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to his bosom.

A second thought flashes upon her fevered brain. Am I not the
subject of slander! Am I not contaminated by associations? Has not
society sought to clothe me with shame? Truth bends before
falsehood, and virtue withers under the rust of slandering tongues.
Again a storm rises up before her, and she feels the poisoned arrow
piercing deep into her heart. Am I not living under the very roof
that will confirm the slanders of mine enemies? she asks herself.
And the answer rings back in confirmation upon her too sensitive
ears, and fastens itself in her feelings like a reptile with deadly
fangs. No; she is not yet free from her enemies. They have the power
of falsifying her to her lover. The thought fills her bosom with sad
emotions. Strong in the consciousness of her virtue, she feels how
weak she is in the walks of the worldly. Her persecutors are guilty,
but being all-powerful may seek in still further damaging her
character, a means of shielding themselves from merited retribution.
It is the natural expedient of bad men in power to fasten crime upon
the weak they have injured.

Only a few days have to elapse, then, and Maria will be face to face
with him in whom her fondest hopes have found refuge; but even in
those few days it will be our duty to show how much injury may be
inflicted upon the weak by the powerful.

The old Antiquary observes the change that has come so suddenly over
Maria's feelings, but his entreaties fail to elicit the cause. Shall
she return to the house made doubtful by its frail occupants; or
shall she crave the jailer's permission to let her remain and share
her father's cell? Ah! solicitude for her father settles the
question. The alternative may increase his apprehensions, and with
them his sufferings. Night comes on; she kisses him, bids him a fond
adieu, and with an aching heart returns to the house that has
brought so much scandal upon her.

On reaching the door she finds the house turned into a bivouac of
revelry; her own chamber is invaded, and young men and women are
making night jubilant over Champagne and cigars. Mr. Keepum and the
Hon. Mr. Snivel are prominent among the carousers; and both are
hectic of dissipation. Shall she flee back to the prison? Shall she
go cast herself at the mercy of the keeper? As she is about
following the thought with the act, she is seized rudely by the
arms, dragged into the scene of carousal, and made the object of
coarse jokes. One insists that she must come forward and drink;
another holds an effervescing glass to her lips; a third says he
regards her modesty out of place, and demands that she drown it with
mellowing drinks. The almost helpless girl shrieks, and struggles to
free herself from the grasp of her enemies. Mr. Snivel, thinking it
highly improper that such cries go free, catches her in his arms,
and places his hand over her mouth. "Caught among queer birds at
last," he says, throwing an insidious wink at Keepum. "Will flock
together, eh?"

As if suddenly invested with herculean strength, Maria hurls the
ruffian from her, and lays him prostrate on the floor. In his fall
the table is overset, and bottles, decanters and sundry cut glass
accompaniments, are spread in a confused mass on the floor. Suddenly
Mr. Keepum extinguishes the lights. This is the signal for a scene
of uproar and confusion we leave the reader to picture in his
imagination. The cry of "murder" is followed quickly by the cry of
"watch, watch!" and when the guardmen appear, which they are not
long in doing, it is seen that the very chivalric gentlemen have
taken themselves off-left, as a prey for the guard, only Maria and
three frail females.

Cries, entreaties, and explanations, are all useless with such men
as our guard is composed of. Her clothes are torn, and she is found
rioting in disreputable company. The sergeant of the guard says,
"Being thus disagreeably caught, she must abide the penalty. It may
teach you how to model your morals," he adds; and straightway, at
midnight, she is dragged to the guard-house, and in spite of her
entreaties, locked up in a cell with the outcast women. "Will you
not hear me? will you not allow an innocent woman to speak in her
own behalf? Do, I beg, I beseech, I implore you-listen but for a
minute-render me justice, and save me from this last step of shame
and disgrace," she appeals to the sergeant, as the cell door closes
upon her.

Mr. Sergeant Stubble, for such is his name, shakes his head in
doubt. "Always just so," he says, with a shrug of the shoulders:
"every one's innocent what comes here 'specially women of your sort.
The worst rioters 'come the greatest sentimentalists, and repents
most when they gets locked up-does! You'll find it a righteous place
for reflection, in there." Mr. Sergeant Stubble shuts the door, and
smothers her cries.






CHAPTER XLVI.

THE SOUL MAY GAIN STRENGTH IN A DREARY CELL.





IT is Bulwer, the prince of modern novelists, who says: "There is in
calumny a rank poison that, even when the character throws off the
slander, the heart remains diseased beneath the effect." And this is
the exact condition in which Maria finds herself. The knaves who
have sought her ruin would seem to have triumphed; the ears of the
charitable are closed to her; her judgment seems sealed. And yet
when all is dark and still; when her companions sleep in undisturbed
tranquillity; when her agitated feelings become calmed; when there
seems speaking to her, through the hushed air of midnight, the voice
of a merciful providence-her soul quickens, and she counsels her
self-command, which has not yet deserted her. Woman's nature is
indeed strung in delicate threads, but her power of endurance not
unfrequently puts the sterner sex to the blush. "Slander has truly
left my heart diseased, but I am innocent, and to-morrow, perhaps,
my star will brighten. These dark struggles cannot last forever!"
she muses, as her self-command strengthens, and gives her new
hopes. Her betrothed may return to-morrow, and his generous nature
will not refuse her an opportunity to assert her innocence.

And while she thus muses in the cell of the guard-house, the steamer
in which Tom proceeds to Charleston is dashing through the waves,
speeding on, like a thing of life, leaving a long train of
phosphoric brine behind her. As might naturally have been expected,
Tom learns from a fellow-passenger all that has befallen the old
Antiquary. This filled his mind with gloomy forebodings concerning
the fate of Maria. There was, too, something evasive in the manner
of the man who conveyed to him this intelligence, and this excited
his apprehensions, and prompted him to make further inquiries. His
confidence in her faith animated and encouraged his heart. But when
he remembered that the old man was, even when he left, in the
clutches of Snivel and Keepum (men whose wealth and influence gave
them power to crush the poor into the dust), an abyss, terrible and
dark, opened to him, his whole nature seemed changed, and his
emotions became turbulent. He again sought the passenger, and
begging him to throw off all restraint, assured him that it would
relieve his feelings to know what had become of Maria. The man
hesitated for a few moments, then, with reluctant lips, disclosed to
him that she had fallen a victim of necessity-more, that she was
leading the life of an outcast. Tom listened attentively to the
story, which lost nothing in the recital; then, with passions
excited to frenzy, sought his state-room. At first it seemed like a
sentence of eternal separation ringing through his burning brain.
All the dark struggles of his life rose up before him, and seemed
hastening him back into that stream of dissipation in which his mind
had found relief when his mother forsook him. But no! something-he
knew not what-whispered in his ear, "Do not reject her. Faith and
hope remains to you; let truth be the judge." He stretched himself
in his berth, but not to sleep.

On the following morning Maria, with the frail companions of her
cell, is brought into court, and arraigned before His Honor, Judge
Sleepyhorn, who, be it said to his credit, though terrible in his
dealings with the harder sex, and whose love of hanging negroes is
not to be outdone, is exceedingly lenient with female cases, as he
is pleased to style them. Though her virtue is as chaste as the
falling snow, Maria is compelled to suffer, for nearly an hour, the
jeers and ribald insinuations of a coarse crowd, while the fact of
her being in the guard-house is winged over the city by exultant
scandal-mongers. Nevertheless, she remains calm and resolute. She
sees the last struggle of an eventful life before her, and is
resolved to meet it with womanly fortitude.

The Judge smiles, casts a glance over his assembly, and takes his
seat, as Mr. Sergeant Stubble commences to read over the charges
against the accused. "Business," says the Judge, "will proceed."

"Now, Judge!" speaks up one of the frail women, coming forward in a
bold, off-hand manner to speak for her companions, "I don't exactly
see what we have done so much out of the way. No ladies of our
standing have been up here before. The law's comin' very nice all at
once. There's a heap, as you know, Judge - "

"No, no, no! I know nothing about such places!" quickly interrupts
the Judge, his face full of virtuous indignation, and his hands
raised in horror.

"Then I may be pardoned for not wearing spectacles," resumes the
woman, with a curtsy. Finding the judgment-seat becoming a little
too warm for his nerves, the Judge very prudently dismisses the
damsels, with an admonition to go and do better-in fine, to tighten
their tongues as well as their morality.

With the aid of Mr. Sergeant Stubble, Maria is brought forward, pale
and trembling, and struggling with the war of grief waging in her
heart. Calmly she looks up at the Judge for a moment, then hangs
down her head in silence. "There is a Judge above who knows the
circumstances, gives me now His hand, and will judge me in the
balance of truth and mercy, when my enemies are at my feet," flashes
through her thoughts, and strengthens the inner nature. But her
tongue has lost its power; her feelings unbend to the thought that
she is in a criminal court, arraigned before a Judge. She has no
answer to make to the Judge's questions, but gives way to her
emotions, and breaks out into loud sobs. Several minutes, during
which a sympathizing silence is manifest, pass, when she raises
slowly her head, and makes an attempt to mutter a few words in her
defence. But her voice chokes, and the words hang, inarticulate,
upon her lips. She buries her face in her hands, and shakes her
head, as if saying, "I have said all."

His Honor seems moved to mercy by the touching spectacle before him.
He whispers in the ear of Mr. Sergeant Stubble, and that functionary
brightens up, and with an attempt to be kind, says: "Pray, Miss
McArthur - it's a duty we have to perform, you see - where is your
father? the Judge says."

Ah! That question has touched the fountain-spring of all her
troubles, and the waters come gushing forth, as if to engulph the
last faint shadow of hope in darkness. Almost simultaneously she
falls to the floor in a fit of violent hysterics. The Judge orders
the court-room cleared of its spectators, and if the reader has
ever witnessed the painful sight of a female suffering such
paroxysms, he may picture more forcibly in his imagination than we
can describe, the scene that follows. For some fifteen minutes the
sufferer struggles, and when her mind resumes its calm, she casts a
wild, despairing look round the room, then fixes her eyes upon those
who are gathered about her.

There was a kind impulse yet left in the Judge. He discovers a
sympathy for her condition, holds her weak, trembling hand in his
own, and bathes her temples with cologne. "You are free to go
home-there is no charge against you," he whispers in her ear. "I
have ordered a carriage, and will send you to your home-where is
it?" This is, indeed, cruel kindness.

"If I had a home," responds Maria, in a low voice, as she rises, and
rests herself on her elbow, "it would shelter me from this distress.
Yes, I would then be happy once more."

A carriage soon arrives, she is put into it, and with a few
consoling words from the Judge, is driven back, as hastily as
possible, to the house from which she was dragged only last night.
She has nowhere else to go to-day, but resolves to-morrow to seek a
shelter elsewhere. Through the whisperings of that unaccountable
human telegraph, the news of her shame, made great and terrible with
a thousand additions, is flown into the family secrets of the city.
How strange and yet how true of human nature is it, that we stand
ever ready to point the finger of scorn at those we fancy in the
downward path, while refusing ourselves to receive the moralist's
lessons.






CHAPTER XLVII.

IN WHICH IS A HAPPY MEETING, AND SOMETHING PLEASING.





IT is night-Mr. Keepum is seen seated before a table in his
drawing-room, finishing a sumptuous supper, and asking himself: "Who
dares to question me, the opulent Keepum?" Mr. Snivel enters, joins
him over a glass of wine, and says, "this little matter must be
settled tonight, Keepum, old fellow-been minced long enough." And
the two chivalric gentlemen, after a short conversation, sally into
the street. Yonder, in the harbor, just rounding the frowning walls
of Fort Sumpter, blazes out the great red light of the steamer, on
which the impatient lover fast approaches Charleston city.

"She can do nothing at law - against our influence she is powerless!"
ejaculates Keepum, as the two emerge from the house and stroll along
up Broad street.

Maria, pale and exhausted with the fatigues and excitements of the
day, sits in her solitary chamber, fearing lest each footstep she
hears advancing, may be that of her enemies, or hoping that it may
announce the coming of her lover and rescuer.

"You are richer than me!" still tinkles its silvery music in her
ear, and brings comfort to her agitated heart. The clock strikes
ten, and suddenly her room is entered by Keepum and Snivel. The
former, with an insinuating leer, draws a chair near her, while the
latter, doffing his coat, flings himself upon the cot. Neither speak
for some minutes; but Maria reads in their looks and actions the
studied villany they have at heart.

"Inconsistency adorned!" exclaims Keepum, drawing his chair a little
nearer. "Now, I say, you have stuck stubbornly to this ere folly."
Mr. Keepum's sharp, red face, comes redder, and his small, wicked
eyes flash like orbs of fire. "Better come down off that high
horse-live like a lady. The devil's got Tom, long ago."

"So you have said before, Mr. Keepum," rejoins Maria, turning upon
him a look of disdain. "You may persecute me to the death; you may
continue to trample me into the dust; but only with my death shall
your lust be gratified on me!" This declaration is made with an air
of firmness Mr. Keepum seems to understand. "D-n it," rejoins Mr.
Snivel, with a sardonic laugh, "these folks are affecting to be
something."

Maria raises her right hand, and motions Mr. Keepum away. It does
indeed seem to her that the moment when nature in her last struggle
unbends before the destroyer-when the treasure of a life passes away
to give place to dark regrets and future remorse, is come. Let us
pause here for a moment, and turn to another part of the city.

The steamer has scarce reached her berth at the wharf, when the
impatient lover springs ashore, dashes through the throng of
spectators, and, bewildered as it were, and scarce knowing which way
he is proceeding, hurries on, meeting no one he knows, and at length
reaching Meeting street. Here he pauses, and to his great joy meets
an old negro, who kindly offers to escort him to the distant quarter
of the city where Maria resides. Again he sets out, his mind hung in
suspense, and his emotions agitated to the highest degree. He
hurries on into King street, pauses for a moment before the house of
the old Antiquary, now fast closed, and as if the eventful past were
crowding upon his fancy, he turns away with dizzy eyes, and follows
the old negro, step by step-faint, nervous, and sinking with
excitement-until they reach the cabin of Undine, the mulatto woman,
under whose roof Maria once sought refuge for the night. Ready to
exclaim, "Maria, I am here!" his heart is once more doomed to
disappointment. The question hangs upon his lips, as his wondering
eyes glance round the room of the cabin. Undine tells him she is not
here; but points him to a light, nearly half a mile distant, and
tells him she is there! there! The faithful old negro sets off
again, and at full speed they proceed up the lane in the direction
of the light. And while they vault as it were o'er the ground, let
us again turn to the chamber of Maria.

With a sudden spring, Keepum, who had been for several minutes
keeping his eyes fixedly set upon Maria, and endeavoring to divert
her attention, seized her arms, and was about to drag her down, when
Snivel put out the light and ran to his assistance. "Never! never!"
she shrieks, at the very top of her voice. "Only with my life!" A
last struggle, a stifled cry of "never! never!" mingled with the
altercation of voices, rang out upon the air, and grated upon the
impatient lover's ear like death-knells. "Up stairs, up stairs!"
shouts the old negro, and in an instant he has burst the outer door
in, mounts the stairs with the nimbleness of a catamount, and is
thundering at the door, which gives way before his herculean
strength. "I am here! I am here! Maria, I am here!" he shouts, at
the top of his voice, and with an air of triumph stands in the door,
as the flashing light from without reveals his dilating figure.
"Foul villains! fiends in human form! A light! a light! Merciful
heavens-a light!" He dashes his hat from his brow, turns a
revengeful glance round the room, and grasps Maria in his arms, as
the old negro strikes a light and reveals the back of Mr. Snivel
escaping out of a window. Keepum, esteeming discretion the better
part of valor, has preceded him.

Tightly Tom clasps Maria to his bosom, and with a look of triumph
says: "Maria! speak, speak! They have not robbed you?"

She shakes her head, returns a look of sweet innocence, and mutters:
"It was the moment of life or death. Thank heaven-merciful heaven, I
am yet guiltless. They have not robbed me of my virtue-no, no, no. I
am faint, I am weak-set me down-set me down. The dawn of my morning
has brightened."

And she seems swooning in his arms. Gently he bears her to the cot,
lays her upon it, and with the solicitude of one whose heart she has
touched with a recital of her troubles, smooths her pillow and
watches over her until her emotions come subdued.

"And will you believe me innocent? Will you hear my story, and
reject the calumny of those who have sought my ruin?" speaks Maria,
impressing a kiss upon the fevered lips of her deliverer, and,
having regained her self-command, commences to recount some of the
ills she has suffered.

"Maria!" rejoins Tom, returning her embrace, "you, whom I have loved
so sincerely, so quietly but passionately, have no need of declaring
your innocence. I have loved you-no one but you. My faith in your
innocence has never been shaken. I hastened to you, and am here,
your protector, as you have been mine. Had I not myself suffered by
those who have sought your ruin, my pride might be touched at the
evil reports that have already been rung in my ears. Grateful am I
to Him who protects the weak, that I have spared you from the dread
guilt they would have forced upon you."

Again and again he declares his eternal love, and seals it with a
kiss. His, nature is too generous to doubt her innocence. He already
knows the condition of her father, hence keeps silent on that point,
lest it might overcome her. He raises her gently from the cot and
seats her in a chair; and as he does so, Mr. Snivel's coat falls
upon the floor, and from the pocket there protrudes four of his
(Tom's) letters, addressed to Maria.

"Here! here!" says Tom, confusedly, "here is the proof of their
guilt and your innocence." And he picks up the letters and holds
them before her. "I was not silent, though our enemies would have
had it so."

And she looks up again, and with a sweet smile says: "There truly
seems a divine light watching over me and lightening the burdens of
a sorrowing heart."

The excitement of the meeting over, Maria rapidly recounts a few of
the trials she has been subjected to.

Tom's first impulse is, that he will seek redress at law. Certainly
the law will give an injured woman her rights. But a second thought
tells him how calmly justice sits on her throne when the rights of
the poor are at stake. Again, Mr. Keepum has proceeded strictly
according to law in prosecuting her father, and there is no witness
of his attempts upon her virtue. The law, too, has nothing to do
with the motives. No! he is in an atmosphere where justice is made
of curious metal.

"And now, Maria," says Tom, pressing her hand in his own, "I, whom
you rescued when homeless-I, who was loathed when a wretched
inebriate, am now a man. My manhood I owe to you. I acknowledge it
with a grateful heart. You were my friend then-I am your friend now.
May I, nay! am I worthy of retaining this hand for life?"

"Rather, I might ask," she responds, in a faltering voice, "am I
worthy of this forgiveness, this confidence, this pledge of eternal
happiness?"

It is now the image of a large and noble heart reflects itself in
the emotions of the lovers, whose joys heaven seems to smile upon.

"Let us forget the past, and live only for the future-for each
other's happiness; and heaven will reward the pure and the good!"
concludes Tom, again sealing his faith with an ardent embrace. "You
are richer than me!" now, for the last time, rings its gladdening
music into her very soul.

Tom recompenses the faithful old negro, who has been a silent looker
on, and though the night is far spent, he leads Maria from the place
that has been a house of torment to her, provides her a comfortable
residence for the night, and, as it is our object not to detain the
reader longer with any lengthened description of what follows, may
say that, ere a few days have passed, leads Maria to the altar and
makes her his happy Bride.






CHAPTER XLVIII.

A FEW WORDS WITH THE READER.





THE abruptness with which we were compelled to conclude this
history, may render it necessary to make a few explanations. Indeed,
we fancy we hear the reader demanding them.

By some mysterious process, known only to Keepum and Snivel, the old
Antiquary was found at large on the day following Tom Swiggs'
return, notwithstanding the Appeal Court did not sit for some six
weeks. It is some months since Tom returned, and although he has
provided a comfortable home for the Antiquary, the queer old man
still retains a longing for the old business, and may be seen of a
fine morning, his staff in his right hand, his great-bowed
spectacles mounted, and his infirm step, casting many an anxious
look up at his old shop, and thinking how much more happy he would
be if he were installed in business, selling curiosities to his
aristocratic customers, and serving the chivalry in general.

As for Keepum, why he lost no time in assuring Tom of his high
regard for him, and has several times since offered to lend him a
trifle, knowing full well that he stands in no need of it.

Snivel is a type of our low, intriguing politician and justice, a
sort of cross between fashionable society and rogues, who,
notwithstanding they are a great nuisance to the community, manage
to get a sort of windy popularity, which is sure to carry them into
high office. He is well thought of by our ignorant crackers,
wire-grassmen, and sand-pitters, who imagine him the great medium by
which the Union is to be dissolved, and South Carolina set free to
start a species of government best suited to her notions of liberty,
which are extremely contracted. It may here be as well to add, that
he is come rich, but has not yet succeeded in his darling project of
dissolving the Union.

Judge Sleepyhorn thinks of withdrawing into private life, of which
he regards himself an exquisite ornament. This, some say, is the
result of the tragic death of Anna Bonard, as well as his love of
hanging negroes having somewhat subsided.

Madame Montford takes her journeys abroad, where she finds herself



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 28 of 29)