Unable to bear it any longer, Martin followed. Even in his rapid progress he was run down, thrust aside, and passed, by two more gentlemen, stark mad, as it appeared, with fierce excitement.
'Where is it?' cried Martin, breathlessly, to a negro whom he encountered in the passage.
'In a eatin room, sa. Kernell, sa, him kep a seat 'side himself, sa.'
'A seat!' cried Martin.
'For a dinnar, sa.'
Martin started at him for a moment, and burst into a hearty laugh; to which the negro, out of his natural good humour and desire to please, so heartily responded, that his teeth shone like a gleam of light. 'You're the pleasantest fellow I have seen yet,' said Martin clapping him on the back, 'and give me a better appetite than bitters.'
With this sentiment he walked into the dining-room and slipped into a chair next the colonel, which that gentleman (by this time nearly through his dinner) had turned down in reserve for him, with its back against the table.
It was a numerous company--eighteen or twenty perhaps. Of these some five or six were ladies, who sat wedged together in a little phalanx by themselves. All the knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost in self-defence, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time to-morrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature. The poultry, which may perhaps be considered to have formed the staple of the entertainment--for there was a turkey at the top, a pair of ducks at the bottom, and two fowls in the middle--disappeared as rapidly as if every bird had had the use of its wings, and had flown in desperation down a human throat. The oysters, stewed and pickled, leaped from their capacious reservoirs, and slid by scores into the mouths of the assembly. The sharpest pickles vanished, whole cucumbers at once, like sugar-plums, and no man winked his eye. Great heaps of indigestible matter melted away as ice before the sun. It was a solemn and an awful thing to see. Dyspeptic individuals bolted their food in wedges; feeding, not themselves, but broods of nightmares, who were continually standing at livery within them. Spare men, with lank and rigid cheeks, came out unsatisfied from the destruction of heavy dishes, and glared with watchful eyes upon the pastry. What Mrs Pawkins felt each day at dinner-time is hidden from all human knowledge. But she had one comfort. It was very soon over.
When the colonel had finished his dinner, which event took place while Martin, who had sent his plate for some turkey, was waiting to begin, he asked him what he thought of the boarders, who were from all parts of the Union, and whether he would like to know any particulars concerning them.
'Pray,' said Martin, 'who is that sickly little girl opposite, with the tight round eyes? I don't see anybody here, who looks like her mother, or who seems to have charge of her.'
'Do you mean the matron in blue, sir?' asked the colonel, with emphasis. 'That is Mrs Jefferson Brick, sir.'
'No, no,' said Martin, 'I mean the little girl, like a doll; directly opposite.'
'Well, sir!' cried the colonel. 'THAT is Mrs Jefferson Brick.'
Martin glanced at the colonel's face, but he was quite serious.
'Bless my soul! I suppose there will be a young Brick then, one of these days?' said Martin.
'There are two young Bricks already, sir,' returned the colonel.
The matron looked so uncommonly like a child herself, that Martin could not help saying as much. 'Yes, sir,' returned the colonel, 'but some institutions develop human natur; others re--tard it.'
'Jefferson Brick,' he observed after a short silence, in commendation of his correspondent, 'is one of the most remarkable men in our country, sir!'
This had passed almost in a whisper, for the distinguished gentleman alluded to sat on Martin's other hand.
'Pray, Mr Brick,' said Martin, turning to him, and asking a question more for conversation's sake than from any feeling of interest in its subject, 'who is that;' he was going to say 'young' but thought it prudent to eschew the word--'that very short gentleman yonder, with the red nose?'
'That is Pro--fessor Mullit, sir,' replied Jefferson.