An Outcast/Chapter VIII
The man who kissed and bore away the prostrate girl was George Mullholland.
"Oh! George—George!" she whispers imploringly, as her eyes meet his; and turning upon the couch of her chamber, where he hath lain her, awakes to consciousness, and finds him watching over her with a lover's solicitude. "I was not cold because I loved you less—oh no! It was to propitiate my ambition—to be free of the bondage of this house—to purge myself of the past—to better my future!" And she lays her pale, nervous hand gently on his arm—then grasps his hand and presses it fervently to her lips.
Though placed beyond the pale of society—though envied by one extreme and shunned by the other—she finds George her only true friend. He parts and smooths gently over her polished shoulders her dishevelled hair; he watches over her with the tenderness of a brother; he quenches and wipes away the blood oozing from her wounded breast; he kisses and kisses her flushed cheek, and bathes her Ion-like brow. He forgives all. His heart would speak if his tongue had words to represent it. He would the past were buried—the thought of having wronged him forgotten. She recognizes in his solicitude for her the sincerity of his heart. It touches like sweet music the tenderest chords of her own; and like gushing fountains her great black eyes fill with tears. She buries her face in her hands, crying, "Never, never, George, (I swear it before the God I have wronged, but whose forgiveness I still pray,) will I again forget my obligation to you! I care not how high in station he who seeks me maybe. Ambitious!—I was misled. His money lured me away, but he betrayed me in the face of his promises. Henceforth I have nothing for this deceptive world; I receive of it nothing but betrayal—"
"The world wants nothing more of either of us," interrupts George.
More wounded in her feelings than in her flesh, she sobs and wrings her hands like one in despair.
"You have ambition. I am too poor to serve your ambition!"
That word, too "poor," is more than her already distracted brain can bear up under. It brings back the terrible picture of their past history; it goads and agonizes her very soul. She throws her arms frantically about his neck; presses him to her bosom; kisses him with the fervor of a child. Having pledged his forgiveness with a kiss, and sealed it by calling in a witness too often profaned on such occasions, George calms her feelings as best he can; then he smooths with a gentle hand the folds of her uplifted dress, and with them curtains the satin slippers that so delicately encase her small feet. This done, he spreads over her the richly-lined India morning-gown presented to her a few days ago by the Judge, who, as she says, so wantonly betrayed her, and on whom she sought revenge. Like a Delian maid, surrounded with Oriental luxury, and reclining on satin and velvet, she flings her flowing hair over her shoulders, nestles her weary head in the embroidered cushion, and with the hand of her only true friend firmly grasped in her own, soothes away into a calm sleep—that sovereign but too transient balm for sorrowing hearts.
Our scene changes. The ghost hath taken himself to the graveyard; the morning dawns soft and sunny on what we harmlessly style the sunny city of the sunny South. Madame Flamingo hath resolved to nail another horse-shoe over her door. She will propitiate (so she hath it) the god of ghosts.
George Mullholland, having neither visible means of gaining a livelihood nor a settled home, may be seen in a solitary box at Baker's, (a coffee-house at the corner of Meeting and Market streets,) eating an humble breakfast. About him there is a forlornness that the quick eye never fails to discover in the manners of the homeless man. "Cleverly done," he says, laying down the Mercury newspaper, in which it is set forth that "the St. Cecilia, in consequence of an affliction in the family of one of its principal members, postponed its assembly last night. The theatre, in consequence of a misunderstanding between the manager and his people, was also closed. The lecture on comparative anatomy, by Professor Bones, which was to have been delivered at Hibernian Hall, is, in consequence of the indisposition of the learned Professor, put off to Tuesday evening next, when he will have, as he deserves, an overflowing house. Tickets, as before, may be had at all the music and bookstores." The said facetious journal was silent on the superior attractions at the house of the old hostess; nor did it deem it prudent to let drop a word on the misunderstanding between the patrons of the drama and the said theatrical manager, inasmuch as it was one of those that are sure to give rise to a very serious misunderstanding between that functionary and his poor people.
In another column the short but potent line met his eye: "An overflowing and exceedingly fashionable house greeted the Negro Minstrels last night. First-rate talent never goes begging in our city." George sips his coffee and smiles. Wonderfully clever these editors are, he thinks. They have nice apologies for public taste always on hand; set the country by the ears now and then; and amuse themselves with carrying on the most prudent description of wars.
His own isolated condition, however, is uppermost in his mind. Poverty and wretchedness stare him in the face on one side; chivalry, on the other, has no bows for him while daylight lasts. Instinct whispers in his ear—where one exists the other is sure to be.
To the end that this young man will perform a somewhat important part in the by-ways of this history, some further description of him may be necessary. George Mullholland stands some five feet nine, is wiry-limbed, and slender and erect of person. Of light complexion, his features, are sharp and irregular, his face narrow and freckled, his forehead small and retreating, his hair sandy and short-cropped. Add to these two small, dull, gray eyes, and you have features not easily described. Nevertheless, there are moments when his countenance wears an expression of mildness—one in which the quick eye may read a character more inoffensive than intrusive. A swallow-tail blue coat, of ample skirts, and brass buttons; a bright-colored waistcoat, opening an avalanche of shirt-bosom, blossoming with cheap jewelry; a broad, rolling shirt-collar, tied carelessly with a blue ribbon; a steeple-crowned hat, set on the side of his head with a challenging air; and a pair of broadly-striped and puckered trowsers, reaching well over a small-toed and highly-glazed boot, constitutes his dress. For the exact set of those two last-named articles of his wardrobe he maintains a scrupulous regard. We are compelled to acknowledge George an importation from New York, where he would be the more readily recognized by that vulgar epithet, too frequently used by the self-styled refined—"a swell."
Life with George is a mere drift of uncertainty. As for aims and ends, why he sees the safer thing in having nothing to do with them. Mr. Tom Toddleworth once advised this course, and Tom was esteemed good authority in such matters. Like many others, his character is made up of those yielding qualities which the teachings of good men may elevate to usefulness, or bad men corrupt by their examples. There is a stage in the early youth of such persons when we find their minds singularly susceptible, and ready to give rapid growth to all the vices of depraved men; while they are equally apt in receiving good, if good men but take the trouble to care for them, and inculcate lessons of morality.
Not having a recognized home, we may add, in resuming our story, that George makes Baker's his accustomed haunt during the day, as do also numerous others of his class—a class recognized and made use of by men in the higher walks of life only at night.
"Ah! ha, ha! into a tight place this time, George," laughs out Mr. Soloman, the accommodation man, as he hastens into the room, seats himself in the box with George, and seizes his hand with the earnestness of a true friend. Mr. Soloman can deport himself on all occasions with becoming good nature. "It's got out, you see."
"What has got out?" interrupts George, maintaining a careless indifference.
"Come now! none of that, old fellow."
"If I understood you—"
"That affair last night," pursues Mr. Soloman, his delicate fingers wandering into his more delicately-combed beard. "It'll go hard with you. He's a stubborn old cove, that Sleepyhorn; administers the law as Cæsar was wont to. Yesterday he sent seven to the whipping-post; to-day he hangs two 'niggers' and a white man. There is a consolation in getting rid of the white. I say this because no one loses a dollar by it."
George, continuing to masticate his bread, says it has nothing to do with him. He may hang the town.
"If I can do you a bit of a good turn, why here's your man. But you must not talk that way—you must not, George, I assure you!" Mr. Soloman assumes great seriousness of countenance, and again, in a friendly way, takes George by the hand. "That poignard, George, was yours. It was picked up by myself when it fell from your hand—"
"My hand! my hand!" George quietly interposes, his countenance paling, and his eyes wandering in excitement.
"Now don't attempt to disguise the matter, you know! Come out on the square—own up! Jealousy plays the devil with one now and then. I know—I have had a touch of it; had many a little love affair in my time—"
George again interrupts by inquiring to what he is coming.
"To the attempt (the accommodation man assumes an air of sternness) you made last night on the life of that unhappy girl. It is needless," he adds, "to plead ignorance. The Judge has the poignard; and what's more, there are four witnesses ready to testify. It'll go hard with you, my boy." He shakes his head warningly.
"I swear before God and man I am as innocent as ignorant of the charge. The poignard I confess is mine; but I had no part in the act of last night, save to carry the prostrate girl—the girl I dearly love—away. This I can prove by her own lips."
Mr. Soloman, with an air of legal profundity, says: "This is all very well in its way, George, but it won't stand in law. The law is what you have got to get at. And when you have got at it, you must get round it; and then you must twist it and work it every which way—only be careful not to turn its points against yourself; that, you know, is the way we lawyers do the thing. You'll think we're a sharp lot; and we have to be sharp, as times are."
"It is not surprising," replies George, as if waking from a fit of abstraction, "that she should have sought revenge of one who so basely betrayed her at the St. Cecilia—"
"There, there!" Mr. Soloman interrupts, changing entirely the expression of his countenance, "the whole thing is out! I said there was an unexplained mystery somewhere. It was not the Judge, but me who betrayed her to the assembly. Bless you, (he smiles, and crooking his finger, beckons a servant, whom he orders to bring a julep,) I was bound to do it, being the guardian of the Society's dignity, which office I have held for years. But you don't mean to have it that the girl attempted—(he suddenly corrects himself)—Ah, that won't do, George. Present my compliments to Anna—I wouldn't for the world do aught to hurt her feelings, you know that—and say I am ready to get on my knees to her to confess myself a penitent for having injured her feelings. Yes, I am ready to do anything that will procure her forgiveness. I plead guilty. But she must in return forgive the Judge. He is hard in law matters—that is, we of the law consider him so—now and then; but laying that aside, he is one of the best old fellows in the world, loves Anna to distraction; nor has he the worst opinion in the world of you, George. Fact is, I have several times heard him refer to you in terms of praise. As I said before, being the man to do you a bit of a good turn, take my advice as a friend. The Judge has got you in his grasp, according to every established principle of law; and having four good and competent witnesses, (You have no voice in law, and Anna's won't stand before a jury,) will send you up for a twelve-months' residence in Mount Rascal."
It will be almost needless here to add, that Mr. Soloman had, in an interview with the Judge, arranged, in consideration of a goodly fee, to assume the responsibility of the betrayal at the St. Cecilia; and also to bring about a reconciliation between him and the girl he so passionately sought.
Keep out of the way a few days, and everything will blow over and come right. I will procure you the Judge's friendship—yes, his money, if you want. More than that, I will acknowledge my guilt to Anna; and being as generous of heart as she is beautiful, she will, having discovered the mistake, forgive me and make amends to the Judge for her foolish act.
It is almost superfluous to add, that the apparent sincerity with which the accommodation man pleaded, had its effect on the weak-minded man. He loved dearly the girl, but poverty hung like a leaden cloud over him. Poverty stripped him of the means of gratifying her ambition; poverty held him fast locked in its blighting chains; poverty forbid his rescuing her from the condition necessity had imposed upon her; poverty was goading him into crime; and through crime only did he see the means of securing to himself the cherished object of his love.
"I am not dead to your friendship, but I am too sad at heart to make any pledge that involves Anna, at this moment. We met in wretchedness, came up in neglect and crime, sealed our love with the hard seal of suffering. Oh! what a history of misery my heart could unfold, if it had but a tongue!" George replies, in subdued accents, as a tear courses down his cheek.
Extending his hand, with an air of encouragement, Mr. Soloman says nothing in the world would so much interest him as a history of the relations existing between George and Anna. Their tastes, aims, and very natures, are different. To him their connection is clothed in mystery.