|Chapter XX.||An Artful Little Puss|
|Chapter XXI.||There is Nothing New Under the Sun|
|Chapter XXII.||This Chapter, Though Not to the Point, is Pointed|
|Chapter XXIII.||A Pleasant Society|
|Chapter XXIV.||Mrs. ---- Has a Little Grievance|
|Chapter XXV.||In Which Some Subjects of Interest Are Discussed|
|Chapter XXVI.||Mr. Flonatin Shows More Valour Than
Discretion and Gets into Trouble
|Chapter XXVII.||Red Tapeism|
|Chapter XXVIII.||The Trial|
|Chapter XXIX.||Hturtehteraps Scores a Triumph|
|Chapter XXX.||Flin Takes a Bold Step|
|Chapter XXXI.||Esnesnon Customs|
|Chapter XXXII.||A Journey of Discovery|
|Chapter XXXIII.||Sad End of a Lady Who Kept a Secret|
|Chapter XXXIV.||The Conspiracy Progresses|
|Chapter XXXV.||The Struggle for Freedom|
|Chapter XXXVI.||Flin's Return and Reception|
A very severe frown darkened the King's brow as he observed his daughter caressing Flin, and it was very evident he was angered so as to be unable to speak his thoughts. The Princess was by no means confused, though her face reddened a little. She released Flin, and moving quickly towards her father she said with sweet simplicity, ---
"I am so glad, sire, you have come. This young male has been telling me his woes, and aroused my sympathy deeply, as I am sure yours will be when you have heard his trouble."
"Peace, child," cried the King. "I thought that you were gaining some wisdom, but, alas? I fear that you are just as giddy as ever."
"Ah, your Majesty, you judge me harshly," moaned the charming Princess, with a pretty pout. "I did but sympathise with the poor young barbarian. You know that my heart was never proof against a tale of woe."
"A tail, you jade," cried the enraged King, mistaking his daughter's meaning, "why do you mock me? the wretch is tailless, and therefore too inferior to perform even the most menial office for the daughter of a King. And yet I find you flirting with him in every way as if he were one of us. It is shocking, absolutely shocking and unpardonable."
"Dear King," sighed the artful Princess, as she gently wound her arms round his Majesty's neck. "Do not be angry with your little pet. She did but sport innocently with this funny being. He is such a novelty, you know, and so young too."
A smile spread over the old King's face, and he looked down proudly on the face of his daughter, whose head had drooped gracefully on his breast. "You are a naughty little child, Yobmot, to anger your father so."
"I will not do so any more, your Majesty."
"False promises, child, false promises, I fear. You have made them so often, only to break them again, that I am compelled to doubt."
"Believe me this time, your Majesty, for I am sincere."
"Well, well, it shall be as you desire. Ytidrusba informs me that you have a request to prefer, and I am here to hear it."
"Was ever girl blessed with such a dear parent?" remarked the Princess, as she playfully patted the King's cheek. "You are the very embodiment of wisdom and generosity."
"Cease your flattery, daughter, and let me know your wishes."
"I wish to plead for this miserable being, whose very wretchedness and misery should excite our pity. Dr. Yrekcauq would exhibit him as we have the alligators and other strange beasts shown for the gratification of the common people. However amusing such a show might be --- for no one can doubt that he is a most extraordinary and comical wretch --- I venture to think that it would be detrimental to the dignity of an enlightened and mighty people to make an exhibition of a creature who in some measure can claim kindredship with us."
The King was thoughtful. He bit his finger nails, and his daughter still fondled him, for she was a very artful young lady.
"Our exchequer is low, Ytidrusba, is it not?" he asked sadly.
"It is, your Majesty."
"That being so, we can replenish it well by showing this novel being in an iron cage, as some strange beast who bears an extraordinary resemblance to a pre-human being."
"Your Majesty will surely spare me such an indignity," chimed in Flin, who felt that he could no longer remain silent. "I am an American subject, and in the name of my Government I protest very strongly indeed. In the United States we are in the habit of treating aliens with the greatest amount of consideration and respect. I trust, therefore, that you will have some respect for my feelings. And in the event of your nation and mine ever being able to communicate with each other, you would find that any respect shown to me would be amply repaid."
The King burst into a loud and contemptuous laugh, in which Ytidrusba joined.
"I must give you credit for one thing at least," his Majesty observed, when he had recovered himself, "you have an astonishing amount of assurance, if not impudence. If you are a fair specimen of your countrymen --- and I take it that you are --- that land of yours must be a pretty warm place to live in. Are you aware, sir, that I am the mightiest monarch in all the world?"
"Are you indeed?" said Flin, ironically, "I was not aware of that interesting fact."
"Then know it now, and henceforth respect me. I have no doubt that the beings among whom you dwell have a very exalted notion of themselves. But possibly so have the smallest insects that crawl through our land. But you must remember that you are for ever stamped with the awful brand of degeneration, and that you belong to a fallen race. Save that you speak, you are no better than the wild animals in our woods. This may not be your fault, but conscious of your own littleness, you should not be guilty of presumption."
Flin was terribly annoyed at the old King's remarks, but he bowed gracefully and said with withering sarcasm, ---
"Your Majesty is undoubtedly a highly civilised and most polished gentleman, and the nation you honour by ruling over it must be a happy and mighty nation, indeed, with such a wise King to govern it. But, while in justice I admit this, I trust you will permit me to say that amongst the nations which dwell on the crust of the earth America stands preeminently the highest and most glorious. I guess it's a mighty tall nation and wants some licking. It can give points to every other nation on the crust of the earth, but of course it is not equal to your own kingdom."
The King smiled, for he liked flattery. It was a lucky speech of Flin's, and completely won the old monarch, whose vanity had been touched.
The Princess also was not slow to perceive the effect Flin's words had had upon her father; for she possessed all the keenness of a woman's penetration, and was a practised hand in the use of those cunning little artifices which are the weapons of the softer sex, and which are used with terrible effect on poor, weak men.
The charming Princess, seeing that His Majesty was moved by Flin Flon's appeal, determined to follow up .the advantage thus gained --- what a sly little puss she was, was she not? --- and so, caressing her parent very lovingly, she simpered, ---
"What a dear, dear delightful pa you are to be sure. Was ever girl so blessed as I? Heigho! I fear, pa dear, I am not so deserving of you affection as I ought to be, but then, you know, I am going to be ever so good in future."
"Humph!" murmured the King, and though his hairy face beamed with a pleasant smile, he looked suspiciously at his daughter as if he didn't quite believe all she said. But he patted her head, and observed, "Yobmot, you are an artful little dear. I know you want to wheedle your old father out of something. Come now, is it not so?"
"I declare this is too bad," cried the Princess, as she stamped her foot, and with an air of injured innocence drew back and pouted her lips. "It is really too bad," she repeated, pulling out a very large amber handkerchief and pressing it to her eyes. (Alas! woman's nature seems to be much alike in all worlds. We have no authentic accounts from the moon, but if there be female dwellers there, and it is very probable that there are, they no doubt are just as experienced in the value of tears as a most effective weapon against man's heart as their sublunary sisters. At any rate Princess Yobmot --- sly little minx --- knew their use too well.) Her loving and gentle sire drew the fair head to his broad chest, and toying with her locks, he said ---
"There, there, my pet, spoil not those pretty eyes with weeping."
But the naughty little thing only sobbed the more. So that the King caressed her still more tenderly, and whispered, "There, there, my darling, dry your tears. I did not mean to hurt your feelings so. Tell me what I can do for you. I promise that I will grant any reasonable request. I will really."
"Oh, you dear, kind, cruel, naughty, delightful old pa," suddenly exclaimed the Princess, at the same time smoothing her back hair, which had been ruffled by the King's arm, and having arranged her tresses, she kissed her father, and added, "You are so awfully nice." (The observant reader will note that the paradoxical style of expression, which is at once so pretty and so absurd, is by no means peculiar to the young ladies of the upper world, but seems to be general.) "I have only one little tiny favour to ask, and, after having wounded my feelings so terribly, you must grant it."
"And pray what is it, pet?"
"For the honour and credit of our great nation, you must let this miserable, tailless barbarian have his liberty, and be free to move amongst our people and improve himself by studying our customs."
The King sighed. He was unable to resist his daughter's persuasive powers. Alas! he was by no means the first King who had fallen through lovely woman.
"I fear, my dear," he remarked, "that if I comply with your request it will not be very much to our credit --- which we shall have to pledge --- as our exchequer is so exhausted. But it shall be as you desire. Our royal promise is given."
"Oh, you are kind," cried his daughter, casting a sly glance at Flin and Ytidrusba. The latter gentleman was particularly delighted, as he saw what a triumph he had gained over his adversary, Doctor Yrekcauq. "I intend to be ever such a good little girl now, pa," she added, as she once more kissed him.
The old King was visibly affected. This might have been caused by the great display of his daughter's affection; but it was very possibly owing to the thought that he would have to devise some other plan to refill his empty coffers. It was a great sacrifice to give up the scheme of exhibiting Flin, but there was no help for it, as he was disarmed of all resolutions when his daughter wept.
"I confess that I have yielded to my daughter's request very reluctantly," observed the King, turning to Flin. "I have no doubt at all that if one of my subjects was to stray into your country he would be instantly seized, places in a cage, and exhibited to gaping ignoramuses." (Flin thought this was exceedingly probable, for a being with a tail would be a curiosity indeed in the upper world.) "However," pursued his Majesty, "the customs of savage nations do not, I am pleased to say, affect us. We are desirous to set an example by which we hope other nations will profit. You will, therefore, consider yourself at perfect liberty to go where you like in Esnesnon, and if you are an observer you cannot fail to benefit by what you see, and I trust that, if you should return to the Upper World, you will do all in your power to reform your fellows, and instruct them in the arts and politeness of a highly civilised people, such as, I am proud to say, we are."
Flin bowed low. But he could scarcely repress a smile as he compared the great American nation with Esnesnon. It seemed to him so ludicrously absurd for an old savage only one degree removed from an animal of the woods, like King Gubmuh, to talk of "politeness" and "arts," and to imagine for a single moment that the American people had anything to learn in this respect. He was determined, however, not to seem wanting in that delicate courtesy which as an American subject he knew so well how to exercise. And so dropping on his knee, he pressed his lips to the hairy hand of the monarch, and said: "I beg that your Majesty will accept the expressions of my most perfect gratitude and esteem for the unlooked-for favour which you have been pleased to extend to me. And I beg to further assure your Majesty that should I be so fortunate as to return safe and well to my beloved country, I shall never cease to uphold your Majesty as a generous and kindly monarch. And though I cannot admit that my nation is altogether what you believe it to be, I do go so far as to say that your Majesty's example might very fairly be copied by other crowned heads. One thing I may safely state, and that is, that the representations I shall make of your Majesty's goodness and generosity will win for you the entire good-will of the mighty people who live under the glorious stars and stripes."
"Tut, tut," cried the King, "this is mere bunkum."
Flin was astounded that King Gubmuh should be acquainted with a noun that was so singularly expressive and peculiarly American. And it must be confessed that he was annoyed at being accused of talking "bunkum." But he considered it would have been an act of weakness to let his Majesty see that he had noticed the insult, and so he merely bowed again and said, ---
"Permit me to observe that you Majesty's generosity is only excelled by your exceeding great wisdom." Whereat the King smiled, and motioning to Ytidrusba, withdrew.
As soon as the door was closed, the Princess Yobmot burst into a loud laugh, and capering round the room like a young colt just let loose, she cried, ---
"Oh, you delightful little humbug! Why, I declare, the governor almost believed that you meant what you said. I saw the old buffer's eyes twinkling as though they were going to water."
Mr. Flonatin was terribly shocked at the levity of this young creature. To hear her speak of her father as the "governor," and "old buffer," was painful, and he replied, ---
"Really, your Highness, I would remind you that I am a sedate and grave man of science, and such giddiness as you display troubles me. I am not given to speaking what I do not feel, and you may believe me when I say ---"
The Princess here interrupted him with a perfect roar of laughter, and exclaimed, ---
"Oh, do give over, you funny little creature, or I shall faint. We shall have some jolly fun together if you are a good little fellow and only do what I tell you, and between us we shall be able to gammon the governor into anything."
She threw her arms round Mr Flonatin's waist, and set off him in a waltz round the room, spinning round and round like a top, until the poor fellow was bewildered and giddy, and sank down on a seat perfectly exhausted, while the lively girl fanned him with her amber handkerchief and laughed immoderately.
The excitement in the city of Esnesnon caused by Flin Flon's strange arrival promised to be something more than a nine days' wonder, and public opinion was very much divided as to who he was, and where he had come from. In fact two "parties" were quickly formed --- the one led by the celebrated Doctor Yrekcauq and the other by the great spiritualist and magician, Ytidrusba. It may be as well to mention here that the word "magician" was not used in the city of Esnesnon in the same sense as it is used by upper world people. It was in point of fact a title of great honour, and indicated learning and attainments of a very high order. Mr Ytidrusba was, as has been shown, well acquainted with the science of mesmerism, and he was also a "professor of spiritualism." This was a degree peculiar also to the central world. For although there are spiritualists in the upper world, they are simply practisers, and not professors. And after the power displayed by the learned Ytidrusba, I am afraid it will have to be admitted that the spiritualists of the upper world are very shallow impostors indeed. One thing was very remarkable. Mr Ytidrusba did not resort to the childish nonsense of making the chairs and tables dance, and knocking flower-pots about in order to convince his world that spirits did exist. But he professed to have an intimate knowledge of the occult sciences, and he preached a doctrine that certain of the dead of Esnesnon took their departure to the outer regions of the globe; that there they assumed another form, and went through a probationary term previous to voyaging to a new world. Of course such a doctrine as this will sound very ridiculous to civilised ears. But it is a trifle more rational than that preached by the canting hypocrites of this favoured region, who impiously assert that they are enabled to hold communion with the disembodied spirits of another sphere. I am bound to confess my inability to account for the very remarkable knowledge possessed by Ytidrusba, nor would I for a single moment believe that Mr Flonatin was guilty of anything like "bunkum" in making the statements that he has done. His upright conduct and noble disposition must for ever place him above the breath of slander or calumny. He was the very embodiment of truth, and the good man's bones would surely rattle in his grave if any reader should for a single moment doubt the truth of anything he has written. Anyway I feel it is but justice to his memory to say that if any trifling inaccuracies or exaggerations have inadvertently crept into this history, they must be laid to my charge as the historian. Though I have no fear but what will bear favourable comparison with the generality of histories. In fact, I venture to think there are fewer misstatements than might have been expected in a work of such magnitude, and dealing as it does with a new world and a new race of people. But as I fear I shall be accused of egotism, I will say nothing more about the merits of the work, for I hold that if there is anything that is objectionable it is surely the blowing of one's own trumpet. In fact, since the noble and high-souled race of critics came into being, there is no longer any necessity for one to praise oneself, as these gentle creatures do it for you, and in such a delicate and polite manner as to leave nothing to be desired. These gentlemen critics are above suspicion, and as for the ladies, why, they are simply perfect. Any work possessing a scintilla of ability is sure to receive the most gracious consideration at the hands of these good people. In fact, they delight in giving praise, and their lives are one long round of enjoyment and pleasure, as must ever be the case with those who live, not for themselves, but for the benefit of others less favoured than themselves. But spotless and chaste as is the race of critics, they do not escape the breath of calumny. Unprincipled and shameless persons have at times hinted at bribery and corruption in connection with criticism. They have even gone so far as to say that critics are jealous, cross- gained, envious, splenetic, captious, spiteful, snarling, stony- hearted, shallow-brained, one-sided, mercenary, champagne- drinking, supper-eating, favour-hunting, office-seeking, falsehood-telling people. But it is a remarkable fact that these libellers have invariably come to some bad end, or met with violent deaths, which speak plainly of that providence which protects the good and punishes the guilty.
But to once more take up the thread and return to that city of moral gloom, Esnesnon. There the State was torn with the feuds of contending parties. And the peace and goodwill so conspicuous in the upper regions were not enjoyed there. There were contentions, bickerings, backbitings, jealousy, hatred, malice, uncharitableness; and, in short, so much evil that it would almost justify the belief indulged in by the pious people of the upper world that the centre world was verily the infernal regions.
The Press of Esnesnon was also very corrupt. The Gazette was the State organ, and its toadyism was fulsome. All official notices appeared in it, and it was practically the voice of the King and the Government, of which more will be said by-and- by. The opposition paper was the Anti-Humbug News. This was, in fact, the people's journal, and professed to be the only vehicle of public opinion. It prided itself upon its incorruptibility, and "gassed" a good deal about its "pure tone and outspoken honesty." There is reason to believe, however, that this was only "bosh," and that it really existed by trading on the credulity of an ignorant people, and by misdirecting public opinion. As to whether the latter charge is correct, my readers will be able to draw their own inferences from the following extract, which has reference to Flin Flon's arrival. It will be remembered that the Gazette was the only paper which was allowed to have a representative at Court, and consequently the only journal able to supply its readers with accurate Court information. There can be little doubt that the News smarted from this exclusiveness, and was exceedingly bitter against its rival. But the relative value of the opinion of the respective papers will be best judged when the following is contrasted with the notice taken from the Gazette. This is what the Anti-Humbug News said: ---
"A few days ago we briefly announced the arrival in this city of a strange being, supposed to have come from some savage region, as yet undiscovered by our geographers. We refrain from giving any detailed account of the creature until we had been able to learn something more about him by a personal interview. With this object we immediately despatched one of the oldest members of our staff to interview the stranger. But we regret to announce that our representative was resolutely and insolently refused admission into the palace. We were not altogether unprepared for this, knowing as we do the amount of cliqueism and favouritism which unfortunately prevail at his Majesty's Court. Our policy has always been to speak out boldly, without fear and without favour; as our readers are aware, this has brought us into bad odour in certain quarters. But in the interests of this great people, and the country generally, we do not hesitate now to inform the King that it is his duty as monarch of a mighty realm to study the interests of his subjects, and to recognise no party. Unhappily --- and we say this with all due respect --- his Majesty allows a few interested office-seekers to stand between him and his people. For a long time the government of the country has virtually been in the hands of Mr. Ytidrusba and Doctor Yrekcauq, and as it is notorious that a bitter feud exists between these two learned beings, we fearlessly assert that they should no longer be allowed to make the Court and the Senate the arena for their personal quarrels. That both gentlemen are endowed with extraordinary ability must be freely admitted, but their high attainments are sullied by a smallness of spirit that would discredit barbarians. The arrival of the strange being is the signal for a renewal of the jealousy which has so long been a disgrace to his Majesty's palace, and both Mr Ytidrusba and Doctor Yrekcauq forget what they owe to the public in their desire to air their own opinions. We would, however, respectfully inform these gentlemen that we, as the organ of public opinion, object to have mud thrown in our eyes. We claim to have a voice in all matters affecting the public weal, and anything like chicanery or humbug we shall oppose with all the energy at our command. We believe that the public are being humbugged with reference to this stranger, whose chief claim to singularity seems to be the absence of a caudal appendage. We understand that there was a meeting yesterday at the Palace of all the learned men and savants of our city, but that they arrived at no definite conclusion, though both Mr Ytidrusba and Doctor Yrekcauq had their pet theories well paraded, as is usually the case when anything strange occurs. Without entering into the merits of the disputes of these scientists we feel called upon to denounce the statement that the stranger has come from the exterior of the earth, as one totally unworthy of a great mind, and equally unworthy of a moment's consideration by intelligent people. Our philosophers and scientific men have proved beyond a doubt that the exterior of this earth is perfectly smooth, and shrouded in eternal night. The idea, therefore, of anything having life being able to dwell upon a smooth ball, and in total darkness, is so ludicrously absurd that it is an insult to ask a person, even of the most ordinary intelligence, to believe it. But science has proved even more than this. It has established the fact that the exterior of the earth is surrounded with gases of such a deadly nature that nothing --- neither animal nor vegetable life --- could possibly exist there for a moment. It is, in short, a region of gloom, silence and death. To say, therefore, that a person similar in being to ourselves could possibly have made his way from there to here is a monstrously-absurd falsehood. This may be strong language, but the time has come when only plain speaking can avail. We have so long groaned under the despotism of cliques, who, from self-interested motives, have not hesitated to cram ridiculous notions down the public throat, that we are determined now to combat this. We feel it to be a duty, and we shall not flinch from doing that duty. Do not let our meaning be misunderstood. We write in the broad spirit of brotherly love and charity. But DUTY is our watchword. In the meantime, we caution the public not to be gulled by the nonsensical idea that this tailless wretch has come to us from the mysterious and unknown regions of solitude and darkness which surround our world. The commonest of logic will disprove this. He was found floating in his strange vessel on the Green River. Now the source of that river has never been discovered, notwithstanding the many attempts that have been made to trace it. It will be remembered that many years ago a powerful electrical vessel was fitted out to ascend the river, and after travelling for a considerable distance she came to the mouth of a huge tunnel, from which the water poured in such force as to render it impossible for the vessel to proceed further. There is no doubt that the new arrival came down this tunnel, and it is equally certain that, dwelling in another part of our world, and connected by the Green River, is an extraordinary race, of which this person is a representative. He had probably been boating when by some mischance he was carried away by the currents, and so found himself, much to his astonishment, amongst civilised people. But to suppose that he could have dropped down from regions that are, for aught we know, thousands of miles above us, is at once childish and ridiculous. If what we have stated is not true, then all we can say is that a cruel hoax is being perpetrated, for reasons that we confess we are unable to define. We shall jealously watch the movements of the Government with reference to the matter and shall not hesitate to expose anything like humbug."
Thus did the Anti-Humbug News pour out its vials of wrath, begotten by disappointment. As Flin Flon read the article he could scarcely refrain from smiling.
"Alas!" he mused, "there is little difference between those races with tails and those without. And if we could only get the monkeys to tell us what they thought of both human and prehuman beings, we should be very much astonished as well as shocked. "
The reader will probably acquiesce in this. And in the next chapter some very peculiar information will be given that will have special interest for the ladies.
It will be remembered that the roguish little Princess Yobmot had succeeded in wheedling her father into allowing Flin Flon to have his liberty. And this concession was no less welcome to Flin than to the lady herself. Mr Flonatin was by no means pleased with the exuberance of animal spirits displayed by the Princess, but under the circumstances he felt it was to his interest to put up with some inconveniences, and therefore he was determined to be silent, as she might prove a valuable ally.
On the day following Flin's interview with King Gubmuh, he was unexpectedly, and, as it proved, clandestinely visited by the Princess, who, suddenly bursting into the room, exclaimed, --- .
"Oh, I am so delighted to see you, you jolly little male! But do you know, my dad has prohibited me from coming, though that does not trouble me. Love laughs at locksmiths, you know, dear, doesn't it? "
Mr. Flonatin blushed. He could not help doing so, for he was particularly bashful and retiring in the presence of ladies.
"Really, you Highness," he stammered, "your attentions are no doubt well meant, but I must again remind you that I have long passed the hey-day of youth, and that love-making was an art in which I fear I never even reached mediocrity, as testified by the fact that in my old age I am still a bachelor and childless."
The Princess fairly roared with laughter as Flin spoke. She was evidently greatly amused, though he, poor man, had not the slightest intention of joking. His bachelorhood was a tender subject upon which he seldom touched. Nor shall I presume to deal with such a delicate and sacred matter, though I am selfish enough to feel some slight degree of gladness that the immortal traveller never was trapped into the net of Hymen. For had he settled down into a humdrum Benedict, and become the proud father of a large family, his roving propensities would not have been gratified, and, as a consequence, I should not have had the pleasure of writing this history. But to return to the Princess, who, when she had recovered, exclaimed, ---
"Oh, you funny little quack-quack, you talk in such a comical manner that I really cannot refrain from laughing."
Then she pressed his cheeks with her by no means delicate hands, I am sorry to say, and kissed him two or three times --- an act of gracious condescension which he by no means relished. And he showed his reluctance to be treated so familiarly by forcibly drawing back and frowning his severest frown, which only caused the Princess to break out again and cry, enthusiastically, ---
"You darling, you will drive me mad with laughter if you persist in being so funny. Do try and be sedate, there's a dear."
For her to be any madder than she was Flin thought would be morally impossible. In fact, his own private opinion, it may be freely confessed, was that everybody in Esnesnon was very decidedly mad, an opinion in which I by no means share. In fact, I do not hesitate to say that Mr. Flonatin was a little too severe, and since we do not know exactly the precise opinion entertained by the prehuman people for the human race, beyond that they believe us to be very degenerated, a belief in which I fully coincide, it is as well to be a little lenient and sparing of abuse, remembering that those who live in glass structures should not fling stones.
"Really, my dear madam," Flin remarked, "I must respectfully beg that you will be a little less volatile. I am so unused to such behaviour that it quite confuses me."
"What a splendid actor you are, to be sure," she answered, with a look of mock gravity. "Why, you would almost make one believe that you were in earnest. But do, for goodness sake, try and be a little serious yourself, there's a dear. It is not good for one to laugh so."
"I really protest, your Highness --- " Flin continued; but the Princess interrupted him by putting her hand playfully over his mouth, and saying, ---
"There, there, you funny little thing, don't joke any more now, or else I will get ever so angry with you."
Mr. Flonatin sighed. He felt that he was thoroughly mastered by this young lady, and that to attempt to convince her would be a perfectly hopeless task. He was not the first man who has had to confess himself beaten by a strong-minded woman. In fact, there is reason to fear that at the present day man is becoming decidedly the weaker vessel, and that henceforth his station will be in the kitchen, where he can exercise his ingenuity in making pastry and washing up the plates. But if woman has thoroughly made up her mind to drive us there, I call upon all men to rally round and make a bold stand against this revolutionary measure. Let us show the dear creatures that we know how to resent this last indignity. We will die, die bravely, piling up our dead bodies at the kitchen doors rather than submit.
"Now, look here," continued Princess Yobmot, addressing Flin. "I tell you what I am going to do. There is a meeting to-day of 'The Society for the Protection of Males.' I was one of the founders of this society, and it is supported by some of our best ladies. There is often some jolly fun there, and so I intend to take you. But, mind, on one condition only."
"And what is that, you Highness?" asked Flin, not a little pleased at the opportunity which offered itself to him to see some of the inner life of the New Worlders. The Princess sidled up to him, and looking into his face very roguishly, and patting him on the head, she said, ---
"Why, you artful little creature, as though you did not know. Well, it is that you do not allow any of the ladies there to make love to you; or I shall be so awfully jealous."
"Really, you Highness, I cannot believe that you wish me to accept this seriously. Surely the members of a Society whose business is of such a serious nature will not be guilty of such a dereliction of duty as that you name."
"You silly little thing," answered the Princess, "you don't know what my countrywomen are yet. It is very doubtful if they are capable of really serious business. And they are such flirts. I am afraid they sadly deceive their husbands, poor, confiding creatures! Oh, do you know, if I had a husband I should be so good to him. And I should always take him out whenever I went, and I shouldn't belong to any club, but always be home early at night, and never look slyly at any other young male. In fact, I should be a perfect model of a wife."
"I fear, your Highness, that you promise far too much," Flin observed. "I have heard men in my own country make similar promises, but I know they have seldom been kept. And the husband has cared more for his club than his wife after marriage."
"His club!" the Princess almost shrieked, throwing up her hands in horror. "His club," she repeated. "You don't mean to tell me that the husband has a club?"
"What I state is perfectly true, madam."
"And the husband goes away and leaves his wife at home?"
"Such I am sorry to say is too often the case."
"Oh, the brutes!" the Princess cried; "but tell me, why do the wives allow it?"
"Simply because they cannot help themselves. You must understand that in most civilis --- I beg your pardon, that is, I mean to say --- in the upper world regions man is invariably the ruler and the woman is ever the weaker sex."
"Oh, horror, I shall faint!" exclaimed the Princess. "Can it be possible that such a state of things can exist, even amongst barbarians? How I wish I could visit your country. I would very soon alter all that." Then she moved closer to him, and winding her arm round his waist, she broke out into an incredulous smile, and said, "You naughty, gay, little deceiver. Fie on you! You have been trifling with my feelings, and you know that what you have stated is false."
Flin by no means liked to have his veracity impugned, and gently disengaging himself from his too ardent admirer's grasp, he remarked, ---
"Your Highness is slightly discourteous to doubt my word --- "
But before he could finish his sentence she kissed him rather boisterously, and said, ---
"Now don't get cross, you little tease, for you know that what you say isn't true. The idea of trying to make me believe such a thing, you naughty little fellow. Now, now" --- as Flin was about to speak --- "it is no use saying anything else because I won't hear you. Why, if I thought that even in such a terrible place as that from which you have come my sex were so degraded I would drown myself, I declare I would. It is horrible to think of it even as a joke. So please not to be so funny any more, or I won't speak to you for a whole day."
Flin saw that it would be perfectly useless to attempt to convince this dreadful young lady. And he breathed a silent prayer of thankfulness that in his country her counterpart was nowhere to be found, and "the lords of creation" still held sway.
Alas! in the purity of his nature, and his childlike simplicity, he believed this to be the case. But things have altered since then, and if the good Flonatin's spirit could revisit earthly scenes he would weep to see how the Esnesnon fashions are becoming general throughout the upper world.
"Come, we must not waste any more time," the Princess remarked, "or the Society's meeting will be over." As she spoke she struck a polished stone disc with a sort of hammer, and a strange, low, musical note resulted. This stone was the equivalent for our bell. A servant appeared. "Order my chariot immediately," she said imperiously. The slave bowed and retired. Returning in a few minutes he announced that "the chariot was ready." Then, all smiles, the Princess turned to Mr Flonatin and said, "Come, dear, let us go." She caught up an elegant asbestos shawl which was lying over the sofa, and throwing it over Flin's head so as to conceal his face, she offered him her arm, and gazing on him with a look of admiration led him out of the room.
The chariot, which waited at the door ready to receive the Princess, was circular in shape, not unlike the half of an egg-shell. This shell was fitted into a framework that bore a strong resemblance to an egg-cup. The cup rested on a wooden platform that might very well be likened to a table without legs. In the front and back part of the table were two wheels, and at the sides were two more like the driving-wheels of a locomotive. The motive power of this strange vehicle was electricity, which was generated in a battery fitted beneath the body of the carriage. By means of powerful currents of electricity a crank was turned which set the wheels in motion, and, the concern being circular, would run backwards or forwards. A servant stood on the platform to control the battery and steer the carriage.
Mr. Flonatin examined this machine with considerable curiosity and surprise, for he had no idea as to the kind of conveyances these strange people might use, and the application of electricity in such an ingenious way excited his admiration.
As he had not yet forgotten his upper world customs, he was about to hand the Princess in; but she looked at him with astonishment and said, ---
"I trust I am too much of a lady to enter a carriage before a male. You should remember that women in this country always give way to the weaker sex."
Flin could scarcely help smiling at the girl's arrogance, but he made no reply and allowed her to assist him in. When he was seated she sprang lightly after him, and the coachman drew some elegant curtains, which were suspended from a light framework round the vehicle, thereby secluding the occupants from the gaze of the vulgar.
"May I inquire, madam," said Flin, when they were seated, "if all your vehicles are built upon this principle?"
"Nearly all. We have some which are used out of the town which are propelled by means of compressed air acting upon an enclosed sail. But they travel so rapidly that we do not allow them to come into the streets. They are used chiefly to carry passengers and goods to distant parts."
"Then I presume you have no horses."
"Horses! horses! Whatever kind of things are they?"
Mr. Flonatin pitied her for her ignorance, but he did not like to be rude, and so he explained that horses were four- legged animals, and were extremely useful in the upper world.
"I never heard of such beings," the Princess replied. "The only animal we use as a draught animal, and then only for heavy loads, is the anoplotherium."
"Bless my life, is it possible?" cried Flin in amazement. "Why, we have always looked upon the anoplotherium as an extinct animal. Occasionally his fossil remains have been found in our country, but a living specimen would arouse the interest and enthusiasm of the whole scientific world."
"Why, what a funny place your country must be to be sure," the Princess observed with, as Flin thought, just a touch of irony in her tone; though, as it is scarcely possible that a Princess of the royal house of Gubmuh could have been guilty of anything like rudeness to a gentleman, he may have been mistaken in so thinking.
"As you are so favoured with regard to the Anoplotherium," Flin remarked, "it is possible you have also the menopome here."
The Princess smiled.
"Why, of course we have," she replied; "whatever do you think we should do without it? He is a most useful beast, I can assure you."
"Ah, possibly, possibly," said Flin, feeling a little incredulous, for the great salamander had ever been looked upon by him as a mythological reptile, but now he was actually in a place where it was utilised. "And may I inquire, madam, for what purpose these strange beasts are used?"
"Yes. In our great gold foundries, where there is much heavy work, the menopome is taught to carry massive beams and girders into the furnaces. The gold is placed on the backs of a couple of the beast, which, when loaded, crawl into the furnaces, and then wait until the metal gets sufficiently hot for whatever process it has to go through, when they bring it out again."
"Wonderful, wonderful," cried Flin enthusiastically, and finding it very hard to bring himself to believe that such a thing was possible. He almost felt inclined to clap his hands with joy as he made notes of these wonders. "By the way, my dear Princess," he said suddenly, and in his enthusiasm quite forgetting himself, "can you inform me what has been done with my vessel by which I arrived here?"
Instead of answering him directly her arm stole around his waist, and she drew him to her.
"Ah! speak to me again like that," she murmured; "to be called dear by you is so very nice."
"Really, madam, you have mistaken me," he stammered indignantly, and trying to disengage himself; but she held him firmly.
"Do not be so cruel," she whispered; "you have awakened within my breast a feeling of
devotion for you, and I shall hope yet to win your love, my pet. Nay, do not push me away. I am
sincere, let me not plead in vain, or I shall sigh myself away. Give me one word of hope and I will kneel at your feet and plead for a loving smile. Command me to travel the earth through and I will do it if you but wish it. I would even go to that awful region from which you say you have come."
"I --- I --- madam --- let me entreat you to be a little more decorous," Flin stammered, for he was utterly bewildered and ashamed. To be made love to by a female in such a manner was quite a novel experience, and though it might be the custom of the country which he was then in, he felt it was a custom he could not reconcile himself to, though he had no doubt that when one had become thoroughly used to it, it would be by no means unpleasant. "You should really make some allowance for my inexperience," he continued.
"Ah! sweet creature," she chimed in, "how ingenuous and innocent you are."
"I thought," he went on, "that such nonsensical language was confined to my own country, and even there only used by love-sick boys, whose proper place is at school, where they should be birched regularly and fed upon water gruel until they had learnt reason."
The Princess was by no means daunted. She exhibited much of that characteristic perseverance which is so marked in male lovers in our own country; and instead of feeling offended, she smiled sweetly, and snatching a kiss, which act caused Flin's face to become scarlet, even to the very roots of his few remaining grey hairs, she murmured, ---
"Sweet male, you are cruel, very cruel, but I shall still hope." She squeezed his hand, and would have kissed him again, but he repulsed her. And at this moment, much to his relief, the chariot stopped. The Princess jumped out, and then gave her hand to Flin. They were at the entrance to a magnificent building, the front of which was composed of polished gold, which apparently was the universal building material in Esnesnon. Princess Yobmot gave her arm to her companion, and then conducted him up a flight of very noble stairs, which were made from what seemed to be massive slabs of ruby glass.
"You were asking me, darling, about your funny little vessel,' she remarked."I should tell you that it is being exhibited in Doctor Yrekcauq's museum, and thousands of people flock to see it every day."
What heathens, Flin thought, but he did not say so. At the top of the landing a servant was waiting. He wore a huge wig, which hung right down his back, and Flin could scarcely keep from laughing, for the fellow looked such a guy, what with his short tail and long wig. He bowed almost to the ground as the Princess approached, and stared in stupid astonishment at Flin, so that he remarked, ---
"How very rude the fellow is to be sure."
"He has never seen such a handsome barbarian as you before, dear," she answered, and then motioned the servant to lead the way. This he did, until he stood before a large door, which he flung open, and in a stentorian voice announced, ---
"The Princess Yobmot, and the strange savage from the infernal regions."
Flonatin looked daggers at the fellow, and felt that it would have been a relief to his feelings if he could have kicked him downstairs. But the Princess only smiled, and led her blushing companion into a large apartment.
As the distinguished arrivals entered there was such a buzzing of voices as to be almost deafening, and Flin Flon was positively confused. It seemed like Babel, and as if hundreds of persons were trying to talk each other deaf. Ranged round a very long table were about seventy Esnesnon dames, and so the cause of the hubbub will be readily understood; and it will be further comprehended that amongst such a large gathering of ladies who had assembled together for the transaction of public business that there was a pretty considerable amount of jealousy and backbiting. As the Princess entered, all the ladies bowed and rose from their seats, and one lady,
whose summers and winters together would have made up a respectable sum of years, so large, in fact, that ill-natured people, especially expectant heirs, might have said of her that it was high time she got herself comfortably cremated. But, judging from her lusty lungs and apparent vigour, she had no intention of taking her departure for the upper world for some time, which was rather fortunate for the upper world, though there is strong reason to believe that she has since come to dwell amongst us, that is, assuming Mr. Ytidrusba's theory to be correct. This dear creature's name was Sregdorpittemmocaig (28), rather a sweet thing in names when pronounced quickly. Well, Mrs. (please take the name as written) rose and said, ---
"I vote Her Royal Highness takes the chair."
Which being duly seconded, and unanimously carried, the Princess took the chair accordingly, and having done so she proceeded to address the meeting as follows: ---
"I really had no intention, my learned sisters, to preside at your meeting to-day, but since you have done me the honour of voting me to the important office I cannot very well refuse. As you will perceive, I have taken the liberty of bringing a stranger and one of the softer sex here" (at this there was much laughter and a few groans. Flin still kept his face closely muffled in the shawl in accordance with the commands of the Princess, and many of the ladies had made desperate efforts to get a peep at the intruder, but without avail, for the disguise was effectual). "I know that this is not allowable according to our rules," the chairwoman proceeded, "but a point may very well be stretched in this case when I tell you that our visitor is no less distinguished a person that the poor barbarian who has arrived from goodness knows where." At this announcement there was intense excitement among the "learned sisters," and the buzzing recommenced, as everyone asked everyone else a dozen questions all at once, and in a manner that only a lady knows how to do. When order had been once more restored the Princess proceeded, "I thought that your interest would be aroused as soon as you were informed who the person was, and I venture to express a hope, ladies, that his presence will not be allowed to interfere with the transaction of our business. And for fear your attention may be too much distracted I think it will be better for the creature to keep his features concealed." "No, no, no" was the unanimous cry, "pray let us have a look at him." "Well, ladies, if you are so anxious to see him you shall, but I trust it will not cause you to neglect duty." Mr. Flonatin felt by no means comfortable. To have to stand the gaze of seventy pairs of feminine eyes, even though the eyes belonged to people who had tails, was a trial that the stoutest-hearted man would have shrunk from. It certainly taxed all his powers. But he was no coward and he made up his mind to face even this dreadful ordeal with that fortitude and endurance which were among his chief characteristics, and so at a signal from the Princess he threw off the disguising shawl, and like the Roman slave of old before the senators, he stood revealed in all his blushing beauty, and with a sweet smile on his genial countenance he bowed politely to the assembly. Then there broke out a buzzing which resembled nothing so much as numerous swarms of bees who were disputing possession of the bough of some tree.
But every now and then Flin was enabled to catch such sentences as, ---
"Isn't he good-looking?"
"Oh, what a duck!"
"What a charming little fellow, to be sure!"
"What a fine nose he has got!"
"And what a lovely mouth!"
"And such a noble head!"
"And only to think that such a dear fellow should be a savage. How very shocking, to be sure! "
These expressions of admiration did not escape the ears of the Princess, as was evident by the severe frown which contracted her brow. She thumped on the table with her rod of office rather vigorously; this rod of office looked to Flin like silver, but as a matter of fact it was platinum, a metal in common use throughout Esnesnon. But though the Princess thumped and thumped again with her rod, it was some time before she could restore order, for, alas! the tongues of seventy ladies having once got into full swing cannot be stopped suddenly as if they were steam engines. It requires a great deal of manoeuvring and tact to bring them to "dead slow" and then to "stop." But by dint of much hammering and repeated shouting her Highness at length succeeded in getting silence.
"Really, ladies," she observed, in a tone of anger, "this is unpardonable. I declare one would think you had never seen a male before. And miserable barbarian though this one is, you ought not to forget yourselves in such manner."
At this reproof many of the ladies turned up their noses in a rather indignant way, though they did not let the Princess see them, and many more whispered one to the other, ---
"Did ever you know of such a thing?"
"The forward hussy, to speak to us like that!"
"I should like to pull her hair for her, so I should!"
"The brazen minx!"
"For a child like her to talk in such a manner is unpardonable."
But of course these expressions also were not allowed to reach the chairwoman's ears.
Again the Princess thumped upon the table with her rod, and the tongues ceased, though very reluctantly, for, like a large bell that has once been set swinging, there was a clang and a ding every now and then, although silence seemed to be restored.
At length, when the dear creatures had quite ceased, Mrs Sregdorpittemmocaig rose. (In dealing with this lady in future I shall take the liberty of leaving her name a blank, as it is a very terrible one to write, and I know I shall get into trouble with the printers.) This lady rose stern and grave, as became one of her age, and said, ---
"Your Royal Highness and ladies, as one of the oldest members of this board, I may be permitted to make a few remarks."
"What presumption, to be sure," whispered a rather good-looking young lady to her neighbour.
"Yes, indeed, the stupid old thing. Why doesn't she stop at home and look after her husband and children?" was the reply whispered back.
But, all unconscious of these loving remarks, the ancient dame proceeded, ---
"What I have to say will be very brief. I cannot but think that our beloved Princess was actuated by the best of motives in bringing this curious being here. But to be candid --- and those who know me know that I cannot be anything else ---; ("Oh, the wicked story-teller!" whispered another lady) --- I must say I think it was rather bad taste. We have much business to get through, but I am afraid that certain of the younger members of the board will neglect the business to stare at that idiotic-looking savage."
"Personal, personal," cried several voices.
"Why, the old wretch is jealous," whispered several more.
"I have no intention of being personal," Mrs ---- went on. "My friends know that personalities are about the last things I indulge in."
"Oh, oh!" from various quarters.
"These interruptions are unseemly, ladies, and I appeal to the chair lady to protect me from insult. Certain persons like to think themselves of importance when they are in reality nonentities."
"Names, names," cried several of the members.
"I refuse to mention names."
"Shame! shame! apologise."
"Really, ladies, I must interfere," said the Princess, thumping the table. "Such conduct is far from polite."
"I believe, your Highness, that she refers to me," cried a young lady, as she sprang to her feet. "And if she dares to make such a remark again I will scratch her face."
"I will box your ears for you, you minx," retorted Mrs ------.
"I should like to see you do it," cried the other one in a towering rage.
"You shall soon see me and feel me too, you young chit," sneered the amiable Mrs ------.
To what extent the quarrel might have gone there is no telling, had not her Highness rose and in a loud voice cried, ---
"I command silence. Otherwise I will leave the room. Such behaviour is really disgraceful." But in spite of this threat the two ladies continued to look daggers at each other, and it was some minutes before the young one could stop her tongue, for she was determined to have the "last word," even "if she died for it." But order at last being restored, Mrs ---- proceeded, ---
"I did not think, your Highness and ladies, that ever I should have lived to suffer such unmerited insult as has been thrust upon me this day. My length of service, unremitting attention to the interests of the board, and indefatigable zeal --- "
"Don't blow your own trumpet," from a voice at the end of the table.
"That person, I won't say lady, who has dared to interrupt me ought to know that self-praise is a thing I never indulge in. I am too upright in my conduct, too honest in my motives --- "
"Order, order, to business, sit down," were the cries which arose from all sides; but the charming Mrs ---- was by no means the woman to be talked out of her rights. She scowled at her fellow-members, and looked an incalculable number of daggers at the young maiden who had threatened to scratch her face.
A scene of indescribable confusion followed. All the seventy tongues commenced to jangle again, the ladies sprang to their feet, arms were waved menacingly in the air. Mutual recriminations, jeers, sneers, and tears, were frequently indulged in, and as Mr. Flonatin surveyed the scene in alarm he raised his eyes aloft, and breathed a fervent prayer that Providence would spare dear America from such a scourge as women's societies.
I will not be so ungallant as to say that the fair members of the Society for the Protection of Men indulged in anything like a row, but I will say that for a time a wordy war waged, and if it is possible, by any stretch of imagination, for my peacefully-inclined readers to realise what would be the result of seventy feminine tongues suddenly let loose to talk against time, they will not be surprised to learn that Mr. Flonatin, old and experienced traveller though he was, turned pale and faint, and as he saw the seventy pairs of flashing eyes that were darting fire, and the seventy pairs of arms that were sawing the air, and the seventy pairs of lips moving with lightning-like rapidity, and seventy noses turned up in withering scorn, and seventy breasts heaving with the volcanic wrath which agitated their fair owners, I say as he saw these things he trembled, and wished himself safely back again with his old housekeeper in his snug dwelling at New York. The Princess Yobmot, noticing how agitated and alarmed he was, moved from her seat, and taking his hand led him to a couch and whispered, ---
"Don't be alarmed, dear. Although they make a terrible noise they are quite harmless." Then going back to her chair again she hammered the table in such a manner that the tongues began to move less vigorously, and when partial silence had been restored she exclaimed, in a stentorian voice, and in a manner that left no room for doubt that she was in earnest, "Ladies, ladies, ladies," repeating the word three times, and raising her voice each time, "this is absolutely disgraceful, and if you do not preserve order I will dissolve the meeting. I command you to be silent. Remember I am your King's daughter."
And there was silence, save for an intermittent outburst, that gradually grew fainter and fainter, like the mutterings of a dying thunderstorm. And at last the dear creatures commenced to smile, and the smiling was contagious, until the whole seventy faces were as bright as the radiant beams of the rising sun of the upper world. It was a glorious sight to behold.
Then the Princess, all smiles too, once more addressed the meeting.
"I am very much obliged to you, ladies, and now we will proceed to business."
Two of the young members here caused some slight interruption by having a dispute about some fashions which had appeared in the Esnesnon Fashion Guide, but the disturbance was quickly quelled, and harmony and good feeling prevailed --- that is, apparently, for what the true feelings of those seventy dear hearts were there are no means of knowing. A woman's heart is a profound and awful mystery. Even Mr. Flonatin is silent on the subject.
"The first business I have on the paper, ladies," said the Princess, "is the case of an unfortunate male who has been deserted by his wife. He is a mere youth, being but fifty years of age. He has two infants, aged seventeen and twenty respectively. They are both girls, and he applies to us to protect him and these babes from his wife, who may probably return and squander the property, and turn the father and children out. This seems to me to be a very deserving case, and I think we may safely pass a resolution to apply to the Court for the necessary protection order. It is very evident that this wife is a very worthless and bad woman, and the poor husband should be protected from her violence."
Some slight discussion here arose, but it was very short, and the resolution was put to the meeting and carried unanimously.
"The next case, ladies, is that of a youth aged forty, who was inveigled away from the legal guardianship of his parents by a young woman. She kept him a prisoner in a house in a low part of the town for some time, but he was subsequently turned out and sent home."
"What evidence is there, your Highness," asked a lady, "that this boy was taken away against his will?"
"According to the paper here there is the evidence of his parents, as well as his own statement. He says that he was not party. "
"Then I think it is a matter for our consideration," observed another lady. "I am sorry to say that cases of abduction of young men and boys is sadly on the increase, and should be dealt with a firm hand. It is really a disgrace to a civilised country like this that such things should be possible."
"I quite agree with your remarks," said the Princess; "I have been shocked of late to see the number of cases in the papers of young men who have been led away. It is terrible, indeed, and the severest punishment should be meted to any woman who is guilty of such a crime. It is high time that there was reform."
"Why doesn't she set an example?" simpered a blushing damsel to another blushing damsel on her left. "She is worse than anybody else in Esnesnon."
Fortunately this remark did not reach the Princess's ears, or it might have fared badly with the fair libeller.
"The next case," pursued the chairwoman, "is a very sad one indeed. It is that of a young male with several children, and for years he has laboured to support his family, while the wife has remained at home in idleness. The other day he came home, and his wife asked him for some currency, which he refused to give her, where-upon she commenced to beat him, knocking him down, breaking one of his arms, injuring an eye, and his tail, and otherwise maltreating him, and rendering him incapable of pursuing his occupation. He applies to us to enable him to get a separation from the woman, so that he may live in peace and follow his calling for the benefit of his children without interruption. It does occur to me, ladies, that this is a most pitiable case. This poor young male has been struggling for years to support his dissolute wife and his children respectably. But his efforts have been useless, and he has repeatedly been most severely beaten and maltreated. I hope you will be able to pass a resolution to meet the young man's wishes."
"What is his occupation, your Highness?" asked a member.
"He is a public chariot-driver; very hardworking and steady. But his earnings are barely sufficient even to supply necessaries."
Here Mrs ---- rose up suddenly. Her face wore an unusual look of sternness.
"I must oppose this application," she said.
A roar of laughter greeted the announcement, but, unmindful of the interruption, the lady proceeded , ---
"I repeat that I oppose the application, on the grounds that a male who drives a public conveyance cannot be a respectable person." ("Oh, oh!" and cries of "Shame!")
"Somebody cries 'Oh!' and 'Shame!' but I may be permitted to say that I have made a study of the whole race of chariot-drivers, and have had as much experience of them as anyone in Esnesnon." (Loud laughter.)
"You may laugh as much as you like, ladies, but I assert fearlessly that my experience has been bitter. You are aware that scarcely a week passes but what I have to summon one or other of these wretched people, male of female, for overcharging me."
"Why don't you keep a chariot of your own?" from a voice at the end of the table.
Mrs ----looked in the direction from whence it came, and had she recognised the owner of the voice at that moment it might have gone hard with the owner.
"I will not notice that insulting question further than by saying that the reason I don't keep my own chariot is entirely my own business. I choose to patronise the public vehicles in the public interest; and the single handed war which I have so long waged against these chariot-driving sharks ought to have earned for me the public esteem and support, instead of ridicule and contempt. My disinterested exertions --- "
"Humbug," from a lady.
"Who says that I am a humbug?" roared Mrs ---- but no answer was forthcoming, and so she continued: "I repeat that my disinterested exertions --- "
"Twaddle," from a little woman at the extreme end of the room, opposite the speaker.
The veins in Mrs ----'s forehead were dangerously distended, and her countenance was a pea green. So great was her wrath that she could not find words, or rather the words rushed to her lips in such numbers that her tongue could not move fast enough; but presently she managed to stammer, ---
"Who dares to accuse me of talking twaddle? Let the wretch stand up and repeat it, and I promise her such a boxing of the ears as she has never before experienced. Who is the culprit? I call upon her to stand out, and if not I brand her as a coward and a --- "
"Order!" cried the chairwoman, just in time to stop Mrs ---- from saying something very naughty.
"You may well cry order," remarked Mrs ---- sarcastically, "but why don't you keep the other members in order? I am always being insulted. I am one of the most amiable and peacefully-disposed members at the board --- (loud and derisive laughter) --- but I have to put up with more insults than anyone else. It is too bad, that it is. Who is the wretch who said I talked twaddle? Why does she not speak?"
But the culprit showed no signs of declaring herself, and so Mrs sneered, ---
"She may well keep silent, the miserable minx. It would be better if she were to stay at home and keep the dwelling clean, instead of coming here to interrupt a lady."
"Mrs ----, I call you to order," cried the Princess, rising suddenly and banging the table with her rod. "You shall not indulge in such personalities in my presence. It is really disgraceful, and this board is getting quite a reputation for squabbling. You will please to confine your remarks to the business before the meeting; and any personal quarrel you may have with any member you must settle elsewhere."
"This is too bad, that it is, I declare," exclaimed Mrs ---- bursting into tears. At least she drew forth a large handkerchief which was made from asbestos and buried her face in it, and between hysterical sobs she managed to stammer, "I am a most ill-used and persecuted woman, that I am. Everybody is against me, and yet I never quarrel with anyone, and always carefully avoid saying anything that is calculated to give offence. It is shameful, so it is, and it is seriously affecting my health. I can't stand it. I will resign, that's what I'll do."
("Hear, hear," from all parts.)
In an instant Mrs had dried her tears, and was looking round defiantly at her tormentors.
"No doubt," she said, "many of you would be delighted if I were to do that, but I won't. You shall not have the satisfaction of saying you drove me from the board."
"Mrs ---- ," roared the Princess, "I will dissolve the meeting if you do not confine yourself to business."
"Very well," answered the lady, "but permit me to say, your Highness, that you might show me a little more consideration, even though the young members of the board know no better. But to return to the subject, though I may mention that if anyone else is vulgar enough to interrupt I shall treat them with profound contempt. With reference to the case of this chariot-driver ---- though I may first parenthetically remark that if I am insulted again I shall consult my woman-of- law ---- I say that this male is not deserving of our support. I would just pause for a moment to remark that I shall write to the editor of the Gazette and complain of the treatment I met with here. A male who drives a public vehicle cannot be other than a worthless vagabond. Just one caution to those ladies who treat me with such marked disrespect. I shall in future provide myself with a whip, and shall not hesitate to use it. But to return to this chariot-driver. I cannot support his application. He is unworthy of any consideration. I confess that I don't like chariot-drivers, they are as objectionable to me as vermin. I like to prosecute them, torment them. I should like indeed to improve them off the face of our beautiful world, which they only serve to befoul. I therefore oppose this application."
"Upon what grounds?" asked the Princess.
"On the grounds of his being a chariot- driver."
"Have you no other reason?"
"You don't know the male personally?"
"Nor anything against his personal character?"
"No. But he is a chariot-driver, and that is sufficient."
"There I differ from you. It is not sufficient for us to merely consider what his occupation is. The fact of his being a male, and subject to ill treatment at the hands of his wife, ought to arouse our tenderest sympathies, and I hope, ladies, those sympathies will not be withheld. It is ever woman's duty to protect her weaker brother, and personal animosity ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of our doing our duty."
"I beg to correct your Highness," growled Mrs ---- . "I have no personal animosity --- "
"We will proceed to vote, ladies," said the Princess, with supreme contempt for the speaker. "I regret that I have no person ---; "
"You shall hear me. I have no --- "
"I sha'n't sit down. I have --- "
"I won't be silent, I won't keep order," shrieked the irascible lady. "I --- "
But the rest of her sentence was drowned by the roar of voices which hailed the declaration that the vote had been carried with only one dissentient. The chairwoman now announced that the business was concluded, and so the meeting broke up, and then once more the seventy tongues were set in violent motion. And as the ladies put on their shawls and wished each other good- bye there was as much kissing and shaking of hands as if all these dear creatures were angels inhabiting a peaceful Eden. And Mrs ---- was profuse in her compliments to this lady for the elegant cut of her robe, and to that one for the simple yet refined manner in which she dressed her hair. And the good- natured soul kissed and shook hands just as though she was in earnest, and then she invited several of her dear friends to a quiet little Scantonguedal drinking party. Scantonguedal is a favourite beverage with the fair sex in the inner world. It is made from a peculiar grain that grows there, and its effect is to exhilarate and induce a freedom of expression which enables the dear creatures to speak about their friends without any sense of responsibility or restraint. On that account the ladies are much given to indulgence in it.
When Dr. Yrekcauq heard that his plans had been defeated by a stroke of diplomacy on the part of his rival Ytidrusba, he was naturally very much annoyed, for he could not bear defeat of any kind. While such a defeat as this was certainly a crushing one.
The intelligent and discerning reader --- and it is pleasant to think that there are none but intelligent and discerning readers --- will long ere this have discovered that King Gubmuh was a weak, if not an impotent monarch, and that the responsibility of governing such a vast state of Esnesnon devolved in reality upon the great men Ytidrusba and Yrekcauq; and though they might have differences, they arose pure and simply from the earnestness with which each gentleman tried to do his duty. Both saw that the King was a mere puppet, and in endeavouring to guide him the right way it must not be thought that they had any self-interested motives. Oh, dear, no! Such a supposition would be the very height of absurdity. They were statesmen, you see.
Doctor Yrekcauq knew that the national exchequer was in a state bordering on bankruptcy, and the arrival of such a curiosity as Flin offered an unusual opportunity to raise revenue. Of course Yrekcauq might have been actuated by some personal feeling, as he and Ytidrusba had long struggled for supremacy, and any advantage gained by one was zealously resented by the other. The fact is, the two great men belonged to exactly opposite schools, and the theories of Ytidrusba were contemptuously snubbed by Yrekcauq, and vice versa, though both, under the guise of that savoirfaire, as we should say, which should ever distinguish leading men, endeavoured to hide the hatred they bore each other, and which rankled in their breasts. Be that as it may, Yrekcauq was unquestionably very bitter. It was said that he had been one of the most servile of courtiers, and a sort of lickspittle at Court. But of this, of course, there is no accurate information. The statement herein made is based entirely upon mere hearsay, and so much be received with caution. However, when he saw that his opponent had gained such an ascendancy over him, he placed his resignation in the hands of his Majesty's secretary, and immediately two "parties" were formed. The one, which may be called the Yrekcauqites, supported by the Anti-Humbug News; and the other, the Ytidrusbaites, represented by the Gazette. Amongst the former, one of the staunchest, and certainly the loudest, opponents of the Government was Mrs Sregdorpittemmocaig. This prettily-named lady had conceived the most intense dislike for Flin Flon, and it is possible she was the only lady who had ever done this. Why she should have shown so much enmity it is difficult to tell, though it was hinted that she was jealous of the Princess, and would like to have appropriated Flin herself. But not being able to do this, and being peculiarly splenetic, she allied herself to the opposite faction, and poured out her vials of wrath, which were peculiarly vitriolic. She flooded the News with articles from her pen; and while, ostensibly, she attacked the distinguished traveller, it did not need half an eye to see that she had a grievance, and she took this opportunity to air it. As a specimen of this strong-minded lady's style the following article from her pen, which appeared in the Esnesnon News, will not be without interest. It will be observed that the virulence could scarcely be surpassed even by certain American papers, and the only wonder is that the News should have opened its columns to the contributions of a lady whose mind was so visibly inflamed. This is the article, which is in the form of a letter and was addressed to the editor: ---
"It has generally been supposed that our government of Esnesnon would bear favourable comparison for wisdom and impartiality with any government either in this or any other world, if there are any other worlds. We have hitherto boasted that we were the most civilised, most learned, most enlightened, and most refined people in existence, but, alas! this has been a pleasant dream from which we have been rudely awakened, and I fear that it must to our shame be admitted that, after all, we have not reached the point of perfection upon which we have prided ourselves, and that we are simply living in a state of moral darkness. Had the nation been told a little while ago that the unexpected arrival amongst us of a deformed, inexpressibly ugly and tailless savage, who in appearance would not bear comparison with some of our loathsome animals, would have caused such a change at Court, and even amongst the people the assertion would have been looked upon as monstrously ridiculous, but we are suddenly shaken from our torpor to find that the very base of our Governmental fabric is rotten, and the Court itself full of corruption. This is a sad confession, but its truth is too glaring to be glossed over. The King has proved himself to be no longer fit to reign over a great and free people, and in the name of that people I call upon him to abdicate. Not the least of the causes why he should do this, apart from his recognition of this horrid barbarian, is his constant refusal to recognise my petitions for a reform in our public chariot laws." (This was the lady's favourite hobby, and she never lost an opportunity of riding it.) "This is a subject, as the public are well aware, to which I have devoted some of the best years of my life --- a life, in fact, that has disinterestedly been devoted to the public welfare. Petition after petition have I sent up to his Majesty, and from a careful calculation I estimate that for these petitions I have used one and a-half tons of paper, two tons of ink, and have spent twenty years in writing them. Surely such perseverance as this might have met with better recognition at his Majesty's hands. But I have reason to think that my papers have ever been kept back by the miserable, cringing, dust-eating toadies who swarm around the throne, and are ready at any moment to sacrifice their dignity, their manliness, their dearest friends even, for the sake of a royal smile. Such filthy servility makes one shudder for the safety of the high-souled honour which has hitherto distinguished our males. Our chariot laws are a disgrace; and though 'reform' has ever been my watchword and battle-cry, reform has never come, and we poor citizens are still left to groan under the barbarous yoke of these spawns of venomous reptiles --- the chariot- drivers. Citizens! I ask when is this to end? When are these vile poison-breathing vipers, the drivers, to be swept from the face of our fair earth? I call upon you to arise and annihilate them. Royalty has turned a deaf ear to our prayers. It is useless to any longer look for help from that quarter. We must help ourselves. We must rise strong and determined, and show those in office that we, the enlightened, the brave, the noble, the highly civilised citizens of this fair land are not to be treated as if we were born slaves. Reform ---;Reform --- Reform --- is my cry. Brave women throughout the length and breadth of the land rally round my standard, the standard of freedom. Let us demand our rights from the King, who is simply the puppet of miserable cringing males. We should have a woman on the throne, women at the Court. Let Parliament take the matter up vigorously. Let them call upon his Majesty to abdicate in favour of his daughter, and then indeed will our day of glory have arrived. Then shall we see the loathsome race of drivers exterminated, as we should exterminate any other foul and obnoxious insects. We shall no longer be charged double fares. We shall no longer have to stand at our doors and wrangle with the vermin for the sake of a paltry sum, which we now dispute on the highest of principles --- the principle of right, of truth, of justice. Not for myself do I battle. My disinterestedness and retiring disposition are too well known. But in the name of our weak brethren I cry aloud for freedom. Gentlemales should be able to travel in comfort and security without being liable to be taken advantage of when unprotected by a lady. These execrable and foul toads, the chariot-drivers, should no longer have it in their power to overcharge us; they should no longer be able to insult every helpless male who is forced from necessity to avail himself of the public vehicles. They should no longer be allowed to sneer at and insult us when we offer them their bare fare. They should no longer be allowed to refuse to carry me whenever they happen to recognise me. If I have prosecuted them it has been in the public interest. I have fought tirelessly and unflinchingly in the good cause, and I venture to think that I have earned well of my country. Arise, brave countrywomen; arise and strike for freedom. Bring down the iron-shod heel of Liberty on the back of the Hydra-of-Imposition and crush it. Grind it into the earth. Annihilate the odious, filthy monstrosities, public chariot-drivers, and then indeed will peace and goodwill be amongst us. We demand free chariots. Their drivers should be supported by the State. The time shall come when there shall no longer be a charge for being conveyed through the public streets. Let us hasten that blessed time. We groan and sweat under the tyranny of the drivers. They are a bane and a curse in the land. Is our bread dear? it is owing to the drivers. Is our fuel outrageous in price? it is owing to the drivers. Is meal beyond the reach of the poor? it is owing to the drivers. Is our army degenerated? it is owing to the drivers. Are our courts corrupt? it is owing to the drivers. Is our national exchequer empty? it is owing to the drivers. In short, these demons of darkness are the root of all evil. They have made us slaves. They are pestilential blots upon the face of our fair land. Banish them to the infernal regions above, where only are they fit to dwell. From this hour let us never rest until we have got our rights. Let our voices be heard in the busy day as well as in the silent night. Let us shriek from the house tops, from the street corners, from the public platforms, from the courts of justice, or rather injustice, and let us never cease shrieking." (God help the peaceful citizens, thought Flin, as he read these lines. If this dreadful woman was to carry out her threat and never cease shrieking, it would be a blessing if doomsday were to arrive. He knew certain ladies in America who were somewhat given to shrieking, and who wanted to reform everything and everybody and build a new world, but then they did not shriek ceaselessly. Sometimes their tongues got tired and they stopped. But in Esnesnon, where woman ruled, her tongue seemed to be even more pliable than her upper-world sisters, and that was saying a great deal. To be subjected to the ceaseless shrieking of strong-minded women was so unutterably horrible that the seven plagues of Egypt must have been rather nice by comparison). "Send me to Parliament," continued the nobly constituted and gentle, dove-like Mrs ---- , "send me to Parliament. Make me the champion of your rights. I will battle in your behalf for freedom. No longer shall you groan under the curse of chariot-drivers; you shall have everything for nothing, and be able to do as you like. Agitate! agitate! agitate! This must be our rallying cry until we have swept away those barriers which separate us from that long-looked- for and happy time when woman shall reign supreme in the land, and the whole race of miserable, helpless males shall be taught to know their place, and not aspire as they do now to offices that they are totally incompetent to fill. Once more I say, send me to Parliament, and than I promise such things shall be done that males shall tremble and women shall rejoice. The Court shall be entirely reconstructed. It shall no longer be sullied by the helpless imbecility of such men as Ytidrusba, whose vanities are sufficient to fill our lunatic asylums with patients. A woman on the throne, women in Parliament, women only at Court, women only in the council chamber, and then, then indeed will the long- foretold time of eternal and universal peace have dawned upon our fair land. Help me to bring about this desired end, and I promise that until our rights have been obtained my tongue shall never cease to be heard day or night.
As Flin read this he sighed, and thought that a universal prayer-meeting should be called in Esnesnon to offer up prayers that the unfortunate citizens might be saved from the awful threat of this dreadful lady. For her tongue to be kept going day and night would be an infliction that would surpass all the diabolical tortures that were ever invented for the inhabitants of Hades.
But Flin's alarm on behalf of the Esnesnons was unnecessary. They were pretty well used to the gentle creature, and simply smiled as she shrieked herself hoarse, for experience had taught them that she was all bark and no bite. She had long been the bane of the unfortunate chariot-drivers' lives; she had persecuted them with relentless hatred until it had come to be a saying that the sight of one of the detested race made the amiable lady rabid.
On the other hand, if she hated the drivers, they returned the compliment, and they had banded themselves together to protect their interests from the repeated attacks of the lady. So that there was a constant war being waged in Esnesnon between Mrs ---- and the drivers. To a foreigner this state of affairs seemed incredible. It was hard to believe that in a country which boasted of its pre-human civilisation such a thing should be tolerated. Mr. Flonatin felt sure that even in darkened England, to say nothing of his own beloved and enlightened country, such a person as Mrs ---- would soon be popped into a straight jacket, and allowed to howl herself hoarse in the padded room of a lunatic asylum. But then Esnesnon was not America nor England. It was a peculiar country, to say the least of it, and they were curious people too who dwelt there. Prehuman they might truly be said to be since --- according to Mr Flonatin's notions --- they had not reached that stage of civilisation which even the most unenlightened of upper world people enjoyed. In fact, he could not help thinking that it was a veritable land of lunatics. And when his own countryman had fixed the locality of the infernal regions in the centre of the earth they had not gone very wide of the mark.
The violent letter of Mrs ---- which appeared in the News caused some little excitement amongst the faction which she led. And it called forth an equally abusive article in the Gazette, in which it was asked: ---
"How long is the peace of the land to be disturbed by the horrible howling of this mad-brained creature? When are the peaceful subjects to be protected from the seditious ravings of this hag? When are the unfortunate and long-oppressed drivers to be relieved of this terrible virago who has pressed upon them like a horrid incubus? When is this desperate and unprincipled woman's tongue to be bridled? The time has arrived when something must be done. Man has groaned too long under the iron sway of feminine rule, rendered the more galling and the more unendurable by this person's ceaseless shriekings, which have been heard for the last hundred years. It is time that man should now assert his independence. He must arise and make his voice heard from the four corners of our land. And the first step gained towards this sighed-for freedom will be the downfall of Mrs ---- . The King must be protected from her insults. And so far from the citizens sending her to Parliament they should send her to an asylum. Every woman in Parliament should, for the honour and glory of her beautiful country, feel that it was a sacred duty she owed to pass a bill making it an unlawful offence to talk as this person has talked. And until this is done our boasted freedom will be but a mockery, for women have made us slaves. Under their merciless sway we have been compelled to grovel in the dust. We have been humiliated before our children, and our hearts could scarcely be called our own. This state of things must no longer be allowed to continue. The end must be hastened, for it is our firm belief that man was never intended to be a woman's slave. Parliament should be constituted of an equal number of males and women. And only when this is done will many of the evils now complained of be remedied."
The paper war was carried on day after day for a considerable time, but like all such wars there was a great deal of noise and not much harm. The poor old King did sometimes tremble in his sandals a little as he heard the uproar, and there were moments when he felt tempted to abdicate, so that his daughter might ascend the throne and he himself be relieved of the cares of State. But he had a few faithful advisers around him who counselled him to hold out bravely and never show the white feather. Amongst these counsellors Ytidrusba was the loudest and most persevering. He positively hated Mrs. ---- and perhaps no one more than himself had groaned so deeply under feminine rule. His wife was particularly strong-minded, and half inclined to enlist under the rebel standard of Sregdorpittemmocaig. She kept her husband in a state of feverish suspense, and almost a state of poverty, for though she had a large income of her own she barely allowed him sufficient for his personal necessities. Though his office at Court was worth but little, and that little, owing to the state of the nation exchequer, had not been paid for a long time, this was shocking condition of things, and Flin could not help but think that the system of government was rotten to the foundation; and furthermore, he was daring enough to think that this was entirely due to the freedom which women there enjoyed. But though he thought this he had sufficient discretion to keep it to himself, as he was in a land where the power of woman was absolute, and he trembled to think what the consequences might be if he had ventured to open his lips in support of suffering man.
He could not refrain, however, from sympathising deeply with Mr. Ytidrusba, for whom he entertained considerable liking. He pitied him from his heart, and felt inclined to make an attempt to get more consideration shown to him by his wife, for Ytidrusba had made a confidant of him. Not without much misgiving and some inward trembling did the old magician hear the proposal; but Flin's argument, that he as a foreigner would in all probability be able to make an impression on Mrs. Ytidrusba, was considered a good one, and Mr. Ytidrusba told Flin that if he liked to take all the responsibility on his own shoulders he might venture to talk with the lady, but under no circumstances, and as he valued his life, was he to tell Mrs. Ytidrusba that her husband knew anything of the matter. This was agreed to, and it was arranged that Flin should lose no time in seeing Mrs Ytidrusba, and the result of that interview will be duly chronicled in the next chapter.
In undertaking to see Mrs. Ytidrusba and endeavour to work upon her feelings, so that the husband's position might be ameliorated, Mr. Flonatin was actuated by the broadest of philanthropic motives, and the fears of Mr. Ytidrusba that such an interview could scarcely fail to lead to unpleasantness Flin laughed at. He had always been used to see woman in her proper station, and the idea of her ruling and keeping man in a state that was only one degree removed from serfdom was so contrary to all his ideas that he could not realise it, and thought that such a condition could only be due to the want of some proper manly feeling on the part of the male sex in Esnesnon. Under these circumstances he believed he was perfectly justified, in the interest of his sex, to try and emancipate Esnesnon from feminine rule, and that by beginning with Mrs Ytidrusba the thin edge of the wedge would be got in. Nor did he, on consideration, anticipate much difficulty. He had hitherto flattered himself that he possessed considerable influence over ladies. This was certainly the case in his own country, where the dear creatures worshipped him, but like most travellers he was inclined to judge every other nation by his own standard. He went into a strange country. He saw new customs, new ideas, new systems, new beliefs, and because they were new and strange to him, he at once made the common error of imagining that they must be ridiculous because they were unlike those he had been used to.
In saying this much I hope it will not be thought that I am supporting Esnesnon against Mr. Flonatin. Far from that. But I am strongly desirous of being impartial, and I know that the error into which our traveller fell is such a common one with all persons who go out of their own country, that I feel that something ought to be done to correct it. If anyone were to travel to the moon, and discover that the inhabitants of the planet walked upon their heads instead of their feet, he would not be justified in returning here and reporting that the lunar orb was peopled by lunatics, as the peculiar custom would no doubt be suited to the peculiar country.
It will be readily understood that unused, poor fellow, as he was to female rule, Mr. Flonatin could not help looking with contempt upon the male population. He had not been ground under the iron of wifely rule, and therefore it would have been difficult to have imagined anyone less qualified for the task he had set himself. But though Ytidrusba cautioned him of the risk he ran, he only laughed, and seemed to treat it as a good joke, for he imagined petticoat government to be the very height of absurdity.
Unfortunately for him at this time the Princess Yobmot was away, as she had gone to a far distant part of the country on some political business in connection with her father's Court. And before going she had given Ytidrusba strict injunctions to take every care of Flin, or, as she playfully called him, her little sweetheart. The magician was therefore very reluctant to give his consent to Flin's scheme, but the latter ultimately overcame the old man's scruples, and it was arranged that Flin should see what he could do with Mrs. Ytidrusba. This lady was a power in the land. Her influence at Court was immense, and in the Parliament her voice was, perhaps, one of the loudest and strongest. This is to be taken in a moral sense, for, physically, her voice was rather weak and decidedly squeaky.
The day fixed for the interview came at last, and Mr. Flonatin was ushered into the great lady's presence, who received him with frigid dignity, not altogether unmingled with contempt. She was a woman of very commanding presence, towering far above Flin in height; and if she ever had possessed anything like beauty, it had long ago faded out, and left nothing but a sour, crabbed look. As the distinguished traveller entered the room he bowed very low indeed. The lady returned his bow by a very stiff movement, and then, raising a large diamond magnifier to her eye, she examined her visitor curiously, and it was evident that she only refrained from bursting into a loud laugh with the greatest difficulty. Mr Flonatin was, of course, very much annoyed, and he states that he cannot imagine what she could possibly have found either to laugh at or stare at, and he could only pardon her rudeness on the ground that she was an utter barbarian.
The lady was the first to speak.
"Well, my funny little fellow," she remarked, with a good deal of sarcasm, "and what is your pleasure?".
Flin's face went very red. He thought that this marked disrespect would have disgraced even the most vulgar and the lowest-bred female in his own country. Moreover, he could not imagine why she addressed him as a "funny little fellow." He had never in his life had the slightest pretensions to funniness. Comicality was out of his line. He was a thoughtful, grave, scientific man. This was evidenced by the total disregard he had for anything like dandyism. In fact, he had been in the habit of looking upon that man who paid much attention to dress as decidedly effeminate; and, therefore, he was considerably exercised in his mind to know in what way he was "funny." Possibly Mrs Ytidrusba would speedily have given a reason for so addressing him, had she been requested to do so. For we cannot always see ourselves as we are seen by others. However, Flin managed to keep down his choler, but he was strengthened in his purpose to use every endeavour to awaken the male sex of Esnesnon to a sense of their utter degradation and to incite them to revolt against the feminine rule. As a stranger in the new world, this was, to say the least, a very dangerous resolve; and it is more than probable that had he been better acquainted with the fearful risks he would run, he would have shrank from the danger. But it was this very ignorance that made him bold. The heart does not fear the danger it knows naught of. And this was Mr Flonatin's case. Moreover, he was desirous of serving his friend Ytidrusba, and this desire gave him courage. He bowed to the lady once more, and was about to offer her a seat, when she put out her hand, and, taking his, led him to a couch.
"And so you are the singular being who has come from some horrible and nameless region," she observed, as she applied a handkerchief highly scented with some powerful and peculiar scent to her nose, which was exceedingly large. "Well, I must say you are a perfect natural curiosity."
"I may be permitted to set you right on one point, madam," Flin replied. "The region I have come from is neither nameless nor horrid. I have the honour to hail from America, and I am thoroughly American in blood, in sympathies, in ideas, in --- "
"Why, bless me, how curiously you talk, to be sure," interrupted the lady. "You are very bold and forward, too, for a male, who ought to be retiring and bashful."
"There I beg to differ from you, my dear madam."
"Tut, tut," cried the lady. "Why, I declare this is positively shocking."
"If you will graciously listen to me for a few minutes, madam, I think we shall be able to understand each other better," remarked Flin firmly, and in a tone that, had the lady had any perception, ought to have convinced her that Mr. Flonatin was by no means an ordinary man. But, unfortunately, the lady had no perception. In fact, it is doubtful if any of the Esnesnonites were gifted in this way. Their intellects, such as they were, would seem to have been much clouded, and only such things as directly affected their own interests struck them with any force.
Mrs Ytidrusba was evidently much astonished. To be talked to in such a manner by a male was something so extraordinary for Esnesnon that she opened her eyes in a manner that plainly indicated her profound amazement. She raised her diamond glass to her eye, and stared at Flin as though she was microscopically examining some wonderful and singular insect. Perhaps she did think so.
"Un-der-stand each other," she said, when she was tired of staring, and drawling the world out.
"That is what I said, madam," Flin answered, by no means abashed, though greatly annoyed, for his pride was wounded. "I beg to explain that in my beloved country the men rule and not the ladies."
"Oh, gracious!" exclaimed Mrs Ytidrusba, sniffing at her scent as though the very idea was horribly repugnant. "What a barbarous country, to be sure."
"So far from being a barbarous country, I assure you it is the most enlightened on the face of the earth. The only cares which a lady has are the cares of her own household, and even there she is subject to her husband's sway."
"Oh, what poor, miserable, degraded creatures they must be," said Mrs Ytidrusba.
"On the contrary, madam, the American ladies are noted for their liveliness, their general happy dispositions, and their entire freedom from anything like servility."
"You extraordinary being, do talk sense," exclaimed Mrs Ytidrusba, petulantly. "How is it possible for women to be anything but the vilest and most grovelling of slaves if they have to acknowledge the rule of men?"
"That is a rule that will better apply the other way. Man is by nature endowed in a manner which peculiarly qualifies him to be woman's protector her breadwinner, her ruler. His intellect is greater, his powers of endurance are greater. Woman in the senate, at the Bar, or in the professions, is out of place. And when once a woman quits her sphere she ceases to be a woman and becomes objectionable. In my country we surround woman with a halo of romance. She is the recipient of our loves, the keeper of our hearts, the guardian of our children, the ornament of our homes. We place her on a pedestal, as it were, and worship her beauty, respect her feelings, treat her with tenderness, but I guess, madam, we keep her in her proper place in the States, you bet we do."
"Oh, you humbug, you miserable barbarian," exclaimed Mrs Ytidrusba, passionately. "How dare you sit there and tell me such monstrous fictions, and expect me to believe them? If there be even a grain of truth in what you say I cannot conceive any beings more utterly degraded than are your wretched women. They must be lost to every sense of dignity, of nobleness, of freedom."
"That is a point I cannot concede you, madam," Flin remarked, determined not to lose one inch of ground. "All that you say with respect to our women may be applied with tenfold force to your men. May I venture to cite your husband as an example? He is gifted, intellectual, studious and farseeing, but he would be an infinitely better man if he was not subject to petticoat government."
Mrs Ytidrusba almost shrieked with horror, but Flin, nothing abashed, continued, ---
"I say that if your husband occupied his proper sphere his mind would expand more as the responsibilities of his position increased. The greatest incentive for a man to labour, to aspire, to struggle for fame, and to fight for glory is the knowledge that on him woman depends. But reverse the order, and man becomes a mere machine, while the height that he might attain, if in his true station, can never be attained by her who assumes man's responsibilities, because nature has not fitted woman for the office." He paused to wipe his face, for he had grown a little warm with his enthusiasm, and it gave the pent- up fires of wrath which smouldered in the lady's breast an opportunity to burst forth.
"Well may it be said that you come from the regions of darkness," she cried, "for you have the daring that we ascribe to the fiends. But while I do not believe that you have come from any such place, I denounce you as an unmitigated humbug. A presumptuous, inflated, yet miserably insignificant fellow, who ought to be whipped through our streets until you have learnt to know your true position."
"Madam, this is strong language," Flin commenced, but the lady stamped her foot and cried passionately, ---
"Hold your tongue, sir, when I speak to you. We do not allow our males here to contradict us, nor would any male in all Esnesnon have had the audacity to talk to a lady as you have talked to me."
"Poor creatures," Flin muttered.
"Woman is infinitely superior to the other sex. She has beauty of form and beauty of mind. She is shrewd, far- seeing, cautious, quick-witted, has powers of discernment which man has not, and therefore is she adapted to rule. It is her mission to rule, and before I would see our privileges surrendered I would head an army of women to sweep the males off our earth."
"Shocking, shocking," Flin murmured.
"I tell you,' the lady continued, "that the woman who would consent to have man as a ruler is a wretched, degraded, lost creature, and deserving of a reptile's death."
Flin could restrain himself no longer. To be talked to in such a way by a female was almost more than flesh and blood could stand. Small though he was in stature, he had a mighty brain, and a big heart that swelled with love for all women, when women were women, and not men. So indignant did he feel that he allowed his valour to overcome his discretion, and rising excitedly he cried, ---
"Madam, the time has come for me to speak out boldly for the honour and credit of my sex. I will endeavour to emancipate your men from their slavery. I will teach them their true position. I will show them that it is their duty to burst their bonds, and I will set them an example how to rule. All my energies, all my strength of mind and body shall be devoted to the good cause of freeing your unfortunate men from their social degradation."
"Ah, traitor, traitor!" screamed Mrs Ytidrusba, in a towering passion, "this is treason, and your life will be forfeited." She crossed the room hurriedly, and beat upon a gong of gold twice. A servant appeared in answer to the summons. "A guard," she cried. The man bowed and withdrew. "We shall," she continued, "see whether you can come to our peaceful realm with you revolutionary ideas and endeavour to carry them our with impunity." The door opened, and a body of Amazons, armed with long pikes, marched in. "Secure this wretched being, and march him to the citadel," she said imperiously.
In an instant Flin was arrested. He offered no opposition, but said, as firmly as he was able, ---
"Madam, this outrage on an American subject will be avenged."
The excited lady waved her hand haughtily, and cried, "Away with him!" and Flin Flon was led away as a captive.
The unexpected ending to his interview with Mrs. Ytidrusba considerably astonished Mr .Flonatin, though he had little time for reflection, as he was hurried down the stairs by the female guard, who placed him in a closed-up conveyance; and after being rapidly whirled through the streets, the vehicle stopped. He was told to alight. Then led up some broad steps, enclosed between high walls, and finally he was thrust into a dismal, dank and dark sort of dungeon.
Then, when he had recovered his breath, and his excitement had cooled a little, he muttered, ---
"Well, I little thought I was going to place my head into such a scorpion's nest. What a frightful Tartar that Mrs. Ytidrusba is, to be sure. I don't wonder at her unfortunate husband suffering. But the fact is, this is altogether a strange world, and I feel a difficulty sometimes in realising the fact that I am really awake. It is very horrible to contemplate what the power of a woman is when once she has succeeded in gaining the upper hand. Unfortunately for America there are but a few strong-minded ladies; they have never reached above a certain height, where, if they are left alone, they soon fall back again into oblivion. But here man is a nonentity --- a poor, simple, patient, long-suffering fool, domineered over by woman, crushed and ground out of all manly recognition. Alas, it is very sad!"
As soon as Flin's arrest became known, which it very speedily did, the excitement through Esnesnon was intense. For the power and influence of Mrs. Ytidrusba were well known, and it was also as well known that she was very jealous of any male who attempted to gain a position, and that Flin being a degenerated male, she was likely to be all the more incensed against him. Speculation was rife as to what the end would be. For anyone to attempt to revolt against the established rule was a most serious offence, and when proved against the person was generally punished with death, the victim having little bits cut out of him every day until he died.
The arrest also caused the newspaper war to rage fiercer than ever. The Gazette said that Flin, being a foreigner and under the protection of the King, ought not to be placed in prison. But the good-natured Mrs ---- in the News went perfectly frantic with delight. She yelled --- if the word be admissible, and really it is not inapropos to the lady's style --- I say she yelled with glee, and in a very strong article indeed on the subject she so mixed Flin up with the drivers, and the drivers with personal abuse of the King, that it was rather difficult for the calm and deliberate reader to tell exactly what she meant. But then it was not of much consequence. A bull, it is said, can never control its temper when it sees a red shawl, and this very excellent lady's nerves were just as sensitive to the sight of a driver. How this aversion had arisen, or why it had arisen, was hard to say. But it is pretty clear that, viewing it from our upper world point of view, she suffered from a monomania, and ought, poor thing, to have had her head shaved, and then been put in a large room, and on the principle of giving persons who suffer from dipsomania alcohol until it literally oozes out of them and they begin to loathe it, portraits of chariot-drivers might have been hung round the room on every inch of the wall. Even the ceiling and floor should have been covered with them, until the unhappy lady had become reconciled to the unfortunate race, and so a cure effected.
But in Esnesnon, where according to our ideas every body seemed mad, nothing of this kind was attempted, and the poor creature was allowed to rave and put her ravings in print unchecked. Of course in our own country such a state of matters would never be tolerated for a single moment. We have no lunatics excepting those who are confined within the walls of an asylum.
When Flin's arrest came to be known to the King his Majesty was exceedingly annoyed, but he was afraid to say much, for he was well aware of the influence Mrs Ytidrusba possessed. He had a positive dislike for her, but he, poor fellow, in common with all his sex, groaned under this petticoat rule. It is a lamentable fact that he was nothing more than a puppet, and only held his kingship by virtue of hereditary right --- a right that had been established in very distant ages. But the women had tried to abolish this right and make a law by which only a woman could be on the throne. In this they had not succeeded. But they made the King's life such a wretched one that his crown was truly a crown of thorns, and many a time he wished that he occupied the position of one of his poorest subjects. His court, his retinue, his ministers, his advisers, his guards, the keeper of the Privy Purse, were all women. The horror of such a position as this cannot be realised excepting by those who have been similarly placed. The privy purse was very strictly kept indeed, and the miserable King's pittance was doled out to him at the petticoated keeper's pleasure. And if at any time he ventured to enter a protest against the smallness of the sums he was allowed for his own private use, the keeper would appeal to the ministers, and the ministers would inform his Majesty that they considered him to be very extravagant, and that it was not safe to trust a male with money.
Now such a state of affairs as this would really be positively ludicrous were it not so sad. But our laughter must give place to pity, lest such a dire infliction should some day visit our own beloved country. It is true the King has been very vacillating and weak-minded. But alas! poor fellow, how could he help that? The ceaseless din of the female tongue would have turned a far stronger brain than his.
He, however, sympathised with Flin, and he sent one of his most trusted male courtiers to the prisoner with a message that he would do all he could to support him. Flin was grateful for this, for he felt that he had got into an awkward scrape, and the ending of the affair might be of such a nature as to prevent him carrying out his plans, and would in fact bring his interesting journey to a premature close.
Flin languished in gaol for some time. Nobody knew exactly what he was charged with, as there was much secrecy and mystery about the whole affair. But it was very well known that he was the victim of Mrs. Ytidrusba's jealousy and strong- mindedness. This lady's position of wife to a person holding such high office as Ytidrusba gave her immense power. In fact, the truth is that the husband found the brains, and his wife enjoyed all the influence, honour and emoluments of his labours. For in this woman-governed kingdom man was looked upon as a sort of useful animal, if a tight hand was kept over him, and he was made to know his place. And a very tight hand indeed was kept over him, so that the Esnesnon males had long sunk into a state of apathetic effeminacy, though at times their souls rose in rebellion against the tyranny exercised by the fair creatures. Some few bold spirits had even tried, by means of secret societies, to overthrow the ruling power and make man the master. But the system of Government espionage was so perfect that the conspirators were invariably detected while their plots were in embryo, and after a hurried trial they suffered a violent death, being strapped to the backs of menopomes, which were driven into thrice-heated furnaces.
The delay in Flin's case was caused by the red-tapeism of the officials. For alas! red-tapeism, even in Esnesnon, was a bugbear under which the unhappy citizens groaned. It was necessary for Mrs Ytidrusba to impeach the prisoner, and then for that impeachment to be thoroughly examined by the Government, for it must be remembered that this was looked upon as high treason. And the Government, with a false show of impartiality and justice, affected to be very scrupulous, and to give a prisoner who was charged with an offence for which his life was liable to be forfeited every opportunity to defend himself. But it was very much to be feared that this was all humbug, and that the true cause of delay in such cases arose from the difficulty which was experienced by the ladies in coming to anything like a unanimous agreement.
Some ill-natured and dyspeptic bachelor once said that after women had kissed each other a dozen times they always fell out. I should be very sorry to endorse such an obviously unfair verdict as this. Though, under cover of all reserve, I will remark that in my own country, whenever I see two ladies after five minutes' acquaintance kiss each other, and then address each other as "dear," I tremble for the consequences. I know what such signs presage. This being so here, some idea can be formed of the state of affairs in Esnesnon, where in Parliament there were ten hundred female members. During a debate, and when the benches were full, the Tower of Babel and the confusion of tongues must have been rather pleasant as compared with the Esnesnon Parliament.
And of course, amongst such a large number of ladies, there was necessarily considerable diversity of opinion. Each lady considered her own opinion to be infinitely superior to her neighbour's, and the consequences of such a state of affairs may be better imagined than described.
The Parliament was constituted on precisely the same principles as our own, with the exception that a general election took place every three years instead of seven, though at times there was an election much oftener than this. For the Government, though indulging in personalities, often forgot their public duties, and consequently fell into a state of inextricable confusion, and the result was that an appeal to the country had to be made. These appeals were frequent, and the excitement an election caused passeth all understanding. Every woman in Esnesnon considered herself highly qualified, both by nature and art, to sit in Parliament, and as there was universal suffrage, some idea may be formed of the unpleasantness of election time. The poor men were neglected. The unfortunate husband had to wash and dress the babies, cook the dinner, and perform other degrading and menial housework, while the wife went down to spout nonsense at the hustings (29); and that woman who did not get elected made rather a hot time of it for her husband until she, sweet creature, had cooled down from her excitement.
In the House of Parliament there were, as I have before stated, one thousand members. Think of that, reader! Ponder upon it, and thank goodness that our own country is saved from such an awful visitation. One thousand ladies all trying to speak at once. One thousand pairs of arms excitedly sawing the air. One thousand pairs of eyes flashing like burning coals, and one thousand tongues moving with the rapidity of lightning. It must indeed have been appalling. The gallery reporters, who reported the debates, were all women. One of the papers had tried the experiment of employing two or three males for a short time, as they were so much cheaper than women; but they all went mad, and died miserable deaths.
There was no House of Lords corresponding to our own, but there was an Upper House and Final Court of Appeal. This was composed of three hundred old ladies, who held the highest position in society, and the right to sit in the House was hereditary. There was not much business done in the House. It was a dreamy kind of place, for whereas their sisters in the lower chamber talked against time, these pleasant old dames chatted quietly, and dozed frequently with their handkerchiefs over their faces.
I have before mentioned that the King was a mere automaton. He could do nothing without the sanction of his Parliament.
He was allowed forty thousand chequers per annum by the nation. A chequer was made of tin, and was equivalent to our sovereign. Tin was an exceedingly valuable metal in Esnesnon, and gold was as common as tin is here. In fact, it seemed as if when the various forces of nature had contrived to dispose the minerals throughout the strata of the earth, they had concentrated the gold in the very centre, for here solid layers of metal ten and twelve feet thick were common. In fact, so common was gold that it was generally used for building purposes, as it was so much cheaper than stone. Precious stones were also common. The abounded everywhere, and as they made good and pretty pavements, they were generally used for this purpose in the houses of the better classes, while diamonds were so lavishly scattered about by nature that they were cut thin and used for window glass even in the poorest houses.
With these few necessary particulars I may return to Mr. Flonatin, who languished day by day in his prison in a state of misery and suspense, and though he addressed frequent petitions to the King, they did not ameliorate his condition, for reasons already explained. The King was powerless. Mrs. Ytidrusba was powerful and spiteful, and Parliament was long-winded.
The King's magician, however (Ytidrusba), did all he could for the prisoner unknown to Mrs. Ytidrusba. The governor of the prison was a young and rather good-looking woman, and she sympathised with Flin, if she did not fall slightly in love with him; as a result she allowed him many liberties not allowed to ordinary prisoners, and but for this his case would have been very much worse than it was.
At length, after some very stormy discussions, and many nights spent in debate, Parliament decided that Flin's offence was very serious indeed, and that he should be indicted on three separate counts, and tried by the State.
The first of these counts was "undignified and insulting language to one of the highest ladies in the land, to wit the most mighty and gracious lady, wife of Ytidrusba, the King's Magician and High Priest." The second was treasonable and seditious language, and the third an attempt to interfere with the peace of the realm. All these, being grave and serious offences, were punishable with death should the accused be found guilty.
Of course to the sober and sensible reader this will seem very absurd, and certainly incredible that people calling themselves civilised should have raised such a storm about nothing. But then it must be remembered that the rulers were women. The State lawyers were women, and they saw that a splendid picking was to be got out of this affair, and so they kept the pot boiling, and strongly advised his Majesty's ministers to prosecute. The Gazette, which was the organ of the King, and partly supported by him out of his own privy purse, and edited by a male, opposed this resolution on the part of the Government very strongly. But the News, which was entirely conducted by women, including the dreadful Mrs ---- , advocated the sternest measures, and tried to howl the Gazette out of the field, The result was that there was such a rumpus as had scarcely ever been known before, and at one time the two parties got so violent as to threaten a disturbance and the Amazons were called out.
During all the time that Parliament was wrangling, and the lawyers were squabbling about Flin's case, and the indictment was being framed, the Princess Yobmot was absent in a distant part of the realm, and so the unfortunate traveller was left without his most powerful friend. For being a woman she could of course do more than could Ytidrusba or the King. The old magician's wife was not slow to perceive that her husband's sympathy was with the accused, and this served to make her more bitter. It is a painful fact that she disliked her husband very much. And with a true woman's spirit she opposed him because "she chose to do so."
When Ytidrusba heard that the day for the trial had been fixed, he was determined to lose no time in letting the Princess know of the true state of affairs, and so he dispatched a trustworthy messenger to her Highness. She was exceedingly angry when she heard of it, for I think it must be confessed that her Highness was a bit of a Tartar, and liked to have her own way. And as she had made Flin a sort of prot‚g‚, it annoyed her to think that anyone should have dared to have taken such a liberty during her absence. Moreover, between her and Mrs. Ytidrusba there was a deadly feud. This of course was greatly in Flin's favour, and he could scarcely fail to profit by it.
As soon as the Princess heard the news she immediately hurried back, and arrived in Esnesnon the day before that appointed for the trial, and she lost no time in obtaining an interview with Flonatin. She found him very dejected. A man in such a position could scarcely help being cast down. He was in such a singular world, where the customs were so totally different to those in his own country, that he looked upon it almost as a forlorn conclusion that his life would be forfeited. Not that he had any craven fear on this score. Far from that. When his
right time came he was not the man to shrink with cowardice from the inevitable. But he did not feel this to be the right time. He had risked much and dared much to accomplish the journey. And now when the goal had been won, when the dearest wish of his heart had been realised, and his favourite theory about the interior of the world being peopled had been proved true, all his labour and devotion and sacrifices were to be rendered useless through the will of a stupid woman. This is what galled him, and as he thought the records of his journey would never reach the hands of the Society for the Exploration of Unknown Regions, he almost wept.
The Princess's visit was therefore as welcome as unexpected. And as she entered the apartment in which he was confined he rose, and taking her Highness's hand, kissed it. But she, with less conventionalism and more warmth, kissed him. He was a little abashed, and would rather have dispensed with such unpleasant honours, but not wishing to offend her, he did not say anything.
"Well, my dear little fellow," was her first exclamation, as she led him to a seat, "whatever made you get yourself into such a scrape as this?"
Flin briefly told her, and for a time the Princess seemed a little grave.
"You have been very indiscreet, very indiscreet," she observed, with more gravity than ever he had seen her assume. And he began to fear that even she considered his offence so terribly serious as to place him beyond the pale of her assistance or sympathy.
In this thought, however, Flin was greatly mistaken. The Princess was not of that mind. Not that she as a woman looked favourably upon his offence. On the contrary, she really felt that his crime was one which merited the severest punishment, viewed politically. For she, in common with the rest of her sex, and young as she was, was too fond of commanding to brook anything like an innovation from a male. The only male authority she had hitherto recognised had been that of her father, and only then because he was her father. But the fact is that, though an Esnesnonite, she was a woman, and that is saying much. It seems that woman's nature is very much alike all over the world. As a consequence of this, she felt a good deal of warmth for Flin. I don't know whether I should be justified in saying love at this time; but she certainly looked upon him with much favour, and in the corner of her heart perhaps there was real affection, that time would develop; and again, Mrs. Ytidrusba was her enemy. This lady, for some reason that only a woman could explain, had taken a great dislike to the Princess (women do take dislikes to each other in such an unaccountable manner). She said that she was wild, and a great flirt, and ought to be curbed; and had repeatedly spoken to the King; but one of the laws of Esnesnon was, that up to a certain age, when the mother was dead, the father had absolute control over his daughters.
The Princess therefore --- as what young girl would not --- felt extremely irritated by the meddlesome interference, and had once gone so far as to tell Mrs. Ytidrusba to mind her own business.
This had led to open rupture; and from that moment the ladies became sworn enemies. The Princess therefore felt that in indicting Flin Mrs. Ytidrusba had been actuated by personal animosity against her Royal enemy, and so far had succeeded in playing a trump card.
"But I will thwart her," thought her Royal Highness; and then turning to Flonatin she said, "It is most unfortunate that you have got into such a pitiable mess, and I shall have the greatest possible difficulty getting you out of it. The very best counsel in Esnesnon shall be engaged, and though I think it will be a hard fight, we may succeed in defeating the plans of our enemies."
"This most gracious condescension on the part of your Highness," answered Flin, "begets in me a gratitude that I cannot find words to express. But I will take this opportunity to say that, should I survive to return to my native country, all America shall know how well you have served one of her sons."
"And is that all?" sighed the Princess, taking his hand and looking him full in his face.
"That all!" repeated Flin in astonishment, and not understanding her. "What else can I do for your Highness?"
"Much," she answered; "but this is not the time to speak of it. The future shall reveal to you what I desire. In the meantime your defence must be prepared, for the ablest State lawyers will prosecute you, and as they are nearly all very old women, I fear I can look for little mercy from them. But keep your heart up, and it is very likely we shall come off triumphant."
"I hope so, I hope so," was Flin's answer. The Princess squeezed his hand and kissed him, and in a few minutes he was left to his own reflections again.
Flin's trial commenced on the following morning, and there was intense excitement in consequence. The circumstances of the case were so romantic and peculiar. A person from an unknown world had come down to Esnesnon, and then, in return for the hospitality shown him, he had endeavoured to raise a revolt. The thing was altogether unparalleled, so the people said, and people here will admit that it was.
Through the instrumentality of the Princess, some most able counsel for the defence had been engaged. One of these was a young woman named Hturtehteraps. She had already greatly distinguished herself in her profession, and the success of many of the causes celŠbres of Esnesnon was entirely due to her eloquence and skill.
The Court where the trial was held was an immense place. It was built in the form of an amphitheatre, and was surmounted with a doomed roof that was elaborately carved and set with ornamental, or as we call them, precious stones of immense size.
The floor of the theatre was occupied by the professional ladies and the reporters for the public papers, while the judges sat beneath a magnificent canopy on one side of the circle. There was no jury as in our own country. But Esnesnon was composed of twenty-seven provinces, and each province had a judge. In great trials every province sent its judge. And all the judges were ladies noted for uprightness of conduct no less than their great ability.
Flin Flon occupied a position on a raised seat placed on the floor of the theatre, and as he surveyed the scene, its vastness and magnificence, as well as the novel arrangements, stuck him with amazement, more especially when he contrasted it with the cramped-up, miserable places used as courts of law in his own country. There the prevailing characteristics were foetid atmosphere, murkiness, foul odours, bad acoustic properties and general inconvenience. But here, in this circular and lofty building, not only were an immense number of the public accommodated with seats, but every word that was uttered could be distinctly heard. The air was pure and refreshing. The judges were comfortably disposed, and the lawyers and pleaders were provided with every accommodation and convenience for transacting their business.
From the floor up to the very dome the building was packed with an eager and excited throng, and the women were far in excess of the men, for large numbers of the latter had been ordered by their wives to remain at home and look after the children. The buzzing of the female voices was like the whirl of a thousand spinning looms, and almost deafening. But when the judges had taken their seats, and the Court was ordered to be silent, there was silence instantly. Then the indictment was read over. It was a most voluminous document; but I will not weary the reader by printing it. It set forth that the crime with which the accused stood charged was one punishable with death, and Flin was asked if he pleaded guilty or not.
By the advice of his lawyer he simply said, "Not guilty," and then the trial proceeded.
It was evident from the first that the struggle would be a severe one, for there was an amount of animus infused into the opening address that was astonishing; and it was hinted that Mrs. Ytidrusba, having heard that Princess Yobmot was interesting herself in the case, grew very excited, and made use of language not at all polite, and she had stated without reserve, that not a stone should be left unturned that could possibly help her to gain a triumph.
The prosecution was infected with the lady's spirit, and seemed equally determined to secure a conviction. The leading counsel for the Crown spoke in a most contemptuous manner of Flin, and said that his guilt was too clear to admit of any doubt as to what the issue would be, but when considered it was paying him an undeserved honour to try him at all. "A person who was so inexpressibly insignificant as he was ought to have been dealt with summarily, for nothing could be possibly clearer than that he was a miserable, wretched barbarian and adventurer, whose sole object in intruding upon that peaceful city was to stir up revolution and anarchy. Such a thing could not be tolerated. This human wretch had had the daring to tamper with one of the highest ladies in the land. Not only had he tried to corrupt her, but he had spoken in the most scurrilous tones of the grand old institution of woman rule, a rule that had made Esnesnon the happy, peaceful, wealthy city it was --- a rule that could not be surpassed for gentleness, suavity and mercy --- a rule that had left nothing undone --- that was just and equitable alike to rich and poor. There had been a few restless spirits who had expressed dissatisfaction with this grand old institution, and they had endeavoured to inflame the minds of others, but in this they had ignominiously failed. Esnesnonites were too peaceful, too law-abiding, too fond of those who governed them, too happy, and too well cared for, to listen to seditious language. (Flin would have liked to have heard what the people themselves had to say about this.) Woman had ever been powerful in the land, and when she ceased to be powerful the end of Esnesnon would have come. (At this there was considerable applause, which was with difficulty suppressed.) In her rule she had left nothing to be desired. Her ears were ever open to the cry of pity, her heart to the wail of distressed males. It was true there had been males who, possessed of a boldness that was awful to contemplate, had attempted to gain some power and supplant woman, but the end of all such persons had been so indescribably terrible as to serve as a salutary warning to others who would attempt to follow in their footsteps; and if ever the day should come when males gained power in the land, it would be a sorry day indeed for Esnesnon. The crime of this miserable, degenerated being, who, it had been suggested, had come from the infernal regions --- and for her part she was very strongly inclined to believe it --- was of the blackest description; and one that, in the interest of justice and the general peace, should shut him out from all mercy. He was deserving of none; he should have none shown to him. It was hard for her to have to speak in that way even of one so low in the human scale as he obviously was. But the enormity of the offence caused her to close her eyes to sympathy, and open them only to a stern sense of duty. And it was that very sense of duty which made her, even against her will, speak in the way she had done. When she had been instructed to take up the case she had examined into it very carefully to see if she could discover any palliation. But she regretted to say she had looked in vain. She regretted it the more because the offender was a stranger; and had it been possible to have found any excuse she would have liked to have done so on that account. But there was none to be found. The fearful nature of the crime must have sent a thrill of horror through the breast of every peacefully-disposed person in the realm. He would have remorselessly aroused the Demon of Revolt, and have let it loose to prey upon the vitals of a ruler- fearing and woman-respecting community. He would have thrown the whole social machinery of the country out of gear. He would have raised a whirlwind of desolation, and cast the electric bolt of dissatisfaction at the great throbbing heart of a happy people. (These similes were very fine.) But he had been foiled. The great lady whose loyalty he had attempted to assail was staunch and true. Her honour was impregnable. Painful though it was for her to have to do so, she did not shrink from her duty and ordering the instant arrest of the dastard who had thus attempted to tamper with the State. This lady's truth is unimpeachable. Therefore, my ladies, you cannot fail to convict the miserable being of the crime for which he stands charged--the crime of treason. For what sane woman can doubt for a single moment that he has been guilty of treason? and that having been so, that he is deserving of death. In conclusion, my ladies, I would venture to remark that the eyes of the world are upon you, and that the action you take in this matter will be watched with the most jealous interest by every woman in the realm."
As this lady resumed her seat the female portion of the audience applauded rapturously, but a few hisses were mingled with the applause, and it was very evident that they came from male throats. At this the learned counsel sprang to her feet again, and with a great deal of bitterness in her tone said she hoped the chief judge would order every male to leave the Court if such a disgraceful uproar should occur again.
There was an uneasy movement amongst the males as this was said, for they knew from the stern look on the judge's face that she would not hesitate to do as desired. This judge was very old, and had never been married. She had been heard to say that she hated males, and if she could do as she liked she would exterminate them.
It will be seen from this little incident how terrible was the lot of the males of Esnesnon, and how they must have groaned and sweated under the tyrannical rule of the females.
Flin's blood boiled as he saw to what a terrible depth of serfdom his unfortunate sex were reduced in this so-called "happy city," and his great and good heart panted to strike a blow for freedom. Much as he loved woman, he felt that he could not brook her rule as she ruled there, and sooner than submit to it he would gladly die.
When the excitement in the Court consequent on the speech for the counsel for the prosecution had subsided, people whispered one to another that it would go hard with the accused. And this inference almost seemed justified by the very grave faces of the judges. Some of these ancient ladies looked at the prisoner in a very severe manner through their diamond glasses, and then they shook their wise heads, and consulted their written notes in a manner that seemed to imply that they considered Mr Flonatin's offence was one that ought to be visited by the direst punishment. And yet to a very close observer, and to a physiognomist, it might have been seen that under the stern and stoical expression which the faces of these judges wore there was a feeling of pity, as though in their hearts these dignified administrators of the law were saying,
"Ah, poor young male, how very nice he is to be sure, and what a pity it is for such a dear creature to be placed in so unenviable a situation."
Of course it will be thoroughly understood that I do not say for certain that the judges really thought this. But then woman's heart is such a profound mystery that one may almost say anything he likes about it without being very far wrong. For my own part, if I were on trial for my life, and I had the option of selecting my own judge and jury, I should certainly choose ladies, and in doing so I should be cheered by the inward conviction that whatever the weight of evidence might be against me, I should be able by those cunning little artifices so well known to upper world men to touch the sympathetic chords of the dear creatures' hearts.
However, as subsequent events proved, Mr Flonatin did not stand in need of any such artifice to obtain his acquittal. The brilliant eloquence of his charming counsel, and his own sweet naivet‚, were quite sufficient to move even the law-encrusted hearts of these Esnesnon judges. But then of course it is not every man who is blessed with "sweet naivet‚," and in the absence of it he would have to resort to the means I have suggested. I am afraid, however, that I have in these remarks anticipated the verdict. Though every reader of this history will long ago have come to the conclusion that no lady or any number of ladies could have possibly condemned such a distinguished man as Flin Flon. But to proceed.
When the excitement had quite subsided, and silence and order had been restored, the young and able counsel for the defence, Hturtehteraps, arose. There was a look of quiet dignity and self-assurance on her face. She bowed to the judges, and then turning to Flin and the Princess Yobmot, who was near him, she smiled to them and bowed also.
"My most noble judges," she commenced, "it is my very proud privilege this day to have the honour of defending a prisoner who is a native of another world, and who in ours stands charged with a crime of such unparalleled atrocity that as every honest woman contemplates it she must shudder. I will here divide these preliminary remarks under two heads. Firstly, as to the prisoner being a native of another world. That is, I am bound to confess, a somewhat bold statement, but it is perfectly evident that he does not belong to our own fair earth; his degenerated appearance is sufficient to convince us of that, though as to where his world is situated it is not for us to inquire here. It is sufficient to know that he is an unenlightened foreigner, and I say, my most noble judges, that that fact alone, I repeat it most emphatically, that that fact alone ought to be sufficient to ensure his acquittal. We are a great, a civilised, a refined, a merciful, a charitable, an oppression-hating people. And being all these it is a paramount duty we owe to ourselves to set other worlds an example. Better that we should be destroyed, better that we should be annihilated, better I say that we should sink for ever into oblivion, than that it should be said in other worlds that we as the most cultivated of people were wanting in the commonest principles of charity or of mercy. It is not for us to consider where this human male has come from, though it be, as has been suggested he is, from the infernal regions."
"It is sufficient to know that he is a stranger amongst us, and as such demands our consideration and pity. Shall we, as women, withhold these from a male, even though he be a fallen one? Weak, helpless and friendless, he appeals to our better natures, and shall we, as the protecting sex, turn a deaf ear to the cry of the forlorn? I answer, no. I cry aloud, no, no. For, if we did, our names would go down to posterity with execration, and other worlds would ring with shouts of horror at our barbarity; while generations yet unborn would weep tears of blood as they heard of the blot that rested on the escutcheon of the fair city of Esnesnon. This is a fearful thing to contemplate; it would be a thousand times more horrible if it were to become reality. But whether it shall, or shall not, is a matter which is entirely in your hands, my most noble judges. The balances trembles. A touch one way will plunge our city for all time into a depth of ignominy, disgrace and darkness at which I shudder, while a touch the other way will elevate us to the proud position of being the nation of nations, and will stamp us at once as the most humane and merciful people ever yet, or that ever will be, created. It is for you to give it this touch. It is for you to raise us to this glorious pinnacle. Where, to use a simile, I may say we shall be as a statue representing dignity and love, teaching young worlds the first principles of prehuman justice. If I have allowed my feelings to lead me into somewhat poetical language, it is because my soul thrills with sentiments that struggle to find utterance by my own weak voice, but which, alas! I can only too feebly express. But I am sure, by noble judges, you will catch something of the spirit which animates me. The chord which vibrates in my own heart will find a responsive echo in your own. And the voice of the inward monitor will cry aloud, 'Acquit him, acquit him.'"
The learned counsel paused; there was immense applause; it was very evident that her splendid eloquence and flowers of rhetoric were telling upon her listeners.
When the applause had subsided she resumed her speech.
"I have hitherto contented myself" she went on "with appealing to those feelings which should burn in the breast of every woman, as she beholds a weak male in the unfortunate position that this one is placed in. For is it not ever woman's nature, in this beautiful land at least, to rush to the rescue of the weaker sex when danger threatens him, and to thrill with pity at the sight of a male in distress. But now I must deal with the second head of my address, and must appeal at once to your sense of justice. And I say it boldly, defiantly, and without fear of contradiction, that the charge brought against my client in a monstrous one, and entirely without an atom of foundation."
At this statement there were some murmurs of disapproval, but the learned counsel turned to the quarter from whence they proceeded for she knew that there the opposing faction was congregated and as her eyes flashed fire, she said, with the most withering scorn ,
"The truth hits hard, and some persons groan under it. I am glad, however, that I have sent a shaft home, and the contempt of Court shown by those persons who are evidently smarting under my fire cannot fail to strengthen my hands." (At this there was considerable applause, and the learned lady smiled and bowed gracefully.) "I repeat," she went on, turning to the judges, "I repeat that there is not a particle of truth in the charge brought against my client. Could anything be more preposterous than to suppose that he, a poor, simple, ignorant, half-witted waif, from a region that lies beyond the ken of prehuman beings, could possibly be guilty of attempting to overthrow this Government? Even assuming that there was truth in it, the attempt to upset an institution of woman- rule, built upon such a solid foundation as is ours, would too surely betray symptoms of a dreadful insanity that would cause every right-feeling woman throughout the length and breadth of this happy land to weep scalding tears of the tenderest sympathy. And instead of clamouring for the life of the unfortunate male, she would with tender hands nurse him in his affliction, and with soft lips and kisses of pure love soothe him in the paroxysms of his madness. But the prisoner is neither insane nor guilty. I say that the charge is a monstrous, diabolical, and wicked conspiracy against an innocent life. I am aware that the lady who impeached him is high in power, and the influence she possesses in certain quarters is too well known for me to dwell upon here. But I venture to say that these very facts should cause you to view the accusation with all the legal acumen that it is possible to bring to bear upon the case."
Here the counsel for the prosecution arose and objected to her learned friend's remarks this was said with a most scornful sneer. The imputations she sought to throw upon the prisoner's accuser were un-ladylike, and incompatible with the dignity of the Bar.
At this Hturtehteraps struck the table with her open hand in a manner that told how terrible was the volcano of wrath which raged in her fair bosom, and at the very top of her voice she screeched,
"That she would not stand there to be insulted in such an unwarranted manner, nor would she yield the palm to anyone for the respect which she entertained for the dignity of the Court. Before she proceeded any further she must demand an apology from her learned friend the counsel for the prosecution "
Here the opposing counsel struck the table violently in return, and shrieked that no apology should ever cross her lips, when a scene ensured that to our tastes was very shocking indeed. The two "learned ladies" glowered at each other form their respective ends of the table, and in voices that could only be likened to the screech of a hurricane through a pine forest, they hurled epithets at each other that I will not repeat. But I do venture to assert that if the long table had not separated the fair disputants it would have been necessary to have called in the sweeper to have swept up the loose hair.
The battle raged fiercely savagely for some minutes. The chief judge entreated, commanded, then stormed and raved; and her sister judges also raised their voices, until there was such an unearthly clamour of female tongues that it is a perfect miracle that poor Flin Flon did not go raving mad. Dreadful as this must seem to civilised people, it was nothing for Esnesnon. The people there were used to such scenes, and ever will be while women rule.
After repeated threats by the judge to commit the wordy combatants for contempt of Court, order was at length restored, and panting and exhausted, though still eager for the fray, the two gallant ladies wiped their heated faces and ground their teeth at each other. But when Hturtehteraps had cooled a little she broke out into genial smiles again, and bowing to the judges, who bowed in return, she observed pleasantly,
"I am very sorry, my most noble judges, that the order of the Court should have been interrupted by this pretty passage-of-arms. But a little pleasant banter serves to clear our heavy legal atmosphere and enables us to breathe more freely."
I think my readers will unanimously be of my opinion, that if this was only "pleasant banter" a row in Esnesnon amongst the ladies would have been rather serious, and unpleasant for human and civilised beings. But as the judges smiled, and the two learned counsel smiled lovingly at each other, and the audience laughed, it is to be presumed that it was only "pleasant banter," and that the Esnesnonites relished such scenes with as much zest as Spaniards do a bull- fight. But alas! it is fearful to contemplate the tremendous amount of hypocrisy there must have been there to be sure.
The legal atmosphere having been cleared, the counsel for the defence continued her speech.
"As I was saying before my learned friend the counsel for the prosecution interrupted me, this unfortunate male, the prisoner at the bar, cannot be guilty of the charge brought against him, and should therefore be acquitted. His accuser is a lady. It is not for me to enter into the motives which led her to place my client in his unfortunate position. Her reasons are best known to herself, but I say that it would have been better for her, and better for this mighty nation, had she shown more consideration for an alien, even assuming that he had been guilty." (Here the opposing counsel jumped up again and protested strongly against her "learned friend's remarks," and another rumpus seemed imminent, but the presiding judge threatened in a tone of awful severity to quit the Court if order was not kept. At this the two ladies looked daggers at each other, and turned up their pretty noses, and resorted to other feminine means of expressing the bitterness and jealousy which rankled in each heart.)
"In conclusion, I would remark," said Hturtehteraps, "that the unsupported charge of Mrs Ytidrusba cannot be sustained if we would wish to preserve unsullied the character for justice which this great nation has ever borne. Therefore, I ask for his acquittal in the name of truth, of justice, of mercy. Let it be said by future generations of women yet unborn, that here the foreigner found refuge and protection from the machinations of those who would have encompassed him, and who desired his fall, from the basest and most wretched of motives. "
The learned counsel, after this brilliant peroration, resumed her seat amidst a storm of applause, and as she wiped her heated brow there was a look of conscious satisfaction on her face, and a roguish twinkle in her eye, which seemed to say, "I think that has done it, or I am not a woman." And that it had done it was pretty soon self-evident. The trial was speedily concluded after this, and the presiding judge's summing up was a masterpiece of analytical rhetoric. She cautioned her learned sisters against being led away by false sympathy on the one hand or prejudice on the other. The prisoner was a foreigner and a male, she said, and therefore, even if the weight of evidence was considered to be against him, some palliative circumstance might be found. The offence with which he was charged was a very grave one. In fact nothing more diabolical could possibly be imagined than for a male to try and upset the rule of woman. It was an offence, indeed, that, if proved against the person, no punishment that could be devised by the ingenuity of woman would be adequate to meet. But its very awfulness called for the most impartial and deliberate consideration. For the name of a male who should be proved guilty of such an offence in Esnesnon would for ever be execrated, while his children and children's children would be branded with the brand of infamy. It was therefore imperatively necessary that every scrap of evidence should be carefully weighed, and the motives of the accuser analysed. And if there was a doubt at all in the minds of the judges, even though that doubt should be infinitesimally small, the prisoner should have the benefit of that doubt.
The trial after this came at once to an end, the unanimous verdict of the judges being "Not Guilty" a verdict that was evidently a popular one, for the Court rang with applause, that was taken up by the multitude outside until it had spread throughout the town, and the whole population, especially the males, seemed to go mad with excitement.
As soon as the trial was over, the judges, the counsel for the defence, Princess Yobmot, and several other ladies crowded round Flin Flon, to congratulate him on his acquittal, and there was quite a disturbance amongst the fair creatures as they struggled to get near Flin and offer him their arm; though these little designs were frustrated by the Princess, who drew his arm through her own and led him into an ante-room, where a little bit of a banquet had been prepared, and into this room all the other ladies and the old judges crowded. Amongst the latter it was very evident that the flame of jealousy was burning fiercely, although they had reached an age when wisdom ought to have come with their grey hairs. But it would almost seem as if the old females were far greater flirts than the young ones. It is equally certain, too, that Flin savage though they called him was a bone of contention amongst them. In fact, there is reason to believe that a very large number of the Esnesnon ladies felt in their own hearts that the country would by no means suffer if man was allowed an innings at ruling. The supreme power which women had there was by no means beneficial to the country. The King, owing to womanly despotism, was a poor, weak, half imbecile puppet; while the Parliament itself might truly be said to be the common wrangling ground, and on a night of a grand debate there was such an uproar amongst these female M. P .'s that the place was more like Pandemonium.
Mr. Flonatin, gifted as he was with a wonderful amount of natural shrewdness, was not slow to perceive this. He saw, in fact, that the country groaned under petticoat sway. That its sources of wealth were undeveloped from the same cause, and that man was a long-suffering, much-imposed-upon and uncomplaining creature, whose fallen condition was pitiable to see.
Much as he would have liked to have done so, Mr. Flonatin felt that he was powerless to alter the condition of his suffering brethren in Esnesnon. Long persecution and tyranny had taken all the spirit out of them, and he, as a stranger, could not hope to arouse them to any sense of their utter degradation, so that they might rise and throw off the yoke. In fact, to have done this, a gigantic conspiracy would have been necessary, and Flin had already seen the danger that would have to be incurred by anyone who attempted to interfere with the present mode of government. He therefore deemed it advisable to do as the Esnesnonites did, and conform with the best grace he could to the female oppression.
The Princess Yobmot took the chair at the luncheon which had been provided, and in a neat speech she expressed her satisfaction at the result of the trial. She considered that Flin Flon had been the victim of a paltry and unwomanly jealousy, and, for the credit and honour of that great country, a gigantic public meeting should be held to express disapproval at the way in which the unfortunate foreigner had been treated.
This suggestion found favour with the company. For many of the ladies present were anxiously looking forward to the time when the Princess would come to the throne, so that they might drop into snug little sinecures. And it may be that this was the secret of Flin's acquittal, for if the Princess had not been on his side he would in all probability have been unmercifully executed.
Of course there was a great deal of speechmaking at this little banquet, and each lady spoke of the other as "her dear and valued friend," and the "you butter me and I'll butter you" business was carried on until it became fulsome, and amongst the upper world people it would not have been tolerated. But then Esnesnon is not the upper world; and the Esnesnon weaknesses have not yet pervaded our own society, thank goodness. When the luncheon was over there was again a good deal of struggling for the privilege of escorting Flin. In fact, many of these dreadful old ladies burned with a strong desire to flirt a bit with the "uncultivated foreigner." But the Princess was determined to frustrate all such designs, and unmistakably expressed her disapproval of the unladylike conduct, and while the dear creatures were smarting from the reproof she hurried Flin out, and handed him into her private chariot. Then, when they were once more alone, she took his hand and said,
"My dear, I am so glad you have escaped. If anything had happened to you I think I should have died."
"Really, your Highness," he answered, "the kind interest, you take in my welfare overwhelms me, and makes me feel that I shall never be able to repay you."
"Say not so, dear," she murmured. "What is there I would not do for you if I could but win one gracious smile?" (Flin thought that this was a little bit of bosh, but he did not say so.)
"Since you came here," she continued, "I have not felt the same being. You have awakened a feeling in my heart that is entirely new and strange. You have taught me to love you "
"Really, your Highness," Flin exclaimed, colouring very deeply indeed, "this is shocking to my aged ears. Besides, your Highness forgets the barrier that exists between us. I, alas! belong to a degenerated race far below your own." (He felt that this was profound humbug, but he considered that under the circumstances he was justified in using any amount of humbug.) "I was unworthy of you, and your affections would be misplaced."
"Nay, say not so," she sighed. "Love recognises no barrier it can break down or build up, it can raise or level. You have taken me captive. I feel that you are my only light, and without you all will be dark and drear. Blight not my hopes. Turn me not away in despair. My heart is yours. None other can hold a corner in it. Your voice is my music, your touch can thrill me, your gaze charms me I live for you only."
Mr. Flonatin felt dreadfully disgusted with the Princess, for he knew that this was frightful hypocrisy, and he had no doubt that she had used the same language to dozens of young males in Esnesnon. Even assuming that she was sincere he reasoned with himself he did not see his way clear to reciprocate her passion, as there was such a wide difference between them morally and physically; but when he came to dwell upon the subject he began to think that the thing might not be so impracticable as at first sight it seemed. The Princess would one day come to the throne, and Flin thought that if he could succeed in winning her, or rather in allowing himself to be won by her, he might be the means of liberating hundreds of thousands of wretched males from a terrible bondage, and of restoring woman to her proper sphere. This might have been considered a wild, mad scheme, but he asked himself if, after what he had already accomplished, he could not accomplish this, and whether he would not, on the broadest principles of humanity, be justified in taking the steps. He had no selfish motives in the matter. But the liberation of a people, whether they chose to call themselves prehuman, or even superhuman, was such a grand thing to struggle for, that he felt as if he could dare all the powers in nature if he could but accomplish his purpose. But still it was a step requiring much consideration. He was troubled, for he had no desire to commit himself on the one hand, or to lose an opportunity of setting free a longsuffering and sorely-oppressed race of men. But then he had only been acquitted from a charge of conspiracy, and now he was contemplating a move that if it failed the consequences would be terrible, but life or self-interests were nothing when the welfare of a nation was a stake. It was true that there was not much in the Princess to admire, bachelor though he was, and consequently the sacrifice on his part would have to be great. She saw that he was troubled, and so she said, as she pressed his hand,
"You are uneasy in your mind, dear. Confide in me. Tell me your woes that I may solace them. Let me be your trusted friend."
"Ah, your Highness," replied Flin, "that is the word. Your friendship is what I require."
"And is that all?" she murmured.
"What more can I expect?" he returned, a little confused.
"You may expect all that a woman can give to a male love and protection."
"Really, your Highness," he stammered, "you place me in a very awkward position, and one that is no less novel than awkward. You will remember that I told you that in my country the gentlemen made love to the ladies "
"Ah, but then they are so uncivilised there," she interrupted.
"That I admit," he continued, with a roguish twinkle in his eye. "That I admit, but then you must make allowance for my inexperience in the new way, and not forget that the customs of your country must strike a stranger as being very singular."
"But then you come from darkness to light as it were," she replied, "from ignorance to knowledge, from utter barbarism to refined civilisation." "Humph, just so."
"And so you should adapt yourself at once to the situation," she continued, without noticing his interruption, "more especially when it is to please one who loves you." She bent down and would have kissed him, but he drew back. He found it very difficult indeed to reconcile himself to her caresses.
"Why are you so shy?" she asked.
"I fear I am not worthy of your love," he replied, drooping his head, and finding great difficulty in refraining from bursting into a loud laugh, for the whole situation was so ludicrous. But still he felt that the game was worth playing out. Much as he respected woman he could not help thinking that in Esnesnon she was out of her place, and to put it in his own and facetious language, "she wanted taking down a peg or two," and he was determined to take her down and put man in his right sphere. And every right-thinking woman who reads this will say that he was perfectly justified. But some who are not right-thinking will be of a different opinion. This is very sad, and I can only hope that all the poor creatures who are of this mind will soon be brought to a sense of their terrible condition.
"It is I who am not worthy of yours," the Princess answered with well-assumed artlessness; but the wicked minx knew well enough that she was simply talking nonsense. She was like a child with a new toy. Flin was a stranger and a novelty, and therefore she like him for a time. But she meant no more in what she said than does a young gentleman in the upper world when he vows that his lady-love's eyes are "stars," and her hair "woven sunbeams," and her teeth "pearls," and "her neck like the swan" all of which language is slightly idiotic. But then, to sentimental young spoons it sounds nice.
Flin sighed. He did so because he thought the Princess was terribly wicked. She sighed in return. Not that she meant anything by it, but the naught girl knew that sighs were the true language of love, and, misinterpreting Flin's sigh, she thought she would answer him.
"I am afraid, your Highness," he said, "that you are very precipitate in this matter. You seem to forget that between you and me there is a very wide gulf that will be most difficult to bridge. I am a stranger, belonging to a race totally different from your own, and whose customs are the very antithesis of the Esnesnonites. You are a Princess of the royal blood, and I am but a plebeian."
"I forget nothing," she answered. "I only know that you have won my love, and I ask you to give me yours in return. I will be true to you. Your lightest wish will be respected, and we shall be so very, very happy, dear. Say that you will be mine."
Flin's breast was filled with mingled feelings of pity and contempt. He believed that in a measure the Princess was really sincere in her protestations, and so he pitied her. But he found it a most difficult task to conceal his disgust, though he was convinced that the present was a case in which a little dissembling was perfectly justifiable. He had succeeded in getting into Esnesnon, but how to get out was another question. And as the chances of his being able to leave seemed very remote, he thought he might do as Esnesnon did. Looking straight at the Princes, he said,
"My dear madam. If you consider that I am worthy of the notice you are pleased to take of me, it is not for me to offer any opposition to your wishes. And so by necessity I conform to the custom of this strange city, and, reconciling myself to the reversed order of things, I have the honour to say that I am yours."
She kissed him. She was very fond of doing that, but he didn't like it at all, and would have much preferred to have had a good pinch of snuff. She seemed overwhelmed with joy, and exclaimed,
"You have made me so happy, and I shall take ever such care of you, and shall insist upon the Governor placing you in some good position. Of course, when I am queen I shall be able to do more for you, but till then, dear, you must be contented."
"Quite contented," Flin answered a little ironically. "I venture to presume that the person to whom you are pleased to refer to as the 'Governor' is his Majesty, you esteemed father. And if so, I need scarcely say that any position it might be his royal pleasure to confer upon me will be faithfully filled as far as my humble abilities will permit me. In fact, I have reason to believe that his Majesty might find me of considerable service."
"Well, I will see what can be done," replied the Princess, "but you see, dear, without a male happens to be exceedingly clever, he is really of no use here, excepting as woman's companion, and so very, very few males are clever. It is obvious that in the great and incomprehensible scheme of nature they were simply intended to be woman's plaything. He is not at all fitted to fill the important offices now occupied by woman." (Flin coughed here to prevent himself from laughing at the absurdity of the idea, but the Princess did not notice the interruption, and continued). "Of course you will understand that I do not wish to depreciate you. I don't think you will do discredit to your sex. But then you see, darling, you are only a male." The last words were said with a great deal of ill-concealed contempt. And if a spur had really been needed to Flin's intentions this would have supplied it. For there could be no doubt that the Princess, when she spoke thus, but echoed the sentiments of every woman in Esnesnon. And had she wished to have completed the sentence she might have added and although you are an ornament when young, you are certainly not useful Mr. Flonatin felt the full force of the stinging remark, and it galled him. I may even go so far as to say that it embittered him against the Princess, so that he made a mental resolution that all his energies, all his talents, as well as the rest of his life, should be devoted to the attempt to emancipate the longsuffering males of Esnesnon, and to teach women that her true station in the order of things is that of a dependant. Whether he succeeded in accomplishing his noble aims will be revealed as the history proceeds.
When the result of the trial became known there were those who, feeling disappointed and dissatisfied, cried out that there had been a miscarriage of justice. And none were louder in this outcry then Mrs Sregdorpittemmocaig and Mrs Ytidrusba. In fact, the latter lady went so far as to hint that her husband had been guilty of tampering with the judges, and this hint seemed to promise rather a warm time of it for the unfortunate gentleman. Even ladies knowing Mrs Ytidrusba's peculiar temperament were not slow to express sympathy with the poor husband. As for Mrs. she seemed to go raving mad if she had not always been so. She shrieked louder than ever. And, of course, her favourite. grievance of the drivers was mixed up with her abuse of Flin, of the judges, of the King, of the country in general, and, in short, of everything that did not please her. And as it was very evident little or nothing did please her, her complaints were rather numerous.
Allied to this violent lady was Dr. Yrekcauq. This gentleman's bitterness so far got the better of his discretion and courtesy as to lead him to write a pamphlet anonymously, in which he heaped the vilest abuse on the head of the Court magician, Ytidrusba, saying that his knowledge was of the shallowest kind, and, in fact, that he was a "quack," a "humbug," and an "impostor."
Of course, the two leading papers entered the lists and kept the ball rolling, and so the row promised to be long and violent. In fact, so serious did it become, and public feeling was so strong in the matter, that it was considered necessary by the Government that the military should be called out. The result was something like twenty thousand Amazons were quartered in the city. They were an awfully wild lot, and in spite of the strict military discipline which was enforced, it was utterly impossible to stop them using their tongues, so that the peace of the town was broken up and the place became a Babel. Many attempts had been made from time to time to prevent these female soldiers from talking, but everything had hitherto signally failed. And it was left for a very waggish, but, alas! too daring male to suggest what seemed to be the most effectual remedy. This he did in an anonymous letter to the Government organ, in which he advocated the passing of an Act making it compulsory on every woman presenting herself for military service to have her tongue cut, as he considered that a woman had no business to talk, excepting on very rare occasions.
Although this suggestion was made with the best of motives, the end of the author was horrible in the extreme. In spite of his anonymity he was traced; it is supposed he was betrayed by some female relative. One night when he had just risen to prepare some food for his youngest baby, four masked women entered the room, and in a stern and terrible voice commanded the wretched fellow to follow them. The unhappy male appealed to his wife for protection, but she turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. Then, seeing that all hope had gone, he kissed his children, said farewell to his miserable wife, and pressing his lips firmly together, showed his tormentors how a brave male should die. He was taken away, but his fate was never actually known, although it was stated as a fact that he was led by his captors to a large cavern some distance out of the city and there talked to death by two hundred women. This, however, seems so diabolical in its fiendish atrocity that it is charitable to suppose, for the honour and credit of the female sex, that the statement was really a libel, and that some more merciful end was accorded him.
It would really be a difficult thing here to convey anything like an adequate notion of the misery caused by the disorganised state of society in Esnesnon. Owing to Flin's trial all the women seemed to go mad, and of course poor, unfortunate man suffered in consequence. The matter came before Parliament, and the result was one of the stormiest discussions on record. Many of the members suggested that, with a view of restoring things to their normal condition again, Flin should be banished or kept a close prisoner in some stronghold. But this was vigorously opposed by the Princess's party, who were largely in the majority. But it gave rise to no end of bitterness and bad feeling.
Time, however as in every other country served to heal the wounds, and after the proverbial nine days Flin ceased to be a wonder, and he was enabled to go about without attracting any great amount of attention. He availed himself of this opportunity to make himself better acquainted with the Esnesnonites and their customs, which were curious enough in all conscience.
But the thing that will strike us as being most singular was the manner in which the clothes were cleaned. Cold mutton and washing-days are institutions with us; but in Esnesnon such things were unknown. In fields situated outside of the town were large furnaces, and into these all the dirty clothes were cast, and after being subjected to the flames for fifteen minutes, they were drawn out and sent home to the owners perfectly cleansed. Burial was also unknown, but in its place inurning was in vogue. The dead body was placed in a platinum oven, and then calcined by means of currents of electricity. The ashes were afterwards collected and placed in a diamond vase. The vase was then hermetically sealed, and stood on a gold pedestal in places outside of the town appointed for the purpose. The cemeteries, if they may so be called, were amongst the prettiest sights of Esnesnon. The rows of crystal vases on the pure polished gold shafts, which stood amongst the most brilliantly-coloured flowers and graceful trees, produced an effect that was exquisite.
The most precious metal in Esnesnon was tin, and from this all the valuable coins were made, as well as articles of personal adornment. In the botanical world there were many plants that were said in the upper world to be extinct. And amongst these was asterophyllite (30). In the fauna, apart form the menopome, already mentioned, there were the anoplotherium and the augustherium. The latter were kept by the people as watch-dogs. The labyrinthodon was also found in the seas. After seeing one of these gigantic reptiles floating in the water one day, Mr Flonatin states that he no longer felt any doubt as to the truthfulness of the stories about the "great sea serpents" current in the upper world. He expresses a strong conviction that this reptile was not extinct as naturalists led us to suppose, but still inhabited some of the upper world oceans.
It was seldom that the Esnesnonsites went to war with other countries, for they had reached such perfection in the science of artillery and explosives that military manoeuvring was not necessary as there were no personal encounters between armies. They had a gun which threw a shell sixty miles. And this shell on exploding would almost destroy a town. It was loaded with a mineral found in the earth which was soaked for a number of days in a powerful acid, and then acquired most extraordinary explosive properties. Its power was beyond anything that the imagination could picture. A few grains when confined were sufficient to shatter a large building. They also had another gun which would discharge thousands of small round shot every time it was fired. And it could be loaded and fired at the rate of forty times a minute, by simply pressing a button that set a powerful current of electricity free, the gun being self-feeding, while a third gun was constructed to hurl showers of small poisoned arrows. This was a most fearful weapon, as the arrows were so small and fired with such terrific force that one would pass through the bodies of several persons, and if their points only happened to touch the skin death was certain.
All these weapons were the inventions of women, and all the soldiers were women. The
standing army was very small, just sufficient to keep order in Esnesnon. But in the event of war there would be a general conscription, when every woman under a hundred would be liable for military service.
War, however, was always a very remote contingency. Woman exercised all her ingenuity in inventing these diabolical engines of death, but it must be confessed that she didn't like the smell of powder. There was a story extant during Mr Flonatin's sojourn amongst them, that some hundreds of years previous to his arrival there had been a battle between the Esnesnonites and a neighbouring country. When the contending armies were brought face to face they forgot all about their weapons, flew at each other like enraged tigers, and pulled each other's hair out in handfuls. Since then there had been no battle, and the military engineers had devoted all their time to inventions. The enormous sums that were annually spent in carrying out these inventions were one of the reasons of the national exchequer being so empty. Poor old King Gubmuh knew this. But he was powerless to do anything to stay the dreadful waste. If he complained to his ministers they told him that he was not in a position to judge, and that it was quite useless to have a Parliament if the King was to interfere whenever he like. In fact, on one occasion, when the burden of his position weighed upon him more heavily than usual, he ventured to enter a very strong protest against the tyrannical manner in which he himself was governed, and in reply some of the most influential ladies at Court politely hinted that if he did not keep quiet they would find it necessary, in the interest of that great people, to call upon him to resign on the plea of imbecility and allow his daughter to ascend the throne. In fact, Flin was not slow to observe that there was a general desire amongst the female population for the King to abdicate in favour of his daughter. But as this would strengthen woman's power considerably, Mr Flonatin determined to prevent it if possible. He saw that the unhappy monarch's life was a burden to him, and that he sighed for freedom. Ytidrusba, too, grew daily thinner, for since the trial his wife led him a most dreadful life. He did not complain much, but it needed no very great shrewdness to perceive that he suffered terribly. Flin's good heart bled for him. He saw that woman in her rule was merciless. Her hand was iron, and her heart was steel. And though in her proper sphere she might be an angel, it was certain that out of it she was a devil. Mr Flonatin was a peace-loving man. He had ever had a wholesome horror of war, but he felt not that he was justified in taking every possible means to bring about a revolution and raise man to his original and proper station as a lord of creation. But the risks to be run were great. He knew that. He knew also that he had a desperate one-handed game to play, and that if he lost death and dishonour would be certain. Moreover, a well-organised and very extensive conspiracy would be necessary. And it was a question whether long years of oppression and degradation had not entirely crushed the spirit out of the males and turned them into mere machines.
Flin pondered deeply on these points. And one less bold than he might well have been pardoned had he shrunk from such a Herculean task. Much as he longed to return to the upper world and lay his grand discoveries before the Society to which he belonged, he felt that he ought to play the part of a liberator. And yet, as discretion was the better part of valour, he also considered in necessary that he should devote some time to endeavouring to discover if a return to the upper earth was practicable. It was clear that he could never go back the way he had come. But his great brain was fertile in speculation, and he believed that a way back did exist. Some distance from Esnesnon was a mountain, the top of which was always obscured by the electrical clouds. Only two or three persons had ever reached the top of this mountain, and they returned horrified, saying that it opened into a huge cavern that went up and up, and they felt sure that it was the entrance into the infernal regions. Flin had read an account of these several journeys in a book published in Esnesnon, and his curiosity was at once aroused. The travellers had all been women, and he felt sure that what woman could do he could accomplish without much difficulty, notwithstanding the boasted superiority of the Esnesnon women. Strong in this belief, he applied to Parliament for permission to start upon a journey of discovery and to explore the strange cavern. Such a request coming from a male naturally caused a great deal of surprise amongst the members.
Some of them exclaimed that the audacity of the fellow was unpardonable. Others said that he was a conceited little puppy. But others again ventured to hint that it wouldn't be a bad plan to let him go. This, of course, led to a row that raged hotly for many nights. But Flin was artful, and in a second petition which he addressed to the House he took good care to excite that most sensitive part of woman's mental organisation--her curiosity. He tickled the members' fancy with a vivid picture of the wonders that might lie concealed in those upper strata, and that if they would but give him permission to go he was willing to risk his life for their sakes and the sake of science. This argument, of course, told. For the truth of the matter is, every woman in Esnesnon was burning with curiosity, though they were all lacking in courage, and those who had gone up had funked when they had reached the portals of the strange cavern, and had hurried back as fast as they could. Thus the members allowed their curiosity to overcome their discretion, and after a very great deal of talk they gave the necessary sanction for an expedition, and also acceded to another request Flin made, that he should be accompanied to the top of the mountain by males only. But there can be little doubt that in making this concession the members that the expedition would not return, but be lost, and therefore a few old males wouldn't be missed. A sum of money was also voted to defray the expenses.
Flin's joy was great when he found that his application had been successful, and the two schemes now engrossed his attention. With reference to that of the liberties of his fellows, he was determined to take the King and Ytidrusba into his confidence. But his idea about returning to the upper world would be kept to himself.
It will of course be perfectly understood that the two grand schemes which now occupied Flin Flon's attention were the result of the most humane and disinterested motives.
To take every means possible to return to the upper world was a duty he owed to science and his friends, while to attempt the liberation of the oppressed, un-sexed, and long- suffering men of Esnesnon was a duty demanded in the name of humanity.
The difficulties that lay in the way of accomplishing this task were too apparent to be overlooked. Woman in Esnesnon was lynx-eyed --- I am not sure if she is not so in every country --- therefore the difficulties were increased manifold on account of this vigilance, and the most perfect organisation of any secret society would be required which had the liberation of males for its grand object.
But still Flin was not sufficiently egotistical to think that he himself could accomplish this. He saw that the chances of success were remote, and if he failed death would be certain if he were captured. It was to avoid the latter unpleasant consequences that made him desire to find out if there was a practical way to the upper world.
The story of the huge cavern in the higher regions did not appear to him by any means as a "mere traveller's story." It was true that the discoverers had only been women, and little could be expected from them. But still, while making every allowance for exaggeration on the part of those over ambitious ladies, he considered there was a wide margin left for truth, and that being so he was strong in the belief that the cavern reported to exist was really the entrance to a gallery that had its outlet somewhere in the upper world. In short, it was more than possible that it was the shaft or chimney of an extinct volcano that had existed near Esnesnon. If this theory was correct the daring adventurer believed it to be quite possible to travel upward through the bowels of the earth until he emerged once more on the crust. But he was determined to put the feasibility of the plan to a practical test, and should he find that it could be done it would offer him the means of escape in the event of the conspiracy failing.
Having got the sanction of Parliament, as well as a grant for the expedition of discovery, he lost no time in preparing his plans. Male volunteers were advertised for, and the applications were to be sent in to a Government officer especially appointed to select the candidates. It may be mentioned, as an evidence of the alacrity with which the wretched males jumped at any chance that offered a little freedom from woman's oppression, that in one week no fewer than 9,067,850 applications had reached the office. Nothing could have given more convincing proof of the awful condition of the male population than this. Even the Government themselves were astounded, and they began to hint that they had made a mistake in acceding to Flin's request. But still their curiosity would not permit them to countermand it, and so they selected a dozen of the oldest and most useless males, and when these poor fellows received the news that their applications had been successful they almost wept with joy, while the rejected ones verily wept with grief.
The members having thus been selected, nothing remained but to equip the expedition, and this was speedily done. A number of electric lamps and various scientific instruments were provided, together with a very large quantity of provisions. Flin was particular on the latter point, as he wished to have a reserve store up in the mountain in case he found it necessary to make a precipitate flight from Esnesnon.
The Princess Yobmot was by no means pleased with the idea of the expedition. She had no scientific ambition what woman has? and poohpoohed the thing as ridiculous, and not calculated to be advantageous to the country in any shape or form, while the money voted for the expenses would be a useless waste. But the true facts of the matter were she did not like parting with Flin. She thought that he was going to risk his life unnecessarily. At a private interview she kissed him so frequently and warmly that he felt very far from comfortable, and she told him,
"That when he had gone her life's light would be gone. That his voice had been music to her, his presence a joy unspeakable. But not that he was going to leave her, she would be lonely and miserable; and like a menopome that had lost its mate she would pine till he returned."
To all this Mr Flonatin mentally ejaculated "bosh"; and he wondered how any woman, laying claim to be considered perfectly sane, could have given utterance to it. But then he forgot that there was not a woman in Esnesnon but was insane.
Every preparation for the journey being completed, he set off at the head of the expedition early one morning. As he and his little band of old males filed across a plain that led from the city, the Princess appeared on a lofty tower of the castle, and waved a large asbestos handkerchief as long as she could discern them.
When the plain was crossed they came to the shores of an extensive sea. Here a vessel was waiting to take them on board. It was rather a large ship, and was driven by means of electricity. The captain and crew were all females.
After a voyage of four days the little party were landed at a point known as Cape Desolation. This place might have been reached by an overland journey, but it was very difficult, and would have taken up very much more time than the sea voyage.
The name of Cape Desolation was by no means misapplied, for a more awful or desolate region could not possibly be imagined. An immense hollow lay at the feet of the explorers. The sides of the hollow were riven and seared and burnt. It was, in fact, the basin of an extinct volcano. The whole region was composed of black lavatic rock. There was not a tree, an herb, or even a blade of grass, to cheer the eye. It seemed, indeed a valley of death, for birds there were none, animals there were none. Nothing moved, nothing grew.
As Flin viewed this place he knew he was looking on a crater, or rather on the bed of a volcano, and that the crater must be above. Here in far distant ages, as the forming fires had sunk lower and lower, this place must have been a glowing furnace, and it was more than possible the sea over which they had sailed had been connected with it. Some convulsions of nature since then had materially altering the features of the place, shattering the mountains and throwing up the headland and capes and peninsulas, until the waters rushed in into the main bed, extinguishing the lingering fires, and forming a sea. But there were still traces in the overhanging masses of mountain that the lower land and upper had been, if not quite untied, nearly so. And these subterranean fires, consequently, had their outlet on the crust of the earth.
It was necessary to journey along the edge of the basin for some time. But there was always the same blank desolation. When they had proceeded a considerable distance the clouds, which had hitherto been of a beautiful roseate colour, gradually darkened, though here and there there was a streak of blood-red light, and the effect of this was horrible beyond all imagination. The fantastic masses of black rock which were everywhere piled up the great hollow, which seemed to go down to an unfathomable depth the mighty mountains, which arose on all sides and the black streaked clouds, made up a picture that for diabolic weirdness could not have been surpassed. It was horrifying, and had a strange and depressing effect on the beholder. In fact, had Flin Flon remained there long he must have gone raving mad. But if there were another word to signify something ten thousand times worse than "awful" I should have to use it to convey any idea of what followed. The change in the colour of the clouds was observed by the males, who quickly told Flin that an electrical storm was gathering up. Those persons who have travelled in tropical countries, and experienced something of the terrific thunderstorms which occasionally break there, may be able to form the very faintest conception of what an electrical storm is like in the interior of the earth. But those who have never had such experience must of necessity fail to realise, however faintly, the incomprehensibly horrible scene of which Flin was fated to be a spectator.
The travellers took shelter in a cavernous opening in the side of a mountain. And here they waited in breathless silence. The hair upon each person's head stood erect, and gave off long sparks. And his fingers seemed to be fingers of fire, while the face of each male was to all appearances transparent, and as if a light was burning inside of the head. But Mr Flonatin says that so far from any ill effects being felt, the contrary was the case. One was exhilarated to an extraordinary degree. A weight seemed to be removed, there was a feeling almost as if one could fly. A delicious sense of mental dreaminess in which all that was objectionable was eliminated and only the beautiful retained. A strong desire every now and then to break out into rapturous song, and to clap the hands in an exuberance of joy. And then this was alternated by a gradual fading away of all surrounding objects, and a person seemed to be sinking into a most refreshing sleep. But no particular sensation lasted many minutes at a time. A constant change was going on, for it must be remembered that the travellers were steeped in an electric bath.
Presently there was a tremendous explosion for it was more like this than a peal of thunder and from every projecting point of rock, from out of the crevices, from the bottom of the hollow, and from the clouds themselves, which were now inky black, there burst forth millions of minute pale blue stars. The effect was inconceivably grand and awful. Then the stars moved about with astonishing rapidity, and explosion upon explosion followed until the earth literally rocked. The stars in time gave place to huge balls of fire that darted about like fire fiends, and with a startling, cracking noise. The roar was deafening, and the balls spun round until the spectators grew giddy, and a sickening sense of fear seized the heart as the explosions increased in intensity, and their long jagged forks of flame shot down and shattered the projecting rocks with a horrisonous crash. This effect gave place in turn to a new one. From the earth to the clouds there rose up long, spiral columns of electric fire that cracked and hissed, and sent out balls that flew round at a tremendous rate, and as they came in contact with each other exploded with a deafening roar. But the most singular and unique effect was that when all the rocks and the mountains seemed suddenly to become transparent and to be glowing with living fire inside. This scene was most extraordinary and appalling.
But the light gradually faded, and then rain commenced to fall in a perfect deluge. This, however, did not last long, and nature resumed her normal condition again while the clouds shed a soft crimson and purple light, and the storm had passed.
None of the travellers were injured, and as Mr Flonatin stepped from his shelter, his heart was filled with a silent thankfulness for his preservation. Though he felt glad at having had an opportunity of seeing the effects of this extraordinary storm, he would not have gone through the same experience again, could he have avoided it, for untold wealth.
The way now lay along the edge of a precipice, and then a plateau was reached, and from here a mountain rose, and its head was lost in the clouds.
The daring travellers commenced to ascent. It was a toilsome journey, for the road was broken and precipitous. And as Flin went up he felt convinced that it was nothing more than a continuation of the side of the basin or hollow, though some earthquake or convulsions had altered the features of the scenery.
Up they toiled for many hours, until they reached the clouds, and then they seemed to pass through illuminated mist. In time this stratum of vapour was left below, and then far, far above other layers of clouds could be observed, though they were different in colour to the lower ones, being bluish and purple. Acting on the information that had been given him, Flin now led the way along a sort of ravine that was very narrow, and the sides were almost perpendicular.
There was still the same awful desolation, The black, burnt rocks, the utter absence of all life. It was a dead world. After travelling along this ravine for about six hours their destination was reached, and the travellers stood at the mouth of a mammoth cavern, the entrance to which was broken into fantastic shapes. It was a strange place, and as Flin examined it he was more than ever convinced that it had been the outlet for fire, and that the ravine was but a continuation of it, though the roof had been shaken down and the configuration of the mountain altered entirely by earthquakes. To explore this cavern was now the object of the expedition, and Mr Flonatin lost no time in making preparations to start on the following morning after they had rested. He also formed a provision depot at the entrance, and being fully equipped with every necessary, and ample stores, as each male carried on his back about sixty days' rations, the exploring party started. It was arranged that only six and Flin should go forward. The other six were to remain at the entrance, and if the first party did not return by a certain time the second was to set off to try and ascertain their fate. At first the way was through a dismal, gloomy chamber of immense dimensions that the light from the electric lamps failed to penetrate. But after a time the path trended up. Up, and up, and up. Through eternal galleries that were broken and intersected by other galleries, though Flin was cautious enough to keep to what he considered to be the main one. In time it was almost like going upstairs, for the floor was broken, and the lava as it had flowed seemed to have cooled by successive stages.
Day after day the travellers pursued their dreary way that is dreary in one sense but Flin Flon was interested to a pitch of enthusiasm, while his companions were tasting the precious sweets of liberty, though it was only the liberty of eternal, subterranean galleries, but the poor fellows were free to act for once in their lives like men. The chains of bondage were for a time broken, and woman's terrible and enslaving influence no longer made them tremble. Her presence was not felt here. Not that she was without ambition, for could she have done so, she would have held dominant sway over every corner of the earth, but she had come here, and bold and daring though she was when she had only weak, unfortunate man to contend with, she faltered when she reached the entrance to that terrible and unknown region, and as she contemplated the dark galleries running for miles and miles into dim, mysterious solitude, she faltered, got scared, and then turned back.
Flin continued his march for many days successfully, always going up, though sometimes
they came to galleries that went down into unknown depths, but he was anxious to prove if his theory about this being an outlet was correct, and so he kept to the path that ascended until he was many thousand feet above the entrance to the cavern. The air now commenced to get bad, and this caused his hopes to fall a little, as it seemed to place an insurmountable obstacle in the way; but remembering the arrangement that had been made for supplying his fish vessel with pure air, he believed it perfectly practicable to invent a sort of headgear to contain the necessary chemical, and so enable the wearer to exist even in the foulest of atmospheres. As the journey could not now be continued, the party decided to return, and, without mentioning his thought to his fellow-travellers, Flin was satisfied that the upper world could be reached through the bowels of this volcanic mountain, for such he believed it to be. He had done all that he came to do then, and the next time that he returned it would be to reach his own beloved country again or perish.
The downward journey was quickly made, and when the entrance to the cave was reached, the travellers found their companions anxiously awaiting their return. The remaining provisions, of which they had brought a large quantity, were carefully stored away, and the party returned to Esnesnon without any special adventure.
The expedition, so far as Flin Flon was concerned, having been successful, returned to make its report. I say so far as Flin was concerned, because in other respects it was not a success. That is, nothing was discovered beyond what was already known. Great dissatisfaction was expressed in the city, and loud outcries were made against the Government for having voted the money. Of course, Yrekcauq and Mrs. went out of their minds as usual, and the poor old King was abused most unmercifully. As for Flin, the enemies of the Government made it rather uncomfortable for him; for a time they condemned him in language very far from polite, and suggested the advisability of turning him out of the kingdom. Otherwise the peace of the realm would be disturbed, and very serious consequences might ensue.
All these things, however, did not in the least disturb the equanimity of Flin. He laughed in his sleeve, and he winked slyly when nobody was looking at him, as much as to say,
"You have your day now; mine will come." Certainly he was very well satisfied with the result of his journey. And he congratulated himself on the fact that he had found the door which opened into his own world, and that all that was required were endurance, patience and resolution. It is well known that he possessed these qualities in an eminent degree. And if he could succeed in obtaining pure air and carrying a supply of provisions, and given that his theory was correct, there seemed little doubt but what the journey might be accomplished. At anyrate, he lost no time in maturing his plans, though to do this he was obliged to make a confidant of Ytidrusba. Although the old man did not offer any opposition, there is no doubt judging from his manner that he thought Flin was not quite in his right senses. However, Flin did not care about that in the least, more especially as Ytidrusba undertook to get the necessary head-dress secretly made. For this purpose he enlisted the services of one of the best male artisans in the country, who undertook to construct the dress from a plan which Flin supplies, and which may here be described.
In appearance it was not unlike the dress worn by divers. The head or crown terminated in a bellshaped trumpet, though which the external air entered and was oxygenated and ozonised by layers of chemicals compounds in cotton wool, and was drawn into the mouth by means of a tube. The impure air was discharged through the nostrils by means of a valve which fitted close, and which acted automatically by the force of the breath, but did not allow any of the external air to enter. There was also an india-rubber suit to be worn on the body, and this was fitted with various receptacles for provisions. This latter was a difficulty which at first seemed almost insurmountable, because it would be impossible for one person to carry anything like bulk or weight, and unless a sufficient store of food and water could be secured death from starvation would be certain.
This obstacle would have daunted many men, but it did not do so with Flin. His fertile brain was seldom at a loss to find a way out of a difficulty. Much as he liked good living, and Sybarite though he was, he could, when the interests of science demanded it, live upon as little as any man. And the problem to be solved was, how to get the greatest possible amount of nutriment into the smallest possible space. The solution was comparatively easy to Flin. He felt quite sure that if there was no actual water to be found in the bowels of the mountain, there would be sufficient moisture to afford fluid for a whole army if properly extracted. This was all the more feasible from the fact that the mountain seemed to be composed principally of pumice. The thing to be done was to extract this moisture, and then render it fit for drinking, and the following ingenious method was hit upon.
A square platinum box was made. About four inches from the bottom was a finely-perforated plate. Over this was a compact layer of sponge. Then another plate. And on the top of that a layer of salt. These layers of salt and sponge were continued within two inches of the top of the box. The moisture that would thus be absorbed by the salt and sponge would percolate to the bottom. Then it could be drawn off by means of a tap, and next distilled in a small apparatus, with heat generated by electricity. It will thus be seen that wherever there was moisture in the air or earth a supply of pure drinking water could be ensured.
For food the principle of the concentration of nutriment was resorted to. Mr Flonatin had observed that the poor people lived chiefly upon an amber gum of a sweetish taste, which exuded from certain trees in the forests. Those who ate it fattened and strengthened on it in a remarkable degree, and on analysis Flin found it contained all the nourishment necessary for the support of life. He, therefore, had a large number of wafer-like biscuits made of the gum and a little flour mixed. This flour was procured from the seeds of a peculiar shrub that grew in great profusion everywhere. The seeds were dried in ovens heated by electricity, and was afterwards ground in stone mills, the motive power of the mills being electricity. He proved, by practical experience, that these biscuits satisfied the cravings of nature, and kept up the vitality to a high standard. As he could carry a large quantity of the biscuits, one or two being sufficient for a meal, he had no fear of starving. For light he had two electric lamps, one fixed in front of the head-dress, and the other at the waist. A small electric battery was also constructed to be carried on the back, and which could be used for generating heat. When all the arrangements were completed, and the apparatus ready, Flin secretly left the city one night and took his way to the mountain. By making the detour mentioned he was enabled to avoid the sea. He reached his destination in safety, and stored his things away, ready for use whenever he should require them.
As he had not mentioned a word to anyone of his intention to go, his disappearance from the palace caused intense excitement. The Princess was affected so much that a serious illness was threatened. Then it suddenly occurred to her that some of her rivals had stolen him. This almost drove her mad with jealousy, and she persuaded her father to issue a proclamation offering a large reward for his recovery, and threatening the penalty of death on anyone who should detain him after the publication of the notice. Still he was not forthcoming, and then the Princess grew desponding again, and it was evident beyond all possibility of doubt that she entertained a feeling for him which in this world would certainly be called love.
But after many days, and when everybody about the palace was beginning to despair, Flin
turned up; and learning of the anxiety he had caused, he resorted to the pleasant fiction of saying that he had been lost.
The Princess was overjoyed at his return, and of course she quite believed him. Lovers always do believe each other. And if an upper world lady was told by her inamorato that she was a blush rose, or a sweet angel, or a beautiful star, or a vision of brightness, she would no more think of disbelieving it than she would think of not criticising her neighbour's new bonnet, and notwithstanding that she would know in her heart that it was all bosh and absurd flattery. Because a blush rose is not painted with rouge, and a sweet angel does not wear a toque at least it never has been reported that the angels do and the brightness of a beautiful star is not sullied by retiring to rest when it ought to be rising, nor does a vision of brightness wear false teeth or dress-improvers.
As before stated, the Princess was overjoyed when Flin returned, and she hugged the little man until he grew very red in the face, not by reason that he blushed, but because she squeezed him so hard.
To enter any protest against her behaviour would have been perfectly useless, and so he sighed and endured. And here I have a little secret to impart of the most interesting nature. It is not only interesting, but decidedly curious, and is intended more particularly for the ladies. Ladies of course like secrets. Not that they ever keep them when they get them; but then that fact only serves to prove how unselfish a woman is. For although she is so fond of a thing that she is often "dying to have it," the moment she gets it she passes it on to her "dear friend."
It will be understood, however, that this extreme generosity is only shown in the case of secrets; because a lady would not be so free with her bonnets and dresses. But of course, these are very different things from secrets. When a lady has a secret, she acts the same as she would if she had a fever. She tries to get rid of it as soon as possible; and if she cannot get rid of it, she is very ill. It will be remembered that Chaucer's Wife of Bath was once in possession of a secret, and was so bad that she cried ,
"When I am in danger of bursting, I will go and whisper among the reeds."
And the poor thing went, and no doubt felt considerably better. But women must have been very scarce in those days.
I knew a lady once who was told a very important secret by a gentleman on condition that she would promise very faithfully to keep it to herself. In a moment of weakness, and "dying with curiosity," she made this promise. Alas! that she a woman should have done so. But even women sometimes do foolish things. In her case it proved fatal. The gentleman went abroad, and the lady nursed the secret in her breast. But day by day it became more burdensome. It was an incubus that tortured. The colour faded from her cheeks, the brightness from her eye. Her step grew daily slower, and her friends saw with alarm that she was suffering from some strange malady. They pressed her to tell them the cause of her sufferings, so that they might suggest some remedy. But she only shook her head and sighed sadly. It was terrible and heartrending to see one so young and beautiful fade away without being able to stretch forth a helping hand to save her. Her friends sent her abroad. She went to Italy, France, Spain. She mixed in the gayest circles, she wandered amongst the most beautiful of nature's scenes. All that money and tender solicitation could do was done. But the great shadow was upon her, and from out that shadow nothing could lift her. Weary and broken she returned to her native land, for her life had lost its charms. Things that had hitherto given her pleasure now palled. She shut herself off from her acquaintances, and at last took to her bed. The cleverest physicians that wealth could procure were called in. But after they had felt her pulse, and looked at her tongue, they shook their heads sadly, pocketed their fees, and went off to other patients and more fees, and the disconsolate friends were left as wise as ever, for these doctors were not able to diagnose the malady. Some hinted at heart disease, others at consumption, diseased liver, religious mania, disappointed love, approaching insanity, cancer in the stomach, and in fact nearly every disease that flesh is heir to, for these grave, professional men had reputations to keep up, and therefore it was necessary to say something, and they said it and went their way with a sense of having done their duty.
But the end came at last. It was a wild and stormy night at the end of October. All the trees were bare, for the cold hand of winter was making itself felt. The dead leaves, swept by the gusts of autumnal winds which moaned over the land, rustled weirdly, and spoke of the departed joys of summer. No stars shone in the leaden-hued sky, though occasionally the glary moon peered from a jagged rent in the storm-clouds as they drove fiercely before the blasts.
The unhappy lady lay stretched upon her bed, surrounded with weeping friends. The shaded lights threw a melancholy gloom over the sad scene, and as the human soul struggled to break its bonds, the stillness of the room was broken by the stifled weeping of the watchers.
As the neighbouring church clock solemnly chimed out the hour of midnight, the dying woman took the hand of one of her dearest friends, and drawing her down she whispered into her ear,
"Nellie, darling, I will tell you a secret if you will promise me that you won't repeat it."
"I promise, dear," Nellie answered.
"Well, last year Mr Jones an old friend of mine, you know told me that his wife had presented him with twins. He was so ashamed of this that he made me solemnly promise that I would never mention it to anyone. I made the promise, and it has killed me."
She ceased speaking, gasped for breath, and with a low moan breathed her last.
As the weeping Nellie bent over the form of her dead friend she kissed the drawn lips, and made a mental vow that she would never keep a secret. And in a hour from that time everybody knew that Mrs Jones was the mother of twins.
The case, which is well authenticated, was very sad, and should be warning to all who read it. I at once suggested to her friends that this line should be inscribed upon the tombstoneSacred to the memory of , who departed this life while yet in the bloom of youth and beauty, a victim to an attempt to keep a secret.It would be a lasting monument of the folly of a woman attempting to do that which nature never intended she should do.
In the course of this history I have endeavoured to show that in a quiet, unostentatious way Mr Flonatin was enabled to influence those with whom he came in contact in a very remarkable manner. It is ever so with a true man of genius. People are all, unconsciously as it were, drawn towards him. They feel his power by intuition, and look up to him for guidance. This was so in Flin's case in a very marked degree. But perhaps the most astounding fact was the way in which he captivated the Princess Yobmot, a young lady whose flighty, volatile nature would have justified anyone in saying that she could not possibly have fixed her ideas upon any particular thing.
But though she was, as the Esnesnonites were pleased to term themselves, a prehuman being, she was, after all, singularly human according to our way of thinking. This applies in more ways than one. For like a good many young ladies, whether they be princesses or plebeians, she had some sort of undefined idea that she was pre-eminently superior to everyone else, and that, consequently, she ought to be looked up to, bowed down to, and otherwise recognised as a being of transcendent worth. But love is a mighty leveller; and however absurd it may seem to associate love with such a person as the Princess Yob mot, the truth must be told, she learned to love Flin, and silently but eloquently to acknowledge his superiority. Of course Mr Flonatin was an old man, whose life had been unselfishly devoted to the cause of science; but in Esnesnon, where people lived to be upwards of three hundred years old, his sixty odd years were but as childhood to them, and any argument he used to make them understand that as a human being the limit of his existence was very much narrower than theirs was ineffective. For there again they proved themselves to be prototypes of certain people in the upper world, who are chiefly remarkable for their small intellects and their self-importance, and who will see nothing beyond their own noses. Believing, as the Esnesnonites did, that Flin had really come from a locality where in their own stupid ignorance they placed the infernal regions, they looked upon him as immeasurably inferior to themselves. But, as I have before observed, his unobtrusive manner and his genius, which made themselves too apparent to be overlooked, won upon their feelings in a large measure; and while the men envied him, and secretly sighed that they had not been cast in the same mould, the women admired him, much after the fashion that they are given to admiring the opposite sex in our own civilised part of the globe. But mere admiration would not express the state of the Princess Yobmot's feelings. From imperiousness and superciliousness she descended to humility and submissiveness. Flin saw this not without some alarm. His contempt for her changed to pity. He tried to check her growing admiration; for however much he might have been inclined to have become a naturalised Esnesnonite, could he have served the cause of science by so doing, he felt that he would rather have died than have had to acknowledge the superiority of female over male rule.
He saw with pain the misery woman by her overweening ambition had caused in the inner world. She had rushed into places where even angels would have had considerable reluctance to have gone. She had mounted herself on a pinnacle, and imagined that, towering as she did above the heads of her fellows, she was immensely superior to man. But she forgot that the very height upon which she was perched caused her to appear to those who looked up to her as a mere and insignificant pigmy. She was, in point of fact, lost. A star of the first magnitude in her own sphere, she paled to a mere rushlight when she appeared out of that sphere. While man himself was reduced to a condition of almost insupportable wretchedness; and, unable to rise and rent the bonds that bound him, he groaned deeply as the iron of woman's tyrannical rule entered his soul.
Flin saw all these things as a philosopher should see them, and his great heart thrilled with unutterable pity. And the strongest desire of his noble soul was to break the fetters that kept man in the dust, so that he might spring to his feet again, and with a loud and joyful voice cry "Victory," while woman, acknowledging her error and her cruelty, should return to her primitive station of dependence, and be, as far as earthly beings can be, man's guardian angel.
It was a proud aspiration, and worthy the great brain from which it emanated. But, alas! he who would sweep away customs that have been rooting through long centuries, or would elevate a people out of whom all spirit and energy have been crushed, undertakes a task compared to which the labour of Hercules in the Augean stables was but as child's play.
Mr Flonatin saw the growing love of the Princess, and, as he was powerless to check it, he felt that he was justified in endeavouring to turn it to account. Moreover, another grand idea took shape in his mighty brain. It was none other than this: if it should prove possible for him to return to the upper world, it was equally possible for the Princess to accompany him, and could that be done, she would profit by what she saw of civilised nations. And when she was stored with information and new ideas he might accompany her back to her own world, where she would rule wisely and well. This, however, was too daring a scheme to be proposed suddenly, but he was determined to try and turn the Princess to his way of thinking with reference to her countrymen.
He had already taken Ytidrusba and the King into his confidence, and they were both overjoyed at the prospect however slight it might be of liberty. But while fully approving of the scheme and consenting to aid as far as they might do with safety, they refused to take any active part in organising the conspiracy. And so he had to work single-handed, and against obstacles that would have daunted a less bold spirit. But "perseverance and endurance" was his motto, and he did not flinch. Slowly but surely he worked. One by one winning men to his side until the conspiracy began to assume considerable proportions. Secretly and silently they progressed. Now undermining this institution, now that, and always moving towards a grand coup d'etat, which Flin convinced was imperatively necessary if the Government was to be overthrown.
Ytidrusba and the King watched the progress things were making with ill-concealed delight. It was for them, as for all males, the first glimmerings of a blessed liberty. Hope was rising. Its beams were warming the hearts of long-suffering man. A new era was dawning. But the daring of the person who had thus appeared as their champion and liberator awed them. They stood breathless as it were, waiting for the supreme moment when the clarion note of freedom should sound throughout the long-oppressed land, and yet trembling in themselves lest all the plans should miscarry, and in the fancied moment of triumph the plot should be disclosed, when woman, waking suddenly to a sense of the danger in which she stood, would, in her blind, mad, passionate revengeful fury, exterminate man from the earth, and then as a consequence she would die, and Esnesnon would be a buried city of the dead. But so far things had worked well. In all parts of the country societies had been formed, and the business was transacted with such silence and secrecy that no one unconnected with the movement had the slightest suspicion males of course knew how to be silent and secret.
The plan for the overthrow of woman's power was elaborate but effective, could it be carried out. At a given moment every public institution was to be seized and occupied by males. The Houses of Parliament were to be taken possession of and held resolutely, while the most strenuous efforts were being made to secure the services of a few unprincipled women whose sole desire was self-interest. These women were to be employed to tamper with the Amazons, and by promise of large rewards, and sinecure positions, induce them to remain neutral. Though the primary end for which Flin struggled was to teach man the extent of his own power, physically and mentally, and that lesson thoroughly learnt he had no fear of the rest, as he knew that if once man discovered it was his place, according to the scheme of creation, to rule, woman's reign would be at an end.
During the many weeks that were spent in maturing his plans, both for the revolution and for his own escape should he be unsuccessful, Flin was cautious enough not to offend the Princess, whose infatuation for him grew stronger every day. His power over her also gradually increased, for he insensibly led her to recognise his superiority as a ruler. He paid her those delicate attentions which he would have done to a lady in his own country, and as something new and strange she like it. He made her feel some of the exquisite pleasure there was to be enjoyed by a woman who, looking up to man as her guide and protector, ruled him with love, and could, when she sat enthroned in his heart her true position enforce obedience to her slightest wish.
He watched the progress he made in this respect with infinite pleasure, and he, the baldheaded man of science, and seared and world-worn, actually had to confess to himself that he was getting more than deeply interested in this strange woman; he was absolutely learning to regard her with something of the feelings a man regards his first love.
Visionary though the scheme might appear to certain people who never look below the surface of anything, he felt that if he could succeed in converting her that the conquest would be such a grand one that it was worth any sacrifice to accomplish it.
At length, when he considered that the right moment had arrived, he ventured to suggest to the Princess that Esnesnon would be better under the rule of man. At first she heard this in profound astonishment, and then allowing her ambition to overcome even her love for a time, she became exceedingly angry, and threatened him with the direst consequences if he dared to make any such seditious suggestions again; but this opposition only served to strengthen his determination to conquer, if there were within the region of possibility, and he said tenderly in reply to her threats,
"You should not grow angry with me. Custom has unsexed you, but some woman's feeling is still left in your heart. Let that feeling tell you that nature intended man to take the highest scale in creation, and while not inferior to him, woman is essentially a dependent on him, no less than his help- mate. Come down to your proper sphere and you will know the truest happiness. Let me show you how much man is willing to do for woman, providing she keeps her level. You, as the highest lady in this land, make your voice heard. Tell your sex they are usurpers, but the hour has come when they must go back to their true place and allow down-trodden man to come to the front. Do this, and in time your name will ring with honour, and in faroff ages your memory will be revered as one who had the moral strength to rise up and acknowledge her error."
As he ceased speaking the Princess stared at him in utter bewilderment. And then she could only exclaim,
"Are you mad, or am I dreaming?"
"Neither one nor the other. I am speaking the soundest logic. And though it may startle you at first, a little reflection should serve to show you I am right."
"You are audacious," she answered. "Nay, more, you are a conspirator, a traitor, a villain, and shall die."
Her eyes were full of fire, and her voice was stern and determined, but Flin did not flinch. There were mighty interests at stake. One false move on his part, the slightest show of faint-heartedness, and the game would be lost. But he was not the man to tremble or lose presence of mind. It was his habit to grow firmer the more danger increased. He had dared the power of nature in her most secret recesses, and he could not think of quailing before an angry woman. And so he pointedly remarked,
"If it is your Highness's pleasure that I should die, by all means gratify that pleasure. And I shall be able to show you, and your wretched countrypeople, how I can defy you, and how a brave man should die. But I would remind your Highness that you have won upon my feelings. You have touched the strings of my heart and taught me the magic of love."
"Of love," she answered, her whole manner changing.
"Yes," he answered, and feeling a secret joy at the advantage he was evidently gaining. "I have learnt to love you. And whether a woman be an Esnesnonite or any other nationality in the world, I do not believe it is in her nature to slay in cold blood the man who loves her. But do with me as you think proper. A word from you and your myrmidons would no doubt gladly lay me dead at your feet. But will you be able to survive my loss? If so, give the command and let the end come."
She drew nearer to him. She seemed to be labouring under some kind of mesmeric influence. She was literally speechless with astonishment.
You make me feel as if I were undergoing some strange metamorphosis," she said at last. "You are binding me with silken threads that are as strong as iron chains, and though I see you are doing this I am powerless to stay you. What is the cause of my helplessness?"
"Love," he whispered.
"It must be so," she cried. "I feel a new and exquisite sense of pleasure, that if I try to resist will be fatal to me. You have enchanted me, thrown a spell around me, and now you would lead me and my nation to destruction, and yet I cannot raise my voice to sound an alarm. This must not be. You must go away. Seek for some means to return to your own world. Go, I beseech you."
"Never," he cried passionately, seizing her hand, "never, without you go with me."
"I go with you?"
"Yes. I have reason to think I have found a way back. But that way shall never be travelled unless you accompany me. Why should you not go? Why should you not come with me? I will lead you to new scenes. Show you wonders such as you have never before beheld. And, moreover, you shall behold woman as woman should be."
"These are fearful words you are pouring into my ears," she answered. "They are, as it were, a moral poison, that is changing my whole nature."
"Then is the poison wholesome if that is so," he cried enthusiastically, growing bolder as he saw that his plan was successful. "I am trying to draw you from darkness into light--to emancipate your nation from slavery and misery."
"It is a daring scheme," she murmured.
"Love makes man daring. Do not throwaway what I offer. To hesitate is to be lost. Grasp at the golden opportunity. Accept the liberty and the joy I offer you."
"I am yours," she whispered faintly.
It was a grand moment for Flin. He smiled inwardly as he saw that he had gained one great triumph. And he believed, conscientiously, that all the means he had taken to secure it were justified by the results.
"If you are mine," he answered, "then must you acknowledge my sway."
"That will I do," she replied; "your will is stronger than my own, and you have conquered."
"That is good, and now, through you, I must conquer this nation."
Then, as briefly as the importance of the subject would permit, he cautiously laid his plans before the Princess meeting all her objections by the most logical arguments, and overcoming all her scruples by a confession of his love, until at last, metaphorically speaking, he had bound her captive and she was lying prostrate at his feet.
With such a powerful ally as the Princess he was now very hopeful that his plans would succeed. The conspirators were overjoyed when they heard the new, and they promised to place Flin upon the throne if they were successful. The Princess used her influence too to get some of her party to join the conspiracy, consenting to fly with Flin in the event of a fiasco; and he had another dress made for her so that every contingency might be guarded against.
The King and Ytidrusba watched the progress of events with breathless agitation, for they knew that they must either gain power or sink to eternal ruin, according to the turn matters took.
At length all things were ripe for the blow to be struck, and an hour was fixed for the coup d'etat. But, secretly as the conspirators had worked, they had a traitor in the camp, and though this means the Government were made aware of the mine upon which they stood. Then a counterplot was arranged, and the result must be told in the next chapter.
Flin Flon's revolutionary movement progressed satisfactorily, or apparently so. Revolutions as a rule cannot be too strongly condemned. But if it be true that the end justifies the means, then it may be safely asserted that the end aimed at by Mr. Flonatin was such a desirable one that any means would have been justifiable that would have ensured success. It will be remembered that even the King was allied to the would-be liberator, for no one could have had stronger motives than he for the overthrow of his Government. But as an evidence of the immense influence Flin possessed, and the way in which he was enabled to sway the female mind where circumstances were favourable, it may be stated that the Princess Yobmot fell into his views, and fully acquiesced in all he desired. Of course it will be said that this young lady was in love with the great traveller, and therefore it was no wonder that she should try to please him, as anybody would do as much for the object of her choice. But I would firmly though respectfully contradict all persons who incline to this popular error, and beg to say that they know little of the female mind, which is exceedingly like a weather-cock. A lady likes to rule, and particularly rule her lover. In fact I have no hesitation in saying that a woman is a perfect tyrant to the man who is enthralled with her charms. No cannibalistic savage could possibly be a greater despot than she who is aware that the light of her eyes has bewitched some unfortunate man, and the music of her voice has charmed him into slavish obedience. Then may it be said speaking figuratively, of course that she places her foot upon his neck, and as she pierces his heart through and through she exultingly cries,
"Behold my conquest! As the power of woman was strong in the land even in the days of Eve, so is it now. Time has not weakened it, and here at my feet is a slave chained and bound, whom I, a woman frail and weak, have captured, and brought him from the enemy's country to lie prone at my feet and worship me, and he shall do my lightest bidding. I will make him fetch and carry even as I would my spaniel. He shall acknowledge my imperious will, and obey my commands. Even his thoughts shall not be his own, for I shall be his mistress, his queen, his absolute ruler, and if I tell him to look to the left he shall do it, and if I command him to turn to the right that shall he do also."
Of course this is the idea of every woman who enthralls a man's heart. But then she forgets that man submits only to make her submissive. And when he has conquered he teaches her how well the slave can rule the ruler. But remembering the awfully stubborn nature of a lady's will, Flin's conquest was the more remarkable, especially in Esnesnon, where woman's power was absolute, though it must be confessed that the Princess was very badly in love with him, and in such a desperate case the patient was very liable to do desperate things. At the same time in justice to her it must be said that he did not make a conquest of her without some difficulty.
She felt his power. She felt that she was being drawn nearer and nearer to bondage, and she struggled hard to free herself. But she was simply helpless. She could not shut him out from her sight. She could not obliterate him from her memory.
She firmly protested, she objected, she grew desperate. It was all useless, however. She struggled in vain to break the chain. He conquered. It was a glorious triumph and well entitles him to be immortalised in heroic verse to the end of time.
Of course the value of the Princess's influence could hardly be over-rated. Flin knew this, and he felt exceedingly proud of his conquest. In fact he looked upon success as a foregone conclusion. But he over-calculated his strength.
The conspirators met nightly. Both the King and Ytidrusba watched the progress of events with palpitating hearts. They panted for liberty, now at last liberty seemed to be coming, and the end of woman's rule was drawing near.
But "the well-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley." Notwithstanding the vigilance of the conspirators there were other persons in Esnesnon who were equally vigilant. The movements of the Princess and Flin had not escaped notice, and suspicion had been aroused. Mrs Sregdorpittemmocaig and Dr Yrekcauq were hawkeyed, and they smelt danger. They saw that there was something in the wind, and they set themselves to work to find out what that something was. Strong in the belief in her own influence the Princess had extensively tampered with the army, and regiment after regiment had promised to give her their support when the right moment came. But, unfortunately for the success of the plans, there were traitors in the camp; and Mrs soon learnt that an extensive scheme had been almost matured for the overthrow of the Government, and that the rule of woman was threatened.
This discovery seemed to drive the gentle lady madder than ever, and rushing down to the Parliament House, like an escaped lunatic, she dropped a bombshell, so to speak, into that grave and solemn assembly. That is, she shrieked out the news she had learnt to the astonished members, who, startled so suddenly from their fancied security, became as mad as she, and a scene was enacted in that Council Chamber that is perhaps without a parallel in the world's history. The daring and horrible audacity of the scheme alarmed them in a manner that nothing else could have done. To have their power threatened, to tremble on the verge of a revolution that would in all probability place woman in a position inferior to man in the social scale, was so horrible to contemplate that for a time the fair creatures were dumb with amazement, and almost paralysed with fear. But this feeling soon passed, and was succeeded by one that can only be described as dangerous lunacy. Every member jumped to her feet at the same moment and tried to speak, until the Babel of tongues was beyond the power of human comprehension to understand. Then the dear creatures set to work abusing each other, and for a long time the business of the House was interrupted by frantic gesticulations and a deafening noise. But at last some of the members came to their senses, as they realised the great danger which threatened them, and by dint of perseverance they managed to prevail upon their sister members to give them a hearing. The best means for nipping the rebellion in the bud were discussed. But while there was by no means a unanimous feeling as to the course that should be pursued, it was pretty generally acceded that it was imperatively necessary for the safety of the State that Flin should be immediately arrested, and all the troops be called out and their loyalty tested. This having been decided upon, the meeting broke up, and a messenger was despatched to the Governor of the city that she was immediately to arrest Flin Flon. But he and the Princess had already got information that they were suspected, and so, while the members were quarrelling amongst themselves in the House of Parliament, Flin was enabled to withdraw to the Palace accompanied by a considerable number of troops, who had been prevailed upon by the Princess to forsake their allegiance.
When it was revealed that not only the King and Ytidrusba were on the side of the enemy, but that the success of the plot so far was entirely due to the Princess, the rage amongst the female population was fearful, and they vowed to have the most deadly vengeance on the Princess should she be taken alive.
Mrs. went about the city inflaming the minds of the populace and inciting them to action. She called upon them to arrest Flin, the King, and Ytidrusba, and instantly execute them, while the Princess was to be slain by slow torture. But all this was easier said than done. The conspirators had made good their position, and showed no inclination to come out and be slaughtered.
The excitement in the city was immense, and words would fail to convey any adequate idea of the manner in which the leading female members conducted themselves. Stormy meetings took place, and resolutions were passed one moment only to be abandoned the next. In this critical hour no one could be found sufficiently collected and with a clear head to take the management of affairs. Each lady considered her own proposition infinitely superior to her neighbour's, and terrible confusion was the result. But after hours of talk it was at last decided that the conspirators should be called upon to surrender, and failing to respond to the call, the palace was to be besieged and battered down.
The loyal troops were drawn up in fighting order. Volunteers were enrolled, and even males were pressed into the service as servants and bearers.
The demand to surrender was made, but treated with scorn, and so the battle commenced.
The most terrible electric explosives were used, battering rams were brought into requisition, and
both besieged and besiegers fought with a fury that was begotten by the desperate nature of the cause. The war was continued for weeks. Sorties were occasionally made from the palace, and furious hand-to-hand encounters took place, the female soldiers tearing each other's hair and eyes out like so many furies. The fighting on the part of the males was only a sham, for they fully sympathised with the conspirators, and in their hearts hoped that they would be successful.
The Government, with a cruelty that was execrable, had large numbers of males executed as warnings to others, some of them being frizzled to death by means of electricity. In fact, the amiable Mrs. went so far as to suggest that all the males, excepting the very young ones, should be killed off. But this diabolical proposal was not carried out, though be it said to this lady's eternal disgrace, nearly all the public chariot- drivers were massacred at her instigation.
During this terrible state of affairs the poor old King seemed to sink more and more into a state of hopeless imbecility. His spirit was crushed and his dreams dissipated. He was conscious of having always been a puppet; woman's power had been strong upon him, but there had been times when he had dared to hope that he would be able to free himself and breathe the air of liberty, when he would be relieved of the despotic sway of petticoat rule.
Day by day the King continued to waste away, and at last died. This was a heavy blow to the little band of devoted adherents, and no one felt it more seriously than Ytidrusba, who was greatly attached to his Royal master. The old priest never held up his head again, and a week after had joined the King in some other world.
Flin had nothing more to fight for now. The Princess, whose love for him had been steadfast all through the siege, counselled him to fly. Still he hesitated, although he saw that he could not hold out much longer, for the besiegers were bringing up fresh troops, and new instruments of warfare, which discharged, by means of compressed air, terrible bombs filled with deadly gas, and a corrosive acid that caused awful torture. Further resistance was quite useless, and as the Princess consented to accompany him, he determined, in the interest of the noble Society he represented, to seek safety in flight, and favoured by the cover of darkness, and a lull in the siege operations, he and his faithful Princess quitted the palace and hurried towards the mountain, where Flin believed he had discovered the entrance to a passage which led to the Upper World.
The fugitives were enabled to continue their flight unmolested. The Princess was no longer the gay, sprightly, volatile girl of a few weeks previous. The terrible events that had so quickly crowded upon her had had a very marked effect, and had enfeebled her health to an alarming extent. But Flin was still sanguine that her devotion for him, aided by her perseverance, would enable her to triumph over all difficulties and accompany him to the upper world, if it were possible to make his way there. This was now the one goal to which he pressed. Devoted as he was to science, he felt that to be able to present the Princess to the American people was such a grand idea that it was worth making any sacrifices to accomplish. Moreover, she would be the best answer to any questions that might be put, and would effectually silence all doubts. After considerable difficulty the fugitives succeeded in reaching the mouth of the cavern.
Flin found his stores and apparatus exactly as he had left them. The Princess was much exhausted, and so he decided to rest for a few days, as he deemed himself perfectly safe from pursuers.
At the end of a week the Princess had so far recovered that the traveller determined to lose no more time in commencing his journey upward.
Princess Yobmot uttered no complaint, but it was evident she looked upon the expedition with grave misgivings. The only motive she had for startling upon such a dangerous journey was her love for Flin, as she was not even supported, as was he, by any enthusiasm for scientific exploration. But she confessed herself willing to live or die with him. And so when everything was ready, and when the apparatus for breathing had been adjusted, and the electric lamps set in motion, he turned his back towards Esnesnon and set his face upward.
He and his companion were fastened together by a rope and he took the lead.
For a long time the way was comparatively easy, and good progress was made. The gallery always trended upward, and the walls were for the most part composed of basaltic and felspathic (31) rock. At times, however, the roof was so low that considerable difficulty was experienced in passing. But the undaunted travellers crept on their hands and knees and held their way, and when at last at the end of ten days Flin made a calculation by aid of his instruments, he estimated that they had attained a height of about eight miles above the level of
Everything was perfectly satisfactory, and the dresses fully answered the purpose for which they had been designed. But now the gallery grew rougher, and the journey became more difficult. At times it was necessary to climb up steep jutting rocks, and creep through holes that scarcely admitted the body. Moreover, the way grew labyrinthian, for the galleries trended away in every conceivable direction, and the intrepid Flin was often at his wits' end as to which one to follow. But, guided by a rare instinct, and that intuitive faculty which was peculiarly his own, which enabled him to define the right way from the wrong in most things, he did not falter, but pressed boldly forward; though there were occasions when, after terrible exertion and almost Herculean efforts, he was mortified to find himself at the end of a gallery, and was compelled to retrace his steps and strike a fresh path.
He was greatly alarmed now to observe that the strength of the Princess was daily diminishing. He saw with pain that she grew gradually weaker and thinner; and, feeling that he was responsible for her safety, he suggested the advisability of returning to Esnesnon, which he would have done at all risks. But she resolutely opposed this, expressing her perfect willingness to proceed at all hazards, and, if needs be, die by his side. He was struck by this devotion. Little did he dream that his connection with her, begun so lightly, would end so seriously. It was a grave responsibility. He felt that, and his fears strengthened every hour that his brave companion would find a grave in the heart of the earth's crust, through which they were travelling. She defined something of the thoughts which agitated him, and smiling sweetly tried to reassure him, saying that he was not to trouble himself on her account, for she would yet live to astonish the upper world people. He knew, however, that this was only dictated by her great love for him, and that her own feelings told her that this was a fallacious hope. But regrets were useless, longings were unavailing; the inevitable must be met boldly. The way now became more and more intricate, tortuous and difficult, and there were days when it was impossible to accomplish more than a mile or so of distance.
The interminable galleries stretched on and on. The unbroken silence, the awful darkness were appalling. No wonder that at last even Flin, bold as he was, should have had some feeling of despair.
"How much longer would it be necessary to travel these fearful solitudes, where neither prehuman nor human foot had ever been before?"
This was a question he was repeatedly asking himself, but the answer came not.
It was certain, however, that the way could not be interminable. The gallery must have an ending. This was at least a consoling thought. After a few days' more travelling the gallery gradually opened out, and the travellers stood on the shores of a subterranean lake. The awful desolation, the fearful melancholy, and the strange silence of this place were sufficient to appal the stoutest hearts. Flin did not feel justified in devoting any time to exploring it. Every moment was now of value, for the provisions were getting short, and both his own and him companion's strength were failing. In fact, the Princess now became so ill that it was evident she could not continue the journey much farther. Flin was distracted. He felt that in a measure he was responsible for this, though all that he had done had been done with the best possible motives. Nevertheless, had he not attempted to overthrow the power of woman in Esnesnon, things might have been different. He reproached himself a little, and he told the Princess this, but she smiled sweetly and murmured,
"Do not blame yourself. It was all done for the best, and had you not failed Esnesnon would have known an era of splendid prosperity. You have at least taught me my true sphere. To submit as a woman should submit is a woman's duty. But when she attempts to rule, and to assume a position for which she was never intended, she ceases to be a woman and becomes objectionable. This is something at least to have learnt, and I have learned it thoroughly, and would that I could teach it to my countrywomen. But that is hopeless, for my end approaches."
"Say not so," Flin answered in alarm, for there was something prophetic in the words of the Princess. "You are weak and exhausted, but I am not without hope that you may yet live to reach the end of the journey, and be honoured and respected by the great American people."
"The end of the journey has come for me," she whispered, as she sank down at his feet, "I am dying."
With a cry of alarm he knelt beside her and supported her head, and it became too evident to him that her words were fearfully true, that life was ebbing away. But he was utterly powerless to give any aid. He was unprepared for such a contingency. And all he could do was to support the head of the dying woman and whisper comfort.
She held his hand as if fearful to part from him. Belonging to a totally different race, and
prehuman though she might call herself, she had yet a true woman's nature, and felt the magic of love. But she was no more exempt from death than were human beings, and the fell destroyer had stricken her. Flin Flon confesses that as he bent over her prostrate form it was the most painful moment of his life, and he would have sacrificed much could he have saved her. But that was impossible. The life tide ebbed. She grew feebler. And still clasping his hand, she at length lay dead in that strange and lonely region. It was a huge grave, but a safe one. No one was likely ever again to penetrate to those silent depths to disturb the dead remains. There they would lie in an eternal sleep until the mountains should dissolve and the secrets of sea and earth be disclosed. Flin wept. And at the moment almost wished that he too could lie beside her and sleep the dreamless sleep. He felt that he had lost a true and faithful companion, who for his sake had sacrificed much, even her life. But he must pursue his solitary journey now without her. And so, composing the dead limbs, and casting one fond and lingering look at the calm face, he went on his way.
After travelling for some distance along the shores of the lake, he was fortunate enough to hit the entrance to the gallery again. With the exception that the way was very much more difficult, the features were the same as the first half of the journey. The same gloomy, silent galleries. The same dark, hard rocks, that bore on their face evidence of burnings and scaldings, and spoke of the time when these caverns had been filled with liquid fire, that had no doubt mounted upward and upward, finally discharging itself in the upper world.
These signs gave Flin courage, because he felt convinced that the burning lava must have left an outlet, and that if his strength held out he would be enabled to gain that outlet and finally reach his beloved home.
But hope sank very low at times as he travelled upward and upward and there appeared no signs of the end. Hunger, too, was beginning to make itself felt, for his provisions were nearly
finished and the utmost care was necessary. Moreover, the greatest physical labour had to be endured, for at times he had literally to climb up walls of rock, and where a false step or the failure of nerve would have precipitated him to instant destruction, but "perseverance" was his motto, and so he struggled on. The gloom and the silence were beginning to tell upon him. He grew melancholy, he felt as if he should go out of his mind if the journey did not end, and there were one or two occasions when the very apathy of despair was reached and he felt that he could not continue another step. But these fits of depression were not lasting. He aroused himself from them with desperate energy and struggled forward, and when sight, and strength, and hope were all but gone he was at length rewarded by seeing glimmering light, the blessed light of day, and with a cry of joy he sank down and remained unconscious for some time.
But he soon recovered, and following the light, he emerged from narrow opening. Then he saw far, far above the blue sky. Yes, the sky that he had been shut out from so long was above him, and he almost went frantic with a great sense of inexpressible joy.
He was at the bottom of a huge crater, that was most perfect in its formation. The sides were nearly perpendicular, and covered with luxuriant herbage. The summit was about two thousand feet above, and to gain it appeared to be about the most difficult part of the journey. But when Flin had refreshed himself and rested for some hours he set to work to try and find a way out of the hollow, where in a great depression was a lake. After walking about for some hours he came upon a narrow track that had been beaten by sheep and goats. Up this he climbed, but it was so steep that it was a work of danger and difficulty. At length he reached the summit of the mountain, and then he found that it was one of a tremendous range. No human being was in sight. The region was solitude unbroken, save by the eagles which wheeled their dizzy flight around the brows of the mountains.
Flin's joy knew no bounds as he thus found himself once more on the exterior of the earth. And yet it almost seemed as if the most difficult part of his journey was yet to come; for unless he could meet someone to guide him, he might wander about these eternal mountains until he dies of starvation.
As the sun was setting he determined to rest for the night, and he took up his quarters in the hollow of a large rock. On the following day he commenced the descent. After many hours of hard travelling he came into a valley, and going through this for some miles his ears were at length gladdened by the sound of voices speaking his own beloved language, and rounding a point he came in sight of a party of gold diggers. As he approached the men they all stopped working and stared at him in stupid astonishment.
"Will you kindly inform me what locality I am in?" Flin asked politely, whereat all the men burst into a loud laugh, which caused him great annoyance, for he did not like to be a laughingstock.
"Well, I guess, old man, you've been in some strange region by the look of you," bawled one fellow.
"You are right, friend," answered Flin; "I have been residing for some time in the interior of the earth with a strange race of people, about whom I am going to read a paper before the New York Society for the Exploration of Unknown Regions."
This was the signal for a roar of laughter, and several of the men tapped their foreheads significantly with their fingers, thereby intimating that they thought Flin was cracked.
"Look here, old hoss," exclaimed a big burly fellow, not unkindly, "I guess you had better get away home to your friends; it ain't fit that you should be wandering about without somebody to look after you."
This was a cruel cut to poor Flin. But he felt that he could expect nothing better from these rough, uncultivated fellows; though it was rather hard to be greeted in such a manner on first returning to the upper world, and having suffered so much in the cause of science. He sighed wearily, and remarked,
"Possibly what you say, my man, is correct, but you have not answered my question. What place is this?"
"Wal, I guess you ain't twenty miles off 'Frisco. "
"San Francisco, eh?" muttered Flin. "That is fortunate; I am obliged to you for the information. Which was do I go?"
"Straight ahead down the valley."
"Thank you; good day."
As Flin moved off he heard the men laughing heartily, and one of them exclaimed ,
"He's clean gone off his mind anyhow, I guess."
Of course he took no notice of this cruel remark, but hurried on his way, and towards nightfall found himself in the busy city of San Francisco, where his uncouth appearance and strange dress caused him to be seized by the police and detained, pending an inquiry as to the state of mind. This was a cruel and bitter experience, but he consoled himself with the thought that he was suffering in the great cause of science. There was a clergyman attached to the place, and to this gentleman he told his strange story.
"But, my dear fellow," said the clergyman, "Flintabbatey Flonatin was drowned long ago in Lake Avernus through his own mad folly."
Flin persisted that he had never been drowned, but as this was considered to be a certain sign of madness, he was carefully guarded though kindly treated. Finding that no one would believe his statements he became silent, and for a whole year suffered martyrdom, until one day a visitor displayed interest in him, and Flin persuaded this person to telegraph to Barnum, who lost no time in despatching an agent to San Francisco to conduct the intrepid traveller back to New York, to Flin's intense delight. He felt now that his reward had come at last. In due course he communicated with his Society, but no one recognised him.
Of course the news of his return soon spread and for a whole fortnight he gave receptions to the general public at Barnum's Museum, whither thousands upon thousands of persons flocked to see him. But when he began to relate his adventures people shook their heads and whispered one to another that he had become very mad indeed.
Even the members of the Society for the Exploration of Unknown Regions laughed at him, and said that it was wrong of him to attempt to impose upon people's credulity in such a manner, and pose as the distinguished and celebrated scientist to whom a magnificent monument had been erected by public subscription.
"No, no," they said, "you may be harmless, but you are a wicked impostor."
It was a poor return, indeed, for all he had endured and the manifold dangers he had passed through. Such ingratitude was more than he could bear. It broke his heart, but Barnum paid him handsomely to remain at the museum, where he was a tremendous draw for a time. The novelty, of course, wore off at last, and he retired into seclusion, spending the rest of his days in making notes for the narrative of his wonderful journey and in cultivating cabbages and musing upon the base ingratitude of humanity. He consoled himself, however, with one thought, that the time might yet come when his truthfulness would be proved, and that his memory would ever be respected. And so when the poor old man had reached a century of life he passed quietly away. The world lost a genius it could ill spare. The public now know how true his story was; his wish has been realised, for Barnum himself handed me the notes from which this narrative has been written. And the wonderful nation of the screaming eagle will never allow his memory to die.
(28) A reference to an eccentric 19th century British society woman of Austrian birth, Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers (spelled backwards) mentioned in Thomas Wright's The Life of Sir Richard Burton (London: Everett and Co., 1906)
EndnotesIt was a standing joke against him [Richard Burton] in Dr. Burton's family that when at the club he was never at home to anybody except a certain Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers. This lady was of Austrian birth, and, according to rumour, there was a flavour of romance about her marriage. It was said that while the laws of certain countries regarded her as married, those of other countries insisted that she was still single. However, married or not, she concentrated all her spleen on cab-drivers, and was continually hauling some luckless driver or other before the London magistrates. Having a profound respect for Burton's judgment, she often went to him about these cab disputes, and, oddly enough, though nobody else could get at him, he was always at the service of Mrs. Prodgers, and good-naturedly gave her the benefit of his wisdom. To the London magistrates the good lady was a perpetual terror, and Frederick Burton, a diligent newspaper reader, took a pleasure in following her experiences. "St. George," he would call across the breakfast table, "Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers again: She's had another cab-man up."
(29) A place where political campaign speeches are made.
(30) A fossil plant from the coal formations of Europe and America, now regarded as the branchlets and foliage of Calamites.
(31) Bearing feldspar, an important group of rock-forming minerals which crystallize from magma in both intrusive and extrusive rocks.
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