James Fenimore Cooper.

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Do you proceed, as fast as possible, to the place of execution; and,
should our client still have a head, keep up his spirits by a proper
religious discourse, always preparing him for the worst, for this is no
more than wisdom; but, the instant his tail is separated from his body,
run hither as fast as you can, to apprise me of the fact. I ask but two
things of you - speed in coming with the news, and perfect certainty that
the tail is not yet attached to the rest of the frame, by even a hair. A
hair often turns the scales of justice!"

"The case seems desperate - would it not be as well for me to run down to
the palace, at once; demand an audience of their majesties, throw myself
on my knees before the royal pair, and implore a pardon?"

"Your project is impracticable, for three sufficient reasons: firstly,
there is not time; secondly, you would not be admitted without a special
appointment; thirdly, there is neither a king nor a queen!"

"No king in Leaphigh!"

"I have said it."

"Explain yourself, brother Downright, or I shall be obliged to refute
what you say, by the evidence of my own senses."

"Your senses will prove to be false witnesses then. Formerly there was
a king in Leaphigh, and one who governed, as well as reigned. But the
nobles and grandees of the country, deeming it indecent to trouble his
majesty with affairs of state any longer, took upon themselves all
the trouble of governing, leaving to the sovereign the sole duty
of reigning. This was done in a way to save his feelings, under the
pretence of setting up a barrier to the physical force and abuses of the
mass. After a time, it was found inconvenient and expensive to feed and
otherwise support the royal family, and all its members were privately
shipped to a distant region, which had not yet got to be so far
advanced in civilization, as to know how to keep up a monarchy without a
monarch."

"And does Leaphigh succeed in effecting this prodigy?"

"Wonderfully well. By means of decapitations and decaudizations enough,
even greater exploits may be performed."

"But am I to understand literally, brother Downright, there is no such
thing as a monarch in this country?"

"Literally."

"And the presentations?"

"Are like these trials, to maintain the monarchy."

"And the crimson curtains? - "

"Conceal empty seats."

"Why not, then, dispense with so much costly representation?"

"In what way could the grandees cry out that the throne is in danger, if
there were no throne? It is one thing to have no monarch, and another
to have no throne. But all this time our client is in great jeopardy.
Hasten, therefore, and be particular to act as I have just instructed
you."

I stopped to hear no more, but in a minute was flying towards the centre
of the square. It was easy enough to perceive the tail of my friend
waving over the crowd; but grief and apprehension had already rendered
his countenance so rueful, that, at the first glance, I did not
recognize his head. He was, however, still in the body; for, luckily for
himself, and more especially for the success of his principal counsel,
the gravity of his crimes had rendered unusual preparations
necessary for the execution. As the mandate of the court had not yet
arrived - justice being as prompt in Leaphigh as her ministers are
dilatory - two blocks were prepared, and the culprit was about to get
down on his hands and knees between them, just as I forced my way
through the crowd to his side.

"Ah! Sir John, this is an awful predicament!" exclaimed the rebuked
Noah; "a ra'ally awful situation for a human Christian to have his
enemies lying athwart both bows and starn!"

"While there is life there is hope; but it is always best to be
prepared for the worst - he who is thus prepared never can meet with a
disagreeable surprise. Messrs. Executioners" - for there were two, that
of the king, and that of the queen, or one at each end of the unhappy
criminal - "Messrs. Executioners, I pray you to give the culprit a moment
to arrange his thoughts, and to communicate his last requests in behalf
of his distant family and friends!"

To this reasonable petition neither of the higher functionaries of the
law made any objection, although both insisted if they did not forthwith
bring the culprit to the last stages of preparation, they might lose
their places. They did not see, however, but a man might pause for a
moment on the brink of the grave. It would seem that there had been a
little misunderstanding between the executioners themselves on the point
of precedency, which had been one cause of the delay, and which had
been disposed of by an arrangement that both should operate at the same
instant. Noah was now brought down to his hands and knees, "moored head
and starn," as that unfeeling blackguard Bob, who was in the crowd,
expressed it, between the two blocks, his neck lying on one and his
tail on the other. While in this edifying attitude, I was permitted to
address him.

"It may be well to bethink you of your soul, my dear captain," I said;
"for, to speak truth, these axes have a very prompt and sanguinary
appearance."

"I know it, Sir John, I know it; and, not to mislead you, I will own
that I have been repenting with all my might, ever since that first
vardict. That affair of the lord high admiral, in particular, has given
me a good deal of consarn; and I now humbly ask your pardon for being
led away by such a miserable deception, which is all owing to that
riptyle Dr. Reasono, who, I hope, will yet meet with his desarts. I
forgive everybody, and hope everybody will forgive me. As for Miss Poke,
it will be a hard case; for she is altogether past expecting another
consort, and she must be satisfied to be a relic the rest of her days."

"Repentance, repentance, my dear Noah - repentance is the one thing
needful for a man in your extremity."

"I do - I do, Sir John, body and soul - I repent, from the bottom of my
heart, ever having come on this v'y'ge - nay, I don't know but I repent
ever having come outside of Montauk Point. I might, at this moment, have
been a school-master or a tavern-keeper in Stunnin'tun; and they are
both good wholesome berths, particularly the last. Lord love you! Sir
John, if repentance would do any good, I should be pardoned on the
spot."

Here Noah caught a glimpse of Bob grinning in the crowd, and he asked of
the executioners, as a last favor, that they would have the boy brought
near, that he might take an affectionate leave of him. This reasonable
request was complied with, despite of poor Bob's struggles; and the
youngster had quite as good reasons for hearty repentance as the culprit
himself. Just at this trying moment the mandate for the order of the
punishments arrived, and the officials seriously declared that the
condemned must be prepared to meet his fate.

The unflinching manner in which Captain Poke submitted to the mortal
process of decaudization extracted plaudits from, and awakened sympathy
in every monikin present. Having satisfied myself that the tail was
actually separated from the body, I ran, as fast as legs could carry
me, towards the hall of the twelve judges. My brother Downright, who was
impatiently expecting my appearance, instantly arose and moved the
bench to issue a mandamus for a stay of execution in the case of "Regina
versus Noah Poke, or No. 1, sea-water-color. By the statute of the 2d
of Longevity and Flirtilla, it was enacted, my lords," put in the
brigadier, "that in no case shall a convicted felon suffer loss of life,
or limb, while it can be established that he is non compos mentis. This
is also a rule, my lords, of common law - but being common sense and
common monikinity, it has been thought prudent to enforce it by an
especial enactment. I presume Mr. Attorney-General for the queen will
scarcely dispute the law of the case - "

"Not at all, my lords - though I have some doubts as to the fact. The
fact remains to be established," answered the other, taking snuff.

"The fact is certain, and will not admit of cavil. In the case of Rex
versus Noah Poke, the court ordered the punishment of decaudization to
take precedence of that of decapitation, in the case of Regina versus
the same. Process had been issued from the bench to that effect; the
culprit has, in consequence, lost his cauda, and with it his reason; a
creature without reason has always been held to be non compos mentis,
and by the law of the land is not liable to the punishments of life or
limb."

"Your law is plausible, my brother Downright," observed my lord
chief-justice, "but it remains for the bench to be put in possession of
the facts. At the next term, you will perhaps be better prepared - "

"I pray you, my lord, to remember that this is a case which will not
admit of three months' delay."

"We can decide the principle a year hence, as well as to-day; and we
have now sat longer in banco," looking at his watch, "than is either
usual, agreeable, or expedient."

"But, my lords, the proof is at hand. Here is a witness to establish
that the cauda of Noah Poke, the defendant of record, has actually been
separated from his body - "

"Nay - nay - my brother Downright, a barrister of your experience must
know that the twelve can only take evidence on affidavit. If you had an
affidavit prepared, we might possibly find time to hear it, before we
adjourn; as it is, the affair must lie over to another sitting."

I was now in a cold sweat, for I could distinctly scent the peculiar
odor of the burning tail; the ashes of which being fairly thrown into
Noah's face, there remained no further obstacle to the process of
decapitation - the sentence, it will be remembered, having kept his
countenance on his shoulders expressly for that object. My brother
Downright, however, was not a lawyer to be defeated by so simple a
stumbling-block. Seizing a paper that was already written over in a good
legal hand, which happened to be lying before him, he read it, without
pause or hesitation, in the following manner:

"Regina versus Noah Poke."

"Kingdom of Leaphigh, Season of Nuts, {Personally this fourth day of
the Moon.} appeared before me, Meditation, Lord Chief-Justice of the
Court of King's Bench, John Goldencalf, baronet, of the Kingdom of Great
Britain, who, being duly sworn, doth depose and say, viz., that he, the
said deponent, was present at, and did witness, the decaudization of the
defendant in this suit, and that the tail of the said Noah Poke, or No. 1,
sea-water-color, hath been truly and physically separated from his body.

" - And further this deponent sayeth not. Signature, etc."

Having read, in the most fluent manner, the foregoing affidavit, which
existed only in his own brain, my brother Downright desired the court to
take my deposition to its truth.

"John Goldencalf, baronet," said the chief-justice, "you have heard what
has just been read; do you swear to its truth?"

"I do."

Here the affidavit was signed by both my lord chief-justice and myself,
and it was duly put on file. I afterwards learned that the paper used
by my brother Downright on this memorable occasion was no other than the
notes which the chief-justice himself had taken on one of the arguments
in the case in question, and that, seeing the names and title of the
cause, besides finding it no easy matter to read his own writing, that
high officer of the crown had, very naturally, supposed that all was
right. As to the rest of the bench, they were in too great a hurry to
go to dinner, to stop and read affidavits, and the case was instantly
disposed of, by the following decision:

"Regina versus Noah Poke, etc. Ordered, that the culprit be considered
non compos mentis, and that he be discharged, on finding security to
keep the peace for the remainder of his natural life."

An officer was instantly dispatched to the great square with this
reprieve, and the court rose. I delayed a little in order to enter into
the necessary recognizances in behalf of Noah, taking up at the same
time the bonds given the previous night, for his appearance to answer
to the indictments. These forms being duly complied with, my brother
Downright and myself repaired to the place of execution, in order to
congratulate our client - the former justly elated with his success,
which he assured me was not a little to the credit of his own education.

We found Noah surprisingly relieved by his liberation from the hands
of the Philistines; nor was he at all backwards in expressing his
satisfaction at the unexpected turn things had taken. According to his
account of the matter, he did not set a higher value on his head than
another; still, it was convenient to have one; had it been necessary to
part with it, he made no doubt he should have submitted to do so like a
man, referring to the fortitude with which he had borne the amputation
of his cauda, as a proof of his resolution; for his part, he should take
very good care how he accused any one with having a memory, or anything
else, again, and he now saw the excellence of those wise provisions of
the laws, which cut up a criminal in order to prevent the repetition of
his offences; he did not intend to stay much longer on shore, believing
he should be less in the way of temptation on board the Walrus than
among the monikins; and, as for his own people, he was sure of soon
catching them on board again, for they had now been off their pork
twenty-four hours, and nuts were but poor grub for foremast hands, after
all; philosophers might say what they pleased about governments, but,
in his opinion, the only ra'al tyrant on 'arth was the belly; he did
not remember ever to have had a struggle with his belly - and he had a
thousand - that the belly didn't get the better; that it would be awkward
to lay down the title of lord high admiral, but it was easier to lay
down that than to lay down his head; that as for cauda, though it was
certainly agreeable to be in the fashion, he could do very well without
one, and when he got back to Stunnin'tun, should the worst come to the
worst, there was a certain saddler in the place who could give him
as good a fit as the one he had lost; that Miss Poke would have been
greatly scandalized, however, had he come home after decapitation; that
it might be well to sail for Leaplow as soon as convenient, for in that
country he understood bobs were in fashion, and he admitted that he
should not like to cruise about Leaphigh, for any great length of time,
unless he could look as other people look; for his part, he bore no one
a grudge, and he freely forgave everybody but Bob, out of whom, the Lord
willing, he proposed to have full satisfaction, before the ship should
be twenty-four hours at sea, etc., etc., etc.

Such was the general tendency of the remarks of Captain Poke, as we
proceeded towards the port, where he embarked and went on board the
Walrus, with some eagerness, having learned that our rear-admirals and
post-captains had, indeed, yielded to the calls of nature, and had all
gone to their duty, swearing they would rather be foremast Jacks in a
well-victualled ship, than the king of Leaphigh upon nuts.

The captain had no sooner entered the boat, taking his head with him,
than I began to make my acknowledgments to my brother Downright for the
able manner in which he had defended my fellow human being; paying, at
the same time, some well-merited compliments to the ingenious and truly
philosophical distinctions of the Leaphigh system of jurisprudence.

"Spare your thanks and your commendations, I beg of you, good Sir John,"
returned the brigadier, as we walked back towards my lodgings. "We did
as well as circumstances would allow; though our whole defence would
have been upset, had not the chief-justice very luckily been unable to
read his own handwriting. As for the principles and forms of the monikin
law - for in these particulars Leaplow is very much like Leaphigh - as you
have seen them displayed in these two suits, why, they are such as we
have. I do not pretend that they are faultless; on the contrary, I could
point out improvements myself - but we get on with them as well as
we can: no doubt, among men, you have codes that will better bear
examination."




CHAPTER XXII. A NEOPHYTE IN DIPLOMACY - DIPLOMATIC INTRODUCTION - A
CALCULATION - A SHIPMENT OF OPINIONS - HOW TO CHOOSE AN INVOICE, WITH AN
ASSORTMENT.


I now began seriously to think of sailing for Leaplow; for, I confess,
I was heartily tired of being thought the governor of His Royal Highness
Prince Bob, and pined to be restored once more to my proper place
in society. I was the more incited to make the change by the
representations of the brigadier, who assured me that it was sufficient
to come from foreign parts to be esteemed a nobleman in Leaplow, and
that I need not apprehend in his country any of the ill-treatment I had
received in the one in which I now was. After talking over the matter,
therefore, in a familiar way, we determined to repair at once to the
Leaplow legation, in order to ask for our passports, and to offer, at
the same time, to carry any dispatches that Judge People's Friend might
have prepared for his government - it being the custom of the
Leaplowers to trust to these godsends in carrying on their diplomatic
correspondence.

We found the judge in undress, and a very different figure he cut,
certainly, from that which he made when I saw him the previous night at
court. Then he was all queue; now he was all bob. He seemed glad to see
us, however, and quite delighted when I told him of the intention to
sail for Leaplow, as soon as the wind served. He instantly asked a
passage for himself, with republican simplicity.

There was to be another turn of the great and little wheels, he said,
and it was quite important to himself to be on the spot; for, although
everything was, beyond all question, managed with perfect republican
propriety, yet, somehow (and yet he did not know exactly how, but
SOMEHOW), those who are on the spot always get the best prizes. If I
could give him a passage, therefore, he would esteem it a great personal
favor; and I might depend on it, the circumstance would be well received
by the party. Although I did not very well understand what he meant by
this party, which was to view the act so kindly, I very cheerfully told
the judge that the apartments lately occupied by my lord Chatterino
and his friends were perfectly at his disposal. I was then asked when I
intended to sail; and the answer was, the instant the wind hauled, so we
could lay out of the harbor. It might be within half an hour. Hereupon
Judge People's Friend begged I would have the goodness to wait until he
could hunt up a charge d'affaires. His instructions were most peremptory
never to leave the legation without a charge d'affaires; but he would
just brush his bob, and run into the street, and look up one in five
minutes, if I would promise to wait so long. It would have been unkind
to refuse so trifling a favor, and the promise was given. The judge must
have run as fast as his legs would carry him; for, in about ten minutes,
he was back again, with a diplomatic recruit. He told me his heart had
misgiven him sadly. The three first to whom he offered the place had
plumply refused it, and, indeed, he did not know but he should have a
quarrel or two on his hands; but, at last, he had luckily found one who
could get nothing else to do, and he pinned him on the spot.

So far everything had gone on swimmingly; but the new charge had,
most unfortunately, a very long cauda, a fashion that was inexorably
proscribed by the Leaplow usages, except in cases when the
representative went to court; for it seems the Leaplow political ethics,
like your country buck, has two dresses - one for every-day wear, and one
for Sundays. The judge intimated to his intended substitute, that it was
absolutely indispensable he should submit to an amputation, or he could
not possibly confer the appointment, queues being proscribed at home by
both public opinions, the horizontal and the perpendicular. To this the
candidate objected, that he very well knew the Leaplow usages on this
head, but that he had seen his excellency himself going to court with
a singularly apparent brush; and he had supposed from that, and from
sundry other little occurrences he did not care to particularize, that
the Leaplowers were not so bigoted in their notions but they could act
on the principle of doing at Rome as is done by the Romans. To this
the judge replied, that this principle was certainly recognized in all
things that were agreeable, and that he knew, from experience, how hard
it was to go in a bob, when all around him went in cauda; but that tails
were essentially anti-republican, and, as such, had been formally voted
down in Leaplow, where even the Great Sachem did not dare to wear one,
let him long for it as much as he would; and if it were known that
a public charge offended in this particular, although he might be
momentarily protected by one of the public opinions, the matter would
certainly be taken up by the opposition public opinion, and then the
people might order a new turn of the little wheel, which heaven it
knew! occurred now a great deal oftener than was either profitable or
convenient.

Hereupon the candidate deliberately undid the fastenings and removed the
queue, showing, to our admiration, that it was false, and that he was,
after all neither more nor less than a Leaplower in masquerade; which,
by the way, I afterwards learned, was very apt to be the case with a
great many of that eminently original people, when they got without
the limits of their own beloved land. Judge People's Friend was now
perfectly delighted. He told us this was exactly what he could most
have wished for. "Here is a bob," said he, "for the horizontals and
perpendiculars, and there is a capital ready-made cauda for his
majesty and his majesty's first-cousin! A Leaphighized Leaplower, more
especially if there be a dash of caricature about him, is the very thing
in our diplomacy." Finding matters so much to his mind, the judge made
out the letter of appointment on the spot, and then proceeded to give
his substitute the usual instructions.

"You are on all occasions," he said, "to take the utmost care not
to offend the court of Leaphigh, or the meanest of the courtiers, by
advancing any of our peculiar opinions, all of which, beyond dispute,
you have at your finger-ends; on this score, you are to be so
particular that you may even, in your own person, pro tempore, abandon
republicanism - yea, sacred republicanism itself! - knowing that it can
easily be resumed on your return home again. You are to remember there
is nothing so undiplomatic, or even vulgar, as to have an opinion on any
subject, unless it should be the opinion of the persons you may happen
to be in company with; and, as we have the reputation of possessing that
quality in an eminent degree, everywhere but at home, take especial heed
to eschew vulgarity - if you can. You will have the greatest care, also,
to wear the shortest bob in all your private, and the longest tail in
all your public relations, this being one of the most important of the
celebrated checks and balances of our government. Our institutions being
expressly formed by the mass, for the particular benefit of all, you
will be excessively careful not to let the claims of any one citizen,
or even any set of citizens, interfere with that harmony which it is
so necessary, for the purposes of trade, to maintain with all foreign
courts; which courts being accustomed themselves to consider their
subjects as cattle, to be worked in the traces of the state, are
singularly restive whenever they hear of any individual being made of so
much importance. Should any Leaplower become troublesome on this score,
give him a bad name at once; and in order to effect that object with
your own single-minded and right-loving countrymen, swear that he is
a disorganizer, and, my life on it, both public opinions at home will
sustain you; for there is nothing on which our public opinions agree
so well as the absolute deference which they pay to foreign public
opinions - and this the more especially, in all matters that are likely
to affect profits, by deranging commerce. You will, above all things,
make it a point to be in constant relations with some of the readiest
paragraph-writers of the newspapers, in order to see that facts are
properly stated at home. I would advise you to look out some foreigner,
who has never seen Leaplow, for this employment; one that is also paid
to write for the journals of Leapup, or Leapdown, or some other foreign



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 24 of 34)