An Outcast/Chapter XXXIV
We come now to another stage of this history. Six months have glided into the past since the events recorded in the foregoing chapter. The political world of Charleston is resolved to remain in the Union a few months longer. It is a pleasant evening in early May. The western sky is golden with the setting sun, and the heavens are filled with battlements of refulgent clouds, now softening away into night. Yonder to the East, reposes a dark grove. A gentle breeze fans through its foliage, the leaves laugh and whisper, the perfumes of flowers are diffusing through the air birds make melodious with their songs, the trilling stream mingles its murmurs, and nature would seem gathering her beauties into one enchanting harmony. In the foreground of the grove, and looking as if it borrowed solitude of the deep foliage, in which it is half buried, rises a pretty villa, wherein may be seen, surrounded by luxuries the common herd might well envy, the fair, the beautiful siren, Anna Bonard. In the dingy little back parlor of the old antiquary, grim poverty looking in through every crevasse, sits the artless and pure-minded Maria McArthur. How different are the thoughts, the hopes, the emotions of these two women. Comfort would seem smiling on the one, while destitution threatens the other. To the eye that looks only upon the surface, how deceptive is the picture. The one with every wish gratified, an expression of sorrow shadowing her countenance, and that freshness and sweetness for which she was distinguished passing away, contemplates herself a submissive captive, at the mercy of one for whom she has no love, whose gold she cannot inherit, and whose roof she must some day leave for the street. The other feels poverty grasping at her, but is proud in the possession of her virtue; and though trouble would seem tracing its lines upon her features, her heart remains untouched by remorse;—she is strong in the consciousness that when all else is gone, her virtue will remain her beacon light to happiness. Anna, in the loss of that virtue, sees herself shut out from that very world that points her to the yawning chasm of her future; she feels how like a slave in the hands of one whose heart is as cold as his smiles are false, she is. Maria owes the world no hate, nor are her thoughts disturbed by such contemplations. Anna, with embittered and remorseful feelings—with dark and terrible passions agitating her bosom, looks back over her eventful life, to a period when even her own history is shut to her, only to find the tortures of her soul heightened. Maria looks back upon a life of fond attachment to her father, to her humble efforts to serve others, and to know that she has borne with Christian fortitude those ills which are incident to humble life. With her, an emotion of joy repays the contemplation. To Anna, the future is hung in dark forebodings. She recalls to mind the interview with Madame Montford, but that only tends to deepen the storm of anguish the contemplation of her parentage naturally gives rise to. With Maria, the present hangs dark and the future brightens. She thinks of the absent one she loves—of how she can best serve her aged father, and how she can make their little home cheerful until the return of Tom Swiggs, who is gone abroad. It must be here disclosed that the old man had joined their hands, and invoked a blessing on their heads, ere Tom took his departure. Maria looks forward to the day of his return with joyous emotions. That return is the day dream of her heart; in it she sees her future brightening. Such are the cherished thoughts of a pure mind. Poverty may gnaw away at the hearthstone, cares and sorrow may fall thick in your path, the rich may frown upon you, and the vicious sport with your misfortunes, but virtue gives you power to overcome them all. In Maria's ear something whispers: Woman! hold fast to thy virtue, for if once it go neither gold nor false tongues can buy it back.
Anna sees the companion of her early life, and the sharer of her sufferings, shut up in a prison, a robber, doomed to the lash. "He was sincere to me, and my only true friend—am I the cause of this?" she muses. Her heart answers, and her bosom fills with dark and stormy emotions. One small boon is now all she asks. She could bow down and worship before the throne of virgin innocence, for now its worth towers, majestic, before her. It discovers to her the falsity of her day-dream; it tells her what an empty vessel is this life of ours without it. She knows George Mullholland loves her passionately; she knows how deep will be his grief, how revengeful his feelings. It is poverty that fastens the poison in the heart of the rejected lover. The thought of this flashes through her mind. His hopeless condition, crushed out as it were to gratify him in whose company her pleasures are but transitory, and may any day end, darkens as she contemplates it. How can she acquit her conscience of having deliberately and faithlessly renounced one who was so true to her? She repines, her womanly nature revolts at the thought—the destiny her superstition pictured so dark and terrible, stares her in the face. She resolves a plan for his release, and, relieved with a hope that she can accomplish it while propitiating the friendship of the Judge, the next day seeks him in his prison cell, and with all that vehemence woman, in the outpouring of her generous impulses, can call to her aid, implores his forgiveness. But the rust of disappointment has dried up his better nature; his heart is wrung with the shafts of ingratitude—all the fierce passions of his nature, hate, scorn and revenge, rise up in the one stormy outburst of his soul. He casts upon her a look of withering scorn, the past of that life so chequered flashes vividly through his thoughts, his hate deepens, he hurls her from him, invokes a curse upon her head, and shuts her from his sight. "Mine will be the retribution!" he says, knitting his dark brow.
How is it with the Judge—that high functionary who provides thus sumptuously for his mistress? His morals, like his judgments, are excused, in the cheap quality of our social morality.
Such is gilded vice; such is humble virtue.
A few days more and the term of the Sessions commences. George is arraigned, and the honorable Mr. Snivel, who laid the plot, and furthered the crime, now appears as a principal witness. He procures the man's conviction, and listens with guilty heart to the sentence, for he is rearraigned on sentence day, and Mr. Snivel is present. And while the culprit is sentenced to two years imprisonment, and to receive eighty lashes, laid on his bare back, while at the public whipping-post, at four stated times, the man who stimulated the hand of the criminal, is honored and flattered by society. Such is the majesty of the law.