The Sunless City/Chapter 14

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King Gubmuh

Of course Flin Flon woke after having had sufficient sleep, and he rubbed his eyes, sat bolt upright, looked round in bewilderment, and then cried --- "Where the deuce am I?"

He found himself in a vast hall which seemed to be built entirely of pure gold, excepting the roof, which was composed of some highly-polished timber, supported by massive pillars of gold. The floor was formed of large squares of massive glass of different colours; or, at anyrate, what at first seemed like glass; though Flin afterwards discovered that these squares were slabs of garnet, rubies, emeralds, amethysts, diamonds, and various other stones that he had hitherto been in the habit of looking upon as "precious."

But it was not the gold walls and pillars and floor of jewels that astonished him just then. He was surrounded by a crowd of persons, who were at once the most extraordinary beings he had ever seen, and it was not to be wondered at that he thought he was dreaming.

They were small people with large heads and small bodies, and, what was still more astounding, they had tails. Their features were very prominent, and they had narrow foreheads and long hair that hung down to their necks. In general appearance they were not unlike what the gnomes are supposed to be. Seated on a sort of throne was a person who was evidently the King. He had a long tail, and on his head was a crown of tin.

Flin found that he himself was the object of much interest on the part of the King and his Court, for he had little doubt that he was in one of the Royal palaces of the Central Earth Dwellers. As this idea occurred to him he rose to his feet and bowed low, for Flin was the very acme of politeness.

"I trust your Majesty will pardon my seeming rudeness for having sat so long in your presence," he observed, "but I am a stranger and a foreigner, and am quite ignorant as to how I came to be in your Majesty's presence."

At this the people burst into a loud laugh. The King laughed louder than the rest. Then they shook their heads as a sign that they did not comprehend him, and they conversed among themselves in a language that was quite unintelligible to Flin.

Presently a grave-looking person stepped forward at the bidding of the King. From his manner Mr. Flonatin took him to be one of the Court physicians. He approached Flin and examined him very minutely, especially his head and his back, and then, bowing with his back towards the King, he addressed his Majesty as follows, though Flin states that it would be impossible to convey any idea of the correct way to pronounce this curious language; but he gives the following phonetically: ---

"Tisrucco ot em ruoy ytsejam taht siht tsum eb emos suorobrab egavas morf emos trap fo eht htrae hcihw ruoy ytsejam swonk ton fo. Eht ecnesba fo a liat dluow dael em ot refni taht siht dehcterw erutaerc tsum tneserper a ecar yltsav roirefni ot eht denethgilne stcejbus fo ruoy s'ytsejam mlaer. Eno dluow tsomla kniht taht eh saw eno fo eht yradnegel stirips ohw era desoppus ot llewd no eht edistuo fo eht htrae."

Now Flin was a very fair linguist; indeed, it is to be doubted if even Mezzofanti himself could have surpassed him, and he had thoroughly mastered five-and-thirty languages, besides having a smattering of Hebrew, Greek, Sanskrit, and low Dutch, but for the life of him he could not understand the language spoken in the Court of his Majesty King Gubmuh, for he subsequently discovered that this was the name of the august person in whose presence he had the distinguished honour of standing. Mr. Flonatin was really puzzled, and he thought that he should like very much to write a learned paper, to be read before his Society, "upon the origin and peculiarities of the language used by the Central Earth Dwellers," but he consoled himself by remembering that this pleasure was, in all probability, reserved for him in the future. But, as he stood there, and --- as he honestly confesses --- stared through his spectacles somewhat rudely at the King, he puzzled himself in trying to comprehend the language he had heard, though it bore no resemblance to the Sclavonic or the Celtic, nor could he discover traces in it of any of the Latin or Gothic families. He therefore concluded that it was pure, and not derived or compounded from any of the languages spoken in the upper world. As he thought this his eyes beamed with intelligence and his face flushed with noble enthusiasm as he pictured himself reading a "paper" on this original language to the Society and its members.

But, while Flin was thus mentally engaged, the King, and his physician, and his courtiers were in deep and earnest conversation, the subject of which was the distinguished traveller himself, as was evidenced by the frequent looks they directed to him and the manner in which they pointed at him.

Now Flin could not help feeling slightly annoyed at being thus pointed at, and he thought it was not strictly in accordance with the etiquette of his own country. But in the charitableness of his heart he was not at all disposed to quarrel with these people, for he considered --- judging from the apparent barbaric splendour around him --- that they were in all probability heathens and uncivilised, and as such deserving of his pity. He half regretted, too, that he had not accepted the offer of the fifty dollars' worth of tracts, so magnanimously made by the Christian old lady of New York. A free distribution among these people of those beautifully simple legends which are told so sweetly (albeit ungrammatically at times), and in which the goody-goody people are invariably transported to the realms of bliss, there to play on silver trumpets, and drink ambrosial nectar during the whole of their eternal lives; while the naughty persons are most justly condemned to be roasted in the lakes of brimstone, could not fail to have a very beneficial effect, even though these poor and unenlightened barbarians did not entirely comprehend the legends aforesaid, though that was a point of no material importance, as very few people do understand them. But then Flin knew that, even if the tracts were never read --- and it was very seldom they were excepting by the devils (i.e., printers' devils) and the correctors for Press --- they possessed a Christianising influence --- at least so he had been told by several old ladies, who were distinguished for their exemplary piety no less than as champions for woman's rights --- ; and this influence (a sort of pure moral aroma) always had a very marked effect upon those who were subjected to it. This has often been beautifully illustrated in the cases of the noble savages who, by the timely gift of a tract, have reluctantly consented to give up the sybaritic pleasures of dining upon plump missionaries, and confine themselves to the more ascetic regimen of their own juiceless grandmothers. But to resume.

After the King and his Court had conferred together for some time, and had talked very rapidly and gesticulated rather frantically, as is the wont of foreigners, a messenger hastily left the hall. Flin did not feel at all comfortable. He considered that his reception by the King was not at all compatible with Court etiquette, and that, being there in the position of an ambassador --- as it were --- from the great American Republic, he ought to have been treated with more condescension and courtesy.

He attempted to remonstrate with the King --- of course in a very polite manner --- and he addressed him in Spanish, Italian, French, German and Low Dutch but every time he spoke the whole Court was convulsed with laughter; and the King so far forgot his exalted rank that he fairly shook again until his tin crown slipped down over his eyes, and one of the gentlemen-in-waiting was obliged to set it straight.

Mr. Flonatin's face flushed with indignation at being thus made a laughing-stock, and he expressed himself rather warmly in the choicest American vernacular, but it was only the signal for another burst of laughter on the part of the Court.

At this moment the messenger returned, and he was accompanied by an old man, who had a remarkably long tail, and long white hair that hung down his back. He was also attired in a white robe of some peculiar material, which was quite new to Flin. Mr. Flonatin also observed that this person was followed by an immense crowd of people --- quite a multitude, in fact --- and they were all dressed in the same sort of material, but their dresses were different in pattern. Another peculiarity that struck the savant was that many of these persons had only one sleeve to their dresses, the other arm being left bare, and just below the elbow they wore a narrow band of tin.

These persons elbowed each other, and pressed forward to stare at Flin in a manner that was not at all pleasant. And they "jabbered" so loudly, and, in fact behaved in such an unceremonious manner that one of the Court officials by order of the King addressed them as follows in a stern voice: ---

"Nemeltneg siht ylmeesnu ruomalc si yllaer elbanodrapnu ni sih S'ytsejam ecneserp. Dna tonnac eb desucxe neve no eht sdnuorg taht siht dehcterw egavas seticxe ruoy ytisoiruc. Uoy lliw erofereht eb doog hguone ot llaf kcab dna evreserp luftcepser redro."

This reproof had its effect, as the crowd kept at a distance, though they still craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the distinguished foreigner who had arrived at the Court in such an extraordinary manner.

The person with the long beard and tail approached to the foot of the throne, and bowed very low three times. Then he and the King conversed together for a considerable time, and during this conversation the long-tailed gentleman repeatedly pointed with his finger upwards, as if he was anxious to direct his Majesty's attention to some peculiarity about the ceiling. But the King never once cast his eyes aloft. His face was very grave, and he listened thoughtfully to whatever it was the gentleman with the beard was talking about.

Mr. Flonatin was very much exhausted; moreover, his feelings were wounded, as he considered that he had not been treated at all in a proper manner; and he was determined, even though it might be opposed to the dignity of the Court, to refresh himself with a good pinch of snuff. He thrust his hand down into the pocket of his blanket coat to feel for his paper of snuff, and in withdrawing it he pulled out a lot of the gold he had collected, and it was scattered on the floor.

At the sight of this the person with the long tail sprang forward, and picking up some of the pieces, he held them in his hand before the King's face, and pointed upwards ever so many times, gesticulating so wildly that poor Flin began to think that he had fallen among a lot of lunatics, more especially when the other members of the Court uttered a chorus of groans.

In spite of this, however, he unscrewed the paper and took a pinch of snuff, and no sooner had he done so than again the white bearded person sprang forward, and snatching the paper from Flin's hand, he showed it to the King, and gesticulated even more frantically than before.

From the King downwards everybody seemed to be getting most excited, and Flin was by no means comfortable. He concluded, notwithstanding, that there was an outward show of civilisation, that these people were unchristianised savages, or, what was even worse, that they were raving lunatics. At that moment he was sorry that it had been reserved for him to discover them. He would rather have been pursuing his peaceful though lonely journey through the hitherto uncivilised bowels of the earth than have come upon a people whose chief characteristics seemed to be an utter absence of breeding or manners. He was also exercised in his mind as to how he came to be in the palace. When was he brought there, for it was clearly evident that he had been brought there. And what had become of the fish vessel? he asked himself, not without some anxiety, for if that had been destroyed how could he hope to leave the place. But really just then he considered that all hope of leaving had for ever gone, as he believed that the savage King and his myrmidons were plotting how best to cook him.

He continued thus in a state of dreadful suspense for some time, during which the King and the long-tailed gentleman continued to talk excitedly, and the subdued hum of hundreds of other voices reached the unfortunate Flin's ears. He stood there the cynosure of all the Court, and yet was unable to make himself understood, or to understand.

Presently the King seemed to give some command to the man in the robe, who raised his arms aloft, flourished his tail, and coughed. At this there was a dead silence. Then he approached Flin, and drew a circle round him with a small crystal stick which he took from his girdle. He next uttered some strange and (to Flin) unintelligible jargon, and everybody excepting the King fell down on his knees, and bowed his head.

"Bless my life, this is altogether a strange and undignified proceeding," muttered Flin. "This fellow is a priest, I dare be bound; in fact, were I a betting man I should be much inclined to bet my bottom dollar on it. He is evidently going through some heathenish rite before offering me up as a living sacrifice. This is altogether an unpleasant position for a member of the S.E.U.R. to be placed in, nor can I hope that my country can avenge my death, for how could troops penetrate into such a region as this. At any rate I will set these cowardly people an example, and show them how a brave man can die."

Mr. Flonatin compressed his lips, folded his arms, stood firmly on his feet, and waited for the dread moment. But the man with the long tail had no such sinister intentions as Flin imagined. He raised his hands over the bald head of the savant and pronounced some more jargon. Then he made several rapid mesmeric passes, and Mr Flonatin began to feel the "influence." For if there was anything he was susceptible to, next to the bewitching voice of a charming woman, it was mesmerism. In a few minutes he was perfectly passive, and his will subdued. Then the mesmeriser led him to a small stool, and motioned him to be seated. In that state he was enabled to understand the language spoken by these strange people, and the bearded man addressed him in a solemn voice as follows.