At length, the good merchant, whose eyes were pensively resting upon the gay tables in the distance, broke the spell by saying that, from the spectacle before them, one would little divine what other quarters of the boat might reveal. He cited the case, accidentally encountered but an hour or two previous, of a shrunken old miser, clad in shrunken old moleskin, stretched out, an invalid, on a bare plank in the emigrants' quarters, eagerly clinging to life and lucre, though the one was gasping for outlet, and about the other he was in torment lest death, or some other unprincipled cut-purse, should be the means of his losing it; by like feeble tenure holding lungs and pouch, and yet knowing and desiring nothing beyond them; for his mind, never raised above mould, was now all but mouldered away. To such a degree, indeed, that he had no trust in anything, not even in his parchment bonds, which, the better to preserve from the tooth of time, he had packed down and sealed up, like brandy peaches, in a tin case of spirits. (11, 2)
This sad sight is the country merchant's depiction of the miser's miserable state. He's telling Tassel all about how the miser was all alone, ill, and scared about being robbed. It's a particularly uncomfortable look into the life of a very old man who has nobody he can rely on while his body is failing him. Worse, whether the country merchant is aware of it or not, these lines reveal his own insensitivity: the country merchant brings up this man just to demonstrate "all the different kinds of people there are!" Merp. Way to stop and care for your fellow man while you're rubbernecking it, man.