F. Colburn Adams.

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

. (page 5 of 29)
Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 5 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

old negress hastily obeys the summons; brings forth a mass of cobweb
and dust, from which a venerable black bottle is disinterred,
uncorked, and presented to the guest, who drinks the health of Mrs.
Swiggs in sundry well-filled glasses, which he declares choice,
adding, that it always reminds him of the age and dignity of the
family. Like the State, dignity is Mrs. Swiggs' weakness-her
besetting sin. Mr. Soloman, having found the key to this vain
woman's generosity, turns it when it suits his own convenience.

"By-the-bye," he suddenly exclaims, "you've got Tom locked up

"As safe as he ever was, I warrant ye!" Mrs. Swiggs replies,
resuming her Milton and rocking-chair.

"Upon my faith I agree with you. Never let him get out, for he is
sure to disgrace the family when he does - "

"I've said he shall rot there, and he shall rot! He never shall get
out to disgrace the family - no, not if I live to be as gray as
Methuselah, I warrant you!" And Mr. Soloman, having made his
compliments to the sixth glass, draws from his breast pocket a
legal-looking paper, which he passes to Mrs. Swiggs, as she
ejaculates, "Oh! I am glad you thought of that."

Mr. Soloman, watching intently the changes of her face, says, "You
will observe, Madam, I have mentioned the cripples. There are five
of them. We are good friends, you see; and it is always better to be
precise in those things. It preserves friendship. This is merely a
bit of a good turn I do for you." Mr. Soloman bows, makes an
approving motion with his hands, and lays at her disposal on the
table, a small roll of bills. "You will find two hundred dollars
there," he adds, modulating his voice. You will find it all right; I
got it for you of Keepum. We do a little in that way; he is very
exact, you see - "

"Honor is the best security between people of our standing," she
rejoins, taking up a pen and signing the instrument, which her guest
deposits snugly in his pocket, and takes his departure for the house
of Madame Flamingo.



IF, generous reader, you had lived in Charleston, we would take it
for granted that you need no further enlightening on any of our very
select societies, especially the St. Cecilia; but you may not have
enjoyed a residence so distinguished, rendering unnecessary a few
explanatory remarks. You must know that we not only esteem ourselves
the quintessence of refinement, as we have an undisputed right to
do, but regard the world outside as exceedingly stupid in not
knowing as much of us as we profess to know of ourselves. Abroad, we
wonder we are not at once recognized as Carolinians; at home, we let
the vulgar world know who we are. Indeed, we regard the outside
world-of these States we mean-very much in that light which the
Greeks of old were wont to view the Romans in. Did we but stop here,
the weakness might be pardonable. But we lay claim to Grecian
refinement of manners, while pluming all our mob-politicians Roman
orators. There is a profanity about this we confess not to like; not
that danger can befall it, but because it hath about it that which
reminds us of the oyster found in the shell of gold. Condescending,
then, to believe there exists outside of our State a few persons
silly enough to read books, we will take it for granted, reader,
that you are one of them, straightway proceeding with you to the St.

You have been a fashionable traveller in Europe? You say-yes!
rummaged all the feudal castles of England, sought out the resting
places of her kings, heard some one say "that is poet's corner," as
we passed into Westminster Abbey, thought they couldn't be much to
have such a corner, - "went to look" where Byron was buried, moistened
the marble with a tear ere we were conscious of it, and saw open to
us the gulf of death as we contemplated how greedy graveyard worms
were banqueting on his greatness. A world of strange fancies came
over us as we mused on England's poets. And we dined with several
Dukes and a great many more Earls, declining no end of invitations
of commoners. Very well! we reply, adding a sigh. And on your return
to your home, that you may not be behind the fashion, you compare
disparagingly everything that meets your eye. Nothing comes up to
what you saw in Europe. A servant doesn't know how to be a servant
here; and were we to see the opera at Covent Garden, we would be
sure to stare our eyes out. It is become habitual to introduce your
conversation with, "when I was in Europe." And you know you never
write a letter that you don't in some way bring in the distinguished
persons you met abroad. There is something (no matter what it is)
that forcibly reminds you of what occurred at the table of my Lady
Clarendon, with whom you twice had the pleasure and rare honor of
dining. And by implication, you always give us a sort of
lavender-water description of the very excellent persons you met
there, and what they were kind enough to say of America, and how
they complimented you, and made you the centre and all-absorbing
object of attraction-in a word, a truly wonderful person. And you
will not fail, now that it is become fashionable, to extol with
fulsome breath the greatness of every European despot it hath been
your good fortune to get a bow from. And you are just vain enough to
forever keep this before your up-country cousins. You say, too, that
you have looked in at Almacks. Almacks! alas! departed greatness.
With the rise of the Casino hath it lain its aristocratic head in
the dust.

Well! - the St. Cecilia you must know (its counterparts are to be
found in all our great cities) is a miniature Almacks-a sort of
leach-cloth, through which certain very respectable individuals must
pass ere they can become the elite of our fashionable world. To
become a member of the St. Cecilia-to enjoy its recherch
assemblies-to luxuriate in the delicate perfumes of its votaries, is
the besetting sin of a great many otherwise very sensible people.
And to avenge their disappointment at not being admitted to its
precious precincts, they are sure to be found in the front rank of
scandal-mongers when anything in their line is up with a member. And
it is seldom something is not up, for the society would seem to live
and get lusty in an atmosphere of perpetual scandal. Any amount of
duels have come of it; it hath made rich no end of milliners; it
hath made bankrupt husbands by the dozen; it hath been the theatre
of several distinguished romances; it hath witnessed the first
throbbings of sundry hearts, since made happy in wedlock; it hath
been the shibolath of sins that shall be nameless here. The reigning
belles are all members (provided they belong to our first families)
of the St. Cecilia, as is also the prettiest and most popular
unmarried parson. And the parson being excellent material for
scandal, Mother Rumor is sure to have a dash at him. Nor does this
very busy old lady seem over-delicate about which of the belles she
associates with the parson, so long as the scandal be fashionable
enough to afford her a good traffic.

There is continually coming along some unknown but very
distinguished foreigner, whom the society adopts as its own,
flutters over, and smothers with attentions, and drops only when it
is discovered he is an escaped convict. This, in deference to the
reputation of the St. Cecilia, we acknowledge has only happened
twice. It has been said with much truth that the St. Cecilia's worst
sin, like the sins of its sister societies of New York, is a passion
for smothering with the satin and Honiton of its assemblies a
certain supercilious species of snobby Englishmen, who come over
here, as they have it (gun and fishing-rod in hand), merely to get
right into the woods where they can have plenty of bear-hunting,
confidently believing New York a forest inhabited by such animals.
As for our squaws, as Mr. Tom Toddleworth would say, (we shall speak
more at length of Tom!) why! they have no very bad opinion of them,
seeing that they belong to a race of semi-barbarians, whose sayings
they delight to note down. Having no society at home, this species
of gentry the more readily find themselves in high favor with ours.
They are always Oxonians, as the sons of green grocers and
fishmongers are sure to be when they come over here (so Mr.
Toddleworth has it, and he is good authority), and we being an
exceedingly impressible people, they kindly condescend to instruct
us in all the high arts, now and then correcting our very bad
English. They are clever fellows generally, being sure to get on the
kind side of credulous mothers with very impressible-headed

There was, however, always a distinguished member of the St. Cecilia
society who let out all that took place at its assemblies. The
vulgar always knew what General danced with the lovely Miss A., and
how they looked, and what they said to each other; how many jewels
Miss A. wore, and the material her dress was made of; they knew who
polked with the accomplished Miss B., and how like a duchess she
bore herself; they had the exact name of the colonel who dashed
along so like a knight with the graceful and much-admired Mrs. D.,
whose husband was abroad serving his country; what gallant captain
of dragoons (captains of infantry were looked upon as not what they
might be) promenaded so imperiously with the vivacious Miss E.; and
what distinguished foreigner sat all night in the corner holding a
suspicious and very improper conversation with Miss F., whose skirts
never were free of scandal, and who had twice got the pretty parson
into difficulty with his church. Hence there was a perpetual
outgoing of scandal on the one side, and pelting of dirt on the

When Mr. Soloman sought the presence of Mrs. Swiggs and told her it
was all up with the St. Cecilia, and when that august member of the
society was so happily disappointed by his concluding with leaving
it an undamaged reputation, the whole story was not let out. In
truth the society was at that moment in a state of indignation, and
its reputation as well-nigh the last stage of disgrace as it were
possible to bring it without being entirely absorbed. The Baronet,
who enjoyed a good joke, and was not over-scrupulous in measuring
the latitude of our credulity, had, it seems, in addition to the
little affair with Mrs. Constance, been imprudent enough to
introduce at one of the assemblies of the St. Cecilia, a lady of
exceedingly fair but frail import: this loveliest of creatures-this
angel of fallen fame - this jewel, so much sought after in her own
casket-this child of gentleness and beauty, before whom a dozen
gallant knights were paying homage, and claiming her hand for the
next waltz, turned out to be none other than the Anna Bonard we have
described at the house of Madame Flamingo. The discovery sent the
whole assembly into a fainting fit, and caused such a fluttering in
the camp of fashion. Reader! you may rest assured back-doors and
smelling-bottles were in great demand.

The Baronet had introduced her as his cousin; just arrived, he said,
in the care of her father-the cousin whose beauty he had so often
referred to. So complete was her toilet and disguise, that none but
the most intimate associate could have detected the fraud. Do you
ask us who was the betrayer, reader? We answer, -

One whose highest ambition did seem that of getting her from her
paramour, George Mullholland. It was Judge Sleepyhorn. Reader! you
will remember him-the venerable, snowy-haired man, sitting on the
lounge at the house of Madame Flamingo, and on whom George
Mullholland swore to have revenge. The judge of a criminal court,
the admonisher of the erring, the sentencer of felons, the habitue
of the house of Madame Flamingo-no libertine in disguise could be
more scrupulous of his standing in society, or so sensitive of the
opinion held of him by the virtuous fair, than was this daylight
guardian of public morals.

The Baronet got himself nicely out of the affair, and Mr. Soloman
Snivel, commonly called Mr. Soloman, the accommodation man, is at
the house of Madame Flamingo, endeavoring to effect a reconciliation
between the Judge and George Mullholland.



NIGHT has thrown her mantle over the city. There is a great
gathering of denizens at the house of Madame Flamingo. She has a
bal-masque to-night. Her door is beset with richly-caparisoned
equipages. The town is on tip-toe to be there; we reluctantly follow
it. An hundred gaudily-decorated drinking saloon are filled with
gaudier-dressed men. In loudest accent rings the question - "Do you go
to Madame Flamingo's to-night?" Gentlemen of the genteel world, in
shining broadcloth, touch glasses and answer - "yes!" It is a
wonderful city-this of ours. Vice knows no restraint, poverty hath
no friends here. We bow before the shrine of midnight revelry; we
bring licentiousness to our homes, but we turn a deaf ear to the
cries of poverty, and we gloat over the sale of men.

The sickly gaslight throws a sicklier glare over the narrow, unpaved
streets. The city is on a frolic, a thing not uncommon with it.
Lithe and portly-figured men, bearing dominos in their hands,
saunter along the sidewalk, now dangling ponderous watch-chains,
then flaunting highly-perfumed cambrics - all puffing the fumes of
choice cigars. If accosted by a grave wayfarer - they are going to
the opera! They are dressed in the style of opera-goers. And the
road to the opera seems the same as that leading to the house of the
old hostess. A gaily-equipped carriage approaches. We hear the loud,
coarse laughing of those it so buoyantly bears, then there comes
full to view the glare of yellow silks and red satins, and doubtful
jewels-worn by denizens from whose faded brows the laurel wreath
hath fallen. How shrunken with the sorrow of their wretched lives,
and yet how sportive they seem! The pale gaslight throws a
spectre-like hue over their paler features; the artificial crimson
with which they would adorn the withered cheek refuses to lend a
charm to features wan and ghastly. The very air is sickly with the
odor of their cosmetics. And with flaunting cambrics they bend over
carriage sides, salute each and every pedestrian, and receive in
return answers unsuited to refined ears. They pass into the dim
vista, but we see with the aid of that flickering gas, the shadow of
that polluting hand which hastens life into death.

Old Mr. McArthur, who sits smoking his long pipe in the door of his
crazy-looking curiosity shop, (he has just parted company with the
young theologian, having assured him he would find a place to stow
Tom Swiggs in,) wonders where the fashionable world of Charleston
can be going? It is going to the house of the Flamingo. The St.
Cecilia were to have had a ball to-night; scandal and the greater
attractions here have closed its doors.

A long line of carriages files past the door of the old hostess. An
incessant tripping of feet, delicately encased in bright-colored
slippers; an ominous fluttering of gaudy silks and satins; an
inciting glare of borrowed jewelry, mingling with second-hand lace;
an heterogeneous gleaming of bare, brawny arms, and distended busts,
all lend a sort of barbaric splendor to that mysterious group
floating, as it were, into a hall in one blaze of light. A soft
carpet, over-lain with brown linen, is spread from the curbstone
into the hall. Two well-developed policemen guard the entrance, take
tickets of those who pass in, and then exchange smiles of
recognition with venerable looking gentlemen in masks. The hostess,
a clever "business man" in her way, has made the admission fee one
dollar. Having paid the authorities ten dollars, and honored every
Alderman with a complimentary ticket, who has a better right? No one
has a nicer regard for the Board of Aldermen than Madame Flamingo;
no one can reciprocate this regard more condescendingly than the
honorable Board of Aldermen do. Having got herself arrayed in a
dress of sky-blue satin, that ever and anon streams, cloudlike,
behind her, and a lace cap of approved fashion, with pink strings
nicely bordered in gimp, and a rich Honiton cape, jauntily thrown
over her shoulders, and secured under the chin with a great cluster
of blazing diamonds, and rows of unpolished pearls at her wrists,
which are immersed in crimped ruffles, she doddles up and down the
hall in a state of general excitement. A corpulent colored man,
dressed in the garb of a beadle, - a large staff in his right hand, a
cocked hat on his head, and broad white stripes down his flowing
coat, stands midway between the parlor doors. He is fussy enough,
and stupid enough, for a Paddington beadle. Now Madame Flamingo
looks scornfully at him, scolds him, pushes him aside; he is only a
slave she purchased for the purpose; she commands that he gracefully
touch his hat (she snatches it from his head, and having elevated it
over her own, performs the delicate motion she would have him
imitate) to every visitor. The least neglect of duty will incur (she
tells him in language he cannot mistake) the penalty of thirty-nine
well laid on in the morning. In another minute her fat, chubby face
glows with smiles, her whole soul seems lighted up with childlike
enthusiasm; she has a warm welcome for each new comer, retorts
saliently upon her old friends, and says - "you know how welcome you
all are!" Then she curtsies with such becoming grace. "The house,
you know, gentlemen, is a commonwealth to-night." Ah! she
recognizes the tall, comely figure of Mr. Soloman, the accommodation
man. He did not spring from among the bevy of coat-takers, and
hood-retainers, at the extreme end of the great hall, nor from among
the heap of promiscuous garments piled in one corner; and yet he is
here, looking as if some magic process had brought him from a
mysterious labyrinth. "Couldn't get along without me, you see. It's
an ambition with me to befriend everybody. If I can do a bit of a
good turn for a friend, so much the better!" And he grasps the old
hostess by the hand with a self-satisfaction he rather improves by
tapping her encouragingly on the shoulder. "You'll make a right good
thing of this! - a clear thousand, eh?"

"The fates have so ordained it," smiles naively the old woman.

"Of course the fates could not ordain otherwise - "

"As to that, Mr. Soloman, I sometimes think the gods are with me,
and then again I think they are against me. The witches-they have
done my fortune a dozen times or more-always predict evil (I consult
them whenever a sad fit comes over me), but witches are not to be
depended upon! I am sure I think what a fool I am for consulting
them at all." She espies, for her trade of sin hath made keen her
eye, the venerable figure of Judge Sleepyhorn advancing up the hall,
masked. "Couldn't get along without you," she lisps, tripping
towards him, and greeting him with the familiarity of an intimate
friend. "I'm rather aristocratic, you'll say! - and I confess I am,
though a democrat in principle!" And Madame Flamingo confirms what
she says with two very dignified nods. As the Judge passes silently
in she pats him encouragingly on the back, saying, - "There ain't no
one in this house what'll hurt a hair on your head." The Judge heeds
not what she says.

"My honor for it, Madame, but I think your guests highly favored,
altogether! Fine weather, and the prospect of a bal-masque of
Pompeian splendor. The old Judge, eh?"

"The gods smile-the gods smile, Mr. Soloman!" interrupts the
hostess, bowing and swaying her head in rapid succession.

"The gods have their eye on him to-night-he's a marked man! A jolly
old cove of a Judge, he is! Cares no more about rules and
precedents, on the bench, than he does for the rights and precedents
some persons profess to have in this house. A high old blade to
administer justice, eh?"

"But, you see, Mr. Soloman," the hostess interrupts, a gracious bow
keeping time with the motion of her hand, "he is such an
aristocratic prop in the character of my house."

"I rather like that, I confess, Madame. You have grown rich off the
aristocracy. Now, don't get into a state of excitement!" says Mr.
Soloman, fingering his long Saxon beard, and eyeing her
mischievously. She sees a bevy of richly-dressed persons advancing
up the hall in high glee. Indeed her house is rapidly filling to the
fourth story. And yet they come! she says. "The gods are in for a
time. I love to make the gods happy."

Mr. Soloman has lain his hand upon her arm retentively.

"It is not that the aristocracy and such good persons as the Judge
spend so much here. But they give eclat to the house, and eclat is
money. That's it, sir! Gold is the deity of our pantheon! Bless you
(the hostess evinces the enthusiasm of a politician), what better
evidence of the reputation of my house than is before you, do you
want? I've shut up the great Italian opera, with its three squalling
prima donnas, which in turn has shut up the poor, silly Empresario,
as they call him; and the St. Cecilia I have just used up. I'm a
team in my way, you see; - run all these fashionable oppositions right
into bankruptcy." Never were words spoken with more truth. Want of
patronage found all places of rational amusement closed. Societies
for intellectual improvement, one after another, died of poverty.
Fashionable lectures had attendance only when fashionable lecturers
came from the North; and the Northman was sure to regard our taste
through the standard of what he saw before him.

The house of the hostess triumphs, and is corpulent of wealth and
splendor. To-morrow she will feed with the rich crumbs that fall
from her table the starving poor. And although she holds poor virtue
in utter contempt, feeding the poor she regards a large score on the
passport to a better world. A great marble stairway winds its way
upward at the further end of the hall and near it are two small
balconies, one on each side, presenting barricades of millinery
surmounted with the picturesque faces of some two dozen denizens,
who keep up an incessant gabbling, interspersed here and there with
jeers directed at Mr. Soloman. "Who is he seeking to accommodate
to-night?" they inquire, laughing merrily.

The house is full, the hostess has not space for one friend more;
she commands the policemen to close doors. An Alderman is the only
exception to her fiat. "You see," she says, addressing herself to a
courtly individual who has just saluted her with urbane deportment,
"I must preserve the otium cum dignitate of my (did I get it right?)
standing in society. I don't always get these Latin sayings right.
Our Congressmen don't. And, you see, like them, I ain't a Latin
scholar, and may be excused for any little slips. Politics and
larnin' don't get along well together. Speaking of politics, I
confess I rather belong to the Commander and Quabblebum school-I

At this moment (a tuning of instruments is heard in the
dancing-hall) the tall figure of the accommodation man is seen, in
company of the venerable Judge, passing hurriedly into a room on the
right of the winding stairs before described. "Judge!" he exclaims,
closing the door quickly after him, "you will be discovered and
exposed. I am not surprised at your passion for her, nor the means
by which you seek to destroy the relations existing between her and
George Mullholland. It is an evidence of taste in you. But she is
proud to a fault, and, this I say in friendship, you so wounded her
feelings, when you betrayed her to the St. Cecilia, that she has
sworn to have revenge on you. George Mullholland, too, has sworn to
have your life.

"I tell you what it is, Judge, (the accommodation man assumes the
air of a bank director,) I have just conceived-you will admit I have
an inventive mind! - a plot that will carry you clean through the
whole affair. Your ambition is divided between a passion for this
charming creature and the good opinion of better society. The
resolution to retain the good opinion of society is doing noble
battle in your heart; but it is the weaker vessel, and it always
will be so with a man of your mould, inasmuch as such resolutions
are backed up by the less fierce elements of our nature. Put this
down as an established principle. Well, then, I will take upon
myself the betrayal. I will plead you ignorant of the charge,
procure her forgiveness, and reconcile the matter with this
Mullholland. It's worth an hundred or more, eh?"

The venerable man smiles, shakes his head as if heedless of the

Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 5 of 29)