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- Justice in the By-Ways - 5/64 -
"I will have revenge. His gray hairs shall not save him--my name is George Mullholland!"
Here and there, on sofas arranged between the great windows, sit faded denizens, reclining languidly in dresses of various bright colors, set off with gaudy trinkets, and exhibiting that passion for cheap jewelry so much in vogue with the vulgar of our self-plumed aristocracy--such as live at fashionable hotels, and, like Mrs. Snivel, who has a palace on the Fifth Avenue, make a show-case for cheap diamonds of themselves at breakfast table. Beside these denizens are men of every shade and grade of society. With one sits the distinguished lawyer; with a second converses the grave-demeanored merchant, who seeks, away from the cares of his domestic hearth, to satisfy his curiosity here; with a third, the celebrated physician sips his wine; with a fourth, the fatherly planter exchanges his saliant jokes; with a fifth, Doctor Handy the politician-who, to please his fashionable wife, a northern lady of great beauty, has just moved from the country into the city, keeps up an unmeaning conversation. In the lefthand corner, seated on an ottoman, and regarding the others as if a barrier were placed between them, are two men designated gamblers. Your Southern gentleman is, with few exceptions, a votary of the exciting vice; but he who makes it his profession severs the thread that bound him to society. And there sits not far from these members of the sporting fraternity, the tall, slender figure of a man, habited in the garb of a quaker. He regards everything about him with the eye of a philosopher, has a flowing white beard, a mild, playful blue eye, a short but well-lined nose, a pale oval face, an evenly-cut mouth, and an amiable expression of countenance. He intently watches every movement of the denizens, and should one accost him, he will answer in soft, friendly accents. He seems known to Madame Flamingo, whom he regards with a mysterious demeanor, and addresses as does a father his child. The old hostess gets no profit of his visits, for "he is only a moralist," she says, and his name is Solon --; and better people love him more as more they know him.
Madame Flamingo has returned, followed by a colored gentleman in bright livery, bearing on a silver tray two seductive bottles of the sparkling nectar, and sundry rich-cut goblets. "There! there!" says the old hostess, pointing to the centre-table, upon which the colored man deposits them, and commences arranging some dozen glasses, as she prepares to extract the corks. Now she fills the glasses with the effervescing beverage, which the waiter again places on the tray, and politely serves to the denizens, in whose glassy eyes, sallow faces, coarse, unbared arms and shoulders, is written the tale of their misery. The judge drinks with the courtesan, touches glasses with the gambler, bows in compliment to the landlady, who reiterates that she keeps the most respectable house and the choicest wine. The moralist shakes his head, and declines.
And while a dozen voices are pronouncing her beverage excellent, she turns suddenly and nervously to her massive, old-fashioned side-board, of carved walnut, and from the numerous cut glass that range grotesquely along its top, draws forth an aldermanic decanter, much broken. Holding it up to the view of her votaries, and looking upon it with feelings of regret, "that," she says, "is what I got, not many nights since, for kindly admitting one-I don't know when I did such a thing before, mind ye!--of the common sort of people. I never have any other luck when I take pity on one who has got down hill. I have often thought that the more kind I am the more ungrateful they upon whom I lavish my favors get. You must treat the world just as it treats you-you must."
To your simple question, reader, more simply advanced, she replies coquettishly: "Now, on my word of honor, Tom Swiggs did that. And the poor fellow-I call him poor fellow, because, thinking of what he used to be, I can't help it-has not a cent to pay for his pranks with. Bless you, (here Madame Flamingo waxes warm,) why I knew Tom Swiggs years ago, when he wasn't what he is now! He was as dashing a young buck then as you'd meet in the city; used to come here a perfect gentleman; and I liked him, and he liked me, and he got to liking the house, so you couldn't, if you had wanted to, have kept him away. And he always had no end of money, which he used to spend so freely. Poor fellow! (she sighs and shakes her head,) I confess I used to almost love Tom then. Then he got to courting a lady-she (Madame corrects herself) wasn't a lady though, she was only the daughter of a mechanic of small means--mechanic families have no standing in society, you see-and this cut deep into his mother's pride. And she, you see, was not quite sure where she stood in society, you see, and wouldn't for the world have her pride lessened; so she discarded poor Tom. And the girl has been got out of the way, and Tom has become penniless, and such a wreck of dissipation that no respectable house will admit him. It's a stiff old family, that Swiggs family! His mother keeps him threading in and out of jail, just to be rid of him. She is a curious mother; but when I think how he looks and acts, how can I wonder she keeps him in jail? I had to put him there twice--I had! (Madame Flamingo becomes emphatic.) But remembering what a friend of the house he used to be, I took pity on him, let him out, and lent him two dollars. And there's honor--I've great faith in honor-in Tom, who, I honestly believe, providing the devil do not get him in one of his fits, will pay all damages, notwithstanding I placed the reputation of my house in jeopardy with him a few nights since, was forced to call three policemen to eject him, and resolved that he should not again darken my door."
IN WHICH THE READER IS PRESENTED WITH A VARIED PICTURE.
TOM has passed a restless night in jail. He has dreamed of bottled snakes, with eyes wickedly glaring at him; of fiery-tailed serpents coiling all over him; of devils in shapes he has no language to describe; of the waltz of death, in which he danced at the mansion of Madame Flamingo; and of his mother, (a name ever dear in his thoughts,) who banished him to this region of vice, for what she esteemed a moral infirmity. Further on in his dream he saw a vision, a horrible vision, which was no less than a dispute for his person between Madame Flamingo, a bishop, and the devil. But Madame Flamingo and the devil, who seemed to enjoy each other's company exceedingly, got the better of the bishop, who was scrupulous of his dignity, and not a little anxious about being seen in such society. And from the horrors of this dream he wakes, surprised to find himself watched over by a kind friend-a young, comely-featured man, in whom he recognizes the earnest theologian, as he is plumed by the prisoners, whom he daily visits in his mission of good. There was something so frank and gentle in this young man's demeanor-something so manly and radiant in his countenance-something so disinterested and holy in his mission of love--something so opposite to the coldness of the great world without--something so serene and elevated in his youth, that even the most inveterate criminal awaited his coming with emotions of joy, and gave a ready ear to his kindly advice. Indeed, the prisoners called him their child; and he seemed not dainty of their approach, but took them each by the hand, sat at their side, addressed them as should one brother address another;--yea, he made them to feel that what was their interest it was his joy to promote.
The young theologian took him a seat close by the side of the dreaming inebriate; and as he woke convulsively, and turned towards him his distorted face, viewing with wild stare each object that met his sight, the young man met his recognition with a smile and a warm grasp of the hand. "I am sorry you find me here again-yes, I am."
"Better men, perhaps, have been here--"
"I am ashamed of it, though; it isn't as it should be, you see," interrupts Tom.
"Never mind-(the young man checks himself)-I was going to say there is a chance for you yet; and there is a chance; and you must struggle; and I will help you to struggle; and your friends--"
Tom interrupts by saying, "I've no friends."
"I will help you to struggle, and to overcome the destroyer. Never think you are friendless, for then you are a certain victim in the hands of the ruthless enemy--"
"Well, well," pauses Tom, casting a half-suspicious look at the young man, "I forgot. There's you, and him they call old Spunyarn, are friends, after all. You'll excuse me, but I didn't think of that;" and a feeling of satisfaction seemed to have come over him. "How grateful to have friends when a body's in a place of this kind," he mutters incoherently, as the tears gush from his distended eyes, and child-like he grasps the hand of the young man.
"Be comforted with the knowledge that you have friends, Tom. One all-important thing is wanted, and you are a man again."
"As to that!" interrupts Tom, doubtingly, and laying his begrimed hand on his burning forehead, while he alternately frets and frisks his fingers through his matted hair.
"Have no doubts, Tom-doubts are dangerous."
"Well, say what it is, and I'll try what I can do. But you won't think I'm so bad as I seem, and 'll forgive me? I know what you think of me, and that's what mortifies me; you think I'm an overdone specimen of our chivalry-you do!"
"You must banish from your mind these despairing thoughts," replies the young man, laying his right hand approvingly on Tom's head. "First, Tom," he pursues, "be to yourself a friend; second, forget the error of your mother, and forgive her sending you here; and third, cut the house of Madame Flamingo, in which our chivalry are sure to get a shattering. To be honest in temptation, Tom, is one of the noblest attributes of our nature; and to be capable of forming and maintaining a resolution to shake off the thraldom of vice, and to place oneself in the serener atmosphere of good society, is equally worthy of the highest commendation."
Tom received this in silence, and seemed hesitating between what he conceived an imperative demand and the natural inclination of his passions.
"Give me your hand, and with it your honor-I know you yet retain the latent spark-and promise me you will lock up the cup--"
"You'll give a body a furlough, by the way of blowing off the fuddle
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