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- Justice in the By-Ways - 10/64 -
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 representative."
"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 fˆted 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 blood."
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 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 again."
"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.
CONTAINING SUNDRY MATTERS APPERTAINING TO THIS HISTORY.
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
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