Copyright
F. Colburn Adams.

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

. (page 25 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 25 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


counterparts enough, and though they may be traced to a class of
society less notorious than that with which she moved, are generally
kept in the dark chamber of hidden thoughts. We are indeed fast
gaining an unenviable fame for snobbery, for affecting to be what we
never can be, and for our sad imitation of foreign flunkydom, which,
finding us rivals in the realm of its tinsil, begins to button up
its coat and look contemptuously at us over the left shoulder. If,
albeit, the result of that passion for titles and plush (things
which the empty-headed of the old world would seem to have consigned
to the empty-headed of the new), which has of late so singularly
discovered itself among our "best-known families," could be told, it
would unfold many a tale of misery and betrayal. Pardon this
digression, generous reader, and proceed with us to the story of
Madame Flamingo.

"And now," says the forlorn woman, in a faint, hollow voice, "when
my ambition seemed served-I was ambitious, perhaps vain-I found
myself the victim of an intrigue. I ask forgiveness of Him who only
can forgive the wicked; but how can I expect to gain it?" She
presses Tom's hand, and pauses for a second. "Yes, I was ambitious,"
she continues, "and there was something I wanted. I had money enough
to live in comfort, but the thought that it was got of vice and the
ruin of others, weighed me down. I wanted the respect of the world.
To die a forgotten wretch; to have the grave close over me, and if
remembered at all, only with execration, caused me many a dark
thought." Here she struggles to suppress her emotions. "I sought to
change my condition; that, you see, has brought me here. I married
one to whom I intrusted my all, in whose rank, as represented to me
by Mr. Snivel, and confirmed by his friend, the Judge, I confided. I
hoped to move with him to a foreign country, where the past would
all be wiped out, and where the associations of respectable society
would be the reward of future virtue.

"In London, where I now reap the fruits of my vanity, we enjoyed
good society for a time, were sought after, and heaped with
attentions. But I met those who had known me; it got out who I was;
I was represented much worse than I was, and even those who had
flattered me in one sphere, did not know me. In Paris it was the
same. And there my husband said it would not do to be known by his
titles, for, being an exile, it might be the means of his being
recognized and kidnapped, and carried back a prisoner to his own
dear Poland. In this I acquiesced, as I did in everything else that
lightened his cares. Gradually he grew cold and morose towards me,
left me for days at a time, and returned only to abuse and treat me
cruelly. He had possession of all my money, which I soon found he
was gambling away, without gaining an entrвАЪe for me into society.

"From Paris we travelled, as if without any settled purpose, into
Italy, and from thence to Vienna, where I discovered that instead of
being a prince, my husband was an impostor, and I his dupe. He had
formerly been a crafty shoemaker; was known to the police as a
notorious character, who, instead of having been engaged in the
political struggles of his countrymen, had fled the country to
escape the penalty of being the confederate of a desperate gang of
coiners and counterfeiters. We had only been two days in Vienna when
I found he had disappeared, and left me destitute of money or
friends. My connection with him only rendered my condition more
deplorable, for the police would not credit my story; and while he
eluded its vigilance, I was suspected of being a spy in the
confidence of a felon, and ruthlessly ordered to leave the country."

"Did not your passport protect you?" interrupts Tom, with evident
feeling.

"No one paid it the least regard," resumes Madame Flamingo, becoming
weaker and weaker. "No one at our legations evinced sympathy for me.
Indeed, they all refused to believe my story. I wandered back from
city to city, selling my wardrobe and the few jewels I had left, and
confidently expecting to find in each place I entered, some one I
had known, who would listen to my story, and supply me with means to
reach my home. I could soon have repaid it, but my friends had gone
with my money; no one dare venture to trust me-no one had confidence
in me-every one to whom I appealed had an excuse that betrayed their
suspicion of me. Almost destitute, I found myself back in London-how
I got here, I scarce know-where I could make myself understood. My
hopes now brightened, I felt that some generous-hearted captain
would give me a passage to New York, and once home, my troubles
would end. But being worn down with fatigue, and my strength
prostrated, a fever set in, and I was forced to seek refuge in a
miserable garret in Drury-Lane, and where I parted with all but what
now remains on my back, to procure nourishment. I had begun to
recover somewhat, but the malady left me broken down, and when all
was gone, I was turned into the street. Yes, yes, yes, (she
whispers,) they gave me to the streets; for twenty-four hours I have
wandered without nourishment, or a place to lay my head. I sought
shelter in a dark court, and there laid down to die; and when my
eyes were dim, and all before me seemed mysterious and dark with
curious visions, a hand touched me, and I felt myself borne away."
Here her voice chokes, she sinks back upon the pillow, and closes
her eyes as her hands fall careless at her side. "She breathes! she
breathes yet!" says Tom, advancing his ear to the pale, quivering
lips of the wretched woman. Now he bathes her temples with the
vinegar from a bottle in the hand of the host, who is just entered,
and stands looking on, his countenance full of alarm.

"If she deys in my 'ouse, good sir, w'oat then?"

"You mean the expense?"

"Just so-it 'll be nae trifle, ye kno'!" The host shakes his head,
doubtingly. Tom begs he will not be troubled about that, and gives
another assurance from his purse that quite relieves the host's
apprehensions. A low, heavy breathing, followed by a return of
spasms, bespeaks the sinking condition of the sufferer. The
policeman returns, preceded by a physician-the only one to be got
at, he says-in very dilapidated broadcloth, and whose breath is
rather strong of gin. "An' whereabutes did ye pick the woman up, - an,
an, wha's teu stond the bill?" he inquires, in a deep Scotch brogue,
then ordering the little window opened, feels clumsily the almost
pulseless hand. Encouraged on the matter of his bill, he turns first
to the host, then to Tom, and says, "the wuman's nae much, for she's
amast dede wi' exhaustion." And while he is ordering a nostrum he
knows can do no good, the woman makes a violent struggle, opens her
eyes, and seems casting a last glance round the dark room. Now she
sets them fixedly upon the ceiling, her lips pale, and her
countenance becomes spectre-like-a low, gurgling sound is heard, the
messenger of retribution is come-Madame Flamingo is dead!






CHAPTER XL.

IN WHICH THE LAW IS SEEN TO CONFLICT WITH OUR CHERISHED CHIVALRY.





"WHAT could the woman mean, when on taking leave of me she said,
'you are far richer than me?'" questions Maria McArthur to herself,
when, finding she is alone and homeless in the street, she opens the
packet the woman Anna slipped so mysteriously into her hand, and
finds it contains two twenty-dollar gold pieces. And while evolving
in her mind whether she shall appropriate them to the relief of her
destitute condition, her conscience smites her. It is the gold got
of vice. Her heart shares the impulse that prompted the act, but her
pure spirit recoils from the acceptance of such charity. "You are
far richer than me!" knells in her ears, and reveals to her the
heart-burnings of the woman who lives in licentious splendor. "I
have no home, no friend near me, and nowhere to lay my head; and yet
I am richer than her;" she says, gazing at the moon, and the stars,
and the serene heavens. And the contemplation brings to her
consolation and strength. She wanders back to the gate of the old
prison, resolved to return the gold in the morning, and, was the
night not so far spent, ask admittance into the cell her father
occupies. But she reflects, and turns away; well knowing how much
more painful will be the smart of his troubles does she disclose to
him what has befallen her.

She continues sauntering up a narrow by-lane in the outskirts of the
city. A light suddenly flashes across her path, glimmers from the
window of a little cabin, and inspires her with new hopes. She
quickens her steps, reaches the door, meets a welcome reception, and
is made comfortable for the night by the mulatto woman who is its
solitary tenant. The woman, having given Maria of her humble cheer,
seems only too anxious to disclose the fact that she is the slave
and cast-off mistress of Judge Sleepyhorn, on whose head she invokes
no few curses. It does not touch her pride so much that he has
abandoned her, as that he has taken to himself one of another color.
She is tall and straight of figure, with prominent features, long,
silky black hair, and a rich olive complexion; and though somewhat
faded of age, it is clear that she possessed in youth charms of
great value in the flesh market.

Maria discloses to her how she came in possession of the money, as
also her resolve to return it in the morning. Undine (for such is
her name) applauds this with great gusto. "Now, thar!" she says,
"that's the spirit I likes." And straightway she volunteers to be
the medium of returning the money, adding that she will show the
hussy her contempt of her by throwing it at her feet, and "letting
her see a slave knows all about it."

Maria fully appreciates the kindness, as well as sympathizes with
the wounded pride of this slave daughter; nevertheless, there is an
humiliation in being driven to seek shelter in a negro cabin that
touches her feelings. For a white female to seek shelter under the
roof of a negro's cabin, is a deep disgrace in the eyes of our very
refined society; and having subjected herself to the humiliation,
she knows full well that it may be used against her-in fine, made a
means to defame her character.

Night passes away, and the morning ushers in soft and sunny, but
brings with it nothing to relieve her situation. She, however,
returns the gold to Anna through a channel less objectionable than
that Undine would have supplied, and sallies out to seek lodgings.
In a house occupied by a poor German family, she seeks and obtains a
little room, wherein she continues plying at her needle.

The day set apart for the trial before a jury of "special bail"
arrives. The rosy-faced commissioner is in his seat, a very
good-natured jury is impanelled, and the feeble old man is again
brought into court. Maria saunters, thoughtful, and anxious for the
result, at the outer door. Peter Crimpton rises, addresses the jury
at great length, sets forth the evident intention of fraud on the
part of the applicant, and the enormity of the crime. He will now
prove his objections by competent witnesses. The proceedings being
in accordance with what Mr. Snivel facetiously terms the strict
rules of special pleading, the old man's lips are closed. Several
very respectable witnesses are called, and aver they saw the old
Antiquary with a gold watch mounted, at a recent date; witnesses
quite as dependable aver they have known him for many years, but
never mounted with anything so extravagant as a gold watch. So much
for the validity of testimony! It is very clear that the very
respectable witnesses have confounded some one else with the
prisoner.

The Antiquary openly confesses to the possession of a pin, and the
curious skull (neither of which are valuable beyond their
associations), but declares it more an over-sight than an intention
that they were left out of the schedule. For the virtue of the
schedule, Mr. Crimpton is singularly scrupulous; nor does it soften
his aspersions that the old man offers to resign them for the
benefit of the State. Mr. Crimpton gives his case to the jury,
expressing his belief that a verdict will be rendered in his favor.
A verdict of guilty (for so it is rendered in our courts) will
indeed give the prisoner to him for an indefinite period. In truth,
the only drawback is that the plaintiff will be required to pay
thirty cents a day to Mr. Hardscrabble, who will starve him rightly
soundly.

The jury, very much to Mr. Crimpton's chagrin, remain seated, and
declare the prisoner not guilty. Was this sufficient-all the law
demanded? No. Although justice might have been satisfied, the law
had other ends to serve, and in the hands of an instrument like
Crimpton, could be turned to uses delicacy forbids our transcribing
here. The old man's persecutors were not satisfied; the verdict of
the jury was with him, but the law gave his enemies power to retain
him six months longer. Mr. Crimpton demands a writ of appeal to the
sessions. The Commissioner has no alternative, notwithstanding the
character of the pretext upon which it is demanded is patent on its
face. Such is but a feeble description of one of the many laws South
Carolina retains on her statute book to oppress the poor and give
power to the rich. If we would but purge ourselves of this distemper
of chivalry and secession, that so blinds our eyes to the sufferings
of the poor, while driving our politicians mad over the country (we
verily believe them all coming to the gallows or insane hospital),
how much higher and nobler would be our claim to the respect of the
world!

Again the old man is separated from his daughter, placed in the
hands of a bailiff, and remanded back to prison, there to hope,
fear, and while away the time, waiting six, perhaps eight months,
for the sitting of the Court of Appeals. The "Appeal Court," you
must know, would seem to have inherited the aristocracy of our
ancestors, for, having a great aversion to business pursuits, it
sits at very long intervals, and gets through very little business.

When the news of her father's remand reaches Maria, it overwhelms
her with grief. Varied are her thoughts of how she shall provide for
the future; dark and sad are the pictures of trouble that rise up
before her. Look whichever way she will, her ruin seems sealed. The
health of her aged father is fast breaking-her own is gradually
declining under the pressure of her troubles. Rapidly forced from
one extreme to another, she appeals to a few acquaintances who have
expressed friendship for her father; but their friendship took wings
when grim poverty looked in. Southern hospitality, though
bountifully bestowed upon the rich, rarely condescends to shed its
bright rays over the needy poor.

Maria advertises for a situation, in some of our first families, as
private seamstress. Our first families having slaves for such
offices, have no need of "poor white trash." She applies personally
to several ladies of "eminent standing," and who busy themselves in
getting up donations for northern Tract Societies. They have no
sympathy to waste upon her. Her appeal only enlists coldness and
indifference. The "Church Home" had lent an ear to her story, but
that her address is very unsatisfactory, and it is got out that she
is living a very suspicious life. The "Church Home," so virtuous and
pious, can do nothing for her until she improves her mode of living.
Necessity pinches Maria at every turn. "To be poor in a slave
atmosphere, is truly a crime," she says to herself, musing over her
hard lot, while sitting in her chamber one evening. "But I am the
richer! I will rise above all!" She has just prepared to carry some
nourishment to her father, when Keepum enters, his face flushed, and
his features darkened with a savage scowl. "I have said you were a
fool-all women are fools! - and now I know I was not mistaken!" This
Mr. Keepum says while throwing his hat sullenly upon the floor.
"Well," he pursues, having seated himself in a chair, looked
designingly at the candle, then contorted his narrow face, and
frisked his fingers through his bright red hair, "as to this here
wincing and mincing-its all humbuggery of a woman like you.
Affecting such morals! Don't go down here; tell you that, my spunky
girl. Loose morals is what takes in poor folks."

Maria answers him only with a look of scorn. She advances to the
door to find it locked.

"It was me-I locked it. Best to be private about the matter," says
Keepum, a forced smile playing over his countenance.

Unresolved whether to give vent to her passion, or make an effort to
inspire his better nature, she stands a few moments, as if immersed
in deep thought, then suddenly falls upon her knees at his feet, and
implores him to save her this last step to her ruin. "Hear me, oh,
hear me, and let your heart give out its pity for one who has only
her virtue left her in this world;" she appeals to him with earnest
voice, and eyes swimming in tears. "Save my father, for you have
power. Give him his liberty, that I, his child, his only comfort in
his old age, may make him happy. Yes! yes! - he will die where he is.
Will you, can you-you have a heart-see me struggle against the rude
buffets of an unthinking world! Will you not save me from the
Poor-house-from the shame that awaits me with greedy clutches, and
receive in return the blessing of a friendless woman! Oh! - you will,
you will-release my father! - give him back to me and make me happy.
Ah, ha! - I see, I see, you have feelings, better feelings - feelings
that are not seared. You will have pity on me; you will forgive,
relent-you cannot see a wretch suffer and not be moved to lighten
her pain!" The calm, pensive expression that lights up her
countenance is indeed enough to inspire the tender impulses of a
heart in which every sense of generosity is not dried up.

Her appeal, nevertheless, falls ineffectual. Mr. Keepum has no
generous impulses to bestow upon beings so sensitive of their
virtue. With him, it is a ware of very little value, inasmuch as the
moral standard fixed by a better class of people is quite loose. He
rises from his chair with an air of self-confidence, seizes her by
the hand, and attempts to drag her upon his knee, saying, "you know
I can and will make you a lady. Upon the honor of a gentleman, I
love you-always have loved you; but what stands in the way, and is
just enough to make any gentleman of my standing mad, is this here
squeamishness - "

"No! no! go from me. Attempt not again to lay your cruel hands upon
me!" The goaded woman struggles from his grasp, and shrieks for help
at the very top of her voice. And as the neighbors come rushing up
stairs, Mr. Keepum valorously betakes himself into the street. Mad-
dened with disappointment, and swearing to have revenge, he seeks
his home, and there muses over the "curious woman's" unswerving
resolution. "Cruelty!" he says to himself - "she charges me with
cruelty! Well," (here he sighs) "it's only because she lacks a
bringing up that can appreciate a gentleman." (Keepum could never
condescend to believe himself less than a very fine gentleman.) "As
sure as the world the creature is somewhat out in the head. She
fancies all sorts of things-shame, disgrace, and ruin! - only because
she don't understand the quality of our morality-that's all! There's
no harm, after all, in these little enjoyments-if the girl would
only understand them so. Our society is free from pedantry; and
there-no damage can result where no one's the wiser. It's like
stealing a blush from the cheek of beauty-nobody misses it, and the
cheek continues as beautiful as ever." Thus philosophizes the
chivalric gentleman, until he falls into a fast sleep.






CHAPTER XLI.

IN WHICH JUSTICE IS SEEN TO BE VERY ACCOMMODATING.





A FEW days have elapsed, Maria has just paid a visit to her father,
still in prison, and may be seen looking in at Mr. Keepum's office,
in Broad street. "I come not to ask a favor, sir; but, at my
father's request, to say to you that, having given up all he has in
the world, it can do no good to any one to continue him in durance,
and to ask of you-in whom the sole power rests-that you will grant
him his release ere he dies?" She addresses Mr. Keepum, who seems
not in a very good temper this morning, inasmuch as several of his
best negroes, without regard to their value to him, got a passion
for freedom into their heads, and have taken themselves away. In
addition to this, he is much put out, as he says, at being compelled
to forego the pleasure held out on the previous night, of tarring
and feathering two northerners suspected of entertaining sentiments
not exactly straight on the "peculiar question." A glorious time was
expected, and a great deal of very strong patriotism wasted; but the
two unfortunate individuals, by some means not yet discovered, got
the vigilance committee, to whose care they were entrusted, very
much intoxicated, and were not to be found when called for. Free
knives, and not free speech, is our motto. And this Mr. Keepum is
one of the most zealous in carrying out.

Mr. Keepum sits, his hair fretted back over his lean forehead,
before a table covered with papers, all indicating an immense
business in lottery and other speculations. Now he deposits his feet
upon it; leans back in his chair, puffs his cigar, and says, with an
air of indifference to the speaker: "I shall not be able to attend
to any business of yours to-day, Madam!" His clerk, a man of sturdy
figure, with a broad, red face, and dressed in rather dilapidated
broadcloth, is passing in and out of the front office, bearing in
his fingers documents that require a signature or mark of approval.

"I only come, sir, to tell you that we are destitute - " Maria pauses,
and stands trembling in the doorway.

"That's a very common cry," interrupts Keepum, relieving his mouth
of the cigar. "The affair is entirely out of my hands. Go to my
attorney, Peter Crimpton, Esq., - what he does for you will receive my
sanction. I must not be interrupted to-day. I might express a
thousand regrets; yes, pass an opinion on your foolish pride, but
what good would it do."

And while Maria stands silent and hesitating, there enters the
office abrubtly a man in the garb of a mechanic. "I have come,"
speaks the man, in a tone of no very good humor, "for the last time.
I asks of you-you professes to be a gentleman-my honest rights. If
the law don't give it to me, I mean to take it with this erehand."
(He shakes his hand at Keepum.) "I am a poor man who ain't thought
much of because I works for a living; you have got what I had worked
hard for, and lain up to make my little family comfortable. I ask a
settlement and my own-what is due from one honest man to another!"
He now approaches the table, strikes his hand upon it, and pauses
for a reply.

Mr. Keepum coolly looks up, and with an insidious leer, says,
"There, take yourself into the street. When next you enter a
gentleman's office, learn to deport yourself with good manners."

"Pshaw! pshaw!" interrupts the man. "What mockery! When men like
you-yes, I say men like you-that has brought ruin on so many poor
families, can claim to be gentlemen, rogues may get a patent for
their order." The man turns to take his departure, when the
infuriated Keepum, who, as we have before described, gets
exceedingly put out if any one doubts his honor, seizes an iron bar,
and stealing up behind, fetches him a blow over the head that fells
him lifeless to the floor.

Maria shrieks, and vaults into the street. The mass upon the floor
fetches a last agonizing shrug, and a low moan, and is dead. The
murderer stands over him, exultant, as the blood streams from the
deep fracture. In fine, the blood of his victim would seem rather to
increase his satisfaction at the deed, than excite a regret.

Call you this murder? Truly, the man has outraged God's law. And the
lover of law and order, of social good, and moral honesty, would
find reasons for designating the perpetrator an assassin. For has he
not first distressed a family, and then left it bereft of its
protector? You may think of it and designate it as you please.
Nevertheless we, in our fancied mightiness, cannot condescend to
such vulgar considerations. We esteem it extremely courageous of Mr.
Keepum, to defend himself "to the death" against the insults of one
of the common herd. Our first families applaud the act, our
sensitive press say it was "an unfortunate affair," and by way of
admonition, add that it were better working people be more careful



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 25 of 29)