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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Monikins - Chapter 18. A Court, A Court-Dress, And A Courtier...
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The Monikins - Chapter 18. A Court, A Court-Dress, And A Courtier... Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :2617

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The Monikins - Chapter 18. A Court, A Court-Dress, And A Courtier...

CHAPTER XVIII. A COURT, A COURT-DRESS, AND A COURTIER--JUSTICE IN VARIOUS ASPECTS, AS WELL AS HONOR


My guests were no sooner gone, than I sent for the landlady, to inquire if any court-dresses were to be had in the neighborhood. She told me plenty might certainly be had, that were suited to the monikin dimensions, but she much doubted whether there was a tail in all Leaphigh, natural or artificial, that was at all fit for a person of my stature. This was vexatious; and I was in a brown study, calling up all my resources for the occasion, when Mr. Poke entered the inn, carrying in his hand two as formidable ox-tails as I remember ever to have seen. Throwing one towards me, he said the lord high admiral of Leaphigh had acquainted him that there was an invitation out for the prince and himself, as well as for the governor of the former, to be present at court within an hour. He had hurried off from what he called a very good dinner, considering there was nothing solid (the captain was particularly fond of pickled pork), to let me know the honor that was intended us; and on the way home, he had fallen in with Dr. Reasono, who, on being acquainted with his errand, had not failed to point out the necessity of the whole party coming en habit de cour. Here was a dilemma, with a vengeance; for the first idea that struck the captain was, "the utter impossibility of finding anything in this way, in all Leaphigh, befitting a lord high admiral of his length of keel; for, as to going in an ordinary monikin queue, why, he should look like a three-decked ship, with a brig's spar stepped for a lower mast!" Dr. Reasono, however, had kindly removed the embarrassment, by conducting him to the cabinet of natural history, where three suitable appendages had been found, viz., two fine relics of oxen, (Footnote: Cauda Bovum.--BUF.) and another, a capital specimen, that had formerly been the mental lever, or, as the captain expressed it, "the steering oar" of a kangaroo. The latter had been sent off, express, with a kind consideration for the honor of Great Britain, to Prince Bob, who was at a villa of one of the royal family, in the neighborhood of Aggregation.

I was greatly indebted to Noah, for his dexterity in helping me to a good fit with my court-dress. There was not time for much particularity, for we were in momentary expectation of Judge People's Friend's return. All we could do, therefore, was to make a belt of canvas (the captain being always provided with needles, palm, etc., in his bag), and to introduce the smaller end of the tail through a hole in the belt, drawing its base tight up to the cloth, which, in its turn, was stitched round our bodies. This was but an indifferent substitute for the natural appendage, it is true; and the hide had got to be so dry and unyielding, that it was impossible for the least observant person to imagine there was a particle of brains in it. The arrangement had also another disadvantage. The cauda stuck out nearly at right angles with the position of the body, and besides occupying much more space than would probably be permitted in the royal presence, "it gave any jackanapes," as Noah observed, "the great advantage over us, of making us yaw at pleasure, since he might use the outriggers as levers." But a seaman is inexhaustible in expedients. Two "back- stays," or "bob-stays" (for the captain facetiously gave them both appellations) were soon "turned in," and the tails were "stayed in, in a way to bring them as upright as trysail masts"; to which spars, indeed, according to Noah's account of the matter, they bore no small resemblance.

The envoy-extraordinary of Leaplow, accompanied by his friend, Brigadier Downright, arrived just as we were dressed; and a most extraordinary figure the former cut, if truth must be said. Although obliged to be docked, according to the Leaplow law, to six inches, and brought down to a real bob, by both the public opinions of his country, for this was one of the few points on which these antagonist sentiments were perfectly agreed, he now appeared in just the largest brush I remember to have seen appended to a monikin! I felt a strong inclination to joke the rotatory republican on this coquetry; but then I remembered how sweet any stolen indulgence becomes; and, for the life of me, I could not give utterance to a bon-mot. The elegance of the minister was rendered the more conspicuous by the simplicity of the brigadier, who had contrived to moustache his dock, a very short one at the best, in such a manner as to render it nearly invisible. On my expressing a doubt to Mr. Downright about his being admitted in such a costume, he snapped his fingers, and gave me to understand he knew better. He appeared as a brigadier of Leaplow (I found afterwards that he was in truth no soldier, but that it was a fashion among his countrymen to travel under the title of brigadier), and this was his uniform; and he should like to see the chamberlain who would presume to call in question the state of his wardrobe! As it was no affair of mine, I prudently dropped the subject, and we were soon in the court of the palace.

I shall pass over the parade of guards, the state bands, the sergeant-trumpeters, the crowd of footmen and pages, and conduct the reader at once to the ante-chamber. Here we found the usual throng composed of those who live in the smiles of princes. There was a great deal of politeness, much bowing and curtseying, and the customary amount of genteel empressement to be the first to bask in the sunshine of royalty. Judge People's Friend, in his character of a foreign minister, was privileged; and we had enjoyed the private entree, and were now, of right, placed nearest to the great doors of the royal apartments. Most of the diplomatic corps were already in attendance, and, quite as a matter of course, there were a great many cordial manifestations, of the ardent attachment that bound them and their masters together, in the inviolable bonds of a most sacred amity. Judge People's Friend, according to his own account of the matter, represented a great nation--a very great nation--and yet I did not perceive that he met with a warm--a very warm--reception. However, as he seemed satisfied with himself, and all around him, it would have been unkind, not to say rude, in a stranger to disturb his self-esteem; and I took especial care, therefore, not to betray, by the slightest hint, my opinion that a good many near his person seemed to think him and his artificial queue somewhat in the way. The courtiers of Leaphigh, in particular, who are an exceedingly exclusive and fastidious corps, appeared to regard the privileges of the judge with an evil eye; and one or two of them actually held their noses as he flourished his brush a little too near their sacred faces, as if they found its odor out of fashion. While making these silent observations, a page cried out from the lower part of the saloon, "Room for His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Great Britain!" The crowd opened, and that young blackguard Bob walked up the avenue, in state. He wore the turnspit garment as the base of his toilet; but the superstructure was altogether more in keeping with the rascal's assumed character. The union-jack was thrown over his shoulder in the fashion of a mantle, and it was supported by the cook and steward of the Walrus (two blacks), both clothed as alligators. The kangaroo's tail was rigged in a way to excite audible evidences of envy in the heart of Mr. Poke. The stepping of it, the captain whispered, "did the young dog great credit, for it looked as natural as the best wig he had ever seen; and then, in addition to the bob-stay, it had two guys, which acted like the yoke-lines of a boat, or in such a way, that by holding one in each hand, the brush could be worked 'starboard and larboard' like a rudder." I have taken this description mainly from the mouth of the captain, and most sincerely do I hope it may be intelligible to the reader.

Bob appeared to be conscious of his advantages; for, on reaching the upper end of the room, he began whisking his tail, and flourishing it to the right and left, so as to excite a very perceptible and lively admiration in the mind of Judge People's Friend--an effect that so much the more proved the wearer's address, for that high functionary was bound ex officio to entertain a sovereign contempt for all courtly vanities. I saw the eye of the captain kindle, however, and when the insolent young coxcomb actually had the temerity to turn his back on his master, and to work his brush under his very nose, human nature could endure no more. The right leg of my lord high admiral slowly retired, with somewhat of the caution of the cat about to spring, and then it was projected forward, with a rapidity that absolutely lifted the crown prince from the floor.

The royal self-possession of Bob could not prevent an exclamation of pain, as well as of surprise, and some of the courtiers ran forward involuntarily to aid him--for courtiers always ran involuntarily to the succor of princes. At least a dozen of the ladies offered their smelling-bottles, with the most amiable assiduity and concern. To prevent any disagreeable consequences, however, I hastened to acquaint the crowd that in Great Britain, it is the usage to cuff and kick the whole royal family; and that, in short, it is no more than the customary tribute of the subject to the prince. In proof of what I said, I took good care to give the saucy young scoundrel a touch of my own homage. The monikins, who know that different customs prevail in different nations, hastened to compliment the young scion of royalty in the same manner; and both the cook and steward relieved their ennui by falling into the track of imitation. Bob could not stand the last applications; and he was about to beat a retreat, when the master of ceremonies appeared, to conduct him to the royal presence.

The reader is not to be misled by the honors that were paid to the imaginary crown prince, and to suppose that the court of Leaphigh entertained any peculiar respect for that of Great Britain. It was merely done on the principle that governed the conduct of our own learned sovereign, King James I., when he refused to see the amiable Pocahontas of Virginia, because she had degraded royalty by intermarrying with a subject. The respect was paid to the caste, and not to the individual, to his species, or to his nation.

Let his privileges come from what cause they would, Bob was glad enough to get out of the presence of Captain Poke--who had already pretty plainly threatened, in the Stunin'tun dialect, to unship his cauda--into that of the majesty of Leaphigh. A few minutes afterwards, the doors were thrown open, and the whole company advanced into the royal apartments.

The etiquette of the court of Leaphigh differs in many essential particulars from the etiquette of any other court in the monikin region. Neither the king, nor his royal consort, is ever visible to any one in the country, so far as is vulgarly known. On the present occasion, two thrones were placed at opposite extremities of the salon, and a magnificent crimson damask curtain was so closely drawn before each, that it was quite impossible to see who occupied it. On the lowest step there stood a chamberlain or a lady of the bed- chamber, who, severally, made all the speeches, and otherwise enacted the parts of the illustrious couple. The reader will understand, therefore, that all which is here attributed to either of these great personages, was in fact performed by one or the other of the substitutes named, and that I never had the honor of actually standing face to face with their majesties. Everything that is now about to be related, in short, was actually done by deputy, on the part of the monarch and his wife.

The king himself merely represents a sentiment, all the power belonging to his eldest first cousin of the masculine gender, and any intercourse with him is entirely of a disinterested or of a sentimental character. He is the head of the church--after a very secular fashion, however;--all the bishops and clergy therefore got down on their knees and said their prayers; though the captain suggested that it might be their catechisms; I never knew which. I observed, also, that all his law officers did the same thing; but as THEY never pray, and do not know their catechisms, I presume the genuflections were to beg something better than the places they actually filled. After this, came a long train of military and naval officers, who, soldier-like, kissed his paw. The civilians next had a chance, and then it was our turn to be presented.

"I have the honor to present the lord high admiral of Great Britain to your majesty," said Judge People's Friend, who had waived his official privilege of going first, in order to do us this favor in person; it having been decided, on a review of all the principles that touched the case, that nothing human could take precedence of a monikin at court, always making the exception in favor of royalty, as in the case of Prince Bob.

"I am happy to see you at my court, Admiral Poke," the king politely rejoined, manifesting the tact of high rank in recognizing Noah by his family name, to the great surprise of the old sealer.

"King!"

"You were about to remark?--" most graciously inquired his majesty, a little at a loss to understand what his visitor would be at.

"Why, I could not contain my astonishment at your memory, Mr. King, which has enabled you to recall a name that you probably never before heard!"

There was now a great, and to me, a very unaccountable confusion in the circle. It would seem, that the captain had unwittingly trespassed on two of the most important of the rules of etiquette, in very mortal points. He had confessed to the admission of an emotion as vulgar as that of astonishment in the royal presence, and he had intimated that his majesty had a memory; a property of the mind which, as it might prove dangerous to the liberties of Leaphigh, were it left in the keeping of any but a responsible minister, it had long been decided it was felony to impute to the king. By the fundamental law of the land, the king's eldest first- cousin of the masculine gender, may have as many memories as he please, and he may use them, or abuse them, as he shall see fit, either in private or in the public service; but it is held to be utterly unconstitutional and unparliamentary, and, by consequence, extremely underbred, to insinuate, even in the most remote manner, that the king himself has either a memory, a will, a determination, a resolution, a desire, a conceit, an intention, or, in short, any other intellectual property, that of a "royal pleasure" alone excepted. It is both constitutional and parliamentary to say the king has a "royal pleasure" provided the context goes to prove that this "royal pleasure" is entirely at the disposition of his eldest first-cousin of the masculine gender.

When Mr. Poke was made acquainted with his mistake, he discovered a proper contrition; and the final decision of the affair was postponed, in order to have the opinion of the judges on the propriety of taking bail, which I promptly offered to put in, in behalf of my old shipmate. This disagreeable little interruption temporarily disposed of, the business of the drawing-room went on.

Noah was next conducted to the queen, who was much inclined (always by deputy) to overlook the little mistake into which he had fallen with her royal consort, and to receive him graciously.

"May it please your majesty, I have the honor to present to your majesty's royal notice the Lord Noah Poke, the lord high admiral of a distant and but little known country, called Great Britain," said the gold stick of the evening--Judge People's Friend being afraid of committing Leaplow, and declining to introduce the captain to any one else.

"Lord Poke is a countryman of our royal cousin, the Prince Bob!" observed the queen, in an exceedingly gracious manner.

"No, marm," put in the sealer, promptly, "your cousin Bob is no cousin of mine; and if it were lawful for your majesty to have a memory, or an inclination, or anything else in that way, I should beg the favor of you to order the young blackguard to be soundly threshed."

The majesty of Leaphigh stood aghast, by proxy! It would seem Noah had now actually fallen into a more serious error than the mistake he had made with the king. By the law of Leaphigh, the queen is not a feme couverte. She can sue and be sued in her own name, holds her separate estate, without the intervention of trustees, and IS supposed to have a memory, a will, an inclination, or anything else in that way, except a "royal pleasure," to which she cannot, of right, lay claim. As to her, the king's first-cousin is a dead letter; he having no more control over her conscience than he has over the conscience of an apple-woman. In short, her majesty is quite as much the mistress of her own convictions and conscience as it probably ever falls to the lot of women in such high stations to be the mistress of interests that are of so much importance to those around them. Noah, innocently enough, I do firmly believe, had seriously wounded all those nice sensibilities which are naturally dependent on such an improved condition of society. Forbearance could go no further, and I saw, by the dark looks around me, that the captain had committed a serious crime. He was immediately arrested, and conducted from the presence to an adjoining room, into which I obtained admission, after a good deal of solicitation and some very strong appeals to the sacred character of the rights of hospitality.

It now appeared that, in Leaphigh, the merits of a law are decided on a principle very similar to the one we employ in England in judging of the quality of our wines, viz., its age. The older a law, the more it is to be respected, no doubt because, having proved its fitness by outlasting all the changes of society, it has become more mellow, if not more palatable. Now, by a law of Leaphigh that is coeval with the monarchy, he who offends the queen's majesty at a levee is to lose his head; and he who, under the same circumstances, offends the king's majesty, necessarily the more heinous offence, is to lose his tail. In consequence of the former punishment, the criminal is invariably buried, and he is consigned to the usual course of monikin regeneration and resuscitation; but in consequence of the latter, it is thought that he is completely thrown without the pale of reason, and is thereby consigned to the class of the retrogressive animals. His mind diminishes, and his body increases; the brain, for want of the means of development, takes the ascending movement of sap again; his forehead dilates; bumps reappear; and, finally, after passing gradually downwards in the scale of intellect, he becomes a mass of insensible matter. Such, at least, is the theory of his punishment.

By another law, that is even older than the monarchy, any one who offends in the king's palace may be tried by a very summary process, the king's pages acting as his judges; in which case the sentence is to be executed without delay.

Such was the dilemma to which Noah, by an indiscretion at court, was suddenly reduced; and, but for my prompt interference, he would probably have been simultaneously decapitated at both extremities, in obedience to an etiquette which prescribes that, under the circumstances of a court trial, neither the king's nor the queen's rights shall be entitled to precedence. In defence of my client I urged his ignorance of the usages of the country, and, indeed, of all other civilized countries, Stunnin'tun alone excepted. I stated that the criminal was an object altogether unworthy of their notice; that he was not a lord high admiral at all, but a mere pitiful sealer; I laid some stress on the importance of maintaining friendly relations with the sealers, who cruise so near the monikin region; I tried to convince the judges that Noah meant no harm in imputing moral properties to the king, and that so long as he did not impute immoral properties to his royal consort, she might very well afford to pardon him. I then quoted Shakspeare's celebrated lines on mercy, which seemed to be well enough received, and committed the whole affair to their better judgment.

I should have got along very creditably, and most probably obtained the immediate discharge of my friend, had not the attorney-general of Leaphigh been drawn by curiosity into the room. Although he had nothing to say to the merits of my arguments, he objected to every one of them, on the ground of formality. This was too long, and that was too short; one was too high, and another too low; a fifth was too broad, and a sixth too narrow; in short, there was no figure of speech of this nature to which he did not resort, in order to prove their worthlessness, with the exception that I do not remember he charged any of my reasons with being too deep.

Matters were now beginning to look serious for poor Noah, when a page came skipping in to say that the wedding was about to take place, and that if his comrades wished to witness it, they must sentence the prisoner without delay. Many a man, it is said, has been hanged, in order that the judge might dine; but, in the present instance, I do believe Captain Poke was spared, in order that his judges might not miss a fine spectacle. I entered into recognizance, in fifty thousand promises, for the due appearance of the criminal on the following morning; and we all returned, in a body, to the presence-chamber, treading on each other's tails, in the eagerness to be foremost.

Any one who has ever been at a human court, must very well know that, while it is the easiest thing in the world to throw it into commotion by a violation of etiquette, matters of mere life and death are not at all of a nature to disturb its tranquillity. There, everything is a matter of routine and propriety; and, to judge from experience, nothing is so unseemly as to appear to possess human sympathies. The fact is not very different at Leaphigh, for the monikin sympathies, apparently, are quite as obtuse as those of men; although justice compels me to allow, that in the case of Captain Poke, the appeal was made in behalf of a creature of a different species. It is also a settled principle of Leaphigh jurisprudence, that it would be monstrous for the king to interfere in behalf of justice-justice, however, being always administered in his name; although it certainly is not held to be quite so improper for him to interfere in behalf of those who have offended justice.

As a consequence of these nice distinctions, which it requires a very advanced stage of civilization fully to comprehend, both the king and queen received our whole party, when we came back into the presence, exactly as if nothing particular had occurred. Noah wore both head and tail erect, like another; and the lord high admiral of Leaphigh dropped into a familiar conversation with him, on the subject of ballasting ships, in just as friendly a manner as if he were on the best possible terms with the whole royal family. This moral sang froid is not to be ascribed to phlegm, but is, in fact, the result of high mental discipline, which causes the courtier to be utterly destitute of all feeling, except in cases that affect himself.

It was high time now that I should be presented. Judge People's Friend, who had witnessed the dilemma of Noah with diplomatic unconcern, very politely renewed the offer of his services in my favor, and I went forward and stood before the throne.

"Sire, allow me to present a very eminent literary character among men, a cunning clerk, by name Goldencalf," said the envoy, bowing to his majesty.

"He is welcome to my court," returned the king by proxy.

"Pray, Mr. People's Friend, is not this one of the human beings who have lately arrived in my dominions, and who have shown so much cleverness in getting Chatterino and his governor through the ice?"

"The very same, please your majesty; and a very arduous service it was, and right cleverly performed."

"This reminds me of a duty.--Let my cousin be summoned."

I now began to see a ray of hope, and to feel the truth of the saying which teaches us that justice, though sometimes slow, never fails to arrive at last. I had also, now, and for the first time, a good view of the king's eldest first-cousin of the masculine gender, who drew near at the summons; and, while he had the appearance of listening with the most profound attention to the instructions of the king of Leaphigh, was very evidently telling that potentate what he ought to do. The conference ended, his majesty's proxy spoke in a way to be heard by all who had the good fortune to be near the royal person.

"Reasono did a good thing," he said; "really, a very good thing, in bringing us these specimens of the human family. But for his cleverness, I might have died without ever dreaming that men were gifted with tails." (Kings never get hold of the truth at the right end.) "I wonder if the queen knew it. Pray, did you know, my Augusta, that men had tails?"

"Our exemption from state affairs gives us females better opportunities than your majesty enjoys, to study these matters," returned his royal consort, by the mouth of her lady of the bed- chamber.

"I dare say I'm very silly--but our cousin, here, thinks it might be well to do something for these good people, for it may encourage their king himself to visit us some day."

An exclamation of pleasure escaped the ladies; who declared, one and all, it would be delightful to see a real human king--it would be so funny!

"Well, well," added the good-natured monarch, "Heaven knows what may happen, for I have seen stranger things. Really, we ought to do something for these good people; for, although we owe the pleasure of their visit, in a great degree, to the cleverness of Reasono-- who, by the way, I'm glad to hear is declared an H. O. A. X.--yet he very handsomely admits, that but for their exertions--none of our seamikins being within reach--it would have been quite impossible to get through the ice. I wish I knew, now, which was the cleverest and the most useful of their party."

Here the queen, always thinking and speaking by proxy, suggested the propriety of leaving the point to Prince Bob.

"It would be no more than is due to his rank; for though they are men, I dare say they have feelings like ourselves."

The question was now submitted to Bob, who sat in judgment on us all, with as much gravity as if accustomed to such duties from infancy. It is said that men soon get to be familiar with elevation, and that, while he who has fallen never fails to look backwards, he who has risen invariably limits his vision to the present horizon. Such proved to be the case with the princely Bob.

"This person," observed the jackanapes, pointing to me, "is a very good sort of person, it is true, but he is hardly the sort of person your majesty wants just now. There is the lord high admiral, too-- but--" (Bob's but was envenomed by a thousand kicks!)--"but--you wish, sire, to know which of my father's subjects was the most useful in getting the ship to Leaphigh?"

"That is precisely the fact I desire to know."

Bob hereupon pointed to the cook; who, it will be remembered, was present as one of his train-bearers. "I believe I must say, sire, that this is the man. He fed us all; and without food, and that in considerable quantities, too, nothing could have been done."

The little blackguard was rewarded for his impudence, by exclamations of pleasure from all around him.--"It was so clever a distinction,"--"it showed so much reflection,"--"it was so very profound,"--"it proved how much he regarded the base of society;"-- in short, "it was evident England would be a happy country, when he should be called to the throne!" In the meantime the cook was required to come forth, and kneel before his majesty.

"What is your name?" whispered the lord of the bed-chamber, who now spoke for himself.

"Jack Coppers, your honor."

The lord of the bed-chamber made a communication to his majesty, when the sovereign turned round by proxy, with his back towards Jack, and, giving him the accolade with his tail, he bade him rise, as "Sir Jack Coppers."

I was a silent, an admiring, an astounded witness of this act of gross and flagrant injustice. Some one pulled me aside, and then I recognized the voice of Brigadier Downright.

"You think that honors have alighted where they are least due. You think that the saying of your crown prince has more smartness than truth, more malice than honesty. You think that the court has judged on false principles, and acted on an impulse rather than on reason; that the king has consulted his own ease in affecting to do justice; that the courtiers have paid a homage to their master, in affecting to pay a homage to merit; and that nothing in this life is pure or free from the taint of falsehood, selfishness, or vanity. Alas! this is too much the case with us monikins, I must allow; though, doubtless, among men you manage a vast deal more cleverly."

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