An Outcast/Chapter I
This simple story commences on a November evening, in the autumn of 185-. Charleston and New York furnish me with the scenes and characters.
Our quaint old city has been in a disquiet mood for several weeks. Yellow fever has scourged us through the autumn, and we have again taken to scourging ourselves with secession fancies. The city has not looked up for a month. Fear had driven our best society into the North, into the mountains, into all the high places. Business men had nothing to do; stately old mansions were in the care of faithful slaves, and there was high carnival in the kitchen. Fear had shut up the churches, shut up the law-courts, shut up society generally. There was nothing for lawyers to do, and the buzzards found it lonely enough in the market-place. The clergy were to be found at fashionable watering-places, and politicians found comfort in cards and the country. Timid doctors had taken to their heels, and were not to be found. Book-keepers and bank-clerks were on Sullivan's Island. The poor suffered in the city, and the rich had not a thought to give them. Grave-looking men gathered into little knots, at street corners, and talked seriously of Death's banquet. Old negroes gathered about the kitchen-table, and terrified themselves with tales of death: timid ones could not be got to pass through streets where the scourge raged fiercest. Mounted guardsmen patrolled the lonely streets at night, their horses' hoofs sounding on the still air, like a solemn warning through a deserted city.
Sisters of Mercy, in deep, dark garments, moved noiselessly along the streets, by day and by night, searching out and ministering to the sick and the dying. Like brave sentinels, they never deserted their posts. The city government was in a state of torpor. The city government did not know what to do. The city government never did know what to do. Four hundred sick and dying lay languishing in the hospital. The city government was sorry for them, and resolved that Providence would be the best doctor. The dead gave place to the dying by dozens, and there has been high carnival down in the dead-yard. The quick succession of funeral trains has cast a shade of melancholy over the broad road that leads to it. Old women are vending pies and cakes at the gates, and little boys are sporting over the newly-made graves, that the wind has lashed into furrows. Rude coffins stand about in piles, and tipsy negroes are making the very air jubilant with the songs they bury the dead to.
A change has come over the scene now. There is no more singing down in the dead-yard. A bright sun is shedding its cheerful rays over the broad landscape, flowers deck the roadside, and the air comes balmy and invigorating. There has been frost down in the lowlands. A solitary stranger paces listlessly along the walks of the dead-yard, searching in vain for the grave of a departed friend. The scourge has left a sad void between friends living and friends gone to eternal rest. Familiar faces pass us on the street, only to remind us of familiar faces passed away forever. The city is astir again. Society is coming back to us. There is bustle in the churches, bustle in the law courts, bustle in the hotels, bustle along the streets, bustle everywhere. There is bustle at the steamboat landings, bustle at the railway stations, bustle in all our high places. Vehicles piled with trunks are hurrying along the streets; groups of well-dressed negroes are waiting their master's return at the landings, or searching among piles of trunks for the family baggage. Other groups are giving Mas'r and Missus such a cordial greeting. Society is out of an afternoon, on King street, airing its dignity. There is Mr. Midshipman Button, in his best uniform, inviting the admiration of the fair, and making such a bow to all distinguished persons. Midshipman Button, as he is commonly called, has come home to us, made known to us the pleasing fact that he is ready to command our "navy" for us, whenever we build it for him. There is Major Longstring, of the Infantry, as fine a man in his boots as woman would fancy, ready to fight any foe; and corporal Quod, of the same regiment, ready to shoulder his weapon and march at a moment. We have an immense admiration for all these heroes, just now; it is only equalled by their admiration of themselves. The buzzards, too, have assumed an unusual air of importance—are busy again in the market; and long-bearded politicians are back again, at their old business, getting us in a state of discontent with the Union and everybody in general.
There is a great opening of shutters among the old mansions. The music of the organ resounds in the churches, and we are again in search of the highest pinnacle to pin our dignity upon. Our best old families have been doing the North extensively, and come home to us resolved never to go North again. But it is fashionable to go North, and they will break this resolution when spring comes. Mamma, and Julia Matilda have brought home an immense stock of Northern millinery, all paid for with the hardest of Southern money, which papa declares the greatest evil the state suffers under. He has been down in the wilderness for the last ten years, searching in vain for a remedy. The North is the hungry dog at the door, and he will not be kicked away. So we have again mounted that same old hobby-horse. There was so much low-breeding at the North, landlords were so extortionate, vulgarity in fine clothes got in your way wherever you went, servants were so impertinent, and the trades people were so given to cheating. We would shake our garments of the North, if only some one would tell us how to do it becomingly.
Master Tom and Julia Matilda differ with the old folks on this great question of bidding adieu to the North. Tom had a "high old time generally," and is sorry the season closed so soon. Julia Matilda has been in a pensive mood ever since she returned. That fancy ball was so brilliant; those moonlight drives were so pleasant; those flirtations were carried on with such charming grace! A dozen little love affairs, like pleasant dreams, are touching her heart with their sweet remembrance. The more she contemplates them the sadder she becomes. There are no drives on the beach now, no moonlight rambles, no promenades down the great, gay verandah, no waltzing, no soul-stirring music, no tender love-tales told under the old oaks. But they brighten in her fancy, and she sighs for their return. She is a prisoner now, surrounded by luxury in the grim old mansion. Julia Matilda and Master Tom will return to the North when spring comes, and enjoy whatever there is to be enjoyed, though Major Longstring and Mr. Midshipman Button should get us safe out of the Union.
Go back with us, reader, not to the dead-yard, but to the quiet walks of Magnolia Cemetery, hard by. A broad avenue cuts through the centre, and stretches away to the west, down a gently undulating slope. Rows of tall pines stand on either side, their branches forming an arch overhead, and hung with long, trailing moss, moving and whispering mysteriously in the gentle wind. Solemn cypress trees mark the by-paths; delicate flowers bloom along their borders, and jessamine vines twine lovingly about the branches of palmetto and magnolia trees. An air of enchanting harmony pervades the spot; the dead could repose in no prettier shade. Exquisitely chiselled marbles decorate the resting-places of the rich; plain slabs mark those of the poor.
It is evening now. The shadows are deepening down the broad avenue, the wind sighs touchingly through the tall pines, and the sinking sun is shedding a deep purple hue over the broad landscape. A solitary mocking-bird has just tuned its last note, and sailed swiftly into the dark hedgerow, down in the dead-yard.
A young girl, whose fair oval face the sun of eighteen summers has warmed into exquisite beauty, sits musingly under a cypress tree. Her name is Anna Bonnard, and she is famous in all the city for her beauty, as well as the symmetry of her form. Her dress is snowy white, fastened at the neck with a blue ribbon, and the skirts flowing. Her face is like chiselled marble, her eyes soft, black, and piercing, and deep, dark tresses of silky hair fall down her shoulders to her waist. Youth, beauty, and innocence are written in every feature of that fair face, over which a pensive smile now plays, then deepens into sadness. Here she has sat for several minutes, her head resting lightly on her right hand, and her broad sun-hat in her left, looking intently at a newly sodded grave with a plain white slab, on which is inscribed, in black letters—"Poor Miranda." This is all that betrays the sleeper beneath.
"And this is where they have laid her," she says, with a sigh. "Poor Miranda! like me, she was lost to this world. The world only knew the worst of her." And the tears that steal from her eyes tell the tale of her affection. "Heaven will deal kindly with the outcast, for Heaven only knows her sorrows." She rises quickly from her seat, casts a glance over the avenue, then pats the sods with her hands, and strews cypress branches and flowers over the grave, saying, "This is the last of poor Miranda. Some good friend has laid her here, and we are separated forever. It was misfortune that made us friends." She turns slowly from the spot, and walks down the avenue towards the great gate leading to the city. A shadow crosses her path; she hesitates, and looks with an air of surprise as the tall figure of a man advances hastily, saying, "Welcome, sweet Anna—welcome home."
He extends his gloved hand, which she receives with evident reluctance. "Pray what brought you here, Mr. Snivel?" she inquires, fixing her eyes on him, suspiciously.
"If you would not take it impertinent, I might ask you the same question. No, I will not. It was your charms, sweetest Anna. Love can draw me—I am a worshipper at its fountain. And as for law,—you know I live by that."
Mr. Snivel is what may be called a light comedy lawyer; ready to enter the service of any friend in need. He is commonly called "Snivel the lawyer," although the profession regard him with suspicion, and society keeps him on its out skirts. He is, in a word, a sportsman of small game, ready to bring down any sort of bird that chances within reach of his fowling-piece. He is tall of figure and slender, a pink of fashion in dress, wears large diamonds, an eye-glass, and makes the most of a light, promising moustache. His face is small, sharp, and discolored with the sun, his eyes grey and restless, his hair fair, his mouth wide and characterless. Cunning and low intrigue are marked in every feature of his face; and you look in vain for the slightest evidence of a frank and manly nature.
"Only heard you were home an hour ago. Set right off in pursuit of you. Cannot say exactly what impelled me. Love, perhaps, as I said before." Mr. Snivel twirls his hat in the air, and condescends to say he feels in an exceedingly happy state of mind. "I knew you needed a protector, and came to offer myself as your escort. I take this occasion to say, that you have always seen me in the false light my enemies magnify me in."
"I have no need of your escort, Mr. Snivel; and your friendship I can dispense with, since, up to this time, it has only increased my trouble," she interposes, continuing down the avenue.
"We all need friends——"
"True friends, you mean, Mr. Snivel."
"Well, then, have it so. You hold that all is false in men. I hold no such thing. Come, give me your confidence, Anna. Look on the bright side. Forget the past, and let the present serve. When you want a friend, or a job of law, call on me." Mr. Snivel adjusts his eye-glass, and again twirls his hat.
The fair girl shakes her head and says, "she hopes never to need either. But, tell me, Mr. Snivel, are you not the messenger of some one else?" she continues.
"Well, I confess," he replies, with a bow, "its partly so and partly not so. I came to put in one word for myself and two for the judge. Its no breach of confidence to say he loves you to distraction. At home in any court, you know, and stands well with the bar——"
"Love for me! He can have no love for me. I am but an outcast, tossed on the sea of uncertainty; all bright to-day, all darkness to-morrow. Our life is a stream of excitement, down which we sail quickly to a miserable death. I know the doom, and feel the pang. But men do not love us, and the world never regrets us. Go, tell him to forget me."
"Forget you? not he. Sent me to say he would meet you to-night. You are at the house of Madame Flamingo, eh?"
"I am; and sorry am I that I am. Necessity has no choice."
"You have left Mulholland behind, eh? Never was a fit companion for you. Can say that without offence. He is a New York rough, you know. Charleston gentlemen have a holy dislike of such fellows."
"He has been good to me. Why should I forsake him for one who affects to love me to-day, and will loathe me to-morrow? He has been my only true friend. Heaven may smile on us some day, and give us enough to live a life of virtue and love. As for the mystery that separates me from my parents, that had better remain unsolved forever." As she says this, they pass out of the great gate, and are on the road to the city.
A darker scene is being enacted in a different part of the city. A grim old prison, its walls, like the state's dignity, tumbling down and going to decay; its roof black with vegetating moss, and in a state of dilapidation generally,—stands, and has stood for a century or more, on the western outskirts of the city. We have a strange veneration for this damp old prison, with its strange histories cut on its inner walls. It has been threatening to tumble down one of these days, and it does not say much for our civilization that we have let it stand. But the question is asked, and by grave senators, if we pull it down, what shall we do with our pick-pockets and poor debtors? We mix them nicely up here, and throw in a thief for a messmate. What right has a poor debtor to demand that the sovereign state of South Carolina make a distinction between poverty and crime? It pays fifteen cents a day for getting them all well starved; and there its humanity ends, as all state humanity should end.
The inner iron gate has just closed, and two sturdy constables have dragged into the corridor a man, or what liquor has left of a man, and left him prostrate and apparently insensible on the floor. "Seventh time we've bring'd him 'ere a thin two months. Had to get a cart, or Phin and me never'd a got him 'ere," says one of the men, drawing a long breath, and dusting the sleeves of his coat with his hands.
"An officer earns what money he gits a commitin' such a cove," says the other, shaking his head, and looking down resentfully at the man on the floor. "Life'll go out on him like a kan'l one of these days." Officer continues moralizing on the bad results of liquor, and deliberately draws a commitment from his breast pocket. "Committed by Justice Snivel—breaking the peace at the house of Madame——" He cannot make out the name.
First officer interposes learnedly—"Madame Flamingo." "Sure enuf, he's been playin' his shines at the old woman's house again. Why, Master Jailer, Justice Snivel must a made fees enuf a this 'ere cove to make a man rich enough," continues Mr. Constable Phin.
"As unwelcome a guest as comes to this establishment," rejoins the corpulent old jailer, adjusting his spectacles, and reading the commitment, a big key hanging from the middle finger of his left hand. "Used to be sent up here by his mother, to be starved into reform. He is past reform. The poor-house is the place to send him to, 'tis."
"Well, take good care on him, Master Jailer, now you've got him. He comes of a good enough family," says the first officer.
"He's bin in this condition more nor a week—layin' down yonder, in Snug Harbor. Liquor's drived all the sense out on him," rejoins the second—and bidding the jailer good-morning, they retire.
The forlorn man still lies prostrate on the floor, his tattered garments and besotted face presenting a picture of the most abject wretchedness. The old jailer looks down upon him with an air of sympathy, and shakes his head.
"The doctor that can cure you doesn't live in this establishment," he says. The sound of a voice singing a song is heard, and the figure of a powerfully framed man, dressed in a red shirt and grey homespun trousers, advances, folds his arms deliberately, and contemplates with an air of contempt the prostrate man. His broad red face, flat nose, massive lips, and sharp grey eyes, his crispy red hair, bristling over a low narrow forehead, and two deep scars on the left side of his face, present a picture of repulsiveness not easily described. Silently and sullenly he contemplates the object before him for several minutes, then says:
"Dogs take me, Mister Jailer! but he's what I calls run to the dogs. That's what whisky's did for him."
"And what it will do for you one of these days," interrupts the jailer, admonishingly. "Up for disturbing the peace at Madame Flamingo's. Committed by Justice Snivel."
"Throwing stones by way of repentance, eh? Tom was, at one time, as good a customer as that house had. A man's welcome at that house when he's up in the world. He's sure a gittin' kicked out when he is down."
"He's here, and we must get him to a cell," says the jailer, setting his key down and preparing to lift the man on his feet.
"Look a here, Tom Swiggs,—in here again, eh?" resumes the man in the red shirt. "Looks as if you liked the institution. Nice son of a respectable mother, you is!" He stoops down and shakes the prostrate man violently.
The man opens his eyes, and casts a wild glance on the group of wan faces peering eagerly at him. "I am bad enough. You are no better than me," he whispers. "You are always here."
"Not always. I am a nine months' guest. In for cribbing voters. Let out when election day comes round, and paid well for my services. Sent up when election is over, and friends get few. No moral harm in cribbing voters. You wouldn't be worth cribbing, eh, Tom? There ain't no politician what do'nt take off his hat, and say—'Glad to see you, Mister Mingle,' just afore election." The man folds his arms and walks sullenly down the corridor, leaving the newcomer to his own reflections. There is a movement among the group looking on; and a man in the garb of a sailor advances, presses his way through, and seizing the prostrate by the hand, shakes it warmly and kindly. "Sorry to see you in here agin, Tom," he says, his bronzed face lighting up with the fires of a generous heart. "There's no man in this jail shall say a word agin Tom Swiggs. We have sailed shipmates in this old craft afore."
The man was a sailor, and the prisoner's called him Spunyarn, by way of shortness. Indeed, he had became so familiarized to the name, that he would answer to none other. His friendship for the inebriate was of the most sincere kind. He would watch over him, and nurse him into sobriety, with the care and tenderness of a brother. "Tom was good to me, when he had it;" he says, with an air of sympathy. "And here goes for lendin' a hand to a shipmate in distress." He takes one arm and the jailer the other, and together they support the inebriate to his cell. "Set me down for a steady boarder, and have done with it," the forlorn man mutters, as they lay him gently upon the hard cot. "Down for steady board, jailer—that's it."
"Steady, steady now," rejoins the old sailor, as the inebriate tosses his arms over his head. "You see, there's a heavy ground swell on just now, and a chap what don't mind his helm is sure to get his spars shivered." He addresses the the jailer, who stands looking with an air of commiseration on the prostrate man. "Take in head-sail—furl top-gallant-sails—reef topsails—haul aft main-sheet—put her helm hard down—bring her to the wind, and there let her lay until it comes clear weather." The man writhes and turns his body uneasily. "There, there," continues the old sailor, soothingly; "steady, steady,—keep her away a little, then let her luff into a sound sleep. Old Spunyarn's the boy what'll stand watch." A few minutes more and the man is in a deep, sound sleep, the old sailor keeping watch over him so kindly, so like a true friend.