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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDr. Sevier - Chapter 7. Disappearance
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Dr. Sevier - Chapter 7. Disappearance Post by :Benjamin_Scott Category :Long Stories Author :George Washington Cable Date :May 2012 Read :2535

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Dr. Sevier - Chapter 7. Disappearance

CHAPTER VII. DISAPPEARANCE

It was the year of a presidential campaign. The party that afterward rose to overwhelming power was, for the first time, able to put its candidate fairly abreast of his competitors. The South was all afire. Rising up or sitting down, coming or going, week-day or Sabbath-day, eating or drinking, marrying or burying, the talk was all of slavery, abolition, and a disrupted country.

Dr. Sevier became totally absorbed in the issue. He was too unconventional a thinker ever to find himself in harmony with all the declarations of any party, and yet it was a necessity of his nature to be in the _melee_. He had his own array of facts, his own peculiar deductions; his own special charges of iniquity against this party and of criminal forbearance against that; his own startling political economy; his own theory of rights; his own interpretations of the Constitution; his own threats and warnings; his own exhortations, and his own prophecies, of which one cannot say all have come true. But he poured them forth from the mighty heart of one who loved his country, and sat down with a sense of duty fulfilled and wiped his pale forehead while the band played a polka.

It hardly need be added that he proposed to dispense with politicians, or that, when "the boys" presently counted him into their party team for campaign haranguing, he let them clap the harness upon him and splashed along in the mud with an intention as pure as snow.

"Hurrah for"--

Whom it is no matter now. It was not Fremont. Buchanan won the race. Out went the lights, down came the platforms, rockets ceased to burst; it was of no use longer to "Wait for the wagon"; "Old Dan Tucker" got "out of the way," small boys were no longer fellow-citizens, dissolution was postponed, and men began to have an eye single to the getting of money.

A mercantile friend of Dr. Sevier had a vacant clerkship which it was necessary to fill. A bright recollection flashed across the Doctor's memory.

"Narcisse!"

"Yesseh!"

"Go to Number 40 Custom-house street and inquire for Mr. Fledgeling; or, if he isn't in, for Mrs. Fledge--humph! Richling, I mean; I"--

Narcisse laughed aloud.

"Ha-ha-ha! daz de way, sometime'! My hant she got a honcl'--he says, once 'pon a time"--

"Never mind! Go at once!"

"All a-ight, seh!"

"Give him this card"--

"Yesseh!"

"These people"--

"Yesseh!"

"Well, wait till you get your errand, can't you? These"--

"Yesseh!"

"These people want to see him."

"All a-ight, seh!"

Narcisse threw open and jerked off a worsted jacket, took his coat down from a peg, transferred a snowy handkerchief from the breast-pocket of the jacket to that of the coat, felt in his pantaloons to be sure that he had his match-case and cigarettes, changed his shoes, got his hat from a high nail by a little leap, and put it on a head as handsome as Apollo's.

"Doctah Seveeah," he said, "in fact, I fine that a ve'y gen'lemany young man, that Mistoo Itchlin, weely, Doctah."

The Doctor murmured to himself from the letter he was writing.

"Well, _au 'evoi'_, Doctah; I'm goin'."

Out in the corridor he turned and jerked his chin up and curled his lip, brought a match and cigarette together in the lee of his hollowed hand, took one first, fond draw, and went down the stairs as if they were on fire.

At Canal street he fell in with two noble fellows of his own circle, and the three went around by way of Exchange alley to get a glass of soda at McCloskey's old down-town stand. His two friends were out of employment at the moment,--making him, consequently, the interesting figure in the trio as he inveighed against his master.

"Ah, phooh!" he said, indicating the end of his speech by dropping the stump of his cigarette into the sand on the floor and softly spitting upon it,--"_le Shylock _de la rue Carondelet!"--and then in English, not to lose the admiration of the Irish waiter:--

"He don't want to haugment me! I din hass 'im, because the 'lection. But you juz wait till dat firce of Jannawerry!"

The waiter swathed the zinc counter, and inquired why Narcisse did not make his demands at the present moment.

"W'y I don't hass 'im now? Because w'en I hass 'im he know' he's got to _do it! You thing I'm goin' to kill myseff workin'?"

Nobody said yes, and by and by he found himself alive in the house of Madame Zenobie. The furniture was being sold at auction, and the house was crowded with all sorts and colors of men and women. A huge sideboard was up for sale as he entered, and the crier was crying:--

"Faw-ty-fi' dollah! faw-ty-fi' dollah, ladies an' gentymen! On'y faw-ty-fi' dollah fo' thad magniffyzan sidebode! _Quarante-cinque piastres, seulement, messieurs! Les knobs _vaut bien cette prix_! Gentymen, de knobs is worse de money! Ladies, if you don' stop dat talkin', I will not sell one thing mo'! _Et quarante cinque piastres_--faw-ty-fi' dollah"--

"Fifty!" cried Narcisse, who had not owned that much at one time since his father was a constable; realizing which fact, he slipped away upstairs and found Madame Zenobie half crazed at the slaughter of her assets.

She sat in a chair against the wall of the room the Richlings had occupied, a spectacle of agitated dejection. Here and there about the apartment, either motionless in chairs, or moving noiselessly about, and pulling and pushing softly this piece of furniture and that, were numerous vulture-like persons of either sex, waiting the up-coming of the auctioneer. Narcisse approached her briskly.

"Well, Madame Zenobie!"--he spoke in French--"is it you who lives here? Don't you remember me? What! No? You don't remember how I used to steal figs from you?"

The vultures slowly turned their heads. Madame Zenobie looked at him in a dazed way.

No, she did not remember. So many had robbed her--all her life.

"But you don't look at me, Madame Zenobie. Don't you remember, for example, once pulling a little boy--as little as _that_--out of your fig-tree, and taking the half of a shingle, split lengthwise, in your hand, and his head under your arm,--swearing you would do it if you died for it,--and bending him across your knee,"--he began a vigorous but graceful movement of the right arm, which few members of our fallen race could fail to recognize,--"and you don't remember me, my old friend?"

She looked up into the handsome face with a faint smile of affirmation. He laughed with delight.

"The shingle was _that wide. Ah! Madame Zenobie, you did it well!" He softly smote the memorable spot, first with one hand and then with the other, shrinking forward spasmodically with each contact, and throwing utter woe into his countenance. The general company smiled. He suddenly put on great seriousness.

"Madame Zenobie, I hope your furniture is selling well?" He still spoke in French.

She cast her eyes upward pleadingly, caught her breath, threw the back of her hand against her temple, and dashed it again to her lap, shaking her head.

Narcisse was sorry.

"I have been doing what I could for you, downstairs,--running up the prices of things. I wish I could stay to do more, for the sake of old times. I came to see Mr. Richling, Madame Zenobie; is he in? Dr. Sevier wants him."

Richling? Why, the Richlings did not live there! The Doctor must know it. Why should she be made responsible for this mistake? It was his oversight. They had moved long ago. Dr. Sevier had seen them looking for apartments. Where did they live now? Ah, me! _she could not tell. Did Mr. Richling owe the Doctor something?

"Owe? Certainly not. The Doctor--on the contrary"--

Ah! well, indeed, she didn't know where they lived, it is true; but the fact was, Mr. Richling happened to be there just then!--_a-c't'eure_! He had come to get a few trifles left by his madame.

Narcisse made instant search. Richling was not on the upper floor. He stepped to the landing and looked down. There he went!

"Mistoo 'Itchlin!"

Richling failed to hear. Sharper ears might have served him better. He passed out by the street door. Narcisse stopped the auction by the noise he made coming downstairs after him. He had some trouble with the front door,--lost time there, but got out.

Richling was turning a corner. Narcisse ran there and looked; looked up--looked down--looked into every store and shop on either side of the way clear back to Canal street; crossed it, went back to the Doctor's office, and reported. If he omitted such details as having seen and then lost sight of the man he sought, it may have been in part from the Doctor's indisposition to give him speaking license. The conclusion was simple: the Richlings could not be found.

* * *

The months of winter passed. No sign of them.

"They've gone back home," the Doctor often said to himself. How much better that was than to stay where they had made a mistake in venturing, and become the nurslings of patronizing strangers! He gave his admiration free play, now that they were quite gone. True courage that Richling had--courage to retreat when retreat is best! And his wife--ah! what a reminder of--hush, memory!

"Yes, they must have gone home!" The Doctor spoke very positively, because, after all, he was haunted by doubt.

One spring morning he uttered a soft exclamation as he glanced at his office-slate. The first notice on it read:--


Please call as soon as you can at number 292 St. Mary street,
corner of Prytania. Lower corner--opposite the asylum.

JOHN RICHLING.


The place was far up in the newer part of the American quarter. The signature had the appearance as if the writer had begun to write some other name, and had changed it to Richling.

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