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Two glaring eyes, staring anxiously through the small iron grating
of a door leading to a close cell on the left of the corridor,
betrays the speaker. "It's Tom Swiggs. I know him - he's got the
hydrophobia; its common with him! Take him in tow, old Spunyarn,
give him a good berth, and let him mellow at thirty cents a day,"
continues the voice.

The last sentence the speaker addressed to a man of comely figure
and frank countenance, who has just made his appearance, dressed in
the garb of a sailor. This man stoops over Tom, seems to recognize
in him an old acquaintance, for his face warms with kindliness, and
he straightway commences wiping the sun-scorched face of the
inebriate with his handkerchief, and with his hand smooths and
parts, with an air of tenderness, his hair; and when he has done
this, he spreads the handkerchief over the wretched man's face,
touches the querulous vote-cribber on the arm, and with a
significant wink beckons him away, saying, "Come away, now, he has
luffed into the wind. A sleep will do him good."






CHAPTER II.

MADAME FLAMINGO-HER DISTINGUISHED PATRONS, AND HER VERY RESPECTABLE
HOUSE.





REGARD us forbearingly, generous and urbane reader; follow us
undaunted whither we go, nor charge us with tracing crime in a bad
cause. We will leave the old prison, the dejected inebriate, the
more curious group that surround him, and the tale of the destroyer
it develops, and escort you in our walk to the mansion of Madame
Flamingo, who is well known in Charleston, and commonly called the
Mother of Sin. It is a massive brick pile, situate in one of the
public thoroughfares, four stories high, with bold Doric windows,
set off with brown fluted freestone, and revealing faded red
curtains, overlain with mysterious lace, and from between the folds
of which, at certain hours of the day, languid and more mysterious
eyes may be seen peering cautiously. Madame Flamingo says (the city
fathers all know it) she has a scrupulous regard to taste, and
develops it in the construction of her front door, which is of black
walnut, fluted and carved in curious designs. In style it resembles
somewhat the doors of those fashionable churches that imitate so
closely the Italian, make good, paying property of fascinating pews,
and adopt the more luxurious way of getting to heaven (prayer-book
of gold in hand) reclining on velvet and satin damask.

The mansion of Madame Flamingo differs only in sumptuousness of
furniture from twenty others of similar character, dotted here and
there about the little city. Add to these the innumerable smaller
haunts of vice that line the more obscure streets-that,
rampart-like, file along the hundred and one "back lanes" that
surround the scattered town, and, reader, you may form some
estimation of the ratio of vice and wretchedness in this population
of thirty thousand, of which the enslaved form one-third.

Having escorted you to the door, generous reader, we will forget the
common-place jargon of the world, and affect a little ceremony, for
Madame Flamingo is delicately exact in matters of etiquette. Touch
gently the bell; you will find it there, a small bronze knob, in the
fluting of the frame, and scarce perceptible to the uninitiated eye.
If rudely you touch it, no notice will be taken; the broad, high
front of her house will remain, like an ill-natured panorama of
brick and freestone, closed till daylight. She admits nothing but
gentlemen; and gentlemen know how to ring a bell. Well, you have
touched it like one of delicate nerves, and like a bell with manners
polished by Madame Flamingo herself, it answers as faintly as does
the distant tinkle of an Arab's bell in the desert.

There! It was recognized as the ring of a genteel gentleman, and
Madame Flamingo's heavy foot is heard advancing up the hall. Be a
diplomatist now. Show a white glove, and a delicate hand, and a
winning smile, and you have secured your passport to the satin and
brocade of her mansion. A spring is heard to tick, a whisper of
caution to some one within follows, and a block broad enough to
admit your hat swings open, disclosing the voluptuous splendor of a
great hall, the blaze of which flashes upon your senses, and fills
you instinctively with curious emotions. Simultaneously a broad,
cheerful face, somewhat matronly in its aspect, and enlivened with
an urbane smile, darkens the space. After a few moments' pause we
see two sharp gray eyes peering curiously at us, and a soft but
quick accenting voice inquires who we are. Ah! yes, the white glove
has told who we are, for the massive doors swing open, and we find
ourselves in a long, stately hall, resplendent of Persian carpets,
lounges in tapestry, walls and ceiling frescoed in uncouth and
bright-colored designs, and curiously wrought chandeliers, shedding
over all a bewitching light. The splendor is more gaudy than regal;
it strikes our fancy, but leaves our admiration unmoved. The door is
suddenly closed, and the short, portly figure of Madame (she bows,
saying her house is most select) stands before us, somewhat nervous,
as if she were yet undecided about our position in society. She has
seen some sixty summers, made her nefarious reputation in New York;
there she keeps a joint establishment, which, she adds, has been
kindly patronized by the members of several pumpkin-headed
corporations. Indeed, her princely tabernacle there was owned by one
of these individuals, but in deference to his reputation she had the
lease of a third party. Of corporations in general has she the very
highest opinion.

Madame Flamingo's round, dapper figure, is set off with a glossy,
black satin, made high at the neck, about which a plain white collar
is arranged, corresponding nicely with the dash of snowy lace down
the stomacher, and an embroidered buff apron, under which she every
few minutes thrusts her fat, jewelled fingers. Her face is pallid,
her chin fat and dimpled, her artificial hair light brown, and lain
smoothly over a low forehead, which is curiously contrasted with a
jauntily-setting cap, the long strings of which flutter down her
shoulders.

"If you please, gentlemen," she says, "my house is highly
respectable-highly respectable (don't make strange of me tending my
own door!) I assure you gentlemen." And Madame Flamingo's eyes
quicken, and she steps round us, now contemplating us suspiciously,
then frisking her hands beneath her embroidered apron, which she
successively flaunts.

We have assured her of our standing in society. To which, with an
air of resumed confidence, and a quickened step, she says she has
(that is, she thinks she has) seen us before, and is glad to see us
again. She is getting well down in the role of years, has a
treacherous memory-the result of arduous business, and a life of
trouble-the poison of a war upon society-the excitement of seeking
revenge of the world. She cannot at all times trust her memory, for
it has given out in the watchfulness necessary to the respectability
of her house, which she regards as the Gibraltar from which she
turns upon society her unerring guns. "Lord, gentlemen," she says in
quick accents, "the reputation of this house-I watch it as our
senator to Congress does his-is my bank stock; and on the
respectability and behavior of my customers, who are of the first
families, depends my dividends. Madame Flamingo wouldn't-gentlemen,
I am no doubt known to you by reputation?-soil the reputation of her
house for uncounted gold." This she whispers, tripping nervously
over the soft carpet up the hall, until she reaches mid-way, where
on the right and left are two massive arched doors of black walnut,
with stained glass for fan-lights. Our guardian (she has assumed the
office) makes a significant motion with her left hand, which she
moves backward, places her right upon the porcelain knob, turns to
the right, and puts her ear inquiringly to the door. "It's a sort of
commonwealth; yes, sir, a commonwealth-but then they are all
gentlemen-some very distinguished," she continues, shaking her head
as if to caution us. Voices in loud conversation are heard in the
room to the right, while from out the left float the mellow notes of
a waltz, accompanied by the light tripping of feet.

With an urbane bow, and a familiar smile, Madame opens the door,
watches with an air of exultation the effect her
sumptuously-furnished parlors, and her more sumptuously-dressed
worshippers, have on our feelings. The great glare of Gothic
windows; the massive curtains of orange-colored satin that, veiled
with lace, pend in undulating folds over them; the cloudlike canopy
that overhangs a dias at the further end of the parlor; the
gorgeously-carved piano, with keys of pearl, that stands in dumb
show beneath the drapery; the curiously-carved eagles, in gilt, that
perch over each window, and hold daintily in their beaks the
amber-colored drapery; the chastely-designed tapestry of
sumptuously-carved lounges, and reclines, and ottomans, and
patrician chairs, and lute tabs, arranged with exact taste here and
there about the great parlor; the massive centre and side-tables,
richly inlaid with pearl and Mosaic; the antique vases interspersed
along the sides, between the windows, and contrasting curiously with
the undulating curtains, looped alternately with goddesses of
liberty, in gilt; the jetting lights from a great chandelier,
blending with prismatic reflections; and the gaudy gossamers in
which weary and blanched-faced females flaunt, more undressed than
dressed-all mingle in one blaze of barbaric splendor.

It is here your child of ignorance and neglect is fascinated and
made to drink the first cup of death; it is here your faltering
sister falls; it is here your betrayed daughter seeks revenge; it is
here your forlorn, outcast sufferer first feels the world her enemy,
has no sympathizing sister to stretch out the hand of encouragement,
and sinks hopeless in the agony of her meditations. It is here,
alas! too often necessity forces its hapless victims, and from
whence a relentless world - without hope of regaining the lost
jewel-hurls them down a short life, into a premature grave. Your
church is near by, but it never steps in here to make an inquiry;
and if it chance to cast a suspicious look in now and then, it is
only as it passes along to inquire the state of the slave market, of
so much more importance is the price of men. Your common school (a
thing unknown, and held extremely dangerous in Carolina!) may be
your much talked of guiding star to virtue; your early education is
your bulwark against which the wave of vice is powerless; but unless
you make it something more than a magnificent theory-unless you seek
practical means, and go down into the haunts of vice, there to drag
up the neglected child, to whom the word early education is a
mystery, you leave untouched the festering volcano that vomits its
deadly embers upon the community.

Your homilies preached to pew-holders of fashion, who live
sumptuously, ride sumptuously to church of a Sunday, and meekly
enjoy a sumptuous sermon for appearance sake, will, so long as you
pass unheeded the haunts of vice, fall as chaff before the wind. You
must make "early education" more than the mere motto of future
happiness; you must go undaunted into the avenues of want and
misery, seek out the fallen child, forbear with her, and kindly
teach her how much good there is in its principles, its truths.

Pardon, generous reader, this digression, and keep our arm while we
see of what metal are the votaries at the shrine of Madame Flamingo.
"I am-that is, they say I am-something of an aristocrat, you see,
gentlemen," says the old woman, flaunting her embroidered apron, and
fussily doddling round the great centre-table, every few minutes
changing backward and forward two massive decanters and four
cut-glass goblets. We bow approvingly. Then with an air of
exultation she turns on her centre, giving a scrutinizing look at
the rich decorations of her palace, and again at us, as if anxious
to draw from us one word of approval. "Gentlemen are no way
sensitive here," pursues Madame Flamingo, moving again the great
decanters, "it's a commonwealth of gentlemen, you see. In New York-I
dash out there, you know-my house is a perfect palace. I keep a
footman and coachman there, have the most exact liveries, and keep
up an establishment equal to my Fifth Avenue neighbors, whose trade
of rope and fish is now lost in their terrible love of plush. I am a
woman of taste, you see; but, my honor for it, gentlemen, I know of
no people so given to plush and great buttons as our Fifth Avenue
parvenues."

It is a high old house this of Madame Flamingo. We speak approvingly
of all we see, her pride is stimulated, she quickens her
conversation. "I think you said two bottles, gentlemen? Our
sparkling Moselle is pronounced a gem by connoisseurs." And again
flaunting her embroidered apron, she trips hurriedly out of the
room. While she is gone we turn to view its human furniture. Yonder,
in a cozy alcove, stands a marble-topped pier-table, at which are
seated two gentlemen of great respectability in the community,
playing whist with fair but frail partners. Near them, on a soft
lounge, is seated a man of portly person and venerable appearance
(his hair is snowy white, and he has a frank, open countenance),
holding converse with, and evidently enamoured of a modest and
beautiful girl, of some sixteen summers, who has just taken her seat
at the opposite end. Madame Flamingo addresses this man as "Judge."
His daylight duty is known to be that of presiding over a criminal
court. The girl with whom he nervously holds conversation, and whose
bright, Italian eyes, undulating black hair, Grecian face and fair
features, swelling bust and beautifully-chiseled shoulders, round
polished arms and tapering hands, erect figure, so exactly dressed
in black brocade, and so reserve in her demeanor, is the Anna Bonard
of this history. "Judge!" she says in reply to a question he has
advanced, and turning disdainfully upon him her great black eyes,
walks gracefully out of the room.

Sitting on a sofa opposite is a slender youth, somewhat flashily
dressed. His complexion is sandy, there is something restless in his
manner; and in his features, which are sharp and watchful, is that
which indicates a mind weak and vacillating. He sits alone,
seemingly thoughtful, and regarding with a jealous eye the insidious
manner in which the venerable judge addresses the beautiful Anna, in
whom you must know, reader, he has a deep and passionate interest.
As Anna passes out of the room he, like one in despair, rests his
head in his pale, bony, and freckled hand, and mutters to himself:
"I will have revenge. His gray hairs shall not save him - my name is
George Mullholland!"

Here and there, on sofas arranged between the great windows, sit
faded denizens, reclining languidly in dresses of various bright
colors, set off with gaudy trinkets, and exhibiting that passion for
cheap jewelry so much in vogue with the vulgar of our self-plumed
aristocracy - such as live at fashionable hotels, and, like Mrs.
Snivel, who has a palace on the Fifth Avenue, make a show-case for
cheap diamonds of themselves at breakfast table. Beside these
denizens are men of every shade and grade of society. With one sits
the distinguished lawyer; with a second converses the
grave-demeanored merchant, who seeks, away from the cares of his
domestic hearth, to satisfy his curiosity here; with a third, the
celebrated physician sips his wine; with a fourth, the fatherly
planter exchanges his saliant jokes; with a fifth, Doctor Handy the
politician-who, to please his fashionable wife, a northern lady of
great beauty, has just moved from the country into the city, keeps
up an unmeaning conversation. In the lefthand corner, seated on an
ottoman, and regarding the others as if a barrier were placed
between them, are two men designated gamblers. Your Southern
gentleman is, with few exceptions, a votary of the exciting vice;
but he who makes it his profession severs the thread that bound him
to society. And there sits not far from these members of the
sporting fraternity, the tall, slender figure of a man, habited in
the garb of a quaker. He regards everything about him with the eye
of a philosopher, has a flowing white beard, a mild, playful blue
eye, a short but well-lined nose, a pale oval face, an evenly-cut
mouth, and an amiable expression of countenance. He intently
watches every movement of the denizens, and should one accost him,
he will answer in soft, friendly accents. He seems known to Madame
Flamingo, whom he regards with a mysterious demeanor, and addresses
as does a father his child. The old hostess gets no profit of his
visits, for "he is only a moralist," she says, and his name is Solon
- ; and better people love him more as more they know him.

Madame Flamingo has returned, followed by a colored gentleman in
bright livery, bearing on a silver tray two seductive bottles of the
sparkling nectar, and sundry rich-cut goblets. "There! there!" says
the old hostess, pointing to the centre-table, upon which the
colored man deposits them, and commences arranging some dozen
glasses, as she prepares to extract the corks. Now she fills the
glasses with the effervescing beverage, which the waiter again
places on the tray, and politely serves to the denizens, in whose
glassy eyes, sallow faces, coarse, unbared arms and shoulders, is
written the tale of their misery. The judge drinks with the
courtesan, touches glasses with the gambler, bows in compliment to
the landlady, who reiterates that she keeps the most respectable
house and the choicest wine. The moralist shakes his head, and
declines.

And while a dozen voices are pronouncing her beverage excellent, she
turns suddenly and nervously to her massive, old-fashioned
side-board, of carved walnut, and from the numerous cut glass that
range grotesquely along its top, draws forth an aldermanic decanter,
much broken. Holding it up to the view of her votaries, and looking
upon it with feelings of regret, "that," she says, "is what I got,
not many nights since, for kindly admitting one-I don't know when I
did such a thing before, mind ye! - of the common sort of people. I
never have any other luck when I take pity on one who has got down
hill. I have often thought that the more kind I am the more
ungrateful they upon whom I lavish my favors get. You must treat the
world just as it treats you-you must."

To your simple question, reader, more simply advanced, she replies
coquettishly: "Now, on my word of honor, Tom Swiggs did that. And
the poor fellow-I call him poor fellow, because, thinking of what he
used to be, I can't help it-has not a cent to pay for his pranks
with. Bless you, (here Madame Flamingo waxes warm,) why I knew Tom
Swiggs years ago, when he wasn't what he is now! He was as dashing a
young buck then as you'd meet in the city; used to come here a
perfect gentleman; and I liked him, and he liked me, and he got to
liking the house, so you couldn't, if you had wanted to, have kept
him away. And he always had no end of money, which he used to spend
so freely. Poor fellow! (she sighs and shakes her head,) I confess I
used to almost love Tom then. Then he got to courting a lady-she
(Madame corrects herself) wasn't a lady though, she was only the
daughter of a mechanic of small means - mechanic families have no
standing in society, you see-and this cut deep into his mother's
pride. And she, you see, was not quite sure where she stood in
society, you see, and wouldn't for the world have her pride
lessened; so she discarded poor Tom. And the girl has been got out
of the way, and Tom has become penniless, and such a wreck of
dissipation that no respectable house will admit him. It's a stiff
old family, that Swiggs family! His mother keeps him threading in
and out of jail, just to be rid of him. She is a curious mother; but
when I think how he looks and acts, how can I wonder she keeps him
in jail? I had to put him there twice - I had! (Madame Flamingo
becomes emphatic.) But remembering what a friend of the house he
used to be, I took pity on him, let him out, and lent him two
dollars. And there's honor - I've great faith in honor-in Tom, who, I
honestly believe, providing the devil do not get him in one of his
fits, will pay all damages, notwithstanding I placed the reputation
of my house in jeopardy with him a few nights since, was forced to
call three policemen to eject him, and resolved that he should not
again darken my door."






CHAPTER III.

IN WHICH THE READER IS PRESENTED WITH A VARIED PICTURE.





TOM has passed a restless night in jail. He has dreamed of bottled
snakes, with eyes wickedly glaring at him; of fiery-tailed serpents
coiling all over him; of devils in shapes he has no language to
describe; of the waltz of death, in which he danced at the mansion
of Madame Flamingo; and of his mother, (a name ever dear in his
thoughts,) who banished him to this region of vice, for what she
esteemed a moral infirmity. Further on in his dream he saw a vision,
a horrible vision, which was no less than a dispute for his person
between Madame Flamingo, a bishop, and the devil. But Madame
Flamingo and the devil, who seemed to enjoy each other's company
exceedingly, got the better of the bishop, who was scrupulous of his
dignity, and not a little anxious about being seen in such society.
And from the horrors of this dream he wakes, surprised to find
himself watched over by a kind friend-a young, comely-featured man,
in whom he recognizes the earnest theologian, as he is plumed by the
prisoners, whom he daily visits in his mission of good. There was
something so frank and gentle in this young man's demeanor-something
so manly and radiant in his countenance-something so disinterested
and holy in his mission of love - something so opposite to the
coldness of the great world without - something so serene and elevated
in his youth, that even the most inveterate criminal awaited his
coming with emotions of joy, and gave a ready ear to his kindly
advice. Indeed, the prisoners called him their child; and he seemed
not dainty of their approach, but took them each by the hand, sat at
their side, addressed them as should one brother address
another; - yea, he made them to feel that what was their interest it
was his joy to promote.

The young theologian took him a seat close by the side of the
dreaming inebriate; and as he woke convulsively, and turned towards
him his distorted face, viewing with wild stare each object that met
his sight, the young man met his recognition with a smile and a warm
grasp of the hand. "I am sorry you find me here again-yes, I am."

"Better men, perhaps, have been here - "

"I am ashamed of it, though; it isn't as it should be, you see,"
interrupts Tom.

"Never mind-(the young man checks himself)-I was going to say there
is a chance for you yet; and there is a chance; and you must
struggle; and I will help you to struggle; and your friends - "

Tom interrupts by saying, "I've no friends."

"I will help you to struggle, and to overcome the destroyer. Never
think you are friendless, for then you are a certain victim in the
hands of the ruthless enemy - "

"Well, well," pauses Tom, casting a half-suspicious look at the
young man, "I forgot. There's you, and him they call old Spunyarn,
are friends, after all. You'll excuse me, but I didn't think of
that;" and a feeling of satisfaction seemed to have come over him.
"How grateful to have friends when a body's in a place of this
kind," he mutters incoherently, as the tears gush from his distended
eyes, and child-like he grasps the hand of the young man.

"Be comforted with the knowledge that you have friends, Tom. One
all-important thing is wanted, and you are a man again."

"As to that!" interrupts Tom, doubtingly, and laying his begrimed
hand on his burning forehead, while he alternately frets and frisks
his fingers through his matted hair.

"Have no doubts, Tom-doubts are dangerous."

"Well, say what it is, and I'll try what I can do. But you won't
think I'm so bad as I seem, and 'll forgive me? I know what you
think of me, and that's what mortifies me; you think I'm an overdone
specimen of our chivalry-you do!"

"You must banish from your mind these despairing thoughts," replies
the young man, laying his right hand approvingly on Tom's head.
"First, Tom," he pursues, "be to yourself a friend; second, forget
the error of your mother, and forgive her sending you here; and
third, cut the house of Madame Flamingo, in which our chivalry are



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 2 of 29)