tears which would flow, at the thought that in a few moments that fine young man, so handsome, so talented and so noble to look upon, would be strangling and writhing with the tortures of the murderous rope, and soon after cut down, a ghastly and disfigured corpse.
The Sheriff adjusted the rope, and there was an awful pause; a man was tottering on the verge of eternity!
But oh, blessed pause—'twas ordained by the Almighty, to snatch that innocent man from the jaws of death! At that critical moment, a confused murmur was heard in the interior of the prison; the Sheriff, who had his hand upon the fatal book, which alone intervened between the condemned and eternity, was stopped from the performance of his deadly office, by a loud shout that rent the air, as a crowd of citizens rushed into the prison yard, exclaiming—
'Hold—stay the execution!'
The Mayor of the city, who was present, exchanged a few hurried words with the foremost of the citizens who had thus interrupted the awful ceremony; and instantly, with the concurrence of the Sheriff, ordered Sydney to be taken from the gallows, and conducted back to his cell, there to await the result of certain investigations, which it was believed would procure his entire exoneration from the crime of which he had been deemed guilty, and his consequent release from imprisonment.
It appeared that an officer connected with the —— Insurance Company, on opening the safe that morning at about half-past eleven o'clock, discovered the dead body of the burglar, the money scattered about, and the writing upon the door. The officer, who was an intelligent and energetic man, instantly comprehended the state of affairs, and hastened with a number of other citizens to the Tombs, in order to save an innocent man from death. Had he arrived a few moments later, it might have been too late; but as it was, he had the satisfaction of rescuing poor Sydney from a dreadful fate, and the credit of saving the State from the disgrace of committing a judicial murder.
A dispatch was immediately sent to the Governor, at Albany, apprising him of these facts. The next day a letter was received from His Excellency, in which he stated that he had just perused the evidence which had produced the conviction of Mr. Sydney, and that evidence, besides being merely circumstantial, was, to his mind, vague and insufficient. The pressure of official business had prevented him from examining the case before, but had he reviewed the testimony, he would assuredly have granted the prisoner a reprieve. The dying confession of the burglar, the husband of the murdered woman, left not the slightest doubt of Mr. Sydney's innocence; and His Excellency concluded by ordering the prisoner's immediate discharge from custody.
Sydney left the prison, and, escorted by a number of friends, entered a carriage and was driven to his residence in Broadway. Here he was received with unbounded joy and hearty congratulations by all his household, including honest Dennis, and poor, dumb Clinton, who could only manifest his satisfaction by expressive signs.
'I will avenge thee, poor boy,' whispered Frank in his ear, as he cordially pressed his hand.
A tall man, wrapped in a cloak, had followed Frank's carriage, and watched him narrowly as he alighted and entered his house. This man's eyes alone were visible, and they glared with a fiend-like malignity upon the young gentleman; turning away, he muttered a deep curse, and a momentary disarrangement of the cloak which hid his face, revealed the horrible lineaments of the DEAD MAN!
Showing how the Dead Man escaped from the State Prison at Sing Sing.
The New York State Prison is situated at Sing Sing, a village on the banks of the Hudson river, a few miles above the city. Being built in the strongest manner, it is deemed almost an impossibility for a prisoner to effect his escape from its massive walls. The discipline is strict and severe, and the system one of hard labor and unbroken silence, with reference to any conversation among the convicts—though in respect to the last regulation, it is impossible to enforce it always, where so many men are brought together in the prison and workshops attached to it.
The Dead Man, (who it will be recollected formerly made his escape from the prison,) on being returned there, after his capture by the two officers at Sydney's house, was locked in one of the cells, and left to his own not very agreeable reflections. He had been sentenced to imprisonment for life; and as his conduct and character precluded all hope of his ever being made the object of executive clemency, he was certain to remain there during the rest of his days, unless he could again manage to escape; and this he determined to do, or perish in the attempt.
For three days he was kept locked in his solitary cell, the only food allowed him being bread and water. On the third day he was brought out, stripped, and severely flogged with the cats, an instrument of torture similar to that used (to our national disgrace be it said,) on board of the men-of-war in our naval service. Then, with his back all lacerated and bleeding, the miscreant was placed at work in the shop where cabinet making was carried on—that having been his occupation in the prison, previous to his escape; an occupation which he had learned, while a boy, within the walls of some penitentiary.
The convict applied himself to his labor with a look which only bespoke a sullen apathy; but in his heart there raged a hell of evil passions. That night when he was locked in his cell, he slept not, but sat till morning endeavoring to devise some plan of escape.
The next day it chanced that he and another convict employed in the cabinet-maker's shop were engaged in packing furniture in large boxes to be conveyed in a sloop to the city of New York. These boxes, as soon as they were filled and nailed up, were carried down to the wharf, and stowed on board the sloop, which was to sail as soon as she was loaded. It instantly occurred to the Dead Man that these operations might afford him a chance to escape; and he determined to attempt it, at all hazards.
Upon an elevated platform in the centre of the shop (which was extensive) was stationed an overseer, whose duty it was to see that the convicts attended strictly to their work, and held no communication with each other. This officer had received special instructions from the Warden of the prison, to watch the Dead Man with all possible vigilance, and by no means to lose sight of him for a single moment, inasmuch as his former escape had been accomplished through the inattention of the overseer who had charge of him. Upon that occasion, he had watched for a favorable moment, slipped out of the shop unperceived, entered the Warden's dwelling house (which is situated within the walls of the prison) and helping himself to a suit of citizen's clothes, dressed himself therein, and deliberately marched out of the front gate, before the eyes of half a dozen keepers and guards, who supposed him to be some gentleman visiting the establishment, his hideous and well-known features being partially concealed by the broad-brimmed hat of a respectable Quaker.
To prevent a repetition of that maneuver, and to detect any other which might be attempted by the bold and desperate ruffian, the overseer kept his eyes almost constantly upon him, being resolved that no second chance should be afforded him to 'take French leave.' The Dead Man soon became conscious that he was watched with extraordinary vigilance; he was sagacious as well as criminal, and he deemed it to be good policy to assume the air of a man who was resigned to his fate, knowing it to be inevitable. He therefore worked with alacrity and endeavored to wear upon his villainous face an expression of contentment almost amounting to cheerfulness.
Near him labored a prisoner whose countenance indicated good-nature and courage;—and to him the Dead Man said, in an almost inaudible whisper, but without raising his eyes from his work, or moving his lips:—
'My friend, there is something in your appearance which assures me that you can be trusted; listen to me with attention, but do not look towards me. I am sentenced here for life: I am anxious to escape, and a plan has suggested itself to my mind, but you must assist me—will you do it?'
'Yes, poor fellow, I will, if it lies in my power, provided you were not sent here for any offence which I disapprove of,' replied the other, in a similar tone. 'I was sentenced here for the term of seven years, for manslaughter; a villain seduced my daughter, and I shot him dead—the honor of my child was worth a million of such accursed lives as his.—I consider myself guilty of no crime; he sacrificed my daughter to his lust, and then abandoned her—I sacrificed him to my vengeance, and never regretted the deed. The term of imprisonment will expire the day after to-morrow, and I shall then be a free man; therefore, I can assist you without running any great risk of myself. But you shall not have my aid if you were sent here for any deliberate villainy or black crime—for, thank God! I have a conscience, and that conscience permits me, though a prisoner, to call myself an honest man.'
'Be assured,' whispered the Dead Man, perceiving the necessity of using a falsehood to accomplish his ends—'that I am neither a deliberate villain nor hardened criminal; an enemy attacked me, and in self defense I slew him, for which I was sentenced here for life.'
'In that case,' rejoined the other—'I will cheerfully assist you to escape from this earthly hell—for self-defense is Nature's first law. Had you been a willful murderer, a robber, or aught of that kind, I would refuse to aid you—but the case is different.—But what is your plan?'
'I will get into one of these boxes, and you will nail on the cover, and I shall be conveyed on board the sloop, which will sail in less than an hour hence. When the vessel arrives at New York I shall perhaps have an opportunity to get on shore unperceived, and escape into the city, where I know of a place of refuge which the devil himself could not find,'—and the Dead Man chuckled inwardly as he thought of the Dark Vaults.
'The plan is a good one, and worthy of a trial,' said the other. 'But the overseer has his eye constantly upon you—how can you escape his vigilance?'
'There's the only difficulty,' replied the Dead Man—and his subtle brain was beginning to hatch some plan of surmounting that difficulty, when a large party of visitors, among whom were several ladies, entered the shop.
Now the overseer was a young man, and withal a tolerably good-looking one; and among the ladies were two or three whose beauty commended them to his gallant attentions.
He therefore left his station on the platform, and went forward to receive them, and make himself agreeable.
'Now's my time, by G——d!' whispered the Dead Man to his fellow prisoner; instantly he lay down in one of the boxes, and the other nailed on the cover securely. A few moments afterwards, the box which contained the Dead Man was carried down to the wharf, by two convicts, and placed on board the vessel.
Meanwhile, the overseer had become the oracle of the party of ladies and gentlemen who had visited the shop; surrounded by the group, he occupied half an hour in replying to the many questions put to him, relative to the prison discipline, and other matters connected with it. In answer to a question addressed to him concerning the character of those under his charge, the overseer remarked in a tone of much self-complacency:
'I have now in this shop a convict who is the most diabolical villain that ever was confined in this prison. He is called the Dead Man, from the fact that his countenance resembles that of a dead person. He was sentenced here for life, for a murder, but contrived to escape about a year ago. However, he was arrested on a burglary not long since, sent back here, and placed under my particular care. I flatter myself that he will not escape a second time. Step this way, ladies and gentlemen, and view the hideous criminal.'
With a smirk of satisfaction, the overseer presented his arm to a pretty young lady, whose dark eyes had somewhat smitten him, and led the way to the further end of the shop, followed by the whole party.
The Dead Man was nowhere to be seen!
'Hullo, here! Where the devil is that rascal gone?' cried the overseer, in great alarm, gazing wildly about him. 'Say, you fellows there, where is the Dead Man?'
This inquiry, addressed to the convicts who were at work in that part of the shop, was answered by a general 'don't know, sir.'
With one exception they all spoke the truth; for only the man who had nailed the Dead Man in the box, was cognizant of the affair, and he did not choose to confess his agency in the matter. An instant search was made throughout the premises, but without success—and the officers of the prison were forced to arrive at the disagreeable conclusion that the miscreant had again given them the slip. Not one of them had suspected that he was nailed up in a box on board the sloop which was then on her way to New York. The Warden sent for the luckless overseer who had charge of the escaped convict, and sternly informed him that his services were no longer needed in that establishment; he added to the discomfiture of the poor young man by darkly hinting his suspicions that he (the overseer) had connived at the escape of the prisoner—but, as the reader knows, this charge was unfounded and unjust.
The distance between Sing Sing and the city is not great: wind and tide both being favorable, the vessel soon reached her place of destination, and was attached to one of the numerous wharves which extend around the city. The boxes of furniture on board were immediately placed upon carts, for conveyance to a large warehouse in Pearl street.
The tightness of the box in which the Dead Man was placed, produced no small inconvenience to that worthy, who during the passage was nearly suffocated; however, he consoled himself with the thought that in a short time he would be free. The box was about six feet in length; and two in breadth and depth; and in this narrow compass the villain felt as if he were in a coffin. He was greatly rejoiced when the men who were unloading the vessel raised the box from the deck and carried it towards one of the carts.
But oh, horrible! unconscious that there was a man in the box, they stood it upon one end, and the Dead Man was left standing upon his head. The next moment the cart was driven rapidly over the rough pavement, towards the warehouse.
There were but two alternatives left for him—either to endure the torments of that unnatural position until the box was taken from the cart, or to cry out for some one to rescue him, in which case, clothed as he was in the garb of the prison, he would be immediately recognized as an escaped convict, and sent back to his old quarters. This latter alternative was so dreadful to him that he resolved to endure the torture if possible; and he could not help shuddering when he thought that perhaps he might be placed in the same position in the warehouse!
The drive from the wharf to Pearl street occupied scarce five minutes, yet during that brief period of time, the Dead man endured all the torments of the damned. The blood settled in his head, and gushed from his mouth and nostrils; unable to hold out longer, he was about to yell in his agony for aid, when the cart stopped, and in a few moments he was relieved by his box being taken down and carried into the warehouse, where, to his inexpressible joy, it was placed in a position to cause him no further inconvenience. The warehouse being an extensive one, many persons were employed in it; and he deemed it prudent to remain in his box until night, as the clerks and porters were constantly running about, and they would be sure to observe him if he issued from his place of concealment then.
As he lay in his narrow quarters, he heard the voices of two persons conversing near him, one of whom was evidently the proprietor of the establishment.
'We have just heard from Sing Sing,' said the proprietor—'that the villain they call the Dead Man made his escape this morning, in what manner nobody knows. I am sorry for it, because such a wretch is dangerous to society; but my regret that he has escaped arises principally from the fact that he is an excellent workman, and I, as contractor, enjoyed the advantages of his labor, paying the State a trifle of thirty cents a day for him, when he could earn me two dollars and a half. This system of convict labor is a glorious thing for us master mechanics, though it plays the devil with the journeymen. Why, I formerly employed fifty workmen, who earned on an average two dollars a day; but since I contracted with the State to employ its convicts, the work which cost me one hundred dollars a day I now get for fifteen dollars.' And he laughed heartily.
'So it seems,' remarked the other,'that you are enriching yourself at the expense of the State, while honest mechanics are thrown out of employment.'
'Precisely so,' responded the proprietor—'and if the honest mechanics, as you call them, wish to work for me, they must commit a crime and be sent to Sing Sing, where they can enjoy that satisfaction—ha, ha, ha.'
Just then, a poor woman miserably clad, holding in her hand a scrap of paper, entered the store, and advanced timidly to where the wealthy proprietor and his friend were seated.
The former, observing her, said to her in a harsh tone—
'There, woman, turn right around and march out, and don't come here again with your begging petition, or I'll have you taken up as a vagrant.'
'If you please, sir,' answered the poor creature, humbly—'I haven't come to beg, but to ask if you won't be so kind as to pay this bill of my husband's. It's only five dollars, sir, and he is lying sick in bed, and we are in great distress from want of food and fire-wood. Since you discharged him he has not been able to get work, and—'
'Oh, get out!' interrupted the wealthy proprietor, brutally—'don't come bothering me with your distress and such humbug. I paid your husband more than he ought to have had—giving two dollars a day to a fellow, when I now get the same work for thirty cents! If you're in distress, go to the Poor House, but don't come here again—d'ye hear?'
The poor woman merely bowed her head in token of assent, and left the store, her pale cheeks moistened with tears. The friend of the wealthy proprietor said nothing, but thought to himself, 'You're a d——d scoundrel.' And, reader, we think so too, though not in the habit of swearing.
She had not proceeded two dozen steps from the store, when a rough-looking man in coarse overalls touched her arm, and thus addressed her:
'Beg your pardon, ma'am, but I'm a porter in the store of that blasted rascal as wouldn't pay your poor husband's bill for his work, and treated you so insultingly; I overheard what passed betwixt you and him, and I felt mad enough to go at him and knock blazes out of him. No matter—every dog has his day, as the saying is; and he may yet be brought to know what poverty is. I'm poor, but you are welcome to all the money I've got in the world—take this, and God bless you.'
The noble fellow passed three or four dollars in silver into her hand, and walked away ere she could thank him.
The recording angel above opened the great Book wherein all human actions are written, and affixed another black mark to the name of the wealthy proprietor. There were many black marks attached to that name already.
The angel then sought out another name, and upon it impressed the stamp of a celestial seal. It was the name of the poor laborer.
Oh, laborer! Thou art uncouth to look upon: thy face is unshaven, thy shirt dirty, and lo! thy overalls smell of paint and grease; thy speech is ungrammatical, and thy manners unpolished—but give us the grasp of thy honest hand, and the warm feelings of thy generous heart, fifty, yes a million times sooner than the mean heart and niggard hand of the selfish cur that calls itself thy master!
And oh, wealthy proprietor how smooth and smiling is thy face, how precise thy dress and snow-white thy linen! thy words (except to the poor,) are well-chosen and marked with strict grammatical propriety.—The world doffs its hat to thee, and calls thee 'respectable,' and 'good.' Thou rotten-hearted villain!—morally thou art not fit to brush the cowhide boots of the MAN that thou callst thy servant! Out upon ye, base-soul'd wretch!
The countenance of the wealthy proprietor, which had assumed a severe and indignant expression at the woman's audacity, had just recovered its wonted smile of complacency, when a gentleman of an elderly age and reverend aspect entered the store. He was attired in a respectable suit of black, and his neck was enveloped in a white cravat.
'My dear Mr. Flanders,' said the proprietor, shaking him warmly by the hand, 'I am delighted to see you. Allow me to make you acquainted with my friend, Mr. Jameson—the Rev. Balaam Flanders, our worthy and beloved pastor.'
The two gentlemen bowed, and the parson proceeded to unfold the object of his visit.
'Brother Hartless,' said he to the proprietor, 'I have called upon you in behalf of a most excellent institution, of which I have the honor to be President; I allude to the 'Society for Supplying Indigent and Naked Savages in Hindustan with Flannel Shirts.' The object of the Society, you perceive, is a most philanthropic and commendable one; every Christian and lover of humanity should cheerfully contribute his mite towards its promotion—Your reputation for enlightened views and noble generosity has induced me to call upon you to head the list of its patrons—which list,' he added in a significant whisper, 'will be published in full in the Missionary Journal and Cannibal's Friend, that excellent periodical.'
'You do me honor,' replied Mr. Hartless, a flush of pride suffusing his face; then, going to his desk, he wrote in bold characters, at the top of a sheet of paper—
'Donations in aid of the Society for Supplying Indigent and Naked Savages in Hindustan with Flannel Shirts.
—Paul Hartless. $100.00'
This document he handed to the parson, with a look which clearly said 'What do you think of that?' and then, producing his pocket-book, took from thence a bank-note for one hundred dollars, which he presented to the reverend gentleman, who received the donation with many thanks on behalf of the 'Society for Supplying, &c.' and then left.
All this time the Dead Man lay in his box, impatiently awaiting the arrival of evening, when the store would be closed, and an opportunity afforded him to emerge from the narrow prison in which he was confined. Once, he came very near being discovered; for a person chanced to enter the warehouse accompanied by a dog, and the animal began smelling around the box in a manner that excited some surprise and remark on the part of those who observed it. The dog's acute powers of smell detected the presence of some person in the box: fortunately, however, for the Dead Man, the owner of the four-legged inquisitor, having transacted his business, called the animal away, and left the store.
Mr. Hartless, in the course of some further desultory conversation with Mr. Jameson, casually remarked—
'By the way, my policy of insurance expired yesterday, and I meant to have it renewed today; however, tomorrow will answer just as well. But I must not delay the matter, for this building is crammed from cellar to roof with valuable goods, and were it burnt down tonight, or before I renew my insurance, I should be a beggar!'
The Dead Man heard this, and grinned with satisfaction. The day wore slowly away, and at last the welcome evening came; the hum of business gradually ceased, and finally the last person belonging to the warehouse, who remained, took his departure, having closed the shutters and locked the door; then a profound silence reigned throughout the building.
'Now I may venture to get out of this accursed box,' thought the escaped convict:—and he tried to force off the cover, but to his disappointment and alarm, he found that it resisted all his efforts. It had been too tightly nailed on to admit of its being easily removed.
'Damnation!' exclaimed the Dead Man, a thousand fears crowding into his mind,—'it's all up with me unless I can burst off this infernal cover.' And, cursing the man who had fastened it on so securely, he redoubled his efforts.
He succeeded at last; the cover flew off, and he arose from his constrained and painful position with feelings of the most intense satisfaction. All was pitch dark, and he began groping around for some door or window which would afford him egress from the place. His hand soon came in contact with a window; he raised the sash, and unfastened the shutters, threw them open, when instantly a flood of moonlight streamed into the store, enabling him to discern objects with tolerable distinctness. The window, which was not over five feet from the ground, overlooked a small yard surrounded by a fence of no great height; and the Dead Man, satisfied with the appearance of things, proceeded to put into execution a plan which he had formed while in the box. The nature of that plan will presently appear.
After breaking open a desk, and rummaging several drawers without finding anything worth carrying off, he took from his pocket a match, and being in a philosophical mood, (for great rascals are generally profound philosophers,) he apostrophized it thus:
'Is it not strange, thou little morsel of wood, scarce worth the fiftieth fraction of a cent, that in thy tiny form doth dwell a Mighty Power, which can destroy thousands of dollars, and pull down the great fabric of a rich man's fortune? Thy power I now invoke, thou little minister of vengeance; for I hate the aristocrat who expressed his regret at my escape, because, forsooth! my services were valuable to him!—and now, as the flames of fire consume his worldly possessions, so may the flames of eternal torment consume his soul hereafter!'
Ah, Mr. Hartless! that was an unfortunate observation you made relative to the expiration of your term of insurance. Your words were overheard by a miscreant, whose close proximity you little suspected. Your abominable treatment of that poor man is about to meet with a terrible retribution.
The Dead Man placed a considerable quantity of paper beneath a large pile of boxes and furniture; he then ignited the match, and having set fire to the paper, made his exit through the window, crossed the yard, scaled the fence, and passing through an alley gained the street, and made the best of his way to the Dark Vaults.
In less than ten minutes after he had issued from that building, fierce and crackling flames were bursting forth from its doors and windows. The streets echoed with the cry of Fire—the deep-toned bell of the City Hall filled the air with its notes of solemn warning and the fire engines thundered over the pavement towards the scene of conflagration. But in vain were the efforts of the firemen to subdue the raging flames; higher and higher they rose, until the entire building was on fire, belching forth mingled flame, and smoke, and showers of sparks. At length the interior of the building was entirely consumed, and the tottering walls fell in with a tremendous crash. The extensive warehouse of Mr. Paul Hartless, with its valuable contents, no longer existed, but had given place to a heap of black and smoking ruins!
The reader is now acquainted with the manner of the Dead Man's escape from Sing Sing State Prison, and the circumstances connected with that event.
The African and his Mistress—the Haunted House—Night of Terror.
Nero, the African, still remained a prisoner in the vault beneath Sydney's house. He was regularly supplied with his food by Dennis, who performed the part of jailer, and was untiring in his vigilance to prevent the escape of the negro under his charge.
One afternoon a boy of apparently fifteen or sixteen years of age called upon Dennis and desired to speak with him in private. He was a handsome lad, of easy, graceful manners, and long, curling hair; his dress was juvenile, and his whole appearance extremely prepossessing.
The interview being granted, the boy made known the object of his call by earnestly desiring to be permitted to visit the imprisoned black.
'Is it the nager ye want to see?' exclaimed Dennis—'and how the devil did ye know we had a nager shut up in the cellar, any how?'
'Oh,' replied the boy, 'a lady of my acquaintance is aware of the fact, and she sent me here to present you with this five dollar gold piece, and to ask your consent to my delivering a short message to the black man.'
'Och, be the powers, and is that it?' muttered Dennis, half aloud, as he surveyed the bright coin which the boy had placed in his hand—'I begin to smell a rat, faith; this gossoon was sent here by Mr. Sydney's blackguard wife, who has such a hankering after the black divil—not contented with her own lawful husband, and a decent man he is, but she must take up wid that dirty nager, bad luck to her and him! My master gave me no orders to prevint any person from seeing the black spalpeen; and as a goold yankee sovereign can't be picked up every day in the street, faith it's yerself Dennis Macarty, that will take the responsibility, and let this good-looking gossoon in to see black Nero, and bad luck to him!'
Accordingly, the worthy Irishman produced a huge key from his pocket, and led the way to the door of the vault, which he opened, and having admitted the youth, relocked it, after requesting the visitor to knock loudly upon the door when he desired to come out.
'Who is there?' demanded the negro in a hollow voice, from a remote corner of the dungeon.
'Tis I, your Julia!' answered the disguised woman, in a soft whisper—for it was no other than Sydney's guilty wife.
'My good, kind mistress!' exclaimed the black, and the next moment he had caught the graceful form of his paramour in his arms. We shall not offend the reader's good taste by describing the disgusting caresses which followed. Suffice it to say, that the interview was commenced in such a manner as might have been expected under the circumstance.
The first emotions of rapture at their meeting having subsided, they engaged in a long and earnest conversation.
We shall not weary the reader's patience by detailing at length what passed between them; suffice it to say, they did not separate until a plan had been arranged for the escape of Nero from that dungeon vault.
When Julia left the abode of her husband, in the manner described in Chapter VIII, she took apartments for herself and her maid Susan at a respectable boarding house near the Battery. Representing herself to be a widow lady recently from Europe, she was treated with the utmost respect by the inmates of the establishment, who little suspected that she was the cast-off wife of an injured husband, and the mistress of a negro! She assumed the name of Mrs. Belmont; and, to avoid confusion, we shall hereafter designate her by that appellation.
Mrs. Belmont was very well satisfied with her position, but she was well aware that she could not always maintain it, unless she entrapped some wealthy man into an amour or marriage with her; for her pecuniary resources, though temporarily sufficient for all her wants, could not last always. In this view of the case, she deemed it expedient to hire some suitable and genteel dwelling-house, where she could carry on her operations with less restraint than in a boarding-house. She accordingly advertised for such a house; and the same day on which her advertisement appeared in the paper, an old gentleman called upon her, and stated he was the proprietor of just such a tenement as she had expressed a desire to engage.
'This house, madam,' said the old gentleman, 'is a neat three-story brick edifice, situated in Reade street. It is built in the most substantial manner, and furnished with every convenience; moreover, you shall occupy it upon your own terms.'
'As to that,' remarked Mrs. Belmont, 'if the house suits me, you have but to name the rent, and it shall be paid.'
'Why, madam,' replied the old gentleman, with some embarrassment of manner—'it is my duty to inform you that a silly prejudice exists in the minds of some people in the neighborhood of the house, and that prejudice renders it somewhat difficult for me to procure a tenant. You will smile at the absurdity of the notion, but nevertheless I assure you that a belief generally prevails that the house is haunted.'
'Are there any grounds for each a supposition?' inquired the lady, with an incredulous smile, yet feeling an interest in the matter.
'Why,' replied the owner, 'all who have as yet occupied the house have, after remaining one to two nights in it, removed precipitately, declaring that the most dreadful noises were heard during the night, tho' none have positively affirmed that they actually saw any supernatural visitant. These tales of terror have so frightened people that the building has been unoccupied for some time; and as it is a fine house, and one that cost me a good sum of money, I am extremely anxious to get a tenant of whom only a very moderate rent would be required. The fact is, I am no believer in this ghost business; the people who lived in the house were probably frightened by pranks of mischievous boys, or else their nervous, excited imaginations conjured up fancies and fears which had no reasonable foundation. Now, madam, I have candidly told you all; it remains for you to decide whether you will conform to a foolish prejudice, or, rising above the superstitions of the vulgar and ignorant, become the occupant of my haunted house—which, in my belief, is haunted by naught but mice in the cupboards and crickets in the chimneys.'
Mrs. Belmont reflected for a few moments, and then said—
'If the house suits me upon examination, I will become your tenant, notwithstanding the ghostly reputation of the building.'
'I am delighted, my dear madam,' rejoined the old gentleman, with vivacity, 'to find in you a person superior to the absurd terrors of weak-minded people. If you will do me the honor to accompany me to Reade street, I will go over the house with you, and if you are pleased with it, the bargain shall be completed upon the spot.'
This proposal was acceded to by Mrs. Belmont, who, after putting on her cloak and bonnet, took the arm of the old gentleman and proceeded with him up Broadway. A walk of little more than ten minutes brought them to Reade street, into which they turned; and in a few moments more the old gentleman paused before a handsome dwelling-house, standing about twenty feet back from the line of the street. The house did not adjoin any other building, but was located upon the edge of an open lot of considerable extent.
'This is the place,' said the guide as he took a key from his pocket; then, politely desiring the lady to follow him, he ascended the steps, unlocked the front door, and they entered the house. The rooms were of course entirely empty, yet they were clean and in excellent condition.—The parlors, chambers and other apartments were admirably arranged and Mrs. Belmont, after going all over the house, expressed her perfect satisfaction with it, and signified her wish to remove into it the next day. The terms were soon agreed upon; and Mr. Hedge (for that was the name of the landlord,) after delivering the key into her hands, waited upon her to the door of her boarding-house, and then took his leave.
The next morning, at an early hour, Mrs. Belmont began making preparations to occupy her new abode. From an extensive dealer she hired elegant furniture sufficient to furnish every apartment in the house; and, by noon that day, the rooms which had lately appeared so bare and desolate, presented an aspect of luxury and comfort. The naked walls were covered with fine paintings, in handsome frames; rich curtains were hung in the windows, and upon the floors were laid beautiful carpets.—The mirrors, sofas, chairs and cabinets were of the costliest kind; a magnificent piano was placed in the parlor, and the lady took care that the chamber which she intended to occupy was fitted up with all possible elegance and taste. A voluptuous bed, in which Venus might have revelled, was not the least attractive feature of that luxurious sleeping apartment. Every arrangement being completed, and as it was still early in the afternoon, Mrs. Belmont resolved to carry out a plan which she had formed some days previously—a plan by which she could enjoy an interview with Nero the black. The reader is already aware that she disguised herself in boys' clothes, and accomplished her object without much difficulty.
That evening, Mrs. Belmont was seated in the comfortable parlor of her new abode, before a fine fire which glowed in the ample grate, and diffused a genial warmth throughout the apartment. She had just partaken of a luxurious supper; and the materials of the repast being removed, she was indulging in reflections which were far more pleasing at that moment, than any which had employed her mind since her separation from her husband.
She was attired with tasteful simplicity; for although she expected no company that evening, she had taken her usual pains to dress herself becomingly and well, being a lady who never neglected her toilet, under any circumstances—a trait of refinement which we cannot help admiring, even in one so depraved and abandoned as she was.