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

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glass, saying: "I look a shade up, I reckon! And I feel-I have to
thank you for it, Spunyarn-something different all over me. God
bless you! I won't forget you. But I'm hungry; that's all that ails
me now.

"I may thank my mother - "

"Thank yourself, Tom," interposes the sailor.

"For all this. She has driven me to this; yes, she has made my soul
dead with despair!" And he bursts into a wild, fierce laugh. A
moment's pause, and he says, in a subdued voice, "I'm a slave, a
fool, a wanderer in search of his own distress."

The kind-hearted sailor seats his pupil upon a board bench, and
proceeds down stairs, where, with the bribe of a glass of whiskey,
he induces the negro cook to prepare for Tom a bowl of coffee and a
biscuit. In truth, we must confess, that Spunyarn was so exceedingly
liberal of his friendship that he would at times appropriate to
himself the personal effects of his neighbors. But we must do him
justice by saying that this was only when a friend in need claimed
his attention. And this generous propensity he the more frequently
exercised upon the effects-whiskey, cold ham, crackers and cheese-
of the vote-cribber, whom he regards as a sort of cold-hearted
land-lubber, whose political friends outside were not what they
should be. If the vote-cribber's aristocratic friends (and South
Carolina politicians were much given to dignity and bad whiskey)
sent him luxuries that tantalized the appetites of poverty-oppressed
debtors, and poor prisoners starving on a pound of bread a-day,
Spunyarn held this a legitimate plea for holding in utter contempt
the right to such gifts. And what was more singular of this man was,
that he always knew the latitude and longitude of the vote-cribber's
bottle, and what amount of water was necessary to keep up the gauge
he had reduced in supplying his flask.

And now that Tom's almost hopeless condition presents a warrantable
excuse, (the vote-cribber has this moment passed into the cell to
take a cursory glance at Tom,) Spunyarn slips nimbly into the
vote-cribber's cell, withdraws a brick from the old chimney, and
seizing the black neck of a blacker bottle, drags it forth, holds it
in the shadow of the doorway, squints exultingly at the contents,
shrugs his stalwart shoulders, and empties a third of the liquid,
which he replaces with water from a bucket near by, into his
tin-topped flask. This done, he ingeniously replaces the bottle,
slides the flask suspiciously into his bosom, saying, "It'll taste
just as strong to a vote-cribber," and seeks that greasy potentate,
the prison cook. This dignitary has always laid something aside for
Spunyarn; he knows Spunyarn has something laid aside for him, which
makes the condition mutual.

"A new loafer let loose on the world!" says the vote-cribber,
entering the domain of the inebriate with a look of fierce scorn.
"The State is pestered to death with such things as you. What do
they send you here for?-disturbing the quiet and respectability of
the prison! You're only fit to enrich the bone-yard-hardly that;
perhaps only for lawyers to get fees of. The State 'll starve you,
old Hardscrabble 'll make a few dollars out of your feed-but what of
that? We don't want you here." There was something so sullen and
mysterious in the coarse features of this stalwart man-something so
revolting in his profession, though it was esteemed necessary to the
elevation of men seeking political popularity-something so at
variance with common sense in the punishment meted out to him who
followed it, as to create a deep interest in his history,
notwithstanding his coldness towards the inebriate. And yet you
sought in vain for one congenial or redeeming trait in the character
of this man.

"I always find you here; you're a fixture, I take it - "

The vote-cribber interrupts the inebriate - "Better have said a

"Well," returns the inebriate, "a patriot then; have it as you like
it. I'm not over-sensitive of the distinction." The fallen man drops
his head into his hands, stabbed with remorse, while the
vote-cribber folds his brawny arms leisurely, paces to and fro
before him, and scans him with his keen, gray eyes, after the manner
of one mutely contemplating an imprisoned animal.

"You need not give yourself so much concern about me - "

"I was only thinking over in my head what a good subject to crib, a
week or two before fall election, you'd be. You've a vote?"

Tom good-naturedly says he has. He always throws it for the "old
Charleston" party, being sure of a release, as are some dozen caged
birds, just before election.

"I have declared eternal hatred against that party; never pays its
cribbers!" Mingle scornfully retorts; and having lighted his pipe,
continues his pacing. "As for this jail," he mutters to himself,
"I've no great respect for it; but there is a wide difference
between a man who they put in here for sinning against himself, and
one who only violates a law of the State, passed in opposition to
popular opinion. However, you seem brightened up a few pegs, and,
only let whiskey alone, you may be something yet. Keep up an
acquaintance with the pump, and be civil to respectable prisoners,
that's all."

This admonition of the vote-cribber had a deeper effect on the
feelings of the inebriate than was indicated by his outward manner.
He had committed no crime, and yet he found himself among criminals
of every kind; and what was worse, they affected to look down upon
him. Had he reached a stage of degradation so low that even the
felon loathed his presence? Was he an outcast, stripped of every
means of reform-of making himself a man? Oh no! The knife of the
destroyer had plunged deep-disappointment had tortured his brain-he
was drawn deeper into the pool of misery by the fatal fascinations
of the house of Madame Flamingo, where, shunned by society, he had
sought relief-but there was yet one spark of pride lingering in his
heart. That spark the vote-cribber had touched; and with that spark
Tom resolved to kindle for himself a new existence. He had pledged
his honor to the young theologian; he would not violate it.

The old sailor, with elated feelings, and bearing in his hands a
bowl of coffee and two slices of toasted bread, is accosted by
several suspicious-looking prisoners, who have assembled in the
corridor for the purpose of scenting fresh air, with sundry
questions concerning the state of his pupil's health.

"He has had a rough night," the sailor answers, "but is now a bit
calm. In truth, he only wants a bit of good steering to get him into
smooth weather again." Thus satisfying the inquirers, he hurries up
stairs as the vote-cribber hurries down, and setting his offering on
the window-sill, draws from his bosom the concealed flask. "There,
Tom!" he says, with childlike satisfaction, holding the flask before
him - "only two pulls. To-morrow reef down to one; and the day after
swear a dissolution of copartnership, for this chap (he points to
the whiskey) is too mighty for you."

Tom hesitates, as if questioning the quality of the drug he is about
to administer.

"Only two!" interrupts the sailor. "It will reduce the ground-swell
a bit." The outcast places the flask to his lips, and having drank
with contorted face passes it back with a sigh, and extends his
right hand. "My honor is nothing to the world, Spunyarn, but it is
yet something to me; and by it I swear (here he grasps tighter the
hand of the old sailor, as a tear moistens his suffused cheeks)
never to touch the poison again. It has grappled me like a fierce
animal I could not shake off; it has made me the scoffed of felons-I
will cease to be its victim; and having gained the victory, be
hereafter a friend to myself."

"God bless you-may you never want a friend, Tom-and may He give you
strength to keep the resolution. That's my wish." And the old sailor
shook Tom's hand fervently, in pledge of his sincerity.



READER! have you ever witnessed how cleverly one of our
mob-politicians can, through the all-soothing medium of a
mint-julep, transpose himself from a mass of passion and bad English
into a child of perfect equanimity? If not, perhaps you have
witnessed in our halls of Congress the sudden transition through
which some of our Carolina members pass from a state of stupidity to
a state of pugnacity? (We refer only to those members who do their
own "stumping," and as a natural consequence, get into Congress
through abuse of the North, bad whiskey, and a profusion of promises
to dissolve the Union.) And if you have, you may form some idea of
the suddenness with which Lady Swiggs, as she delights in having her
friends call her, transposes herself from the incarnation of a viper
into a creature of gentleness, on hearing announced the name of Mr.
Soloman Snivel.

What! - my old friend! I wish I had words to say how glad I am to see
you, Lady Swiggs!" exclaims a tall, well-proportioned and
handsome-limbed man, to whose figure a fashionable claret-colored
frock coat, white vest, neatly-fitting dark-brown trowsers,
highly-polished boots, a cluster of diamonds set in an avalanche of
corded shirt-bosom, and carelessly-tied green cravat, lend a
respectability better imagined than described. A certain reckless
dash about him, not common to a refined gentleman, forces us to set
him down as one of those individuals who hold an uncertain position
in society; and though they may now and then mingle with men of
refinement, have their more legitimate sphere in a fashionable world
of doubtful character.

"Why! - Mr. Snivel. Is it you?" responds the old woman, reciprocating
his warm shake of the hand, and getting her hard face into a smile.

"I am so glad-But (Mr. Snivel interrupts himself) never mind that!"

"You have some important news?" hastily inquires Mrs. Swiggs, laying
a bit of muslin carefully between the pages of her Milton, and
returning it to the table, saying she has just been grievously
provoked by one of that black-coated flock who go about the city in
search of lambs. They always remind her of light-houses pointing the
road to the dominions of the gentleman in black.

"Something very important!" parenthesises Soloman - "very." And he
shakes his head, touches her significantly on the arm with his
orange-colored glove, - he smiles insidiously.

"Pray be seated, Mr. Snivel. Rebecca! - bring Mr. Snivel the

"You see, my good Madam, there's such a rumor about town this
morning! (Soloman again taps her on the arm with his glove.) The cat
has got out of the bag-it's all up with the St. Cecilia! - "

"Do, Rebecca, make haste with the rocking-chair!" eagerly interrupts
the old woman, addressing herself to the negress, who fusses her way
into the room with a great old-fashioned rocking-chair. "I am so
sensitive of the character of that society," she continues with a
sigh, and wipes and rubs her spectacles, gets up and views herself
in the glass, frills over her cap border, and becomes very generally
anxious. Mrs. Swiggs is herself again. She nervously adjusts the
venerable red shawl about her shoulders, draws the newly-introduced
arm-chair near her own, ("I'm not so old, but am getting a little
deaf," she says), and begs her visitor will be seated.

Mr. Soloman, having paced twice or thrice up and down the little
room, contemplating himself in the glass at each turn, now touching
his neatly-trimmed Saxon mustache and whiskers, then frisking his
fingers through his candy-colored hair, brings his dignity into the

"I said it was all up with the St. Cecilia - "

"Yes!" interrupts Mrs. Swiggs, her eyes glistening like balls of
fire, her lower jaw falling with the weight of anxiety, and fretting
rapidly her bony hands.

Soloman suddenly pauses, says that was a glorious bottle of old
Madeira with which he enjoyed her hospitality on his last visit. The
flavor of it is yet fresh in his mouth.

"Thank you-thank you! Mr. Soloman. I've a few more left. But pray
lose no time in disclosing to me what hath befallen the St.

"Well then-but what I say must be in confidence. (The old woman says
it never shall get beyond her lips-never!) An Englishman of goodly
looks, fashion, and money-and, what is more in favor with our first
families, a Sir attached to his name, being of handsome person and
accomplished manners, and travelling and living after the manner of
a nobleman, (some of our first families are simple enough to
identify a Baronet with nobility!) was foully set upon by the
fairest and most marriageable belles of the St. Cecilia. If he had
possessed a dozen hearts, he could have had good markets for them
all. There was such a getting up of attentions! Our fashionable
mothers did their very best in arraying the many accomplishments of
their consignable daughters, setting forth in the most foreign but
not over-refined phraseology, their extensive travels abroad - "

"Yes!" interrupts Mrs. Swiggs, nervously - "I know how they do it.
It's a pardonable weakness." And she reaches out her hand and takes
to her lap her inseparable Milton.

"And the many marked attentions-offers, in fact-they have received
at the hands of Counts and Earls, with names so unpronounceable that
they have outlived memory - "

"Perhaps I have them in my book of autographs!" interrupts the
credulous old woman, making an effort to rise and proceed to an
antique sideboard covered with grotesque-looking papers.

Mr. Soloman urbanely touches her on the arm-begs she will keep her
seat. The names only apply to things of the past. He proceeds,
"Well-being a dashing fellow, as I have said-he played his game
charmingly. Now he flirted with this one, and then with that one,
and finally with the whole society, not excepting the very flirtable
married ladies; - that is, I mean those whose husbands were simple
enough to let him. Mothers were in a great flutter generally, and
not a day passed but there was a dispute as to which of their
daughters he would link his fortunes with and raise to that state so
desirable in the eyes of our very republican first families-the
State-Militant of nobility - "

"I think none the worse of 'em for that," says the old woman,
twitching her wizard-like head in confirmation of her assertion. "My
word for it, Mr. Soloman, to get up in the world, and to be above
the common herd, is the grand ambition of our people; and our State
has got the grand position it now holds before the world through the
influence of this ambition."

"True! - you are right there, my dear friend. You may remember, I have
always said you had the penetration of a statesman, (Mrs. Swiggs
makes a curt bow, as a great gray cat springs into her lap and curls
himself down on her Milton;) and, as I was going on to say of this
dashing Baronet, he played our damsels about in agony, as an old
sportsman does a covey of ducks, wounding more in the head than in
the heart, and finally creating no end of a demand for matrimony.
To-day, all the town was positive, he would marry the beautiful Miss
Boggs; to-morrow it was not so certain that he would not marry the
brilliant and all-accomplished Miss Noggs; and the next day he was
certain of marrying the talented and very wealthy heiress, Miss
Robbs. Mrs. Stepfast, highly esteemed in fashionable society, and
the very best gossipmonger in the city, had confidentially spread it
all over the neighborhood that Mr. Stepfast told her the young
Baronet told him (and he verily believed he was head and ears in
love with her!) Miss Robbs was the most lovely creature he had seen
since he left Belgravia. And then he went into a perfect rhapsody of
excitement while praising the poetry of her motion, the grace with
which she performed the smallest offices of the drawing-room, her
queenly figure, her round, alabaster arms, her smooth, tapering
hands, (so chastely set off with two small diamonds, and so unlike
the butchers' wives of this day, who bedazzle themselves all the day
long with cheap jewelry,) - the beautiful swell of her marble bust,
the sweet smile ever playing over her thoughtful face, the
regularity of her Grecian features, and those great, languishing
eyes, constantly flashing with the light of irresistible love. Quoth
ye! according to what Mr. Stepfast told Mrs. Stepfast, the young
Baronet would, with the ideal of a real poet, as was he, have gone
on recounting her charms until sundown, had not Mr. Stepfast invited
him to a quiet family dinner. And to confirm what Mr. Stepfast said,
Miss Robbs had been seen by Mrs. Windspin looking in at Mrs.
Stebbins', the fashionable dress-maker, while the young Baronet had
twice been at Spears', in King Street, to select a diamond necklace
of great value, which he left subject to the taste of Miss Robbs.
And putting them two and them two together there was something in

"I am truly glad it's nothing worse. There has been so much scandal
got up by vulgar people against our St. Cecilia."

"Worse, Madam?" interpolates our hero, ere she has time to conclude
her sentence, "the worst is to come yet."

"And I'm a member of the society!" Mrs. Swiggs replies with a
languishing sigh, mistaking the head of the cat for her Milton, and
apologizing for her error as that venerable animal, having got well
squeezed, sputters and springs from her grasp, shaking his head,
"elected solely on the respectability of my family."

Rather a collapsed member, by the way, Mr. Soloman thinks,
contemplating her facetiously.

"Kindly proceed-proceed," she says, twitching at her cap strings, as
if impatient to get the sequel.

"Well, as to that, being a member of the St. Cecilia myself, you
see, and always-(I go in for a man keeping up in the
world)-maintaining a high position among its most distinguished
members, who, I assure you, respect me far above my real merits,
(Mrs. Swiggs says we won't say anything about that now!) and honor
me with all its secrets, I may, even in your presence, be permitted
to say, that I never heard a member who didn't speak in high praise
of you and the family of which you are so excellent a

"Thank you-thank you. O thank you, Mr. Soloman!" she rejoins.

"Why, Madam, I feel all my veneration getting into my head at once
when I refer to the name of Sir Sunderland Swiggs."

"But pray what came of the young Baronet?"

"Oh! - as to him, why, you see, he was what we call-it isn't a polite
word, I confess-a humbug."

"A Baronet a humbug!" she exclaims, fretting her hands and
commencing to rock herself in the chair.

"Well, as to that, as I was going on to say, after he had beat the
bush all around among the young birds, leaving several of them
wounded on the ground-you understand this sort of thing-he took to
the older ones, and set them polishing up their feathers. And having
set several very respectable families by the ears, and created a
terrible flutter among a number of married dames-he was an adept in
this sort of diplomacy, you see-it was discovered that one very
distinguished Mrs. Constance, leader of fashion to the St. Cecilia,
(and on that account on no very good terms with the vulgar world,
that was forever getting up scandal to hurl at the society that
would not permit it to soil, with its common muslin, the fragrant
atmosphere of its satin and tulle), had been carrying on a villanous
intrigue-yes, Madam! villanous intrigue! I said discovered: the fact
was, this gallant Baronet, with one servant and no establishment,
was fЋЖted and fooled for a month, until he came to the very natural
and sensible conclusion, that we were all snobbs-yes, snobbs of the
very worst kind. But there was no one who fawned over and flattered
the vanity of this vain man more than the husband of Mrs. Constance.
This poor man idolized his wife, whom he regarded as the very
diamond light of purity, nor ever mistrusted that the Baronet's
attentions were bestowed with any other than the best of motives.
Indeed, he held it extremely condescending on the part of the
Baronet to thus honor the family with his presence.

"And the Baronet, you see, with that folly so characteristic of
Baronets, was so flushed with his success in this little intrigue
with Madame Constance-the affair was too good for him to keep! - that
he went all over town showing her letters. Such nice letters as they
were-brim full of repentance, love, and appointments. The Baronet
read them to Mr. Barrows, laughing mischievously, and saying what a
fool the woman must be. Mr. Barrows couldn't keep it from Mrs.
Barrows, Mrs. Barrows let the cat out of the bag to Mrs. Simpson,
and Mrs. Simpson would let Mr. Simpson have no peace till he got on
the soft side of the Baronet, and, what was not a difficult matter,
got two of the letters for her to have a peep into. Mrs. Simpson
having feasted her eyes on the two Mr. Simpson got of the Baronet,
and being exceedingly fond of such wares as they contained, must
needs-albeit, in strict confidence-whisper it to Mrs. Fountain, who
was a very fashionable lady, but unfortunately had a head very like
a fountain, with the exception that it ejected out double the amount
it took in. Mrs. Fountain-as anybody might have known-let it get all
over town. And then the vulgar herd took it up, as if it were
assafotida, only needing a little stirring up, and hurled it back at
the St. Cecilia, the character of which it would damage without a
pang of remorse.

"Then the thing got to Constance's ears; and getting into a terrible
passion, poor Constance swore nothing would satisfy him but the
Baronet's life. But the Baronet - "

"A sorry Baronet was he-not a bit like my dear ancestor, Sir
Sunderland," Mrs. Swiggs interposes.

"Not a bit, Madam," bows our hero. "Like a sensible gentleman, as I
was about to say, finding it getting too hot for him, packed up his
alls, and in the company of his unpaid servant, left for parts
westward of this. I had a suspicion the fellow was not what he
should be; and I made it known to my select friends of the St.
Cecilia, who generally pooh-poohed me. A nobleman, they said, should
receive every attention. And to show that he wasn't what he should
be, when he got to Augusta his servant sued him for his wages; and
having nothing but his chivalry, which the servant very sensibly
declined to accept for payment, he came out like a man, and declared
himself nothing but a poor player.

"But this neither satisfied Constance nor stayed the drifting
current of slander - "

"Oh! I am so glad it was no worse," Mrs. Swiggs interrupts again.

"True!" Mr. Soloman responds, laughing heartily, as he taps her on
the arm. "It might have been worse, though. Well, I am, as you know,
always ready to do a bit of a good turn for a friend in need, and
pitying poor Constance as I did, I suggested a committee of four
most respectable gentlemen, and myself, to investigate the matter.
The thing struck Constance favorably, you see. So we got ourselves
together, agreed to consider ourselves a Congress, talked over the
affairs of the nation, carried a vote to dissolve the Union, drank
sundry bottles of Champagne, (I longed for a taste of your old
Madeira, Mrs. Swiggs,) and brought in a verdict that pleased Mrs.
Constance wonderfully-and so it ought. We were, after the most
careful examination, satisfied that the reports prejudicial to the
character and standing of Mrs. Constance had no foundation in truth,
being the base fabrications of evil-minded persons, who sought,
while injuring an innocent lady, to damage the reputation of the St.
Cecilia Society. Mr. Constance was highly pleased with the finding;
and finally it proved the sovereign balm that healed all their
wounds. Of course, the Knight, having departed, was spared his

Here Mr. Soloman makes a pause. Mrs. Swiggs, with a sigh, says, "Is
that all?"

"Quite enough for once, my good Madam," Mr. Soloman bows in return.

"Oh! I am so glad the St. Cecilia is yet spared to us. You said, you
know, it was all up with it - "

"Up? up?-so it is! That is, it won't break it up, you know. Why-oh,
I see where the mistake is-it isn't all over, you know, seeing how
the society can live through a score of nine-months scandals. But
the thing's in every vulgar fellow's lips-that is the worst of it."

Mrs. Swiggs relishes this bit of gossip as if it were a dainty
morsel; and calling Rebecca, she commands her to forthwith proceed
into the cellar and bring a bottle of the old Madeira-she has only
five left-for Mr. Soloman. And to Mr. Soloman's great delight, the

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 4 of 29)