I would collect that bill, or fall, as fell my predecessors, trying. I assailed the Postmaster-General; I besieged the Agricultural Department; I waylaid the Speaker of the House of Representatives. They had nothing to do with army contracts for beef. I moved upon the Commissioner of the Patent Office.
I said, "Your August Excellency, on or about--"
"Perdition! have you got here with your incendiary beef contract, at last? We have nothing to do with beef contracts for the army, my dear sir."
"Oh, that is all very well--but somebody has got to pay for that beef. It has got to be paid now, too, or I'll confiscate this old Patent Office and everything in it."
"But, my dear sir--"
"It don't make any difference, sir. The Patent Office is liable for that beef, I reckon; and, liable or not liable, the Patent Office has got to pay for it."
Never mind the details. It ended in a fight. The Patent Office won. But I found out something to my advantage. I was told that the Treasury Department was the proper place for me to go to. I went there. I waited two hours and a half, and then I was admitted to the First Lord of the Treasury.
I said, "Most noble, grave, and reverend Signor, on or about the 10th day of October, 1861, John Wilson Macken--"
"That is sufficient, sir. I have heard of you. Go to the First Auditor of the Treasury."
I did so. He sent me to the Second Auditor. The Second Auditor sent me to the Third, and the Third sent me to the First Comptroller of the Corn- Beef Division. This began to look like business. He examined his books and all his loose papers, but found no minute of the beef contract. I went to the Second Comptroller of the Corn-Beef Division. He examined his books and his loose papers, but with no success. I was encouraged. During that week I got as far as the Sixth Comptroller in that division; the next week I got through the Claims Department; the third week I began and completed the Mislaid Contracts Department, and got a foothold in the Dead Reckoning Department. I finished that in three days. There was only one place left for it now. I laid siege to the Commissioner of Odds and Ends. To his clerk, rather--he was not there himself. There were sixteen beautiful young ladies in the room, writing in books, and there were seven well-favored young clerks showing them how. The young women smiled up over their shoulders, and the clerks smiled back at them, and all went merry as a marriage bell. Two or three clerks that were reading the newspapers looked at me rather hard, but went on reading, and nobody said anything. However, I had been used to this kind of alacrity from Fourth Assistant Junior Clerks all through my eventful career, from the very day I entered the first office of the Corn-Beef Bureau clear till I passed out of the last one in the Dead Reckoning Division. I had got so accomplished by this time that I could stand on one foot from the moment I entered an office till a clerk spoke to me, without changing more than two, or maybe three, times.
So I stood there till I had changed four different times. Then I said to one of the clerks who was reading:
"Illustrious Vagrant, where is the Grand Turk?"
"What do you mean, sir? whom do you mean? If you mean the Chief of the Bureau, he is out."
"Will he visit the harem to-day?"
The young man glared upon me awhile, and then went on reading his paper. But I knew the ways of those clerks. I knew I was safe if he got through before another New York mail arrived. He only had two more papers left. After a while he finished them, and then he yawned and asked me what I wanted.
"Renowned and honored Imbecile: on or about--"
"You are the beef-contract man. Give me your papers."
He took them, and for a long time he ransacked his odds and ends. Finally he found the Northwest Passage, as I regarded it--he found the long lost record of that beef contract--he found the rock upon which so many of my ancestors had split before they ever got to it.