F. Colburn Adams.

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

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be seen plying at her needle, early and late. It is the only means
left her of succoring the parent from whom she has been so
ruthlessly separated. Hoping, fearing, bright to-day and dark
to-morrow, willing to work and wait-here she sits. A few days pass,
and the odds and ends of the Antiquary's little shop, like the
"shirts" of the gallant Fremont, whom we oppressed while poor, and
essayed to flatter when a hero, are gazetted under the head of
"sheriff's sale." Hope, alas! brings no comfort to Maria. Time rolls
on, the month's rent falls due, her father pines and sinks in
confinement, and her needle is found inadequate to the task
undertaken. Necessity demands, and one by one she parts with her few
cherished mementos of the past, that she may save an aged father
from starvation.

The "prisoner" has given notice that he will take the benefit of the
act-commonly called "an act for the relief of poor debtors." But
before he can reach this boon, ten days must elapse. Generous-minded
legislators, no doubt, intended well when they constructed this act,
but so complex are its provisions that any legal gentleman may make
it a very convenient means of oppression. And in a community where
laws not only have their origin in the passions of men, but are made
to serve popular prejudices-where the quality of justice obtained
depends upon the position and sentiments of him who seeks it, - the
weak have no chance against the powerful.

The multiplicity of notices, citations, and schedules, necessary to
the setting free of this "poor debtor" (for these fussy officials
must be paid), Maria finds making a heavy drain on her lean purse.

The Court is in session, and the ten days having glided away, the
old man is brought into "open Court" by two officials with long
tipstaffs, and faces looking as if they had been carefully pickled
in strong drinks. "Surely, now, they'll set me free-I can give them
no more-I am old and infirm-they have got all-and my daughter!" he
muses within himself. Ah! he little knows how uncertain a thing is
the law.

The Judge is engaged over a case in which two very fine old families
are disputing for the blood and bones of a little "nigger" girl. The
possession of this helpless slave, the Judge (he sits in easy
dignity) very naturally regards of superior importance when compared
with the freedom of a "poor debtor." He cannot listen to the story
of destitution-precisely what was sought by Keepum-to-day, and
to-morrow the Court adjourns for six months.

The Antiquary is remanded back to his cell. No one in Court cares
for him; no one has a thought for the achings of that heart his
release would unburden; the sorrows of that lone girl are known only
to herself and the One in whom she puts her trust. She,
nevertheless, seeks the old man in his prison, and there comforts
him as best she can.

Five days more, and the "prisoner" is brought before the
Commissioner for Special Bail, who is no less a personage than the
rosy-faced Clerk of the Court, just adjourned. And here we cannot
forbear to say, that however despicable the object sought, however
barren of right the plea, however adverse to common humanity the
spirit of the action, there is always to be found some legal
gentleman, true to the lower instincts of the profession, ready to
lend himself to his client's motives. And in this instance, the
cunning Keepum finds an excellent instrument of furthering his ends,
in one Peter Crimpton, a somewhat faded and rather disreputable
member of the learned profession. It is said of Crimpton, that he is
clever at managing cases where oppression rather than justice is
sought, and that his present client furnishes the larger half of his

And while Maria, too sensitive to face the gaze of the coarse crowd,
pauses without, silent and anxious, listening one moment and hoping
the next will see her old father restored to her, the adroit
Crimpton rises to object to "the Schedule." To the end that he may
substantiate his objections, he proposes to examine the prisoner.
Having no alternative, the Commissioner grants the request.

The old Antiquary made out his schedule with the aid of the
good-hearted jailer, who inserted as his effects, "Necessary wearing
apparel." It was all he had. Like the gallant Fremont, when he
offered to resign his shirts to his chivalric creditor, he could
give them no more. A few questions are put; the old man answers them
with childlike simplicity, then sits down, his trembling fingers
wandering into his beard. Mr. Crimpton produces his paper, sets
forth his objections, and asks permission to file them, that the
case may come before a jury of "Special Bail."

Permission is granted. The reader will not fail to discover the
object of this procedure. Keepum hopes to continue the old man in
prison, that he may succeed in breaking down the proud spirit of his

The Commissioner listens attentively to the reading of the
objections. The first sets forth that Mr. McArthur has a gold watch;

Our Charleston readers will recognize the case here described,
without any further key. the second, that he has a valuable
breast-pin, said to have been worn by Lord Cornwallis; and the
third, that he has one Yorick's skull. All of these, Mr. Crimpton
regrets to say, are withheld from the schedule, which virtually
constitutes fraud. The facile Commissioner bows; the assembled crowd
look on unmoved; but the old man shakes his head and listens. He is
surprised to find himself accused of fraud; but the law gives him no
power to show his own innocence. The Judge of the Sessions was
competent to decide the question now raised, and to have prevented
this reverting to a "special jury" - this giving the vindictive
plaintiff a means of torturing his infirm victim. Had he but
listened to the old man's tale of poverty, he might have saved the
heart of that forlorn girl many a bitter pang.

The motion granted, a day is appointed-ten days must elapse-for a
hearing before the Commissioner of "Special Bail," and his special
jury. The rosy-faced functionary, being a jolly and somewhat
flexible sort of man, must needs give his health an airing in the
country. What is the liberty of a poor white with us? Our Governor,
whom we esteem singularly sagacious, said it were better all our
poor were enslaved, and this opinion finds high favor with our first
families. The worthy Commissioner, in addition to taking care of his
health, is expected to make any number of speeches, full of wind and
war, to several recently called Secession Conventions. He will find
time (being a General by courtesy) to review the up-country
militia, and the right and left divisions of the South Carolina
army. He will be feted by some few of our most distinguished
Generals, and lecture before the people of Beaufort (a very noisy
town of forty-two inhabitants, all heroes), to whom he will prove
the necessity of our State providing itself with an independent
steam navy.

The old Antiquary is remanded back to jail-to wait the coming day.
Maria, almost breathless with anxiety, runs to him as he comes
tottering out of Court in advance of the official, lays her
trembling hand upon his arm, and looks inquiringly in his face. "Oh!
my father, my father! - released? released?" she inquires, with
quivering lips and throbbing heart. A forced smile plays over his
time-worn face, he looks upward, shakes his head in sorrow, and
having patted her affectionately on the shoulder, throws his arms
about her neck and kisses her. That mute appeal, that melancholy
voucher of his sorrows, knells the painful answer in her ears, "Then
you are not free to come with me? Oh, father, father!" and she
wrings her hands and gives vent to her tears.

"The time will come, my daughter, when my Judge will hear me-will
judge me right. My time will come soon - " And here the old man
pauses, and chokes with his emotions. Maria returns the old man's
kiss, and being satisfied that he is yet in the hands of his
oppressors, sets about cheering up his drooping spirits. "Don't
think of me, father," she says - "don't think of me! Let us put our
trust in Him who can shorten the days of our tribulation." She takes
the old man's arm, and like one who would forget her own troubles in
her anxiety to relieve another, supports him on his way back to

It is high noon. She stands before the prison gate, now glancing at
the serene sky, then at the cold, frowning walls, and again at the
old pile, as if contemplating the wearying hours he must pass within
it. "Don't repine-nerve yourself with resolution, and all will be
well!" Having said this with an air of confidence in herself, she
throws her arms about the old man's neck, presses him to her bosom,
kisses and kisses his wrinkled cheek, then grasps his hand warmly in
her own. "Forget those who persecute you, for it is good. Look
above, father-to Him who tempers the winds, who watches over the
weak, and gives the victory to the right!" She pauses, as the old
man holds her hand in silence. "This life is but a transient sojourn
at best; full of hopes and fears, that, like a soldier's dream, pass
away when the battle is ended." Again she fondly shakes his hand,
lisps a sorrowing "good-bye," watches him, in silence, out of sight,
then turns away in tears, and seeks her home. There is something so
pure, so earnest in her solicitude for the old man, that it seems
more of heaven than earth.



ON taking leave of her father, Maria, her heart overburdened with
grief, and her mind abstracted, turned towards the Battery, and
continued, slowly and sadly, until she found herself seated beneath
a tree, looking out upon the calm bay. Here, scarce conscious of
those who were observing her in their sallies, she mused until dusky
evening, when the air seemed hushed, and the busy hum of day was
dying away in the distance. The dark woodland on the opposite bank
gave a bold border to the soft picture; the ships rode sluggishly
upon the polished waters; the negro's touching song echoed and
re-echoed along the shore; and the boatman's chorus broke upon the
stilly air in strains so dulcet. And as the mellow shadows of night
stole over the scene-as the heavens looked down in all their
sereneness, and the stars shone out, and twinkled, and laughed, and
danced upon the blue waters, and coquetted with the moonbeams - for
the moon was up, and shedding a halo of mystic light over the
scene-making night merry, nature seemed speaking to Maria in words
of condolence. Her heart was touched, her spirits gained strength,
her soul seemed in a loftier and purer atmosphere.

"Poor, but virtuous-virtue ennobles the poor. Once gone, the world
never gives it back!" she muses, and is awakened from her reverie by
a sweet, sympathizing voice, whispering in her ear. "Woman! you are
in trouble, - linger no longer here, or you will fall into the hands
of your enemies." She looks up, and there stands at her side a young
female, whose beauty the angels might envy. The figure came upon her
so suddenly that she hesitates for a reply to the admonition.

"Take this, it will do something toward relieving your wants (do not
open it now), and with this (she places a stiletto in her hand) you
can strike down the one who attempts your virtue. Nay, remember that
while you cling to that, you are safe-lose it, and you are gone
forever. Your troubles will soon end; mine are for a life-time.
Yours find a relaxation in your innocence; mine is seared into my
heart with my own shame. It is guilt-shame! that infuses into the
heart that poison, for which years of rectitude afford no antidote.
Go quickly-get from this lone place! You are richer than me." She
slips something into Maria's hand, and suddenly disappears.

Maria rises from her seat, intending to follow the stranger, but she
is out of sight. Who can this mysterious messenger, this beautiful
stranger be? Maria muses. A thought flashes across her mind; it is
she who sought our house at midnight, when my father revealed her
dark future! "Yes," she says to herself, "it is the same lovely
face; how oft it has flitted in my fancy!"

She reaches her home only to find its doors closed against her. A
ruthless landlord has taken her all, and forced her into the street.

You may shut out the sterner sex without involving character or
inviting insult; but with woman the case is very different. However
pure her character, to turn her into the street, is to subject her
to a stigma, if not to fasten upon her a disgrace. You may paint, in
your imagination, the picture of a woman in distress, but you can
know little of the heart-achings of the sufferer. The surface only
reflects the faint gleams, standing out here and there like the
lesser objects upon a dark canvas.

Maria turns reluctantly from that home of so many happy
associations, to wander about the streets and by-ways of the city.
The houses of the rich seem frowning upon her; her timid nature
tells her they have no doors open to her. The haunts of the poor, at
this moment, infuse a sanguine joyousness into her soul. How glad
would she be, if they did but open to her. Is not the Allwise,
through the beauties of His works, holding her up, while man only is
struggling to pull her down?

And while Maria wanders homeless about the streets of Charleston, we
must beg you, gentle reader, to accompany us into one of the great
thoroughfares of London, where is being enacted a scene appertaining
to this history.

It is well-nigh midnight, the hour when young London is most astir
in his favorite haunts; when ragged and well-starved flower-girls,
issuing from no one knows where, beset your path through Trafalgar
and Liecester squares, and pierce your heart with their pleadings;
when the Casinoes of the Haymarket and Picadilly are vomiting into
the streets their frail but richly-dressed women; when gaudy
supper-rooms, reeking of lobster and bad liquor, are made noisy with
the demands of their flauntily-dressed customers; when little girls
of thirteen are dodging in and out of mysterious courts and passages
leading to and from Liecester square; when wily cabmen, ranged
around the "great globe," importune you for a last fare; and when
the aristocratic swell, with hectic face and maudlin laugh,
saunters from his club-room to seek excitement in the revels at

A brown mist hangs over the dull area of Trafalgar square. The bells
of old St. Martin's church have chimed merrily out their last night
peal; the sharp voice of the omnibus conductor no longer offends the
ear; the tiny little fountains have ceased to give out their green
water, and the lights of the Union Club on one side, and Morley's
hotel on the other, throw pale shadows into the open square.

The solitary figure of a man, dressed in the garb of a gentleman, is
seen sauntering past Northumberland house, then up the east side of
the square. Now he halts at the corner of old St. Martin's church,
turns and contemplates the scene before him. On his right is that
squatty mass of freestone and smoke, Englishmen exultingly call the
Royal Academy, but which Frenchmen affect contempt for, and
uninitiated Americans mistake for a tomb. An equestrian statue of
one of the Georges rises at the east corner; Morley's Hotel, where
Americans get poor fare and enormous charges, with the privilege of
fancying themselves quite as good as the queen, on the left; the
dead walls of Northumberland House, with their prisonlike aspect,
and the mounted lion, his tail high in air, and quite as rigid as
the Duke's dignity, in front; the opening that terminates the
Strand, and gives place to Parliament street, at the head of which
an equestrian statue of Charles the First, much admired by
Englishmen, stands, his back, on Westminster; the dingy shops of
Spring Garden, and the Union Club to the right; and, towering high
over all, Nelson's Column, the statue looking as if it had turned
its back in pity on the little fountains, to look with contempt,
first upon the bronze face of the unfortunate Charles, then upon
Parliament, whose parsimony in withholding justice from his
daughter, he would rebuke-and the picture is complete.

The stranger turns, walks slowly past the steps of St. Martin's
church, crosses to the opposite side of the street, and enters a
narrow, wet, and dimly-lighted court, on the left. Having passed up
a few paces, he finds himself hemmed in between the dead walls of
St. Martin's "Work-house" on one side, and the Royal Academy on the
other. He hesitates between fear and curiosity. The dull, sombre
aspect of the court is indeed enough to excite the fears of the
timid; but curiosity being the stronger impulse, he proceeds,
resolved to explore it-to see whence it leads.

A short turn to the right, and he has reached the front wall of the
Queen's Barracks, on his left, and the entrance to the "Work-house,"
on his right; the one overlooking the other, and separated by a
narrow street. Leave men are seen reluctantly returning in at the
night-gate; the dull tramp of the sentinel within sounds ominously
on the still air; and the chilly atmosphere steals into the system.
Again the stranger pauses, as if questioning the safety of his
position. Suddenly a low moan grates upon his ear, he starts back,
then listens. Again it rises, in a sad wail, and pierces his very
heart. His first thought is, that some tortured mortal is bemoaning
his bruises in a cell of the "Work-house," which he mistakes for a
prison. But his eyes fall to the ground, and his apprehensions are

The doors of the "Work-house" are fast closed; but there, huddled
along the cold pavement, and lying crouched upon its doorsteps, in
heaps that resemble the gatherings of a rag-seller, are four-and-
thirty shivering, famishing, and homeless human beings -

An institution for the relief of the destitute. (mostly young girls
and aged women), who have sought at this "institutution of charity"
shelter for the night, and bread to appease their hunger.

This sight may be seen at any time. Alas! its ruthless keepers have
refused them bread, shut them into the street, and left them in rags
scarce sufficient to cover their nakedness, to sleep upon the cold
stones, a mute but terrible rebuke to those hearts that bleed over
the sorrows of Africa, but have no blood to give out when the object
of pity is a poor, heart-sick girl, forced to make the cold pavement
her bed. The stranger shudders. "Are these heaps of human beings?"
he questions within himself, doubting the reality before him. As if
counting and hesitating what course to pursue for their relief, he
paces up and down the grotesque mass, touching one, and gazing upon
the haggard features of another, who looks up to see what it is that
disturbs her. Again the low moan breaks on his ear, as the sentinel
cries the first hour of morning. The figure of a female, her head
resting on one of the steps, moves, a trembling hand steals from
under her shawl, makes an effort to reach her head, and falls numb
at her side. "Her hand is cold-her breathing like one in death - oh!
God! - how terrible-what, what am I to do?" he says, taking the
sufferer's hand in his own. Now he rubs it, now raises her head,
makes an effort to wake a few of the miserable sleepers, and calls
aloud for help. "Help! help! help!" he shouts, and the shout
re-echoes through the air and along the hollow court. "A woman is
dying, - dying here on the cold stones-with no one to raise a hand
for her!" He seizes the exhausted woman in his arms, and with
herculean strength rushes up the narrow street, in the hope of
finding relief at the Gin Palace he sees at its head, in a blaze of
light. But the body is seized with spasms, an hollow, hysteric wail
follows, his strength gives way under the burden, and he sets the
sufferer down in the shadow of a gas light. Her dress, although worn
threadbare, still bears evidence of having belonged to one who has
enjoyed comfort, and, perhaps, luxury. Indeed, there is something
about the woman which bespeaks her not of the class generally found
sleeping on the steps of St. Martin's Work-house.

"What's here to do?" gruffly inquires a policeman, coming up with an
air of indifference. The stranger says the woman is dying. The
policeman stoops down, lays his hand upon her temples, then
mechanically feels her arms and hands.

"And I-must die-die-die in the street," whispers the woman, her head
falling carelessly from the policeman's hand, in which it had

"Got her a bit below, at the Work'ouse door, among them wot sleeps
there, eh?"

The stranger says he did.

"A common enough thing," pursues the policeman; "this a bad lot.
Anyhow, we must give her a tow to the station." He rubs his hands,
and prepares to raise her from the ground.

"Hold! hold," interrupts the other, "she will die ere you get her

"Die, - ah! yes, yes," whispers the woman. The mention of death seems
to have wrung like poison into her very soul. "Don't-don't move
me-the spell is almost broken. Oh! how can I die here, a wretch.
Yes, I am going now-let me rest, rest, rest," the moaning supplicant
mutters in a guttural voice, grasps spasmodically at the policeman's
hand, heaves a deep sigh, and sets her eyes fixedly upon the
stranger. She seems recognizing in his features something that gives
her strength.

"There-there-there!" she continues, incoherently, as a fit of
hysterics seize upon her; "you, you, you, have-yes, you have come at
the last hour, when my sufferings close. I see devils all about
me-haunting me-torturing my very soul-burning me up! See them! see
them! - here they come-tearing, worrying me-in a cloud of flame!" She
clutches with her hands, her countenance fills with despair, and her
body writhes in agony.

"Bring brandy! warm, - stimulant! anything to give her strength!
Quick! quick! - go fetch it, or she is gone!" stammers out the

In another minute she calms away, and sinks exhausted upon the
pavement. Policeman shakes his head, and says, "It 'ont do no
good-she's done for."

The light of the "Trumpeter's Arms" still blazes into the street,
while a few greasy ale-bibbers sit moody about the tap room.

The two men raise the exhausted woman from the ground and carry her
to the door. Mine host of the Trumpeter's Arms shrugs his shoulders
and says, "She can't come in here." He fears she will damage the
respectability of his house. "The Work-house is the place for her,"
he continues, gruffly.

A sight at the stranger's well-filled purse, however, and a few
shillings slipped into the host's hand, secures his generosity and
the woman's admittance. "Indeed," says the host, bowing most
servilely, "gentlemen, the whole Trumpeter's Arms is at your
service." The woman is carried into a lonely, little back room, and
laid upon a cot, which, with two wooden chairs, constitutes its
furniture. And while the policeman goes in search of medical aid,
the host of the Trumpeter's bestirs himself right manfully in the
forthcoming of a stimulant. The stranger, meanwhile, lends himself
to the care of the forlorn sufferer with the gentleness of a woman.
He smoothes her pillow, arranges her dress tenderly, and administers
the stimulant with a hand accustomed to the sick.

A few minutes pass, and the woman seems to revive and brighten up.
Mine host has set a light on the chair, at the side of the cot, and
left her alone with the stranger. Slowly she opens her eyes, and
with increasing anxiety sets them full upon him. Their recognition
is mutual. "Madame Flamingo!" ejaculates the man, grasping her hand.

"Tom Swiggs!" exclaims the woman, burying her face for a second,
then pressing his hand to her lips, and kissing it with the fondness
of a child, as her eyes swim in tears. "How strange to find you
thus - " continues Tom, for truly it is he who sits by the forlorn

"More strange," mutters the woman, shaking her head sorrowfully,
"that I should be brought to this terrible end. I am dying-I cannot
last long-the fever has left me only to die a neglected wretch. Hear
me-hear me, while I tell you the tale of my troubles, that others
may take warning. And may God give me strength. And you, - if I have
wronged you, forgive me-it is all I can ask in this world." Here Tom
administers another draught of warm brandy and water, the influence
of which is soon perceptible in the regaining strength of the



A VERY common story is this of Madame Flamingo's troubles. It has

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 24 of 29)