As she lounged indolently upon the sofa, complacently regarding her delicate foot, which, encased in a satin slipper, reposed upon the rich hearth-rug, her thoughts ran somewhat in the following channel—:
'Well—I am now not only mistress of my own actions, but also mistress of a splendidly furnished house. Ah, 'twas a fortunate day for me when I separated from that man I once called husband! Yet with what cool contempt he treated me on the night when he commanded me to leave his house forever! How bitterly I hate that man—how I long to be revenged upon him. Not that he has ever injured me—oh, no—'tis I that have injured him; therefore do I hate him, and thirst for revenge! And poor Nero, whom I visited this afternoon in his dungeon—how emaciated and feeble has he become by close confinement in that gloomy place! His liberation must be effected, at all hazards; for strange as it is, I love the African passionately. Now, as regards my own position and affairs: I am young, beautiful, and accomplished—skilled in human nature and intrigue. Two distinct paths lie before me, which are equally desirable: as a virtuous widow lady, I can win the love and secure the hand of some rich and credulous gentleman, who, satisfied with having obtained a pretty wife, will not be too inquisitive with reference to my past history. In case of marriage, I will remove to Boston with my new husband: for not being divorced from Sydney, (how I hate that name!) I should be rendered liable to the charge of bigamy, if the fact of my second marriage should transpire.—On the other hand, leaving marriage entirely out of the question: As a young and lovely woman, residing alone, and not under the protection of male relatives, I shall attract the attention of wealthy libertines, who will almost throw their fortunes at my feet to enjoy my favors. Selecting the richest of these men, it will be my aim to infatuate him by my arts, to make him my slave, and then to deny him the pleasure for which he pants, until he gives me a large sum of money; this being done, I can either surrender myself to him, or still refuse to afford him the gratification he seeks, as suits my whim. When he becomes wearied of my perverseness and extortion, I will dismiss him, and seek another victim. Those with whom I shall thus have to deal, will be what the world calls respectable men—husbands, fathers—perhaps professedly pious men and clergymen—who would make any sacrifice sooner than have their amours exposed to their wives, families, and society generally. Once having committed themselves with me, I shall have a hold upon them, which they never can shake off;—a hold which will enable me to draw money from their well-filled coffers, whenever my necessities or extravagances require it. I may practice whatever imposition or extortion on them I choose, with perfect impunity; they will never dare to use threats or violence towards me, for the appalling threat of exposure will curb their tempers and render them tamely submissive to all my exactions and caprices. Thus will I reap a rich harvest from those wealthy votaries of carnal pleasure whom I may allure to my arms, while at the same time I can for my own gratification unrestrainedly enjoy the embraces of any lover whom I may happen to fancy. Ah, I am delightfully situated at present, and have before me a glorious and happy career!'
We have devoted considerable space to the above reflections of this unprincipled woman, because they will serve to show her views in reference to her present position, and her plans for the future.
The agreeable current of her meditations was interrupted by the entrance of her maid Susan.
'Well, ma'am,' said the abigail, 'I have obeyed all your orders; I have locked all the doors, and fastened all the shutters, so that if the ghost should pay us a visit, it will have to get in through the keyhole. But oh! my gracious! how terrible it is for you and I, ma'am, two poor weak women, as a body might say, to be all alone together in a house that is haunted!'
'Sit down, Susan,' said Mrs. Belmont, who was herself not altogether devoid of superstitious fears. 'Are you so foolish as to believe in ghosts? Do you think that the spirits of dead people are allowed to re-visit the earth, to frighten us out of our wits? No, no—we have reason to fear the living, but not those who are dead and buried.'
'But, if you please, ma'am,' rejoined Susan, in a solemn tone, 'I once seed a ghost with my own eyes, and not only seed it, but felt it, too.'
'Indeed—and pray how did that happen?' inquired her mistress.
'I'll tell you all about it, ma'am,' replied Susan, who, by the way, was rather a pretty young woman, though she was, like all ladies' maids, a prodigious talker. 'You see, ma'am, I once went to live in the family of a minister, and a very excellent man he was, as prayed night and morning, and said grace afore meals. Oh, he was a dreadful clever gentleman, 'cause he always used to kiss me when he catch'd me alone, and chuck me under the chin, and tell me I was handsome. Well, Saturday the minister's wife and family went to pay a visit to some relations in New Jersey, and was to stay for two or three days; but the minister himself didn't go with them, 'cause he was obliged to stay and preach on Sunday.—Now comes the dreadful part of my story, ma'am, and it is true as gospel.—That Saturday night, about twelve o'clock, I was awoke by hearing the door of my little attic bed-room softly open; and by the light of the moon I seed a human figger, all dressed in white, come into the room, shut the door, and then walk towards my bed. Oh, I was dreadfully frightened, to be sure; and just as I was going to scream out, the ghost puts his hand upon me and says—'hush!' which skeer'd me so that I almost fainted away. Well, ma'am, what does the ghost do next but take ondecent liberties with me, and I was too much frightened to say, 'have done, now!' And then the awful critter did what no ghost ever did before to me, nor man neither.—Oh, I actually fainted away two or three times; I did indeed. After a while it went away, but I was in such a flutter that I couldn't sleep no more that night. The next morning I up and told the minister how I had seed a ghost, and how it had treated me; and the minister he smiled, and said he guessed I'd get over it, and gave me some money, telling me not to say anything more about it, 'cause it might frighten the folks. Now, ma'am, after that, you needn't wonder that I believe in ghosts.'
Mrs. Belmont was highly amused by this narration of her maid's experience in supernatural visitation; and the hearty laughter in which she indulged at the close of the story, dispelled in a great measure those unpleasant feelings which had begun to gain the ascendancy over her. While under the influence of those feelings, she had intended to request Susan to sleep with her in her chamber; but as such an arrangement would betray fear on her part, while she was most anxious to appear bold and courageous, she concluded to occupy her sleeping apartment alone. Susan herself would have been very glad to share the room of her mistress; but as a suggestion to that effect, coming from her, might have seemed presumptuous and impertinent, she said nothing about it. Accordingly, when the hour for retiring arrived, Mrs. Belmont retired to her chamber, where she dismissed her maid, saying that she should not want her services any more that night; and poor Susan was obliged to ascend to her solitary apartment, which she did with many fearful misgivings, and the most dreadful apprehensions in regard to ghosts, coupled with much painful reflection relative to the unpleasantness of sleeping alone—in a haunted house.
Mrs. Belmont disrobed herself, yet ere she retired to her couch, she paused before a large mirror to admire her own naked and voluptuous beauty. While she was surveying herself, she gave utterance to her thoughts in words:—
'Ah, these charms of mine will procure me friends and fortune. What man could resist the intoxicating influence of such glorious loveliness of face and person as I possess!'
Scarcely had she uttered these words, when her ear was greeted by a low sound, which bore some resemblance to a laugh. Terrified and trembling, she cast a rapid glance around the room, but could see nobody; she then examined a small closet which adjoined the chamber and looked under the bed, not knowing but that some person might be concealed there—but she could uncover nothing to account for the noise which she had heard. It then occurred to her to open the door of her chamber; but as she was about to do so, an appalling thought flashed thro' her mind.
'What if some terrible being is now standing at the outside of that door?' and she shrank from opening it. She deeply regretted that she had not requested her maid Susan to sleep with her, as she crept into bed, leaving a candle burning on the table.
For about a quarter of an hour she listened intensely, but the sound which had alarmed her was not repeated; and she began to reason with herself upon the absurdity of her fears. Finally she succeeded in persuading herself that she had in reality heard nothing, but had been deceived by her own imagination. Still, she could not entirely dissipate her fears; she recollected that the house had the reputation of being 'haunted'—and, though she was naturally neither timid nor superstitious, a vague and undefinable dread oppressed her, as she lay in that solitary chamber, where reigned a heavy gloom and profound stillness.
It was an hour after midnight when she awoke from an uneasy slumber into which she had fallen; and the first object which met her gaze, was a human figure, enveloped from head to toe in white drapery, standing near her bed!
Yes, there it stood, with the upper part of a ghastly face alone visible, pointing at her with its finger, and freezing her soul with the steady glare of its eyes.
Long, long stood that dreadful apparition; its attitude seemed to be either menacing or warning. The terrified woman, under the influence of a painful fascination, could not avert her gaze from it; and the spectre stood until the candle was entirely consumed, and the room was wrapped in profound darkness. Then the Form glided to the bedside, and laid its cold hand upon her brow. 'Thou shalt see me again!' it whispered, and then passed noiselessly from the room.
Mrs. Belmont gave one loud and piercing scream, and then sank into a state of insensibility.
A Glimpse of the Crimes and Miseries of a Great City.
After his narrow escape from an ignominious death, Frank Sydney resumed his nocturnal wanderings thro' the city, in disguise, in order to do deeds of charity and benevolence to those who needed his aid. One night, dressed in the garb of a sailor, and wearing an immense pair of false whiskers, he strolled towards the Five Points, and entered the 'crib' of Bloody Mike. That respectable establishment was filled as usual with a motley collection of gentlemen of undoubted reputation—thieves, vagabonds, homeless wretches, and others of the same stamp, among whom were some of the most miserable looking objects possible to be conceived.
At the moment of Frank's entrance, Ragged Pete was engaged in relating the particulars of a horrible event which had occurred upon the preceding night on the 'Points.' The incident is a true one, and we introduce it here to show what awful misery exists in the very midst of all our boasted civilization and benevolence:—
'You see, fellers,' said Ragged Pete, leisurely sipping a gill of blue ruin, which he held in his hand—'the victim was a woman of the town, as lived upstairs in Pat Mulligan's crib in this street. She had once been a decent woman, but her husband was a drunken vagabond, as beat and starved her to such an extent, that she was obliged to go on the town to keep herself from dying of actual starvation. Well, the husband he was took up and sent to quod for six months, as a common vagrant; and the wife she lived in Mulligan's crib, in a room as hadn't a single article of furniture in it, exceptin' a filthy old bed of straw in one corner. A week ago, the poor cretur was taken ill, and felt herself likely to become a mother, but the brutes in the house wouldn't pay no attention to her in that situation, but left her all to herself. What she must have suffered during that night and the next day, you can imagine; and towards evening Pat Mulligan goes to her room, and finds her almost dead, with her poor child in her arms, wrapped up in an old blanket. Well, what does Pat do but ax her for his rent, which she owed him; and because the poor woman had nothing to pay him, the Irish vagabond (axing your pardon, Bloody Mike,) bundles her neck and crop into the street, weak and sick as she was, with a hinfant scarce a day old, crying in her arms. The weather was precious cold, and it was snowing, and to keep herself and child from freezing to death, as she thought, she crept into a hog-pen which stands in Pat's yard. And this morning she was found in the hog-pen, stone dead, and the hogs were devouring the dead body of the child, which was already half ate up! I'll tell you what, fellers,' exclaimed Ragged Pete, dashing a tear from his eye, and swallowing the remainder of his gin—'I'm a hard case myself, and have seen some hard things in my time, but d——n me if the sight of that poor woman's corpse and the mutilated body of her child, didn't set me to thinking that this is a great city, where such a thing takes place in the very midst of it!'
'Three groans for Pat Mulligan!' roared a drunken fellow from beneath the table.
The groans were rendered with due emphasis and effect; and then one of the drunken crowd proposed that they should visit the 'crib' of Mr. Mulligan, and testify their disapprobation of that gentleman's conduct in a more forcible and striking manner.
This proposal was received with a shout of approbation by the drunken crew, and was warmly seconded by Bloody Mike himself, who regarded Mr. Patrick Mulligan as a formidable rival in his line of business, and therefore entertained feelings strongly hostile to his fellow-countryman. Then forth sallied the dingy crowd, headed by Ragged Pete, (who found himself suddenly transformed into a hero,) and followed by Frank Sydney, who was desirous of seeing the issue of this strange affair.
The house occupied by Mulligan was an old, rotten tenement, which would undoubtedly have fallen to the ground, had it not been propped up by the adjoining buildings; and as it was, one end of it had settled down, in consequence of the giving away of the foundation, so that every room in the house was like a steep hill. The lower room was occupied as a groggery and dance-hall, and was several feet below the level of the street.
Into this precious den did the guests of Bloody Mike march, in single file. It had been previously agreed between them, that Ragged Pete would give the signal for battle, by personally attacking no less a person than Mr. Mulligan himself. Frank also entered, and taking up a secure position in one corner, surveyed the scene with interest.
Seated in the corner, upon an inverted wash-tub, was an old negro, whose wool was white as snow, who was arrayed in a dirty, ragged, military coat which had once been red. This sable genius rejoiced in the lofty title of 'the General;' he was playing with frantic violence on an old, cracked violin, during which performance he threw his whole body into the strangest contortions, working his head, jaws, legs and arms in the most ludicrous manner. The 'music' thus produced was responded to, 'on the floor,' by about twenty persons, who were indulging in the 'mazy dance.' The company included old prostitutes, young thieves, negro chimney-sweeps, and many others whom it would be difficult to classify.
The room being small and very close, and heated by an immense stove, the stench was intolerable.—Behind the bar was a villainous looking Irishman, whose countenance expressed as much intellect or humanity as that of a hog. This was Pat Mulligan, and he was busily engaged in dealing out the delectable nectar called 'blue ruin' at the very moderate rate of one penny per gill.
A very important man, forsooth, was that Irish 'landlord,' in the estimation of himself and customers.—None dare address him without prefixing a deferential 'Mr.' to his name; and Frank Sydney was both amused and irritated as he observed the brutal insolence with which the low, ignorant ruffian treated the poor miserable wretches, from whose scanty pence he derived his disgraceful livelihood.
'Mr. Mulligan,' said a pale, emaciated woman, whose hollow cheek and sunken eye eloquently proclaimed her starving condition—'won't you trust me for a sixpenny loaf of bread until to-morrow? My little girl, poor thing, is dying, and I have eaten nothing this day.' And the poor creature wept.
'Trust ye!' roared the Irishman, glaring ferociously upon her—'faith, it's not exactly trust I'll give ye; but I'll give ye a beating that'll not leave a whole bone in your skin, if ye are not out of this place in less time than it takes a pig to grunt.'
The poor woman turned and left the place, with a heavy heart, and Ragged Pete, deeming this a good opportunity to begin hostilities, advanced to the bar with a swagger, and said to the Irishman,—
'You're too hard upon that woman, Pat.'
'What's that to you, ye dirty spalpeen?' growled Mulligan, savagely.
'This much,' responded Pete, seizing an immense earthen pitcher which stood on the counter, and hurling it with unerring aim at the head of the Irishman. The vessel broke into a hundred pieces, and though it wounded Mulligan dreadfully, he was not disabled; for, grasping an axe which stood within his reach, he rushed from behind the bar, and swinging the formidable weapon aloft, he would have cloven in twain the skull of Ragged Pete, had not that gentleman evaded him with much agility, and closing with him, bore him to the floor, and began to pummel him vigorously.
No sooner did the customers of Pat Mulligan see their dreaded landlord receiving a sound thrashing, then all fear of him vanished; and, as they all hated the Irish bully, and smarted under the remembrance of numerous insults and wrongs sustained at his hands, they with one accord fell upon him, and beat him within an inch of his life. Not content with this mode of retaliation, they tore down the bar, demolished the glasses and decanters, spilled all the liquor, and in short caused the flourishing establishment of Mr. Pat Mulligan to assume a very forlorn appearance.
While this work of destruction was going on, the alarm was given that a body of watchmen had assembled outside the door, and was about to make an advance upon the 'crib.' To exit the house now became the general intent; and several had already beaten a retreat through the rear of the premises, when the watchman burst into the front door, and made captives of all who were present. Frank Sydney was collared by one of the officials, and although our hero protested that he had not mingled in the row, but was merely a spectator, he was carried to the watch-house along with the others.
When the party arrived at the watch-house, (which is situated in a wing of the 'Tombs,') the prisoners were all arrayed in a straight line before the desk of the Captain of the Watch, for that officer's examination. To give the reader an idea of the way in which justice is sometimes administered in New York, we shall detail several of the individual examinations, and their results:—
'What's your name?' cried the Captain, addressing the first of the prisoners. 'Barney McQuig, an' plaze yer honor,' was the reply, in a strong Hibernian accent.
A sort of under-official, who was seated at the desk, whispered in the ear of the Captain of the Watch—
'I know him, he's an infernal scoundrel, but he votes our ticket, and you let him slide, by all means.'
'McQuig, you are discharged,' said the Captain to the prisoner.
'Why, sir, that man was one of the worst of the rioters, and he is, besides, one of the greatest villains on the Points,' remarked a watchman, who, having only been recently appointed, was comparatively green, and by no means au fait in the method of doing business in that 'shop.'
'Silence, sir!' thundered the Captain—'how dare you dispute my authority? I shall discharge whom I please, damn you; and you will do well if you are not discharged from your post for your interference.'
The indignant Captain demanded the name of the next prisoner, who confessed to the eccentric Scriptural cognomen of 'Numbers Clapp.'
'I know him, too,' again whispered the under-official—'he is a common and notorious thief, but he is useful to us as a stool pigeon, and you must let him go.'
'Clapp, you can go,' said the Captain; and Mr. Numbers Clapp lost no time in conveying himself from the dangerous vicinity of justice; though such justice as we here record, was not very dangerous to him.
'Now, fellow, what's your name?' asked the Captain of a shabbily dressed man, whose appearance strongly indicated both abject poverty and extreme ill health.
'Dionysus Wheezlecroft,' answered the man, with a consumptive cough.
'Do you know him?' inquired the Captain, addressing the under-official, in a whisper.
'Perfectly well,' replied the other—'he is a poor devil, utterly harmless and inoffensive, and is both sick and friendless. He was formerly a political stump orator of some celebrity; he worked hard for his party, and when that party got into power, it kicked him to the devil, and he has been flat on his back ever since.'
'What party did he belong to?—ours?' asked the Captain.
'No,' was the reply; and that brief monosyllable of two letters, sealed the doom of Dionysus Wheezlecroft.
'Lock him up,' cried the Captain—'he will be sent over for six months in the morning.' And so he was—not for any crime, but because he did not belong to our party.
Several negroes, male and female, who could not possibly belong to any party, were then summarily disposed of; and at last it came to Frank's turn to be examined.
'Say, you sailor fellow,' quoth the Captain, 'what's your name?'
Frank quietly stepped forward, and in as few words as possible made himself known; he explained the motives of his disguise, and the circumstances under which he had been induced to enter the house of Pat Mulligan.—The Captain, though savage and tyrannical to his inferiors, was all smiles and affability to the rich Mr. Sydney.
'Really, my dear sir,' said he, rubbing his hands, and accompanying almost every word with a corresponding bow, 'you have disguised yourself so admirably, that it would puzzle the wits of a lawyer to make out who you are, until you should speak, and then your gentlemanly accent would betray you. Allow me to offer you ten thousand apologies, on behalf of my men, for having dared to subject you to the inconvenience of an arrest; and permit me also to assure you that if they had known who you were, they would not have molested you had they found you demolishing all the houses on the Points.'
'I presume I am at liberty to depart?' said Frank; and the Captain returned a polite affirmative. Our hero left the hall of judgment, thoroughly disgusted with the injustice and partiality of this petty minion of the law; for he well knew that had he himself been in reality nothing more than a poor sailor, as his garb indicated, the three words, 'lock him up,' would have decided his fate for that night; and that upon the following morning the three words, 'send him over,' would have decided his fate for the ensuing six months.
When Frank was gone, the Captain said to the under official:
'That is Mr. Sydney, the young gentleman who was convicted of murder a short time ago, and whose innocence of the crime was made manifest in such an extraordinary manner, just in time to save his neck. He is very rich, and of course I could not think of locking him up.'
The Captain proceeded to examine other prisoners, and Frank went in quest of other adventures, in which pursuit we shall follow him.
As he turned into Broadway, he encountered a showily dressed courtezan, who, addressing him with that absence of ceremony for which such ladies are remarkable, requested him to accompany her home.
'This may lead to something,' thought Frank; and pretending to be somewhat intoxicated, he proffered her his arm, which she took, at the same time informing him that her residence was in Anthony street. This street was but a short distance from where they had met; a walk of five minutes brought them to it, and the woman conducted Frank back into a dark narrow court, and into an old wooden building which stood at its further extremity.
'Wait here a few moments, until I get a light,' said the woman; and entering a room which opened from the entry, she left our hero standing in the midst of profound darkness.—Hearing a low conversation going on in the room, he applied his ear to the key-hole, and listened, having good reason to suppose that he himself was the object of the discourse.
'What sort of a man does he appear to be?' was asked, in a voice which sent a thrill through every nerve in Frank's body—for it struck him that he had heard it before. It was the voice of a man, and its tones were peculiar.
'He is a sailor,' replied the woman—'and as he is somewhat drunk now, the powder will soon put him to sleep, and then—'
The remainder of the sentence was inaudible to Frank; he had heard enough, however, to put him on his guard; for he felt convinced that he was in one of those murderous dens of prostitution and crime, where robbery and assassination are perpetrated upon many an unsuspecting victim.
In a few minutes the woman issued from the room, bearing a lighted candle; and requesting Frank to follow, she led the way up a crooked and broken stair-case, and into a small chamber, scantily furnished, containing only a bed, a table, a few chairs, and other articles of furniture, of the commonest kind.
Our hero had now an opportunity to examine the woman narrowly.—Though her eyes were sunken with dissipation, and her cheeks laden with paint, the remains of great beauty were still discernible in her features, and a vague idea obtruded itself, like a dim shadow, upon Frank's mind, that this was not the first time he had seen her.
'Why do you watch me so closely?' demanded the woman, fixing her piercing eyes upon his countenance.
'Ax yer pardon, old gal, but aren't you going to fetch on some grog?' said our hero, assuming a thick, drunken tone, and drawing from his pocket a handful of gold and silver coin.
'Give me some money, and I will get you some liquor,' rejoined the woman, her eyes sparkling with delight, as she saw that her intended victim was well supplied with funds. Frank gave her a half dollar, and she went down stairs, promising to be back in less than ten minutes.
During her absence, and while our hero was debating whether to make a hasty retreat from the house, or remain and see what discoveries he could make tending to throw light on the character and practices of the inmates, the chamber door opened, and to his surprise a small boy of about five years of age entered, and gazed at him with childish curiosity.
'Surely I have seen that little lad before,' thought Frank; and then he said, aloud—
'What is your name, my boy?'
'Jack the Prig,' replied the little fellow.
Frank started; memory carried him back to the Dark Vaults, where he had heard the Dead Man catechise his little son, and he recollected that the urchin had, on that occasion, made the same reply to a similar question. By referring to the sixth chapter of this work, the reader will find the questions and answers of that singular catechism.
Resolving to test the matter further, our hero asked the boy the next question which he remembered the Dead Man had addressed to his son, on that eventful night:—
'Who gave you that name?'
'The Jolly Knights of the Round Table,' replied the boy, mechanically.
'By heavens, 'tis as I suspected!' thought Frank—'the child's answers to my questions prove him to be the son of the Dead Man; the voice which I heard while listening in the passage, and which seemed familiar to me, was the voice of that infernal miscreant himself: and the woman whom I accompanied hither, and whom I half fancied I had seen before—that woman is his wife.'
The boy, probably fearing a return of his mother, left the room; and Frank continued his meditations in the following strain:—
'The mystery begins to clear up. This house is probably the one that communicates with the secret outlet of the Dark Vaults, through which I passed, blindfolded, accompanied by those two villains, Fred Archer, and the Dead Man. The woman, no doubt, entices unsuspecting men into this devil's trap, and after drugging them into a state of insensibility, hands them over to the tender mercies of her hideous husband, who, after robbing them, casts them, perhaps, into some infernal pit beneath this house, there to die and rot!—Good God, what terrible iniquities are perpetrated in the very heart of this great city—iniquities which are unsuspected and unknown! And yet the perpetrators of them often escape their merited punishment, while I, an innocent man, came within a hair's breadth of perishing upon the scaffold for another's crime! But I will not question the divine justice of the Almighty; the guilty may elude the punishment due their crimes, in this world, but vengeance will overtake them in the next. It shall, however, henceforth be the great object of my life, to bring one stupendous miscreant to the bar of human justice—the Dead Man whose escape from the State Prison was followed by his outrage upon Clinton Romaine, by which the poor boy was forever deprived of the faculty of speech; and 'tis my firm belief that 'twas by his accursed hand my aunt was murdered; she was too elevated in character, and too good a Christian, to commit suicide, and he is the only man in existence who could slay such an excellent and honorable woman! Yes—something tells me that the Dead Man is the murderer of my beloved relative, and never will I rest till he is in my power, that I may wreak upon him my deadly vengeance!'
Hearing a footstep on the stairs, he assumed an attitude and expression of countenance indicative of drowsiness and stupidity. A moment afterwards, the woman entered, and placed upon the table a small pitcher containing liquor. Taking from a shelf two tumblers, she turned her back towards Frank, and drew from her bosom a small box, from which she rapidly transferred a few grains of fine white powder into one of the tumblers; then going to a cupboard in one corner, she put a teaspoonful of loaf sugar into each of the tumblers, and placing them upon the table, requested our hero to 'help himself.'
Frank poured some liquor into the tumbler nearest him, and looking askance at the woman as he did so, he saw that her features wore a smile of satisfaction; she then supplied her own glass, and was about to raise it to her lips, when our hero said, in a gruff, sleepy tone—
'I say, old woman, you haven't half sweetened this grog of mine. Don't be so d—d stingy of your sugar, for I've money enough to pay for it.'
The woman turned and went to the closet to get another spoonful of the article in question; when Frank, with the rapidity of lightning, changed the tumblers, placing the deadly dose designed for him, in the same spot where the woman's tumbler had stood. This movement was accomplished with so much dexterity, that when she advanced to the table with the sugar, she failed to notice the alteration.
'Well, old gal—here's to the wind that blows, the ship that goes, and the lass that loves a sailor!' And delivering himself of this hackneyed nautical toast, the pretended seaman drank off the contents of his glass, an example which was followed by the female miscreant, who responded to Frank's toast by uttering aloud the significant wish—
'May your sleep to-night be sound!'
'Ay, ay, I hope so, and yours, too,' grumbled our hero, placing an enormous quid of tobacco in his cheek, in order to remove the unpleasant taste of the vile liquor which he had just drank.
There was a pause of a few minutes; when suddenly the woman grasped Frank convulsively by the arm, and gazed into his countenance with wildly gleaming eyes.
'Tell me,' she gasped, like one in the agonies of strangulation—'tell me the truth, for God's sake—did you change those tumblers?'
'I did,' was the answer.
'Then I am lost!' she almost shrieked—'lost, lost! The liquor which I drank contained a powder which will within half an hour sink me into a condition of insensibility, from which I shall only awake a raging maniac! I am rightly served—for I designed that to be your fate!'
'Wretched woman, I pity you,' said Frank, in a tone of commiseration.
'I deserve not your pity,' she cried, writhing as if in great bodily torment—'my soul is stained with the guilt of a thousand crimes—and the only reparation I can make you, to atone for the wrong I intended, is to warn you to fly from this house as from a pestilence! This is the abode of murder—it is a charnel-house of iniquity; fly from hence, as you value your life—for an hour after midnight my husband, the terrible Dead Man, will return, and although you frustrated me, you cannot escape his vengeance, should he find you here. Ah, my God! my brain burns—the deadly potion is at work!'
And thus the miserable woman continued to rave, until the powerful drug which she had taken fully accomplished its work, and she sank upon the floor in a state of death-like insensibility.
'Thou art rightly served,' thought Frank, as he contemplated her prostrate form—'now to penetrate into some of the mysteries of this infernal den!' Taking the candle from the table, he began his exploration in that fearful house.
In the apartment which adjoined the chamber he discovered little 'Jack the Prig,' fast asleep in bed. In the restlessness of slumber, the boy had partially thrown off the bed-clothes, and he exhibited upon his naked breast the picture of a gallows, and a man hanging! This appalling scene had been drawn with India ink, and pricked into the flesh with needles, so that it never could be effaced. It was the work of the boy's hideous father, who, not contented with training up his son to a life of crime, was anxious that he should also carry upon his person, through life, that fearful representation of a criminal's doom.
'Would it not be a deed of mercy,' thought our hero—'to take the poor boy from his unnatural parents, and train him up to a life of honesty and virtue? If I ever get the father in my power, I will look after the welfare of this unfortunate lad.'
Frank left the room, and descending the stairs, began to explore the lower apartments of the house. In one, he found a large collection of tools, comprising every implement used by the villains in their depredations. There were dark lanterns, crowbars, augers, London jimmies, and skeleton keys, for burglary; also, spades, pickaxes, and shovels, which were probably used in robbing graves, a crime which at that period was very common in New York. A large quantity of clothing of all kinds hung upon the walls, from the broadcloth suit of the gentleman down to the squalid rags of the beggar; these garments Frank conjectured to be disguises, a supposition which was confirmed by the masks, false whiskers, wigs and other articles for altering the person, which were scattered about.
In a small closet which communicated with this room, our hero found dies for coining, and a press for printing counterfeit bank-notes; and a table drawer, which he opened containing a quantity of false coin, several bank-note plates, and a package of counterfeit bills, which had not yet been signed.
Having sufficiently examined these interesting objects, Frank passed into the next room, which was of considerable extent. It was almost completely filled with goods of various kinds, evidently the proceeds of robberies. There were overcoats, buffalo robes, ladies' cloaks and furs, silk dresses, shawls, boxes of boots and shoes, cases of dry goods, and a miscellaneous assortment of articles sufficient to furnish out a large store. The goods in that room were worth several thousands of dollars.
'I shall now seek to discover the secret outlet of the Dark Vaults,' thought Frank, as he descended into the cellar of the house. Here he gazed about him with much interest; the cellar was damp and gloomy and his entrance with the light disturbed a legion of rats, which went scampering off in every direction, from a corner in which they had collected together; as the young man approached that corner, a fetid, sickening odor saluted his nostrils and a fearful thought flashed across his mind; a moment afterwards, his blood curdled with horror, for before him lay the dead body of a man, entirely naked, and far advanced in state of decomposition; and upon that putrefying corpse had the swarm of rats been making their terrible banquet!
Sick with horror and disgust, Frank precipitately retreated from the loathsome and appalling spectacle, satisfied that he had beheld one of the Dead Man's murdered victims; and he shuddered as he thought that such might have been his fate!
In the centre of the cellar an apparatus of singular appearance attracted his notice; and approaching it he instantly became convinced that this was the secret outlet for which he sought. Four strong, upright posts supported two ponderous iron crossbars, to which were attached four ropes of great thickness and strength, these ropes were connected with a wooden platform, about six feet square; and beneath the platform was a dark and yawning chasm.
Closely examining this apparatus, our hero saw that by an ingenious contrivance, a person standing on the platform could, by turning a crank, raise or lower himself at will. He cautiously approached the edge of the chasm, and holding down the light, endeavored to penetrate through the darkness; but in vain—he could see nothing, though he could faintly hear a dull, sluggish sound like that produced by the flowing of a vast body of muddy water, and at the same time an awful stench which arose from the black gulf, compelled him to return a short distance.
'The mystery is solved,' he thought—'that fearful hole leads to the subterranean sewers of the city, and also to the Dark Vaults beyond them. By means of that platform, the villains of the Infernal Regions below, can pass to and from their den with facility and safety.'
At this moment he heard the vast bell of the City Hall proclaiming the hour of midnight; and he remembered that the woman had told him that her husband, the Dead Man, would return in an hour from that time. At first it occurred to him to await the miscreant's coming, and endeavor to capture him—but then he reflected that the Dead Man might return accompanied by other villains, in which case the plan would not only be impracticable, but his own life would be endangered.
'And even were the villain to come back alone,' thought Frank, 'were I to spring upon him, he might give some signal which would bring to his aid his band of desperadoes from the Vaults below. No—I must not needlessly peril my own life; I will depart from the house now, satisfied for the present with the discoveries I have made, and trusting to be enabled at no distant time to come here with a force sufficient to overcome the hideous ruffian and all his band.'
Leaving the cellar, he traversed the entry and attempted to open the front door; but to his surprise it was securely locked, nor could all his efforts push back the massive bolts which held it fast. He re-entered the room, and examining the windows, found them furnished with thick iron bars like the windows of a prison, so that to pass through them was impossible; and further investigation resulted in the unpleasant conviction that he was a prisoner in that dreadful house, with no immediate means of escape.
He again descended into the cellar, and began seriously to reflect upon the realities of his situation. He was a young man of determination and courage: yet he could not entirely subdue those feelings of uneasiness and alarm which were natural under the circumstances. He was alone, at midnight, in that abode of crime and murder; near him lay the corpse of an unfortunate fellow creature, who had without a doubt fallen by the hand of an assassin; he was momentarily expecting the return of that arch-miscreant, who would show him no mercy; a deep, unbroken silence, and an air of fearful mystery, reigned in that gloomy cellar and throughout that awful house—and before him, dark and yawning as the gate of hell, was that black and infernal pit which led to the subterranean caverns of the Dark Vaults, far below.
'I will sell my life dearly, at all events,' thought our hero, as he drew a bowie knife from his breast, and felt its keen, glittering edge; then impelled by a sudden thought, he advanced to the mouth of the pit, and cut the four ropes, which sustained the wooden platform, so nearly asunder, that they would be almost sure to break with a slight additional weight.
He had scarcely accomplished this task, when a strange, unnatural cry resounded throughout the cellar—a cry so indescribably fearful that it chilled his blood with horror. It was almost instantly followed by a low and melancholy wail, so intense, so solemn, so profoundly expressive of human misery, that Frank was convinced that some unfortunate being was near him, plunged in deepest anguish and distress.
In a few moments the sound entirely ceased, and silence resumed its reign; then Frank, actuated by the noble feelings of his generous nature, said, in a loud voice—
'If there is any unhappy creature who now hears me, and who needs my charitable aid, let him or her speak, that I may know where to direct my search.'
No answer was returned to this request; all was profoundly silent. Frank, however, was determined to fathom the mystery; accordingly, he began a careful search throughout the cellar, and finally discovered in an obscure corner an iron door, which was secured on the outside by a bolt—to draw back this bolt and throw open this door, was but the work of a moment; and our hero was about to enter the cell thus revealed, when a hideous being started from the further end of the dungeon, and with an awful yell rushed out into the cellar, and hid itself in a deep embrasure of the wall.
Whether this creature were human or not, the rapidity of its flight prevented Frank from ascertaining, he cautiously advanced to the place where it had concealed itself, and by the dim light of the lamp which he carried, he saw, crouching down upon the cold, damp earth, a living object which appalled him; it was a human creature, but so horribly and unnaturally deformed, that it was a far more dreadful object to behold than the most loathsome of the brute creation.
It was of pygmy size, its shrunk limbs distorted and fleshless, and its lank body covered with filthy rags; its head, of enormous size, was entirely devoid of hair; and the unnatural shape as well as the prodigious dimensions of that bald cranium, betokened beastly idiocy. Its features, ghastly and terrible to look upon, bore a strange resemblance to those of the Dead Man! and its snake-like eyes were fixed upon Frank with the ferocity of a poisonous reptile about to spring upon its prey.
'Who art thou?' demanded our hero, as he surveyed the hideous object with horror and disgust.
It answered not, but again set up its low and melancholy wail. Then with extraordinary agility, it sprang from its retreat, and bounding towards the dungeon, entered, and crouched down in one corner, making the cellar resound with its awful shrieks.
''Tis more beast than human,' thought Frank—'I will fasten it in its den, or it may attack me;' and closing the door, he secured it with the bolt. As he did so, he heard the deep-toned bell peal forth the hour of—one!
'It is the hour appointed for the return of the Dead Man!' said our hero to himself, with a shudder; and instantly it occurred to him that he might have descended to the Dark Vaults and escaped that way, had he not cut the ropes which supported the platform. But then he reflected that on reaching the Vaults he would be almost certain to fall into the power of the villains assembled there; and he ceased to regret having cut the ropes.
His attention was suddenly arrested by observing the platform descend into the abyss, moved by an unseen agency; for the apparatus was so contrived, that a person in the Vaults below could lower or raise the platform at will, by means of a rope connected with it.
Frank had anticipated that the Dead Man would enter the house through the front door; but he now felt convinced that the miscreant was about to ascend on the platform from the Vaults; and he said to himself—
''Tis well—these almost severed ropes will not sustain the villain's weight, and if he attains to any considerable height, and then falls, his instant death is certain.'
The platform reached the bottom of the abyss—a short pause ensued, and then it began slowly to ascend; higher, higher it mounted, until our hero, fearing that the rope might not break, was about to cut it again, when a yell of agony reached his ear from the depths of the pit, and at the same moment the slackened condition of the rope convinced him that the platform had fallen. He listened, and heard a sound like the plunging of a body into water; then all was silent as the grave.
'The villain has met with a just doom,' thought Frank; and no longer apprehensive of the return of his mortal enemy, he left the cellar, and entering the room above, in which the stolen goods were deposited, threw himself upon a heap of clothes and garments, and fell into a deep slumber.
It was broad daylight when he awoke; and starting up, his eyes rested upon an object which caused him to recoil with horror. The woman whom he had left insensible from the effects of the powerful drug which she had taken, was standing near him, her eyes rolling with insanity, her hair dishevelled, her clothes torn to rags and her face scratched and bleeding, she having in her own madness inflicted the wounds with her own nails.
'Ha!' she exclaimed—'had'st thou not awakened, I would have killed thee! Thy heart would have made me a brave breakfast, and I would have banqueted on thy life-blood! Go hence—go hence! thou shalt not unfold the awful mysteries of this charnel-house!—Ye must not behold the murdered man who lies rotting in the cellar, nor open the dark dungeon of the deformed child of crime!—'tis the hideous offspring of hideous parents—my child and the Dead Man's! 'Twas a judgement from Heaven, that monstrous being; we dare not kill it, so we shut it up from the light of day. Go hence—go hence, or I will fly at thee and tear thine eyes out!'
Frank left the room, and ascended to the chamber, hoping to find a key which would enable him to unlock the front door; and in a table drawer he discovered one, which he doubted not would release him from his imprisonment. Before departing, he wrote the following words on a scrap of paper:—
'If the villain known as the Dead Man still lives, he is informed that he is indebted to me for his unexpected fall last night. Let the miscreant tremble—for I have penetrated the mysteries of this infernal den, and my vengeance, if not ordinary justice, will speedily overtake him!
Leaving the note upon the table, Frank descended the stairs, unlocked the door, and departed from that abode of crime and horror.
[Footnote 3: A stool pigeon is a person who associates with thieves, in order to betray their secrets to the police officers, in reference to any robbery which has been committed, or which may be in contemplation. As a reward for furnishing such information, the stool pigeon is allowed to steal and rob, on his own account, with almost perfect impunity.]
Showing the pranks played in the Haunted House by the two Skeletons.
When Mrs. Belmont awoke from the swoon into which she had fallen, at sight of the terrible apparition which had visited her, daylight was shining through the windows of her chamber. She immediately recalled to mind the events of the preceding night, and resolved to remove without delay from a house which was troubled with such fearful visitants.
Her maid Susan soon entered, to assist her in dressing; and she learned that the girl had neither seen nor heard anything of a mysterious or ghostly nature, during the night. But when the lady related what she had seen, the terror of poor Susan knew no bounds, and she declared her determination not to sleep alone in the house another night.
While at breakfast, a visitor was announced, who proved to be the landlord, Mr. Hedge. The old gentleman entered with many apologies for his intrusion, and said—
'To confess the truth, my dear madam, I am anxious to learn how you passed the night. Were you disturbed by any of the goblins or spectres which are supposed to haunt the house?'
Julia related everything which had occurred, and Mr. Hedge expressed great astonishment and concern.
'It is singular—very singular, and fearful,' said he musingly—'a terrible blot seems to rest upon this house; I must abandon the hope of ever having it occupied, as I presume you now desire to remove from it, as a matter of course?'
'Such was my intention,' replied Julia, 'but you will be surprised when I assure you that within the last hour I have changed my mind, and am now resolved to remain here. To me there is a charm in mystery, even when that mystery, as in the present instance, is fraught with terror. I think I need entertain no apprehension of receiving personal injury from these ghostly night-walkers, for if they wished to harm me, they could have done so last night. Hereafter, my maid shall sleep in my chamber with me; I shall place a dagger under my pillow, with which to defend myself in case of any attempted injury or outrage—and I shall await the coming of my spectral friend with feelings of mingled dread and pleasure.'
'I am delighted to hear you say so,' rejoined the old gentleman, as he surveyed the animated countenance and fine form of the courageous woman with admiration. In truth, Julia looked very charming that morning; she was dressed in voluptuous dishabille, which partially revealed a bust whose luxurious fullness and exquisite symmetry are rarely equalled by the divine creations of the sculptor's art.
'She is very beautiful,' thought the old gentleman; and the sluggish current of his blood began to course thro' his veins with something of the ardor of youth.
Mr. Hedge was a wealthy old bachelor;—and like the majority of individuals, who belong to that class, he adored pretty women, but had always adored them at a distance. To him, woman was a divinity; he bowed at her shrine, but dared not presume to taste the nectar of her lips, or inhale the perfume of her sighs. He had always regarded such familiarity as a type of sacrilege. But now, seated tete-a-tete with that charming creature, and feasting his eyes upon her voluptuous beauty, his awe of the divinity merged into a burning admiration of the woman.
Julia knew that Mr. Hedge was rich. 'He admires me,' thought she,—'he is old, but wealthy; I will try to fascinate him, and if he desires me to become either his wife or mistress, I will consent, for a connection with him would be to my pecuniary advantage.'
And she did fascinate him, as much by her sparkling wit and graceful discourse, as by her charms of person. She related to him a very pleasing little fiction entirely the offspring of her own fertile imagination, which purported to be a history of her own past life. She stated that she was the widow of an English gentleman; she had recently come to America, and had but few acquaintances, and still fewer friends; she felt the loneliness of her situation, and admitted that she much desired a friend to counsel and protect her; the adroit adventuress concluded her extemporaneous romance by adroitly insinuating that her income was scarcely adequate to her respectable maintenance.
Mr. Hedge listened attentively to this narrative, and religiously believed every word of it. While the lady was speaking, he had drawn his chair close to hers, and taken one of her small, delicate hands in his. We must do him the justice to observe, that though her beauty had inspired him with passion, he nevertheless sincerely sympathised with her on account of her pretended misfortunes—and, supposing her to be strictly virtuous, he entertained not the slightest wish to take advantage of her unprotected situation.
'My dear young lady,' said he—'although I have known you but a very short time, I have become exceedingly interested in you. I am an old man—old enough to be your father; and as a father I now speak to you.—What I am about to say, might seem impertinent and offensive in a young man, but you will pardon it in me. You have unconscientiously dropped a hint touching the insufficiency of your income to maintain you as a lady should be maintained. I am rich—deign to accept from me as a gift—or as a loan, if you will—this scrap of paper; 'tis valueless to me, for I have more money than I need. The gift—or loan—shall be repeated as often as your necessities require it.'
He squeezed a bank-note into her hand—and when she, with affected earnestness, desired him to take it back, assuring him that she needed no immediate pecuniary aid, he insisted that she should retain it; and shortly afterwards he arose and took his leave, having easily obtained permission to call upon her the next day.
'Egad, she would make me a charming wife—if she would only have me,' thought the old gentleman, as he left the house.
'Five hundred dollars!' exclaimed Julia, as she examined the bank-note which he had given her—'how liberal! I have fairly entrapped the silly old man; he is too honorable to propose that I should become his mistress, and he will probably offer me his hand in marriage. I will accept him at once—and to avoid detection, I shall remove with my venerable husband to Boston, which I have heard is a charming city, where a woman of fashion and intrigue can lead a glorious and brilliant career.'
That night she retired early to rest, and her maid Susan shared her chamber—an arrangement highly satisfactory to the abigail, who was glad of company in a house where ghosts were in the habit of perambulating during the night.
Neither mistress nor maid closed an eye in slumber—but midnight came, and they had not seen nor heard anything of a ghostly nature. Yet strange events were taking place in the house,—events which will throw light upon the fearful mysteries of the place.
It was about an hour after midnight, when a large stone among those of which the foundation of the house was built, turned slowly upon pivots, revealing an aperture in the wall, and at the same instant the glare of a lantern shone into the cellar.
From the aperture emerged two persons of frightful appearance, one of whom carried the lantern; they were both dressed in tight-fitting garments of black cloth, upon which was daubed in white paint the figure of a skeleton; and each of their faces had been blacked, and then drawn over with the representation of a skull. Seen by an imperfect light, they exactly resembled two skeletons.
'By Jesus!' exclaimed one of them, in a tone which was anything but hollow or sepulchral—'let's put for the pantry and see what there is to ate, for be the powers I'm starved wid hunger!'
'That's the talk, Bloody Mike—- so we will,' responded the other worthy, who was no other than our old friend Ragged Pete, though his nearest relatives would never have recognized him in the disguise he then wore.
Mike and Pete ascended to the pantry, and began a diligent search after provisions.
'Glory to ould Ireland, here's grand illigant ham!' exclaimed the first mentioned individual, as he dragged from a shelf a large dish containing the article he had named.
'And blow me tight if here isn't a cold turkey and a pan of pudding,' rejoined Pete, whose researches had also been crowned with success.
'Faith, it's ourselves, Peter, dear, that'll have a supper fit for the bishop of Cork, an' that's a big word,' remarked Mike, as he triumphantly placed upon a table the savory viands above mentioned, and 'fell to' with surpassing vigor, an example in which he was followed by his comrade.
'This playing the ghost is a good business, by jingo!' said Pete, with his mouth full of ham.
'True for ye!' replied the Irish skeleton, his articulation rendered indistinct by the masses of turkey which were fast travelling down his throat to his capacious stomach.
The repast was not finished until they had devoured every atom of the provisions; and then Pete went in quest of something to 'wash the wittles down with,' as he expressed it.
Upon a sideboard in the adjoining room he found wines and liquors of excellent quality, which he and his companion were soon engaged in discussing, with as much ease and comfort as if they were joint proprietors of the whole concern.
The two gentlemen grew quite cosey and confidential over their wine, and as their conversation mainly referred to matters in which the reader perhaps feels an interest, we shall so far intrude upon their privacy as to report the same.
'I've news to tell you, Mike,' said Pete—'the Dead Man has somehow or other found out that the lady who moved into this house yesterday, is the wife of Mr. Sydney, the rich chap that he hates so infernally 'cause he had him arrested once. Well, you know that last night some one cut the ropes that hoists the platform from the Vaults, so that the Dead Man fell and came nigh breaking his neck; and as it is, he's so awfully bruised that he won't have the use of his limbs for some time to come—besides, he fell into the sewers, and would have been drowned, if I hadn't heerd him, and dragged him out. The chap wot played him that trick was this same Sydney; for a note was found this morning in Anthony street crib, bragging about it, and signed with his name. Now it seems that his wife that lives in this house, and who we are trying to skeer out of it, as we have done all the others that ever lived here—it seems that she hates Sydney like thunder and wants to be revenged on him for something—and that the Dead Man found that out, too. So 'our boss' thinks he'll try and set up a partnership with this Mrs. Belmont, as she calls herself—and with her aid he calculates to get Mr. Sydney into his power. If the lady and him sets up business together, our services as ghosts won't be wanted any longer; and I'm very sorry for it, because we've had glorious times in this house, frightening people, and making them believe the place was haunted.'
As this long harangue rendered Pete thirsty, he extinguished his eloquence for a few moments in a copious draught of choice Burgundy.
'That row at Pat Mulligan's last night was a divilish nate affair,' remarked Mike.
'Yes,' said Pete—'and we all got bundled off to the watch-house; but the Captain let me go—he always does, because I vote for his party. After I got clear, I came here, wrapped in a great sheet, and went up into Mrs. Belmont's chamber; after frightening the poor woman almost to death, I goes up to the bed, puts my hand on her face, and tells her that she'd see me agin—whereupon she gives a great shriek, and I cut my puck through the hole in the cellar.'
'Be the powers,' remarked Bloody Mike—'it's a great convenience entirely, to have thim sacret passages from the Vault into intarior of houses; there's two of thim, one under the crib in Anthony street, and the other under this dacent house in Rade street.'
'Yes, you're right,' said Pete—'but come, let's do our business and be off—it's near three o'clock.'
The two worthies mounted the stairs with noiseless steps, and pausing before Mrs. Belmont's chamber, Ragged Pete gave utterance to an awful groan. A stifled shriek from the interior of the room convinced them the inmates were awake and terribly frightened.
Pete's groan was followed by a violent hiccuping on the part of Bloody Mike—for, to confess the truth, that convivial gentleman had imbibed so freely that he was, in vulgar parlance, most essentially drunk.
'Stop that infernal noise, and follow me into the room,' whispered Pete, who, having confined himself to wine instead of brandy, was comparatively sober.
'Lade on, I'm after ye!' roared the Irish skeleton. Pete, finding the door locked gave it a tremendous kick, and it burst open with a loud crash.
Julia and her maid screamed with horror and affright, as they beheld two hideous forms resembling skeletons come rushing into the room.
Ragged Pete advanced to the bedside of Mrs. Belmont, and threw himself into an approved pugilistic attitude, as if challenging that lady to take a 'set to' with him; while Bloody Mike stumbled over the prostrate form of the lady's maid, who occupied a temporary bed upon the floor. Forgetting his assumed part, he yelled out for something to drink, and forthwith began to sing in tones of thunder, the pathetic Hibernian ballad commencing with—
'A sayman courted a farmer's daughter, That lived convenient to the Isle of Man.'
'The devil!—you'll spoil all,' muttered Pete, as he seized Mike, and with difficulty dragged him from the room. 'Ain't you a nice skeleton, to get drunk and sing love songs,' he whispered contemptuously, pulling his inebriated comrade downstairs after him: 'No dacent ghost ever gets as corn'd as you be,' he added, as they entered the 'hole in the wall;' after which the stone was turned into its place, which it fitted so exactly, that the most critical eye could not have discovered anything to indicate that it had ever been moved at all.
Mrs. Belmont was now fully satisfied in her own mind that there was nothing supernatural about the nocturnal intruders, but that they were in reality substantial flesh and blood, and though she could not divine how they had entered the house, she was much relieved and comforted by the assurance that it was with living men she had to deal—a conviction which was amply confirmed the next morning, when the havoc done to the eatables and drinkables was announced to her by the indignant Susan.
In the afternoon Mr. Hedge called upon her as appointed, and dined with his interesting and fascinating tenant.
After dinner, Julia caused the sofa to be wheeled in front of the glorious fire which glowed in the grate (for the weather was intensely cold) and seating herself, invited the old gentleman to place himself at her side.
Then she exerted all her fine powers of discourse to increase his admiration, and draw from him a declaration of love, and an offer of marriage.
Wine was brought in, and gradually their spirits became enlivened by the sparkling genii of the grape. The old man felt the fires of youth careering through his veins, and his withered cheek was suffused with a flush of passion.
'Beautiful Julia,' said he—'I observe that you have a magnificent piano; will you favor me with an air?'
She smiled an assent, and her aged admirer conducted her to the instrument with the most ceremonious politeness. After a brilliant prelude, executed with artistic delicacy and skill, she dashed off into a superb Italian air, which raised her listener (who was passionately devoted to music,) into the seventh heaven of ecstasy.
'Glorious!—grand!' were his exclamations of delight, when she had finished the air and she needed no urgent persuasion to induce her to favor him with another.
Artfully and admirably did she compose an extempore song, adapted to immediate circumstances, beginning—'I love no vain and fickle youth,' and beautifully depicting the love of a young woman for a man advanced in years. She sung it with a most touching air, and threw into her countenance and style an expression of melting tenderness.
Ere she had terminated, the old gentleman was kneeling at her feet; and pressing her fair hand to his lips.
'Divine creature,' he murmured—'can you pardon the presumption and foolishness of an old man, who dares to love you? Your beauty and your fascinations have conquered and bewildered me. I know that the proposal coming from me, is madness—I know that you will reject my suit with disdain—yet hear me Julia; I am an old, rich and solitary man—I need some gentle ray of sunshine to gild my few remaining years—I need some beautiful creature, like yourself, to preside over my gloomy household, and cheer me in my loneliness by her delightful society and the music of her voice. Boundless wealth shall be at your command; no restraint shall ever be placed upon the number of your servants, the splendor of your carriages and equipages, the costliness of your jewels; and the magnificence of your amusements. Speak—and seal my destiny.'
And Julia did speak, and became the affianced wife of Mr. Hedge. Her operations thus far had been crowned with triumphant success.
It was arranged that their marriage should take as privately as possible in one month, from that day.—Julia suggested that, immediately after their union, they should remove to Boston, and take up their permanent residence in that city, to which proposal the old gentleman gave a cheerful consent.
'And if you have no objection, my dear Julia,' said he, 'we will be united by Dr. Sinclair, the young and excellent rector of St. Paul's, to which church I belong.'
Julia signified her compliance with the arrangement. She had both seen and admired the young rector, and thought him handsome—very handsome.
Previous to Mr. Hedge's departure that evening, he presented her with a large sum of money, to defray, he said, the expenses necessary to be incurred in her preparations for the marriage. Then the enamored old gentleman kissed her hand, and took his leave.
When he was gone, Julia abandoned herself to the pleasing thoughts engendered by her present brilliant prospects. While in the midst of these agreeable meditations, she was interrupted by the sound of a footstep behind her; and turning, she beheld a man of an aspect so hideous and revolting, that she screamed with terror.
'Hush! be silent, madam—I mean you no harm,' said the man, as he closed the door, and seated himself at her side upon the sofa. Julia gazed on him with surprise and dread. His face, which at best was the most loathsome and horrible ever worn by man, was mangled and bruised as if by some severe and terrible injury; he moved with evident pain and difficulty, and carried one of his arms in a sling.
'Our interview shall be brief, and to the point,' said the mysterious visitor. 'I am he who is called the Dead Man, and I am not disposed to quarrel with the title, for I like it.—You and your history are known to me; it matters not how I obtained my information; you are styled Mrs. Belmont, a widow—but you are the discarded wife of Francis Sydney, and half an hour ago you engaged yourself in marriage to Mr. Hedge, the owner of this house.'
Julia started with alarm, for she felt that she was in the power of that terrible man.
'What is the object of your visit?' she asked.
'Listen and you shall know. I have a secret subterranean cavern which communicates with the cellar of this building, and 'twas by that means I entered the house to-night. Myself and friends often find it convenient to carry stolen goods through this house into our den; and in order to have the place all to ourselves, we have heretofore frightened away the people who have come here to live; thus the house is reputed to be haunted. 'Twas our design to frighten you away, also; but having discovered who and what you are, I've concluded to explain the mystery, and set up a copartnership with you.'
'And in what business can we possibly be connected together?' asked Julia, with ill-concealed disgust.
'In the business of vengeance!' thundered the Dead Man, foaming with rage. 'Tell me, woman—do you hate Sydney?'
'I do!—and would sell my soul to be revenged upon him,' she replied with flashing eyes.
'Enough!' cried the other, with triumphant joy—'I knew you would join me in my plan of vengeance. Now, madam, from this moment we are friends—partners, rather let me say—and there's my hand upon it.' And he gripped her hand almost fiercely, while she shuddered at the awful contact. It seemed as if she were touching a corpse.
'Hereafter,' continued the miscreant,—'you shall rest at night securely in this house, undisturbed by pretended ghosts. Do you see these wounds and bruises?—for them I am indebted to Sydney; my wife is a raging maniac, and I am also indebted to him for that—and by eternal hell! when I get him in my power, he shall die by inches; he shall suffer every slow torture which my ingenuity can devise; his brain shall burn, and when death shall end his torments, I have sworn to eat his heart; and by G——, I'll do it!'
'But how will you get him into your power?' asked Julia, delighted with the prospect of revenging herself upon poor Frank.
'I will contrive some means of deluding him into this house; and once in here, he shall never again behold the light of day,' replied the Dead Man, as he arose to withdraw.
'Stay a moment,' said Julia, with some embarrassment—'there is also a colored man in Sydney's house, and—'
'I know it—he shall be liberated,' interrupted the Dead Man, and added—'you shall see me again to-morrow—farewell.'
He left the room, descended to the cellar, and passed through the secret passage to the Dark Vaults.
That night at about the hour of twelve, the dark figure of a man crossed the garden in the rear of Frank Sydney's house, and approached the iron door of the wine-vault wherein Nero, the African, was imprisoned. By the aid of skeleton keys he unlocked the door, and bade the prisoner come forth.
The negro obeyed, surprised and delighted at his unexpected deliverance.
'To whom am I indebted for this friendly act?' he asked.
'I have no time to answer questions,' replied the Dead Man, for it was he. 'Hasten to your mistress at No.—Reade street, and remember your motto as well as mine must be—'Vengeance on Sydney!''
'Yes—vengeance on Sydney,' muttered the black, from between his clenched teeth, as he hurried away in the direction of Reade street.
'He will be another agent to assist me in torturing my enemy,' said the Dead Man to himself, as he bent his rapid footsteps towards the Dark Vaults.
Nero soon reached the residence of Mrs. Belmont, in Reade street. He was admitted into the house by Susan, who informed him that her mistress had not yet retired. The black quickly mounted the stairs, and entering the room, was about to rush forward and clasp the lady in his arms, when she checked him by a movement of disgust, desired him not to approach her, and pointing to a chair in a distant corner, coldly requested him to seat himself there.
Why did that unprincipled and licentious woman thus repulse the former partner of her guilty joys—he who had so long been the recipient of her favors, and the object of her unhallowed love? Was it because he was emaciated, filthy and in rags, the results of his long imprisonment in a loathsome dungeon? No—that was not the reason of her repulsing him.
Julia was a woman wildly capricious in her nature; she was a creature of sudden impulses—her most passionate love would often instantly change to bitterest hate. In this instance, her love for the African had entirely and forever ceased, and she now viewed him with contemptuous disgust, wondering that she could ever have had such a penchant for him.
''Tis strange,' she thought, 'that I ever could descend to an intrigue with that vile negro. Heavens! I loathe the very sight of him!'
Nero, on his part, was astounded at this unexpected reception; he had anticipated a night of voluptuous bliss with his former paramour, and he could not divine the cause of her sudden rejection of him.
'My dear Julia, why this coldness?—what have I done to offend you?' he demanded, after a short pause.
'Presume not to call me your dear Julia, fellow,' she replied scornfully. 'You have done nothing to offend me, but the days of our familiarity are over. The liberties which I permitted you to take, and the indulgences which I formerly granted to you, can never be repeated. I will not condescend to explain myself farther than to remark, that all my former regard for you has ceased, and I now view you not only with indifference, but with positive dislike. I procured your liberation from that dungeon merely because it was on my account you were placed there. You can, if you choose, re-enter my service as footman, and your wages shall be the same as those of any other servant of your class; but remember—henceforth I am the mistress, and you the menial, and any presumption on your part, or attempt at familiarity, shall be instantly followed by your discharge. Clean yourself of that filth, and begin your duties to-morrow, as a respectful, orderly and obedient servant. You can go now.'
Nero left the room, humbled and crest-fallen, inwardly resolved to revenge himself upon that proud and abandoned woman, should the opportunity ever present itself.
Gentlest of readers, we now invite thee to accompany us to view other scenes and other characters in our grand drama of human life, and its many crimes.
Showing the Voluptuous Revellings of the Rector and the Licentious Josephine, and illustrating the Power of Temptation over Piety and Morality.
Alas, for Dr. Sinclair! the masquerade ball, and the triumph of Josephine Franklin, were but the commencement of a career of folly and crime on his part. From that fatal night in after years of remorse and misery, he dated his downfall.
He became a frequent visitor at the Franklin House, and continued his guilty amour, with unabated zeal. Yet neither his own idolizing congregation, nor the admiring world, suspected his frailty; he was regarded as the most exemplary of Christians, and the best of men. When in the pulpit, it was often remarked that he seemed absent-minded, and ill at ease; he did not preach with his usual fluent and fervid eloquence, nor pray with his accustomed earnest devotion. In person, too, he was changed; his eyes were red, as if with weeping; his cheeks were pale and haggard, and the rosy hue of health was gone. His dress was frequently neglected and disordered, and he even sometimes appeared with his hair uncombed, and his face unshaved. These indications of mental and personal irregularity were much noticed and commented upon by his congregation, comprised as it was of people the most aristocratic and particular.
'Our dear pastor is ill,' said they, with looks of concern and sympathy; but in answer to the numerous questions addressed to him in reference to the state of his health, he denied the existence of all bodily ailment.
'Then he must be affected with some mental disquietude,' said they, and forthwith he was beset by a tribe of comforters; one of whom had at last the audacity to affirm that the Doctor's breath smelt unpleasantly of wine!
This insinuation was received with contempt, for the brethren and sisters of the congregation would not believe anything discreditable to the beloved rector, and he continued to enjoy their confidence and esteem, long after they had begun to observe something very singular in his conduct and appearance.
But in truth, Dr. Sinclair had fallen from his high estate, and become a wine bibber and a lover of the flesh. His stern integrity, his sterling piety, and his moral principle, were gone forever; the temptress had triumphed and he was ruined.
Why are ministers of the gospel so prone to licentiousness? is a question often asked, and is often answered thus—Because they are a set of hypocritical libertines. But we say, may not we see the reason in this: the female members of a church are apt to regard their minister with the highest degree of affectionate admiration—as an idol worthy to be worshipped. They load him with presents—they spoil him with flattery—they dazzle him with their glances, and encourage him by their smiles. Living a life of luxurious ease, and enjoying a fat salary, he cannot avoid experiencing those feelings which are natural to all mankind. He is very often thrown into the society of pretty women of his flock, under circumstances which are dangerously fascinating. The 'sister,' instead of maintaining a proper reserve, grows too communicative and too familiar, and the minister, who is but a man, subject to all the weaknesses and frailties of humanity, often in an unguarded moment forgets his sacred calling, and becomes the seducer—though we question if literal seduction be involved, where the female so readily complies with voluptuous wishes, which perchance, she responds to with as much fervor as the other party entertains them. Therefore, we say that licentiousness on the part of ministers of the gospel is produced in very many cases by the encouragements held out to them by too admiring and too affectionate sisters.
One evening, Dr. Sinclair repaired to Franklin House at an early hour, for he had engaged to dine with Josephine. He was admitted by a tall, fresh-looking country lad, who had recently entered the house in the capacity of footman, having been selected for that station by Mrs. Franklin herself, as the lady had conceived a strong admiration of his robust form and well-proportioned limbs.
The Doctor found Josephine in her boudoir, voluptuously reclining upon a damask ottoman, and languidly turning over the leaves of a splendid portfolio of engravings.
'Ah, my dear Doc,' she exclaimed, using a familiar abbreviation of Doctor, 'I am devilish glad to see you, for I am bored to death with ennui. Heigho!'
'And if I may presume to inquire, Josey,' said the Doctor—'what have you there to engage your attention?'
'Oh, views from nature,' she laughingly replied, handing him the portfolio for his inspection.
Turning over the leaves, the Doctor found, somewhat to his astonishment, that the engravings were of rather an obscene character, consisting principally of nude male figures;—and upon these specimens of a perverted art had she been feasting her impure imagination. The time had been, when the Doctor would have turned with pain and disgust from such an evidence of depravity; but he had lately become so habituated to vice, that he merely smiled in playful reproach, and leisurely examined the pictures.
'I commend your taste,' said he, at length. 'Our preferences are both strictly classical; you dote upon the Apollo Belvedere, while in you I worship a Venus.'
'Yes—you are my Apollo,' she rejoined, with a glance of passion, encircling him with her arms.
* * * * *
Dinner was magnificently served in an apartment whose splendor could scarce have been surpassed in a kingly palace.
They dined alone; for Mrs. Franklin was invisible—and so, also, was the comely young footman!
After dinner, came wine—bright, sparkling wine, whose magical influence gilds the dull realities of life with the soft radiance of fairy land! How the foaming champagne glittered in the silver cup, and danced joyously to the ripe, pouting lip of beauty, and the eloquent mouth of divinity! How brilliant became their eyes, and what a glorious roseate hue suffused their cheeks!
Again and again was the goblet drained and replenished, until the maddening spell of intoxication was upon them both. Hurrah! away with religion, and sermonizing, and conscience! Bacchus is the only true divinity, and at his rosy shrine let us worship, and pledge him in brimming cups of the bright nectar, the drink of the gods!
Then came obscene revels and libidinous acts. The depraved Josephine, attired in a superb robe of lace, her splendid bust uncovered, and her cheeks flushed with wine, danced with voluptuous freedom, while the intoxicated rector, reeling and flourishing a goblet, sang a lively opera air, in keeping with her graceful but indelicate movements. Then—but we will not inflict upon the reader the disgusting details of that evening's licentious extravagances.
Midnight came and the doctor, tipsy as he was, saw the necessity of taking his departure; for though urged by Josephine to pass the night with her, he dared not comply, knowing that his absence from home all night would appear strange and suspicious to his housekeeper and domestics, and give rise to unpleasant inquiries and remarks. He therefore sallied forth, and though he staggered occasionally, he got along tolerably well, until he encountered a watchman standing half asleep in a doorway, muffled up in his huge cloak; and then, with that invincible spirit of mischief which characterizes a drunken man, the Doctor determined to have a 'lark' with the night guardian, somewhat after the fashion of the wild, harem-scarem students at the University at which he had graduated—in which pranks he had often participated.
Leaning against a lamp-post support, he began singing, in a loud and boisterous manner—
'Watchman—hic—tell us of the—hic—night.'
Now it happened that the watchman was one of those surly ruffians who never stop to remonstrate with a poor fellow, in whom wine has triumphed over wit. Instead of kindly inquiring his address, and conducting the unfortunate gentleman to his residence, the self-important petty official adopted the very means to irritate him and render him more boisterous. In a savage, brutal manner, he ordered the doctor to 'stop his d——d noise, and move on, or he'd make him!'
'Nay, friend, thou art insolent,' remarked the young gentleman, who drunk as he was, could not brook the insults of the low, vulgar ruffian.
'Insolent, am I?—take that, and be d——d to you!' cried the fellow, raising a heavy bludgeon, and dealing the poor Doctor a blow on the head which felled him senseless to the ground, covered with blood.