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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesErewhon Revisited - Chapter 19. A Council Is Held At The Mayor's...
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Erewhon Revisited - Chapter 19. A Council Is Held At The Mayor's... Post by :ispvipcorp Category :Long Stories Author :Samuel Butler Date :May 2012 Read :783

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Erewhon Revisited - Chapter 19. A Council Is Held At The Mayor's...


"Now who," said Yram, "is this unfortunate creature to be, when he is brought up to-morrow morning, on the charge of poaching?"

"It is not necessary," said Hanky severely, "that he should be brought up for poaching. He is a foreign devil, and as such your son is bound to fling him without trial into the Blue Pool. Why bring a smaller charge when you must inflict the death penalty on a more serious one? I have already told you that I shall feel it my duty to report the matter at headquarters, unless I am satisfied that the death penalty has been inflicted."

"Of course," said George, "we must all of us do our duty, and I shall not shrink from mine--but I have arrested this man on a charge of poaching, and must give my reasons; the case cannot be dropped, and it must be heard in public. Am I, or am I not, to have the sworn depositions of both you gentlemen to the fact that the prisoner is the man you saw with quails in his possession? If you can depose to this he will be convicted, for there can be no doubt he killed the birds himself. The least penalty my father can inflict is twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour; and he must undergo this sentence before I can Blue-Pool him.

"Then comes the question whether or no he is a foreign devil. I may decide this in private, but I must have depositions on oath before I do so, and at present I have nothing but hearsay. Perhaps you gentlemen can give me the evidence I shall require, but the case is one of such importance that were the prisoner proved never so clearly to be a foreign devil, I should not Blue-Pool him till I had taken the King's pleasure concerning him. I shall rejoice, therefore, if you gentlemen can help me to sustain the charge of poaching, and thus give me legal standing-ground for deferring action which the King might regret, and which once taken cannot be recalled."

Here Yram interposed. "These points," she said, "are details. Should we not first settle, not what, but who, we shall allow the prisoner to be, when he is brought up to-morrow morning? Settle this, and the rest will settle itself. He has declared himself to be the Sunchild, and will probably do so again. I am prepared to identify him, so is Dr. Downie, so is Mrs. Humdrum, the interpreter, and doubtless my father. Others of known respectability will also do so, and his marks and measurements are sure to correspond quite sufficiently. The question is, whether all this is to be allowed to appear on evidence, or whether it is to be established, as it easily may, if we give our minds to it, that he is not the Sunchild."

"Whatever else he is," said Hanky, "he must not be the Sunchild. He must, if the charge of poaching cannot be dropped, be a poacher and a foreign devil. I was doubtless too hasty when I said that I believed I recognized the man as one who had more than once declared himself to be the Sunchild--"

"But, Hanky," interrupted Panky, "are you sure that you can swear to this man's being the man we met on Thursday night? We only saw him by firelight, and I doubt whether I should feel justified in swearing to him."

"Well, well: on second thoughts I am not sure, Panky, but what you may be right after all; it is possible that he may be what I said he was in my sermon."

"I rejoice to hear you say so," said George, "for in this case the charge of poaching will fall through. There will be no evidence against the prisoner. And I rejoice also to think that I shall have nothing to warrant me in believing him to be a foreign devil. For if he is not to be the Sunchild, and not to be your poacher, he becomes a mere monomaniac. If he apologises for having made a disturbance in the temple, and promises not to offend again, a fine, and a few days' imprisonment, will meet the case, and he may be discharged."

"I see, I see," said Hanky very angrily. "You are determined to get this man off if you can."

"I shall act," said George, "in accordance with sworn evidence, and not otherwise. Choose whether you will have the prisoner to be your poacher or no: give me your sworn depositions one way or the other, and I shall know how to act. If you depose on oath to the identity of the prisoner and your poacher, he will be convicted and imprisoned. As to his being a foreign devil, if he is the Sunchild, of course he is one; but otherwise I cannot Blue-Pool him even when his sentence is expired, without testimony deposed to me on oath in private, though no open trial is required. A case for suspicion was made out in my hearing last night, but I must have depositions on oath to all the leading facts before I can decide what my duty is. What will you swear to?"

"All this," said Hanky, in a voice husky with passion, "shall be reported to the King."

"I intend to report every word of it; but that is not the point: the question is what you gentlemen will swear to?"

"Very well. I will settle it thus. We will swear that the prisoner is the poacher we met on Thursday night, and that he is also a foreign devil: his wearing the forbidden dress; his foreign accent; the foot-tracks we found in the snow, as of one coming over from the other side; his obvious ignorance of the Afforesting Act, as shown by his having lit a fire and making no effort to conceal his quails till our permit shewed him his blunder; the cock-and-bull story he told us about your orders, and that other story about his having killed a foreign devil--if these facts do not satisfy you, they will satisfy the King that the prisoner is a foreign devil as well as a poacher."

"Some of these facts," answered George, "are new to me. How do you know that the foot-tracks were made by the prisoner?"

Panky brought out his note-book and read the details he had noted.

"Did you examine the man's boots?"

"One of them, the right foot; this, with the measurements, was quite enough."

"Hardly. Please to look at both soles of my own boots; you will find that those tracks were mine. I will have the prisoner's boots examined; in the meantime let me tell you that I was up at the statues on Thursday morning, walked three or four hundred yards beyond them, over ground where there was less snow, returned over the snow, and went two or three times round them, as it is the Ranger's duty to do once a year in order to see that none of them are beginning to lean."

He showed the soles of his boots, and the Professors were obliged to admit that the tracks were his. He cautioned them as to the rest of the points on which they relied. Might they not be as mistaken, as they had just proved to be about the tracks? He could not, however, stir them from sticking to it that there was enough evidence to prove my father to be a foreign devil, and declaring their readiness to depose to the facts on oath. In the end Hanky again fiercely accused him of trying to shield the prisoner.

"You are quite right," said George, "and you will see my reasons shortly."

"I have no doubt," said Hanky significantly, "that they are such as would weigh with any man of ordinary feeling."

"I understand, then," said George, appearing to take no notice of Hanky's innuendo, "that you will swear to the facts as you have above stated them?"


"Then kindly wait while I write them on the form that I have brought with me; the Mayor can administer the oath and sign your depositions. I shall then be able to leave you, and proceed with getting up the case against the prisoner."

So saying, he went to a writing-table in another part of the room, and made out the depositions.

Meanwhile the Mayor, Mrs. Humdrum, and Dr. Downie (who had each of them more than once vainly tried to take part in the above discussion) conversed eagerly in an undertone among themselves. Hanky was blind with rage, for he had a sense that he was going to be outwitted; the Mayor, Yram, and Mrs. Humdrum had already seen that George thought he had all the trumps in his own hand, but they did not know more. Dr. Downie was frightened, and Panky so muddled as to be _hors de combat_.

George now rejoined the Professors, and read the depositions: the Mayor administered the oath according to Erewhonian custom; the Professors signed without a word, and George then handed the document to his father to countersign.

The Mayor examined it, and almost immediately said, "My dear George, you have made a mistake; these depositions are on a form reserved for deponents who are on the point of death."

"Alas!" answered George, "there is no help for it. I did my utmost to prevent their signing. I knew that those depositions were their own death warrant,--and that is why, though I was satisfied that the prisoner is a foreign devil, I had hoped to be able to shut my eyes. I can now no longer do so, and as the inevitable consequence, I must Blue-Pool both the Professors before midnight. What man of ordinary feeling would not under these circumstances have tried to dissuade them from deposing as they have done?"

By this time the Professors had started to their feet, and there was a look of horrified astonishment on the faces of all present, save that of George, who seemed quite happy.

"What monstrous absurdity is this?" shouted Hanky; "do you mean to murder us?"

"Certainly not. But you have insisted that I should do my duty, and I mean to do it. You gentlemen have now been proved to my satisfaction to have had traffic with a foreign devil; and under section 37 of the Afforesting Act, I must at once Blue-Pool any such persons without public trial."

"Nonsense, nonsense, there was nothing of the kind on our permit, and as for trafficking with this foreign devil, we spoke to him, but we neither bought nor sold. Where is the Act?"

"Here. On your permit you were referred to certain other clauses not set out therein, which might be seen at the Mayor's office. Clause 37 is as follows:-

"It is furthermore enacted that should any of his Majesty's subjects be found, after examination by the Head Ranger, to have had traffic of any kind by way of sale or barter with any foreign devil, the said Ranger, on being satisfied that such traffic has taken place, shall forthwith, with or without the assistance of his under-rangers, convey such subjects of his Majesty to the Blue Pool, bind them, weight them, and fling them into it, without the formality of a trial, and shall report the circumstances of the case to his Majesty."

"But we never bought anything from the prisoner. What evidence can you have of this but the word of a foreign devil in such straits that he would swear to anything?"

"The prisoner has nothing to do with it. I am convinced by this receipt in Professor Panky's handwriting which states that he and you jointly purchased his kit from the prisoner, and also this bag of gold nuggets worth about 100 pounds in silver, for the absurdly small sum of 4 pounds, 10s. in silver. I am further convinced by this handkerchief marked with Professor Hanky's name, in which was found a broken packet of dried leaves that are now at my office with the rest of the prisoner's kit."

"Then we were watched and dogged," said Hanky, "on Thursday evening."

"That, sir," replied George, "is my business, not yours."

Here Panky laid his arms on the table, buried his head in them, and burst into tears. Every one seemed aghast, but the Mayor, Yram, and Mrs. Humdrum saw that George was enjoying it all far too keenly to be serious. Dr. Downie was still frightened (for George's surface manner was Rhadamanthine) and did his utmost to console Panky. George pounded away ruthlessly at his case.

"I say nothing about your having bought quails from the prisoner and eaten them. As you justly remarked just now, there is no object in preferring a smaller charge when one must inflict the death penalty on a more serious one. Still, Professor Hanky, these are bones of the quails you ate as you sate opposite the prisoner on the side of the fire nearest Sunch'ston; these are Professor Panky's bones, with which I need not disturb him. This is your permit, which was found upon the prisoner, and which there can be no doubt you sold him, having been bribed by the offer of the nuggets for--"

"Monstrous, monstrous! Infamous falsehood! Who will believe such a childish trumped up story!"

"Who, sir, will believe anything else? You will hardly contend that you did not know the nuggets were gold, and no one will believe you mean enough to have tried to get this poor man's property out of him for a song--you knowing its value, and he not knowing the same. No one will believe that you did not know the man to be a foreign devil, or that he could hoodwink two such learned Professors so cleverly as to get their permit out of them. Obviously he seduced you into selling him your permit, and--I presume because he wanted a little of our money--he made you pay him for his kit. I am satisfied that you have not only had traffic with a foreign devil, but traffic of a singularly atrocious kind, and this being so, I shall Blue-Pool both of you as soon as I can get you up to the Pool itself. The sooner we start the better. I shall gag you, and drive you up in a close carriage as far as the road goes; from that point you can walk up, or be dragged up as you may prefer, but you will probably find walking more comfortable."

"But," said Hanky, "come what may, I must be at the banquet. I am set down to speak."

"The Mayor will explain that you have been taken somewhat suddenly unwell."

Here Yram, who had been talking quietly with her husband, Dr. Downie, and Mrs. Humdrum, motioned her son to silence.

"I feared," she said, "that difficulties might arise, though I did not foresee how seriously they would affect my guests. Let Mrs. Humdrum on our side, and Dr. Downie on that of the Professors, go into the next room and talk the matter quietly over; let us then see whether we cannot agree to be bound by their decision. I do not doubt but they will find some means of averting any catastrophe more serious--No, Professor Hanky, the doors are locked--than a little perjury in which we shall all share and share alike."

"Do what you like," said Hanky, looking for all the world like a rat caught in a trap. As he spoke he seized a knife from the table, whereon George pulled a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and slipped them on to his wrists before he well knew what was being done to him.

"George," said the Mayor, "this is going too far. Do you mean to Blue- Pool the Professors or no?"

"Not if they will compromise. If they will be reasonable, they will not be Blue-Pooled; if they think they can have everything their own way, the eels will be at them before morning."

A voice was heard from the head of Panky which he had buried in his arms upon the table. "Co-co-co-compromise," it said; and the effect was so comic that every one except Hanky smiled. Meanwhile Yram had conducted Dr. Downie and Mrs. Humdrum into an adjoining room.

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