An Outcast/Chapter XXXVI
Maria has passed a night of unhappiness. Hopes and fears are knelling in the morning, which brings nothing to relieve her anxiety for the absent one; and Mr. Snivel has taken the precaution to have the news of the lost ship find its way into the papers.
And while our city seems in a state of very general excitement; while great placards on every street corner inform the wondering stranger that a mighty Convention (presided over by the Hon. S. Snivel) for dissolving the Union, is shortly to be holden; while our political world has got the Union on its shoulders, and threatens to throw it into the nearest ditch; while our streets swarm with long, lean, and very hairy-faced delegates (all lusty of war and secession), who have dragged themselves into the city to drink no end of whiskey, and say all sorts of foolish things their savage and half-civilized constituents are expected to applaud; while our more material and conservative citizens are thinking what asses we make of ourselves; while the ship-of-war we built to fight the rest of the Union, lies an ugly lump in the harbor, and "won't go over the bar;" while the "shoe-factory" we established to supply niggerdom with soles, is snuffed out for want of energy and capacity to manage it; while some of our non-slaveholding, but most active secession merchants, are moving seriously in the great project of establishing a "Southern Candle-factory"—a thing much needed in the "up-country;" while our graver statesmen (who don't get the State out of the Union fast enough for the ignorant rabble, who have nothing but their folly at stake) are pondering over the policy of spending five hundred thousand dollars for the building of another war-ship—one that "will go over the bar;" and while curiously-written letters from Generals Commander and Quattlebum, offering to bring their allied forces into the field—to blow this confederation down at a breath whenever called upon, are being published, to the great joy of all secessiondom; while saltpetre, broadswords, and the muskets made for us by Yankees to fight Yankees, and which were found to have wood instead of flint in their hammers, (and which trick of the Yankees we said was just like the Yankees,) are in great demand—and a few of our mob-politicians, who are all "Kern'ls" of regiments that never muster, prove conclusively our necessity for keeping a fighting-man in Congress; while, we assert, many of our first and best known families have sunk the assemblies of the St. Cecilia in the more important question of what order of government will best suit—in the event of our getting happily out of the Union!—our refined and very exacting state of society;—whether an Empire or a Monarchy, and whether we ought to set up a Quattlebum or Commander dynasty?—whether the Bungle family or the Jungle family (both fighting families) will have a place nearest the throne; what sort of orders will be bestowed, who will get them, and what colored liveries will best become us (all of which grave questions threaten us with a very extensive war of families)?—while all these great matters find us in a sea of trouble, there enters the curiosity-shop of the old Antiquary a suspicious-looking individual in green spectacles.
"Mr. Hardscrabble!" says the man, bowing and taking a seat, leisurely, upon the decrepit sofa. Mr. McArthur returns his salutation, contemplates him doubtingly for a minute, then resumes his fussing and brushing.
The small, lean figure; the somewhat seedy broadcloth in which it is enveloped; the well-browned and very sharp features; the straight, dark-gray hair, and the absent manner of Mr. Hardscrabble, might, with the uninitiated, cause him to be mistaken for an "up-country" clergyman of the Methodist denomination.
"Mr. Hardscrabble? Mr. Hardscrabble? Mr. Hardscrabble?" muses the Antiquary, canting his head wisely, "the Sheriff, as I'm a man of years!"
Mr. Hardscrabble comforts his eyes with his spectacles, and having glanced vacantly over the little shop, as if to take an inventory of its contents, draws from his breast-pocket a paper containing very ominous seals and scrawls.
"I'm reluctant about doing these things with an old man like you," Mr. Hardscrabble condescends to say, in a sharp, grating voice; "but I have to obey the demands of my office." Here he commences reading the paper to the trembling old man, who, having adjusted his broad-bowed spectacles, and arrayed them against the spectacles of Mr. Hardscrabble, says he thinks it contains a great many useless recapitulations.
Mr. Hardscrabble, his eyes peering eagerly through his glasses, and his lower jaw falling and exposing the inner domain of his mouth, replies with an—"Umph." The old Antiquary was never before called upon to examine a document so confusing to his mind. Not content with a surrender of his property, it demands his body into the bargain—all at the suit of one Keepum. He makes several motions to go show it to his daughter; but that, Mr. Hardscrabble thinks, is scarce worth while. "I sympathize with you—knowing how frugal you have been through life. A list of your effects—if you have one—will save a deal of trouble. I fear (Mr. Hardscrabble works his quid) my costs will hardly come out of them."
"There's a fortune in them—if the love of things of yore—" The old man hesitates, and shakes his head dolefully.
"Yore!—a thing that would starve out our profession."
"A little time to turn, you know. There's my stock of uniforms."
"Well—I—know," Mr. Hardscrabble rejoins, with a drawl; "but I must lock up the traps. Yes, I must lock you up, and sell you out—unless you redeem before sale day; that you can't do, I suppose?"
And while the old man totters into the little back parlor, and, giving way to his emotions, throws himself upon the bosom of his fond daughter, to whom he discloses his troubles, Mr. Hardscrabble puts locks and bolts upon his curiosity-shop. This important business done, he leads the old man away, and gives him a lodging in the old jail.