F. Colburn Adams.

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

. (page 12 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 12 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

decypher. Madame, nevertheless, assures her guests she got them from
among the relics of Italian and Grecian antiquity. You may do
justice to her taste on living statuary; but her rude and decrepit
wares, like those owned and so much valued by our New York patrons
of the arts, you may set down as belonging to a less antique age of
art. And there are chairs inlaid with mosaic and pearl, and
upholstered with the richest and brightest satin damask, - revealing,
however, that uncouthness of taste so characteristic of your Fifth
Avenue aristocrat.

Now cast your eye upward to the ceiling. It is frescoed with themes
of a barbaric age. The finely-outlined figure of a female adorns the
centre. Her loins are enveloped in what seems a mist; and in her
right hand, looking as if it were raised from the groundwork, she
holds gracefully the bulb of a massive chandelier, from the jets of
which a refulgent light is reflected upon the flowery banquet table.
Madame smilingly says it is the Goddess of Love, an exact copy of
the one in the temple of Jupiter Olympus. Another just opposite,
less voluptuous in its outlines, she adds, is intended for a copy of
the fabled goddess, supposed by the ancients to have thrown off her
wings to illustrate the uncertainty of fortune.

Course follows course, of viands the most delicious, and sumptuously
served. The wine cup now flows freely, the walls reecho the coarse
jokes and coarser laughs of the banqueters, and leaden eyelids,
languid faces, and reeling brains, mark the closing scene. Such is
the gorgeous vice we worship, such the revelries we sanction, such
the insidious debaucheries we shield with the mantle of our
laws-laws made for the accommodation of the rich, for the punishment
only of the poor. And a thousand poor in our midst suffer for bread
while justice sleeps.

Midnight is upon the banqueters, the music strikes up a last march,
the staggering company retire to the stifled air of resplendent
chambers. The old hostess contemplates herself as a princess, and
seriously believes an alliance with Grouski would not be the
strangest thing in the world. There is, however, one among the
banqueters who seems to have something deeper at heart than the
transitory offerings on the table-one whose countenance at times
assumes a thoughtfulness singularly at variance with those around
her. It is Anna Bonard.

Only to-day did George Mullholland reveal to her the almost hopeless
condition of poor Tom Swiggs, still confined in the prison, with
criminals for associates, and starving. She had met Tom when fortune
was less ruthless; he had twice befriended her while in New York.
Moved by that sympathy for the suffering which is ever the purest
offspring of woman's heart, no matter how low her condition, she
resolved not to rest until she had devised the means of his release.
Her influence over the subtle-minded old Judge she well knew, nor
was she ignorant of the relations existing between him and the
accommodation man.

On the conclusion of the feast she invites them to her chamber. They
are not slow to accept the invitation. "Be seated, gentlemen, be
seated," she says, preserving a calmness of manner not congenial to
the feelings of either of her guests. She places chairs for them at
the round table, upon the marble top of which an inlaid portfolio
lies open.

"Rather conventional," stammers Mr. Snivel, touching the Judge
significantly on the arm, as they take seats. Mr. Snivel is fond of
good wine, and good wine has so mellowed his constitution that he is
obliged to seek support for his head in his hands.

"I'd like a little light on this 'ere plot. Peers thar's somethin' a
foot," responds the Judge.

Anna interposes by saying they shall know quick enough. Placing a
pen and inkstand on the table, she takes her seat opposite them, and
commences watching their declining consciousness. "Thar," ejaculates
the old Judge, his moody face becoming dark and sullen, "let us have
the wish."

"You owe me an atonement, and you can discharge it by gratifying my

"Women," interposes the old Judge, dreamily, "always have wishes to
gratify. W-o-l, if its teu sign a warrant, hang a nigger, tar and
feather an abolitionist, ride the British Consul out a town, or send
a dozen vagrants to the whipping-post-I'm thar. Anything my hand's
in at!" incoherently mumbles this judicial dignitary.

Mr. Snivel having reminded the Judge that ten o'clock to-morrow
morning is the time appointed for meeting Splitwood, the "nigger
broker," who furnishes capital with which they start a new paper for
the new party, drops away into a refreshing sleep, his head on the

"Grant me, as a favor, an order for the release of poor Tom Swiggs.
You cannot deny me this, Judge," says Anna, with an arch smile, and
pausing for a reply.

"Wol, as to that," responds this high functionary, "if I'd power,
'twouldn't be long afore I'd dew it, though his mother'd turn the
town upside down; but I hain't no power in the premises. I make it a
rule, on and off the bench, never to refuse the request of a pretty
woman. Chivalry, you know."

"For your compliment, Judge, I thank you. The granting my request,
however, would be more grateful to my feelings."

"It speaks well of your heart, my dear girl; but, you see, I'm only
a Judge. Mr. Snivel, here, probably committed him ('Snivel! here,
wake up!' he says, shaking him violently), he commits everybody.
Being a Justice of the Peace, you see, and justices of the peace
being everything here, I may prevail on him to grant your request!"
pursues the Judge, brightening up at the earnest manner in which
Anna makes her appeal. "Snivel! Snivel! - Justice Snivel, come, wake
up. Thar is a call for your sarvices." The Judge continues to shake
the higher functionary violently. Mr. Snivel with a modest snore
rouses from his nap, says he is always ready to do a bit of a good
turn. "If you are, then," interposes the fair girl, "let it be made
known now. Grant me an order of release for Tom Swiggs. Remember
what will be the consequence of a refusal!"

"Tom Swiggs! Tom Swiggs! - why I've made a deal of fees of that
fellow. But, viewing it in either a judicial or philosophical light,
he's quite as well where he is. They don't give them much to eat in
jail I admit, but it is a great place for straightening the morals
of a rum-head like Tom. And he has got down so low that all the
justices in the city couldn't make him fit for respectable society."
Mr. Snivel yawns and stretches his arms athwart.

"But you can grant me the order independent of what respectable
society will do."

Mr. Snivel replies, bowing, a pretty woman is more than a match for
the whole judiciary. He will make a good amount of fees out of Tom
yet; and what his testy old mother declines to pay, he will charge
to the State, as the law gives him a right to do.

"Then I am to understand!" quickly retorts Anna, rising from her
chair, with an expression of contempt on her countenance, and a
satirical curl on her lip, "you have no true regard for me then;
your friendship is that of the knave, who has nothing to give after
his ends are served. I will leave you!" The Judge takes her gently
by the arm; indignantly she pushes him from her, as her great black
eyes flash with passion, and she seeks for the door. Mr. Snivel has
placed himself against it, begs she will be calm. "Why," he says,
"get into a passion at that which was but a joke." The Judge touches
him on the arm significantly, and whispers in his ear, "grant her
the order-grant it, for peace sake, Justice Snivel."

"Now, if you will tell me why you take so deep an interest in
getting them fellows out of prison, I will grant the order of
release," Mr. Snivel says, and with an air of great gallantry leads
her back to her chair.

"None but friendship for one who served me when he had it in his

"I see! I see!" interrupts our gallant justice; "the renewal of an
old acquaintance; you are to play the part of Don Quixote, - he, the
mistress. It's well enough there should be a change in the knights,
and that the stripling who goes about in the garb of the clergy, and
has been puzzling his wits how to get Tom out of prison for the last
six months - "

"Your trades never agree;" parenthesises Anna.

"Should yield the lance to you."

"Who better able to wield it in this chivalrous atmosphere? It only
pains my own feelings to confess myself an abandoned woman; but I
have a consolation in knowing how powerful an abandoned woman may be
in Charleston."

An admonition from the old Judge, and Mr. Snivel draws his chair to
the table, upon which he places his left elbow, rests his head on
his hand. "This fellow will get out; his mother-I have pledged my
honor to keep him fast locked up-will find it out, and there'll be a
fuss among our first families," he whispers. Anna pledges him her
honor, a thing she never betrays, that the secret of Tom's release
shall be a matter of strict confidence. And having shook hands over
it, Mr. Snivel seizes the pen and writes an order of release,
commanding the jailer to set at liberty one Tom Swiggs, committed as
a vagrant upon a justice's warrant, &c., &c., &c. "There," says
Justice Snivel, "the thing is done-now for a kiss;" and the fair
girl permits him to kiss her brow. "Me too; the bench and the bar!"
rejoins the Judge, following the example of his junior. And with an
air of triumph the victorious girl bears away what at this moment
she values a prize.



ANNA gives George Mullholland the letter of release, and on the
succeeding morning he is seen entering at the iron gate of the wall
that encloses the old prison. "Bread! give me bread," greets his ear
as soon as he enters the sombre old pile. He walks through the
debtors' floor, startles as he hears the stifled cry for bread, and
contemplates with pained feelings the wasting forms and sickly faces
that everywhere meet his eye. The same piercing cry grates upon his
senses as he sallies along the damp, narrow aisle of the second
floor, lined on both sides with small, filthy cells, in which are
incarcerated men whose crime is that of having committed "assault
and battery," and British seamen innocent of all crime except that
of having a colored skin. If anything less than a gentleman commit
assault and battery, we punish him with imprisonment; we have no law
to punish gentlemen who commit such offences.

Along the felon's aisle-in the malarious cells where "poor"
murderers and burglars are chained to die of the poisonous
atmosphere, the same cry tells its mournful tale. Look into the dark
vista of this little passage, and you will see the gleaming of
flabby arms and shrunken hands. Glance into the apertures out of
which they protrude so appealingly, you will hear the dull clank
of chains, see the glare of vacant eyes, and shudder at the pale,
cadaverous faces of beings tortured with starvation. A low, hoarse
whisper, asks you for bread; a listless countenance quickens at your
footfall. Oh! could you but feel the emotion that has touched that
shrunken form which so despondingly waits the coming of a messenger
of mercy. That system of cruelty to prisoners which so disgraced
England during the last century, and which for her name she would
were erased from her history, we preserve here in all its
hideousness. The Governor knows nothing, and cares nothing about the
prison; the Attorney-General never darkens its doors; the public
scarce give a thought for those within its walls-and to one man, Mr.
Hardscrabble, is the fate of these wretched beings entrusted. And so
prone has become the appetite of man to speculate on the misfortunes
of his fellow-man, that this good man, as we shall call him,
tortures thus the miserable beings entrusted to his keeping, and
makes it a means of getting rich. Pardon, reader, this digression.

George, elated with the idea of setting Tom at liberty, found the
young theologian at the prison, and revealed to him the fact that he
had got the much-desired order. To the latter this seemed
strange-not that such a person as George could have succeeded in
what he had tried in vain to effect, but that there was a mystery
about it. It is but justice to say that the young theologian had for
six months used every exertion in his power, without avail, to
procure an order of release. He had appealed to the
Attorney-General, who declared himself powerless, but referred him
to the Governor. The Governor could take no action in the premises,
and referred him to the Judge of the Sessions. The Judge of the
Sessions doubted his capacity to interfere, and advised a petition
to the Clerk of the Court. The Clerk of the Court, who invariably
took it upon himself to correct the judge's dictum, decided that the
judge could not interfere, the case being a committal by a Justice
of the Peace, and not having been before the sessions. And against
these high functionaries-the Governor, Attorney-General, Judge of
the Sessions, and Clerk of the Court, was Mr. Soloman and Mrs.
Swiggs all-powerful. There was, however, another power superior to
all, and that we have described in the previous chapter.

Accompanied by the brusque old jailer, George and the young
theologian make their way to the cell in which Tom is confined.

"Hallo! Tom," exclaims George, as he enters the cell, "boarding at
the expense of the State yet, eh?" Tom lay stretched on a blanket in
one corner of the cell, his faithful old friend, the sailor,
watching over him with the solicitude of a brother. "I don't know
how he'd got on if it hadn't bin for the old sailor, yonder," says
the jailer, pointing to Spunyarn, who is crouched down at the great
black fire-place, blowing the coals under a small pan. "He took to
Tom when he first came in, and hasn't left him for a day. He'll
steal to supply Tom's hunger, and fight if a prisoner attempts to
impose upon his charge. He has rigged him out, you see, with his
pea-coat and overalls," continues the man, folding his arms.

"I am sorry, Tom - "

"Yes," says Tom, interrupting the young theologian, "I know you are.
You don't find me to have kept my word; and because I haven't you
don't find me improved much. I can't get out; and if I can't get
out, what's the use of my trying to improve? I don't say this
because I don't want to improve. I have no one living who ought to
care for me, but my mother. And she has shown what she cares for

"Everything is well. (The young theologian takes Tom by the hand.)
We have got your release. You are a free man, now."

"My release!" exclaims the poor outcast, starting to his feet, "my

"Yes," kindly interposes the jailer, "you may go, Tom. Stone walls,
bolts and chains have no further use for you." The announcement
brings tears to his eyes; he cannot find words to give utterance to
his emotions. He drops the young theologian's hand, grasps warmly
that of George Mullholland, and says, the tears falling fast down
his cheeks, "now I will be a new man."

"God bless Tom," rejoins the old sailor, who has left the fire-place
and joined in the excitement of the moment. "I alwas sed there war
better weather ahead, Tom." He pats him encouragingly on the
shoulder, and turns to the bystanders, continuing with a childlike
frankness: "he's alwas complained with himself about breaking his
word and honor with you, sir - "

The young theologian says the temptation was more than he could

"Yes sir! - that was it. He, poor fellow, wasn't to blame. One brought
him in a drop, and challenged him; then another brought him in a
drop, and challenged him; and the vote-cribber would get generous
now and then, and bring him a drop, saying how he would like to crib
him if he was only out, on the general election coming on, and make
him take a drop of what he called election whiskey. And you know,
sir, it's hard for a body to stand up against all these things,
specially when a body's bin disappointed in love. It's bin a hard up
and down with him. To-day he would make a bit of good weather, and
to-morrow he'd be all up in a hurricane." And the old sailor takes a
fresh quid of tobacco, wipes Tom's face, gets the brush and fusses
over him, and tells him to cheer up, now that he has got his

"Tom would know if his mother ordered it."

"No! she must not know that you are at large," rejoins George.

"Not that I am at large?"

"I have," interposes the young theologian, "provided a place for
you. We have a home for you, a snug little place at the house of old
McArthur - "

"Old McArthur," interpolates Tom, smiling, "I'm not a curiosity."

George Mullholland says he may make love to Maria, that she will
once more be a sister. Touched by the kindly act on his behalf, Tom
replies saying she was always kind to him, watched over him when no
one else would, and sought with tender counsels to effect his
reform, to make him forget his troubles.

"Thank you! - my heart thanks you more forcibly than my tongue can. I
feel a man. I won't touch drink again: no I won't. You won't find me
breaking my honor this time. A sick at heart man, like me, has no
power to buffet disappointment. I was a wretch, and like a wretch
without a mother's sympathy, found relief only in drinks - "

"And such drinks!" interposes the old sailor, shrugging his
shoulders. "Good weather, and a cheer up, now and then, from a
friend, would have saved him."

Now there appears in the doorway, the stalwarth figure of the
vote-cribber, who, with sullen face, advances mechanically toward
Tom, pauses and regards him with an air of suspicion. "You are not
what you ought to be, Tom," he says, doggedly, and turns to the
young Missionary. "Parson," he continues, "this 'ere pupil of
yourn's a hard un. He isn't fit for respectable society. Like a
sponge, he soaks up all the whiskey in jail." The young man turns
upon him a look more of pity than scorn, while the jailer shakes his
head admonishingly. The vote-cribber continues insensible to the
admonition. He, be it known, is a character of no small importance
in the political world. Having a sort of sympathy for the old jail
he views his transient residences therein rather necessary than
otherwise. As a leading character is necessary to every grade of
society, so also does he plume himself the aristocrat of the prison.
Persons committed for any other than offences against the election
laws, he holds in utter contempt. Indeed, he says with a good deal
of truth, that as fighting is become the all necessary qualification
of our Senators and Representatives to Congress, he thinks of
offering himself for the next vacancy. The only rival he fears is
"handsome Charley."

An election bully, the ugliest man in Charleston, and the deadly foe
of Mingle. The accommodations are not what they might be, but, being
exempt from rent and other items necessary to a prominent
politician, he accepts them as a matter of economy.

The vote-cribber is sure of being set free on the approach of an
election. We may as well confess it before the world-he is an
indispensable adjunct to the creating of Legislators, Mayors,
Congressmen, and Governors. Whiskey is not more necessary to the
reputation of our mob-politicians than are the physical powers of
Milman Mingle to the success of the party he honors with his
services. Nor do his friends scruple at consulting him on matters of
great importance to the State while in his prison sanctuary.

"I'm out to-morrow, parson," he resumes; the massive fingers of his
right hand wandering into his crispy, red beard, and again over his
scarred face. "Mayor's election comes off two weeks from
Friday-couldn't do without me-can knock down any quantity of men-you
throw a plumper, I take it?" The young Missionary answers in the
negative by shaking his head, while the kind old sailor continues to
fuss over and prepare Tom for his departure. "Tom is about to leave
us," says the old sailor, by way of diverting the vote-cribber's
attention. That dignitary, so much esteemed by our fine old
statesmen, turns to Tom, and inquires if he has a vote.

Tom has a vote, but declares he will not give it to the
vote-cribber's party. The politician says "p'raps," and draws from
his bosom a small flask. "Whiskey, Tom," he says, - "no use offering
it to parsons, eh? (he casts an insinuating look at the parson.)
First-chop election whiskey-a sup and we're friends until I get you
safe under the lock of my crib. Our Senators to Congress patronize
this largely." The forlorn freeman, with a look of contempt for the
man who thus upbraids him, dashes the drug upon the floor, to the
evident chagrin of the politician, who, to conceal his feelings,
turns to George Mulholland, and mechanically inquires if he has a
vote. Being answered in the negative, he picks up his flask and
walks away, saying: "what rubbish!"

Accompanied by his friends and the old sailor, Tom sallies forth
into the atmosphere of sweet freedom. As the old jailer swings back
the outer gate, Spunyarn grasps his friend and companion in sorrow
warmly by the hand, his bronzed face brightens with an air of
satisfaction, and like pure water gushing from the rude rock his
eyes fill with tears. How honest, how touching, how pure the
friendly lisp-good bye! "Keep up a strong heart, Tom, - never mind me.
I don't know by what right I'm kept here, and starved; but I expect
to get out one of these days; and when I do you may reckon on me as
your friend. Keep the craft in good trim till then; don't let the
devil get master. Come and see us now and then, and above all, never
give up the ship during a storm." Tom's emotions are too deeply
touched. He has no reply to make, but presses in silence the hand of
the old sailor, takes his departure, and turns to wave him an adieu.



OUR very chivalric dealers in human merchandise, like philosophers
and philanthropists, are composed merely of flesh and blood, while
their theories are alike influenced by circumstances. Those of the
first, we (the South) are, at times, too apt to regard as sublimated
and refined, while we hold the practices of the latter such as
divest human nature of everything congenial. Nevertheless we can
assure our readers that there does not exist a class of men who so
much pride themselves on their chivalry as some of our opulent
slave-dealers. Did we want proof to sustain what we have said we
could not do better than refer to Mr. Forsheu, that very excellent
gentleman. Mrs. Swiggs held him in high esteem, and so far regarded
his character for piety and chivalry unblemished, that she consigned
to him her old slave of seventy years-old Molly. Molly must be sold,
the New York Tract Society must have a mite, and Sister Abijah
Slocum's very laudable enterprise of getting Brother Singleton Spyke
off to Antioch must be encouraged. And Mr. Forsheu is very kind to
the old people he sells. It would, indeed, be difficult for the
distant reader to conceive a more striking instance of a man, grown
rich in a commerce that blunts all the finer qualities of our
nature, preserving a gentleness, excelled only by his real goodness
of heart.

When the old slave, leaning on her crutch, stood before Mr. Forsheu,
her face the very picture of age and starvation, his heart recoiled
at the thought of selling her in her present condition. He read the
letter she bore, contemplated her with an air of pity, and turning
to Mr. Benbow, his methodical book-keeper of twenty years, who had
added and subtracted through a wilderness of bodies and souls,
ordered him to send the shrunken old woman into the pen, on feed.
Mr. Forsheu prided himself on the quality of people sold at his
shambles, and would not for the world hazard his reputation on old
Molly, till she was got in better condition. Molly rather liked
this, inasmuch as she had been fed on corn and prayers exclusively,
and more prayers than corn, which is become the fashion with our
much-reduced first families. For nearly four months she enjoyed,
much to the discomfiture of her august owner, the comforts of Mr.
Forsheu's pen. Daily did the anxious old lady study her Milton, and
dispatch a slave to inquire if her piece of aged property had found
a purchaser. The polite vender preserved, with uncommon philosophy,
his temper. He enjoined patience. The condition and age of the
property were, he said, much in the way of sale. Then Mrs. Swiggs
began questioning his ability as a merchant. Aspersions of this

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 12 of 29)