F. Colburn Adams.

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

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against Mr. Keepum for his dealings in lottery tickets, but they
found their way into the Attorney-General's pocket, and it was
whispered he meant to keep them there. It was indeed pretty well
known he could not get them out in consequence of the gold Keepum
poured in. Not a week passes but men kill each other in the open
streets. We call these little affairs, "rencontres;" the fact is, we
are become so accustomed to them that we rather like them, and
regard them as evidences of our advanced civilization. We are
infested with slave-hunters, and slave-killers, who daily disgrace
us with their barbarities; yet the law is weak when the victor is
strong. So we continue to live in the harmless belief that we are
the most chivalrous people in the world.

"Mr. Booper!" ejaculates Mr. Snivel, knocking the ashes from his
cigar and rising to his feet, "you have paid no more than a merited
compliment to the masterly completeness of this excellent man's
cribbing. (He points to the cribber, and bows.) Now, permit me to
say here, I have at my disposal a set of fellows, (he smiles,) who
can fight their way into Congress, duplicate any system of sharps,
and stand in fear of nothing. Oh! gentlemen, (Mr. Snivel becomes
enthusiastic,) I was-as I have said, I believe-enjoying a bottle of
champagne with my friend Keepum here, when we overheard two
Dutchmen-the Dutch always go with the wrong party-discoursing about
a villanous caucus held to-night in King street. There is villany up
with these Dutch! But, you see, we-that is, I mean I-made some forty
or more citizens last year. We have the patent process; we can make
as many this year."

Mr. Sharp, an exceedingly clever politician, who has meekly born any
number of cudgellings at the polls, and hopes ere long to get the
appointment of Minister to Paris, interrupts by begging that Mr.
Soloman will fill his glass, and resume his seat. Mr. Snivel having
taking his seat, Mr. Sharp proceeds: "I tell you all what it is,
says I, the other day to a friend-these ponderous Dutch ain't to be
depended on. Then, says I, you must separate the Irish into three
classes, and to each class you must hold out a different inducement,
says I. There's the Rev. Father Flaherty, says I, and he is a trump
card at electioneering. He can form a breach between his people and
the Dutch, and, says I, by the means of this breach we will gain the
whole tribe of Emeralds over to our party. I confess I hate these
vagabonds right soundly; but necessity demands that we butter and
sugar the mover until we carry our ends. You must not look at the
means, says I, when the ends are momentous."

"The staunch Irish," pursues the Judge, rising as Mr. Sharp sits
down, "are noble fellows, and with us. To the middle class-the
grocers and shopkeepers-we must, however, hold out flattering
inducements; such as the reduction of taxes, the repeal of our
oppressive license laws, taking the power out of the hands of our
aristocracy-they are very tender here-and giving equal rights to
emigrants. These points we must put as Paul did his sermons-with
force and ingenuity. As for the low Irish, all we have to do is to
crib them, feed and pickle them in whiskey for a week. To gain an
Irishman's generosity, you cannot use a better instrument than meat,
drink, and blarney. I often contemplate these fellows when I am
passing sentence upon them for crime."

"True! I have the same dislike to them personally; but politically,
the matter assumes quite a different form of attraction. The
laboring Irish-the dull-headed-are what we have to do with. We must
work them over, and over, and over, until we get them just right.
Then we must turn them all into legal voting citizens - "

"That depends on how long they have been in the country," interrupts
a brisk little man, rising quickly to his feet, and assuming a legal

"Mr. Sprig! you are entirely behind the age. It matters not how long
these gentlemen from Ireland have been in the country. They take to
politics like rats to good cheese. A few months' residence, and a
little working over you know, and they become trump voters. The
Dutch are a different sort of animal; the fellows are thinkers,"
resumes the Judge.

Mr. Snivel, who has been sipping his whiskey, and listening very
attentively to the Judge, rises to what he calls the most important
order. He has got the papers all ready, and proposes the gentlemen
he thinks best qualified for the naturalization committee. This
done, Mr. Snivel draws from his pocket a copy of the forged papers,
which are examined, and approved by every one present. This
instrument is surmounted with the eagle and arms of the United
States, and reads thus: "STATE OF NEW YORK.

"In the Court of Common Pleas for the city and county of New York:

"I - do declare on oath, that it is bona fide my intention to
become a citizen of the United States, and to renounce forever all
allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, State or
sovereignty whatever, and particularly to the Queen of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, of whom I am a subject.

"Signed this - day of - 184-.

Clerk's office, Court of Common Pleas for the city and county
of New York."

"I hereby certify that the foregoing is a true copy of an original
declaration of intention remaining on record in my office, &c., &c.,

"There! it required skill and practice to imitate like that" Mr.
Snivel exultingly exclaims. "We require to make thirty-seven
citizens, and have prepared the exact number of papers. If the
cribbers do their duty, the day is ours." Thus is revealed one of
the scenes common to "Rogues' Retreat." We shrink at the
multiplicity of crime in our midst; we too seldom trace the source
from whence it flows. If we did but turn our eyes in the right
direction we would find the very men we have elected our guardians,
protecting the vicious, whose power they covet-sacrificing their
high trust to a low political ambition. You cannot serve a political
end by committing a wrong without inflicting a moral degradation on
some one. Political intrigue begets laxity of habits; it dispels
that integrity without which the unfixed mind becomes vicious; it
acts as a festering sore in the body politic.

Having concluded their arrangements for the Mayor's election, the
party drinks itself into a noisy mood, each outshouting the other
for the right to speak, each refilling and emptying his glass, each
asserting with vile imprecations, his dignity as a gentleman.
Midnight finds the reeling party adjourning in the midst of

Mr. Snivel winks the vote-cribber into a corner, and commences
interrogating him concerning Mag Munday. The implacable face of the
vote-cribber reddens, he contorts his brows, frets his jagged beard
with the fingers of his left hand, runs his right over the crown of
his head, and stammers: "I know'd her, lived with her-she used to
run sort of wild, and was twice flogged. She got crazed at last!" He
shrugs his stalworth shoulders and pauses. "Being a politician, you
see, a body can't divest their minds of State affairs sufficiently
to keep up on women matters," he pursues: "She got into the
poor-house, that I knows - "

"She is dead then?" interposes Mr. Snivel.

"As like as not. The poor relatives of our 'first families' rot and
die there without much being said about it. Just look in at that
institution-it's a terrible place to kill folks off! - and if she be
not there then come to me. Don't let the keepers put you off. Pass
through the outer gate, into and through the main building, then
turn sharp to the left, and advance some twenty feet up a filthy
passage, then enter a passage on the right, (have a light with you,)
that leads to a dozen or fourteen steps, wet and slippery. Then you
must descend into a sort of grotto, or sickly vault, which you will
cross and find yourself in a spacious passage, crawling with beetles
and lizards. Don't be frightened, sir; keep on till you hear
moanings and clankings of chains. Then you will come upon a row of
horrid cells, only suited for dog kennels. In these cells our crazy
folks are chained and left to die. Give Glentworthy few shillings
for liquor, sir, and he, having these poor devils in charge, will
put you through. It's a terrible place, sir, but our authorities
never look into it, and few of our people know of its existence."

Mr. Snivel thanks the vote-cribber, who pledges his honor he would
accompany him, but for the reason that he opens crib to-morrow, and
has in his eye a dozen voters he intends to look up. He has also a
few recently-arrived sons of the Emerald Isle he purposes turning
into citizens.



PURGED of all the ill-humors of her mind, Mrs. Swiggs finds herself,
on the morning following the excellent little gathering at Sister
Scudder's, restored to the happiest of tempers. The flattery
administered by Brother Spyke, and so charmingly sprinkled with his
pious designs on the heathen world, has had the desired effect. This
sort of drug has, indeed, a wonderful efficacy in setting disordered
constitutions to rights. It would not become us to question the
innocence, or the right to indulge in such correctives; it is enough
that our venerable friend finds herself in a happy vein, and is
resolved to spend the day for the benefit of that heathen world, the
darkness of which Brother Spyke pictured in colors so terrible.

Breakfast is scarcely over when Sister Slocum, in great agitation,
comes bustling into the parlor, offers the most acceptable apologies
for her absence, and pours forth such a vast profusion of solicitude
for Mrs. Swiggs' welfare, that that lady is scarce able to withstand
the kindness. She recounts the numerous duties that absorb her
attention, the missions she has on hand, the means she uses to keep
up an interest in them, the amount of funds necessary to their
maintenance. A large portion of these funds she raises with her own
energy. She will drag up the heathen world; she will drag down
Satan. Furnishing Mrs. Swiggs with the address of the House of the
Foreign Missions, in Centre street, she excuses herself. How
superlatively happy she would be to accompany Mrs. Swiggs. A report
to present to the committee on finance, she regrets, will prevent
this. However, she will join her precisely at twelve o'clock, at the
House. She must receive the congratulations of the Board. She must
have a reception that will show how much the North respects her
co-laborers of the South. And with this, Sister Slocum takes leave
of her guest, assuring her that all she has to do is to get into the
cars in the Bowery. They will set her down at the door.

Ten o'clock finds our indomitable lady, having preferred the less
expensive mode of walking, entering a strange world. Sauntering
along the Bowery she turns down Bayard street. Bayard street she
finds lined with filthy looking houses, swarming with sickly,
ragged, and besotted poor; the street is knee-deep with corrupting
mire; carts are tilted here and there at intervals; the very air
seems hurling its pestilence into your blood. Ghastly-eyed and
squallid children, like ants in quest of food, creep and swarm over
the pavement, begging for bread or uttering profane oaths at one
another. Mothers who never heard the Word of God, nor can be
expected to teach it to their children, protrude their vicious faces
from out reeking gin shops, and with bare breasts and uncombed hair,
sweep wildly along the muddy pavement, disappear into some
cavern-like cellar, and seek on some filthy straw a resting place
for their wasting bodies. A whiskey-drinking Corporation might feast
its peculative eyes upon hogs wallowing in mud; and cellars where
swarming beggars, for six cents a night, cover with rags their
hideous heads - where vice and crime are fostered, and into which
your sensitive policeman prefers not to go, are giving out their
seething miasma. The very neighborhood seems vegetating in mire. In
the streets, in the cellars, in the filthy lanes, in the dwellings
of the honest poor, as well as the vicious, muck and mire is the
predominating order. The besotted remnants of depraved men, covered
with rags and bedaubed with mire, sit, half sleeping in disease and
hunger on decayed door-stoops. Men with bruised faces, men with
bleared eyes; men in whose every feature crime and dissipation is
stamped, now drag their waning bodies from out filthy alleys, as if
to gasp some breath of air, then drag themselves back, as if to die
in a desolate hiding-place. Engines of pestilence and death the
corporation might see and remove, if it would, are left here to
fester - to serve a church-yard as gluttonous as its own belly. The
corporation keeps its eyes in its belly, its little sense in its big
boots, and its dull action in the whiskey-jug. Like Mrs. Swiggs, it
cannot afford to do anything for this heathen world in the heart of
home. No, sir! The corporation has the most delicate sense of its
duties. It is well paid to nurture the nucleus of a pestilence that
may some day break out and sweep over the city like an avenging
enemy. It thanks kind Providence, eating oysters and making
Presidents the while, for averting the dire scourge it encourages
with its apathy. Like our humane and very fashionable preachers, it
contents itself with looking into the Points from Broadway. What
more would you ask of it?

Mrs. Swiggs is seized with fear and trembling. Surely she is in a
world of darkness. Can it be that so graphically described by
Brother Syngleton Spyke? she questions within herself. It might,
indeed, put Antioch to shame: but the benighted denizens with which
it swarms speak her own tongue. "It is a deal worse in Orange

"Now called Baxter street Marm-a deal, I assure you!" speaks a low,
muttering voice. Lady Swiggs is startled. She only paused a moment
to view this sea of vice and wretchedness she finds herself
surrounded with. Turning quickly round she sees before her a man, or
what there is left of a man. His tattered garments, his lean,
shrunken figure, his glassy eyes, and pale, haggard face, cause her
to shrink back in fright. He bows, touches his shattered hat, and
says, "Be not afraid, good Madam. May I ask if you have not mistaken
your way?" Mrs. Swiggs looks querulously through her spectacles and
says, "Do tell me where I am?" "In the Points, good Madam. You seem
confused, and I don't wonder. It's a dreadful place. I know it,
madam, to my sorrow." There is a certain politeness in the manner of
this man-an absence of rudeness she is surprised to find in one so
dejected. The red, distended nose, the wild expression of his
countenance, his jagged hair, hanging in tufts over his ragged coat
collar, give him a repulsiveness not easily described. In answer to
an inquiry he says, "They call me, Madam, and I'm contented with the
name, - they call me Tom Toddleworth, the Chronicle. I am well
down-not in years, but sorrow. Being sick of the world I came here,
have lived, or rather drifted about, in this sea of hopeless misery,
homeless and at times foodless, for ten years or more. Oh! I have
seen better days, Madam. You are a stranger here. May God always
keep you a stranger to the sufferings of those who dwell with us. I
never expect to be anything again, owe nothing to the world, and
never go into Broadway."

"Never go into Broadway," repeats Mrs. Swiggs, her fingers wandering
to her spectacles. Turning into Orange street, Mr. Toddleworth
tenders his services in piloting Mrs. Swiggs into Centre street,
which, as he adds, will place her beyond harm. As they advance the
scene becomes darker and darker. Orange street seems that centre
from which radiates the avenues of every vice known to a great city.
One might fancy the world's outcasts hurled by some mysterious hand
into this pool of crime and misery, and left to feast their wanton
appetites and die. "And you have no home, my man?" says Mrs. Swiggs,
mechanically. "As to that, Madam," returns the man, with a bow, "I
can't exactly say I have no home. I kind of preside over and am
looked up to by these people. One says, 'come spend a night with me,
Mr. Toddleworth;' another says, 'come spend a night with me, Mr. Tom
Toddleworth.' I am a sort of respectable man with them, have a place
to lay down free, in any of their houses. They all esteem me, and
say, come spend a night with me, Mr. Toddleworth. It's very kind of
them. And whenever they get a drop of gin I'm sure of a taste.
Surmising what I was once, they look up to me, you see. This gives
me heart." And as he says this he smiles, and draws about him the
ragged remnants of his coat, as if touched by shame. Arrived at the
corner of Orange street, Mr. Toddleworth pauses and begs his charge
to survey the prospect. Look whither she will nothing but a scene of
desolation-a Babylon of hideous, wasting forms, mucky streets, and
reeking dens, meet her eye. The Jews have arranged themselves on one
side of Orange street, to speculate on the wasted harlotry of the
other. "Look you, Madam!" says Mr. Toddleworth, leaning on his stick
and pointing towards Chatham street. "A desert, truly," replies the
august old lady, nervously twitching her head. She sees to the right
("it is wantonness warring upon misery," says Mr. Toddleworth) a
long line of irregular, wooden buildings, black and besmeared with
mud. Little houses with decrepid door-steps; little houses with
decayed platforms in front; little dens that seem crammed with
rubbish; little houses with black-eyed, curly-haired, and
crooked-nosed children looking shyly about the doors; little houses
with lusty and lecherous-eyed Jewesses sitting saucily in the open
door; little houses with open doors, broken windows, and shattered
shutters, where the devil's elixir is being served to ragged and
besotted denizens; little houses into which women with blotched
faces slip suspiciously, deposit their almost worthless rags, and
pass out to seek the gin-shop; little houses with eagle-faced men
peering curiously out at broken windows, or beckoning some wayfarer
to enter and buy from their door; little houses piled inside with
the cast-off garments of the poor and dissolute, and hung outside
with smashed bonnets, old gowns, tattered shawls; flaunting-red,
blue, and yellow, in the wind, emblematic of those poor wretches, on
the opposite side, who have pledged here their last offerings, and
blazed down into that stage of human degradation, which finds the
next step the grave-all range along, forming a picturesque but sad
panorama. Mr. Moses, the man of the eagle face, who keeps the record
of death, as the neighbors call it, sits opulently in his door, and
smokes his cigar; while his sharp-eyed daughters estimate exactly
how much it is safe to advance on the last rag some lean wretch
would pledge. He will tell you just how long that brawny harlot,
passing on the opposite side, will last, and what the few rags on
her back will be worth when she is "shoved into Potters' Field." At
the sign of the "Three Martyrs" Mr. Levy is seen, in his fashionable
coat, and a massive chain falling over his tight waistcoat,
registering the names of his grotesque customers, ticketing their
little packages, and advancing each a shilling or two, which they
will soon spend at the opposite druggery. Thus bravely wages the
war. London has nothing so besotted, Paris nothing so vicious,
Naples nothing so dark and despairing, as this heathen world we pass
by so heedlessly. Beside it even the purlieus of Rome sink into
insignificance. Now run your eye along the East side of Orange
street. A sidewalk sinking in mire; a long line of one-story wooden
shanties, ready to cave-in with decay; dismal looking groceries, in
which the god, gin, is sending his victims by hundreds to the greedy
grave-yard; suspicious looking dens with dingy fronts, open doors,
and windows stuffed with filthy rags-in which crimes are nightly
perpetrated, and where broken-hearted victims of seduction and
neglect, seeking here a last refuge, are held in a slavery delicacy
forbids our describing; dens where negro dancers nightly revel, and
make the very air re-echo their profaning voices; filthy lanes
leading to haunts up alleys and in narrow passages, where thieves
and burglars hide their vicious heads; mysterious looking steps
leading to cavern-like cellars, where swarm and lay prostrate
wretched beings made drunk by the "devil's elixir" - all these beset
the East side of Orange street. Wasted nature, blanched and
despairing, ferments here into one terrible pool. Women in
gaudy-colored dresses, their bared breasts and brawny arms
contrasting curiously with their wicked faces, hang lasciviously
over "half-doors," taunt the dreamy policeman on his round, and
beckon the unwary stranger into their dens. Piles of filth one might
imagine had been thrown up by the devil or the street commissioners
and in which you might bury a dozen fat aldermen without missing
one; little shops where unwholesome food is sold; corner shops where
idlers of every color, and sharpers of all grades, sit dreaming out
the day over their gin-are here to be found. Young Ireland would,
indeed, seem to have made this the citadel from which to vomit his
vice over the city.

"They're perfectly wild, Madam-these children are," says Mr.
Toddleworth, in reply to a question Mrs. Swiggs put respecting the
immense number of ragged and profaning urchins that swarm the
streets. "They never heard of the Bible, nor God, nor that sort of
thing. How could they hear of it? No one ever comes in here-that is,
they come in now and then, and throw a bit of a tract in here and
there, and are glad to get out with a whole coat. The tracts are all
Greek to the dwellers here. Besides that, you see, something must be
done for the belly, before you can patch up the head. I say this
with a fruitful experience. A good, kind little man, who seems
earnest in the welfare of these wild little children that you see
running about here-not the half of them know their parents-looks in
now and then, acts as if he wasn't afraid of us, (that is a good
deal, Madam,) and the boys are beginning to take to him. But, with
nothing but his kind heart and earnest resolution, he'll find a
rugged mountain to move. If he move it, he will deserve a monument
of fairest marble erected to his memory, and letters of gold to
emblazon his deeds thereon. He seems to understand the key to some
of their affections. It's no use mending the sails without making
safe the hull."

"At this moment Mrs. Swiggs' attention is attracted by a crowd of
ragged urchins and grotesque-looking men, gathered about a heap of
filth at that corner of Orange street that opens into the Points.

"They are disinterring his Honor, the Mayor," says Mr. Toddleworth.
"Do this sort of thing every day, Madam; they mean no harm, you

Mrs. Swiggs, curious to witness the process of disinterring so
distinguished a person, forgets entirely her appointment at the
House of the Foreign Missions, crowds her way into the filthy
throng, and watches with intense anxiety a vacant-looking idiot, who
has seen some sixteen sumers, lean and half clad, and who has dug
with his staff a hole deep in the mud, which he is busy piling up at
the edges.

"Deeper, deeper!" cries out a dozen voices, of as many mischievous
urchins, who are gathered round in a ring, making him the victim of
their sport. Having cast his glassy eyes upward, and scanned
vacantly his audience, he sets to work again, and continues throwing
out dead cats by the dozen, all of which he exults over, and pauses
now and then for the approbation of the bystanders, who declare they
bear no resemblance to his Honor, or any one of the Board of
Aldermen. One chubby urchin, with a bundle of Tribunes under his
arm, looks mischievously into the pit, and says, "His 'Onor 'ill
want the Tribune." Another, of a more taciturn disposition, shrugs
his shoulders, gives his cap a pull over his eyes, and says, spicing
his declaration with an oath, "He'll buy two Heralds! - he will." The
taciturn urchin draws them from his bundle with an air of
independence, flaunts them in the face of his rival, and exults over
their merits. A splashing of mud, followed by a deafening shout,
announces that the persevering idiot has come upon the object he
seeks. One proclaims to his motley neighbors that the whole
corporation is come to light; another swears it is only his Honor
and a dead Alderman. A third, more astute than the rest, says it is

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 16 of 29)