The Sunless City/Chapter 27

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The Sunless City by James Edward Preston Muddock
Chapter XXVII

Red Tapeism

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; 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.