Copyright
F. Colburn Adams.

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

. (page 13 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 13 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


kind, the polite vender of people could not bear with. He was a man
of enormous wealth, the result of his skill in the sale of people.
He was the president of an insurance company, a bank director, a
commissioner of the orphan asylum, and a steward of the jockey club.
To his great relief, for he began to have serious misgivings about
his outlay on old Molly, there came along one day an excellent
customer. This was no less a person than Madame Flamingo. What was
singular of this very distinguished lady was, that she always had a
use for old slaves no one else ever thought of. Her yard was full of
aged and tottering humanity. One cleaned knives, another fetched ice
from the ice-house, a third blacked boots, a fourth split wood, a
fifth carried groceries, and a sixth did the marketing. She had a
decayed negro for the smallest service; and, to her credit be it
said, they were as contented and well fed a body of tottering age as
could be found in old Carolina.

Her knife-cleaning machine having taken it into his head to die one
day, she would purchase another. Mr. Forsheu, with that urbanity we
so well understand how to appreciate, informed the distinguished
lady that he had an article exactly suited to her wants. Forthwith,
Molly was summoned into her presence. Madame Flamingo, moved almost
to tears at the old slave's appearance, purchased her out of pure
sympathy, as we call it, and to the great relief of Mr. Forsheu,
lost no time in paying one hundred and forty dollars down in gold
for her. In deference to Mr. Hadger, the House of The Foreign
Missions, and the very excellent Tract Society, of New York, we will
not here extend on how the money was got. The transaction was purely
commercial: why should humanity interpose? We hold it strictly legal
that institutions created for the purpose of enlightening the
heathen have no right to ask by what means the money constituting
their donations is got.

The comforts of Mr. Forsheu's pen, - the hominy, grits, and rest, made
the old slave quite as reluctant about leaving him as she had before
been in parting with Lady Swiggs. Albeit, she shook his hand with
equal earnestness, and lisped "God bless Massa," with a tenderness
and simplicity so touching, that had not Madame Flamingo been an
excellent diplomat, reconciling the matter by assuring her that she
would get enough to eat, and clothes to wear, no few tears would
have been shed. Madame, in addition to this incentive, intimated
that she might attend a prayer meeting now and then-perhaps see
Cicero. However, Molly could easily have forgotten Cicero, inasmuch
as she had enjoyed the rare felicity of thirteen husbands, all of
whom Lady Swiggs had sold when it suited her own convenience.

Having made her purchase, Madame very elegantly bid the gallant
merchant good morning, hoping he would not forget her address, and
call round when it suited his convenience. Mr. Forsheu, his hat
doffed, escorted her to her carriage, into the amber-colored lining
of which she gracefully settled her majestic self, as a
slightly-browned gentleman in livery closed the bright door, took
her order with servile bows, and having motioned to the coachman,
the carriage rolled away, and was soon out of sight. Monsieur
Grouski, it may be well to add here, was discovered curled up in one
corner; he smiled, and extended his hand very graciously to Madame
as she entered the carriage.

Like a pilgrim in search of some promised land, Molly adjusted her
crutch, and over the sandy road trudged, with truculent face, to her
new home, humming to herself "dah-is-a-time-a-comin, den da Lor' he
be good!!"

On the following morning, Lady Swiggs received her account current,
Mr. Forsheu being exceedingly prompt in business. There was one
hundred and twenty-nine days' feed, commissions, advertising, and
sundry smaller charges, which reduced the net balance to one hundred
and three dollars. Mrs. Swiggs, with an infatuation kindred to that
which finds the State blind to its own poverty, stubbornly refused
to believe her slaves had declined in value. Hence she received the
vender's account with surprise and dissatisfaction. However, the
sale being binding, she gradually accommodated her mind to the
result, and began evolving the question of how to make the amount
meet the emergency. She must visit the great city of New York; she
must see Sister Slocum face to face; Brother Spyke's mission must
have fifty dollars; how much could she give the Tract Society? Here
was a dilemma-one which might have excited the sympathy of the House
of the "Foreign Missions." The dignity of the family, too, was at
stake. Many sleepless nights did this difficult matter cause the
august old lady. She thought of selling another cripple! Oh! that
would not do. Mr. Keepum had a lien on them; Mr. Keepum was a man of
iron-heart. Suddenly it flashed upon her mind that she had already
been guilty of a legal wrong in selling old Molly. Mr. Soloman had
doubtless described her with legal minuteness in the bond of
security for the two hundred dollars. Her decrepid form; her
corrugated face; her heavy lip; her crutch, and her
piety-everything, in a word, but her starvation, had been set down.
Well! Mr. Soloman might, she thought, overlook in the multiplicity
of business so small a discrepancy. She, too, had a large circle of
distinguished friends. If the worst came to the worst she would
appeal to them. There, too, was Sir Sunderland Swiggs' portrait,
very valuable for its age; she might sell the family arms, such
things being in great demand with the chivalry; her antique
furniture, too, was highly prized by our first families. Thus Lady
Swiggs contemplated these mighty relics of past greatness. Our
celtic Butlers and Brookses never recurred to the blood of their
querulous ancestors with more awe than did this memorable lady to
her decayed relics. Mr. Israel Moses, she cherished a hope, would
give a large sum for the portrait; the family arms he would value at
a high figure; the old furniture he would esteem a prize. But to Mr.
Moses and common sense, neither the blood of the Butlers, nor Lady
Swiggs' rubbish, were safe to loan money upon. The Hebrew gentleman
was not so easily beguiled.

The time came when it was necessary to appeal to Mr. Hadger. That
gentleman held the dignity of the Swiggs family in high esteem, but
shook his head when he found the respectability of the house the
only security offered in exchange for a loan. Ah! a thought flashed
to her relief, the family watch and chain would beguile the Hebrew
gentleman. With these cherished mementoes of the high old family,
(she would under no other circumstance have parted with for
uncounted gold,) she in time seduced Mr. Israel Moses to make a
small advance. Duty, stern and demanding, called her to New York.
Forced to reduce her generosity, she, not without a sigh, made up
her mind to give only thirty dollars to each of the institutions she
had made so many sacrifices to serve. And thus, with a reduced
platform, as our politicians have it, she set about preparing for
the grand journey. Regards the most distinguished were sent to all
the first families; the St. Cecilia had notice of her intended
absence; no end of tea parties were given in honor of the event.
Apparently happy with herself, with every one but poor Tom, our
august lady left in the Steamer one day. With a little of that
vanity the State deals so largely in, Mrs. Swiggs thought every
passenger on board wondering and staring at her.

While then she voyages and dreams of the grand reception waiting her
in New York, - of Sister Slocum's smiles, of the good of the heathen
world, and of those nice evening gatherings she will enjoy with the
pious, let us, gentle reader, look in at the house of Absalom
McArthur.

To-day Tom Swiggs feels himself free, and it is high noon. Downcast
of countenance he wends his way along the fashionable side of
King-street. The young theologian is at his side. George Mullholland
has gone to the house of Madame Flamingo. He will announce the glad
news to Anna. The old antiquarian dusts his little counter with a
stubby broom, places various curiosities in the windows, and about
the doors, stands contemplating them with an air of satisfaction,
then proceeds to drive a swarm of flies that hover upon the ceiling,
into a curiously-arranged trap that he has set.

"What! - my young friend, Tom Swiggs!" exclaims the old man, toddling
toward Tom, and grasping firmly his hand, as he enters the door.
"You are welcome to my little place, which shall be a home." Tom
hangs down his head, receives the old man's greeting with shyness.
"Your poor father and me, Tom, used to sit here many a time. (The
old man points to an old sofa.) We were friends. He thought much of
me, and I had a high opinion of him; and so we used to sit for
hours, and talk over the deeds of the old continentals. Your mother
and him didn't get along over-well together; she had more dignity
than he could well digest: but that is neither here nor there."

"I hope, in time," interrupts Tom, "to repay your kindness. I am
willing to ply myself to work, though it degrades one in the eyes of
our society."

"As to that," returns the old man, "why, don't mention it. Maria,
you know, will be a friend to you. Come away now and see her." And
taking Tom by the hand, (the theologian has withdrawn,) he becomes
enthusiastic, leads him through the dark, narrow passage into the
back parlor, where he is met by Maria, and cordially welcomed. "Why,
Tom, what a change has come over you," she ejaculates, holding his
hand, and viewing him with the solicitude of a sister, who hastens
to embrace a brother returned after a long absence. Letting fall his
begrimed hand, she draws up the old-fashioned rocking chair, and
bids him be seated. He shakes his head moodily, says he is not so
bad as he seems, and hopes yet to make himself worthy of her
kindness. He has been the associate of criminals; he has suffered
punishment; he feels himself loathed by society; he cannot divest
himself of the odium clinging to his garments. Fain would he go to
some distant clime, and there seek a refuge from the odium of
felons.

"Let no such thoughts enter your mind, Tom," says the affectionate
girl; "divest yourself at once of feelings that can only do you
injury. You have engaged my thoughts during your troubles. Twice I
begged your mother to honor me with an interview. We were humble
people; she condescended at last. But she turned a deaf ear to me
when I appealed to her for your release, merely inquiring if-like
that other jade-I had become enamored of - " Maria pauses, blushing.

"I would like to see my mother," interposes Tom.

"Had I belonged to our grand society, the case had been different,"
resumes Maria.

"Truly, Maria," stammers Tom, "had I supposed there was one in the
world who cared for me, I had been a better man."

"As to that, why we were brought up together, Tom. We knew each
other as children, and what else but respect could I have for you?
One never knows how much others think of them, for the - " Maria
blushes, checks herself, and watches the changes playing over Tom's
countenance. She was about to say the tongue of love was too often
silent.

It must be acknowledged that Maria had, for years, cherished a
passion for Tom. He, however, like many others of his class, was too
stupid to discover it. The girl, too, had been overawed by the
dignity of his mother. Thus, with feelings of pain did she watch the
downward course of one in whose welfare she took a deep interest.

"Very often those for whom we cherish the fondest affections, are
coldest in their demeanor towards us," pursues Maria.

"Can she have thought of me so much as to love me?" Tom questions
within himself; and Maria put an end to the conversation by ringing
the bell, commanding the old servant to hasten dinner. A plate must
be placed at the table for Tom.

The antiquarian, having, as he says, left the young people to
themselves, stands at his counter furbishing up sundry old
engravings, horse-pistols, pieces of coat-of-mail, and two large
scimitars, all of which he has piled together in a heap, and beside
which lay several chapeaus said to have belonged to distinguished
Britishers. Mr. Soloman suddenly makes his appearance in the little
shop, much to Mr. McArthur's surprise. "Say-old man! centurion!" he
exclaims, in a maudlin laugh, "Keepum's in the straps-is, I do
declare; Gadsden and he bought a lot of niggers-a monster drove of
'em, on shares. He wants that trifle of borrowed money-must have it.
Can have it back in a few days."

"Bless me," interrupts the old man, confusedly, "but off my little
things it will be hard to raise it. Times is hard, our people go,
like geese, to the North. They get rid of all their money there, and
their fancy-you know that, Mr. Snivel-is abroad, while they have,
for home, only a love to keep up slavery."

"I thought it would come to that," says Mr. Snivel, facetiously. The
antiquarian seems bewildered, commences offering excuses that rather
involve himself deeper, and finally concludes by pleading for a
delay. Scarce any one would have thought a person of Mr. McArthur's
position, indebted to Mr. Keepum; but so it was. It is very
difficult to tell whose negroes are not mortgaged to Mr. Keepum, how
many mortgages of plantation he has foreclosed, how many high old
families he has reduced to abject poverty, or how many poor but
respectable families he has disgraced. He has a reputation for
loaning money to parents, that he may rob their daughters of that
jewel the world refuses to give them back. And yet our best society
honor him, fawn over him, and bow to him. We so worship the god of
slavery, that our minds are become debased, and yet we seem
unconscious of it. Mr. Keepum did not lend money to the old
antiquarian without a purpose. That purpose, that justice which
accommodates itself to the popular voice, will aid him in gaining.

Mr. Snivel affects a tone of moderation, whispers in the old man's
ear, and says: "Mind you tell the fortune of this girl, Bonard, as I
have directed. Study what I have told you. If she be not the child
of Madame Montford, then no faith can be put in likenesses. I have
got in my possession what goes far to strengthen the suspicions now
rife concerning the fashionable New Yorker."

"There surely is a mystery about this woman, Mr. Snivel, as you say.
She has so many times looked in here to inquire about Mag Munday, a
woman in a curious line of life who came here, got down in the
world, as they all do, and used now and then to get the loan of a
trifle from me to keep her from starvation." (Mr. Snivel says, in
parentheses, he knows all about her.)

"Ha! ha! my old boy," says Mr. Snivel, frisking his fingers through
his light Saxon beard, "I have had this case in hand for some time.
It is strictly a private matter, nevertheless. They are a bad
lot-them New Yorkers, who come here to avoid their little delicate
affairs. I may yet make a good thing out of this, though. As for
that fellow, Mullholland, I intend getting him the whipping post. He
is come to be the associate of gentlemen; men high in office shower
upon him their favors. It is all to propitiate the friendship of
Bonard-I know it." Mr. Snivel concludes hurriedly, and departs into
the street, as our scene changes.






CHAPTER XVIII.

ANNA BONARD SEEKS AN INTERVIEW WITH THE ANTIQUARY.





IT is night. King street seems in a melancholy mood, the blue arch
of heaven is bespangled with twinkling stars, the moon has mounted
her high throne, and her beams, like messengers of love, dance
joyously over the calm waters of the bay, so serenely skirted with
dark woodland. The dull tramp of the guardman's horse now breaks the
stillness; then the measured tread of the heavily-armed patrol, with
which the city swarms at night, echoes and reoches along the narrow
streets. A theatre reeking with the fumes of whiskey and tobacco; a
sombre-looking guard-house, bristling with armed men, who usher
forth to guard the fears of tyranny, or drag in some wretched slave;
a dilapidated "Court House," at the corner, at which lazy-looking
men lounge; a castellated "Work House," so grand without, and so
full of bleeding hearts within; a "Poor House" on crutches, and in
which infirm age and poverty die of treatment that makes the heart
sicken-these are all the public buildings we can boast. Like ominous
mounds, they seem sleeping in the calm and serene night. Ah! we had
almost forgotten the sympathetic old hospital, with its verandas;
the crabbed looking "City Hall," with its port holes; and the
"Citadel," in which, when our youths have learned to fight duels, we
learn them how to fight their way out of the Union. Duelling is our
high art; getting out of the Union is our low. And, too, we have,
and make no small boast that we have, two or three buildings called
"Halls." In these our own supper-eating men riot, our soldiers drill
(soldiering is our presiding genius), and our mob-politicians waste
their spleen against the North. Unlike Boston, towering all bright
and vigorous in the atmosphere of freedom, we have no galleries of
statuary; no conservatories of paintings; no massive edifices of
marble, dedicated to art and science; no princely school-houses,
radiating their light of learning over a peace and justice-loving
community; no majestic exchange, of granite and polished marble, so
emblematic of a thrifty commerce; - we have no regal "State House" on
the lofty hill, no glittering colleges everywhere striking the eye.
The god of slavery-the god we worship, has no use for such temples;
public libraries are his prison; his civilization is like a dull
dead march; he is the enemy of his own heart, vitiating and making
drear whatever he touches. He wages war on art, science,
civilization! he trembles at the sight of temples reared for the
enlightening of the masses. Tyranny is his law, a cotton-bag his
judgment-seat. But we pride ourselves that we are a respectable
people-what more would you have us?

The night is chilly without, in the fire-place of the antiquary's
back parlor there burns a scanty wood fire. Tor has eaten his supper
and retired to a little closet-like room overhead, where, in bed, he
muses over what fell from Maria's lips, in their interview. Did she
really cherish a passion for him? had her solicitude in years past
something more than friendship in it? what did she mean? He was not
one of those whose place in a woman's heart could never be supplied.
How would an alliance with Maria affect his mother's dignity? All
these things Tom evolves over and over in his mind. In point of
position, a mechanic's daughter was not far removed from the slave;
a mechanic's daughter was viewed only as a good object of seduction
for some nice young gentleman. Antiquarians might get a few bows of
planter's sons, the legal gentry, and cotton brokers (these make up
our aristocracy), but practically no one would think of admitting
them into decent society. They, of right, belong to that vulgar herd
that live by labor at which the slave can be employed. To be
anything in the eyes of good society, you must only live upon the
earnings of slaves.

"Why," says Tom, "should I consult the dignity of a mother who
discards me? The love of this lone daughter of the antiquary, this
girl who strives to know my wants, and to promote my welfare, rises
superior to all. I will away with such thoughts! I will be a man!
Maria, with eager eye and thoughtful countenance, sits at the little
antique centre-table, reading Longfellow's Evangeline, by the pale
light of a candle. A lurid glare is shed over the cavern-like place.
The reflection plays curiously upon the corrugated features of the
old man, who, his favorite cat at his side, reclines on a stubby
little sofa, drawn well up to the fire. The poet would not select
Maria as his ideal of female loveliness; and yet there is a touching
modesty in her demeanor, a sweet smile ever playing over her
countenance, an artlessness in her conversation that more than makes
up for the want of those charms novel writers are pleased to call
transcendent. "Father!" she says, pausing, "some one knocks at the
outer door." The old man starts and listens, then hastens to open
it. There stands before him the figure of a strange female, veiled.
"I am glad to find you, old man. Be not suspicious of my coming at
this hour, for my mission is a strange one." The old man's crooked
eyes flash, his deep curling lip quivers, his hand vibrates the
candle he holds before him. "If on a mission to do nobody harm," he
responds, "then you are welcome." "You will pardon me; I have seen
you before. You have wished me well," she whispers in a musical
voice. Gracefully she raises her veil over her Spanish hood, and
advances cautiously, as the old man closes the door behind her. Then
she uncovers her head, nervously. The white, jewelled fingers of her
right hand, so delicate and tapering, wander over and smooth her
silky black hair, that falls in waves over her Ion-like brow. How
exquisite those features just revealed; how full of soul those
flashing black eyes; her dress, how chaste! "They call me Anna
Bonard," she speaks, timorously, "you may know me? - "

"Oh, I know you well," interrupts the old man, "your beauty has made
you known. What more would you have?"

"Something that will make me happy. Old man, I am unhappy. Tell me,
if you have the power, who I am. Am I an orphan, as has been told
me; or have I parents yet living, affluent, and high in society? Do
they seek me and cannot find me? Oh! let the fates speak, old man,
for this world has given me nothing but pain and shame. Am I - " she
pauses, her eyes wander to the floor, her cheeks crimson, she seizes
the old man by the hand, and her bosom heaves as if a fierce passion
had just been kindled within it.

The old man preserves his equanimity, says he has a fortune to tell
her. Fortunes are best told at midnight. The stars, too, let out
their secrets more willingly when the night-king rules. He bids her
follow him, and totters back to the little parlor. With a wise air,
he bids her be seated on the sofa, saying he never mistakes maidens
when they call at this hour.

Maria, who rose from the table at the entrance of the stranger,
bows, shuts her book mechanically, and retires. Can there be another
face so lovely? she questions within herself, as she pauses to
contemplate the stranger ere she disappears. The antiquary draws a
chair and seats himself beside Anna. "Thy life and destiny," he
says, fretting his bony fingers over the crown of his wig. "Blessed
is the will of providence that permits us to know the secrets of
destiny. Give me your hand, fair lady." Like a philosopher in deep
study, he wipes and adjusts his spectacles, then takes her right
hand and commences reading its lines. "Your history is an uncommon
one - "

"Yes," interrupts the girl, "mine has been a chequered life."

"You have seen sorrow enough, but will see more. You come of good
parents; but, ah! - there is a mystery shrouding your birth." ("And
that mystery," interposes the girl, "I want to have explained.")
"There will come a woman to reclaim you-a woman in high life; but
she will come too late - " (The girl pales and trembles.) "Yes,"
pursues the old man, looking more studiously at her hand, "she will
come too late." You will have admirers, and even suitors; but they
will only betray you, and in the end you will die of trouble. Ah!
there is a line that had escaped me. You may avert this dark
destiny-yes, you may escape the end that fate has ordained for you.
In neglect you came up, the companion of a man you think true to
you. But he is not true to you. Watch him, follow him-you will yet
find him out. Ha! ha! ha! these men are not to be trusted, my dear.
There is but one man who really loves you. He is an old man, a man
of station. He is your only true friend. I here see it marked." He
crosses her hand, and says there can be no mistaking it. "With that
man, fair girl, you may escape the dark destiny. But, above all
things, do not treat him coldly. And here I see by the sign that
Anna Bonard is not your name. The name was given you by a wizard."

"You are right, old man," speaks Anna, raising thoughtfully her
great black eyes, as the antiquary pauses and watches each change of
her countenance; "that name was given me by Hag Zogbaum, when I was
a child in her den, in New York, and when no one cared for me. What
my right name was has now slipped my memory. I was indeed a wretched



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 13 of 29)