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F. Colburn Adams.

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

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to Antioch, take pity on our destitution, what a relief it would be.
It would have made more hearts happy than Mr. Spyke, notwithstanding
the high end of his mission, could have softened in ten years at
Antioch.

"Necessity, not inclination, forced Anna back into the house in
Mercer street, when I became her friend, her transient protector.
Her hand was as ready to bestow as her heart was warm and generous.
She gave me money, and was kind to me; but the degraded character of
my position caused me to despond, to yield myself a victim to
insidious vice, to become the associate of men whose only occupation
was that of gambling and 'roping-in' unsuspecting persons. I was not
long in becoming an efficient in the arts these men practiced on the
unwary. We used to meet at the 'Subterranean,' in Church street, and
there concoct our mode of operations. And from this centre went
forth, daily, men who lived by gambling, larceny, picking pockets,
counterfeiting, and passing counterfeit money. I kept Anna ignorant
of my associations. Nevertheless I was forced to get money, for I
found her affections becoming perverted. At times her manner towards
me was cold, and I sought to change it with money.

"While thus pursuing a life so precarious and exciting, I used to
look in at the 'Empire,' in Broadway, to see whom I could 'spot,' as
we called it at the 'Subterranean.' And it was here I met poor Tom
Swiggs, distracted and giving himself up to drink, in the fruitless
search after the girl of his love, from whom he had been separated,
as he said, by his mother. He had loved the girl, and the girl
returned his love with all the sincerity and ardor of her soul. But
she was poor, and of poor parents. And as such people were reckoned
nothing in Charleston, his mother locked him up in jail, and she was
got out of the way. Tom opened his heart to me, said foul means had
been resorted to, and the girl had thrown herself away, because,
while he was held in close confinement, falsehoods had been used to
make her believe he had abandoned her. To have her an outcast on his
account, to have her leading the life of an abandoned woman, and
that with the more galling belief that he had forsaken her, was more
than he could bear, and he was sinking under the burden. Instead of
making him an object of my criminal profession, his story so touched
my feelings that I became his protector, saw him to his lodgings in
Green street, and ultimately got him on board a vessel bound to
Charleston.

"Not many weeks after this, I, being moneyless, was the principal of
a plot by which nearly a thousand dollars was got of the old man in
Wall street, who had been Anna's friend; and fearing it might get
out, I induced her to accompany me to Charleston, where she believed
I had a prospect of bettering my condition, quitting my uncertain
mode of living, and becoming a respectable man. Together we put up
at the Charleston Hotel. But necessity again forced me to reveal to
her my circumstances, and the real cause of my leaving New York. Her
hopes of shaking off the taint of her former life seemed blasted;
but she bore the shock with resignation, and removed with me to the
house of Madame Flamingo, where we for a time lived privately. But
the Judge sought her out, followed her with the zeal of a knight,
and promised, if she would forsake me, to be her protector; to
provide for her and maintain her like a lady during her life. What
progress he has made in carrying out his promise you have seen. The
English baronet imposed her upon the St. Cecilia, and the Judge was
the first to betray her."






CHAPTER XI.

IN WHICH THE READER IS INTRODUCED TO MR. ABSALOM M'ARTHUR.





You must know, reader, that King street is our Boulevard of fashion;
and though not the handsomest street in the world, nor the widest,
nor the best paved, nor the most celebrated for fine edifices, we so
cherish its age and dignity that we would not for the world change
its provincial name, or molest one of the hundred old tottering
buildings that daily threaten a dissolution upon its pavement, or
permit a wench of doubtful blood to show her head on the "north
sidewalk" during promenade hours. We are, you see, curiously nice in
matters of color, and we should be. You may not comprehend the
necessity for this scrupulous regard to caste; others do not, so you
are not to blame for your ignorance of the customs of an atmosphere
you have only breathed through novels written by steam. We don't
(and you wouldn't) like to have our wives meet our slightly-colored
mistresses. And we are sure you would not like to have your
highly-educated and much-admired daughters meet those cream-colored
material evidences of your folly-called by Northern "fanatics" their
half-sisters! You would not! And your wives, like sensible women, as
our wives and daughters are, would, if by accident they did meet
them, never let you have a bit of sleep until you sent them to old
Graspum's flesh-market, had them sold, and the money put safely
into their hands. We do these things just as you would; and our
wives being philosophers, and very fashionable withal, put the money
so got into fine dresses, and a few weeks' stay at some very select
watering-place in the North. If your wife be very accomplished, (like
ours,) and your daughters much admired for their beauty, (like
ours,) they will do as ours did-put wisely the cash got for their
detestable relatives into a journey of inspection over Europe. So,
you see, we keep our fashionable side of King street; and woe be to
the shady mortal that pollutes its bricks!

Mr. Absalom McArthur lives on the unfashionable side of this street,
in a one-story wooden building, with a cottage roof, covered with
thick, black moss, and having two great bow windows, and a very lean
door, painted black, in front. It is a rummy old house to look at,
for the great bow windows are always ornamented with old hats, which
Mr. McArthur makes supply the place of glass; and the house itself,
notwithstanding it keeps up the dignity of a circular window over
the door, reminds one of that valiant and very notorious
characteristic of the State, for it has, during the last twenty or
more years, threatened (but never done it) to tumble upon the
unfashionable pavement, just in like manner as the State has
threatened (but never done it!) to tumble itself out of our
unfashionable Union. We are a great people, you see; but having the
impediment of the Union in the way of displaying our might, always
stand ready to do what we never intended to do. We speak in that
same good-natured sense and metaphor used by our politicians, (who
are become very distinguished in the refined arts of fighting and
whiskey-drinking,) when they call for a rope to put about the neck
of every man not sufficiently stupid to acknowledge himself a
secessionist. We imagine ourselves the gigantic and sublime theatre
of chivalry, as we have a right to do; we raise up heroes of war and
statesmanship, compared with whom your Napoleons, Mirabeaus, and
Marats-yes, even your much-abused Roman orators and Athenian
philosophers, sink into mere insignificance. Nor are we bad
imitators of that art displayed by the Roman soldiers, when they
entered the Forum and drenched it with Senatorial blood! Pardon this
digression, reader.

Of a summer morning you will see McArthur, the old Provincialist, as
he is called, arranging in his great bow windows an innumerable
variety of antique relics, none but a Mrs. Toodles could conceive a
want for - such as broken pots, dog-irons, fenders, saws, toasters,
stew-pans, old muskets, boxing-gloves and foils, and sundry other
odds and ends too numerous to mention. At evening he sits in his
door, a clever picture of a by-gone age, on a venerable old sofa,
supported on legs tapering into feet of lion's paws, and carved in
mahogany, all tacked over with brass-headed nails. Here the old man
sits, and sits, and sits, reading the "Heroes of the Revolution,"
(the only book he ever reads,) and seemingly ready at all times to
serve the "good wishes" of his customers, who he will tell you are
of the very first families, and very distinguished! He holds
distinguished people in high esteem; and several distinguished
persons have no very bad opinion of him, but a much better one of
his very interesting daughter, whose acquaintance (though not a
lady, in the Southern acceptation of the term) they would not object
to making-provided!

His little shop is lumbered with boxes and barrels, all containing
relics of a by-gone age - such as broken swords, pistols of curious
make, Revolutionary hand-saws, planes, cuirasses, broken spurs,
blunderbusses, bowie, scalping, and hunting-knives; all of which he
declares our great men have a use for. Hung on a little post, and
over a pair of rather suspicious-looking buckskin breeches, is a
rusty helmet, which he sincerely believes was worn by a knight of
the days of William the Conqueror. A little counter to the left
staggers under a pile of musty old books and mustier papers, all
containing valuable matter relating to the old Continentals, who, as
he has it, were all Carolinians. (Dispute this, and he will go right
into a passion.) Resting like good-natured policemen against this
weary old counter are two sympathetic old coffins, several
second-hand crutches, and a quantity of much-neglected wooden legs.
These Mr. McArthur says are in great demand with our first families.
No one, except Mr. Soloman Snivel, knows better what the chivalry
stand in need of to prop up its declining dignity. His dirty little
shelves, too, are stuffed with those cheap uniforms the State so
grudgingly voted its unwilling volunteers during the Revolution.

See Senator Sumner's speech in Congress on Plantation manners.
Tucked in here and there, at sixes and sevens, are the scarlet and
blue of several suits of cast-off theatrical wardrobe he got of
Abbott, and now loans for a small trifle to Madame Flamingo and the
St. Cecilia Society-the first, when she gives her very seductive
bal-masques; the second, when distinguished foreigners with titles
honor its costume balls. As for Revolutionary cocked hats,
epaulettes, plumes, and holsters, he has enough to supply and send
off, feeling as proud as peacocks, every General and Colonel in
the State-and their name, as you ought to know, reader, is legion.

The stranger might, indeed, be deceived into the belief that Absalom
McArthur's curiosity shop was capable of furnishing accoutrements
for that noble little army, (standing army we call it!) on which the
State prides itself not a little, and spends no end of money. For
ourselves, (if the reader but permit us,) we have long admired this
little Spartan force, saying all the good things of it our prosy
brain could invent, and in the kindest manner recommending its
uniform good character as a model for our very respectable society
to fashion after. Indeed, we have, in the very best nature of a
modern historian, endeavored to enlighten the barbarian world
outside of South Carolina as to the terrible consequences which
might accrue to the Union did this noble little army assume any
other than a standing character. Now that General Jackson is out of
the way, and our plebeian friends over the Savannah, whom we hold in
high esteem, (the Georgians,) kindly consent to let us go our own
road out of the Union, nothing can be more grateful than to find our
wise politicians sincerely believing that when this standing army,
of which other States know so little, shall have become allied with
those mighty men of Beaufort, dire consequences to this young but
very respectable Federal compact will be the result. Having
discharged the duties of a historian, for the benefit of those
benighted beings unfortunate enough to live out of our small but
highly-civilized State, we must return to McArthur.

He is a little old-maidish about his age, which for the last twenty
years has not got a day more than fifty-four. Being as sensitive of
his veracity as the State is of its dignity, we would not, either
by implication or otherwise, lay an impeachment at his door, but
rather charge the discrepancy to that sin (a treacherous memory) the
legal gentry find so convenient for their purposes when they knock
down their own positions. McArthur stood five feet eight exactly,
when young, but age has made him lean of person, and somewhat bent.
His face is long and corrugated; his expression of countenance
singularly serious. A nose, neither aquiline nor Grecian, but large
enough, and long enough, and red enough at the end, to make both; a
sharp and curiously-projecting chin, that threatens a meeting, at no
very distant day, with his nasal organ; two small, watchful blue
eyes deep-set under narrow arches, fringed with long gray lashes; a
deeply-furrowed, but straight and contracted forehead, and a shaggy
red wig, poised upon the crown of his head, and, reader, if you
except the constant working of a heavy, drooping lower lip, and the
diagonal sight with which his eyes are favored, you have his most
prominent features. Fashion he holds in utter contempt, nor has he
the very best opinion in the world of our fashionable tailors, who
are grown so rich that they hold mortgages on the very best
plantations in the State, and offer themselves candidates for the
Governorship. Indeed, Mr. McArthur says, one of these knights of the
goose, not long since, had the pertinacity to imagine himself a
great General. And to show his tenacious adherence to the examples
set by the State, he dresses exactly as his grandfather's
great-grandfather used to, in a blue coat, with small brass buttons,
a narrow crimpy collar, and tails long enough and sharp enough for a
clipper-ship's run. The periods when he provided himself with new
suits are so far apart that they formed special episodes in his
history; nevertheless there is always an air of neatness about him,
and he will spend much time arranging a dingy ruffled shirt, a pair
of gray trowsers, a black velvet waistcoat, cut in the Elizabethan
style, and a high, square shirt collar, into which his head has the
appearance of being jammed. This collar he ties with a much-valued
red and yellow Spittlefields, the ends of which flow over his
ruffle. Although the old man would not bring much at the
man-shambles, we set a great deal of store by him, and would not
exchange him for anything in the world but a regiment or two of
heroic secessionists. Indeed we are fully aware that nothing like
him exists beyond the highly perfumed atmosphere of our State. And
to many other curious accomplishments the old man adds that of
telling fortunes. The negroes seriously believe he has a private
arrangement with the devil, of whom he gets his wisdom, and the
secret of propitiating the gods.

Two days have passed since the emeute at the house of the old
hostess. McArthur has promised the young missionary a place for Tom
Swiggs, when he gets out of prison (but no one but his mother seems
to have a right to let him out), and the tall figure of Mister
Snivel is seen entering the little curiosity shop. "I say! - my old
hero, has she been here yet?" inquires Mr. Snivel, the accommodation
man. "Nay, good friend," returns the old man, rising from his sofa,
and returning the salutation, "she has not yet darkened the door."
The old man draws the steel-bowed spectacles from his face, and
watches with a patriarchal air any change that comes over the
accommodation man's countenance. "Now, good friend, if I did but
know the plot," pursues the old man.

"The plot you are not to know! I gave you her history yesterday -
that is, as far as I know it. You must make up the rest. You know
how to tell fortunes, old boy. I need not instruct you. Mind you
flatter her beauty, though-extend on the kindness of the Judge, and
be sure you get it in that it was me who betrayed her at the St.
Cecelia. All right old boy, eh?" and shaking McArthur by the hand
warmly, he takes his departure, bowing himself into the street. The
old man says he will be all ready when she comes.

Scarcely has the accommodation man passed out of sight when a
sallow-faced stripling makes his appearance, and with that
characteristic effrontery for borrowing and never returning, of the
property-man of a country theatre, "desires" to know if Mr. McArthur
will lend him a skull.

"A skull!" ejaculates the old man, his bony fingers wandering to his
melancholy lip - "a skull!" and he fusses studiously round the little
cell-like place, looking distrustfully at the property-man, and then
turning an anxious eye towards his piles of rubbish, as if fearing
some plot is on foot to remove them to the infernal regions.

"You see," interrupts Mr. Property, "we play Hamlet to-night - expect
a crammed house - and our star, being scrupulous of his reputation,
as all small stars are, won't go on for the scene of the
grave-digger, without two skulls-he swears he won't! He raised the
very roof of the theatre this morning, because his name wasn't in
bigger type on the bill. And if we don't give him two skulls and
plenty of bones to-night, he swears-and such swearing as it
is! - he'll forfeit the manager, have the house closed, and come out
with a card to the public in the morning. We are in a fix, you see!
The janitor only has one, and he lent us that as if he didn't want
to."

Mr. McArthur says he sees, and with an air of regained wisdom stops
suddenly, and takes from a shelf a dingy old board, on which is a
dingier paper, bearing curious inscriptions, no one but the old man
himself would have supposed to be a schedule of stock in trade. Such
it is, nevertheless. He rubs his spectacles, places them
methodically upon his face, wipes and wipes the old board with his
elbow. "It's here if it's anywhere!" says the old man, with a sigh.
"It comes into my head that among the rest of my valuables I've
Yorick's skull."

"The very skull we want!" interrupts Property. And the old man
quickens the working of his lower jaw, and continues to rub at the
board until he has brought out the written mystery. "My ancestors
were great people," he mumbles to himself, "great people!" He runs
the crusty forefinger of his right hand up and down the board,
adding, "and any customers are all of the first families, which is
some consolation in one's poverty. Ah! I have it here!" he exclaims,
with childlike exultation, frisking his fingers over the board. "One
Yorick's skull-a time-worn, tenantless, and valuable relic, in which
graveyard worms have banqueted more than once. Yes, young man,
presented to my ancestors by the elder Stuarts, and on that account
worth seven skulls, or more." "One Yorick's skull," is written on
the paper, upon which the old man presses firmly his finger. Then
turning to an old box standing in the little fire-place behind the
counter, saying, "it's in here-as my name's Absalom McArthur, it
is," he opens the lid, and draws forth several old military coats
(they have seen revolutionary days! he says, exultingly), numerous
scales of brass, such as are worn on British soldiers' hats, a
ponderous chapeau and epaulets, worn, he insists, by Lord Nelson at
the renowned battle of Trafalgar. He has not opened, he adds, this
box for more than twelve long years. Next he drags forth a military
cloak of great weight and dimensions. "Ah!" he exclaims, with
nervous joy, "here's the identical cloak worn by Lord Cornwallis-how
my ancestors used to prize it." And as he unrolls its great folds
there falls upon the floor, to his great surprise, an old
buff-colored silk dress, tied firmly with a narrow, green ribbon.
"Maria! Maria! Maria!" shouts the old man, as if suddenly seized
with a spasm. And his little gray eyes flash with excitement, as he
says - "if here hasn't come to light at last, poor Mag Munday's dress.
God forgive the poor wretch, she's dead and gone, no doubt." In
response to the name of "Maria" there protrudes from a little door
that opens into a passage leading to a back-room, the delicate
figure of a female, with a face of great paleness, overcast by a
thoughtful expression. She has a finely-developed head, intelligent
blue eyes, light auburn hair, and features more interesting than
regular. Indeed, there is more to admire in the peculiar modesty of
her demeanor than in the regularity of her features, as we shall
show. "My daughter!" says the old man, as she nervously advances,
her pale hand extended. "Poor woman! how she would mourn about this
old dress; and say it contained something that might give her a
chance in the world," she rather whispers than speaks, disclosing
two rows of small white teeth. She takes from the old man's hand the
package, and disappears. The anxiety she evinces over the charge
discloses the fact that there is something of deep interest
connected with it.

Mr. McArthur was about to relate how he came by this seemingly
worthless old package, when the property-man, becoming somewhat
restless, and not holding in over high respect the old man's
rubbish, as he called it in his thoughts, commences drawing forth,
piece after piece of the old relics. The old man will not allow
this. "There, young man!" he says, touching him on the elbow, and
resuming his labor. At length he draws forth the dust-tenanted
skull, coated on the outer surface with greasy mould. "There!" he
says, with an unrestrained exclamation of joy, holding up the
wasting bone, "this was in its time poor Yorick's skull. It was such
a skull, when Yorick lived! Beneath this filthy remnant of past
greatness (I always think of greatness when I turn to the past),
this empty tenement, once the domain of wisdom, this poor bone, what
thoughts did not come out?" And the old man shakes his head, mutters
inarticulately, and weeps with the simplicity of a child.

"The Star'll have skulls and bones enough to make up for his want of
talent now-I reckon," interposes the property-man. "But! - I say,
mister, this skull couldn't a bin old Yorick's, you know - "

"Yorick's! - why not?" interrupts the old man.

"Because Yorick-Yorick was the King's jester, you see-no nigger; and
no one would think of importing anything but a nigger's skull into
Charleston - "

"Young man! - if this skull had consciousness; if this had a tongue it
would rebuke thee;" the old man retorts hastily, "for my ancestors
knew Yorick, and Yorick kept up an intimate acquaintance with the
ancestors of the very first families in this State, who were not
shoemakers and milliners, as hath been maliciously charged, but good
and pious Huguenots." To the end that he may convince the
unbelieving Thespian of the truth of his assertion, he commences to
rub away the black coating with the sleeve of his coat, and there,
to his infinite delight, is written, across the crown, in letters of
red that stand out as bold as the State's chivalry - "Alas! poor
Yorick." Tears of sympathy trickle down the old man's cheeks, his
eyes sparkle with excitement, and with womanly accents he mutters:
"the days of poetry and chivalry are gone. It is but a space of time
since this good man's wit made Kings and Princes laugh with joy."

This skull, and a coral pin, which he said was presented to his
ancestors by Lord Cornwallis, who they captured, now became his
hobby; and he referred to it in all his conversation, and made them
as much his idol as our politicians do secession. In this instance,
he dare not entrust his newly-discovered jewel to the vulgar hands
of Mr. Property, but pledged his honor-a ware the State deals
largely in notwithstanding it has become exceedingly cheap-it would
be forthcoming at the requisite time.






CHAPTER XII.

IN WHICH ARE MATTERS THE READER MAY HAVE ANTICIPATED.





MR. SOLOMAN SNIVEL has effected a reconciliation between old Judge
Sleepyhorn and the beautiful Anna Bonard, and he has flattered the
weak-minded George Mullholland into a belief that the old Judge, as
he styles him, is his very best friend. So matters go on swimmingly
at the house of Madame Flamingo. Indeed Mr. Soloman can make himself
extremely useful in any affair requiring the exercise of nice
diplomatic skill-no matter whether it be of love or law. He gets
people into debt, and out of debt; into bankruptcy and out of
bankruptcy; into jail and out of jail; into society and out of
society. He has officiated in almost every capacity but that of a
sexton. If you want money, Mr. Soloman can always arrange the little
matter for you. If you have old negroes you want to get off your
hands at a low figure, he has a customer. If you want to mortgage
your negro property, a thing not uncommon with our very first



Online LibraryF. Colburn AdamsJustice in the By-Ways, a Tale of Life → online text (page 9 of 29)