The Monks of Monk Hall
|The moon was shining brightly over the face of the old mansion, while the opposite side of the alley lay in dim
and heavy shadow. The light brown hue of the closed shutters afforded a vivid contrast to the surface of the
front, which had the strikingly gloomy effect always produced by the intermixture of black and red brick,
disposed like the colors of a chessboard, in the structure of a mansion. The massive cornice above the hall-
door, the heavy eaves of the roof, the gabled peak rising in the centre, and the cumbrous frames of the many
windows,— all stood out boldly in the moonlight, from the dismal relief of the building's front.
The numerous chimneys with their fantastic shapes rose grimly in the moonlight, like a strange band of goblin
sentinels, perched off the roof to watch the mansion. The general effect was that of an ancient structure falling to
decay, deserted by all inhabitants save the rats that gnawed the wainscot along the thick old walls. The door-
plate that glittered on the faded door, half covered as it was with rust and verdigris, with its saintly name
afforded the only signs of the actual occupation of Monk-hall by human beings: in all other respects it looked so
desolate, so time-worn, so like a mausoleum for old furniture, and crumbling tapestry, for high-backed
mahogany chairs, gigantic bedsteads, and strange looking mirrors, veiled in the thick folds of the spider's web.
Dim and indistinct, like the booming of a distant cannon, the sound of the State-House bell, thrilled along the
intricate maze of streets and alleys. It struck the hour of two. The murmur of the last stroke of the bell, so dim
and indistinct, was mingled with the echo of approaching footsteps, and in a moment two figures turned the
corner of an alley that wound among the tangled labyrinth of avenues, and came hastening on toward the lonely
mansion; lonely even amid tenements and houses, gathered as thickly together as the cells in a bee-hive.
"I say, Gus, what a devil of a way you've led me!" cried one of the strangers, with a thick cloak wrapped round
his limbs—"up one alley and down another, around one street and through another, backwards and for wards,
round this way and round that—damme if I can tell which is north or south except by the moon!"
"Hist! my fellow—don't mention names—cardinal doctrine that on an affair of this kind—" answered the tall
figure, whose towering form was enveloped in a frogged overcoat—"Remember, you pass in as my friend.
Wait a moment—we'll see whether old Devil-Bug is awake."
Ascending the granite steps of the mansion, he gave three distinct raps with his gold-headed cane, on the
surface of the brass-plate. In a moment the rattling of a heavy chain, and the sound of a bolt, slowly withdrawn,
was heard within, and the door of the mansion, beyond the outside door of green blinds, receded about the
width of an inch.
"Who's there, a disturbin' honest folks this hour o' the night—" said a voice, that came grumbling through the
blinds of the green door, like the sound of a grindstone that hasn't been oiled for some years—"What the devil
you want? Go about your business—or I'll call the watch—"
"I say, Devil-Bug, what hour o' the night is it?" exclaimed Lorrimer in a whispered tone.
" 'Dinner time'—" replied the grindstone voice slightly oiled—"Come in sir. Did'nt know 'twas you. How the
devil should I? Come in—"
As the voice grunted this invitation, Lorrimer seized Byrnewood by the arm, and glided through the opened
Byrnewood looked around in wonder, as he discovered that the front door opened into a small closet or room
some ten feet square, the floor bare and uncarpeted, the ceiling darkened by smoke, while a large coal fire,
burning in a rusty grate, afforded both light and heat to the apartment.
The heat was close and stifling, while the light, but dim and flickering, disclosed the form of the door-keeper of
Monk-hall, as he stood directly in front of the grate, surrounded by the details of his den.
"This is my friend—" said Lorrimer in a meaning tone—"You understand, Devil-Bug?"
"Yes—" grunted the grindstone voice—" I understand. O' course. But my name is 'Bijah K. Jones, if you
please, my pertikler friend. I never know'd sich a individooal as Devil-Bug—"
It requires no great stretch of fancy to imagine that his Satanic majesty, once on a time, in a merry mood,
created a huge insect, in order to test his inventive powers. Certainly that insect—which it was quite natural to
designate by the name of Devil-Bug—stood in the full light of the grate, gazing steadfastly in Byrnewood's face.
It was a strange thickset specimen of flesh and blood, with a short body, marked by immensely broad shoulders,
long arms and thin destorted legs. The head of the creature was ludicrously large in proportion to the body.
Long masses of stiff black hair fell tangled and matted over a forehead, protuberent to deformity. A flat nose
with wide nostrils shooting out into each cheek like the smaller wings of an insect, an immense mouth whose
heavy lips disclosed two long rows of bristling teeth, a pointed chin, blackened by a heavy beard, and massive
eyebrows meeting over the nose, all furnished the details of a countenance, not exactly calculated to inspire the
most pleasant feelings in the world. One eye, small black and shapen like a bead, stared steadily in Byrnewood's
face, while the other socket was empty, shrivelled and orbless. The eyelids of the vacant socket were joined
together like the opposing edges of a curtain, while the other eye gained additional brilliancy and effect from the
loss of its fellow member.
The shoulders of the Devil-Bug, protruding in unsightly knobs, the wide chest, and the long arms with talon-like
fingers, so vividly contrasted with the thin and distorted legs, all attested that the remarkable strength of the man
was located in the upper part of his body.
"Well, Abijah, are you satisfied?" asked Lorrimer, as he perceived Byrnewood shrink back with disgust from
the door-keeper's gaze—"This gentleman, I say, is my friend?"
"So I s'pose," grunted Abijah—"Here, Musquito, mark this man—here, Glow-worm, mark him, I say. This is
Monk Gusty's friend. Can't you move quicker, you ugly devils?"
From either side of the fire-place, as he spoke, emerged a tall Herculean negro, with a form of strength and
sinews of iron. Moving slowly along the floor, from the darkness which had enshrouded their massive outlines,
they stood silent and motionless gazing with look of stolid indifference upon the face of the new-comer.
Byrnewood had started aside in disgust from the Devil-Bug, as he was styled in the slang of Monk-hall, but
certainly (these additional insects, nestling in the den of the other, were rather singular specimens of the glow-
worm and musquito. Their attire was plain and simple. Each negro was dressed in coarse corduroy trowsers,
and a flaring red flannel shirt. The face of Glow-worm was marked by a hideous flat nose, a receding forehead,
and a wide mouth with immense lips that buried all traces of a chin and disclosed two rows of teeth protruding
like the tusks of a wild boar. Musquito had the same flat nose, the same receding forehead, but his thick lips,
tightly compressed, were drawn down on either side towards his jaw, presenting an outline something like the
two sides of a triangle, while his sharp and pointed chin was in direct contrast to the long chinless jaw of the
other. Their eyes, large, rolling and vacant, stared from bulging eyelids, that protruded beyond the outline of the
brows. Altogether, each negro presented as hideous a picture of mere brute strength, linked with a form scarcely
human, as the imagination of man might well conceive.
"This is Monk Gusty's friend—" muttered Abijah, or Devil -Bug, as the reader likes—"Mark him, Musquito—
Mark him, Glow-worm, I say. Mind ye now—this man don't leave the house except with Gusty? D'ye hear, ye
Each negro growled assent.
"Queer specimens of a Musquito and a Glow-worm, I say—" laughed Byrnewood in the effort to smother his
"This way, my fellow—" answered the magnificent Gus, gently leading his friend through a small door, which led
from the doorkeeper's closet—"This way. Now for the club—and then for the wager!"
Looking around in wonder, Byrnewood discovered that they had passed into the hall of an old-time mansion,
with the beams of the moon, falling from a skylight in the roof far above, down over the windings of a massive
"This is rather a strange place—eh? Gus?" whispered Byrnewood, as he gazed around the hall, and marked the
ancient look of the place—"why the d——l don't they have a light—those insects—ha-ha—whom we have
"Secrecy—my fellow—secrecy! Those are the 'police' of Monk-Hall, certain to be at hand in case of a row.
You see, the entire arrangements of this place may be explained in one word—it is easy enough for a stranger—
that's you, my boy—to find his way in, but it would puzzle him like the devil to find his way out. That is, without
assistance. Take my arm Byrnewood—we must descend to the club room—"
"Yes my fellow. Descend, for we hold our meetings one story under ground. It's likely all the fellows—or
Monks, to speak in the slang of the club—are now most royally drunk, so I can slide you in among them,
without much notice. You can remain there while I go and prepare the bride—ha—ha—ha! the bride for your
Meanwhile, grasping Byrnewood by the arm, he had led the way along the hall, beyond the staircase, into the
thick darkness, which rested upon this part of the place, unillumined by a ray of light.
"Hold my arm, as tight as you can—" he whispered—"There is a staircase somewhere here. Softly—softly—
now I have it. Tread with care, Byrnewood—In a moment we will be in the midst of the Monks of Monk-Hall—
And as they descended the subterranean stairway, surrounded by the darkness of midnight, Byrnewood found
it difficult to subdue a feeling of awe which began to spread like a shadow over his soul. This feeling it was not
easy to analyze. It may have been a combination of feelings; the consideration of the darkness and loneliness of
the place, his almost entire ignorance of the handsome libertine who was now leading him—he knew not where;
or perhaps the earnest words of the Astrologer, fraught with doom and death, came home to his soul like a vivid
presentiment, in that moment of uncertainty and gloom.
"Don't you hear their shouts, my boy—" whispered Lorrimer—"Faith, they must be drunk as judges, every man
of them! Why Byrnewood, you re as still as death—"
"To tell you the truth, Lorrimer, this place looks like the den of some old wizard—it's so d——d
"Here we are at the door: Now mark me, Byrnewood—you must walk in the club-room, or Monk's room as
they call it, directly at my back. While I salute the Monks of Monk-hall, you will slide into a vacant seat at the
table, and mingle in the revelry of the place until I return—"
Stooping through a narrow door, whose receding panels flung a blaze of light along the darkness of the passage,
Lorrimer, with Byrnewood at his back, descended three wooden steps, that led from the door-sill to the floor,
and in a moment, stood amid the revellers of Monk-hall.
In a long, narrow room, lighted by the blaze of a large chandelier, with a low ceiling and a wide floor, covered
with a double-range of carpets, around a table spread with the relics of their feast, were grouped the Monks of
They hailed Lorrimer with a shout, and as they rose to greet him, Byrnewood glided into a vacant arm-chair
near the head of the table, and in a moment his companion had disappeared.
"I'll be with you in a moment, Monks of Monk-hall—" he shouted as he glided through the narrow door—"A
little affair to settle up stairs—you know me—nice little girl—ha-ha-ha—"
"Ha-ha-ha—" echoed the band of revellers, raising their glasses merrily on high.
Byrnewood glanced hurriedly around. The room, long and spacious as it was, the floor covered with the most
gorgeous carpeting, and the low ceiling, embellished with a faded painting in fresco, still wore an antiquated, not
to say, dark and gloomy appearance. The walls were concealed by huge panels of wainscot, intricate with
uncouth sculpturings of fawns and satyrs, and other hideous creations of classic mythology. At
one end of the room, reaching from floor to ceiling, glared an immense mirror, framed in massive walnut, its
glittering surface, reflecting the long festal board, with its encircling band of revellers. Inserted in the
corresponding panels of the wainscot, on either side of the small door, at the opposite end of the room, two
large pictures, evidently the work of a master hand, indicated the mingled worship of the devotees of Monk-hall.
In the picture on the right of the door, Bacchus, the jolly god of mirth and wine, was represented rising from a
festal -board, his brow wreathed in clustering grapes, while his hand swung aloft, a goblet filled with the purple
blood of the grape. In the other painting, along a couch as dark as night, with A softened radiance falling over
her uncovered form, lay a sleeping Venus, her full arms, twining above her head, while her lips were dropped
apart, as though she murmured in her slumber. Straight and erect, behind the chair of the President or Abbot of
the board, arose the effigy of a monk, whose long black robes fell drooping to the floor, while his cowl hung
heavily over his brow, and his right hand raised on high a goblet of gold. From beneath the shadow of the falling
cowl, glared a fleshless skeleton head, with the orbless eye-sockets, the cavity of the nose, and the long rows of
grinning teeth, turned to a faint and ghastly crimson by the lampbeams. The hand that held the goblet on high,
was a grisly skeleton hand; the long and thin fingers of bone, twining firmly around the glittering bowl.
And over this scene, over the paintings and the mirror, over the gloomy wainscot along the walls, and over the
faces of the revellers with the Skeleton-Monk, grinning derision at their scene of bestial enjoyment, shone the
red beams of the massive chandelier, the body and limbs of which were fashioned into the form of a grim Satyr,
with a light flaring from his skull, a flame emerging from each eye, while his extended hands flung streams of fire
on either side, and his knees were huddled up against his breast. The design was like a nightmare dream, so
grotesque and terrible, and it completed the strange and ghostly appearance of the room.
Around the long and narrow board, strown with the relics of the feast, which had evidently been some hours in
progress, sate the Monks of Monk-hall, some thirty in number, flinging their glasses on high, while the room
echoed with their oaths and drunken shouts. Some lay with their heads thrown helplessly on the table, others
were gazing round in sleepy drunkenness, others had fallen to the floor in a state of unconscious intoxication,
while a few there were who still kept up the spirit of the feast, although their incoherent words and heavy eyes
proclaimed that they too were fast advancing to that state of brutal inebriety, when strange-looking stars shine in
the place of the lamps, when the bottles dance and even tables perform the cracovienne, while all sorts of
beehives create a buzzing murmur in the air.
And the Monks of Monk-hall—who are they?
Grim-faced personages in long black robes and drooping cowls? Stern old men with beads around their necks
and crucifix in hand? Blood-thirsty characters, perhaps, or black-browed ruffians, or wan-faced outcasts of
Ah no, ah no! From the eloquent, the learned, and—don't you laugh—from the pious of the Quaker City, the
old Skeleton-Monk had selected the members of his band. Here were lawyers from the court, doctors from the
school, and judges* from the bench. Here too, ruddy and round faced, sate a demure parson, whose white
hands and soft words, had made him the idol of his wealthy congregation. Here was a puffy-faced Editor side by
side with a Magazine Proprietor; here were sleek-visaged tradesmen, with round faces and gouty hands, whose
voices, now shouting the drinking song had re-echoed the prayer and the psalm in the aristocratic church, not
longer than a Sunday ago; here were solemn-faced merchants, whose names were wont to figure largely in the
records of 'Bible Societies,' 'Tract Societies' and 'Send-Flannel-to-the-South-Sea-Islanders Societies'; here
were reputable married men, with grown up children at college, and trustful wives sleeping quietly in their
dreamless beds at home; here were hopeful sons, clerks in wholesale stores, who raised the wine-glass on high
with hands which, not three hours since, had been busy with the cash-book of the employer; here in fine were
men of all classes,— poets, authors, lawyers, judges, doctors, merchants, gamblers, and—this is no libel I
hope—one parson, a fine red-faced parson, whose glowing face would have warmed a poor man on a cold
day. Moderately drunk, or deeply drunk, or vilely drunk, all the members of the board who still maintained their
arm-chairs, kept up a running fire of oaths, disjointed remarks, mingled with small talk very much broken, and
snatches of bacchanalian songs, slightly improved by a peculiar chorus of hiccups.
While Byrnewood, with a sleeping man on either side of him, gazed around in sober wonder, this was the
fashion of the conversation among the Monks of Monk-hall.
"Judge—I say, judge—that last Charge o' yours was capital—" hiccupped a round-faced lawyer, leaning over
the table—"Touched on the vices of the day—ha—ha! 'Dens of iniquity and holes of wickedness' —its very
words!— 'exist in city, which want the strong arm of the law to uproot and ex-ex—d——n the hard words—
exterminate them!' "
"Good—my—very—words—" replied the Judge, who sat gazing around with a smile of imbecile fatuity—"Yet,
Bellamy, not quite so good as your words, when your wife—how this d——d room swims—found out your
liason with the Actress! Ha—ha, gents—too d——d good that—"
"Ha—ha—ha—" laughed some dozen of the company—"let's hear it—let's hear it—"
"Why—you—see—" replied the Judge—"Bellamy is so d——d fat, (just keep them bottles from dancing
about the table!) so very fat, that the i-i-idea of his writing a love-letter is rath-rather improbable. Nevertheless—
he did—to a pretty actress, Madame De Flum—and left it on his office table. His wife found it—oh Lord—
what a scene! ranted—raved—tore her hair. 'My dear—' said our fat friend, 'do be calm—this is the copy of a
letter in a breach of promise case, on which I am about to bring suit for a—lady—client. The mistake of the
names is the fault of my clerk. Do—oh—do be calm.' His wife swallowed the story—clever story for a fat
"Friends and Brethren, what shall ye do to be saved?" shouted the beefy-faced parson, in the long-drawn nasal
tones peculiar to his pulpit or lecture-room—"When we con-consider the wickedness of the age, when we
reflect tha-that there are thousands da-i-ly and hou-r-ly going down to per-per-dition, should we not cry from
the depths of our souls, like Jonah from the depths of the sea—I say, give us the brandy, Mutchins!"
"Gentlemen, allow me to read you a poem—" muttered a personage, whose cheeks blushed from habitual
kisses of the bottle, as he staggered from his chair, and endeavoured to stand erect—"It's a—poem—on (what
an unsteady floor this is—hold it, Petriken, I say)—on the Ten Commandments. I've dedicated it to our Rev-
Reverend friend yonder. There's a touch in it, gentlemen—if I may use the expression—above ordinary butter-
milk. A sweetness, a path-pathos, a mildness, a-a-vein, gentlemen, of the strictest mo-ral-i-ty. I will read sonnet
one—'Thou shalt not take the co-eternal name'—eh? Dammit! This is a bill!—I've left the sonnet at home—"
"Curse it—how I'll cut this fellow up in my next Black-Mail!" murmured the puffy- faced editor, in a tone which
he deemed inaudible to the poet—"Unless he comes down handsome—I'll give him a stinger, a real scorcher—"
"Will you, though?" shouted the poet, turning round with a drunken stare, and aiming a blow at the half-stupid
face of the editor—"Take that you fungus—you abortion—you d——d gleaner of a common sewer—you—"
"Gentlemen, I con-consider myself grossly insulted—" muttered the editor, as the poet's blow took effect on his
wig and sent it spinning to the other end of the table—"Is the Daily Black Mail come to this?"
Here he made a lunge at the author of the 'Ten Commandments, a Series of Sonnets,' and, joined in a fond
embrace, they fell insensible to the floor.
"Take that wig out of my plate—" shouted a deep voice from the head of the table—"Wigs, as a general thing,
are not very nice with oysters, but that fellow's wig—ugh! Faugh!"
Attracted by the sound of the voice, Byrnewood glanced towards the head of the table. There, straight and
erect, sate the Abbot of the night, a gentleman elected by the fraternity to preside over their feasts. He was a
man of some thirty odd years, dressed in a suit of glossy black, with a form remarkable for its combination of
strength with symmetry. His face, long and dusky, lighted by the gleam of a dark eye, indicating the man whose
whole life had been one series of plot, scheme, and intrigue, was relieved by heavy masses of long black hair—
resembling, in its texture, the mane of a horse—which fell in curling locks to his shoulders. It needed not a
second glance to inform Byrnewood that he beheld the hero of Chesnut street, the distinguished millionaire, Col.
Fitz-Cowles. The elegant cut of his dark vest, which gathered over his prominent chest and around his slender
waist, with the nicety of a glove, the plain black scarf, fastened by a breast-pin of solid gold, the glossy black of
his dress-coat, shapen of the best French cloth, all disclosed the idol of the tailors, the dream of the fashionable
belles, the envy of the dry goods clerks, Algernon Fitz-Cowles. He seemed, by far, the most sober man in the
company. Every now and then Byrnewood beheld him glance anxiously toward the door as though he wished to
escape from the room. And after every glance, as he beheld one Monk after another kissing the carpet, bottle in
hand, the interesting Colonel would join heartily in the drunken bout, raising his voice with the loudest, and
emptying his glass with the most drunken. Yet, to the eye of Byrnewood, this looked more like a mere
counterfeit of a drunkard's manner than the thing itself. It was evident that the handsome millionaire emptied his
glass under the table.
The revel now grew wild and furious. As bottle after bottle was consumed, so the actors in the scene began to
appear, more and more, in their true characters. At last all dis guise seemed thrown aside, and each voice,
joining in the chorus of disjointed remarks, indicated that its owner imagined himself amid the scenes of his daily
"Gentlemen—allow—me—to read you a tale—a tale from the German on Transcendental Essences—" cried
Petriken, rising, for he too was there, forgetful, like Mutchins, of his promise to Lorrimer—"This, gents, is a tale
for my next Western Hem.:" here his oyster-like eyes rolled ghastily—"The Ladies Western Hem., forty-eight
pages—monthly—offers following inducements—two dollars—" at this point of his handbill the gentleman
staggered wofully—" Office No. 209 Drayman's Alley—hurrah Mutchins what's your idea of soft crabs?"
Here the literary gentleman fell heavily to the floor, mingled in the same heap that contained the poet and the
wigless editor. In a moment he rose heavily to his feet, and staggered slowly to Mutchin's side.
"Gentlemen of the jury, I charge you—" began the Judge.
"Your honor, I beg leave to open this case—" interrupted the lawyer.
"My friends and brethren," cried the parson—"what shall ye do to be saved—oh—"
"Hand us the brandy—" shouted Mutchins.
"Mutchy—Mutchy—I say—" hiccupped Petriken—"Rem-Rem-em-ber the gown and the prayer-book—"
"Silly—we must take a wash-off—" cried Mutchins, starting suddenly from his seat—"The thing—had slipped
my memory—this way, my parson ha, ha, ha "
And taking Silly by the arm, he staggered from the room in company with the tow-haired gentleman.
"Lord look down upon these thy children, and—" continued the parson, who, like the others, appeared
unconscious of the retreat of Petriken and his comrade.
"Hand the oysters this way—" remarked a mercantile gentleman, with a nose decorated by yellowish streaks
from a mustard bottle.
"Boys I tell you the fire's up this alley—" cried another merchant—rather an amateur in fires when sober—
"Here's the plug—now then—"
"Gentlemen of the Grand Jury, I beg leave to tell you that the amount of sin committed in this place, in your very
eyesight, cannot be tolerated by the court any longer. Dens of iniquity must be uprooted—who the h——ll flung
that celery stalk in my eye?"
"Who soaked my cigar in champagne?"
"Somebody's lit another chandelier—"
"Hand us the brandy—"
"Did you say I didn't put down my name for 'one hundred,' to the Tract Society?"
"No I didn't, but I do now—"
"Say it again, and I'll tie you up in a meal bag—"
"My friends—" said the reverend gentleman, staggering to his feet—"What is this I see—confusion and
drunkenness? Is this a scene for the house of God?" He glanced around with a look of sober reproof, and then
suddenly exclaimed—"No heeltaps but show your bottoms—ha-ha-ha!"
There was another person who regarded this scene of bestial mirth with the same cool glance as Byrnewood.
He was a young man with a massive face, and a deep piercing brown eye. His figure was somewhat stout, his
attire careless, and his entire appearance disclosed the young Philadelphia lawyer. Changing his seat to
Byrnewood's vicinity, he entered into conversation with the young merchant, and after making some pointed
remarks in regard to the various members of the company, he stated that he had been lured thither by Mutchins,
who had fancied he might cheat him out of a snug sum at the roulette table, or the faro-bank in the course of the
"Roulette-table—faro-bank?" muttered Byrnewood, incredulously.
"Why, my friend—" cried the young lawyer, who gave his name as Boyd Merivale—"Don't you know that this
is one of the vilest rookeries in the world? It unites in all its details the house-of-ill-fame, the club-house, and the
gambling hell. Egad! I well remember the first time I set my foot within its doors! What I beheld then, I can never
"You have been here before, then?"
"Yes have I! As I perceive you are unacquainted with the place, I will tell you my experience of
A NIGHT IN MONK-HALL
continue reading Chapter Seventh