The Sunless City/Chapter 16
It is Not Always Pleasant to Know What Other People Think About Us.
When Mr. Flonatin recovered from the mesmeric state in which the old priest had placed him, he felt very confused and bewildered, and by no means well. In fact he experienced that depression which follows on an unchecked indulgence in after- dinner wine. Not that he was in the habit of going to excess in the gratification of his appetite. But he knew those who did, and he had studied them with considerable advantage, so that, had he felt disposed, he might have written an elaborate treatise on the evil effects of alcoholic drinks.
He found that he was quite alone in the hall. The King and his suite had gone.
"Dear me, this is very extraordinary," he muttered, as he rose from the seat on which he had been sitting, and feeling cramped, stretched himself and yawned, "very extraordinary," he repeated. "Why, I must have been dreaming, for that old rascal of a priest would never have dared to have insulted me in such a manner. To think of my being exhibited and shown about for the gratification of their monkey- like people is preposterous. I, who occupy such an eminent position in my own country, to be treated altogether as if I were some new species of animal, is almost unbearable. Oh, I must have been dreaming; of course I have; there can be no doubt about it."
He strolled round the hall, which was of vast dimensions. He found that all the walls and the pillars were of pure gold. And this in a measure seemed to be corroborative evidence that he had really talked with the priest, for unless the gold was very plentiful indeed it could not have been used in such a lavish way. But that it was plentiful Flin himself had witnessed when he went ashore in "The Valley of Gold." He stooped down and examined the floor, and found that it was formed of huge slabs of highly-polished gems, the colours being blended in beautiful and perfect harmony.
While he was admiring the exquisite workmanship of this part of the building, he noticed the old priest coming down the centre of the hall, and he hurried forward to greet him.
"Ah, good-morning, Mr. ---- let me see, Mr. ----, I really beg your pardon, but for the moment I forget your name --- bless my life, how very stupid of me --- "
The priest smiled and shook his head, as a sign that he did not understand.
"Umph, I forgot that the old savage could not understand the language of a civilised being," Flin muttered, and feeling at a loss how to act, for no more awkward position can be imagined than that of two persons speaking different languages and not understanding each other standing face to face and having no means to render themselves intelligible.
The priest motioned Flin to follow him, and then led the way into an ante-room, and pointed to a seat. Flin sat down, and the priest made a few passes, and the traveller began to comprehend him again.
"Kindly permit me to once more inquire your name; it is such a very difficult one that I cannot remember it," said Flin.
"My name, sir, is Ytidrusba, and I am High Priest and Magician-in-Ordinary to his Majesty King Gubmuh."
"Thank you, sir" and Flin bowed respectfully; "and now will you be good enough to inform me, Mr. Ytidrusba, whether I am at the present time wide awake or under the influence of some spell you have exercised over me?"
"You are under the influence of mesmerism, for it is only while in this state that you can comprehend me."
"Most singular," Flin observed; "but I should like to know how long I am to continue like this?"
"Until you have learnt our language. A few hours' study will enable you to do that if you remember what I told you, that you must read from right to left. On that shelf there you will find some books. I must leave you now, but in a little time will return and see what progress you have made."
When Flin was alone he crossed to the shelf and took down some of the books indicated, and by following the old man's suggestion he found it was by no means a difficult language to master, and in a couple of hours he was able to read quite well.
A short time afterwards Ytidrusba returned and said, ---
"I think I may release you now," and he passed his hands over Flin's head, so that he awoke. "You have slept very soundly," the old man observed.
Flin still felt confused, though he understood the priest very well now.
"I was not aware that I had been to sleep," he answered as he rubbed his eyes, and felt strongly inclined to pinch himself, for he was not quite sure yet whether he was not comfortably tucked up in his own bed in New York and dreaming a dream.
Ytidrusba laughed loudly, and seemed greatly amused at Flin Flon's confusion.
"Indeed, you have slept very long and soundly," he replied. "I threw you into a trance, but the influence passed off some twelve hours ago, and since then you have been asleep and snoring loudly."
"Then am I to really understand that I am amongst a new race of people; that I am not out of my mind and the victim of some strange delusion?"
"As regards being amongst a new race of people, you err there. We are a very ancient race indeed. Our scholars say that this city of Esnesnon is built on the site of a city that flourished two million years ago."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the astonished listener.
"Nothing is impossible, sir, and for you to use such a term serves but to show how pitiably ignorant you are. With reference to the other part of your question, that is not difficult to answer. We do not look for mind in such a sorry specimen of a degraded race as you. You possess no mind, and therefore could not go out of it. And as for your sense, it scarcely enables you to grasp the commonest of truths."
"Really, Mr. Ytidrusba," cried Flin, "such language as this is unpardonable, and if you continue to insult me in this manner I shall demand such satisfaction, sir, as a gentlemen has a right to expect. I would remind you that I am a man of science and learning, and that my countrymen are the most learned and civilised in the whole world. Therefore, your treatment is very far from what it ought to be. I hope, sir, you will withdraw your insulting remarks and make a suitable apology."
Ytidrusba's face darkened a little, and his tail moved angrily. It was very evident that he was annoyed. He made an effort to control his temper, however, and succeeded, and replied calmly, ---
"You are a most contemptible little animal, and for one so insignificant to assume such airs and graces is very absurd. Your statement that your countrymen are the most learned and civilised in the whole world is another certain sign of your imbecility. We are perfect, and consequently the highest in the scale. You are imperfect and degenerated, consequently are the lowest. Under these circumstances, and taking into consideration the position I occupy in his Majesty's service, I can afford to treat your ignorance with the contempt it merits. Your threats, however, are another thing, and I would politely hint that we have a public officer to whose care we shall have to submit you if you continue to be so saucy. His duty is to publicly flog anyone who is guilty of insulting a member of his Majesty's Court, or those holding high office. As such an insignificant, distorted little animal as yourself would look a very conspicuous object, if placed in a state of nudity upon the scaffold, and flogged before many thousands of our subjects by the public flagellator, I hope you will endeavour to behave in a proper manner for the future, and learn to appreciate the kindness of great King Gubmuh in having given you permission to remain for a time in his beautiful kingdom."
Mr Flonatin felt literally crushed by the insulting language of Ytidrusba. It is no confession of weakness to say that he almost wept. To be spoken of as "a most contemptible little animal," and "an insignificant, distorted little atom," was bad enough in all conscience. But a philosophical mind like that of the distinguished member of the S.E.U.R. might have borne this, attributing it to the ravings of "an illiterate and lamentably ignorant person." But when he was told that he would be publicly flogged it almost broke his heart.
When his temper had cooled a little he made reply and said, ---
"Your threats I treat with contempt, and I am truly sorry for your ignorance. But long experience in life has taught me that humble resignation to trials and persecutions is the duty of the true philosopher. I undertook this journey purely in the interests of science, and whatever suffering I may be exposed to I shall endeavour to endure it as a man should. Moreover, I am content to believe that there is a power which neither you nor I can control, but which will throw around me an aegis of protection in consideration of the manner in which I have devoted myself to the great cause of searching for truth. I shall therefore, sir, submit to you in all things. But as a foreigner and a stranger I claim protection and respect. And I would most respectfully hint, that should I be subjected to an outrage, full and ample apology will be exacted by my country. Indeed I do not hesitate to say, so great is American enterprise, that the Government would not hesitate to fit out an expedition, and despatch it by submarine vessels to this country, to avenge any insult offered to me, even at the point of the bayonet. The American people, sir, stick at nothing. I repeat with pride, they are a great people, a mighty people, and I am their representative."
Ytidrusba laughed immoderately until he grew dangerously red in the face, and he was obliged to press his long hairy hands on his fat sides.
"Well, upon my word," he cried, when he had recovered his breath, "you are a miserable, self-inflated little humbug. But there, I'll forgive you. Our philosophers and scientific men will revel over you, and as for the common people, why, you will afford them amusement for a long time to come. But there, my little fellow" --- he added with withering sarcasm and with mock gravity --- "you mustn't get so terribly savage, or else we shall have to confine you in a cage. Why, do you know, sir, we have a celebrated showman in this city, whose name is Gullthemall, and he keeps a large museum of curiosities in the principal part of the town. He would positively give his tail away if he could only get hold of you to make an exhibition of you. But there, don't let us quarrel. I should be sorry to resort to extreme measures to keep you in order, because I am rather interested in you. In a little while the very elite of our scientific world will arrive at the palace to see you. In the meantime you can make yourself comfortable. And here is the Esnesnon Gazette for you to read. You will see what it says about your arrival."
"The Esnesnon Gazette!" cried Flin; "why, you do astound me. Pray, sir, may I inquire how long you have known the art of printing?"
"How long --- ; well, now let me see," mused Ytidrusba, tapping his forehead thoughtfully. "I suppose it will be quite ten thousand years since Old Caxton first brought printing into use."
"Caxton, sir, Caxton! Why, it is said in the upper world that printing was invented there by one Caxton."
"Ah, very likely, very likely. It would be the same old man. After he died here he no doubt passed into the human state. In fact, I think there can be no question that whatever little knowledge your wretched people may possess they owe to those who have existed before in a pre-human state; and, passing from this to the upper world, they have carried some of their intuitive genius with them. I have an idea that you yourself formerly existed here. We had a cantankerous, insignificant little fellow who was very fond of poking his nose into other people's business. He was attached to the Court as one of the 'gentlemen of the back stairs,' and was always talking about penetrating here and going there, and was never at a loss for a theory for everything. But he tumbled down the back stairs one day after dining and broke his neck, and it is very possible that he lives again in you."
Mr. Flonatin did not condescend to notice this last insult. It was true he had heard of people in the upper world who firmly believed in a pre-existence. But that he himself should have existed before in the person of a contemptuous "gentlemen of the back stairs" was preposterous and absolutely unworthy of contradiction.
"There is one thing I should like to mention, Mr Ytidrusba," he said, "and that is, in my country we eat and drink, and at the present moment I am suffering from a vacuum that is far from pleasant."
"My dear sir, you must really pardon me," the priest exclaimed with genuine concern. "Our conversation has been so interesting that I had quite forgotten to ask you to take refreshment. The oversight shall be remedied directly."
Ytidrusba left the room, and in a little while a servant entered bearing a bright tin tray, on which was spread a variety of food. There were fruits and fish, both of a variety that was strange to Flin. There was also a stew, and a dish of very small birds that were swimming in sauce. Flin attacked these birds first, and he found them very delicious, and as he proceeded to try the stew he muttered, ---
"Well, these barbarians know how to cook if they don't know anything else."
There was a sort of tankard made of tin on the tray, and this was filled with some tempting-looking wine. It was a pale amber in colour, and there was a delicate bead floating on top. Mr Flonatin tasted this wine, which was veritable ambrosial nectar. It was delicious, and he drank deep. Having finished a very agreeable meal, he told the servant --- who had watched him with curiosity and astonishment --- to take the things away. This man had a very short tail, but the hair of his head was long, and his eyes were extremely small. He did not speak, though as he removed the things there was a contemptuous grin on his face.
Flin felt very much more comfortable after the d‚jeuner, and having undone the top button of his home-made trousers, he threw himself on to a very elegant couch and proceeded to read the paper. The first article that his eye fell upon was one with the following heading: ---
"WONDERFUL CAPTURE OF A HUMAN BEING --- SUPPOSED TO HAVE DESCENDED FROM THE INFERNAL REGIONS --- HIS RECEPTION BY THE KING --- HIS EXTRA-ORDINARY APPEARANCE AND DRESS DESCRIBED --- EXCITEMENT AT COURT --- ALL THE SCIENTIFIC MEN AND PHILOSOPHERS SUMMONED TO EXAMINE THIS STRANGE BEING --- THE KING'S PRINCIPAL ARTIST IS ORDERED TO DRAW THE CREATURE'S PORTRAIT, WHICH WILL BE HUNG IN THE GREAT CHAMBER OF KNOWLEDGE --- ALL THE LATEST INFORMATION UP TO THE HOUR OF GOING TO PRESS.
"As some of the Kings's fishermen were pursuing their occupation on the River Greenwater two days ago they were suddenly startled by the appearance of what seemed at first sight to be a large fish of an unknown species. As the creature floated along the men determined to capture it, if possible. They advanced along the bank very cautiously until they were abreast of the fish, and then discharged two large spears at it. But the weapons simply glanced off, and fell into the water, while the strange thing proceeded on its way as if wholly unconscious of the attack. Again the men discharged two shafts, striking it this time on the head, but with no other effect than before. Exasperated at this they jumped into their boat, and getting some ropes, made running nooses, and so captured the fish. But their astonishment may be better imagined than described when they found that the fish was nothing more than a vessel constructed of some peculiar metal. There was a small doorway in the tail, and entering through here they found themselves in a very comfortable apartment. But their eyes almost started from their heads, and the blood curdled in their veins, on beholding a strange being lying there fast asleep. From his extraordinary appearance, and owing to the entire absence of a tail, the men naturally concluded that it was some infernal creature, and fearing evil, their first impulse was to fly. But one, having more courage than his fellows, suggested that they should secure this wonderful creature and convey it to the King's palace. On looking round they were surprised to find that great piles of gold from the gold quarry were lying on the floor. And from this they concluded that the creature must have been ashore in the King's quarry, though what could have been his object in bringing so much of the rubbish away did not seem very clear, unless it was to ballast his strange vessel. The men proceeded to bind the intruder very securely with ropes, though they state that they trembled very much during this operation, for the thing roared through its nose and made a great noise. When they had finished their task they got into their own boat and took the other in tow, and made for the King's dockyard. Here the astounding news soon spread, and reaching the ears of his Majesty, he ordered that the stranger should be brought into his presence immediately. The excitement was now intense. The people about the place literally tumbled over each other in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of this wonderful arrival. The intelligence spread like wildfire, and even reached the great business mart in the city, where for a time it caused quite a suspension of business, and the place was deserted. Thousands of persons flocked towards the Palace, so that it was necessary to have some public flagellators and a body of spear-throwers to keep order. In the meantime we despatched two of our most trustworthy reporters to the right glorious and supremely honourable Taerg Ytidrusba, High Priest and Magician-in- Ordinary to his Majesty. This gentleman, with that courtesy and kindness which have won for him the respect and goodwill of every person in the realm, received our representatives and promised them every information. They learnt that the strange creature had been brought up from the docks, and was at that moment in the presence of his Majesty. When the King heard that two gentlemen from the Esnesnon Gazette were in the Palace, he most graciously ordered them to be brought before him, and he was then kind enough to address them, and say that they were to be particularly accurate in any information they might send to their paper. Our readers can therefore depend upon our report, and as no representatives of our contemporaries were admitted to the Palace, the Gazette is the only paper in which facts can appear. Our reporters having gained admittance to
THE AUDIENCE HALL,
they found his Majesty seated on the throne, surrounded by the nobles of the Court. In the centre
was the strange creature that had made its appearance in such a mysterious manner. In form he is somewhat like a pre-human being, but is perfectly tailless, and his head is white and highly polished, and quite destitute of hair, with the exception of a little fringe round the back part of the skull. Anything like symmetry or beauty in the creature is entirely wanting. His arms are long and ungraceful, and his legs are twisted. He is small in stature, and wears over his eyes peculiar pieces of glass, which are bound in small frames that are apparently made of common gold. It would seem as if this yellow stuff had some peculiar fascination for the unfortunate barbarian, as all his pockets were filled with it. And when some of it fell out on the floor, even the King could not refrain from laughing. Scarcely less strange than his personal appearance was
THE CREATURE'S DRESS.
This was composed of a peculiar and unknown fabric, and hung in great folds round his meagre body. On his feet he wore pieces of wood, which were tied on. His ludicrous appearance caused everyone to laugh, but as this seemed to annoy the poor creature his Majesty gave orders that silence was to be observed. The man --- for so we Suppose we must call him for the want of another name --- was quite ignorant of anything that was said to him, and shook his head in a dull, stupid kind of way when even a question was put to him. Seeing that there was no hope of making him comprehend, the Right Glorious and Supremely Hon. Taerg Ytidrusba asked his Majesty's permission to be allowed to exercise his magic art, and, this permission being most graciously accorded, Mr. Ytidrusba proceeded to mesmerise the little stranger, and was then enabled to ascertain beyond all dispute that he had really come from
THE INFERNAL REGIONS,
or Upper World. This discovery was startling, no less than interesting, as it enabled this great magician to verify his teachings that the infernal regions are situated on the outside of the earth, and that they are peopled by a degenerated race of beings who have once lived in a pre-human state. At present we are not allowed to make public the subject of the conversation that took place between the savage and Mr. Ytidrusba, but we shall not be guilty of any breach of confidence when we say that the great magician learned some most astounding information that will enable him to put to the blush all those persons who have hitherto had the daring to doubt the correctness of his theories. We are very glad to hear that this is so, for it is high time that the carping doubters and miserable sceptics, who have so long been a disgrace to our city, should be for ever silenced."
"At a subsequent interview Mr. Ytidrusba had with the stranger he learnt that the name he was known by in the regions from whence he has come was the very heathenish one of Flonatin. The King has been graciously pleased to grant Mr. Flonatin permission to remain in Esnesnon for some little time."
"The excitement caused by the stranger's arrival has greatly increased. The people in the city seem verily to have gone out their wits. We hear that the enterprising Gullthemall has been making efforts to secure Flonatin, with a view to exhibiting him in the museum. But the King is not likely to countenance this. There is to be a grand conference at the Palace of all the savants in the city to-day. The King's portrait- painter has been ordered to paint a full-length portrait of the strange being. The celebrated Doctor Yrekcauq has also received instructions to make a minute examination of Flonatin and note the differences there are between him and civilised beings.
At the moment of going to press we hear that an extraordinary meeting of the Society for Explaining Away Everything will he held in a few days, at which an elaborate paper by the celebrated Professor Loofmot will be read. This paper will deal with the much-vexed question as to whether the external crust of the earth is inhabited or not, and the existence of tailless beings. The opportune arrival of Flonatin among us has satisfactorily settled the latter point, and the hard-headed materialists, who have so long made capital out of theory that it was impossible for tailless creatures to exist, will now have to take to some other subject."
Mr Flonatin read this article with considerable annoyance, though occasionally he could scarcely repress a smile. It did seem so preposterous that he, an enlightened and scientific man, should be written about and talked of for all the world as a naked savage from the centre of Africa would be if he were suddenly set down in the middle of the Broadway, New York.
"I shall have to study these people," he muttered, as he cleaned his spectacles with the corner of his blanket coat; "they are interesting, though apparently little better than barbarians. But surely, ignorant and superstitious as they evidently are, they cannot seriously believe that the so-called Infernal Regions are situated on the crust of the earth, or that I have had a pre-existence. I think that this is about the most empty-headed theory it has ever been my lot to hear propounded."
At this moment a servant entered, and though scarcely able to keep from laughing as he looked at Mr. Flonatin, he wagged his tail and said, as gravely as he could, ---
"The right glorious and supremely honourable Taerg Ytidrusba, High Priest, and Magician-in-Ordinary to his most gracious Majesty King Gubmuh, commands you to attend him in his private chamber."
"The right glorious and supremely honourable," and "high priest and magician," so tickled Flin Flon's fancy that he felt as if he must burst out laughing, and in fact had to stuff his handkerchief into his mouth to keep from doing so, for he did not want the servant to think he was rude. So motioning the fellow to lead the way he followed him.