An Outcast/Chapter XXXIX
A very common story is this of Madame Flamingo's troubles. It has counterparts enough, and though they may be traced to a class of society less notorious than that with which she moved, are generally kept in the dark chamber of hidden thoughts. We are indeed fast gaining an unenviable fame for snobbery, for affecting to be what we never can be, and for our sad imitation of foreign flunkydom, which, finding us rivals in the realm of its tinsil, begins to button up its coat and look contemptuously at us over the left shoulder. If, albeit, the result of that passion for titles and plush (things which the empty-headed of the old world would seem to have consigned to the empty-headed of the new), which has of late so singularly discovered itself among our "best-known families," could be told, it would unfold many a tale of misery and betrayal. Pardon this digression, generous reader, and proceed with us to the story of Madame Flamingo.
"And now," says the forlorn woman, in a faint, hollow voice, "when my ambition seemed served—I was ambitious, perhaps vain—I found myself the victim of an intrigue. I ask forgiveness of Him who only can forgive the wicked; but how can I expect to gain it?" She presses Tom's hand, and pauses for a second. "Yes, I was ambitious," she continues, "and there was something I wanted. I had money enough to live in comfort, but the thought that it was got of vice and the ruin of others, weighed me down. I wanted the respect of the world. To die a forgotten wretch; to have the grave close over me, and if remembered at all, only with execration, caused me many a dark thought." Here she struggles to suppress her emotions. "I sought to change my condition; that, you see, has brought me here. I married one to whom I intrusted my all, in whose rank, as represented to me by Mr. Snivel, and confirmed by his friend, the Judge, I confided. I hoped to move with him to a foreign country, where the past would all be wiped out, and where the associations of respectable society would be the reward of future virtue.
"In London, where I now reap the fruits of my vanity, we enjoyed good society for a time, were sought after, and heaped with attentions. But I met those who had known me; it got out who I was; I was represented much worse than I was, and even those who had flattered me in one sphere, did not know me. In Paris it was the same. And there my husband said it would not do to be known by his titles, for, being an exile, it might be the means of his being recognized and kidnapped, and carried back a prisoner to his own dear Poland. In this I acquiesced, as I did in everything else that lightened his cares. Gradually he grew cold and morose towards me, left me for days at a time, and returned only to abuse and treat me cruelly. He had possession of all my money, which I soon found he was gambling away, without gaining an entrée for me into society.
"From Paris we travelled, as if without any settled purpose, into Italy, and from thence to Vienna, where I discovered that instead of being a prince, my husband was an impostor, and I his dupe. He had formerly been a crafty shoemaker; was known to the police as a notorious character, who, instead of having been engaged in the political struggles of his countrymen, had fled the country to escape the penalty of being the confederate of a desperate gang of coiners and counterfeiters. We had only been two days in Vienna when I found he had disappeared, and left me destitute of money or friends. My connection with him only rendered my condition more deplorable, for the police would not credit my story; and while he eluded its vigilance, I was suspected of being a spy in the confidence of a felon, and ruthlessly ordered to leave the country."
"Did not your passport protect you?" interrupts Tom, with evident feeling.
"No one paid it the least regard," resumes Madame Flamingo, becoming weaker and weaker. "No one at our legations evinced sympathy for me. Indeed, they all refused to believe my story. I wandered back from city to city, selling my wardrobe and the few jewels I had left, and confidently expecting to find in each place I entered, some one I had known, who would listen to my story, and supply me with means to reach my home. I could soon have repaid it, but my friends had gone with my money; no one dare venture to trust me—no one had confidence in me—every one to whom I appealed had an excuse that betrayed their suspicion of me. Almost destitute, I found myself back in London—how I got here, I scarce know—where I could make myself understood. My hopes now brightened, I felt that some generous-hearted captain would give me a passage to New York, and once home, my troubles would end. But being worn down with fatigue, and my strength prostrated, a fever set in, and I was forced to seek refuge in a miserable garret in Drury-Lane, and where I parted with all but what now remains on my back, to procure nourishment. I had begun to recover somewhat, but the malady left me broken down, and when all was gone, I was turned into the street. Yes, yes, yes, (she whispers,) they gave me to the streets; for twenty-four hours I have wandered without nourishment, or a place to lay my head. I sought shelter in a dark court, and there laid down to die; and when my eyes were dim, and all before me seemed mysterious and dark with curious visions, a hand touched me, and I felt myself borne away." Here her voice chokes, she sinks back upon the pillow, and closes her eyes as her hands fall careless at her side. "She breathes! she breathes yet!" says Tom, advancing his ear to the pale, quivering lips of the wretched woman. Now he bathes her temples with the vinegar from a bottle in the hand of the host, who is just entered, and stands looking on, his countenance full of alarm.
"If she deys in my 'ouse, good sir, w'oat then?"
"You mean the expense?"
"Just so—it 'll be nae trifle, ye kno'!" The host shakes his head, doubtingly. Tom begs he will not be troubled about that, and gives another assurance from his purse that quite relieves the host's apprehensions. A low, heavy breathing, followed by a return of spasms, bespeaks the sinking condition of the sufferer. The policeman returns, preceded by a physician—the only one to be got at, he says—in very dilapidated broadcloth, and whose breath is rather strong of gin. "An' whereabutes did ye pick the woman up,—an, an, wha's teu stond the bill?" he inquires, in a deep Scotch brogue, then ordering the little window opened, feels clumsily the almost pulseless hand. Encouraged on the matter of his bill, he turns first to the host, then to Tom, and says, "the wuman's nae much, for she's amast dede wi' exhaustion." And while he is ordering a nostrum he knows can do no good, the woman makes a violent struggle, opens her eyes, and seems casting a last glance round the dark room. Now she sets them fixedly upon the ceiling, her lips pale, and her countenance becomes spectre-like—a low, gurgling sound is heard, the messenger of retribution is come—Madame Flamingo is dead!