An Outcast/Chapter XXII
Purged of all the ill-humors of her mind, Mrs. Swiggs finds herself, on the morning following the excellent little gathering at Sister Scudder's, restored to the happiest of tempers. The flattery administered by Brother Spyke, and so charmingly sprinkled with his pious designs on the heathen world, has had the desired effect. This sort of drug has, indeed, a wonderful efficacy in setting disordered constitutions to rights. It would not become us to question the innocence, or the right to indulge in such correctives; it is enough that our venerable friend finds herself in a happy vein, and is resolved to spend the day for the benefit of that heathen world, the darkness of which Brother Spyke pictured in colors so terrible.
Breakfast is scarcely over when Sister Slocum, in great agitation, comes bustling into the parlor, offers the most acceptable apologies for her absence, and pours forth such a vast profusion of solicitude for Mrs. Swiggs' welfare, that that lady is scarce able to withstand the kindness. She recounts the numerous duties that absorb her attention, the missions she has on hand, the means she uses to keep up an interest in them, the amount of funds necessary to their maintenance. A large portion of these funds she raises with her own energy. She will drag up the heathen world; she will drag down Satan. Furnishing Mrs. Swiggs with the address of the House of the Foreign Missions, in Centre street, she excuses herself. How superlatively happy she would be to accompany Mrs. Swiggs. A report to present to the committee on finance, she regrets, will prevent this. However, she will join her precisely at twelve o'clock, at the House. She must receive the congratulations of the Board. She must have a reception that will show how much the North respects her co-laborers of the South. And with this, Sister Slocum takes leave of her guest, assuring her that all she has to do is to get into the cars in the Bowery. They will set her down at the door.
Ten o'clock finds our indomitable lady, having preferred the less expensive mode of walking, entering a strange world. Sauntering along the Bowery she turns down Bayard street. Bayard street she finds lined with filthy looking houses, swarming with sickly, ragged, and besotted poor; the street is knee-deep with corrupting mire; carts are tilted here and there at intervals; the very air seems hurling its pestilence into your blood. Ghastly-eyed and squalid children, like ants in quest of food, creep and swarm over the pavement, begging for bread or uttering profane oaths at one another. Mothers who never heard the Word of God, nor can be expected to teach it to their children, protrude their vicious faces from out reeking gin shops, and with bare breasts and uncombed hair, sweep wildly along the muddy pavement, disappear into some cavern-like cellar, and seek on some filthy straw a resting place for their wasting bodies. A whiskey-drinking Corporation might feast its peculative eyes upon hogs wallowing in mud; and cellars where swarming beggars, for six cents a night, cover with rags their hideous heads—where vice and crime are fostered, and into which your sensitive policeman prefers not to go, are giving out their seething miasma. The very neighborhood seems vegetating in mire. In the streets, in the cellars, in the filthy lanes, in the dwellings of the honest poor, as well as the vicious, muck and mire is the predominating order. The besotted remnants of depraved men, covered with rags and bedaubed with mire, sit, half sleeping in disease and hunger on decayed door-stoops. Men with bruised faces, men with bleared eyes, men in whose every feature crime and dissipation is stamped, now drag their waning bodies from out filthy alleys, as if to gasp some breath of air, then drag themselves back, as if to die in a desolate hiding-place. Engines of pestilence and death the corporation might see and remove, if it would, are left here to fester—to serve a church-yard as gluttonous as its own belly. The corporation keeps its eyes in its belly, its little sense in its big boots, and its dull action in the whiskey-jug. Like Mrs. Swiggs, it cannot afford to do anything for this heathen world in the heart of home. No, sir! The corporation has the most delicate sense of its duties. It is well paid to nurture the nucleus of a pestilence that may some day break out and sweep over the city like an avenging enemy. It thanks kind Providence, eating oysters and making Presidents the while, for averting the dire scourge it encourages with its apathy. Like our humane and very fashionable preachers, it contents itself with looking into the Points from Broadway. What more would you ask of it?
Mrs. Swiggs is seized with fear and trembling. Surely she is in a world of darkness. Can it be that so graphically described by Brother Syngleton Spyke? she questions within herself. It might, indeed, put Antioch to shame: but the benighted denizens with which it swarms speak her own tongue. "It is a deal worse in Orange street, Marm—a deal, I assure you!" speaks a low, muttering voice. Lady Swiggs is startled. She only paused a moment to view this sea of vice and wretchedness she finds herself surrounded with. Turning quickly round she sees before her a man, or what there is left of a man. His tattered garments, his lean, shrunken figure, his glassy eyes, and pale, haggard face, cause her to shrink back in fright. He bows, touches his shattered hat, and says, "Be not afraid good Madam. May I ask if you have not mistaken your way?" Mrs. Swiggs looks querulously through her spectacles and says, "Do tell me where I am?" "In the Points, good Madam. You seem confused, and I don't wonder. It's a dreadful place. I know it, madam, to my sorrow." There is a certain politeness in the manner of this man—an absence of rudeness she is surprised to find in one so dejected. The red, distended nose, the wild expression of his countenance, his jagged hair, hanging in tufts over his ragged coat collar, give him a repulsiveness not easily described. In answer to an inquiry he says, "They call me, Madam, and I'm contented with the name,—they call me Tom Toddleworth, the Chronicle. I am well down—not in years, but sorrow. Being sick of the world I came here, have lived, or rather drifted about, in this sea of hopeless misery, homeless and at times foodless, for ten years or more. Oh! I have seen better days, Madam. You are a stranger here. May God always keep you a stranger to the sufferings of those who dwell with us. I never expect to be anything again, owe nothing to the world, and never go into Broadway."
"Never go into Broadway," repeats Mrs. Swiggs, her fingers wandering to her spectacles. Turning into Orange street, Mr. Toddleworth tenders his services in piloting Mrs. Swiggs into Centre street, which, as he adds, will place her beyond harm. As they advance the scene becomes darker and darker. Orange street seems that centre from which radiates the avenues of every vice known to a great city. One might fancy the world's outcasts hurled by some mysterious hand into this pool of crime and misery, and left to feast their wanton appetites and die. "And you have no home, my man?" says Mrs. Swiggs, mechanically. "As to that, Madam," returns the man, with a bow, "I can't exactly say I have no home. I kind of preside over and am looked up to by these people. One says, 'come spend a night with me, Mr. Toddleworth,' another says, 'come spend a night with me, Mr. Tom Toddleworth.' I am a sort of respectable man with them, have a place to lay down free, in any of their houses. They all esteem me, and say, come spend a night with me, Mr. Toddleworth. It's very kind of them. And whenever they get a drop of gin I'm sure of a taste. Surmising what I was once, they look up to me, you see. This gives me heart." And as he says this he smiles, and draws about him the ragged remnants of his coat, as if touched by shame. Arrived at the corner of Orange street, Mr. Toddleworth pauses and begs his charge to survey the prospect. Look whither she will nothing but a scene of desolation—a Babylon of hideous, wasting forms, mucky streets, and reeking dens, meet her eye. The Jews have arranged themselves on one side of Orange street, to speculate on the wasted harlotry of the other. "Look you, Madam!" says Mr. Toddleworth, leaning on his stick and pointing towards Chatham street. "A desert, truly," replies the august old lady, nervously twitching her head. She sees to the right ("it is wantonness warring upon misery," says Mr. Toddleworth) a long line of irregular, wooden buildings, black and besmeared with mud. Little houses with decrepit doorsteps; little houses with decayed platforms in front; little dens that seem crammed with rubbish; little houses with black-eyed, curly-haired, and crooked-nosed children looking shyly about the doors; little houses with lusty and lecherous-eyed Jewesses sitting saucily in the open door; little houses with open doors, broken windows, and shattered shutters, where the devil's elixir is being served to ragged and besotted denizens; little houses into which women with blotched faces slip suspiciously, deposit their almost worthless rags, and pass out to seek the gin-shop; little houses with eagle-faced men peering curiously out at broken windows, or beckoning some wayfarer to enter and buy from their door; little houses piled inside with the cast-off garments of the poor and dissolute, and hung outside with smashed bonnets, old gowns, tattered shawls; flaunting—red, blue, and yellow, in the wind, emblematic of those poor wretches, on the opposite side, who have pledged here their last offerings, and blazed down into that stage of human degradation, which finds the next step the grave—all range along, forming a picturesque but sad panorama. Mr. Moses, the man of the eagle face, who keeps the record of death, as the neighbors call it, sits opulently in his door, and smokes his cigar; while his sharp-eyed daughters estimate exactly how much it is safe to advance on the last rag some lean wretch would pledge. He will tell you just how long that brawny harlot, passing on the opposite side, will last, and what the few rags on her back will be worth when she is "shoved into Potters' Field." At the sign of the "Three Martyrs" Mr. Levy is seen, in his fashionable coat, and a massive chain falling over his tight waistcoat, registering the names of his grotesque customers, ticketing their little packages, and advancing each a shilling or two, which they will soon spend at the opposite druggery. Thus bravely wages the war. London has nothing so besotted, Paris nothing so vicious, Naples nothing so dark and despairing, as this heathen world we pass by so heedlessly. Beside it even the purlieus of Rome sink into insignificance. Now run your eye along the East side of Orange street. A sidewalk sinking in mire; a long line of one-story wooden shanties, ready to cave-in with decay; dismal looking groceries, in which the god, gin, is sending his victims by hundreds to the greedy graveyard; suspicious looking dens with dingy fronts, open doors, and windows stuffed with filthy rags—in which crimes are nightly perpetrated, and where broken-hearted victims of seduction and neglect, seeking here a last refuge, are held in a slavery delicacy forbids our describing; dens where negro dancers nightly revel, and make the very air re-echo their profaning voices; filthy lanes leading to haunts up alleys and in narrow passages, where thieves and burglars hide their vicious heads; mysterious looking steps leading to cavern-like cellars, where swarm and lay prostrate wretched beings made drunk by the "devil's elixir"—all these beset the East side of Orange street. Wasted nature, blanched and despairing, ferments here into one terrible pool. Women in gaudy-colored dresses, their bared breasts and brawny arms contrasting curiously with their wicked faces, hang lasciviously over "half-doors," taunt the dreamy policeman on his round, and beckon the unwary stranger into their dens. Piles of filth one might imagine had been thrown up by the devil or the street commissioner, and in which you might bury a dozen fat aldermen without missing one; little shops where unwholesome food is sold; corner shops where idlers of every color, and sharpers of all grades, sit dreaming out the day over their gin—are here to be found. Young Ireland would, indeed, seem to have made this the citadel from which to vomit his vice over the city.
"They're perfectly wild, Madam—these children are," says Mr. Toddleworth, in reply to a question Mrs. Swiggs put respecting the immense number of ragged and profaning urchins that swarm the streets. "They never heard of the Bible, nor God, nor that sort of thing. How could they hear of it? No one ever comes in here—that is, they come in now and then, and throw a bit of a tract in here and there, and are glad to get out with a whole coat. The tracts are all Greek to the dwellers here. Besides that, you see, something must be done for the belly, before you can patch up the head. I say this with a fruitful experience. A good, kind little man, who seems earnest in the welfare of these wild little children that you see running about here—not the half of them know their parents—looks in now and then, acts as if he wasn't afraid of us, (that is a good deal, Madam) and the boys are beginning to take to him. But, with nothing but his kind heart and earnest resolution, he'll find a rugged mountain to move. If he move it, he will deserve a monument of fairest marble erected to his memory, and letters of gold to emblazon his deeds thereon. He seems to understand the key to some of their affections. It's no use mending the sails without making safe the hull."
At this moment Mrs. Swiggs' attention is attracted by a crowd of ragged urchins and grotesque-looking men, gathered about a heap of filth at that corner of Orange street that opens into the Points.
"They are disinterring his Honor, the Mayor," says Mr. Toddleworth. "Do this sort of thing every day, Madam; they mean no harm, you see."
Mrs. Swiggs, curious to witness the process of disinterring so distinguished a person, forgets entirely her appointment at the House of the Foreign Missions, crowds her way into the filthy throng, and watches with intense anxiety a vacant-looking idiot, who has seen some sixteen summers, lean and half clad, and who has dug with his staff a hole deep in the mud, which he is busy piling up at the edges.
"Deeper, deeper!" cries out a dozen voices, of as many mischievous urchins, who are gathered round in a ring, making him the victim of their sport. Having cast his glassy eyes upward, and scanned vacantly his audience, he sets to work again, and continues throwing out dead cats by the dozen, all of which he exults over, and pauses now and then for the approbation of the bystanders, who declare they bear no resemblance to his Honor, or any one of the Board of Aldermen. One chubby urchin, with a bundle of Tribunes under his arm, looks mischievously into the pit, and says, "His 'Onor 'ill want the Tribune." Another, of a more taciturn disposition, shrugs his shoulders, gives his cap a pull over his eyes, and says, spicing his declaration with an oath, "He'll buy two Heralds!—he will." The taciturn urchin draws them from his bundle with an air of independence, flaunts them in the face of his rival, and exults over their merits. A splashing of mud, followed by a deafening shout, announces that the persevering idiot has come upon the object he seeks. One proclaims to his motley neighbors that the whole corporation is come to light; another swears it is only his Honor and a dead Alderman. A third, more astute than the rest, says it is only the head and body of the Corporation—a dead pig and a decaying pumpkin! Shout after shout goes up as the idiot, exultingly, drags out the prostrate pig, following it with the pumpkin. Mr. Toddleworth beckons Lady Swiggs away. The wicked-faced harlots are gathering about her in scores. One has just been seen fingering her dress, and hurrying away, disappearing suspiciously into an Alley.
"You see, Madam," says Mr. Toddleworth, as they gain the vicinity of Cow Bay, "it is currently reported, and believed by the dwellers here, that our Corporation ate itself out of the world not long since; and seeing how much they suffer by the loss of such—to have a dead Corporation in a great city, is an evil, I assure you—an institution, they adopt this method of finding it. It affords them no little amusement. These swarming urchins will have the filthy things laid out in state, holding with due ceremony an inquest over them, and mischievously proposing to the first policeman who chances along, that he officiate as coroner. Lady Swiggs has not a doubt that light might be valuably reflected over this heathen world. Like many other very excellent ladies, however, she has no candles for a heathen world outside of Antioch."
Mr. Toddleworth escorts her safely into Centre street, and directs her to the House of the Foreign Missions.
"Thank you! thank you!—may God never let you want a shilling," he says, bowing and touching his hat as Mrs. Swiggs puts four shillings into his left hand.
"One shilling, Madam," he pursues, with a smile, "will get me a new collar. A clean collar now and then, it must be said, gives a body a look of respectability."
Mr. Toddleworth has a passion for new collars, regards them as a means of sustaining his respectability. Indeed, he considers himself in full dress with one mounted, no matter how ragged the rest of his wardrobe. And when he walks out of a morning, thus conditioned, his friends greet him with: "Hi! ho! Mister Toddleworth is uppish this morning." He has bid his charge good morning, and hurries back to his wonted haunts. There is a mysterious and melancholy interest in this man's history, which many have attempted but failed to fathom. He was once heard to say his name was not Toddleworth—that he had sunk his right name in his sorrows. He was sentimental at times, always used good language, and spoke like one who had seen better days and enjoyed a superior education. He wanted, he would say, when in one of his melancholy moods, to forget the world, and have the world forget him. Thus he shut himself up in the Points, and only once or twice had he been seen in the Bowery, and never in Broadway during his sojourn among the denizens who swarm that vortex of death. How he managed to obtain funds, for he was never without a shilling, was equally involved in mystery. He had no very bad habits, seemed inoffensive to all he approached, spoke familiarly on past events, and national affairs, and discovered a general knowledge of the history of the world. And while he was always ready to share his shilling with his more destitute associates, he ever maintained a degree of politeness and civility toward those he was cast among not common to the place. He was ready to serve every one, would seek out the sick and watch over them with a kindness almost paternal, discovering a singular familiarity with the duties of a physician. He had, however, an inveterate hatred of fashionable wives; and whenever the subject was brought up, which it frequently was by the denizens of the Points, he would walk away, with a sigh. "Fashionable wives," he would mutter, his eyes filling with tears, "are never constant. Ah! they have deluged the world with sorrow, and sent me here to seek a hiding place."
- Now called Baxter street