Copyright
F. Colburn Adams.

Justice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life online

. (page 11 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 11 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to find old Rebecca summoning her to tea. She is exceedingly sorry
the old slave disturbed her. However, having great faith in dreams,
and the one she has just enjoyed bringing the way to aid Sister
Slocum in carrying out her projects of love so clear to her mind,
she is resolved to lose no time in carrying out its principles.
Selling old Molly won't be much; old Molly is not worth much to her;
and the price of old Molly (she'll bring something!) will do so much
to enlighten the heathen, and aid the Tract Society in giving out
its excellent works. "And I have for years longed to see Sister
Slocum, face to face, before I die," she says. And with an affixed
determination to carry out this pious resolve, Mrs. Swiggs sips
her tea, and retires to her dingy little chamber for the night.

A bright and cheerful sun ushers in the following morning. The soft
rays steal in at the snuffy door, at the dilapidated windows,
through the faded curtains, and into the "best parlor," where, at an
early hour, sits the antique old lady, rummaging over some musty old
papers piled on the centre-table. The pale light plays over and
gives to her features a spectre-like hue; while the grotesque pieces
of furniture by which she is surrounded lend their aid in making
complete the picture of a wizard's abode. The paper she wants is
nowhere to be found. "I must exercise a little judgment in this
affair," she mutters, folding a bit of paper, and seizing her pen.
Having written - "TO THE MASTER OF THE WORKHOUSE:

"I am sorry I have to trouble you so often with old Cicero. He will
not pay wages all I can do. Give him at least thirty-well laid on. I
go to New York in a few days, and what is due you from me for
punishments will be paid any time you send your bill. "SARAH PRINGLE
HUGHES SWIGGS."

"Well! he deserves what he gets," she shakes her head and
ejaculates. Having summoned Rebecca, Master Cicero, a hard-featured
old negro, is ordered up, and comes tottering into the room,
half-bent with age, his hair silvered, and his face covered with a
mossy-white beard-the picture of a patriarch carved in ebony. "Good
mornin', Missus," he speaks in a feeble and husky voice, standing
hesitatingly before his august owner. "You are - well, I might as
well say it - you're a miserable old wretch!" Cicero makes a nervous
motion with his left hand, as the fingers of his right wander over
the bald crown of his head, and his eyes give out a forlorn look.
She has no pity for the poor old man-none. "You are, Cicero-you
needn't pretend you ain't," she pursues; and springing to her feet
with an incredible nimbleness, she advances to the window, tucks up
the old curtain, and says, "There; let the light reflect on your
face. Badness looks out of it. Cicero! you never was a good nigger - "

"Per'aps not, Missus; but den I'se old.

"Old! you ain't so old but you can pay wages," the testy old woman
interrupts, tossing her head. "You're a capital hand at cunning
excuses. This will get you done for, at the workhouse." She hands
him a delicately enveloped and carefully superscribed billet, and
commands him to proceed forthwith to the workhouse. A tear courses
slowly down his time-wrinkled face, he hesitates, would speak one
word in his own defence. But the word of his owner is absolute, and
in obedience to the wave of her hand he totters to the door, and
disappears. His tears are only those of a slave. How useless fall
the tears of him who has no voice, no power to assert his manhood!
And yet, in that shrunken bosom-in that figure, bent and shattered
of age, there burns a passion for liberty and hatred of the
oppressor more terrible than the hand that has made him the wretch
he is. That tear! how forcibly it tells the tale of his sorrowing
soul; how eloquently it foretells the downfall of that injustice
holding him in its fierce chains!

Cicero has been nicely got out of the way. Molly, his wife, is
summoned into the presence of her mistress, to receive her awful
doom. "To be frank with you, Molly, and I am always outspoken, you
know, I am going to sell you. We have been long enough together, and
necessity at this moment forces me to this conclusion," says our
venerable lady, addressing herself to the old slave, who stands
before her, leaning on her crutch, for she is one of the cripples.
"You will get a pious owner, I trust; and God will be merciful to
you."

The old slave of seventy years replies only with an expression of
hate in her countenance, and a drooping of her heavy lip. "Now,"
Mrs. Swiggs pursues, "take this letter, go straight to Mr. Forcheu
with it, and he will sell you. He is very kind in selling old
people-very!" Molly inquires if Cicero may go. Mrs. Swiggs replies
that nobody will buy two old people together.

The slave of seventy years, knowing her entreaties will be in vain,
approaches her mistress with the fervency of a child, and grasping
warmly her hand, stammers out: "Da-da-dah Lord bless um, Missus.
Tan't many days fo'h we meet in t'oder world-good-bye."

"God bless you-good-bye, Molly. Remember what I have told you so
many times-long suffering and forbearance make the true Christian.
Be a Christian-seek to serve your Master faithfully; such the
Scripture teacheth. Now tie your handkerchief nicely on your head,
and get your clean apron on, and mind to look good-natured when Mr.
Forcheu sells you." This admonition, methodically addressed to the
old slave, and Mrs. Swiggs waves her hand, resumes her Milton, and
settles herself back into her chair. Reader! if you have a heart in
the right place it will be needless for us to dwell upon the
feelings of that old slave, as she drags her infirm body to the
shambles of the extremely kind vender of people.






CHAPTER XIV.

MR. M'ARTHUR MAKES A DISCOVERY.





ON his return from the theatre, Mr. McArthur finds his daughter,
Maria, waiting him in great anxiety. "Father, father!" she says, as
he enters his little back parlor, "this is what that poor woman, Mag
Munday, used to take on so about; here it is." She advances, her
countenance wearing an air of great solicitude, holds the old dress
in her left hand, and a stained letter in her right. "It fell from a
pocket in the bosom," she pursues. The old man, with an expression
of surprise, takes the letter and prepares to read it. He pauses.
"Did it come from the dress I discovered in the old chest?" he
inquires, adjusting his spectacles. Maria says it did. She has no
doubt it might have relieved her suffering, if it had been found
before she died. "But, father, was there not to you something
strange, something mysterious about the manner she pursued her
search for this old dress? You remember how she used to insist that
it contained something that might be a fortune to her in her
distress, and how there was a history connected with it that would
not reflect much credit on a lady in high life!"

The old man interrupts by saying he well remembers it; remembers how
he thought she was a maniac to set so much value on the old dress,
and make so many sighs when it could not be found. "It always
occurred to me there was something more than the dress that made her
take on so," the old man concludes, returning the letter to Maria,
with a request that she will read it. Maria resumes her seat, the
old man draws a chair to the table, and with his face supported in
his left hand listens attentively as she reads: "WASHINGTON SQUARE,
NEW YORK, May 14, 18 -

"I am glad to hear from Mr. Sildon that the child does well. Poor
little thing, it gives me so many unhappy thoughts when I think of
it; but I know you are a good woman, Mrs. Munday, and will watch her
with the care of a mother. She was left at our door one night, and
as people are always too ready to give currency to scandal, my
brother and I thought that it would not be prudent to adopt it at
once, more especially as I have been ill for the last few months,
and have any quantity of enemies. I am going to close my house, now
that my deceased husband's estate is settled, and spend a few years
in Europe. Mr. Thomas Sildon is well provided with funds for the
care of the child during my absence, and will pay you a hundred
dollars every quarter. Let no one see this letter, not even your
husband. And when I return I will give you an extra remuneration,
and adopt the child as my own. Mr. Sildon will tell you where to
find me when I return. Your friend, "C. A. M."

"There, father," says Maria, "there is something more than we know
about, connected with this letter. One thing always discovers
another-don't you think it may have something to do with that lady
who has two or three times come in here, and always appeared so
nervous when she inquired about Mag Munday? and you recollect how
she would not be content until we had told her a thousand different
things concerning her. She wanted, she said, a clue to her; but she
never could get a clue to her. There is something more than we know
of connected with this letter," and she lays the old damp stained
and crumpled letter on the table, as the old servant enters bearing
on a small tray their humble supper.

"Now, sit up, my daughter," says the old man, helping her to a
sandwich while she pours out his dish of tea, "our enjoyment need be
none the less because our fare is humble. As for satisfying this
lady about Mag Munday, why, I have given that up. I told her all I
knew, and that is, that when she first came to Charleston-one never
knows what these New Yorkers are - she was a dashing sort of woman,
had no end of admirers, and lived in fine style. Then it got out
that she wasn't the wife of the man who came with her, but that she
was the wife of a poor man of the name of Munday, and had quit her
husband; as wives will when they take a notion in their heads. And
as is always the way with these sort of people, she kept gradually
getting down in the world, and as she kept getting more and more
down so she took more and more to drink, and drink brought on grief,
and grief soon wasted her into the grave. I took pity on her, for
she seemed not a bad woman at heart, and always said she was forced
by necessity into the house of Madame Flamingo-a house that hurries
many a poor creature to her ruin. And she seemed possessed of a
sense of honor not common to these people; and when Madame Flamingo
turned her into the street, - as she does every one she has succeeded
in making a wretch of, - and she could find no one to take her in, and
had nowhere to lay her poor head, as she used to say, I used to lend
her little amounts, which she always managed somehow to repay. As to
there being anything valuable in the dress, I never gave it a
thought; and when she would say if she could have restored to her
the dress, and manage to get money enough to get to New York, I
thought it was only the result of her sadness."

"You may remember, father," interrupts Maria, "she twice spoke of a
child left in her charge; and that the child was got away from her.
If she could only trace that poor child, she would say, or find out
what had become of it, she could forget her own sufferings and die
easy. But the thought of what had become of that child forever
haunted her; she knew that unless she atoned in some way the devil
would surely get her." The old man says, setting down his cup, it
all comes fresh to his mind. Mr. Soloman (he has not a doubt) could
let some light upon the subject; and, as he seems acquainted with
the lady that takes so much interest in what became of the woman
Munday, he may relieve her search. "I am sure she is dead,
nevertheless; I say this, knowing that having no home she got upon
the Neck, and then associated with the negroes; and the last I heard
of her was that the fever carried her off. This must have been true,
or else she had been back here pleading for the bundles we could not
find." Thus saying, Mr. McArthur finishes his humble supper, kisses
and fondles his daughter, whom he dotingly loves, and retires for
the night.






CHAPTER XV.

WHAT MADAME FLAMINGO WANTS TO BE.





TOM SWIGGS has enjoyed, to the evident satisfaction of his mother, a
seven months' residence in the old prison. The very first families
continue to pay their respects to the good old lady, and she in
return daily honors them with mementoes of her remembrance. These
little civilities, exchanging between the stately old lady and our
first families, indicate the approach of the fashionable season.
Indeed, we may as well tell you the fashionable season is commencing
in right good earnest. Our elite are at home, speculations are rife
as to what the "Jockey Club" will do, we are recounting our
adventures at northern watering-places, chuckling over our heroism
in putting down those who were unwise enough to speak disrespectful
of our cherished institutions, and making very light of what we
would do to the whole north. You may know, too, that our fashionable
season is commenced by what is taking place at the house of Madame
Flamingo on the one side, and the St. Cecilia on the other. We
recognize these establishments as institutions. That they form the
great fortifications of fashionable society, flanking it at either
extreme, no one here doubts.

We are extremely sensitive of two things-fashion, and our right to
sell negroes. Without the former we should be at sea; without the
latter, our existence would indeed be humble. The St. Cecilia
Society inaugurates the fashionable season, the erudite Editor of
the Courier will tell you, with an entertainment given to the elite
of its members and a few very distinguished foreigners. Madame
Flamingo opens her forts, at the same time, with a grand supper,
which she styles a very select entertainment, and to which she
invites none but "those of the highest standing in society." If you
would like to see what sort of a supper she sets to inaugurate the
fashionable season, take our arm for a few minutes.

Having just arrived from New York, where she has been luxuriating
and selecting her wares for the coming season, (New York is the
fountain ejecting its vice over this Union,) Madame looks hale,
hearty, and exceedingly cheerful. Nor has she spared any expense to
make herself up with becoming youthfulness-as the common people have
it. She has got her a lace cap of the latest fashion, with great
broad striped blue and red strings; and her dress is of orange-
colored brocade, trimmed with tulle, and looped with white blossoms.
Down the stomacher it is set with jewels. Her figure seems more
embonpoint than when we last saw her; and as she leans on the arm of
old Judge Sleepyhorn, forms a striking contrast to the slender
figure of that singular specimen of judicial infirmity. Two great
doors are opened, and Madame leads the way into what she calls her
upper and private parlor, a hall of some fifty feet by thirty, in
the centre of which a sumptuously-decorated table is set out. Indeed
there is a chasteness and richness about the furniture and works of
art that decorate this apartment, singularly at variance with the
bright-colored furniture of the room we have described in a former
chapter. "Ladies and gentlemen!" ejaculates the old hostess,
"imagine this a palace, in which you are all welcome. As the legal
gentry say (she casts a glance at the old Judge), when you have
satisfactorily imagined that, imagine me a princess, and address
me - "

"High ho!" interrupts Mr. Soloman.

"I confess," continues the old woman, her little, light-brown curls
dangling across her brow, and her face crimsoning, "I would like to
be a princess."

"You can," rejoins the former speaker, his fingers wandering to his
chin.

"Well! I have my beadle-beadles, I take, are inseparable from royal
blood-and my servants in liveries. After all (she tosses her head)
what can there be in beadles and liveries? Why! the commonest and
vulgarest people of New York have taken to liveries. If you chance
to take an elegant drive up the 'Fifth Avenue,' and meet a dashing
equipage-say with horses terribly caparisoned, a purloined crest on
the carriage-door, a sallow-faced footman covered up in a green
coat, all over big brass buttons, stuck up behind, and a
whiskey-faced coachman half-asleep in a great hammercloth, be sure
it belongs to some snob who has not a sentence of good English in
his head. Yes! perhaps a soap-chandler, an oil-dealer, or a
candy-maker. Brainless people always creep into plush-always! People
of taste and learning, like me, only are entitled to liveries and
crests." This Madame says, inviting her guests to take seats at her
banquet-table, at the head of which she stands, the Judge on her
right, Mr. Soloman on her left. Her china is of the most elaborate
description, embossed and gilt; her plate is of pure silver, and
massive; she has vases and candelabras of the same metal; and her
cutlery is of the most costly description. No house in the country
can boast a more exact taste in their selection. At each plate a
silver holder stands, bearing a bouquet of delicately-arranged
flowers. A trellise of choice flowers, interspersed here and there
with gorgeous bouquets in porcelain vases, range along the centre of
the table; which presents the appearance of a bed of fresh flowers
variegated with delicious fruits. Her guests are to her choicer than
her fruits; her fruits are choicer than her female wares. No
entertainment of this kind would be complete without Judge
Sleepyhorn and Mr. Soloman. They countenance vice in its most
insidious form-they foster crime; without crime their trade would be
damaged. The one cultivates, that the other may reap the harvest and
maintain his office.

"I see," says Mr. Soloman, in reply to the old hostess, "not the
slightest objection to your being a princess-not the slightest! And,
to be frank about the matter, I know of no one who would better
ornament the position."

"Your compliments are too liberally bestowed, Mr. Soloman."

"Not at all! 'Pon my honor, now, there is a chance for you to bring
that thing about in a very short time. There is Grouski, the Polish
exile, a prince of pure blood. Grouski is poor, wants to get back to
Europe. He wants a wife, too. Grouski is a high old fellow-a most
celebrated man, fought like a hero for the freedom of his country;
and though an exile here, would be received with all the honors due
to a prince in either Italy, France or England.

"A very respectable gentleman, no doubt; but a prince of pure blood,
Mr. Soloman, is rather a scarce article these days."

"Not a bit of it-why there is lots of exiled Princes all over this
country. They are modest men, you know, like me; and having got it
into their heads that we don't like royal blood, rather keep the
fact of their birth to themselves. As for Grouski! why his history
is as familiar to every American who takes any interest in these
things, as is the history of poor Kossuth. I only say this, Madame
Flamingo, to prove to you that Grouski is none of your mock
articles. And what is more, I have several times heard him speak
most enthusiastically of you."

"Of me!" interrupts the old hostess, blushing. "I respect Grouski,
and the more so for his being a poor prince in exile." Madame orders
her servants, who are screwed into bright liveries, to bring on some
sparkling Moselle. This done, and the glasses filled with the
sparkling beverage, Mr. Soloman rises to propose a toast; although,
as he says, it is somewhat out of place, two rounds having only
succeeded the soup: "I propose the health of our generous host, to
whom we owe so much for the superb manner in which she has catered
for our amusement. Here's that we may speedily have the pleasure of
paying our respects to her as the Princess Grouski." Madame Flamingo
bows, the toast is drunk with cheers, and she begins to think there
is something in it after all.

"Make as light of it as you please, ladies and gentlemen-many
stranger things have come to pass. As for the exile, Grouski, I
always esteemed him a very excellent gentleman."

"Exactly!" interposes the Judge, tipping his glass, and preparing
his appetite for the course of game-broiled partridges, rice-birds,
and grouse-which is being served by the waiters. "No one more
worthy," he pursues, wiping his sleepy face with his napkin, "of
being a princess. Education, wealth, and taste, you have; and with
Grouski, there is nothing to prevent the happy consummation-nothing!
I beg to assure you." Madame Flamingo makes a most courteous bow,
and with an air of great dignity condescends to say she hopes
gentlemen of the highest standing in Charleston have for ten years
or more had the strongest proofs of her ability to administer the
offices of a lady of station. "But you know," she pursues, hoping
ladies and gentlemen will be kind enough to keep their glasses full,
"people are become so pious now-a-days that they are foolish enough
to attach a stigma to our business."

"Pooh, pooh!" interrupts the accommodation man, having raised his
glass in compliment to a painted harlot. "Once in Europe, and under
the shadow of the wife of Prince Grouski, the past would be wiped
out; your money would win admirers, while your being a princess
would make fashionable society your tool. The very atmosphere of
princesses is full of taint; but it is sunk in the rank, and rather
increases courtiers. In France your untainted princess would
prognosticate the second coming of - , well, I will not profane."

"Do not, I beg of you," says Madame, blushing. "I am scrupulously
opposed to profanity." And then there breaks upon the ear music that
seems floating from an enchanted chamber, so soft and dulcet does it
mingle with the coarse laughing and coarser wit of the banqueters.
At this feast of flowers may be seen the man high in office, the
grave merchant, the man entrusted with the most important affairs of
the commonwealth-the sage and the charlatan. Sallow-faced and
painted women, more undressed than dressed, sit beside them, hale
companions. Respectable society regards the Judge a fine old
gentleman; respectable society embraces Mr. Soloman, notwithstanding
he carries on a business, as we shall show, that brings misery upon
hundreds. Twice has he received a large vote as candidate for the
General Assembly.

A little removed from the old Judge (excellent man) sits Anna
Bonard, like a jewel among stones less brilliant, George Mullholland
on her left. Her countenance wears an expression of gentleness,
sweet and touching. Her silky black hair rolls in wavy folds down
her voluptuous shoulders, a fresh carnatic flush suffuses her
cheeks, her great black eyes, so beautifully arched with heavy
lashes, flash incessantly, and to her bewitching charms is added a
pensive smile that now lights up her features, then subsides into
melancholy.

"What think you of my statuary?" inquired the old hostess, "and my
antiques? Have I not taste enough for a princess?" How soft the
carpet, how rich its colors! Those marble mantel-pieces, sculptured
in female figures, how massive! How elegantly they set off each end
of the hall, as we shall call this room; and how sturdily they bear
up statuettes, delicately executed in alabaster and Parian, of
Byron, Goethe, Napoleon, and Charlemagne-two on each. And there,
standing between two Gothic windows on the front of the hall, is an
antique side-table, of curious design. The windows are draped with
curtains of rich purple satin, with embroidered cornice skirts and
heavy tassels. On this antique table, and between the undulating
curtains, is a marble statue of a female in a reclining posture, her
right hand supporting her head, her dishevelled hair flowing down
her shoulder. The features are soft, calm, and almost grand. It is
simplicity sleeping, Madame Flamingo says. On the opposite side of
the hall are pedestals of black walnut, with mouldings in gilt, on
which stand busts of Washington and Lafayette, as if they were
unwilling spectators of the revelry. A venerable recline, that may
have had a place in the propylвАШa, or served to decorate the halls of
Versailles in the days of Napoleon, has here a place beneath the
portrait of Jefferson. This humble tribute the old hostess says she
pays to democracy. And at each end of the hall are double alcoves,
over the arches of which are great spread eagles, holding in their
beaks the points of massive maroon-colored drapery that falls over
the sides, forming brilliant depressions. In these alcoves are
groups of figures and statuettes, and parts of statuettes, legless
and armless, and all presenting a rude and mutilated condition. What
some of them represented it would have puzzled the ancient Greeks to



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 11 of 29)