[C3] "Our Talisman, No. 3," Spirit of the Times, Jan. 18, 1842: Two Scenes in a Post office

Our Talisman No. 3.


"Where is that Flib? Flib I say—Flib! Flib!! Flib!!!" Really his pranks are becoming intolerable. We have scarcely had our eyes upon him for two days past. Flib—Flib—I say Flib!—Can nobody telll us where the devil is? Hello!—F-L-I-B."

"Well now there's no use of your makin' sich a fuss about the matter. If I've been absent—I've been on particular business, I have. This here ring is a rouser. Look there what it has done in the space of a week. There's a roll for you."

The eccentric devil handed us a bundle of dingy paper, covered with a most villanous collection of characters, unworthy to be called even by courtesy hand writing. However, a glance into the matter of the manuscript convinced us, that the long absence of our Flib was not without an excuse. We forgave him the fault, and dismissing the youth, we gave him leave to prepare himself for the lecture which he was to deliver in the evening. We then read the manuscript.


It was about a week since that looking at the magic ring, a certain funny idea struck my head.

I'll do it, says I, and as quick as a growing cherub can sail from one star to another, on a newly manufactured sunbeam, so suddenly did I pass my hand over the Talisman, made the wish, and I in a moment stood amid the busy scenes of a post office. A long vista of arches varied the appearance of the extensive hall, and here and there, a number of clerks in their white beaverteen jackets were running from table to table, skipping from window to window, and hopping from desk to desk, apparently very busily engaged in the various duties of the office.

I looked around. An elderly gentleman with grey hair, white eyebrows, small piercing eyes, aquiline nose supporting gold spectacles, thin lips and prominent chin, stood writing at a small desk in the centre of the hall. Says I to myself, says I, I'll take a peep at your thoughts, my old friend, I will indeed. I was passing to his desk, when I observed a red whiskered clerk, leaning over a table and whispering to another clerk distinguished by black hair, and small, starved brown mustachios.

"Look here, Jack," said red whiskers—"there's a-goin' to be the devil kicked up here this morning. There's flying reports about money lost—missing you know—a Government Agent—and all that."

"Eh?" brown mustachio opened his eyes in astonishment, "now that is a rum story. To talk about stealing, after we've been kept out of our perquisites. Wh-e-w."

I passed on. In an instant I found myself looking over the shoulder of the elderly gentleman in gold spectacles. He was figuring off in an account book, and his thoughts in the meantime were holding a complete town-meeting in themselves. I rubbed the ring, and his mind was laid open to my view. A curious spectacle it was to be sure.

"Now let me see," thus the elderly gentleman communed with himself, "now let me see, I must get up a cry of 'great vigilance of the Postmaster,' and all that. I've made a small beginning. There now, the old Postmaster used to allow the clerks all the overplus on the hire of the boxes, and the result of their economy in blanks, paper and twine. Just see what I've saved off of the clerks. There's a neat roll of notes, between four and five hundred dollars; I'll turn it into specie and send it to Washington, and tell 'em I've saved that much in the first quarter. Won't they think me a clever man? I'll tell 'em, I work all night and look sharp, and they won't know how I stint my clerks and make thieves of them from necessity. Good. Now let me consider."

Faster and faster his pen went along the paper, and quicker and quicker ran the current of his thoughts. "Now about the thefts lately committed in the P.O., I've a plan laid to catch the thief—I've a trap—a capital trap—an excellent trap—"

I wondered what this trap might be. In a moment the whole plan was laid clear to me. The elderly gentleman called a crowd of the clerks of the office around him. They all fixed their eyes with great intensity upon the gold spectacles, and there was quite a quantity of parted lips and upraised eye-brows.

"Gentlemen, there have been great frauds committed in this identical office." The elderly gentleman extended his right arm, and pointing the forefinger of his right hand to the ceiling, he looked around the circle of corduroy-jacket-ed clerks, as if to read them like so many spelling books. There was an awful pause. "Gentlemen, there have been extensive frauds—unparalleled for rascality and—and—extensive frauds,—you perceive I repeat the word,—mark me,—extensive frauds,—that is to say, gentlemen, there has been some fifty thousand dollars lost in this place within the course of three months. Now, gentlemen, the question is—who is the guilty man."

Bang!—came his fist down upon the desk, and he looked from one clerk to another, to discover involuntary signs of hidden guilt. There was considerable winking among the clerks, but not one of the whole invoice of them fell down upon his knees, and not a single one begged for mercy. The group of clerks were dismissed, and the elderly gentleman resumed his musings.

"Let's see. I'll find out the thief. It was a capital idea—that one of mine, in going round to all the places where my clerks have dealings, and examining their accounts. I went to this grocery, to that trimming store—to one 'pothecary establishment, and to quite a number of fashionable boot-makers, and as for the tailor shops, I couldn't count 'em. One clerk, the rascal, had been buying six pounds of sugar for Christmas sweetmeats. There's extravagance for you! Another had been buying three yards of superfine ribbon for some woman or other. What is the world coming to? I've made inquiries at the box offices of the theatres, and at the Circus, and I find that three of my clerks were seen going into one or the other of these places. Lamentable! Then there's [so-and-so] he's been getting a pair of fashionable boots. Why wouldn't his round-toed ones do? And as for young ***—he's been getting a new gold watch. That's suspicious. He paid $25 on account, and is to pay $80 more, little by little, as he can afford it. What makes it more suspicious is the fact that he was appointed by the old P.M.! He'll make an excellent scapegoat, and—umph! I must select one or two more, and then there'll be room for more relations of mine. That's settled."

As he said this, a very good looking young man entered a side door of the office, and approached the desk. He was dressed very neatly in the latest fashion, with a classical cloak thrown over his shoulders, with a velvet cap surmounting his dark looks, and looking altogether as much like a fine young fellow as might be.

As he approached I took a peep into his thoughts. A pleasant picture of domestic happiness filled his mind. His thoughts were on the mother whose support he was; upon the sister whom he was bound to protect. And then there was another form, which arose before his fancy. It was the form of a young and blooming bride, the rich treasure of whose affection was shortly to be his own. The young man felt happy, and with an elastic step, he was passing the desk where I stood, when gold spectacles exclaimed:

"Oh, Mr. ***, a word with you, if you please. Here is a package which I wish to send to Washington by a trustworthy person. I wish to send it by a gentleman—a gentleman, you perceive. You are worthy of my confidence, and accordingly I select you as my confidential messenger."

"You do me too great an honor," the young man replied, bowing low. "I shall endeavor to prove myself worthy of your confidence."

"No honor at all, no honor at all, Mr. ***," replied the elderly gentleman. "Let me have a little further conversation with you, if you please."

The young man bowed.

"Now my young friend there has been some difficulty between us, concerning the late frauds in the P.O. I now frankly confess that the most abundant reasons have been given me concerning your innocence in the matter. Indeed I never suspected you. Between me and you, I know who the thief is—Mum's the word you know. Now Good bye. Hurry off, and get yourself ready to proceed instanter to Washington. Good bye."

It was really gratifying to see how cordially he shook the hand of the young man. This matter ended. The young man departed from the office, with a light heart and a lighter step. He was proud of the confidence bestowed upon him, and he thought of the pleasure it would give his mother and his sister when he told them of the honor.

As young *** was leaving the office, a smile of peculiar meaning lit up the features of the elderly gentleman. There's something in that convulsion of the thin lips, says I to myself. I rubbed the ring and wished to take a peep into the package which the young man held in his hand. Again the ring was true to me. I read the package.

It contained a request, signed by the elderly gentleman, and asking for the dismissal of this identical young ***, who was now leaving the hall of the Post Office, with the intention of hurrying to Washington and with the package which was to seal his fate!

Here is the second scene.

It was near evening, and the brilliant gas light illuminating every nook and corner of a certain Post office, discovered that various clerks and underlings plying their avocation with as much diligence as a set of tolerably impudent fellows can be supposed to exert.

I took my place, invisible as usual, beside two clerks, who seemed somewhat fresh at the business of tying packages, and all that sort of thing.

"It was neat, wasn't it?" suggested one of these individuals distinguished by a pug nose—"Exceedingly neat? Eh? He—he—he."

"What?" asked the other, whose countenance might be known by its excessive vacancy of expression—"What?"

"That trick of sending young ***, on to Washington, with the request for his own dismissal in his pocket. O, Lord! Ha—ha—ha."



"I say —, we've had a nice berth of it, haven't we. We've been here only a week, and yet we've been able to —"


"Lord there's no harm in what I was going to say. We have been able to save, save I say you perceive, a good deal, hain't we? I've a new house and —"

"I've a farm in prospect."

"Fine times—hey!"


Pug nose, turned an imaginary organ at vacancy; and vacancy winked at pug nose. While the reader is admiring the economy which can save so much cash in a single week, I will close this scene.

I left the Post Office hall, and presently found myself in a certain passage way. My attention was arrested by the sight of a young man standing near a gas light. He was the very picture of despair. His hands were dropped listlessly by his side, his cloak hung carelessly upon his shoulders, his dress was disarranged and his blood shot eyes were fixed upon the earth. Who can he be? Says I to myself. I moved a step nearer and discovered young *** who had been sent to Washington a week before. I took a peep into his thoughts. His mind presented one universal blank of utter and withering despair.

Had he not cause? He had just been turned away from the door of the father of his intended bride; he had but now met with every expression of scorn, every gesture of contempt from the very woman with whose happiness his every thought was interwoven.

So much for making a scape goat of innocence.