An Outcast/Chapter XXX
Maria McArthur having, by her womanly sympathy, awakened the generous impulses of Tom Swiggs, he is resolved they shall have a new channel for their action. Her kindness touched his heart; her solicitude for his welfare gained his affections, and a recognition of that love she so long and silently cherished for him, is the natural result. The heart that does not move to woman's kindness, must indeed be hard. But there were other things which strengthened Tom's affections for Maria. The poverty of her aged father; the insults offered her by Keepum and Snivel; the manner in which they sought her ruin while harassing her father; the artlessness and lone condition of the pure-minded girl; and the almost holy affection evinced for the old man on whom she doted—all tended to bring him nearer and nearer to her, until he irresistibly found himself at her feet, pledging that faith lovers call eternal. Maria is not of that species of being the world calls beautiful; but there is about her something pure, thoughtful, even noble; and this her lone condition heightens. Love does not always bow before beauty. The singularities of human nature are most strikingly blended in woman. She can overcome physical defects; she can cultivate attractions most appreciated by those who study her worth deepest. Have you not seen those whose charms at first-sight found no place in your thoughts, but as you were drawn nearer and nearer to them, so also did your esteem quicken, and that esteem, almost unconsciously, you found ripening into affection, until in turn you were seized with an ardent passion? You have. And you have found yourself enamored of the very one against whom you had endeavored most to restrain your generous impulses. Like the fine lines upon a picture with a repulsive design, you trace them, and recur to them until your admiration is carried away captive. So it is with woman's charms. Tom Swiggs, then, the restored man, bows before the simple goodness of the daughter of the old Antiquary.
Mr. Trueman, the shipowner, gave Tom employment, and has proved a friend to him. Tom, in turn, has so far gained his confidence and respect that Mr. Trueman contemplates sending him to London, on board one of his ships. Nor has Tom forgotten to repay the old Antiquary, who gave him a shelter when he was homeless; this home is still under the roof of the old man, toward whose comfort he contributes weekly a portion of his earnings. If you could but look into that little back-parlor, you would see a picture of humble cheerfulness presented in the old man, his daughter, and Tom Swiggs, seated round the tea-table. Let us, however, turn and look into one of our gaudy saloons, that we may see how different a picture is presented there.
It is the night previous to an election for Mayor. Leaden clouds hang threatening over the city; the gas-light throws out its shadows at an early hour; and loud-talking men throng our street-corners and public resorts. Our politicians tell us that the destiny of the rich and the poor is to forever guard that institution which employs all our passions, and absorbs all our energies.
In a curtained box, at the St. Charles, sits Mr. Snivel and George Mullholland—the latter careworn and downcast of countenance. "Let us finish this champaign, my good fellow," says the politician, emptying his glass. "A man—I mean one who wants to get up in the world—must, like me, have two distinct natures. He must have a grave, moral nature—that is necessary to the affairs of State. And he must, to accommodate himself to the world (law and society, I mean), have a terribly loose nature—a perfect quicksand, into which he can drag everything that serves himself. You have seen how I can develop both these, eh?" The downcast man shakes his head, as the politician watches him with a steady gaze. "Take the advice of a friend, now, let the Judge alone—don't threaten again to shoot that girl. Threats are sometimes dragged in as testimony against a man (Mr. Snivel taps George admonishingly on the arm); and should anything of a serious nature befall her—the law is curious—why, what you have said might implicate you, though you were innocent."
"You," interrupts George, "have shot your man down in the street."
"A very different affair, George. My position in society protects me. I am a member of the Jockey-Club, a candidate for the State Senate—a Justice of the Peace—yes, a politician! You are—Well, I was going to say—nothing! We regard northerners as enemies; socially, they are nothing. Come, George, come with me. I am your best friend. You shall see the power in my hands." The two men saunter out together, pass up a narrow lane leading from King Street, and are soon groping their way up the dark stairway of an old, neglected-looking wooden building, that for several years has remained deserted by everything but rats and politicians,—one seeming to gnaw away at the bowels of the nation, the other at the bowels of the old building. Having ascended to the second floor, Mr. Snivel touches a spring, a suspicious little trap opens, and two bright eyes peer out, as a low, whispering voice inquires, "Who's there?" Mr. Snivel has exchanged the countersign, and with his companion is admitted into a dark vestibule, in which sits a brawny guardsman.
"Cribs are necessary, sir—I suppose you never looked into one before?"
George, in a voice discovering timidity, says he never has.
"You must have cribs, and crib-voters; they are necessary to get into high office—indeed, I may say, to keep up with the political spirit of the age." Mr. Snivel is interrupted by the deep, coarse voice of Milman Mingle, the vote-cribber, whose broad, savage face looks out at a small guard trap. "All right," he says, recognizing Mr. Snivel. Another minute, and a door opens into a long, sombre-looking room, redolent of the fumes of whiskey and tobacco. "The day is ours. We'll elect our candidate, and then my election is certain; naturalized thirteen rather green ones to-day—to-morrow they will be trump cards. Stubbs has attended to the little matter of the ballot-boxes." Mr. Snivel gives the vote-cribber's hand a warm shake, and turns to introduce his friend. The vote-cribber has seen him before. "There are thirteen in," he says, and two more he has in his eye, and will have in to-night, having sent trappers out for them.
Cold meats, bread, cheese, and crackers, and a bountiful supply of bad whiskey, are spread over a table in the centre of the room; while the pale light of two small lamps, suspended from the ceiling, throws a curious shadow over the repulsive features of thirteen forlorn, ragged, and half-drunken men, sitting here and there round the room, on wooden benches. You see ignorance and cruelty written in their very countenances. For nearly three weeks they have not scented the air of heaven, but have been held here in a despicable bondage. Ragged and filthy, like Falstaff's invincibles, they will be marched to the polls to-morrow, and cast their votes at the bid of the cribber. "A happy lot of fellows," says Mr. Snivel, exultingly. "I have a passion for this sort of business—am general supervisor of all these cribs, you understand. We have several of them. Some of these 'drifts' we kidnap, and some come and be locked up of their own accord—merely for the feed and drink. We use them, and then snuff them out until we want them again." Having turned from George, and complimented the vote-cribber for his skill, he bids him good-night. Together George and the politician wend their way to an obscure part of the city, and having passed up two flight of winding stairs, into a large, old-fashioned house on the Neck, are in a sort of barrack-room, fitted up with bunks and benches, and filled with a grotesque assembly, making night jubilant—eating, drinking, smoking, and singing. "A jolly set of fellows," says Mr. Snivel, with an expression of satisfaction. "This is a decoy crib—the vagabonds all belong to the party of our opponents, but don't know it. We work in this way: we catch them—they are mostly foreigners—lock them up, give them good food and drink, and make them—not the half can speak our language—believe we belong to the same party. They yield, as submissive as curs. To morrow, we—this is in confidence—drug them all, send them into a fast sleep, in which we keep them till the polls are closed, then, not wanting them longer, we kick them out for a set of drunkards. Dangerous sort of cribbing, this. I let you into the secret out of pure friendship." Mr. Snivel pauses. George has at heart something of deeper interest to him than votes and vote-cribbers. But why, he says to himself, does Mr. Snivel evince this anxiety to befriend me? This question is answered by Mr. Snivel inviting him to take a look into the Keno den.