Copyright
F. Colburn Adams.

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

. (page 20 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 20 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


it's Tom who woundn't be the frind of the man who hadn't a shillin'
in his pocket."

The detective shrugs his shoulders, and having thanked the woman,
withdraws into the passage, to the end of which he cautiously picks
his way, and knocks at a distained door that fronts him. A voice
deep and husky bids him enter, which he does, as the lurid glare of
his lantern reveals a room some twelve by sixteen feet, the plaster
hanging in festoons from the black walls, and so low of ceiling that
he scarce can stand upright. Four bunk-beds, a little bureau, a
broken chair or two, and a few cheap pictures, hung here and there
on the sombre walls, give it an air of comfort in grateful contrast
with the room just left. "Who lives here?" inquires the detective,
turning his light full upon each object that attracts his attention.
"Shure it's only me-Mrs. Terence Murphy-and my three sisters (the
youngest is scarce fourteen), and the two English sisters: all
honest people, God knows," replies Mrs. Murphy, with a rapid tongue.
"It's not right of you to live this way," returns the detective,
continuing to survey the prostrate forms of Mrs. Murphy, her three
sisters, and the two fair-haired English girls, and the besotted
beings they claim as husbands. Alarm is pictured in every
countenance. A browned face withdraws under a dingy coverlid, an
anxious face peers from out a pallet on the floor, a prostrate
figure in the corner inquires the object of Mr. Detective
Fitzgerald's visit-and Mrs. Murphy, holding it more becoming of
respectable society, leaves the bed in which she had accommodated
five others, and gets into one she calls her own. A second thought,
and she makes up her mind not to get into bed, but to ask Mr.
Fitzgerald if he will be good enough, when next he meets his Onher,
the Mayor, just to say to him how Mr. Krone is bringing disgrace
upon the house and every one in it, by letting rooms to negroes.
Here she commences pouring out her pent-up wrath upon the head of
Mr. Krone, and the colored gentleman, whom she declares has a dozen
white females in his room every night. The detective encourages her
by saying it is not right of Mr. Krone, who looks more at the color
of his money than the skin of his tenants. "To come of a dacint
family-and be brought to this!" says Mrs. Murphy, allowing her
passion to rise, and swearing to have revenge of the negro in the
next room.

"You drink this gin, yet-I have warned you against it," interposes
the detective, pointing to some bottles on the bureau. "Faith, an'
it's the gin gets a many of us," returns the woman, curtly, as she
gathers about her the skirts of her garments. "Onyhow, yerself
wouldn't deprive us of a drop now and then, jist to keep up the
spirits." The detective shakes his head, then discloses to them the
object of his search, adding, in parenthesis, that he does not think
Mr. Toddleworth is the thief. A dozen tongues are ready to confirm
the detective's belief. "Not a shillin' of it did the poor crature
take-indeed he didn't, now, Mr. Fitzgerald. 'Onor's 'onor, all over
the wurld!" says Mrs. Murphy, grasping the detective by the hand.
"Stay till I tell ye all about it. Mary Maguire-indeed an' ye knows
her, Mr. Fitzgerald-this same afternoon looked in to say - 'how do ye
do, Mrs. Murphy. See this! Mrs. Murphy,' says she, 'an' the divil a
sich a pocket of money I'd see before, as she held in her right
hand, jist. 'Long life to ye, Mary,' says I. 'We'll have a pint,
Mrs. Murphy,' says she. 'May ye niver want the worth of it,' says I.
And the pint was not long in, when Mary got a little the worse of
it, and let all out about the money. 'You won't whisper it, Mrs.
Murphy,' says she, 'if I'd tell ye in confidence by what manes I got
the lift?'"

"'Not in the wide world, Mary,' says I; 'ye may trust me for that
same.' 'Shure didn't I raise it from the pocket of an auld woman in
spectacles, that watched the fool beyant dig up the corporation.'
'An' it'll not do yerself much good,' says I, liftin' the same, and
cuttin' away to the house. 'You won't whisper it?' says she."

"I can confirm the truth of that same," rejoins a brusque-figured
man, rising from his pallet, and speaking with regained confidence.
"Mary looked in at the Blazers, and being the worse of liquor,
showed a dale of ready money, and trated everybody, and gave the
money to everybody, and was wilcome wid everybody. Then Mrs. McCarty
got aboard of her ginerosity, and got her into the Rookery, where
the Miss McCartys thought it would not be amiss to have a quart. The
same was brought in, and Mary hersel' was soon like a dead woman oh
the floor, jist - "

"And they got the money all away?" interrupts the detective.

"Faith, an' she'll not have a blessed dollar come daylight,"
continues the man, resuming his pallet.

The detective bids Mrs. Murphy good night, and is soon groping his
way over a rickety old floor, along a dark, narrow passage, scarce
high enough to admit him, and running at right angles with the
first. A door on the left opens into a grotto-like place, the sickly
atmosphere of which seems hurling its poison into the very blood.
"Who's here?" inquires the detective, and a voice, feeble and
hollow, responds: "Lodgers!"

The damp, greasy walls; the broken ceilings; the sooty fireplace,
with its shattered bricks; the decayed wainscoating-its dark,
forlorn aspect, all bespeak it the fit abode of rats. And yet Mr.
Krone thinks it comfortable enough (the authorities think Mr. Krone
the best judge) for the accommodation of thirteen remnants of human
misery, all of whom are here huddled together on the wet, broken
floor, borrowing warmth of one another. The detective's light falls
curiously upon the dread picture, which he stands contemplating. A
pale, sickly girl, of some eleven summers, her hair falling wildly
over her wan features, lays upon some rags near the fireplace,
clinging to an inebriated mother. Here a father, heartsick and
prostrate with disease, seeks to keep warm his three ragged
children, nestling about him. An homeless outcast, necessity forces
him to send them out to prey upon the community by day, and to seek
in this wretched hovel a shelter at night. Yonder the rags are
thrown back, a moving mass is disclosed, and there protrudes a
disfigured face, made ghostly by the shadow of the detective's
lantern. At the detective's feet a prostrate girl, insensible of
gin, is seized with convulsions, clutches with wasted hands at the
few rags about her poor, flabby body, then with fingers grasping,
and teeth firmly set, her whole frame writhes in agony. Your
missionary never whispered a kind, encouraging word in her ear; his
hand never pressed that blanched bone with which she now saddens
your heart! Different might it have been with her had some gentle-
tongued Brother Spyke sought her out, bore patiently with her
waywardness, snatched her from this life of shame, and placed her
high in an atmosphere of light and love.

It is here, gentle shepherds, the benighted stand most in need of
your labors. Seek not to evangelize the Mahomedan world until you
have worked a reform here; and when you have done it, a monument in
heaven will be your reward.

"Mr. Toddleworth is not here," says the detective, withdrawing into
the passage, then ascending a broken and steep stairs that lead into
the third story. Nine shivering forms crouched in one dismal room;
four squabbish women, and three besotted men in another; and in a
third, nine ragged boys and two small girls-such are the scenes of
squalid misery presented here. In a little front room, Mr. Tom
Downey, his wife, and eight children, lay together upon the floor,
half covered with rags. Mr. Downey startles at the appearance of the
detective, rises nervously from his pallet, and after the pause of a
moment, says: "Indeed, yer welcome, Mr. Fitzgerald. Indeed, I have
not-an' God knows it's the truth I tell-seen Mr. Toddleworth the
week;" he replies, in answer to a question from the detective.

"You took a drop with him this afternoon?" continues the detective,
observing his nervousness.

"God knows it's a mistake, Mr. Fitzgerald." Mr. Downey changes the
subject, by saying the foreigners in the garret are a great
nuisance, and disturb him of his rest at night.

A small, crooked stair leads into "Organ-grinders' Roost," in the
garret. To "Organ-grinders' Roost" the detective ascends. If,
reader, you have ever pictured in your mind the cave of despair,
peopled by beings human only in shape, you may form a faint idea of
the wretchedness presented in "Organ-grinders' Roost," at the top of
the house of the Nine Nations. Seven stalworth men shoot out from
among a mass of rags on the floor, and with dark, wandering eyes,
and massive, uncombed beards, commence in their native Italian a
series of interrogatories, not one of which the detective can
understand. They would inquire for whom he seeks at this strange
hour. He (the detective) stands unmoved, as with savage gesture-he
has discovered his star-they tell him they are famishing of hunger.
A pretty black-eyed girl, to whose pale, but beautifully oval face
an expression of sorrow lends a touching softness, lays on the bare
floor, beside a mother of patriarchal aspect. Now she is seized with
a sharp cough that brings blood at every paroxysm. As if forgetting
herself, she lays her hand gently upon the cheek of her mother,
anxious to comfort her. Ah! the hard hand of poverty has been upon
her through life, and stubbornly refuses to relax its grip, even in
her old age. An organ forms here and there a division between the
sleepers; two grave-visaged monkeys sit chattering in the fireplace,
then crouch down on the few charred sticks. A picture of the
crucifix is seen conspicuous over the dingy fireplace, while from
the slanting roof hang several leathern girdles. Oh, what a struggle
for life is their's! Mothers, fathers, daughters, and little
children, thus promiscuously grouped, and coming up in neglect and
shame. There an old man, whom remorseless death is just calling into
eternity, with dull, glassy eyes, white, flowing beard, bald head,
sunken mouth, begrimed and deeply-wrinkled face, rises,
spectre-like, from his pallet. Now he draws from his breast a small
crucifix, and commences muttering to it in a guttural voice. "Peace,
peace, good old man-the holy father will come soon-the holy virgin
will come soon: he will receive the good spirit to his bosom," says
a black-eyed daughter, patting him gently upon the head, then
looking in his face solicitously, as he turns his eyes upward, and
for a few moments seems invoking the mercy of the Allwise. "Yes,
father," she resumes, lightening up the mat of straw upon which he
lays, "the world has been unkind to you, but you are passing from it
to a better-you will be at peace soon."

"Soon, soon, soon," mumbles the old man, in a whisper; and having
carefully returned the crucifix to his bosom, grasps fervently the
hand of the girl and kisses it, as her eyes swim in tears.

Such, to the shame of those who live in princely palaces, and revel
in luxury, are but faintly-drawn pictures of what may be seen in
the house of the Nine Nations.

The detective is about to give up the search, and turns to descend
the stairs, when suddenly he discerns a passage leading to the north
end of the garret. Here, in a little closet-like room, on the right,
the rats his only companions, lies the prostrate form of poor
Toddleworth.

"Well, I persevered till I found you," says the detective, turning
his light full upon the body. Another minute, and his features
become as marble; he stands aghast, and his whole frame seems
struggling under the effect of some violent shock. "What, what,
what!" he shouts, in nervous accents, "Murder! murder! murder! some
one has murdered him." Motionless the form lies, the shadow of the
light revealing the ghastly spectacle. The head lies in a pool of
blood, the bedimmed eyes, having taken their last look, remain
fixedly set on the black roof. "He has died of a blow-of a broken
skull!" says the frightened official, feeling, and feeling, and
pressing the arms and hands that are fast becoming rigid. Life is
gone out; a pauper's grave will soon close over what remains of this
wretched outcast. The detective hastens down stairs, spreads the
alarm over the neighborhood, and soon the House of the Nine Nations
is the scene of great excitement.






CHAPTER XXIX.

IN WHICH MAY BE SEEN A FEW OF OUR COMMON EVILS.





LEAVING for a time the scenes in the House of the Nine Nations, let
us return to Charleston, that we may see how matters appertaining to
this history are progressing. Mr. Snivel is a popular candidate for
the Senate of South Carolina; and having shot his man down in the
street, the question of his fighting abilities we regard as
honorably settled. Madame Montford, too, has by him been kept in a
state of nervous anxiety, for he has not yet found time to search in
the "Poor-house for the woman Munday." All our very first, and
best-known families, have dropped Madame, who is become a wet sheet
on the fashionable world. A select committee of the St. Cecilia has
twice considered her expulsion, while numerous very respectable and
equally active old ladies have been shaking their scandal-bags at
her head. Sins have been laid at her door that would indeed damage a
reputation with a fairer endorsement than New York can give.

Our city at this moment is warmed into a singular state of
excitement. A Georgia editor (we regard editors as belonging to a
very windy class of men), not having the mightiness of our chivalry
before him, said the Union would have peace if South Carolina were
shut up in a penitentiary. And for this we have invited the
indiscreet gentleman to step over the border, that we may hang him,
being extremely fond of such common-place amusements. What the
facetious fellow meant was, that our own State would enjoy peace and
prosperity were our mob-politicians all in the penitentiary. And
with this sensible opinion we heartily agree.

We regard our state of civilization as extremely enviable. To-day we
made a lion of the notorious Hines, the forger. Hines, fashioning
after our hapless chivalry, boasts that South Carolina is his
State-his political mother. He has, nevertheless, graced with his
presence no few penitentiaries. We feasted him in that same prison
where we degrade and starve the honest poor; we knew him guilty of
an henious crime-yet we carried him jubilantly to the "halls of
justice." And while distinguished lawyers tendered their services to
the "clever villain," you might have witnessed in sorrow a mock
trial, and heard a mob sanction with its acclamations his release.

Oh, truth and justice! how feeble is thy existence where the god
slavery reigns. And while men are heard sounding the praises of this
highwayman at the street corners, extolling men who have shot down
their fellow-men in the streets, and calling those "Hon. gentlemen,"
who have in the most cowardly manner assassinated their opponents,
let us turn to a different picture. Two genteely-dressed men are
seen entering the old jail. "I have twice promised them a happy
surprise," says one, whose pale, studious features, wear an
expression of gentleness. The face of the other is somewhat florid,
but beaming with warmth of heart. They enter, having passed up one
of the long halls, a room looking into the prison-yard. Several
weary-faced prisoners are seated round a deal table, playing cards;
among them is the old sailor described in the early part of this
history. "You don't know my friend, here?" says the young man of the
studious face, addressing the prisoners, and pointing to his
companion. The prisoners look inquiringly at the stranger, then
shake their heads in response.

"No, you don't know me: you never knew me when I was a man," speaks
the stranger, raising his hat, as a smile lights up his features.
"You don't know Tom Swiggs, the miserable inebriate - "

A spontaneaus shout of recognition, echoing and re-echoing through
the old halls, interrupts this declaration. One by one the
imprisoned men grasp him by the hand, and shower upon him the
warmest, the heartiest congratulations. A once fallen brother has
risen to a knowledge of his own happiness. Hands that raised him
from that mat of straw, when the mental man seemed lost, now welcome
him restored, a purer being.

"Ah, Spunyarn," says Tom, greeting the old sailor with child-like
fondness, as the tears are seen gushing into the eyes, and coursing
down the browned face of the old mariner, "I owe you a debt I fear I
never can pay. I have thought of you in my absence, and had hoped on
my return to see you released. I am sorry you are not - "

"Well, as to that," interrupts the old sailor, his face resuming its
wonted calm, "I can't-you know I can't, Tom, - sail without a
clearance. I sometimes think I'm never going to get one. Two years,
as you know, I've been here, now backing and then filling, in and
out, just as it suits that chap with the face like a snatch-block.
They call him a justice. 'Pon my soul, Tom, I begin to think justice
for us poor folks is got aground. Well, give us your hand agin' (he
seizes Tom by the hand); its all well wi' you, anyhows.'

"Yes, thank God," says Tom, returning his friendly shake, "I have
conquered the enemy, and my thanks for it are due to those who
reached my heart with kind words, and gave me a brother's hand. I
was not dead to my own degradation; but imprisonment left me no
hope. The sting of disappointment may pain your feelings; hope
deferred may torture you here in a prison; the persecutions of
enemies may madden your very soul; but when a mother turns coldly
from you - No, I will not say it, for I love her still - " he
hesitates, as the old sailor says, with touching simplicity, he
never knew what it was to have a mother or father. Having spread
before the old man and his companions sundry refreshments he had
ordered brought in, and received in return their thanks, he inquires
of Spunyarn how it happened that he got into prison, and how it is
that he remains here a fixture.

"I'll tell you, Tom," says the old sailor, commencing his story.
"We'd just come ashore-had a rough passage-and, says I to myself,
here's lay up ashore awhile. So I gets a crimp, who takes me to a
crib. 'It's all right here-you'll have snug quarters, Jack,' says
he, introducing me to the chap who kept it. I gives him twenty
dollars on stack, and gets up my chest and hammock, thinking it was
all fair and square. Then I meets an old shipmate, who I took in
tow, he being hard ashore for cash. 'Let us top the meetin' with a
glass,' says I. 'Agreed,' says Bill, and I calls her on, the very
best. 'Ten cents a glass,' says the fellow behind the counter,
giving us stuff that burnt as it went. 'Mister,' says I, 'do ye want
to poison a sailor?' 'If you no like him,' says he, 'go get better
somewhere else.' I told him to give me back the twenty, and me
dunnage.

"'You don't get him-clear out of mine 'ouse,' says he,

"'Under the peak,' says I, fetching him a but under the lug that
beached him among his beer-barrels. He picked himself up, and began
talking about a magistrate. And knowing what sort of navigation a
fellow'd have in the hands of that sort of land-craft, I began to
think about laying my course for another port. 'Hold on here,' says
a big-sided land-lubber, seizing me by the fore-sheets. 'Cast off
there,' says I, 'or I'll put ye on yer beam-ends.'

"'I'm a constable,' says he, pulling out a pair of irons he said
must go on my hands."

"I hope he did not put them on," interrupts the young theologian,
for it is he who accompanies Tom.

"Avast! I'll come to that. He said he'd only charge me five dollars
for going to jail without 'em, so rather than have me calling
damaged, I giv him it. It was only a trifle. 'Now, Jack,' says the
fellow, as we went along, in a friendly sort of way, 'just let us
pop in and see the justice. I think a ten 'll get ye a clearance.'
'No objection to that,' says I, and in we went, and there sat the
justice, face as long and sharp as a marlinspike, in a dirty old
hole, that looked like our forecastle. 'Bad affair this, Jack,' says
he, looking up over his spectacles. 'You must be locked up for a
year and a day, Jack.'

"'You'll give a sailor a hearin', won't ye?' says I. 'As to
that, - well, I don't know, Jack; you musn't break the laws of South
Carolina when you get ashore. You seem like a desirable sailor, and
can no doubt get a ship and good wages-this is a bad affair.
However, as I'm not inclined to be hard, if you are disposed to pay
twenty dollars, you can go.' 'Law and justice,' says I, shaking my
fist at him-'do ye take this salt-water citizen for a fool?'

"'Take him away, Mr. Stubble-lock him up! - lock him up!' says the
justice, and here I am, locked up, hard up, hoping. I'd been tied up
about three weeks when the justice looked in one day, and after
inquiring for me, and saying, 'good morning, Jack,' and seeming a
little by the head: 'about this affair of yourn, Jack,' says he,
'now, if you'll mind your eye when you get out - my trouble's worth
ten dollars-and pay me, I'll discharge you, and charge the costs to
the State.'

"'Charge the cost to the State!' says I. 'Do you take Spunyarn for a
marine?' At this he hauled his wind, and stood out."

"You have had a hearing before the Grand Jury, have you not?"
inquires Tom, evincing a deep interest in the story of his old
friend.

"Not I. This South Carolina justice is a hard old craft to sail in.
The Grand Jury only looks in once every six months, and then looks
out again, without inquiring who's here. And just before the time it
comes round, I'm shuffled out, and just after it has left, I'm
shuffled in again-fees charged to the State! That's it. So here I
am, a fee-making machine, bobbing in and out of jail to suit the
conveniences of Mister Justice. I don't say this with any ill will-I
don't." Having concluded his story, the old sailor follows his
visitors to the prison gate, takes an affectionate leave of Tom
Swiggs, and returns to join his companions. On the following day,
Tom intercedes with Mr. Snivel, for it is he who thus harvests fees
of the State by retaining the old sailor in prison, and procures his
release. And here, in Mr. Snivel, you have an instrument of that
debased magistracy which triumphs over the weak, that sits in
ignorance and indolence, that invests the hypocritical designer with
a power almost absolute, that keeps justice muzzled on her
throne-the natural offspring of that demon-making institution that
scruples not to brunt the intellect of millions, while dragging a
pall of sloth over the land.






CHAPTER XXX.

CONTAINING VARIOUS THINGS APPERTAINING TO THIS HISTORY.





MARIA MCARTHUR having, by her womanly sympathy, awakened the
generous impulses of Tom Swiggs, he is resolved they shall have a
new channel for their action. Her kindness touched his heart; her
solicitude for his welfare gained his affections, and a recognition
of that love she so long and silently cherished for him, is the
natural result. The heart that does not move to woman's kindness,
must indeed be hard. But there were other things which strengthened
Tom's affections for Maria. The poverty of her aged father; the
insults offered her by Keepum and Snivel; the manner in which they
sought her ruin while harassing her father; the artlessness and lone
condition of the pure-minded girl; and the almost holy affection
evinced for the old man on whom she doated-all tended to bring him
nearer and nearer to her, until he irresistibly found himself at her
feet, pledging that faith lovers call eternal. Maria is not of that
species of being the world calls beautiful; but there is about her
something pure, thoughtful, even noble; and this her lone condition
heightens. Love does not always bow before beauty. The singularities
of human nature are most strikingly blended in woman. She can
overcome physical defects; she can cultivate attractions most ap-
preciated by those who study her worth deepest. Have you not seen
those whose charms at first-sight found no place in your thoughts,
but as you were drawn nearer and nearer to them, so also did your
esteem quicken, and that esteem, almost unconsciously, you found
ripening into affection, until in turn you were seized with an
ardent passion? You have. And you have found yourself enamored of
the very one against whom you had endeavored most to restrain your
generous impulses. Like the fine lines upon a picture with a



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 20 of 29)