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- Justice in the By-Ways - 3/64 -
Swiggs, if they think he has no pride left.
"After all, there's something more in you than I thought, Tom. Give us your hand," says the vote-cribber, extending cordially his hand, as if a change for the better had come over him, and grasping firmly that of the inebriate. Raising his besotted head, Tom gazes distrustfully at the cribber, as if questioning his sincerity. "I am not dead to shame," he mutters, struggling at the same time to suppress his emotions.
"There are, Tom," continues the cribber, playfully, "two claims on you-two patent claims! (He lets go the inebriate's hand, and begins teasing his long, red beard.) And, are you disposed to come out on the square, in the liquor line, you may redeem yourself--"
"Name 'em!" interposed Tom, stopping short in his tune.
"The gentleman commonly called Mister Jones, and a soap-chandler, are contesting a claim upon you. The one wants your body, the other your clothes. Now, as I am something of a lawyer, having had large dealings in elections, I may say, as a friend, that it is only a question of time, so far as you are concerned. Take my advice, then, and cheat both, by selling out, in advance. The student and the janitor pay good prices for such things as you. Give the last-named worthy a respondentia bond on yourself, redeemable before death, or resign the body after, (any lawyer will make the lien valid,) and the advance will produce floods of whiskey. Come out, Tom, like a hero, on the square."
An outcast, hurled deep into the gulf of despair, and surrounded by victims of poverty and votaries of crime, the poor inebriate has yet left him one lingering spark of pride. As if somewhat revived, he scrambles to his feet, staggers into the room of a poor debtor, on the left of the long, sombre aisle, and drawing from his pocket a ten-cent piece, throws it upon the table, with an air of great importance.
"I am not moneyless," he exclaims--"not I!" and he staggers to the great chimney-place, rebounding to the floor, saying, "Take that-bring her in-quench my burning thirst!"
Tom is the only surviving, and now the outcast, member of a somewhat respectable family, that has moved in the better walks of society. His mother, being scrupulous of her position in society, and singularly proud withal, has reared and educated her son in idleness, and ultimately slights and discards him, because he, as she alleges, sought society inferior to his position and her dignity. In his better days he had been erect of person, and even handsome; but the thraldom of the destroyer has brought him to the dust, a pitiable wreck.
Tom has seen thirty summers, presents a full, rounded figure, and stands some five feet ten. He wears an old brown coat, cut after the fashion of a surtout, that might have fitted him, he says, when he was a man. But it has lost the right cuff, the left flap, and a part of the collar; the nefarious moths, too, have made a sieve of its back. His trowsers are of various colors, greasy down the sides, ragged at the bottoms, and revealing two encrusted ancles, with feet stuck into old shoes, turned under at the heels for convenience sake. A remark from the cribber touches his pride, and borrowing a few pins he commences pinning together the shattered threads of his nether garment. A rope-yarn secured about his waist gives a sailor-like air to his outfit. But, notwithstanding Tom affects the trim of the craft, the skilled eye can easily detect the deception; for the craftsman, even under a press of head sail, preserves a becoming rig.
Indeed, Tom might have attempted without effect, during his natural life, to transform himself into a sailor. The destroyer was his victor; the inner man was but a reflex of the outer. He pulled an old cloth cap over his face, which was immersed in a massive black beard, bordering two red, swollen cheeks; and with his begrimed hands he rubbed lustily his inflamed eyes--once brown, large, and earnest--now glassy and sunken.
"I'm all square, ain't I?" he inquires, looking with vacant stare into the faces of those who tease him with facetious remarks, then scans his haberdashery. There yet remains something displeasing to him. His sense of taste is at stake. This something proves to be a sooty striped shirt, open in front, and disclosing the remains of a red flannel under-garment. Every few minutes will he, as if touched with a sense of shame, wriggle his shoulders, and pull forward the wreck of his collarless coat, apparently much annoyed that it fails to cover the breastwork of his distress.
Again he thrusts his hands into his pockets, and with an air of apparent satisfaction, struts twice or thrice across the dingy room, as if he would show how far he has gained his equilibrium. "I shall go straight mad; yes, mad, if the whiskey be not brought in," he pursues, stopping short in one of his sallies, and with a rhetorical flourish, pointing at the piece of silver he so exultingly tossed upon the table. As if his brain were again seized by the destroyer's flame, his countenance becomes livid, his eyes glare wildly upon each object near him; then he draws himself into a tragic attitude, contorts hideously his more hideous face, throws his cap scornfully to the ground, and commences tearing from his head the matted black hair that confusedly covers it. "If my mother thinks this a fit place for me--" He pauses in the middle of his sentence, gives an imploring stare at his companions, shakes and hangs down his head; then his brain reels, and his frame trembles, and like a lifeless mass he falls to the floor.
"I'm gone now--gone--gone--gone!" he mutters, with a spasmodic effort, covering his face with his hands.
"He'll go mad; you can only save him with a hair of the same dog," one of the prisoner's measuredly suggests, folding his arms, and looking mechanically upon the wretched man.
A second agrees with the first; a third says he is past cure, though a gallon of whiskey were wasted upon him.
Mr. Mingle, the vote-cribber--regarded good authority in such matters--interposes. He has not the shadow of a doubt but that a speedy cure can be effected, by his friends drinking the whiskey, (he will join them, without an objection,) and just letting Tom smell the glass.
A fifth says, without prejudice to the State of South Carolina, if he knew Tom's mother, he would honestly recommend her to send him special minister to Maine. There, drinking is rather an aristocratic indulgence, enjoyed only on the sly.
Suddenly the poor inebriate gives vent to his frenzy. The color of his face changes from pale livid to sickly blue; his hands seem more shrunken and wiry; his body convulses and writhes upon the floor; he is become more the picture of a wild beast, goaded and aggravated in his confinement. A narcotic, administered by the hand of the jailer, produces quiet, and with the assistance of two prisoners is he raised to his feet, and supported into the corridor, to receive the benefit of fresh air. Here he remains some twenty minutes, stretched upon two benches, and eyed sharply by the vote-cribber, who paces in a circle round him, regarding him with a half suspicious leer, and twice or thrice pausing to fan his face with the drab felt hat he carries under his arm.
"A curious mother that sends you here for reform," muses the vote-cribber; "but he must be a perfect fleshhook on the feelings of the family."
Send him up into Rogue's Hall," exclaims a deep, sonorous voice, that echoes along the aisle. The vote-cribber, having paused over Tom, as if to contemplate his degradation, turns inquiringly, to see from whence comes the voice. "It is me!" again the voice resounds. Two glaring eyes, staring anxiously through the small iron grating of a door leading to a close cell on the left of the corridor, betrays the speaker. "It's Tom Swiggs. I know him--he's got the hydrophobia; its common with him! Take him in tow, old Spunyarn, give him a good berth, and let him mellow at thirty cents a day," continues the voice.
The last sentence the speaker addressed to a man of comely figure and frank countenance, who has just made his appearance, dressed in the garb of a sailor. This man stoops over Tom, seems to recognize in him an old acquaintance, for his face warms with kindliness, and he straightway commences wiping the sun-scorched face of the inebriate with his handkerchief, and with his hand smooths and parts, with an air of tenderness, his hair; and when he has done this, he spreads the handkerchief over the wretched man's face, touches the querulous vote-cribber on the arm, and with a significant wink beckons him away, saying, "Come away, now, he has luffed into the wind. A sleep will do him good."
MADAME FLAMINGO-HER DISTINGUISHED PATRONS, AND HER VERY RESPECTABLE HOUSE.
REGARD us forbearingly, generous and urbane reader; follow us undaunted whither we go, nor charge us with tracing crime in a bad cause. We will leave the old prison, the dejected inebriate, the more curious group that surround him, and the tale of the destroyer it develops, and escort you in our walk to the mansion of Madame Flamingo, who is well known in Charleston, and commonly called the Mother of Sin. It is a massive brick pile, situate in one of the public thoroughfares, four stories high, with bold Doric windows, set off with brown fluted freestone, and revealing faded red curtains, overlain with mysterious lace, and from between the folds of which, at certain hours of the day, languid and more mysterious eyes may be seen peering cautiously. Madame Flamingo says (the city fathers all know it) she has a scrupulous regard to taste, and develops it in the construction of her front door, which is of black walnut, fluted and carved in curious designs. In style it resembles somewhat the doors of those fashionable churches that imitate so closely the Italian, make good, paying property of fascinating pews, and adopt the more luxurious way of getting to heaven (prayer-book of gold in hand) reclining on velvet and satin damask.
The mansion of Madame Flamingo differs only in sumptuousness of furniture from twenty others of similar character, dotted here and there about the little city. Add to these the innumerable smaller
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