Anna sees the companion of her early life, and the sharer of her sufferings, shut up in a prison, a robber, doomed to the lash. "He was sincere to me, and my only true friend—am I the cause of this?" she muses. Her heart answers, and her bosom fills with dark and stormy emotions. One small boon is now all she asks. She could bow down and worship before the throne of virgin innocence, for now its worth towers, majestic, before her. It discovers to her the falsity of her day-dream; it tells her what an empty vessel is this life of ours without it. She knows George Mullholland loves her passionately; she knows how deep will be his grief, how revengeful his feelings. It is poverty that fastens the poison in the heart of the rejected lover. The thought of this flashes through her mind. His hopeless condition, crushed out as it were to gratify him in whose company her pleasures are but transitory, and may any day end, darkens as she contemplates it. How can she acquit her conscience of having deliberately and faithlessly renounced one who was so true to her? She repines, her womanly nature revolts at the thought-the destiny her superstition pictured so dark and terrible, stares her in the face. She resolves a plan for his release, and, relieved with a hope that she can accomplish it while propitiating the friendship of the Judge, the next day seeks him in his prison cell, and with all that vehemence woman, in the outpouring of her generous impulses, can call to her aid, implores his forgiveness. But the rust of disappointment has dried up his better nature; his heart is wrung with the shafts of ingratitude—all the fierce passions of his nature, hate, scorn and revenge, rise up in the one stormy outburst of his soul. He casts upon her a look of withering scorn, the past of that life so chequered flashes vividly through his thoughts, his hate deepens, he hurls her from him, invokes a curse upon her head, and shuts her from his sight. "Mine will be the retribution!" he says, knitting his dark brow.
How is it with the Judge-that high functionary who provides thus sumptuously for his mistress? His morals, like his judgments, are excused, in the cheap quality of our social morality.
Such is gilded vice; such is humble virtue.
A few days more and the term of the Sessions commences. George is arraigned, and the honorable Mr. Snivel, who laid the plot, and furthered the crime, now appears as a principal witness. He procures the man's conviction, and listens with guilty heart to the sentence, for he is rearrainged on sentence day, and Mr. Snivel is present. And while the culprit is sentenced to two years imprisonment, and to receive eighty lashes, laid on his bare back, while at the public whipping-post, at four stated times, the man who stimulated the hand of the criminal, is honored and flattered by society. Such is the majesty of the law.
IN WHICH A LITTLE LIGHT IS SHED UPON THE CHARACTER OF OUR CHIVALRY.
MR. MCARTHUR has jogged on, in the good old way but his worldly store seems not to increase. The time, nevertheless, is arrived when he is expected to return the little amount borrowed of Keepum, through the agency of Mr. Snivel. Again and again has he been notified that he must pay or go to that place in which we lock up all our very estimable "first families," whose money has taken wings and flown away. Not content with this, the two worthy gentlemen have more than once invaded the Antiquary's back parlor, and offered, as we have described in a former chapter, improper advances to his daughter.
Mr. Keepum, dressed in a flashy coat, his sharp, mercenary face, hectic of night revels, and his small but wicked eyes wandering over Mr. McArthur's stock in trade, is seen in pursuit of his darling object. "I don't mind so much about the pay, old man! I'm up well in the world. The fact is, I am esteemed-and I am!—a public benefactor. I never forget how much we owe to the chivalric spirit of our ancestors, and in dealing with the poor-money matters and politics are different from anything else-I am too generous. I don't mind my own interests enough. There it is!" Mr. Keepum says this with an evident relief to himself. Indeed it must here be acknowledged that this very excellent member of the St. Cecilia Society, and profound dealer in lottery tickets, like our fine gentlemen who are so scrupulous of their chivalry while stabbing men behind their backs, fancies himself one of the most disinterested beings known to generous nature.
Bent and tottering, the old man recounts the value of his curiosities; which, like our chivalry, is much talked of but hard to get at. He offers in apology for the nonpayment of the debt his knowledge of the old continentals, just as we offer our chivalry in excuse for every disgraceful act-every savage law. In fine, he follows the maxims of our politicians, recapitulating a dozen or more things (wiping the sweat from his brow the while) that have no earthly connection with the subject. "They are all very well," Mr. Keepum rejoins, with an air of self-importance, dusting the ashes from his cigar. He only wishes to impress the old man with the fact that he is his very best friend.
And having somewhat relieved the Antiquary's mind of its apprehensions, for McArthur stood in great fear of duns, Mr. Keepum pops, uninvited, into the "back parlor," where he has not long been when Maria's screams for assistance break forth.
"Ah! I am old-there is not much left me now. Yes, I am old, my infirmities are upon me. Pray, good man, spare me my daughter. Nay, you must not break the peace of my house;" mutters the old man, advancing into the room, with infirm step, and looking wistfully at his daughter, as if eager to clasp her in his arms. Maria stands in a defiant attitude, her left hand poised on a chair, and her right pointing scornfully in the face of Keepum, who recoils under the look of withering scorn that darkens her countenance. "A gentleman! begone, knave! for your looks betray you. You cannot buy my ruin with your gold; you cannot deceive me with your false tongue. If hate were a noble passion, I would not vent that which now agitates my bosom on you. Nay, I would reserve it for a better purpose—"
"Indeed, indeed-now I say honestly, your daughter mistakes me. I was only being a little friendly to her," interrupts the chopfallen man. He did not think her capable of summoning so much passion to her aid.
Maria, it must be said, was one of those seemingly calm natures in which resentment takes deepest root, in which the passions are most violent when roused. Solitude does, indeed, tend to invest the passionate nature with a calm surface. A less penetrating observer than the chivalrous Keepum, might have discovered in Maria a spirit he could not so easily humble to his uses. It is the modest, thoughtful woman, you cannot make lick the dust in sorrow and tears. "Coward! you laid ruffian hands on me!" says Maria, again towering to her height, and giving vent to her feelings.
"Madam, Madam," pursues Keepum, trembling and crouching, "you asperse my honor,—my sacred honor, Madam. You see-let me say a word, now-you are leting your temper get the better of you. I never, and the public know I never did-I never did a dishonorable thing in my life." Turning to the bewildered old man, he continues: "to be called a knave, and upbraided in this manner by your daughter, when I have befriended you all these days!" His wicked eyes fall guilty to the floor.
"Out man!—out! Let your sense of right, if you have it, teach you what is friendship. Know that, like mercy, it is not poured out with hands reeking of female dishonor."
Mr. Keepum, like many more of our very fine gentlemen, had so trained his thoughts to look upon the poor as slaves created for a base use, that he neither could bring his mind to believe in the existence of such things as noble spirits under humble roofs, nor to imagine himself-even while committing the grossest outrages-doing aught to sully the high chivalric spirit he fancied he possessed. The old Antiquary, on the other hand, was not a little surprised to find his daughter displaying such extraordinary means of repulsing an enemy.
Trembling, and child-like he stands, conscious of being in the grasp of a knave, whose object was more the ruin of his daughter than the recovery of a small amount of money, the tears glistening in his eyes, and the finger of old age marked on his furrowed brow.
"Father, father!" says Maria, and the words hang upon her quivering lips, her face becomes pale as marble, her strength deserts her,—she trembles from head to foot, and sinks upon the old man's bosom, struggling to smother her sobs. Her passion has left her; her calmer nature has risen up to rebuke it. The old man leads her tenderly to the sofa, and there seeks to sooth her troubled spirit.
"As if this hub bub was always to last!" a voice speaks suddenly. It is the Hon. Mr. Snivel, who looks in at the eleventh hour, as he says, to find affairs always in a fuss. "Being a man of legal knowledge-always ready to do a bit of a good turn-especially in putting a disordered house to rights-I thought it well to look in, having a leisure minute or two (we have had a convention for dissolving the Union, and passed a vote to that end!) to give to my old friends," Mr. Snivel says, in a voice at once conciliating and insinuating. "I always think of a border feud when I come here-things that find no favor with me." Mr. Snivel, having first patted the old man on the shoulder, exchanges a significant wink with his friend Keepum, and then bestows upon him what he is pleased to call a little wholesome advice. "People misunderstand Mr. Keepum," he says, "who is one of the most generous of men, but lacks discretion, and in trying to be polite to everybody, lets his feelings have too much latitude now and then." Maria buries her face in her handkerchief, as if indifferent to the reconciliation offered.
"Now let this all be forgotten-let friendship reign among friends: that's my motto. But! I say,—this is a bad piece of news we have this morning. Clipped this from an English paper," resumes the Hon. gentleman, drawing coolly from his pocket a bit of paper, having the appearance of an extract.
"You are never without some kind of news-mostly bad!" says Keepum, flinging himself into a chair, with an air of restored confidence. Mr. Snivel bows, thanks the gentleman for the compliment, and commences to read. "This news," he adds, "may be relied upon, having come from Lloyd's List: 'Intelligence was received here (this is, you must remember, from a London paper, he says, in parentheses) this morning, of the total loss of the American ship—, bound from this port for Charleston, U.S., near the Needles. Every soul on board, except the Captain and second mate, perished. The gale was one of the worst ever known on this coast-'"
"The worst ever known on this coast!" ejaculates Mr. Keepum, his wicked eyes steadily fixed upon Maria. "One of Trueman's ships," Mr. Snivel adds. "Unlucky fellow, that Trueman—second ship he has lost."
"By-the-bye," rejoins Keepum, as if a thought has just flashed upon him, "your old friend, Tom Swiggs, was supercargo, clerk, or whatever you may call it, aboard that ship, eh?"
It is the knave who can most naturally affect surprise and regret when it suits his purposes, and Mr. Snivel is well learned in the art. "True!" he says, "as I'm a Christian. Well, I had made a man of him-I don't regret it, for I always liked him-and this is the end of the poor fellow, eh?" Turning to McArthur, he adds, rather unconcernedly: "You know somewhat of him?" The old man sits motionless beside his daughter, the changes of whose countenance discover the inward emotions that agitate her bosom. Her eyes fill with tears; she exchanges inquiring glances, first with Keepum, then with Snivel; then a thought strikes her that she received a letter from Tom, setting forth his prospects, and his intention to return in the ship above named. It was very natural that news thus artfully manufactured, and revealed with such apparent truthfulness, should produce a deep impression in the mind of an unsuspecting girl. Indeed, it was with some effort that she bore up under it. Expressions of grief she would fain suppress before the enemy gain a mastery over her-and ere they are gone the cup flows over, and she sinks exhausted upon the sofa.
"There! good as far as it goes. You have now another mode of gaining the victory," Mr. Snivel whispers in the ear of his friend, Keepum; and the two gentlemen pass into the street.
IN WHICH A LAW IS SEEN TO SERVE BASE PURPOSES.
MARIA has passed a night of unhappiness. Hopes and fears are knelling in the morning, which brings nothing to relieve her anxiety for the absent one; and Mr. Snivel has taken the precaution to have the news of the lost ship find its way into the papers.
And while our city seems in a state of very general excitement; while great placards on every street corner inform the wondering stranger that a mighty Convention (presided over by the Hon. S. Snivel) for dissolving the Union, is shortly to be holden; while our political world has got the Union on its shoulders, and threatens to throw it into the nearest ditch; while our streets swarm with long, lean, and very hairy-faced delegates (all lusty of war and secession), who have dragged themselves into the city to drink no end of whiskey, and say all sorts of foolish things their savage and half-civilized constituents are expected to applaud; while our more material and conservative citizens are thinking what asses we make of ourselves; while the ship-of-war we built to fight the rest of the Union, lies an ugly lump in the harbor, and "won't go over the bar;" while the "shoe-factory" we established to supply niggerdom with soles, is snuffed out for want of energy and capacity to manage it; while some of our non-slaveholding, but most active secession merchants, are moving seriously in the great project of establishing a "SOUTHERN CANDLE-FACTORY"—a thing much needed in the "up-country;" while our graver statesmen (who don't get the State out of the Union fast enough for the ignorant rabble, who have nothing but their folly at stake) are pondering over the policy of spending five hundred thousand dollars for the building of another war-ship-one that "will go over the bar;" and while curiously-written letters from Generals Commander and Quattlebum, offering to bring their allied forces into the field-to blow this confederation down at a breath whenever called upon, are being published, to the great joy of all secessiondom; while saltpetre, broadswords, and the muskets made for us by Yankees to fight Yankees, and which were found to have wood instead of flint in their hammers, (and which trick of the Yankees we said was just like the Yankees,) are in great demand-and a few of our mob-politicians, who are all "Kern'ls" of regiments that never muster, prove conclusively our necessity for keeping a fighting-man in Congress; while, we assert, many of our first and best known families have sunk the assemblies of the St. Cecilia in the more important question of what order of government will best suit-in the event of our getting happily out of the Union!—our refined and very exacting state of society;—whether an Empire or a Monarchy, and whether we ought to set up a Quattlebum or Commander dynasty?-whether the Bungle family or the Jungle family (both fighting families) will have a place nearest the throne; what sort of orders will be bestowed, who will get them, and what colored liveries will best become us (all of which grave questions threaten us with a very extensive war of families)?—while all these great matters find us in a sea of trouble, there enters the curiosity-shop of the old Antiquary a suspicious-looking individual in green spectacles.
"Mr. Hardscrabble!" says the man, bowing and taking a seat, leisurely, upon the decrepid sofa. Mr. McArthur returns his salutation, contemplates him doubtingly for a minute, then resumes his fussing and brushing.
The small, lean figure; the somewhat seedy broadcloth in which it is enveloped; the well-browned and very sharp features; the straight, dark-gray hair, and the absent manner of Mr. Hardscrabble, might, with the uninitiated, cause him to be mistaken for an "up-country" clergyman of the Methodist denomination.
"Mr. Hardscrabble? Mr. Hardscrabble? Mr. Hardscrabble?" muses the Antiquary, canting his head wisely, "the Sheriff, as I'm a man of years!"
Mr. Hardscrabble comforts his eyes with his spectacles, and having glanced vacantly over the little shop, as if to take an inventory of its contents, draws from his breast-pocket a paper containing very ominous seals and scrawls.
"I'm reluctant about doing these things with an old man like you," Mr. Hardscrabble condescends to say, in a sharp, grating voice; "but I have to obey the demands of my office." Here he commences reading the paper to the trembling old man, who, having adjusted his broad-bowed spectacles, and arrayed them against the spectacles of Mr. Hardscrabble, says he thinks it contains a great many useless recapitulations.
Mr. Hardscrabble, his eyes peering eagerly through his glasses, and his lower jaw falling and exposing the inner domain of his mouth, replies with an—"Umph." The old Antiquary was never before called upon to examine a document so confusing to his mind. Not content with a surrender of his property, it demands his body into the bargain-all at the suit of one Keepum. He makes several motions to go show it to his daughter; but that, Mr. Hardscrabble thinks, is scarce worth while. "I sympathize with you-knowing how frugal you have been through life. A list of your effects-if you have one-will save a deal of trouble. I fear (Mr. Hardscrabble works his quid) my costs will hardly come out of them."
"There's a fortune in them-if the love of things of yore—" The old man hesitates, and shakes his head dolefully.
"Yore!—a thing that would starve out our profession."
"A little time to turn, you know. There's my stock of uniforms."
"Well-I-know," Mr. Hardscrabble rejoins, with a drawl; "but I must lock up the traps. Yes, I must lock you up, and sell you out-unless you redeem before sale day; that you can't do, I suppose?"
And while the old man totters into the little back parlor, and, giving way to his emotions, throws himself upon the bosom of his fond daughter, to whom he discloses his troubles, Mr. Hardscrabble puts locks and bolts upon his curiosity-shop. This important business done, he leads the old man away, and gives him a lodging in the old jail.
A SHORT CHAPTER OF ORDINARY EVENTS.
TO bear up against the malice of inexorable enemies is at once the gift and the shield of a noble nature. And here it will be enough to say, that Maria bore the burden of her ills with fortitude and resignation, trusting in Him who rights the wronged, to be her deliverer. What took place when she saw her aged father led away, a prisoner; what thoughts invaded that father's mind when the prison bolt grated on his ear, and he found himself shut from all that had been dear to him through life, regard for the feelings of the reader forbids us recounting here.
Naturally intelligent, Maria had, by close application to books, acquired some knowledge of the world. Nor was she entirely ignorant of those arts designing men call to their aid when seeking to effect the ruin of the unwary female. Thus fortified, she fancied she saw in the story of the lost ship a plot against herself, while the persecution of her father was only a means to effect the object. Launched between hope and fear, then-hope that her lover still lived, and that with his return her day would brighten-fear lest the report might be founded in truth, she nerves herself for the struggle. She knew full well that to give up in despair-to cast herself upon the cold charities of a busy world, would only be to hasten her downfall. Indeed, she had already felt how cold, and how far apart were the lines that separated our rich from our poor.
The little back parlor is yet spared to Maria, and in it she may now be seen plying at her needle, early and late. It is the only means left her of succoring the parent from whom she has been so ruthlessly separated. Hoping, fearing, bright to-day and dark to-morrow, willing to work and wait-here she sits. A few days pass, and the odds and ends of the Antiquary's little shop, like the "shirts" of the gallant Fremont, whom we oppressed while poor, and essayed to flatter when a hero, are gazetted under the head of "sheriff's sale." Hope, alas! brings no comfort to Maria. Time rolls on, the month's rent falls due, her father pines and sinks in confinement, and her needle is found inadequate to the task undertaken. Necessity demands, and one by one she parts with her few cherished mementos of the past, that she may save an aged father from starvation.
The "prisoner" has given notice that he will take the benefit of the act-commonly called "an act for the relief of poor debtors." But before he can reach this boon, ten days must elapse. Generous-minded legislators, no doubt, intended well when they constructed this act, but so complex are its provisions that any legal gentleman may make it a very convenient means of oppression. And in a community where laws not only have their origin in the passions of men, but are made to serve popular prejudices-where the quality of justice obtained depends upon the position and sentiments of him who seeks it,—the weak have no chance against the powerful.
The multiplicity of notices, citations, and schedules, necessary to the setting free of this "poor debtor" (for these fussy officials must be paid), Maria finds making a heavy drain on her lean purse.
The Court is in session, and the ten days having glided away, the old man is brought into "open Court" by two officials with long tipstaffs, and faces looking as if they had been carefully pickled in strong drinks. "Surely, now, they'll set me free-I can give them no more-I am old and infirm-they have got all-and my daughter!" he muses within himself. Ah! he little knows how uncertain a thing is the law.
The Judge is engaged over a case in which two very fine old families are disputing for the blood and bones of a little "nigger" girl. The possession of this helpless slave, the Judge (he sits in easy dignity) very naturally regards of superior importance when compared with the freedom of a "poor debtor." He cannot listen to the story of destitution-precisely what was sought by Keepum-to-day, and to-morrow the Court adjourns for six months.
The Antiquary is remanded back to his cell. No one in Court cares for him; no one has a thought for the achings of that heart his release would unburden; the sorrows of that lone girl are known only to herself and the One in whom she puts her trust. She, nevertheless, seeks the old man in his prison, and there comforts him as best she can.
Five days more, and the "prisoner" is brought before the Commissioner for Special Bail, who is no less a personage than the rosy-faced Clerk of the Court, just adjourned. And here we cannot forbear to say, that however despicable the object sought, however barren of right the plea, however adverse to common humanity the spirit of the action, there is always to be found some legal gentleman, true to the lower instincts of the profession, ready to lend himself to his client's motives. And in this instance, the cunning Keepum finds an excellent instrument of furthering his ends, in one Peter Crimpton, a somewhat faded and rather disreputable member of the learned profession. It is said of Crimpton, that he is clever at managing cases where oppression rather than justice is sought, and that his present client furnishes the larger half of his practice.
And while Maria, too sensitive to face the gaze of the coarse crowd, pauses without, silent and anxious, listening one moment and hoping the next will see her old father restored to her, the adroit Crimpton rises to object to "the Schedule." To the end that he may substantiate his objections, he proposes to examine the prisoner. Having no alternative, the Commissioner grants the request.
The old Antiquary made out his schedule with the aid of the good-hearted jailer, who inserted as his effects, "Necessary wearing apparel." It was all he had. Like the gallant Fremont, when he offered to resign his shirts to his chivalric creditor, he could give them no more. A few questions are put; the old man answers them with childlike simplicity, then sits down, his trembling fingers wandering into his beard. Mr. Crimpton produces his paper, sets forth his objections, and asks permission to file them, that the case may come before a jury of "Special Bail."
Permission is granted. The reader will not fail to discover the object of this procedure. Keepum hopes to continue the old man in prison, that he may succeed in breaking down the proud spirit of his daughter.
The Commissioner listens attentively to the reading of the objections. The first sets forth that Mr. McArthur has a gold watch;
Our Charleston readers will recognize the case here described, without any further key. the second, that he has a valuable breast-pin, said to have been worn by Lord Cornwallis; and the third, that he has one Yorick's skull. All of these, Mr. Crimpton regrets to say, are withheld from the schedule, which virtually constitutes fraud. The facile Commissioner bows; the assembled crowd look on unmoved; but the old man shakes his head and listens. He is surprised to find himself accused of fraud; but the law gives him no power to show his own innocence. The Judge of the Sessions was competent to decide the question now raised, and to have prevented this reverting to a "special jury"—this giving the vindictive plaintiff a means of torturing his infirm victim. Had he but listened to the old man's tale of poverty, he might have saved the heart of that forlorn girl many a bitter pang.
The motion granted, a day is appointed-ten days must elapse-for a hearing before the Commissioner of "Special Bail," and his special jury. The rosy-faced functionary, being a jolly and somewhat flexible sort of man, must needs give his health an airing in the country. What is the liberty of a poor white with us? Our Governor, whom we esteem singularly sagacious, said it were better all our poor were enslaved, and this opinion finds high favor with our first families. The worthy Commissioner, in addition to taking care of his health, is expected to make any number of speeches, full of wind and war, to several recently called Secession Conventions. He will find time (being a General by courtesy) to review the up-country militia, and the right and left divisions of the South Carolina army. He will be feted by some few of our most distinguished Generals, and lecture before the people of Beaufort (a very noisy town of forty-two inhabitants, all heroes), to whom he will prove the necessity of our State providing itself with an independent steam navy.
The old Antiquary is remanded back to jail-to wait the coming day. Maria, almost breathless with anxiety, runs to him as he comes tottering out of Court in advance of the official, lays her trembling hand upon his arm, and looks inquiringly in his face. "Oh! my father, my father!—released? released?" she inquires, with quivering lips and throbbing heart. A forced smile plays over his time-worn face, he looks upward, shakes his head in sorrow, and having patted her affectionately on the shoulder, throws his arms about her neck and kisses her. That mute appeal, that melancholy voucher of his sorrows, knells the painful answer in her ears, "Then you are not free to come with me? Oh, father, father!" and she wrings her hands and gives vent to her tears.
"The time will come, my daughter, when my Judge will hear me-will judge me right. My time will come soon—" And here the old man pauses, and chokes with his emotions. Maria returns the old man's kiss, and being satisfied that he is yet in the hands of his oppressors, sets about cheering up his drooping spirits. "Don't think of me, father," she says—"don't think of me! Let us put our trust in Him who can shorten the days of our tribulation." She takes the old man's arm, and like one who would forget her own troubles in her anxiety to relieve another, supports him on his way back to prison.
It is high noon. She stands before the prison gate, now glancing at the serene sky, then at the cold, frowning walls, and again at the old pile, as if contemplating the wearying hours he must pass within it. "Don't repine-nerve yourself with resolution, and all will be well!" Having said this with an air of confidence in herself, she throws her arms about the old man's neck, presses him to her bosom, kisses and kisses his wrinkled cheek, then grasps his hand warmly in her own. "Forget those who persecute you, for it is good. Look above, father-to Him who tempers the winds, who watches over the weak, and gives the victory to the right!" She pauses, as the old man holds her hand in silence. "This life is but a transient sojourn at best; full of hopes and fears, that, like a soldier's dream, pass away when the battle is ended." Again she fondly shakes his hand, lisps a sorrowing "good-bye," watches him, in silence, out of sight, then turns away in tears, and seeks her home. There is something so pure, so earnest in her solicitude for the old man, that it seems more of heaven than earth.
A STORY WITHOUT WHICH THIS HISTORY WOULD BE FOUND WANTING.
ON taking leave of her father, Maria, her heart overburdened with grief, and her mind abstracted, turned towards the Battery, and continued, slowly and sadly, until she found herself seated beneath a tree, looking out upon the calm bay. Here, scarce conscious of those who were observing her in their sallies, she mused until dusky evening, when the air seemed hushed, and the busy hum of day was dying away in the distance. The dark woodland on the opposite bank gave a bold border to the soft picture; the ships rode sluggishly upon the polished waters; the negro's touching song echoed and re-echoed along the shore; and the boatman's chorus broke upon the stilly air in strains so dulcet. And as the mellow shadows of night stole over the scene-as the heavens looked down in all their sereneness, and the stars shone out, and twinkled, and laughed, and danced upon the blue waters, and coquetted with the moonbeams—for the moon was up, and shedding a halo of mystic light over the scene-making night merry, nature seemed speaking to Maria in words of condolence. Her heart was touched, her spirits gained strength, her soul seemed in a loftier and purer atmosphere.
"Poor, but virtuous-virtue ennobles the poor. Once gone, the world never gives it back!" she muses, and is awakened from her reverie by a sweet, sympathizing voice, whispering in her ear. "Woman! you are in trouble,—linger no longer here, or you will fall into the hands of your enemies." She looks up, and there stands at her side a young female, whose beauty the angels might envy. The figure came upon her so suddenly that she hesitates for a reply to the admonition.
"Take this, it will do something toward relieving your wants (do not open it now), and with this (she places a stiletto in her hand) you can strike down the one who attempts your virtue. Nay, remember that while you cling to that, you are safe-lose it, and you are gone forever. Your troubles will soon end; mine are for a life-time. Yours find a relaxation in your innocence; mine is seared into my heart with my own shame. It is guilt-shame! that infuses into the heart that poison, for which years of rectitude afford no antidote. Go quickly-get from this lone place! You are richer than me." She slips something into Maria's hand, and suddenly disappears.
Maria rises from her seat, intending to follow the stranger, but she is out of sight. Who can this mysterious messenger, this beautiful stranger be? Maria muses. A thought flashes across her mind; it is she who sought our house at midnight, when my father revealed her dark future! "Yes," she says to herself, "it is the same lovely face; how oft it has flitted in my fancy!"
She reaches her home only to find its doors closed against her. A ruthless landlord has taken her all, and forced her into the street.
You may shut out the sterner sex without involving character or inviting insult; but with woman the case is very different. However pure her character, to turn her into the street, is to subject her to a stigma, if not to fasten upon her a disgrace. You may paint, in your imagination, the picture of a woman in distress, but you can know little of the heart-achings of the sufferer. The surface only reflects the faint gleams, standing out here and there like the lesser objects upon a dark canvas.
Maria turns reluctantly from that home of so many happy associations, to wander about the streets and by-ways of the city. The houses of the rich seem frowning upon her; her timid nature tells her they have no doors open to her. The haunts of the poor, at this moment, infuse a sanguine joyousness into her soul. How glad would she be, if they did but open to her. Is not the Allwise, through the beauties of His works, holding her up, while man only is struggling to pull her down?
And while Maria wanders homeless about the streets of Charleston, we must beg you, gentle reader, to accompany us into one of the great thoroughfares of London, where is being enacted a scene appertaining to this history.
It is well-nigh midnight, the hour when young London is most astir in his favorite haunts; when ragged and well-starved flower-girls, issuing from no one knows where, beset your path through Trafalgar and Liecester squares, and pierce your heart with their pleadings; when the Casinoes of the Haymarket and Picadilly are vomiting into the streets their frail but richly-dressed women; when gaudy supper-rooms, reeking of lobster and bad liquor, are made noisy with the demands of their flauntily-dressed customers; when little girls of thirteen are dodging in and out of mysterious courts and passages leading to and from Liecester square; when wily cabmen, ranged around the "great globe," importune you for a last fare; and when the aristocratic swell, with hectic face and maudlin laugh, saunters from his club-room to seek excitement in the revels at Vauxhall.
A brown mist hangs over the dull area of Trafalgar square. The bells of old St. Martin's church have chimed merrily out their last night peal; the sharp voice of the omnibus conductor no longer offends the ear; the tiny little fountains have ceased to give out their green water, and the lights of the Union Club on one side, and Morley's hotel on the other, throw pale shadows into the open square.
The solitary figure of a man, dressed in the garb of a gentleman, is seen sauntering past Northumberland house, then up the east side of the square. Now he halts at the corner of old St. Martin's church, turns and contemplates the scene before him. On his right is that squatty mass of freestone and smoke, Englishmen exultingly call the Royal Academy, but which Frenchmen affect contempt for, and uninitiated Americans mistake for a tomb. An equestrian statue of one of the Georges rises at the east corner; Morley's Hotel, where Americans get poor fare and enormous charges, with the privilege of fancying themselves quite as good as the queen, on the left; the dead walls of Northumberland House, with their prisonlike aspect, and the mounted lion, his tail high in air, and quite as rigid as the Duke's dignity, in front; the opening that terminates the Strand, and gives place to Parliament street, at the head of which an equestrian statue of Charles the First, much admired by Englishmen, stands, his back, on Westminster; the dingy shops of Spring Garden, and the Union Club to the right; and, towering high over all, Nelson's Column, the statue looking as if it had turned its back in pity on the little fountains, to look with contempt, first upon the bronze face of the unfortunate Charles, then upon Parliament, whose parsimony in withholding justice from his daughter, he would rebuke-and the picture is complete.
The stranger turns, walks slowly past the steps of St. Martin's church, crosses to the opposite side of the street, and enters a narrow, wet, and dimly-lighted court, on the left. Having passed up a few paces, he finds himself hemmed in between the dead walls of St. Martin's "Work-house" on one side, and the Royal Academy on the other. He hesitates between fear and curiosity. The dull, sombre aspect of the court is indeed enough to excite the fears of the timid; but curiosity being the stronger impulse, he proceeds, resolved to explore it-to see whence it leads.
A short turn to the right, and he has reached the front wall of the Queen's Barracks, on his left, and the entrance to the "Work-house," on his right; the one overlooking the other, and separated by a narrow street. Leave men are seen reluctantly returning in at the night-gate; the dull tramp of the sentinel within sounds ominously on the still air; and the chilly atmosphere steals into the system. Again the stranger pauses, as if questioning the safety of his position. Suddenly a low moan grates upon his ear, he starts back, then listens. Again it rises, in a sad wail, and pierces his very heart. His first thought is, that some tortured mortal is bemoaning his bruises in a cell of the "Work-house," which he mistakes for a prison. But his eyes fall to the ground, and his apprehensions are dispelled.
The doors of the "Work-house" are fast closed; but there, huddled along the cold pavement, and lying crouched upon its doorsteps, in heaps that resemble the gatherings of a rag-seller, are four-and- thirty shivering, famishing, and homeless human beings—
An institution for the relief of the destitute. (mostly young girls and aged women), who have sought at this "institutution of charity" shelter for the night, and bread to appease their hunger.
This sight may be seen at any time. Alas! its ruthless keepers have refused them bread, shut them into the street, and left them in rags scarce sufficient to cover their nakedness, to sleep upon the cold stones, a mute but terrible rebuke to those hearts that bleed over the sorrows of Africa, but have no blood to give out when the object of pity is a poor, heart-sick girl, forced to make the cold pavement her bed. The stranger shudders. "Are these heaps of human beings?" he questions within himself, doubting the reality before him. As if counting and hesitating what course to pursue for their relief, he paces up and down the grotesque mass, touching one, and gazing upon the haggard features of another, who looks up to see what it is that disturbs her. Again the low moan breaks on his ear, as the sentinel cries the first hour of morning. The figure of a female, her head resting on one of the steps, moves, a trembling hand steals from under her shawl, makes an effort to reach her head, and falls numb at her side. "Her hand is cold-her breathing like one in death—oh! God!—how terrible-what, what am I to do?" he says, taking the sufferer's hand in his own. Now he rubs it, now raises her head, makes an effort to wake a few of the miserable sleepers, and calls aloud for help. "Help! help! help!" he shouts, and the shout re-echoes through the air and along the hollow court. "A woman is dying,—dying here on the cold stones-with no one to raise a hand for her!" He seizes the exhausted woman in his arms, and with herculean strength rushes up the narrow street, in the hope of finding relief at the Gin Palace he sees at its head, in a blaze of light. But the body is seized with spasms, an hollow, hysteric wail follows, his strength gives way under the burden, and he sets the sufferer down in the shadow of a gas light. Her dress, although worn threadbare, still bears evidence of having belonged to one who has enjoyed comfort, and, perhaps, luxury. Indeed, there is something about the woman which bespeaks her not of the class generally found sleeping on the steps of St. Martin's Work-house.
"What's here to do?" gruffly inquires a policeman, coming up with an air of indifference. The stranger says the woman is dying. The policeman stoops down, lays his hand upon her temples, then mechanically feels her arms and hands.
"And I-must die-die-die in the street," whispers the woman, her head falling carelessly from the policeman's hand, in which it had rested.
"Got her a bit below, at the Work'ouse door, among them wot sleeps there, eh?"
The stranger says he did.
"A common enough thing," pursues the policeman; "this a bad lot. Anyhow, we must give her a tow to the station." He rubs his hands, and prepares to raise her from the ground.
"Hold! hold," interrupts the other, "she will die ere you get her there."
"Die,—ah! yes, yes," whispers the woman. The mention of death seems to have wrung like poison into her very soul. "Don't-don't move me-the spell is almost broken. Oh! how can I die here, a wretch. Yes, I am going now-let me rest, rest, rest," the moaning supplicant mutters in a guttural voice, grasps spasmodically at the policeman's hand, heaves a deep sigh, and sets her eyes fixedly upon the stranger. She seems recognizing in his features something that gives her strength.
"There-there-there!" she continues, incoherently, as a fit of hysterics seize upon her; "you, you, you, have-yes, you have come at the last hour, when my sufferings close. I see devils all about me-haunting me-torturing my very soul-burning me up! See them! see them!—here they come-tearing, worrying me-in a cloud of flame!" She clutches with her hands, her countenance fills with despair, and her body writhes in agony.
"Bring brandy! warm,—stimulant! anything to give her strength! Quick! quick!—go fetch it, or she is gone!" stammers out the stranger.
In another minute she calms away, and sinks exhausted upon the pavement. Policeman shakes his head, and says, "It 'ont do no good-she's done for."
The light of the "Trumpeter's Arms" still blazes into the street, while a few greasy ale-bibbers sit moody about the tap room.
The two men raise the exhausted woman from the ground and carry her to the door. Mine host of the Trumpeter's Arms shrugs his shoulders and says, "She can't come in here." He fears she will damage the respectability of his house. "The Work-house is the place for her," he continues, gruffly.
A sight at the stranger's well-filled purse, however, and a few shillings slipped into the host's hand, secures his generosity and the woman's admittance. "Indeed," says the host, bowing most servilely, "gentlemen, the whole Trumpeter's Arms is at your service." The woman is carried into a lonely, little back room, and laid upon a cot, which, with two wooden chairs, constitutes its furniture. And while the policeman goes in search of medical aid, the host of the Trumpeter's bestirs himself right manfully in the forthcoming of a stimulant. The stranger, meanwhile, lends himself to the care of the forlorn sufferer with the gentleness of a woman. He smoothes her pillow, arranges her dress tenderly, and administers the stimulant with a hand accustomed to the sick.
A few minutes pass, and the woman seems to revive and brighten up. Mine host has set a light on the chair, at the side of the cot, and left her alone with the stranger. Slowly she opens her eyes, and with increasing anxiety sets them full upon him. Their recognition is mutual. "Madame Flamingo!" ejaculates the man, grasping her hand.
"Tom Swiggs!" exclaims the woman, burying her face for a second, then pressing his hand to her lips, and kissing it with the fondness of a child, as her eyes swim in tears. "How strange to find you thus—" continues Tom, for truly it is he who sits by the forlorn woman.
"More strange," mutters the woman, shaking her head sorrowfully, "that I should be brought to this terrible end. I am dying-I cannot last long-the fever has left me only to die a neglected wretch. Hear me-hear me, while I tell you the tale of my troubles, that others may take warning. And may God give me strength. And you,—if I have wronged you, forgive me-it is all I can ask in this world." Here Tom administers another draught of warm brandy and water, the influence of which is soon perceptible in the regaining strength of the patient.
A STORY WITH MANY COUNTERPARTS.
A VERY common story is this of Madame Flamingo's troubles. It has counterparts enough, and though they may be traced to a class of society less notorious than that with which she moved, are generally kept in the dark chamber of hidden thoughts. We are indeed fast gaining an unenviable fame for snobbery, for affecting to be what we never can be, and for our sad imitation of foreign flunkydom, which, finding us rivals in the realm of its tinsil, begins to button up its coat and look contemptuously at us over the left shoulder. If, albeit, the result of that passion for titles and plush (things which the empty-headed of the old world would seem to have consigned to the empty-headed of the new), which has of late so singularly discovered itself among our "best-known families," could be told, it would unfold many a tale of misery and betrayal. Pardon this digression, generous reader, and proceed with us to the story of Madame Flamingo.
"And now," says the forlorn woman, in a faint, hollow voice, "when my ambition seemed served-I was ambitious, perhaps vain-I found myself the victim of an intrigue. I ask forgiveness of Him who only can forgive the wicked; but how can I expect to gain it?" She presses Tom's hand, and pauses for a second. "Yes, I was ambitious," she continues, "and there was something I wanted. I had money enough to live in comfort, but the thought that it was got of vice and the ruin of others, weighed me down. I wanted the respect of the world. To die a forgotten wretch; to have the grave close over me, and if remembered at all, only with execration, caused me many a dark thought." Here she struggles to suppress her emotions. "I sought to change my condition; that, you see, has brought me here. I married one to whom I intrusted my all, in whose rank, as represented to me by Mr. Snivel, and confirmed by his friend, the Judge, I confided. I hoped to move with him to a foreign country, where the past would all be wiped out, and where the associations of respectable society would be the reward of future virtue.
"In London, where I now reap the fruits of my vanity, we enjoyed good society for a time, were sought after, and heaped with attentions. But I met those who had known me; it got out who I was; I was represented much worse than I was, and even those who had flattered me in one sphere, did not know me. In Paris it was the same. And there my husband said it would not do to be known by his titles, for, being an exile, it might be the means of his being recognized and kidnapped, and carried back a prisoner to his own dear Poland. In this I acquiesced, as I did in everything else that lightened his cares. Gradually he grew cold and morose towards me, left me for days at a time, and returned only to abuse and treat me cruelly. He had possession of all my money, which I soon found he was gambling away, without gaining an entre for me into society.
"From Paris we travelled, as if without any settled purpose, into Italy, and from thence to Vienna, where I discovered that instead of being a prince, my husband was an impostor, and I his dupe. He had formerly been a crafty shoemaker; was known to the police as a notorious character, who, instead of having been engaged in the political struggles of his countrymen, had fled the country to escape the penalty of being the confederate of a desperate gang of coiners and counterfeiters. We had only been two days in Vienna when I found he had disappeared, and left me destitute of money or friends. My connection with him only rendered my condition more deplorable, for the police would not credit my story; and while he eluded its vigilance, I was suspected of being a spy in the confidence of a felon, and ruthlessly ordered to leave the country."
"Did not your passport protect you?" interrupts Tom, with evident feeling.
"No one paid it the least regard," resumes Madame Flamingo, becoming weaker and weaker. "No one at our legations evinced sympathy for me. Indeed, they all refused to believe my story. I wandered back from city to city, selling my wardrobe and the few jewels I had left, and confidently expecting to find in each place I entered, some one I had known, who would listen to my story, and supply me with means to reach my home. I could soon have repaid it, but my friends had gone with my money; no one dare venture to trust me-no one had confidence in me-every one to whom I appealed had an excuse that betrayed their suspicion of me. Almost destitute, I found myself back in London-how I got here, I scarce know-where I could make myself understood. My hopes now brightened, I felt that some generous-hearted captain would give me a passage to New York, and once home, my troubles would end. But being worn down with fatigue, and my strength prostrated, a fever set in, and I was forced to seek refuge in a miserable garret in Drury-Lane, and where I parted with all but what now remains on my back, to procure nourishment. I had begun to recover somewhat, but the malady left me broken down, and when all was gone, I was turned into the street. Yes, yes, yes, (she whispers,) they gave me to the streets; for twenty-four hours I have wandered without nourishment, or a place to lay my head. I sought shelter in a dark court, and there laid down to die; and when my eyes were dim, and all before me seemed mysterious and dark with curious visions, a hand touched me, and I felt myself borne away." Here her voice chokes, she sinks back upon the pillow, and closes her eyes as her hands fall careless at her side. "She breathes! she breathes yet!" says Tom, advancing his ear to the pale, quivering lips of the wretched woman. Now he bathes her temples with the vinegar from a bottle in the hand of the host, who is just entered, and stands looking on, his countenance full of alarm.
"If she deys in my 'ouse, good sir, w'oat then?"
"You mean the expense?"
"Just so-it 'll be nae trifle, ye kno'!" The host shakes his head, doubtingly. Tom begs he will not be troubled about that, and gives another assurance from his purse that quite relieves the host's apprehensions. A low, heavy breathing, followed by a return of spasms, bespeaks the sinking condition of the sufferer. The policeman returns, preceded by a physician-the only one to be got at, he says-in very dilapidated broadcloth, and whose breath is rather strong of gin. "An' whereabutes did ye pick the woman up,—an, an, wha's teu stond the bill?" he inquires, in a deep Scotch brogue, then ordering the little window opened, feels clumsily the almost pulseless hand. Encouraged on the matter of his bill, he turns first to the host, then to Tom, and says, "the wuman's nae much, for she's amast dede wi' exhaustion." And while he is ordering a nostrum he knows can do no good, the woman makes a violent struggle, opens her eyes, and seems casting a last glance round the dark room. Now she sets them fixedly upon the ceiling, her lips pale, and her countenance becomes spectre-like-a low, gurgling sound is heard, the messenger of retribution is come-Madame Flamingo is dead!
IN WHICH THE LAW IS SEEN TO CONFLICT WITH OUR CHERISHED CHIVALRY.
"WHAT could the woman mean, when on taking leave of me she said, 'you are far richer than me?'" questions Maria McArthur to herself, when, finding she is alone and homeless in the street, she opens the packet the woman Anna slipped so mysteriously into her hand, and finds it contains two twenty-dollar gold pieces. And while evolving in her mind whether she shall appropriate them to the relief of her destitute condition, her conscience smites her. It is the gold got of vice. Her heart shares the impulse that prompted the act, but her pure spirit recoils from the acceptance of such charity. "You are far richer than me!" knells in her ears, and reveals to her the heart-burnings of the woman who lives in licentious splendor. "I have no home, no friend near me, and nowhere to lay my head; and yet I am richer than her;" she says, gazing at the moon, and the stars, and the serene heavens. And the contemplation brings to her consolation and strength. She wanders back to the gate of the old prison, resolved to return the gold in the morning, and, was the night not so far spent, ask admittance into the cell her father occupies. But she reflects, and turns away; well knowing how much more painful will be the smart of his troubles does she disclose to him what has befallen her.
She continues sauntering up a narrow by-lane in the outskirts of the city. A light suddenly flashes across her path, glimmers from the window of a little cabin, and inspires her with new hopes. She quickens her steps, reaches the door, meets a welcome reception, and is made comfortable for the night by the mulatto woman who is its solitary tenant. The woman, having given Maria of her humble cheer, seems only too anxious to disclose the fact that she is the slave and cast-off mistress of Judge Sleepyhorn, on whose head she invokes no few curses. It does not touch her pride so much that he has abandoned her, as that he has taken to himself one of another color. She is tall and straight of figure, with prominent features, long, silky black hair, and a rich olive complexion; and though somewhat faded of age, it is clear that she possessed in youth charms of great value in the flesh market.
Maria discloses to her how she came in possession of the money, as also her resolve to return it in the morning. Undine (for such is her name) applauds this with great gusto. "Now, thar!" she says, "that's the spirit I likes." And straightway she volunteers to be the medium of returning the money, adding that she will show the hussy her contempt of her by throwing it at her feet, and "letting her see a slave knows all about it."
Maria fully appreciates the kindness, as well as sympathizes with the wounded pride of this slave daughter; nevertheless, there is an humiliation in being driven to seek shelter in a negro cabin that touches her feelings. For a white female to seek shelter under the roof of a negro's cabin, is a deep disgrace in the eyes of our very refined society; and having subjected herself to the humiliation, she knows full well that it may be used against her-in fine, made a means to defame her character.
Night passes away, and the morning ushers in soft and sunny, but brings with it nothing to relieve her situation. She, however, returns the gold to Anna through a channel less objectionable than that Undine would have supplied, and sallies out to seek lodgings. In a house occupied by a poor German family, she seeks and obtains a little room, wherein she continues plying at her needle.
The day set apart for the trial before a jury of "special bail" arrives. The rosy-faced commissioner is in his seat, a very good-natured jury is impanelled, and the feeble old man is again brought into court. Maria saunters, thoughtful, and anxious for the result, at the outer door. Peter Crimpton rises, addresses the jury at great length, sets forth the evident intention of fraud on the part of the applicant, and the enormity of the crime. He will now prove his objections by competent witnesses. The proceedings being in accordance with what Mr. Snivel facetiously terms the strict rules of special pleading, the old man's lips are closed. Several very respectable witnesses are called, and aver they saw the old Antiquary with a gold watch mounted, at a recent date; witnesses quite as dependable aver they have known him for many years, but never mounted with anything so extravagant as a gold watch. So much for the validity of testimony! It is very clear that the very respectable witnesses have confounded some one else with the prisoner.
The Antiquary openly confesses to the possession of a pin, and the curious skull (neither of which are valuable beyond their associations), but declares it more an over-sight than an intention that they were left out of the schedule. For the virtue of the schedule, Mr. Crimpton is singularly scrupulous; nor does it soften his aspersions that the old man offers to resign them for the benefit of the State. Mr. Crimpton gives his case to the jury, expressing his belief that a verdict will be rendered in his favor. A verdict of guilty (for so it is rendered in our courts) will indeed give the prisoner to him for an indefinite period. In truth, the only drawback is that the plaintiff will be required to pay thirty cents a day to Mr. Hardscrabble, who will starve him rightly soundly.
The jury, very much to Mr. Crimpton's chagrin, remain seated, and declare the prisoner not guilty. Was this sufficient-all the law demanded? No. Although justice might have been satisfied, the law had other ends to serve, and in the hands of an instrument like Crimpton, could be turned to uses delicacy forbids our transcribing here. The old man's persecutors were not satisfied; the verdict of the jury was with him, but the law gave his enemies power to retain him six months longer. Mr. Crimpton demands a writ of appeal to the sessions. The Commissioner has no alternative, notwithstanding the character of the pretext upon which it is demanded is patent on its face. Such is but a feeble description of one of the many laws South Carolina retains on her statute book to oppress the poor and give power to the rich. If we would but purge ourselves of this distemper of chivalry and secession, that so blinds our eyes to the sufferings of the poor, while driving our politicians mad over the country (we verily believe them all coming to the gallows or insane hospital), how much higher and nobler would be our claim to the respect of the world!
Again the old man is separated from his daughter, placed in the hands of a bailiff, and remanded back to prison, there to hope, fear, and while away the time, waiting six, perhaps eight months, for the sitting of the Court of Appeals. The "Appeal Court," you must know, would seem to have inherited the aristocracy of our ancestors, for, having a great aversion to business pursuits, it sits at very long intervals, and gets through very little business.
When the news of her father's remand reaches Maria, it overwhelms her with grief. Varied are her thoughts of how she shall provide for the future; dark and sad are the pictures of trouble that rise up before her. Look whichever way she will, her ruin seems sealed. The health of her aged father is fast breaking-her own is gradually declining under the pressure of her troubles. Rapidly forced from one extreme to another, she appeals to a few acquaintances who have expressed friendship for her father; but their friendship took wings when grim poverty looked in. Southern hospitality, though bountifully bestowed upon the rich, rarely condescends to shed its bright rays over the needy poor.
Maria advertises for a situation, in some of our first families, as private seamstress. Our first families having slaves for such offices, have no need of "poor white trash." She applies personally to several ladies of "eminent standing," and who busy themselves in getting up donations for northern Tract Societies. They have no sympathy to waste upon her. Her appeal only enlists coldness and indifference. The "Church Home" had lent an ear to her story, but that her address is very unsatisfactory, and it is got out that she is living a very suspicious life. The "Church Home," so virtuous and pious, can do nothing for her until she improves her mode of living. Necessity pinches Maria at every turn. "To be poor in a slave atmosphere, is truly a crime," she says to herself, musing over her hard lot, while sitting in her chamber one evening. "But I am the richer! I will rise above all!" She has just prepared to carry some nourishment to her father, when Keepum enters, his face flushed, and his features darkened with a savage scowl. "I have said you were a fool-all women are fools!—and now I know I was not mistaken!" This Mr. Keepum says while throwing his hat sullenly upon the floor. "Well," he pursues, having seated himself in a chair, looked designingly at the candle, then contorted his narrow face, and frisked his fingers through his bright red hair, "as to this here wincing and mincing-its all humbuggery of a woman like you. Affecting such morals! Don't go down here; tell you that, my spunky girl. Loose morals is what takes in poor folks."
Maria answers him only with a look of scorn. She advances to the door to find it locked.
"It was me-I locked it. Best to be private about the matter," says Keepum, a forced smile playing over his countenance.
Unresolved whether to give vent to her passion, or make an effort to inspire his better nature, she stands a few moments, as if immersed in deep thought, then suddenly falls upon her knees at his feet, and implores him to save her this last step to her ruin. "Hear me, oh, hear me, and let your heart give out its pity for one who has only her virtue left her in this world;" she appeals to him with earnest voice, and eyes swimming in tears. "Save my father, for you have power. Give him his liberty, that I, his child, his only comfort in his old age, may make him happy. Yes! yes!—he will die where he is. Will you, can you-you have a heart-see me struggle against the rude buffets of an unthinking world! Will you not save me from the Poor-house-from the shame that awaits me with greedy clutches, and receive in return the blessing of a friendless woman! Oh!—you will, you will-release my father!—give him back to me and make me happy. Ah, ha!—I see, I see, you have feelings, better feelings—feelings that are not seared. You will have pity on me; you will forgive, relent-you cannot see a wretch suffer and not be moved to lighten her pain!" The calm, pensive expression that lights up her countenance is indeed enough to inspire the tender impulses of a heart in which every sense of generosity is not dried up.
Her appeal, nevertheless, falls ineffectual. Mr. Keepum has no generous impulses to bestow upon beings so sensitive of their virtue. With him, it is a ware of very little value, inasmuch as the moral standard fixed by a better class of people is quite loose. He rises from his chair with an air of self-confidence, seizes her by the hand, and attempts to drag her upon his knee, saying, "you know I can and will make you a lady. Upon the honor of a gentleman, I love you-always have loved you; but what stands in the way, and is just enough to make any gentleman of my standing mad, is this here squeamishness—"
"No! no! go from me. Attempt not again to lay your cruel hands upon me!" The goaded woman struggles from his grasp, and shrieks for help at the very top of her voice. And as the neighbors come rushing up stairs, Mr. Keepum valorously betakes himself into the street. Mad- dened with disappointment, and swearing to have revenge, he seeks his home, and there muses over the "curious woman's" unswerving resolution. "Cruelty!" he says to himself—"she charges me with cruelty! Well," (here he sighs) "it's only because she lacks a bringing up that can appreciate a gentleman." (Keepum could never condescend to believe himself less than a very fine gentleman.) "As sure as the world the creature is somewhat out in the head. She fancies all sorts of things-shame, disgrace, and ruin!—only because she don't understand the quality of our morality-that's all! There's no harm, after all, in these little enjoyments-if the girl would only understand them so. Our society is free from pedantry; and there-no damage can result where no one's the wiser. It's like stealing a blush from the cheek of beauty-nobody misses it, and the cheek continues as beautiful as ever." Thus philosophizes the chivalric gentleman, until he falls into a fast sleep.
IN WHICH JUSTICE IS SEEN TO BE VERY ACCOMMODATING.
A FEW days have elapsed, Maria has just paid a visit to her father, still in prison, and may be seen looking in at Mr. Keepum's office, in Broad street. "I come not to ask a favor, sir; but, at my father's request, to say to you that, having given up all he has in the world, it can do no good to any one to continue him in durance, and to ask of you-in whom the sole power rests-that you will grant him his release ere he dies?" She addresses Mr. Keepum, who seems not in a very good temper this morning, inasmuch as several of his best negroes, without regard to their value to him, got a passion for freedom into their heads, and have taken themselves away. In addition to this, he is much put out, as he says, at being compelled to forego the pleasure held out on the previous night, of tarring and feathering two northerners suspected of entertaining sentiments not exactly straight on the "peculiar question." A glorious time was expected, and a great deal of very strong patriotism wasted; but the two unfortunate individuals, by some means not yet discovered, got the vigilance committee, to whose care they were entrusted, very much intoxicated, and were not to be found when called for. Free knives, and not free speech, is our motto. And this Mr. Keepum is one of the most zealous in carrying out.
Mr. Keepum sits, his hair fretted back over his lean forehead, before a table covered with papers, all indicating an immense business in lottery and other speculations. Now he deposits his feet upon it; leans back in his chair, puffs his cigar, and says, with an air of indifference to the speaker: "I shall not be able to attend to any business of yours to-day, Madam!" His clerk, a man of sturdy figure, with a broad, red face, and dressed in rather dilapidated broadcloth, is passing in and out of the front office, bearing in his fingers documents that require a signature or mark of approval.
"I only come, sir, to tell you that we are destitute—" Maria pauses, and stands trembling in the doorway.
"That's a very common cry," interrupts Keepum, relieving his mouth of the cigar. "The affair is entirely out of my hands. Go to my attorney, Peter Crimpton, Esq.,—what he does for you will receive my sanction. I must not be interrupted to-day. I might express a thousand regrets; yes, pass an opinion on your foolish pride, but what good would it do."
And while Maria stands silent and hesitating, there enters the office abrubtly a man in the garb of a mechanic. "I have come," speaks the man, in a tone of no very good humor, "for the last time. I asks of you-you professes to be a gentleman-my honest rights. If the law don't give it to me, I mean to take it with this erehand." (He shakes his hand at Keepum.) "I am a poor man who ain't thought much of because I works for a living; you have got what I had worked hard for, and lain up to make my little family comfortable. I ask a settlement and my own-what is due from one honest man to another!" He now approaches the table, strikes his hand upon it, and pauses for a reply.
Mr. Keepum coolly looks up, and with an insidious leer, says, "There, take yourself into the street. When next you enter a gentleman's office, learn to deport yourself with good manners."
"Pshaw! pshaw!" interrupts the man. "What mockery! When men like you-yes, I say men like you-that has brought ruin on so many poor families, can claim to be gentlemen, rogues may get a patent for their order." The man turns to take his departure, when the infuriated Keepum, who, as we have before described, gets exceedingly put out if any one doubts his honor, seizes an iron bar, and stealing up behind, fetches him a blow over the head that fells him lifeless to the floor.
Maria shrieks, and vaults into the street. The mass upon the floor fetches a last agonizing shrug, and a low moan, and is dead. The murderer stands over him, exultant, as the blood streams from the deep fracture. In fine, the blood of his victim would seem rather to increase his satisfaction at the deed, than excite a regret.
Call you this murder? Truly, the man has outraged God's law. And the lover of law and order, of social good, and moral honesty, would find reasons for designating the perpetrator an assassin. For has he not first distressed a family, and then left it bereft of its protector? You may think of it and designate it as you please. Nevertheless we, in our fancied mightiness, cannot condescend to such vulgar considerations. We esteem it extremely courageous of Mr. Keepum, to defend himself "to the death" against the insults of one of the common herd. Our first families applaud the act, our sensitive press say it was "an unfortunate affair," and by way of admonition, add that it were better working people be more careful how they approach gentlemen. Mr. Snivel will call this, the sublime quality of our chivalry. What say the jury of inquest?
Duly weighing the high position of Mr. Keepum, and the very low condition of the deceased, the good-natured jury return a verdict that the man met his death in consequence of an accidental blow, administered with an iron instrument, in the hands of one Keepum. From the testimony-Keepum's clerk-it is believed the act was committed in self-defence.
Mr. Keepum, as is customary with our fine gentlemen, and like a hero (we will not content ourselves with making him one jot less), magnanimously surrenders himself to the authorities. The majesty of our laws is not easily offended by gentlemen of standing. Only the poor and the helpless slave can call forth the terrible majesty of the law, and quicken to action its sensitive quality. The city is shocked that Mr. Keepum is subjected to a night in jail, notwithstanding he has the jailer's best parlor, and a barricade of champaign bottles are strewn at his feet by flattering friends, who make night jubilant with their carousal.
Southern society asks no repentance of him whose hands reek with the blood of his poor victim; southern society has no pittance for that family Keepum has made lick the dust in tears and sorrow. Even while we write-while the corpse of the murdered man, followed by a few brother craftsmen, is being borne to its last resting-place, the perpetrator, released on a paltry bail, is being regaled at a festive board. Such is our civilization! How had the case stood with a poor man! Could he have stood up against the chivalry of South Carolina, scoffed at the law, or bid good-natured justice close her eyes? No. He had been dragged to a close cell, and long months had passed ere the tardy movements of the law reached his case. Even then, popular opinion would have turned upon him, pre-judged him, and held him up as dangerous to the peace of the people. Yes, pliant justice would have affected great virtue, and getting on her high throne, never ceased her demands until he had expiated his crime at the gallows.
A few weeks pass: Keepum's reputation for courage is fully endorsed, the Attorney-General finds nothing in the act to justify him in bringing it before a Grand Jury, the law is satisfied (or ought to be satisfied), and the rich murderer sleeps without a pang of remorse.
IN WHICH SOME LIGHT IS THROWN ON THE PLOT OF THIS HISTORY.
JUNE, July, and August are past away, and September, with all its autumnal beauties, ushers in, without bringing anything to lighten the cares of that girl whose father yet pines in prison. She looks forward, hoping against hope, to the return of her lover (something tells her he still lives), only to feel more keenly the pangs of hope deferred.
And now, once more, New York, we are in thy busy streets. It is a pleasant evening in early September. The soft rays of an autumn sun are tinging the western sky, and night is fast drawing her sable mantle over the scene. In Washington Square, near where the tiny fountain jets its stream into a round, grassy-bordered basin, there sits a man of middle stature, apparently in deep study. His dress is plain, and might be taken for that of either a working man, or a somewhat faded inspector of customs. Heedless of those passing to and fro, he sits until night fairly sets in, then rises, and faces towards the East. Through the trunks of trees he sees, and seems contemplating the gray walls of the University, and the bold, sombre front of the very aristocratic church of the Reformed Dutch.
"Well!" he mutters to himself, resuming his seat, and again facing to the west, "this ere business of ourn is a great book of life-'tis that! Finds us in queer places; now and then mixed up curiously." He rises a second time, advances to a gas-light, draws a letter from his pocket, and scans, with an air of evident satisfaction, over the contents. "Umph!" he resumes, and shrugs his shoulders, "I was right on the address-ought to have known it without looking." Having resumed his seat, he returns the letter to his pocket, sits with his elbow upon his knee, and his head rested thoughtfully in his right hand. The picture before him, so calm and soft, has no attractions for him. The dusky hues of night, for slowly the scene darkens, seem lending a softness and calmness to the foliage. The weeping branches of the willow, interspersed here and there, as if to invest the picture with a touching melancholy, sway gently to and fro; the leaves of the silvery poplar tremble and reflect their shadows on the fresh waters; and the flitting gas-lights mingle their gleams, play and sport over the rippled surface, coquet with the tripping star-beams, then throw fantastic lights over the swaying foliage; and from beneath the massive branches of trees, there shines out, in bold relief, the marble porticoes and lintels of stately—looking mansions. Such is the calm grandeur of the scene, that one could imagine some Thalia investing it with a poetic charm the gods might muse over.
"It is not quite time yet," says the man, starting suddenly to his feet. He again approaches a gas-light, looks attentively at his watch, then saunters to the corner of Fourth and Thompson streets. An old, dilapidated wooden building, which some friend has whitewashed into respectability, and looking as if it had a strong inclination to tumble either upon the sidewalk, or against the great trunk of a hoary-headed tree at the corner, arrests his attention. "Well," he says, having paused before it, and scanned its crooked front, "this surely is the house where the woman lived when she was given the child. Practice, and putting two things together to find what one means, is the great thing in our profession. Like its old tenant, the house has got down a deal. It's on its last legs." Again he consults his watch, and with a quickened step recrosses the Square, and enters — Avenue. Now he halts before a spacious mansion, the front of which is high and bold, and deep, and of brown freestone. The fluted columns; the elegantly-chiselled lintels; the broad, scrolled window-frames; the exactly-moulded arches; the massive steps leading to the deep, vaulted entrance, with its doors of sombre and highly-polished walnut; and its bold style of architecture, so grand in its outlines,—all invest it with a regal air. The man casts a glance along the broad avenue, then into the sombre entrance of the mansion. Now he seems questioning within himself whether to enter or retrace his steps. One-half of the outer door, which is in the Italian style, with heavy fluted mouldings, stands ajar; while from out the lace curtains of the inner, there steals a faint light. The man rests his elbow on the great stone scroll of the guard-rail, and here we leave him for a few moments.
The mansion, it may be well to add here, remains closed the greater part of the year; and when opened seems visited by few persons, and those not of the very highest standing in society. A broken-down politician, a seedy hanger-on of some "literary club," presided over by a rich, but very stupid tailor, and now and then a lady about whose skirts something not exactly straight hangs, and who has been elbowed out of fashionable society for her too ardent love of opera-singers, and handsome actors, may be seen dodging in now and then. Otherwise, the mansion would seem very generally deserted by the neighborhood.
Everybody will tell you, and everybody is an individual so extremely busy in other people's affairs, that he ought to know, that there is something that hangs so like a rain-cloud about the magnificent skirts of those who live so secluded "in that fine old pile," (mansion,) that the virtuous satin of the Avenue never can be got to "mix in." Indeed, the Avenue generally seems to have set its face against those who reside in it. They enjoy none of those very grand assemblies, balls, and receptions, for which the Avenue is become celebrated, and yet they luxuriate in wealth and splendor.
Though the head of the house seems banished by society, society makes her the subject of many evil reports and mysterious whisperings. The lady of the mansion, however, as if to retort upon her traducers, makes it known that she is very popular abroad, every now and then during her absence honoring them with mysterious clippings from foreign journals-all setting forth the admiration her appearance called forth at a grand reception given by the Earl and Countess of —.
Society is made of inexorable metal, she thinks, for the prejudices of the neighborhood have not relaxed one iota with time. That she has been presented to kings, queens, and emperors; that she has enjoyed the hospitalities of foreign embassies; that she has (and she makes no little ado that she has) shone in the assemblies of prime ministers; that she has been invited to court concerts, and been the flattered of no end of fashionable coteries, serves her nothing at home. They are events, it must be admitted, much discussed, much wondered at, much regretted by those who wind themselves up in a robe of stern morality. In a few instances they are lamented, lest the morals and manners of those who make it a point to represent us abroad should reflect only the brown side of our society.
As if with regained confidence, the man, whom we left at the door scroll, is seen slowly ascending the broad steps. He enters the vaulted vestibule, and having touched the great, silver bell-knob of the inner door, stands listening to the tinkling chimes within. A pause of several minutes, and the door swings cautiously open. There stands before him the broad figure of a fussy servant man, wedged into a livery quite like that worn by the servants of an English tallow-chandler, but which, it must be said, and said to be regretted, is much in fashion with our aristocracy, who, in consequence of its brightness, belive it the exact style of some celebrated lord. The servant receives a card from the visitor, and with a bow, inquires if he will wait an answer.
"I will wait the lady's pleasure-I came by appointment," returns the man. And as the servant disappears up the hall, he takes a seat, uninvited, upon a large settee, in carved walnut. "Something mysterious about this whole affair!" he muses, scanning along the spacious hall, into the conservatory of statuary and rare plants, seen opening away at the extreme end. The high, vaulted roof; the bright, tesselated floor; the taste with which the frescoes decorating the walls are designed; the great winding stairs, so richly carpeted-all enhanced in beauty by the soft light reflected upon them from a massive chandelier of stained glass, inspire him with a feeling of awe. The stillness, and the air of grandeur pervading each object that meets his eye, reminds him of the halls of those medival castles he has read of in his youth. The servant returns, and makes his bow. "My leady," he says, in a strong Lincolnshire brogue, "as weated ye an 'our or more."
The visitor, evincing some nervousness, rises quickly to his feet, follows the servant up the hall, and is ushered into a parlor of regal dimensions, on the right. His eye falls upon one solitary occupant, who rises from a lounge of oriental richness, and advances towards him with an air of familiarity their conditions seem not to warrant. Having greeted the visitor, and bid him be seated (he takes his seat, shyly, beside the door), the lady resumes her seat in a magnificent chair. For a moment the visitor scans over the great parlor, as if moved by the taste and elegance of everything that meets his eye. The hand of art has indeed been lavishly laid on the decorations of this chamber, which presents a scene of luxury princes might revel in. And though the soft wind of whispering silks seemed lending its aid to make complete the enjoyment of the occupant, it might be said, in the words of Crabbe:
"But oh, what storm was in that mind!"
The person of the lady is in harmony with the splendor of the apartment. Rather tall and graceful of figure, her complexion pale, yet soft and delicate, her features as fine and regular as ever sculptor chiselled, her manner gentle and womanly. In her face, nevertheless, there is an expression of thoughtfulness, perhaps melancholy, to which her large, earnest black eyes, and finely-arched brows, fringed with dark lashes, lend a peculiar charm. While over all there plays a shadow of languor, increased perhaps by the tinge of age, or a mind and heart overtaxed with cares.
"I received your note, which I hastened to answer. Of course you received my answer. I rejoice that you have persevered, and succeeded in finding the object I have so long sought. Not hearing from you for so many weeks, I had begun to fear she had gone forever," says the lady, in a soft, musical voice, raising her white, delicate hand to her cheek, which is suffused with blushes.
"I had myself almost given her over, for she disappeared from the Points, and no clue could be got of her," returns the man, pausing for a moment, then resuming his story. "A week ago yesterday she turned up again, and I got wind that she was in a place we call 'Black-beetle Hole'—"
"Black-beetle Hole!" ejaculates the lady, whom the reader will have discovered is no less a person than Madame Montford. Mr. Detective Fitzgerald is the visitor.
"Yes, there's where she's got, and it isn't much of a place, to say the best. But when a poor creature has no other place to get a stretch down, she stretches down there—"
"Proceed to how you found her, and what you have got from her concerning the child," the lady interrupts, with a deep sigh.
"Well," proceeds the detective, "I meets-havin' an eye out all the while-Sergeant Dobbs one morning-Dobbs knows every roost in the Points better than me!—and says he, 'Fitzgerald, that are woman, that crazy woman, you've been in tow of so long, has turned up. There was a row in Black-beetle Hole last night. I got a force and descended into the place, found it crammed with them half-dead kind of women and men, and three thieves, what wanted to have a fuss with the hag that keeps it. One on 'em was thrashing the poor crazy woman. They had torn all the rags off her back. Howsever, if you wants to fish her out, you'd better be spry about it-'"
The lady interrupts by saying she will disguise, and with his assistance, go bring her from the place-save her! Mr. Fitzgerald begs she will take the matter practically. She could not breathe the air of the place, he says.
"'Thank you Dobbs,' says I," he resumes, "and when it got a bit dark I went incog. to Black-beetle's Hole—"
"And where is this curious place?" she questions, with an air of anxiety.
"As to that, Madame-well, you wouldn't know it was lived in, because its underground, and one not up to the entrance never would think it led to a place where human beings crawled in at night. I don't wonder so many of 'em does things what get 'em into the Station, and after that treated to a short luxury on the Island. As I was goin' on to say, I got myself fortified, started out into the Points, and walked-we take these things practically-down and up the east sidewalk, then stopped in front of the old rotten house that Black-beetle Hole is under. Then I looks down the wet little stone steps, that ain't wide enough for a big man to get down, and what lead into the cellar. Some call it Black-beetle Hole, and then again some call it the Hole of the Black-beetles. 'Yer after no good, Mr. Fitzgerald,' says Mrs. McQuade, whose husband keeps the junk-shop over the Hole, putting her malicious face out of the window.
"'You're the woman I want, Mrs. McQuade,' says I. 'Don't be puttin' your foot in the house,' says she. And when I got her temper a little down by telling her I only wanted to know who lived in the Hole, she swore by all the saints it had niver a soul in it, and was hard closed up. Being well up to the dodges of the Points folks, I descended the steps, and gettin' underground, knocked at the Hole door, and then sent it smash in. 'Well! who's here?' says I. 'It's me,' says Mrs. Lynch, a knot of an old woman, who has kept the Hole for many years, and says she has no fear of the devil."
Madame Montford listens with increasing anxiety; Mr. Detective Fitzgerald proceeds: "'Get a light here, then;' says I. You couldn't see nothing, it was so dark, but you could hear 'em move, and breathe. And then the place was so hot and sickly. Had to stand it best way I could. There was no standing straight in the dismal place, which was wet and nasty under foot, and not more nor twelve by fourteen. The old woman said she had only a dozen lodgers in; when she made out to get a light for me I found she had twenty-three, tucked away here and there, under straw and stuff. Well, it was curious to see 'em (here the detective wipes his forehead with his handkerchief) rise up, one after another, all round you, you know, like fiends that had been buried for a time, then come to life merely to get something to eat."
"And did you find the woman-and was she one of them?"
"That's what I'm comin' at. Well, I caught a sight at the woman; knew her at the glance. I got a sight at her one night in the Pit at the House of the Nine Nations. 'Here! I wants you,' says I, takin' what there was left of her by the arm. She shrieked, and crouched down, and begged me not to hurt her, and looked wilder than a tiger at me. And then the whole den got into a fright, and young women, and boys, and men-they were all huddled together-set up such a screaming. 'Munday!' says I, 'you don't go to the Tombs-here! I've got good news for you.' This quieted her some, and then I picked her up-she was nearly naked-and seeing she wanted scrubbing up, carried her out of the Hole, and made her follow me to my house, where we got her into some clothes, and seeing that she was got right in her mind, I thought it would be a good time to question her."
"If you will hasten the result of your search, it will, my good sir, relieve my feelings much!" again interposes the lady, drawing her chair nearer the detective.
"'You've had,' I says to her, 'a hard enough time in this world, and now here's the man what's going to be a friend to ye-understand that!' says I, and she looked at me bewildered. We gave her something to eat, and a pledge that no one would harm her, and she tamed down, and began to look up a bit. 'Your name wasn't always Munday?' says I, in a way that she couldn't tell what I was after. She said she had taken several names, but Munday was her right name. Then she corrected herself-she was weak and hoarse-and said it was her husband's name. 'You've a good memory, Mrs. Munday,' says I; 'now, just think as far back as you can, and tell us where you lived as long back as you can think.' She shook her head, and began to bury her face in her hands. I tried for several minutes, but could get nothing more out of her. Then she quickened up, shrieked out that she had just got out of the devil's regions, and made a rush for the door."
IN WHICH IS REVEALED THE ONE ERROR THAT BROUGHT SO MUCH SUFFERING UPON MANY.
MR. FITZGERALD sees that his last remark is having no very good effect on Madame Montford, and hastens to qualify, ere it overcome her. "That, I may say, Madame, was not the last of her. My wife and me, seeing how her mind was going wrong again, got her in bed for the night, and took what care of her we could. Well, you see, she got rational in the morning, and, thinking it a chance, I 'plied a heap of kindness to her, and got her to tell all she knew of herself. She went on to tell where she lived-I followed your directions in questioning her-at the time you noted down. She described the house exactly. I have been to it to-night; knew it at a sight, from her description. Some few practical questions I put to her about the child you wanted to get at, I found frightened her so that she kept shut-for fear, I take it, that it was a crime she may be punished for at some time. I says, 'You was trusted with a child once, wasn't you?' 'The Lord forgive me,' she says, 'I know I'm guilty-but I've been punished enough in this world haven't I?' And she burst out into tears, and hung down her head, and got into the corner, as if wantin' nobody to see her. She only wanted a little good care, and a little kindness, to bring her to. This we did as well as we could, and made her understand that no one thought of punishing her, but wanted to be her friends. Well, the poor wretch began to pick up, as I said before, and in three days was such another woman that nobody could have told that she was the poor crazy thing that ran about the lanes and alleys of the Points. And now, Madame, doing as you bid me, I thought it more practical to come to you, knowing you could get of her all you wanted. She is made comfortable. Perhaps you wouldn't like to have her brought here-I may say I don't think it would be good policy. If you would condescend to come to our house, you can see her alone. I hope you are satisfied with my services." The detective pauses, and again wipes his face.
"My gratitude for your perseverance I can never fully express to you. I owe you a debt I never can repay. To-morrow, at ten o'clock, I will meet you at your house; and then, if you can leave me alone with her—"
"Certainly, certainly, everything will be at your service, Madame," returns the detective, rising from his seat and thanking the lady, who rewards him bountifully from her purse, and bids him good night. The servant escorts him to the door, while Madame Montford buries her face in her hands, and gives vent to her emotions.
On the morning following, a neatly-caparisoned carriage is seen driving to the door of a little brick house in Crosby street. From it Madame Montford alights, and passes in at the front door, while in another minute it rolls away up the street and is lost to sight. A few moments' consultation, and the detective, who has ushered the lady into his humbly-furnished little parlor, withdraws to give place to the pale and emaciated figure of the woman Munday, who advances with faltering step and downcast countenance. "Oh! forgive me, forgive me! have mercy upon me! forgive me this crime!" she shrieks. Suddenly she raises her eyes, and rushing forward throws herself at Madame Montford's feet, in an imploring attitude. Dark and varied fancies crowd confusedly on Madame Montfort's mind at this moment.