An Outcast/Chapter XXIV
Let us leave for a time the pursuit with which we concluded the foregoing chapter, and return to Charleston. It is the still hour of midnight. There has been a ball at the fashionable house of the Flamingo, which still retains its name. In the great parlour we have before described, standing here and there upon massive tables with Egyptian marble-tops, are half-empty bottles of wine, decanters, tumblers, and viands of various descriptions. Bits of artificial flowers are strewn about the carpet, a shawl is seen thrown over one chair, a mantle over another; the light is half shut off—everything bears evidence of the gaieties of luxurious life, the sumptuous revel and the debauch. The gilded mirrors reflect but two faces, both hectic and moody of dissipation. George Mullholland and Mr. Snivel face each other, at a pier-table. Before them are several half filled bottles, from one of which Mr. Snivel fills George's glass.
"There is something in this champaign (one only gets rubbish in these houses) that compounds and elevates one's ideas," says Mr. Snivel, holding his glass in the light, and squinting his blood-shotten eyes, the lids of which he has scarce power to keep open. "Drink, George—drink! You have had your day—why let such nonsense trouble you? The whole city is in love with the girl. Her beauty makes her capricious; if the old Judge has got her, let him keep her. Indeed, I'm not so sure that she doesn't love him, and (well, I always laugh when I think of it), it is a well laid down principle among us lawyers, that no law stands good against love." Mr. Snivel's leaden eyelids close, and his head drops upon his bosom. "She never can love him—never! His wealth, and some false tale, has beguiled her. He is a hoary-headed lecher, with wealth and position to aid him in his hellish pursuits; I am poor, and an outcast! He has flattered me and showered his favors upon me, only to affect my ruin. I will have—"
"Pshaw! George," interrupts Mr. Snivel, brightening up, "be a philosopher. Chivalry, you know—chivalry! A dashing fellow like you should doff the kid to a knight of his metal: challenge him." Mr. Snivel reaches over the table and pats his opponent on the arm. "These women, George! Funny things, eh? Make any kind of love—have a sample for every sort of gallant, and can make the quantity to suit the purchaser. 'Pon my soul this is my opinion. I'm a lawyer, know pretty well how the sex lay their points. As for these unfortunate devils, as we of the profession call them (he pauses and empties his glass, saying, not bad for a house of this kind), there are so many shades of them, life is such a struggle with them; they dream of broken hopes, and they die sighing to think how good a thing is virtue. You only love this girl because she is beautiful, and beautiful women, at best, are the most capricious things in the world. D—n it, you have gone through enough of this kind of life to be accustomed to it. We think nothing of these things, in Charleston—bless you, nothing! Keep the Judge your friend—his position may give him a means to serve you. A man of the world ought at all times to have the private friendship of as many judges as he can."
"Never! poor as I am—outcast as I feel myself! I want no such friendship. Society may shun me, the community may fear me, necessity may crush me—yea! you may regard me as a villain if you will, but, were I a judge, I would scorn to use my office to serve base ends." As he says this he draws a pistol from his pocket, and throwing it defiantly upon the table, continues as his lip curls with scorn, "poor men's lives are cheap in Charleston—let us see what rich men's are worth!"
"His age, George!—you should respect that!" says Mr. Snivel, laconically.
"His age ought to be my protection."
"Ah!—you forget that the follies of our nature too often go with us to the grave."
"And am I to suffer because public opinion honors him, and gives him power to disgrace me? Can he rob me of the one I love—of the one in whose welfare my whole soul is staked, and do it with impunity?"
"D——d inconvenient, I know, George. Sympathize with you, I do. But, you see, we are governed here by the laws of chivalry. Don't let your (I am a piece of a philosopher, you see) temper get up, keep on a stiff upper lip. You may catch him napping. I respect your feelings, my dear fellow; ready to do you a bit of a good turn—you understand! Now let me tell you, my boy, he has made her his adopted, and to-morrow she moves with him to his quiet little villa near the Magnolia."
"I am a poor, forlorn wretch," interrupts George, with a sigh. "Those of whom I had a right to expect good counsel, and a helping hand, have been first to encourage me in the ways of evil—"
"Get money, Mullholland—get money. It takes money to make love strong. Say what you will, a woman's heart is sure to be sound on the gold question. Mark ye, Mullholland!—there is an easy way to get money. Do you take? (His fingers wander over his forehead, as he watches intently in George's face.) You can make names? Such things are done by men in higher walks, you know. Quite a common affair in these parts. The Judge has carried off your property; make a fair exchange—you can use his name, get money with it, and make it hold fast the woman you love. There are three things, George, you may set down as facts that will be of service to you through life, and they are these: when a man eternally rings in your ears the immoralities of the age, watch him closely; when a man makes what he has done for others a boast, set him down a knave; and when a woman dwells upon the excellent qualities of her many admirers, set her down as wanting. But, get money, and when you have got it, charm back this beautiful creature."
Such is the advice of Mr. Soloman Snivel, the paid intriguer of the venerable Judge.