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

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repulsive design, you trace them, and recur to them until your
admiration is carried away captive. So it is with woman's charms.
Tom Swiggs, then, the restored man, bows before the simple goodness
of the daughter of the old Antiquary.

Mr. Trueman, the shipowner, gave Tom employment, and has proved a
friend to him. Tom, in turn, has so far gained his confidence and
respect that Mr. Trueman contemplates sending him to London, on
board one of his ships. Nor has Tom forgotten to repay the old
Antiquary, who gave him a shelter when he was homeless; this home is
still under the roof of the old man, toward whose comfort he
contributes weekly a portion of his earnings. If you could but look
into that little back-parlor, you would see a picture of humble
cheerfulness presented in the old man, his daughter, and Tom Swiggs,
seated round the tea-table. Let us, however, turn and look into one
of our gaudy saloons, that we may see how different a picture is
presented there.

It is the night previous to an election for Mayor. Leaden clouds
hang threatening over the city; the gaslight throws out its shadows
at an early hour; and loud-talking men throng our street-corners and
public resorts. Our politicians tell us that the destiny of the rich
and the poor is to forever guard that institution which employs all
our passions, and absorbs all our energies.

In a curtained box, at the St. Charles, sits Mr. Snivel and George
Mullholland-the latter careworn and downcast of countenance. "Let us
finish this champaign, my good fellow," says the politician,
emptying his glass. "A man-I mean one who wants to get up in the
world-must, like me, have two distinct natures. He must have a
grave, moral nature-that is necessary to the affairs of State. And
he must, to accommodate himself to the world (law and society, I
mean), have a terribly loose nature-a perfect quicksand, into which
he can drag everything that serves himself. You have seen how I can
develop both these, eh?" The downcast man shakes his head, as the
politician watches him with a steady gaze. "Take the advice of a
friend, now, let the Judge alone-don't threaten again to shoot that
girl. Threats are sometimes dragged in as testimony against a man
(Mr. Snivel taps George admonishingly on the arm); and should
anything of a serious nature befall her-the law is curious-why, what
you have said might implicate you, though you were innocent."

"You," interrupts George, "have shot your man down in the street."

"A very different affair, George. My position in society protects
me. I am a member of the Jockey-Club, a candidate for the State
Senate - a Justice of the Peace - yes, a politician! You are - Well, I
was going to say-nothing! We regard northerners as enemies;
socially, they are nothing. Come, George, come with me. I am your
best friend. You shall see the power in my hands." The two men
saunter out together, pass up a narrow lane leading from King
Street, and are soon groping their way up the dark stairway of an
old, neglected-looking wooden building, that for several years has
remained deserted by everything but rats and politicians, - one
seeming to gnaw away at the bowels of the nation, the other at the
bowels of the old building. Having ascended to the second floor, Mr.
Snivel touches a spring, a suspicious little trap opens, and two
bright eyes peer out, as a low, whispering voice inquires, "Who's
there?" Mr. Snivel has exchanged the countersign, and with his
companion is admitted into a dark vestibule, in which sits a brawny
guardsman.

"Cribs are necessary, sir-I suppose you never looked into one
before?"

George, in a voice discovering timidity, says he never has.

"You must have cribs, and crib-voters; they are necessary to get
into high office-indeed, I may say, to keep up with the political
spirit of the age." Mr. Snivel is interrupted by the deep, coarse
voice of Milman Mingle, the vote-cribber, whose broad, savage face
looks out at a small guard trap. "All right," he says, recognizing
Mr. Snivel. Another minute, and a door opens into a long,
sombre-looking room, redolent of the fumes of whiskey and tobacco.
"The day is ours. We'll elect our candidate, and then my election is
certain; naturalized thirteen rather green ones to-day-to-morrow
they will be trump cards. Stubbs has attended to the little matter
of the ballot-boxes." Mr. Snivel gives the vote-cribber's hand a
warm shake, and turns to introduce his friend. The vote-cribber has
seen him before. "There are thirteen in," he says, and two more he
has in his eye, and will have in to-night, having sent trappers out
for them.

Cold meats, bread, cheese, and crackers, and a bountiful supply of
bad whiskey, are spread over a table in the centre of the room;
while the pale light of two small lamps, suspended from the ceiling,
throws a curious shadow over the repulsive features of thirteen
forlorn, ragged, and half-drunken men, sitting here and there round
the room, on wooden benches. You see ignorance and cruelty written
in their very countenances. For nearly three weeks they have not
scented the air of heaven, but have been held here in a despicable
bondage. Ragged and filthy, like Falstaff's invincibles, they will
be marched to the polls to-morrow, and cast their votes at the bid
of the cribber. "A happy lot of fellows," says Mr. Snivel,
exultingly. "I have a passion for this sort of business-am general
supervisor of all these cribs, you understand. We have several of
them. Some of these 'drifts' we kidnap, and some come and be locked
up of their own accord-merely for the feed and drink. We use them,
and then snuff them out until we want them again." Having turned
from George, and complimented the vote-cribber for his skill, he
bids him good-night. Together George and the politician wend their
way to an obscure part of the city, and having passed up two flight
of winding stairs, into a large, old-fashioned house on the Neck,
are in a sort of barrack-room, fitted up with bunks and benches, and
filled with a grotesque assembly, making night jubilant-eating,
drinking, smoking, and singing. "A jolly set of fellows," says Mr.
Snivel, with an expression of satisfaction. "This is a decoy
crib-the vagabonds all belong to the party of our opponents, but
don't know it. We work in this way: we catch them-they are mostly
foreigners-lock them up, give them good food and drink, and make
them-not the half can speak our language-believe we belong to the
same party. They yield, as submissive as curs. To morrow, we-this is
in confidence-drug them all, send them into a fast sleep, in which
we keep them till the polls are closed, then, not wanting them
longer, we kick them out for a set of drunkards. Dangerous sort of
cribbing, this. I let you into the secret out of pure friendship."
Mr. Snivel pauses. George has at heart something of deeper interest
to him than votes and vote-cribbers. But why, he says to himself,
does Mr. Snivel evince this anxiety to befriend me? This question is
answered by Mr. Snivel inviting him to take a look into the Keno
den.






CHAPTER XXXI.

THE KENO DEN, AND WHAT MAY BE SEEN IN IT.





THE clock has just struck twelve. Mr. Snivel and George, passing
from the scenes of our last chapter, enter a Keno den,

A gambling den. situated on Meeting street. "You must get money,
George. Here you are nothing without money. Take this, try your
hand, make your genius serve you." Mr. Snivel puts twenty dollars
into George's hand. They are in a room some twenty by thirty feet in
dimensions, dimly-lighted. Standing here and there are gambling
tables, around which are seated numerous mechanics, losing, and
being defrauded of that for which they have labored hard during the
week. Hope, anxiety, and even desperation is pictured on the
countenances of the players. Maddened and disappointed, one young
man rises from a table, at which sits a craven-faced man sweeping
the winnings into his pile, and with profane tongue, says he has
lost his all. Another, with flushed face and bloodshot eyes,
declares it the sixth time he has lost his earnings here. A third
reels confusedly about the room, says a mechanic is but a dog in
South Carolina; and the sooner he comes to a dog's end the better.

Mr. Snivel points George to a table, at which he is soon seated.
"Blank-blank-blank!" he reiterates, as the numbers turn up, and one
by one the moody bank-keeper sweeps the money into his
fast-increasing heap. "Cursed fate! - it is against me," mutters the
forlorn man. "Another gone, and yet another! How this deluding, this
fascinating money tortures me." With hectic face and agitated nerve,
he puts down his last dollar. "Luck's mysterious!" exclaims Mr.
Snivel, looking on unmoved, as the man of the moody face declares a
blank, and again sweeps the money into his heap. "Gone!" says
George, "all's gone now." He rises from his seat, in despair.

"Don't get frantic, George-be a philosopher-try again-here's a ten.
Luck 'll turn," says Mr. Snivel, patting the deluded man familiarly
on the shoulder, as he resumes his seat. "Will poverty never cease
torturing me? I have tried to be a man, an honest man, a respectable
man. And yet, here I am, again cast upon a gambler's sea, struggling
with its fearful tempests. How cold, how stone-like the faces around
me!" he muses, watching with death-like gaze each number as it turns
up. Again he has staked his last dollar; again fortune frowns upon
him. Like a furnace of livid flame, the excitement seems burning up
his brain. "I am a fool again," he says, throwing the blank number
contemptuously upon the table. "Take it-take it, speechless,
imperturbable man! Rake it into your pile, for my eyes are dim, and
my fortune I must seek elsewhere."

A noise at the door, as of some one in distress, is heard, and there
rushes frantically into the den a pale, dejected-looking woman,
bearing in her arms a sick and emaciated babe. "Oh, William!
William! - has it come to this?" she shrieks, casting a wild glance
round the den, until, with a dark, sad expression, her eye falls
upon the object of her search. It is her husband, once a happy
mechanic. Enticed by degrees into this den of ruin, becoming
fascinated with its games of chance, he is now an habitue. To-night
he left his suffering family, lost his all here, and now, having
drank to relieve his feelings, lies insensible on the floor. "Come
home! - come home! for God's sake come home to your suffering family,"
cries the woman, vaulting to him and taking him by the hand, her
hair floating dishevelled down her shoulders. "I sent Tommy into the
street to beg-I am ashamed-and he is picked up by the watch for a
thief, a vagrant!" The prostrate man remains insensible to her
appeal. Two policemen, who have been quietly neglecting their duties
while taking a few chances, sit unmoved. Mr. Snivel thinks the woman
better be removed. "Our half-starved mechanics," he says, "are a
depraved set; and these wives they bring with them from the North
are a sort of cross between a lean stage-driver and a wildcat. She
seems a poor, destitute creature-just what they all come to, out
here." Mr. Snivel shrugs his shoulders, bids George good night, and
takes his departure. "Take care of yourself, George," he says
admonitiously, as the destitute man watches him take his leave. The
woman, frantic at the coldness and apathy manifested for her
distress, lays her babe hurriedly upon the floor, and with passion
and despair darting from her very eyes, makes a lunge across the
keno table at the man who sits stoically at the bank. In an instant
everything is turned into uproar and confusion. Glasses, chairs, and
tables, are hurled about the floor; shriek follows shriek - "help!
pity me! murder!" rises above the confusion, the watch without sound
the alarm, and the watch within suddenly become conscious of their
duty. In the midst of all the confusion, a voice cries out: "My
pocket book-my pocket book! - I have been robbed." A light flashes
from a guardsman's lantern, and George Mullholland is discovered
with the forlorn woman in his arms-she clings tenaciously to her
babe-rushing into the street.






CHAPTER XXXII.

WHICH A STATE OF SOCIETY IS SLIGHTLY REVEALED.





A WEEK has rolled into the past since the event at the Keno den.

Madame Montford, pale, thoughtful, and abstracted, sits musing in
her parlor. "Between this hope and fear-this remorse of conscience,
this struggle to overcome the suspicions of society, I have no
peace. I am weary of this slandering-this unforgiving world. And yet
it is my own conscience that refuses to forgive me. Go where I will
I see the cold finger of scorn pointed at me: I read in every
countenance, 'Madame Montford, you have wronged some one-your guilty
conscience betrays you!' I have sought to atone for my error-to
render justice to one my heart tells me I have wronged, yet I cannot
shake off the dread burden; and there seems rest for me only in the
grave. Ah! there it is. The one error of my life, and the means used
to conceal it, may have brought misery upon more heads than one."
She lays her hand upon her heart, and shakes her head sorrowfully.
"Yes! something like a death-knell rings in my ears-'more than one
have you sent, unhappy, to the grave.' Rejected by the one I fancy
my own; my very touch scorned; my motives misconstrued-all, perhaps,
by-a doubt yet hangs between us-an abandoned stranger. Duty to my
conscience has driven me to acts that have betrayed me to society. I
cannot shake my guilt from me even for a day; and now society coldly
cancels all my claims to its attentions. If I could believe her
dead; if I but knew this girl was not the object of all my heart's
unrest, then the wearying doubt would be buried, and my heart might
find peace in some remote corner of the earth. Well, well-perhaps I
am wasting all this torture on an unworthy object. I should have
thought of this sooner, for now foul slander is upon every tongue,
and my misery is made thrice painful by my old flatterers. I will
make one more effort, then if I fail of getting a certain clue to
her, I will remove to some foreign country, shake off these haunting
dreams, and be no longer a victim to my own thoughts." Somewhat
relieved, Madame is roused from her reverie by a gentle tap at the
door. "I have waited your coming, and am glad to see you;" she says,
extending her hand, as a servant, in response to her command, ushers
into her presence no less a person than Tom Swiggs. "I have sent for
you," she resumes, motioning him gracefully to a chair, in which she
begs he will be seated, "because I feel I can confide in you - "

"Anything in my power is at your service, Madame," modestly
interposes Tom, regaining confidence.

"I entrusted something of much importance to me, to Mr. Snivel - "

"We call him the Hon. Mr. Snivel now, since he has got to be a great
politician," interrupts Tom.

"And he not only betrayed my confidence," pursues Madame Montford,
"but retains the amount I paid him, and forgets to render the
promised service. You, I am told, can render me a service - "

"As for Mr. Snivel," pursues Tom, hastily, "he has of late had his
hands full, getting a poor but good-natured fellow, by the name of
George Mullholland, into trouble. His friend, Judge Sleepyhorn, and
he, have for some time had a plot on hand to crush this poor fellow.
A few nights ago Snivel drove him mad at a gambling den, and in his
desperation he robbed a man of his pocket-book. He shared the money
with a poor woman he rescued at the den, and that is the way it was
discovered that he was the criminal. He is a poor, thoughtless man,
and he has been goaded on from one thing to another, until he was
driven to commit this act. First, his wife was got away from him - "
Tom pauses and blushes, as Madame Montford says: "His wife was got
away from him?"

"Yes, Madame," returns Tom, with an expression of sincerity. "The
Judge got her away from him; and this morning he was arraigned
before that same Judge for examination, and Mr. Snivel was a
principal witness, and there was enough found against him to commit
him for trial at the Sessions." Discovering that this information is
exciting her emotions, Tom pauses, and contemplates her with steady
gaze. She desires he will be her guide to the Poor-House, and there
assist her in searching for Mag Munday, whom, report says, is
confined in a cell. Tom having expressed his readiness to serve her,
they are soon on their way to that establishment.

A low, squatty building, with a red, moss-covered roof, two lean
chimneys peeping out, the windows blockaded with dirt, and situated
in one of the by-lanes of the city, is our Poor-House, standing half
hid behind a crabbed old wall, and looking very like a
much-neglected Quaker church in vegetation. We boast much of our
institutions, and this being a sample of them, we hold it in great
reverence. You may say that nothing so forcibly illustrates a state
of society as the character of its institutions for the care of
those unfortunate beings whom a capricious nature has deprived of
their reason. We agree with you. We see our Poor-House crumbling to
the ground with decay, yet imagine it, or affect to imagine it, a
very grand edifice, in every way suited to the wants of such rough
ends of humanity as are found in it. Like Satan, we are brilliant
believers in ourselves, not bad sophists, and singularly clever in
finding apologies for all great crimes.

At the door of the Poor-House stands a dilapidated hearse, to which
an old gray horse is attached. A number of buzzards have gathered
about him, turn their heads suspiciously now and then, and seem
meditating a descent upon his bones at no very distant day. Madame
casts a glance at the hearse, and the poor old horse, and the cawing
buzzards, then follows Tom, timidly, to the door. He has rung the
bell, and soon there stands before them, in the damp doorway, a
fussy old man, with a very broad, red face, and a very blunt nose,
and two very dull, gray eyes, which he fortifies with a pair of
massive-framed spectacles, that have a passion for getting upon the
tip-end of his broad blunt nose.

"There, you want to see somebody! Always somebody wanted to be seen,
when we have dead folks to get rid of," mutters the old man,
querulously, then looking inquiringly at the visitors. Tom says they
would like to go over the premises. "Yes-know you would. Ain't so
dull but I can see what folks want when they look in here." The old
man, his countenance wearing an expression of stupidity, runs his
dingy fingers over the crown of his bald head, and seems questioning
within himself whether to admit them. "I'm not in a very good humor
to-day," he rather growls than speaks, "but you can come in - I'm of
a good family-and I'll call Glentworthy. I'm old-I can't get about
much. We'll all get old." The building seems in a very bad temper
generally.

Mr. Glentworthy is called. Mr. Glentworthy, with a profane
expletive, pops his head out at the top of the stairs, and inquires
who wants him. The visitors have advanced into a little, narrow
passage, lumbered with all sorts of rubbish, and swarming with
flies. Mr. Saddlerock (for this is the old man's name) seems in a
declining mood, the building seems in a declining mood, Mr.
Glentworthy seems in a declining mood-everything you look at seems
in a declining mood. "As if I hadn't enough to do, gettin' off this
dead cribber!" interpolates Mr. Glentworthy, withdrawing his wicked
face, and taking himself back into a room on the left.

"He's not so bad a man, only it doesn't come out at first;" pursues
Mr. Saddlerock, continuing to rub his head, and to fuss round on his
toes. His mind, Madame Montford verily believes stuck in a fog. "We
must wait a bit," says the old man, his face seeming to elongate.
"You can look about-there's not much to be seen, and what there
is-well, it's not the finest." Mr. Saddlerock shuffles his feet, and
then shuffles himself into a small side room. Through the building
there breathes a warm, sickly atmosphere; the effect has left its
marks upon the sad, waning countenances of its unfortunate inmates.

Tom and Madame Montford set out to explore the establishment. They
enter room after room, find them small, dark, and filthy beyond
description. Some are crowded with half-naked, flabby females, whose
careworn faces, and well-starved aspect, tells a sorrowful tale of
the chivalry. An abundant supply of profane works, in yellow and red
covers, would indeed seem to have been substituted for food, which,
to the shame of our commissioners, be it said, is a scarce article
here. Cooped up in another little room, after the fashion of wild
beasts in a cage, are seven poor idiots, whose forlorn condition,
sad, dull countenances, as they sit round a table, staring vacantly
at one another, like mummies in contemplation, form a wild but
singularly touching picture. Each countenance pales before the
seeming study of its opponent, until, enraptured and amazed, they
break out into a wild, hysterical laugh. And thus, poisoned,
starved, and left to die, does time with these poor mortals fleet
on.

The visitors ascend to the second story. A shuffling of feet in a
room at the top of the stairs excites their curiosity. Mr.
Glentworthy's voice grates harshly on the ear, in language we cannot
insert in this history. "Our high families never look into low
places-chance if the commissioner has looked in here for years,"
says Tom, observing Madame Montford protect her inhaling organs with
her perfumed cambric. "There is a principle of economy carried
out-and a very nice principle, too, in getting these poor out of the
world as quick as possible." Tom pushes open a door, and, heavens!
what a sight is here. He stands aghast in the doorway-Madam, on
tip-toe, peers anxiously in over his shoulders. Mr. Glentworthy and
two negroes-the former slightly inebriated, the latter trembling of
fright-are preparing to box up a lifeless mass, lying carelessly
upon the floor. The distorted features, the profusion of long, red
hair, curling over a scared face, and the stalworth figure, shed
some light upon the identity of the deceased. "Who is it?"
ejaculates Mr. Glentworthy, in response to an inquiry from Tom. Mr.
Glentworthy shrugs his shoulders, and commences whistling a tune.
"That cove!" he resumes, having stopped short in his tune, "a man
what don't know that cove, never had much to do with politics.
Stuffed more ballot boxes, cribbed more voters, and knocked down
more slip-shod citizens-that cove has, than, put 'em all together,
would make a South Carolina regiment. A mighty man among
politicians, he was! Now the devil has cribbed him-he'll know how
good it is!" Mr. Glentworthy says this with an air of superlative
satisfaction, resuming his tune. The dead man is Milman Mingle, the
vote-cribber, who died of a wound he received at the hands of an
antagonist, whom he was endeavoring to "block out" while going to
the polls to cast his vote. "Big politician, but had no home!" says
Madame, with a sigh.

Mr. Glentworthy soon had what remained of the vote-cribber-the man
to whom so many were indebted for their high offices-into a deal
box, and the deal box into the old hearse, and the old hearse,
driven by a mischievous negro, hastening to that great crib to which
we must all go. "Visitors," Mr. Glentworthy smiles, "must not
question the way we do business here, I get no pay, and there's only
old Saddlerock and me to do all the work. Old Saddlerock, you see,
is a bit of a miser, and having a large family of small Saddlerocks
to provide for, scrapes what he can into his own pocket. No one is
the wiser. They can't be-they never come in." Mr. Glentworthy, in
reply to a question from Madame Montford, says Mag Munday (he has
some faint recollection of her) was twice in the house, which he
dignifies with the title of "Institution." She never was in the "mad
cells" - to his recollection. "Them what get there, mostly die there."
A gift of two dollars secures Mr. Glentworthy's services, and
restores him to perfect good nature. "You will remember," says Tom,
"that this woman ran neglected about the streets, was much abused,
and ended in becoming a maniac." Mr. Glentworthy remembers very
well, but adds: "We have so many maniacs on our hands, that we can't
distinctly remember them all. The clergymen take good care never to
look in here. They couldn't do any good if they did, for nobody
cares for the rubbish sent here; and if you tried to Christianize
them, you would only get laughed at. I don't like to be laughed at.



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 21 of 29)