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

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how they approach gentlemen. Mr. Snivel will call this, the sublime
quality of our chivalry. What say the jury of inquest?

Duly weighing the high position of Mr. Keepum, and the very low
condition of the deceased, the good-natured jury return a verdict
that the man met his death in consequence of an accidental blow,
administered with an iron instrument, in the hands of one Keepum.
From the testimony-Keepum's clerk-it is believed the act was
committed in self-defence.

Mr. Keepum, as is customary with our fine gentlemen, and like a hero
(we will not content ourselves with making him one jot less),
magnanimously surrenders himself to the authorities. The majesty of
our laws is not easily offended by gentlemen of standing. Only the
poor and the helpless slave can call forth the terrible majesty of
the law, and quicken to action its sensitive quality. The city is
shocked that Mr. Keepum is subjected to a night in jail,
notwithstanding he has the jailer's best parlor, and a barricade of
champaign bottles are strewn at his feet by flattering friends, who
make night jubilant with their carousal.

Southern society asks no repentance of him whose hands reek with the
blood of his poor victim; southern society has no pittance for that
family Keepum has made lick the dust in tears and sorrow. Even while
we write-while the corpse of the murdered man, followed by a few
brother craftsmen, is being borne to its last resting-place, the
perpetrator, released on a paltry bail, is being regaled at a
festive board. Such is our civilization! How had the case stood with
a poor man! Could he have stood up against the chivalry of South
Carolina, scoffed at the law, or bid good-natured justice close her
eyes? No. He had been dragged to a close cell, and long months had
passed ere the tardy movements of the law reached his case. Even
then, popular opinion would have turned upon him, pre-judged him,
and held him up as dangerous to the peace of the people. Yes, pliant
justice would have affected great virtue, and getting on her high
throne, never ceased her demands until he had expiated his crime at
the gallows.

A few weeks pass: Keepum's reputation for courage is fully endorsed,
the Attorney-General finds nothing in the act to justify him in
bringing it before a Grand Jury, the law is satisfied (or ought to
be satisfied), and the rich murderer sleeps without a pang of



JUNE, July, and August are past away, and September, with all its
autumnal beauties, ushers in, without bringing anything to lighten
the cares of that girl whose father yet pines in prison. She looks
forward, hoping against hope, to the return of her lover (something
tells her he still lives), only to feel more keenly the pangs of
hope deferred.

And now, once more, New York, we are in thy busy streets. It is a
pleasant evening in early September. The soft rays of an autumn sun
are tinging the western sky, and night is fast drawing her sable
mantle over the scene. In Washington Square, near where the tiny
fountain jets its stream into a round, grassy-bordered basin, there
sits a man of middle stature, apparently in deep study. His dress is
plain, and might be taken for that of either a working man, or a
somewhat faded inspector of customs. Heedless of those passing to
and fro, he sits until night fairly sets in, then rises, and faces
towards the East. Through the trunks of trees he sees, and seems
contemplating the gray walls of the University, and the bold, sombre
front of the very aristocratic church of the Reformed Dutch.

"Well!" he mutters to himself, resuming his seat, and again facing
to the west, "this ere business of ourn is a great book of life-'tis
that! Finds us in queer places; now and then mixed up curiously." He
rises a second time, advances to a gas-light, draws a letter from
his pocket, and scans, with an air of evident satisfaction, over the
contents. "Umph!" he resumes, and shrugs his shoulders, "I was right
on the address-ought to have known it without looking." Having
resumed his seat, he returns the letter to his pocket, sits with his
elbow upon his knee, and his head rested thoughtfully in his right
hand. The picture before him, so calm and soft, has no attractions
for him. The dusky hues of night, for slowly the scene darkens, seem
lending a softness and calmness to the foliage. The weeping branches
of the willow, interspersed here and there, as if to invest the
picture with a touching melancholy, sway gently to and fro; the
leaves of the silvery poplar tremble and reflect their shadows on
the fresh waters; and the flitting gas-lights mingle their gleams,
play and sport over the rippled surface, coquet with the tripping
star-beams, then throw fantastic lights over the swaying foliage;
and from beneath the massive branches of trees, there shines out, in
bold relief, the marble porticoes and lintels of stately - looking
mansions. Such is the calm grandeur of the scene, that one could
imagine some Thalia investing it with a poetic charm the gods might
muse over.

"It is not quite time yet," says the man, starting suddenly to his
feet. He again approaches a gas-light, looks attentively at his
watch, then saunters to the corner of Fourth and Thompson streets.
An old, dilapidated wooden building, which some friend has
whitewashed into respectability, and looking as if it had a strong
inclination to tumble either upon the sidewalk, or against the great
trunk of a hoary-headed tree at the corner, arrests his attention.
"Well," he says, having paused before it, and scanned its crooked
front, "this surely is the house where the woman lived when she was
given the child. Practice, and putting two things together to find
what one means, is the great thing in our profession. Like its old
tenant, the house has got down a deal. It's on its last legs." Again
he consults his watch, and with a quickened step recrosses the
Square, and enters - Avenue. Now he halts before a spacious
mansion, the front of which is high and bold, and deep, and of brown
freestone. The fluted columns; the elegantly-chiselled lintels; the
broad, scrolled window-frames; the exactly-moulded arches; the
massive steps leading to the deep, vaulted entrance, with its doors
of sombre and highly-polished walnut; and its bold style of
architecture, so grand in its outlines, - all invest it with a regal
air. The man casts a glance along the broad avenue, then into the
sombre entrance of the mansion. Now he seems questioning within
himself whether to enter or retrace his steps. One-half of the outer
door, which is in the Italian style, with heavy fluted mouldings,
stands ajar; while from out the lace curtains of the inner, there
steals a faint light. The man rests his elbow on the great stone
scroll of the guard-rail, and here we leave him for a few moments.

The mansion, it may be well to add here, remains closed the greater
part of the year; and when opened seems visited by few persons, and
those not of the very highest standing in society. A broken-down
politician, a seedy hanger-on of some "literary club," presided over
by a rich, but very stupid tailor, and now and then a lady about
whose skirts something not exactly straight hangs, and who has been
elbowed out of fashionable society for her too ardent love of
opera-singers, and handsome actors, may be seen dodging in now and
then. Otherwise, the mansion would seem very generally deserted by
the neighborhood.

Everybody will tell you, and everybody is an individual so extremely
busy in other people's affairs, that he ought to know, that there is
something that hangs so like a rain-cloud about the magnificent
skirts of those who live so secluded "in that fine old pile,"
(mansion,) that the virtuous satin of the Avenue never can be got to
"mix in." Indeed, the Avenue generally seems to have set its face
against those who reside in it. They enjoy none of those very grand
assemblies, balls, and receptions, for which the Avenue is become
celebrated, and yet they luxuriate in wealth and splendor.

Though the head of the house seems banished by society, society
makes her the subject of many evil reports and mysterious
whisperings. The lady of the mansion, however, as if to retort upon
her traducers, makes it known that she is very popular abroad, every
now and then during her absence honoring them with mysterious
clippings from foreign journals-all setting forth the admiration her
appearance called forth at a grand reception given by the Earl and
Countess of - .

Society is made of inexorable metal, she thinks, for the prejudices
of the neighborhood have not relaxed one iota with time. That she
has been presented to kings, queens, and emperors; that she has
enjoyed the hospitalities of foreign embassies; that she has (and
she makes no little ado that she has) shone in the assemblies of
prime ministers; that she has been invited to court concerts, and
been the flattered of no end of fashionable coteries, serves her
nothing at home. They are events, it must be admitted, much
discussed, much wondered at, much regretted by those who wind
themselves up in a robe of stern morality. In a few instances they
are lamented, lest the morals and manners of those who make it a
point to represent us abroad should reflect only the brown side of
our society.

As if with regained confidence, the man, whom we left at the door
scroll, is seen slowly ascending the broad steps. He enters the
vaulted vestibule, and having touched the great, silver bell-knob of
the inner door, stands listening to the tinkling chimes within. A
pause of several minutes, and the door swings cautiously open. There
stands before him the broad figure of a fussy servant man, wedged
into a livery quite like that worn by the servants of an English
tallow-chandler, but which, it must be said, and said to be
regretted, is much in fashion with our aristocracy, who, in
consequence of its brightness, belive it the exact style of some
celebrated lord. The servant receives a card from the visitor, and
with a bow, inquires if he will wait an answer.

"I will wait the lady's pleasure-I came by appointment," returns the
man. And as the servant disappears up the hall, he takes a seat,
uninvited, upon a large settee, in carved walnut. "Something
mysterious about this whole affair!" he muses, scanning along the
spacious hall, into the conservatory of statuary and rare plants,
seen opening away at the extreme end. The high, vaulted roof; the
bright, tesselated floor; the taste with which the frescoes
decorating the walls are designed; the great winding stairs, so
richly carpeted-all enhanced in beauty by the soft light reflected
upon them from a massive chandelier of stained glass, inspire him
with a feeling of awe. The stillness, and the air of grandeur
pervading each object that meets his eye, reminds him of the halls
of those mediвАШval castles he has read of in his youth. The servant
returns, and makes his bow. "My leady," he says, in a strong
Lincolnshire brogue, "as weated ye an 'our or more."

The visitor, evincing some nervousness, rises quickly to his feet,
follows the servant up the hall, and is ushered into a parlor of
regal dimensions, on the right. His eye falls upon one solitary
occupant, who rises from a lounge of oriental richness, and advances
towards him with an air of familiarity their conditions seem not to
warrant. Having greeted the visitor, and bid him be seated (he takes
his seat, shyly, beside the door), the lady resumes her seat in a
magnificent chair. For a moment the visitor scans over the great
parlor, as if moved by the taste and elegance of everything that
meets his eye. The hand of art has indeed been lavishly laid on the
decorations of this chamber, which presents a scene of luxury
princes might revel in. And though the soft wind of whispering silks
seemed lending its aid to make complete the enjoyment of the
occupant, it might be said, in the words of Crabbe:

"But oh, what storm was in that mind!"

The person of the lady is in harmony with the splendor of the
apartment. Rather tall and graceful of figure, her complexion pale,
yet soft and delicate, her features as fine and regular as ever
sculptor chiselled, her manner gentle and womanly. In her face,
nevertheless, there is an expression of thoughtfulness, perhaps
melancholy, to which her large, earnest black eyes, and
finely-arched brows, fringed with dark lashes, lend a peculiar
charm. While over all there plays a shadow of languor, increased
perhaps by the tinge of age, or a mind and heart overtaxed with

"I received your note, which I hastened to answer. Of course you
received my answer. I rejoice that you have persevered, and
succeeded in finding the object I have so long sought. Not hearing
from you for so many weeks, I had begun to fear she had gone
forever," says the lady, in a soft, musical voice, raising her
white, delicate hand to her cheek, which is suffused with blushes.

"I had myself almost given her over, for she disappeared from the
Points, and no clue could be got of her," returns the man, pausing
for a moment, then resuming his story. "A week ago yesterday she
turned up again, and I got wind that she was in a place we call
'Black-beetle Hole' - "

"Black-beetle Hole!" ejaculates the lady, whom the reader will have
discovered is no less a person than Madame Montford. Mr. Detective
Fitzgerald is the visitor.

"Yes, there's where she's got, and it isn't much of a place, to say
the best. But when a poor creature has no other place to get a
stretch down, she stretches down there - "

"Proceed to how you found her, and what you have got from her
concerning the child," the lady interrupts, with a deep sigh.

"Well," proceeds the detective, "I meets-havin' an eye out all the
while-Sergeant Dobbs one morning-Dobbs knows every roost in the
Points better than me! - and says he, 'Fitzgerald, that are woman,
that crazy woman, you've been in tow of so long, has turned up.
There was a row in Black-beetle Hole last night. I got a force and
descended into the place, found it crammed with them half-dead kind
of women and men, and three thieves, what wanted to have a fuss with
the hag that keeps it. One on 'em was thrashing the poor crazy
woman. They had torn all the rags off her back. Howsever, if you
wants to fish her out, you'd better be spry about it-'"

The lady interrupts by saying she will disguise, and with his
assistance, go bring her from the place-save her! Mr. Fitzgerald
begs she will take the matter practically. She could not breathe the
air of the place, he says.

"'Thank you Dobbs,' says I," he resumes, "and when it got a bit dark
I went incog. to Black-beetle's Hole - "

"And where is this curious place?" she questions, with an air of

"As to that, Madame-well, you wouldn't know it was lived in, because
its underground, and one not up to the entrance never would think it
led to a place where human beings crawled in at night. I don't
wonder so many of 'em does things what get 'em into the Station, and
after that treated to a short luxury on the Island. As I was goin'
on to say, I got myself fortified, started out into the Points, and
walked-we take these things practically-down and up the east
sidewalk, then stopped in front of the old rotten house that
Black-beetle Hole is under. Then I looks down the wet little stone
steps, that ain't wide enough for a big man to get down, and what
lead into the cellar. Some call it Black-beetle Hole, and then again
some call it the Hole of the Black-beetles. 'Yer after no good, Mr.
Fitzgerald,' says Mrs. McQuade, whose husband keeps the junk-shop
over the Hole, putting her malicious face out of the window.

"'You're the woman I want, Mrs. McQuade,' says I. 'Don't be puttin'
your foot in the house,' says she. And when I got her temper a
little down by telling her I only wanted to know who lived in the
Hole, she swore by all the saints it had niver a soul in it, and was
hard closed up. Being well up to the dodges of the Points folks, I
descended the steps, and gettin' underground, knocked at the Hole
door, and then sent it smash in. 'Well! who's here?' says I. 'It's
me,' says Mrs. Lynch, a knot of an old woman, who has kept the Hole
for many years, and says she has no fear of the devil."

Madame Montford listens with increasing anxiety; Mr. Detective
Fitzgerald proceeds: "'Get a light here, then;' says I. You couldn't
see nothing, it was so dark, but you could hear 'em move, and
breathe. And then the place was so hot and sickly. Had to stand it
best way I could. There was no standing straight in the dismal
place, which was wet and nasty under foot, and not more nor twelve
by fourteen. The old woman said she had only a dozen lodgers in;
when she made out to get a light for me I found she had
twenty-three, tucked away here and there, under straw and stuff.
Well, it was curious to see 'em (here the detective wipes his
forehead with his handkerchief) rise up, one after another, all
round you, you know, like fiends that had been buried for a time,
then come to life merely to get something to eat."

"And did you find the woman-and was she one of them?"

"That's what I'm comin' at. Well, I caught a sight at the woman;
knew her at the glance. I got a sight at her one night in the Pit at
the House of the Nine Nations. 'Here! I wants you,' says I, takin'
what there was left of her by the arm. She shrieked, and crouched
down, and begged me not to hurt her, and looked wilder than a tiger
at me. And then the whole den got into a fright, and young women,
and boys, and men-they were all huddled together-set up such a
screaming. 'Munday!' says I, 'you don't go to the Tombs-here! I've
got good news for you.' This quieted her some, and then I picked her
up-she was nearly naked-and seeing she wanted scrubbing up, carried
her out of the Hole, and made her follow me to my house, where we
got her into some clothes, and seeing that she was got right in her
mind, I thought it would be a good time to question her."

"If you will hasten the result of your search, it will, my good sir,
relieve my feelings much!" again interposes the lady, drawing her
chair nearer the detective.

"'You've had,' I says to her, 'a hard enough time in this world, and
now here's the man what's going to be a friend to ye-understand
that!' says I, and she looked at me bewildered. We gave her
something to eat, and a pledge that no one would harm her, and she
tamed down, and began to look up a bit. 'Your name wasn't always
Munday?' says I, in a way that she couldn't tell what I was after.
She said she had taken several names, but Munday was her right name.
Then she corrected herself-she was weak and hoarse-and said it was
her husband's name. 'You've a good memory, Mrs. Munday,' says I;
'now, just think as far back as you can, and tell us where you lived
as long back as you can think.' She shook her head, and began to
bury her face in her hands. I tried for several minutes, but could
get nothing more out of her. Then she quickened up, shrieked out
that she had just got out of the devil's regions, and made a rush
for the door."



MR. FITZGERALD sees that his last remark is having no very good
effect on Madame Montford, and hastens to qualify, ere it overcome
her. "That, I may say, Madame, was not the last of her. My wife and
me, seeing how her mind was going wrong again, got her in bed for
the night, and took what care of her we could. Well, you see, she
got rational in the morning, and, thinking it a chance, I 'plied a
heap of kindness to her, and got her to tell all she knew of
herself. She went on to tell where she lived-I followed your
directions in questioning her-at the time you noted down. She
described the house exactly. I have been to it to-night; knew it at
a sight, from her description. Some few practical questions I put to
her about the child you wanted to get at, I found frightened her so
that she kept shut-for fear, I take it, that it was a crime she may
be punished for at some time. I says, 'You was trusted with a child
once, wasn't you?' 'The Lord forgive me,' she says, 'I know I'm
guilty-but I've been punished enough in this world haven't I?' And
she burst out into tears, and hung down her head, and got into the
corner, as if wantin' nobody to see her. She only wanted a little
good care, and a little kindness, to bring her to. This we did as
well as we could, and made her understand that no one thought of
punishing her, but wanted to be her friends. Well, the poor wretch
began to pick up, as I said before, and in three days was such
another woman that nobody could have told that she was the poor
crazy thing that ran about the lanes and alleys of the Points. And
now, Madame, doing as you bid me, I thought it more practical to
come to you, knowing you could get of her all you wanted. She is
made comfortable. Perhaps you wouldn't like to have her brought
here-I may say I don't think it would be good policy. If you would
condescend to come to our house, you can see her alone. I hope you
are satisfied with my services." The detective pauses, and again
wipes his face.

"My gratitude for your perseverance I can never fully express to
you. I owe you a debt I never can repay. To-morrow, at ten o'clock,
I will meet you at your house; and then, if you can leave me alone
with her - "

"Certainly, certainly, everything will be at your service, Madame,"
returns the detective, rising from his seat and thanking the lady,
who rewards him bountifully from her purse, and bids him good night.
The servant escorts him to the door, while Madame Montford buries
her face in her hands, and gives vent to her emotions.

On the morning following, a neatly-caparisoned carriage is seen
driving to the door of a little brick house in Crosby street. From
it Madame Montford alights, and passes in at the front door, while
in another minute it rolls away up the street and is lost to sight.
A few moments' consultation, and the detective, who has ushered the
lady into his humbly-furnished little parlor, withdraws to give
place to the pale and emaciated figure of the woman Munday, who
advances with faltering step and downcast countenance. "Oh! forgive
me, forgive me! have mercy upon me! forgive me this crime!" she
shrieks. Suddenly she raises her eyes, and rushing forward throws
herself at Madame Montford's feet, in an imploring attitude. Dark
and varied fancies crowd confusedly on Madame Montfort's mind at
this moment.

"Nay, nay, my poor sufferer, rather I might ask forgiveness of you."
She takes the woman by the hand, and, with an air of regained
calmness, raises her from the floor. With her, the outer life seems
preparing the inner for what is to come. "But I have long sought
you-sought you in obedience to the demands of my conscience, which I
would the world gave me power to purify; and now I have found you,
and with you some rest for my aching heart. Come, sit down; forget
what you have suffered; tell me what befell you, and what has become
of the child; tell me all, and remember that I will provide for you
a comfortable home for the rest of your life." Madame motions her to
a chair, struggling the while to suppress her own feelings.

"I loved the child you intrusted to my care; yes, God knows I loved
it, and watched over it for two years, as carefully as a mother. But
I was poor, and the brother, in whose hands you intrusted the amount
for its support (this, the reader must here know, was not a brother,
but the paramour of Madame Montford), failed, and gave me nothing
after the first six months. I never saw him, and when I found you
had gone abroad - " The woman hesitates, and, with weeping eyes and
trembling voice, again implores forgiveness. "My husband gave
himself up to drink, lost his situation, and then he got to hating
the child, and abusing me for taking it, and embarrassing our scanty
means of living. Night and day, I was harassed and abused, despised
and neglected. I was discouraged, and gave up in despair. I clung to
the child as long as I could. I struggled, and struggled, and
struggled - " Here the woman pauses, and with a submissive look, again
hangs down her head and sobs.

"Be calm, be calm," says Madame Montford, drawing nearer to her, and
making an effort to inspirit her. "Throw off all your fears, forget
what you have suffered, for I, too, have suffered. And you parted
with the child?"

"Necessity forced me," pursues the woman, shaking her head. "I saw

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 26 of 29)