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

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leave her, no one offers to protect her from the clutches of those
who threaten to tear her into precious pieces. She sighs for Sister
Slocum, for Mr. Hadger, for any one kind enough to raise a friendly
voice in her behalf. Now one has got her black box, another her
corpulent carpet-bag-a third exults in a victory over her band-box.
Fain would she give up her mission in disgust, return to the more
aristocratic atmosphere of Charleston, and leave the heathen to his
fate. All this might have been avoided had Sister Slocum sent her
carriage. She will stick by her black box, nevertheless. So into the
carriage with it she gets, much discomfited. The driver says he
would drive to the Mayor's office "and 'ave them ar two coves what's
got the corpulent carpet-bag and the band-box, seed after, if it
wern't that His Honor never knows anything he ought to know, and is
sure to do nothing. They'll turn up, Mam, I don't doubt," says the
man, "but it's next to los'in' on 'em, to go to the Mayor's office.
Our whole corporation, Mam, don't do nothin' but eats oysters,
drinks whiskey, and makes presidents; - them's what they do, Marm."
Lady Swiggs says what a pity so great a city was not blessed with a
bigger-headed corporation.

"That it is, Marm," returns the methodical hack-driver, "he an't got
a very big head, our corporation." And Lady Swiggs, deprived of her
carpet-bag and band-box, and considerably out of patience, is rolled
away to the mansion of Sister Slocum, on Fourth Avenue. Instead of
falling immediately into the arms and affections of that worthy and
very enterprising lady, the door is opened by a slatternly maid of
all work-her greasy dress, and hard, ruddy face and hands-her short,
flabby figure, and her coarse, uncombed hair, giving out strong
evidence of being overtaxed with labor. "Is it Mrs. Slocum hersel'
ye'd be seein'?" inquires the maid, wiping her soapy hands with her
apron, and looking querulously in the face of the old lady, who,
with the air of a Scotch metaphysician, says she is come to spend a
week in friendly communion with her, to talk over the cause of the
poor, benighted heathen. "Troth an' I'm not as sure ye'll do that
same, onyhow; sure she'd not spend a week at home in the blessed
year; and the divil another help in the house but mysel' and
himsel', Mr. Slocum. A decent man is that same Slocum, too," pursues
the maid, with a laconic indifference to the wants of the guest. A
dusty hat-stand ornaments one side of the hall, a patched and
somewhat deformed sofa the other. The walls wear a dingy air; the
fumes of soapsuds and stewed onions offend the senses. Mrs. Swiggs
hesitates in the doorway. Shall I advance, or retreat to more
congenial quarters? she asks herself. The wily hack-driver (he
agreed for four and charged her twelve shillings) leaves her black
box on the step and drives away. She may be thankful he did not
charge her twenty. They make no allowance for distinguished people;
Lady Swiggs learns this fact, to her great annoyance. To the much-
confused maid of all work she commences relating the loss of her
luggage. With one hand swinging the door and the other tucked under
her dowdy apron, she says, "Troth, Mam, and ye ought to be thankful,
for the like of that's done every day."

Mrs. Swiggs would like a room for the night at least, but is told,
in a somewhat confused style, that not a room in the house is in
order. That a person having the whole heathen world on her shoulders
should not have her house in order somewhat surprises the
indomitable lady. In answer to a question as to what time Mr. Slocum
will be home, the maid of all work says: "Och! God love the poor
man, there's no tellin'. Sure there's not much left of the poor man.
An' the divil a one more inoffensive than poor Slocum. It's himsel'
works all day in the Shurance office beyant. He comes home dragged
out, does a dale of writing for Mrs. Slocum hersel', and goes to bed
sayin' nothin' to nobody." Lady Swiggs says: "God bless me. He no
doubt labors in a good cause-an excellent cause-he will have his
reward hereafter."

It must here be confessed that Sister Slocum, having on hand a
newly-married couple, nicely suited to the duties of a mission to
some foreign land, has conceived the very laudable project of
sending them to Aleppo, and is now spending a few weeks among the
Dutch of Albany, who are expected to contribute the necessary funds.
A few thousand dollars expended, a few years' residence in the East,
a few reports as to what might have been done if something had not
interposed to prevent it, and there is not a doubt that this happy
couple will return home crowned with the laurels of having very
nearly Christianized one Turk and two Tartars.

The maid of all work suddenly remembers that Mrs. Slocum left word
that if a distinguished lady arrived from South Carolina she could
be comfortably accommodated at Sister Scudder's, on Fourth Street.
Not a little disappointed, the venerable old lady calls a passing
carriage, gets herself and black box into it, and orders the driver
to forthwith proceed to the house of Sister Scudder. Here she is-and
she sheds tears that she is-cooped up in a cold, closet-like room,
on the third story, where, with the ends of her red shawl, she may
blow and warm her fingers. Sister Scudder is a crispy little body,
in spectacles. Her features are extremely sharp, and her countenance
continually wears a wise expression. As for her knowledge of
scripture, it is truly wonderful, and a decided improvement when
contrasted with the meagre set-out of her table. Tea time having
arrived, Lady Swiggs is invited down to a cup by a pert Irish
servant, who accosts her with an independence she by no means
approves. Entering the room with an air of stateliness she deems
necessary to the position she desires to maintain, Sister Scudder
takes her by the hand and introduces her to a bevy of nicely-
conditioned, and sleek-looking gentlemen, whose exactly-combed
mutton chop whiskers, smoothly-oiled hair, perfectly-tied white
cravats, cloth so modest and fashionable, and mild, studious
countenances, discover their profession. Sister Scudder, motioning
Lady Swiggs aside, whispers in her ear: "They are all very excellent
young men. They will improve on acquaintance. They are come up for
the clergy." They, in turn, receive the distinguished stranger in a
manner that is rather abrupt than cold, and ere she has dispensed
her stately courtesy, say: "how do you do marm," and turn to resume
with one another their conversation on the wicked world. It is
somewhat curious to see how much more interested these gentry become
in the wicked world when it is afar off.

Tea very weak, butter very strong, toast very thin, and religious
conversation extremely thick, make up the repast. There is no want
of appetite. Indeed one might, under different circumstances, have
imagined Sister Scudder's clerical boarders contesting a race for an
extra slice of her very thin toast. Not the least prominent among
Sister Scudder's boarders is Brother Singleton Spyke, whom Mrs.
Swiggs recognizes by the many compliments he lavishes upon Sister
Slocum, whose absence is a source of great regret with him. She is
always elbow deep in some laudable pursuit. Her presence sheds a
radiant light over everything around; everybody mourns her when
absent. Nevertheless, there is some satisfaction in knowing that her
absence is caused by her anxiety to promote some mission of good:
Brother Spyke thus muses. Seeing that there is come among them a
distinguished stranger, he gives out that to-morrow evening there
will be a gathering of the brethren at the "House of the Foreign
Missions," when the very important subject of funds necessary to his
mission to Antioch, will be discussed. Brother Spyke, having levelled
this battery at the susceptibility of Mrs. Swiggs, is delighted to
find some fourteen voices chiming in-all complimenting his peculiar
fitness for, and the worthy object of the mission. Mrs. Swiggs sets
her cup in her saucer, and in a becoming manner, to the great joy of
all present, commences an eulogium on Mr. Spyke. Sister Slocum, in
her letters, held him before her in strong colors; spoke in such
high praise of his talent, and gave so many guarantees as to what he
would do if he only got among the heathen, that her sympathies were
enlisted-she resolved to lose no time in getting to New York, and,
when there, put her shoulder right manfully to the wheel. This
declaration finds her, as if by some mysterious transport, an object
of no end of praise. Sister Scudder adjusts her spectacles, and, in
mildest accents, says, "The Lord will indeed reward such
disinterestedness." Brother Mansfield says motives so pure will
ensure a passport to heaven, he is sure. Brother Sharp, an
exceedingly lean and tall youth, with a narrow head and sharp nose
(Mr. Sharp's father declared he made him a preacher because he could
make him nothing else), pronounces, with great emphasis, that such
self-sacrifice should be written in letters of gold. A unanimous
sounding of her praises convinces Mrs. Swiggs that she is indeed a
person of great importance. There is, however, a certain roughness
of manner about her new friends, which does not harmonize with her
notions of aristocracy. She questions within herself whether they
represent the "first families" of New York. If the "first families"
could only get their heads together, the heathen world would be sure
to knock under. No doubt, it can be effected in time by common
people. If Sister Slocum, too, would evangelize the world-if she
would give the light of heaven to the benighted, she must employ
willing hearts and strong hands. Satan, she says, may be chained,
subdued, and made to abjure his wickedness. These cheering
contemplations more than atone for the cold reception she met at the
house of Sister Slocum. Her only regret now is that she did not sell
old Cicero. The money so got would have enabled her to bestow a more
substantial token of her soul's sincerity.

Tea over, thanks returned, a prayer offered up, and Brother Spyke,
having taken a seat on the sofa beside Mrs. Swiggs, opens his
batteries in a spiritual conversation, which he now and then spices
with a few items of his own history. At the age of fifteen he found
himself in love with a beautiful young lady, who, unfortunately, had
made up her mind to accept only the hand of a clergyman: hence, she
rejected his. This so disturbed his thoughts, that he resolved on
studying theology. In this he was aided by the singular discovery,
that he had a talent, and a "call to preach." He would forget his
amour, he thought, become a member of the clergy, and go preach to
the heathen. He spent his days in reading, his nights in the study
of divine truths. Then he got on the kind side of a committee of
very excellent ladies, who, having duly considered his qualities,
pronounced him exactly suited to the study of theology. Ladies were
generally good judges of such matters, and Brother Spyke felt he
could not do better than act up to their opinions. To all these
things Mrs. Swiggs listens with delight.

Spyke, too, is in every way a well made-up man, being extremely tall
and lean of figure, with nice Saxon hair and whiskers, mild but
thoughtful blue eyes, an anxious expression of countenance, a thin,
squeaking voice, and features sufficiently delicate and regular for
his calling. His dress, too, is always exactly clerical. If he be
cold and pedantic in his manner, the fault must be set down to the
errors of the profession, rather than to any natural inclination of
his own. But what is singular of Brother Spyke is, that,
notwithstanding his passion for delving the heathen world, and
dragging into Christian light and love the benighted wretches there
found, he has never in his life given a thought for that heathen
world at his own door-a heathen world sinking in the blackest pool
of misery and death, in the very heart of an opulent city, over
which it hurls its seething pestilence, and scoffs at the commands
of high heaven. No, he never thought of that Babylon of vice and
crime-that heathen world pleading with open jaws at his own door. He
had no thought for how much money might be saved, and how much more
good done, did he but turn his eyes, go into this dark world (the
Points) pleading at his feet, nerve himself to action, and lend a
strong hand to help drag off the film of its degradation. In
addition to this, Brother Spyke was sharp enough to discover the
fact that a country parson does not enjoy the most enviable
situation. A country parson must put up with the smallest salary; he
must preach the very best of sermons; he must flatter and flirt with
all the marriageable ladies of his church; he must consult the
tastes, but offend none of the old ladies; he must submit to have
the sermon he strained his brain to make perfect, torn to pieces by
a dozen wise old women, who claim the right of carrying the church
on their shoulders; he must have dictated to him what sort of dame
he may take for wife; - in a word, he must bear meekly a deal of
pestering and starvation, or be in bad odor with the senior members
of the sewing circle. Duly appreciating all these difficulties,
Brother Spyke chose a mission to Antioch, where the field of his
labors would be wide, and the gates not open to restraints. And
though he could not define the exact character of his mission to
Antioch, he so worked upon the sympathies of the credulous old lady,
as to well-nigh create in her mind a resolve to give the amount she
had struggled to get and set apart for the benefit of those two
institutions ("the Tract Society," and "The Home of the Foreign
Missions"), all to the getting himself off to Antioch.






CHAPTER XXI.

MR. SNIVEL PURSUES HIS SEARCH FOR THE VOTE-CRIBBER.





WHILE Mrs. Swiggs is being entertained by Sister Scudder and her
clerical friends in New York, Mr. Snivel is making good his demand
on her property in Charleston. As the agent of Keepum, he has
attached her old slaves, and what few pieces of furniture he could
find; they will in a few days be sold for the satisfaction of her
debts. Mrs. Swiggs, it must be said, never had any very nice
appreciation of debt-paying, holding it much more legitimate that
her creditors accept her dignity in satisfaction of any demand they
chanced to have against her. As for her little old house, the last
abode of the last of the great Swiggs family, - that, like numerous
other houses of our "very first families," is mortgaged for more
than it is worth, to Mr. Staple the grocer. We must, however, turn
to Mr. Snivel.

Mr. Snivel is seen, on the night after the secret interview at the
Charleston Hotel, in a happy mood, passing down King street. A
little, ill-featured man, with a small, but florid face, a keen,
lecherous eye, leans on his arm. They are in earnest conversation.

"I think the mystery is nearly cleared up, Keepum" says Snivel.

"There seems no getting a clue to the early history of this Madame
Montford, 'tis true. Even those who introduced her to Charleston
society know nothing of her beyond a certain period. All anterior to
that is wrapped in suspicion," returns Keepum, fingering his massive
gold chain and seals, that pend from his vest, then releasing his
hold of Mr. Snivel's arm, and commencing to button closely his blue
dress coat, which is profusely decorated with large gilt buttons.
"She's the mother of the dashing harlot, or I'm no prophet,
nevertheless," he concludes, shaking his head significantly.

"You may almost swear it-a bad conscience is a horrid bore; d-n me,
if I can't see through the thing. (Mr. Snivel laughs.) Better put
our female friends on their guard, eh?"

"They had better drop her as quietly as possible," rejoins Mr.
Keepum, drawing his white glove from off his right hand, and
extending his cigar case.

Mr. Snivel having helped himself to a cigar, says: "D-n me, if she
didn't faint in my arms last night. I made a discovery that brought
something of deep interest back to her mind, and gave her timbers
such a shock! I watched, and read the whole story in her emotions.
One accustomed to the sharps of the legal profession can do this
sort of thing. She is afraid of approaching this beautiful creature,
Anna Bonard, seeing the life she lives, and the suspicions it might
create in fashionable society, did she pursue such a course to the
end of finding out whether she be really the lost child of the
relative she refers to so often. Her object is to find one Mag
Munday, who used to knock about here, and with whom the child was
left. But enough of this for the present." Thus saying, they enter
the house of the old antiquary, and finding no one but Maria at
home, Mr. Snivel takes the liberty of throwing his arms about her
waist. This done, he attempts to drag her across the room and upon
the sofa. "Neither your father nor you ever had a better friend," he
says, as the girl struggles from his grasp, shrinks at his feet,
and, with a look of disdain, upbraids him for his attempt to take
advantage of a lone female.

"High, ho!" interposes Keepum, "what airs these sort of people put
on, eh? Don't amount to much, no how; they soon get over them, you
know. A blasted deal of assumption, as you say. Ha, ha, ha! I rather
like this sort of modesty. 'Tis n't every one can put it on
cleverly." Mr. Snivel winks to Keepum, who makes an ineffectual
attempt to extinguish the light, which Maria seizes in her hand, and
summoning her courage, stands before them in a defiant attitude, an
expression of hate and scorn on her countenance. "Ah, fiend! you
take this liberty-you seek to destroy me because I am poor-because
you think me humble-an easy object to prey upon. I am neither a
stranger to the world nor your cowardly designs; and so long as I
have life you shall not gloat over the destruction of my virtue.
Approach me at your peril-knaves! You have compromised my father;
you have got him in your grasp, that you may the more easily destroy
me. But you will be disappointed, your perfidy will recoil on
yourselves: though stripped of all else, I will die protecting that
virtue you would not dare to offend but for my poverty." This
unexpected display of resolution has the effect of making the
position of the intruders somewhat uncomfortable. Mr. Keepum, whose
designs Snivel would put in execution, sinks, cowardly, upon the
sofa, while his compatriot (both are celebrated for their chivalry)
stands off apace endeavoring to palliate the insult with facetious
remarks. (This chivalry of ours is a mockery, a convenient word in
the foul mouths of fouler ruffians.) Mr. Snivel makes a second
attempt to overcome the unprotected girl. With every expression of
hate and scorn rising to her face, she bids him defiance. Seeing
himself thus firmly repulsed, he begs to assure her, on the word of
a gentleman-a commodity always on hand, and exceedingly cheap with
us-he was far from intending an insult. He meant it for a bit of a
good turn-nothing more. "Always fractious at first-these sort of
people are," pursues Keepum, relighting his cigar as he sits on the
sofa, squinting his right eye. "Take bravely to gentlemen after a
little display of modesty-always! Try her again, Squire." Mr. Snivel
dashes the candle from her hand, and in the darkness grasps her
wrists. The enraged girl shrieks, and calls aloud for assistance.
Simultaneously a blow fells Mr. Snivel to the floor. The voice of
Tom Swiggs is heard, crying: "Wretch! villain! - what brings you here?
(Mr. Keepum, like the coward, who fears the vengeance he has
merited, makes good his escape.) Will you never cease polluting the
habitations of the poor? Would to God there was justice for the
poor, as well as law for the rich; then I would make thee bite the
dust, like a dying viper. You should no longer banquet on poor
virtue. Wretch! - I would teach thee that virtue has its value with
the poor as well as the rich; - that with the true gentleman it is
equally sacred." Tom stands a few moments over the trembling
miscreant, Maria sinks into a chair, and with her elbows resting on
the table, buries her face in her hands and gives vent to her tears.

"Never did criminal so merit punishment; but I will prove thee not
worth my hand. Go, wretch, go! and know that he who proves himself
worthy of entering the habitations of the humble is more to be
prized than kings and princes." Tom relights the candle in time to
see Mr. Snivel rushing into the street.

The moon sheds a pale light over the city as the two chivalric
gentlemen, having rejoined and sworn to have revenge, are seen
entering a little gate that opens to a dilapidated old building,
fronted by a neglected garden, situate on the north side of Queen
street, and in days gone by called "Rogues' Retreat." "Rogues'
Retreat" has seared vines creeping over its black, clap-boarded
front, which viewed from the street appears in a squatting mood,
while its broken door, closed shutters-the neglected branches of
grape vines that depend upon decayed trellice and arbors, invest it
with a forlorn air: indeed, one might without prejudicing his
faculties imagine it a fit receptacle for our deceased politicians
and our whiskey-drinking congressmen-the last resting-place of our
departed chivalry. Nevertheless, generous reader, we will show you
that "Rogues' Retreat" serves a very different purpose. Our
mob-politicians, who make their lungs and fists supply the want of
brains, use it as their favorite haunt, and may be seen on the eve
of an election passing in and out of a door in the rear. Hogsheads
of bad whiskey have been drunk in "Rogues' Retreat;" it reeks with
the fumes of uncounted cigars; it has been the scene of untold
villanies. Follow us; we will forego politeness, and peep in through
a little, suspicious-looking window, in the rear of the building.
This window looks into a cavern-like room, some sixteen feet by
thirty, the ceiling of which is low, and blotched here and there
with lamp-smoke and water-stains, the plastering hanging in festoons
from the walls, and lighted by the faint blaze of a small globular
lamp, depending from the centre, and shedding a lurid glare over
fourteen grotesque faces, formed round a broad deal-table. Here, at
one side of the table sits Judge Sleepyhorn, Milman Mingle, the
vote-cribber, on his right; there, on the other, sits Mr. Snivel and
Mr. Keepum. More conspicuous than anything else, stands, in the
centre of the table, bottles and decanters of whiskey, of which each
man is armed with a stout glass. "I am as well aware of the law as
my friend who has just taken his seat can be. But we all know that
the law can be made subordinate; and it must be made subordinate to
party ends. We must not (understand me, I do not say this in my
judicial capacity) be too scrupulous when momentous issues are upon
us. The man who has not nerve enough to make citizens by the
dozen-to stuff double-drawered ballot-boxes, is not equal to the
times we live in; - this is a great moral fact." This is said by the
Judge, who, having risen with an easy air, sits down and resumes his
glass and cigar.

"Them's my sentiments-exactly," interposes the vote-cribber, his
burly, scarred face, and crispy red hair and beard, forming a
striking picture in the pale light. "I have given up the trade of
making Presidents, what I used to foller when, you see, I lived in
North Caroliner; but I tell you on the faith of my experience, that
to carry the day we must let the law slide, and crib with a free
chain: there's no gettin' over this."

"It is due," interrupts the Judge, again rising to his feet and
bowing to the cribber, "to this worthy man, whose patriotism has
been tried so often within prison-walls, that we give weight to his
advice. Hie bears the brunt of the battle like a hero-he is a hero!"
(The vote-cribber acknowledges the compliment by filling his glass
and drinking to the Judge.)

"Of this worthy gentleman I have, as a member of the learned
profession, an exalted opinion. His services are as necessary to our
success as steam to the speed of a locomotive. I am in favor of
leaving the law entirely out of the question. What society sanctions
as a means to party ends, the law in most cases fails to reach,"
rejoins a tall, sandy-complexioned man, of the name of Booper, very
distinguished among lawyers and ladies. Never was truth spoken with
stronger testimony at hand. Mr. Keepum could boast of killing two
poor men; Mr. Snivel could testify to the fallacy of the law by
gaining him an honorable acquittal. There were numerous indictments



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 15 of 29)