James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 32 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 32 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


have thought of the conduct of a colleague who had given a vote on a
subject so weighty, without exposing a motive.

"Had the captain owned but a foot square of earth, at the end of the
causeway," observed the brigadier, mournfully, "the matter might be
cleared up; but as things are, it is beyond dispute, a most unfortunate
occurrence."

"But Sir John voted with me, and he is no more a free-holder in Leaplow,
than I am myself."

"True; but Sir John voted with the bulk of his political friends."

"All the Horizontals were not in the majority; for at least twenty went,
on this occasion, with the minority."

"Undeniable - yet every monikin of them had a visible motive. This owned
a lot by the wayside; that had houses on the island, and another was the
heir of a great proprietor at the same point of the road. Each and all
had their distinct and positive interests at stake, and not one of them
was guilty of so great a weakness as to leave his cause to be defended
by the extravagant pretension of mere principle!"

"My God-like, the greatest of all the Riddles, absented himself, and did
not vote at all."

"Simply because he had no good ground to justify any course he might
take. No public monikin can expect to escape censure, if he fail to put
his friends, in the way of citing some plausible and intelligible motive
for his conduct."

"How, sir! cannot a man, once in his life, do an act without being
bought like a horse or a dog, and escape with an inch of character?"

"I shall not take upon myself to say what MEN can do," returned the
brigadier; "no doubt they manage this affair better than it is managed
here; but, so far as monikins are concerned, there is no course more
certain to involve a total loss of character - I may say so destructive
to reputation even for intellect - as to act without a good, apparent,
and substantial MOTIVE."

"In the name of God, what is to be done, brigadier?"

"I see no other course than to resign. Your constituents must very
naturally have lost all confidence in you; for one who so very obviously
neglects his own interests, it cannot be supposed will be very tenacious
about protecting the interests of others. If you would escape with
the little character that is left, you will forthwith resign. I do not
perceive the smallest chance for you by going through gyration No. 4,
both public opinions uniformly condemning the monikin who acts without a
pretty obvious, as well as a pretty weighty motive."

Noah made a merit of necessity; and, after some further deliberation
between us, he signed his name to the following letter to the speaker,
which was drawn up on the spot, by the brigadier.

"Mr. Speaker: - The state of my health obliges me to return the high
political trust which has been confided to me by the citizens of
Bivouac, into the hands from which it was received. In tendering my
resignation, I wish to express the great regret with which I part from
colleagues so every way worthy of profound respect and esteem, and I beg
you to assure them, that wherever fate may hereafter lead me, I shall
ever retain the deepest regard for every honorable member with whom it
has been my good fortune to serve. The emigrant interest, in particular,
will ever be the nearest and dearest to my heart." Signed,

"NOAH POKE."

The captain did not affix his name to this letter without many heavy
sighs, and divers throes of ambition; for even a mistaken politician
yields to necessity with regret. Having changed the word emigrant to
that of "immigrunt," however, he put as good a face as possible on the
matter, and wrote the fatal signature. He then left the house, declaring
he didn't so much begrudge his successor the pay, as nothing but nuts
were to be had with the money; and that, as for himself, he felt as
sneaking as he believed was the case with Nebuchadnezzar, when he was
compelled to get down on all-fours, and eat grass.




CHAPTER XXIX. SOME EXPLANATIONS - A HUMAN APPETITE - A DINNER AND A BONNE
BOUCHE.


The brigadier and myself remained behind to discuss the general bearings
of this unexpected event.

"Your rigid demand for motives, my good sir," I remarked, "reduces the
Leaplow political morality very much, after all, to the level of the
social-stake system of our part of the world."

"They both depend on the crutch of personal Interests, it is true;
though there is, between them, the difference of the interests of a part
and of the interests of the whole."

"And could a part act less commendably than the whole appear to have
acted in this instance?"

"You forget that Leaplow, just at this moment, is under a moral eclipse.
I shall not say that these eclipses do not occur often, but they occur
quite as frequently in other parts of the region, as they occur here.
We have three great modes of controlling monikin affairs, viz., the one,
the few, and the many - "

"Precisely the same classification exists among men!" I interrupted.

"Some of our improvements are reflected backward; twilight following
as well as preceding the passage of the sun," quite coolly returned the
brigadier. "We think that the many come nearest to balancing the evil,
although we are far from believing even them to be immaculate. Admitting
that the tendencies to wrong are equal in the three systems (which we do
not, however, for we think our own has the least), it is contended
that the many escape one great source of oppression and injustice, by
escaping the onerous provisions which physical weakness is compelled to
make, in order to protect itself against physical strength."

"This is reversing a very prevalent opinion among men, sir, who
usually maintain that the tyranny of the many is the worst sort of all
tyrannies."

"This opinion has got abroad simply because the lion has not been
permitted to draw his own picture. As cruelty is commonly the
concomitant of cowardice, so is oppression nine times out of ten the
result of weakness. It is natural for the few to dread the many,
while it is not natural for the many to dread the few. Then, under
institutions in which the many rule, certain great principles that
are founded on natural justice, as a matter of course, are openly
recognized; and it is rare, indeed, that they do not, more or less,
influence the public acts. On the other hand, the control of a few
requires that these same truths should be either mystified or entirely
smothered: and the consequence is injustice."

"But, admitting all your maxims, brigadier, as regards the few and the
many, you must yourself allow that here, in your beloved Leaplow itself,
monikins consult their own interests; and this, after all, is acting on
the fundamental principle of the great European social-stake system."

"Meaning that the goods of the world ought to be the test of political
power. By the sad confusion which exists among us, at this moment, Sir
John, you must perceive that we are not exactly under the most salutary
of all possible influences. I take it that the great desideratum of
society is to be governed by certain great moral truths. The inferences
and corollaries of these truths are principles, which come of heaven.
Now, agreeably to the monikin dogmas, the love of money is 'of the
earth, earthy'; and, at the first blush, it would not seem to be quite
safe to receive such an inducement as the governing motive of one
monikin, and, by a pretty fair induction, it would seem to be equally
unwise to admit it for a good many. You will remember, also, that
when none but the rich have authority, they control not only their own
property, but that of others who have less. Your principle supposes,
that in taking care of his own, the elector of wealth must take care of
what belongs to the rest of the community; but our experience shows
that a monikin can be particularly careful of himself, and singularly
negligent of his neighbor. Therefore do we hold that money is a bad
foundation for power."

"You unsettle everything, brigadier, without finding a substitute."

"Simply because it is easy to unsettle everything and very difficult to
find substitutes. But, as respects the base of society, I merely doubt
the wisdom of setting up a qualification that we all know depends on an
unsound principle. I much fear, Sir John, that, so long as monikins are
monikins, we shall never be quite perfect; and as to your social-stake
system, I am of opinion that as society is composed of all, it may be
well to hear what all have to say about its management."

"Many men, and, I dare say, many monikins, are not to be trusted even
with the management of their own concerns."

"Very true; but it does not follow that other men, or other monikins,
will lose sight of their own interests on this account, if vested with
the right to act as their substitutes. You have been long enough a
legislator, now, to have got some idea how difficult it is to make even
a direct and responsible representative respect entirely the interests
and wishes of his constituents; and the fact will show you how little
he will be likely to think of others, who believes that he acts as their
master and not as their servant."

"The amount of all this, brigadier, is that you have little faith in
monikin disinterestedness, in any shape; that you believe he who is
intrusted with power will abuse it; and therefore, you choose to divide
the trust, in order to divide the abuses; that the love of money is an
'earthy' quality, and not to be confided in as the controlling power of
a state; and, finally, that the social-stake system is radically wrong,
inasmuch as it is no more than carrying out a principle that is in
itself defective."

My companion gaped, like one content to leave the matter there. I
wished him a good morning, and walked upstairs in quest of Noah, whose
carnivorous looks had given me considerable uneasiness. The captain was
out; and, after searching for him in the streets for an hour or two, I
returned to our abode fatigued and hungry.

At no great distance from our own door, I met Judge People's Friend,
shorn and dejected, and I stopped to say a kind word, before going up
the ladder. It was quite impossible to see a gentleman, whom one had met
in good society and in better fortunes, with every hair shaved from his
body, his apology for a tail still sore from its recent amputation, and
his entire mien expressive of republican humility, without a desire to
condole with him. I expressed my regrets, therefore, as succinctly as
possible, encouraging him with the hope of seeing a new covering of down
before long, but delicately abstaining from any allusion to the cauda,
whose loss I knew was irretrievable. To my great surprise, however, the
judge answered cheerfully; discarding, for the moment, every appearance
of self-abasement and mortification.

"How is this?" I cried; "you are not then miserable?"

"Very far from it, Sir John - I never was in better spirits, or had
better prospects, in my life."

I remembered the extraordinary manner in which the brigadier had
saved Noah's head, and was fully resolved not to be astonished at any
manifestation of monikin ingenuity. Still I could not forbear demanding
an explanation.

"Why, it may seem odd to you, Sir John, to find a politician, who is
apparently in the depths of despair, really on the eve of a glorious
preferment. Such, however, is in fact my case. In Leaplow, humility is
everything. The monikin who will take care and repeat sufficiently often
that he is just the poorest devil going, that he is absolutely unfit for
even the meanest employment in the land, and in other respects ought to
be hooted out of society, may very safely consider himself in a fair way
to be elevated to some of the dignities he declares himself the least
fitted to fill."

"In such a case, all he will have to do then, will be to make
his choice, and denounce himself loudest touching his especial
disqualifications for that very station?"

"You are apt, Sir John, and would succeed, if you would only consent to
remain among us!" said the judge, winking.

"I begin to see into your management - after all, you are neither
miserable nor ashamed?"

"Not the least in the world. It is of more importance for monikins of
my calibre to seem to be anything than to be it. My fellow-citizens are
usually satisfied with this sacrifice; and, now principle is eclipsed,
nothing is easier."

"But how happens it, judge, that one of your surprising dexterity
and agility should be caught tripping? I had thought you particularly
expert, and infallible in all the gyrations. Perhaps the little affair
of the cauda has leaked out?"

The judge laughed in my face.

"I see you know little of us, after all, Sir John. Here have we
proscribed caudae, as anti-republican, both public opinions setting
their faces against them; and yet a monikin may wear one abroad a mile
long with impunity if he will just submit to a new dock when he comes
home, and swear that he is the most miserable wretch going. If he can
throw in a favorable word, too, touching the Leaplow cats and dogs - Lord
bless you, sir! they would pardon treason!"

"I begin to comprehend your policy, judge, if not your polity. Leaplow
being a popular government, it becomes necessary that its public agents
should be popular too. Now, as monikins naturally delight in their own
excellences, nothing so disposes them to give credit to another, as his
professions that he is worse than themselves."

The judge nodded and grinned.

"But another word, dear sir - as you feel yourself constrained to commend
the cats and dogs of Leaplow, do you belong to that school of philocats,
who take their revenge for their amenity to the quadrupeds, by berating
their fellow-creatures?"

The judge started, and glanced about him as if he dreaded a thief-taker.
Then earnestly imploring me to respect his situation, he added in a
whisper, that the subject of the people was sacred with him, that
he rarely spoke of them without a reverence, and that his favorable
sentiments in relation to the cats and dogs were not dependent on any
particular merits of the animals themselves, but merely because they
were the people's cats and dogs. Fearful that I might say something
still more disagreeable, the judge hastened to take his leave, and I
never saw him afterward. I make no doubt, however, that in good time his
hair grew as he grew again into favor, and that he found the means to
exhibit the proper length of tail on all suitable occasions.

A crowd in the street now caught my attention. On approaching it, a
colleague who was there was kind enough to explain its cause.

It would seem that certain Leaphighers had been travelling in Leaplow;
and, not satisfied with this liberty, they had actually written books
concerning things that they had seen, and things that they had not
seen. As respects the latter, neither of the public opinions was
very sensitive, although many of them reflected on the Great National
Allegory and the sacred rights of monikins; but as respects the former,
there was a very lively excitement. These writers had the audacity to
say that the Leaplowers had cut off all their caudae, and the whole
community was convulsed at an outrage so unprecedented. It was one thing
to take such a step, and another to have it proclaimed to the world in
books. If the Leaplowers had no tails, it was clearly their own fault.
Nature had formed them with tails. They had bobbed themselves on a
republican principle; and no one's principles ought to be thrown into
his face, in this rude manner, more especially during a moral eclipse.

The dispensers of the essence of lopped tails threatened vengeance;
caricaturists were put in requisition; some grinned, some menaced, some
swore, and all read!

I left the crowd, taking the direction of my door again, pondering on
this singular state of society, in which a peculiarity that had been
deliberately and publicly adopted, should give rise to a sensitiveness
of a character so unusual. I very well knew that men are commonly more
ashamed of natural imperfections than those which, in a great measure,
depend on themselves; but then men are, in their own estimation at
least, placed by nature at the head of creation, and in that capacity
it is reasonable to suppose they will be jealous of their natural
privileges. The present case was rather Leaplow than generic; and I
could only account for it, by supposing that nature had placed certain
nerves in the wrong part of the Leaplow anatomy.

On entering the house, a strong smell of roasted meat saluted my
nostrils, causing a very unphilosophical pleasure to the olfactory
nerves, a pleasure which acted very directly, too, on the gastric juices
of the stomach. In plain English, I had very sensible evidence that it
was not enough to transport a man to the monikin region, send him to
parliament, and keep him on nuts for a week, to render him exclusively
ethereal, I found it was vain "to kick against the pricks." The odor of
roasted meat was stronger than all the facts just named, and I was
fain to abandon philosophy, and surrender to the belly. I descended
incontinently to the kitchen, guided by a sense no more spiritual than
that which directs the hound in the chase.

On opening the door of our refectory, such a delicious perfume greeted
the nose, that I melted like a romantic girl at the murmur of a
waterfall, and, losing sight of all the sublime truths so lately
acquired, I was guilty of the particular human weakness which is usually
described as having the "mouth water."

The sealer had quite taken leave of his monikin forbearance, and was
enjoying himself in a peculiarly human manner. A dish of roasted meat
was lying before him, and his eyes fairly glared as he turned them from
me to the viand, in a way to render it a little doubtful whether I was
a welcome visitor. But that honest old principle of seamen which never
refuses to share equally with an ancient mess-mate, got the better even
of his voracity.

"Sit down, Sir John," the captain cried, without ceasing to masticate,
"and make no bones of it. To own the fact, the latter are almost as good
as the flesh. I never tasted a sweeter morsel!"

I did not wait for a second invitation, the reader may be sure; and in
less than ten minutes the dish was as clear as a table that had been
swept by harpies. As this work is intended for one in which truth is
rigidly respected, I shall avow that I do not remember any cultivation
of sentiment which gave me half so much satisfaction as that short and
hurried repast. I look back to it, even now, as to the very beau ideal
of a dinner! Its fault was in the quantity, and not in quality.

I gazed greedily about for more. Just then, I caught a glimpse of a face
that seemed looking at me with melancholy reproach. The truth flashed
upon me in a flood of horrible remorse. Rushing upon Noah like a tiger,
I seized him by the throat, and cried, in a voice of despair:

"Cannibal! what hast thou done?"

"Loosen your grip, Sir John - we do not relish these hugs at Stunin'tun."

"Wretch! thou hast made me the participator of thy crime! We have eaten
Brigadier Downright."

"Loosen, Sir John, or human natur' will rebel."

"Monster! give up thy unholy repast - dost not see a million reproaches
in the eyes of the innocent victim of thy insatiable appetites?"

"Cast off, Sir John, cast off, while we are friends, I care not if I
have swallowed all the brigadiers in Leaplow - off hands!"

"Never, monster! until thou disgorgest thy unholy meal!"

Noah could endure no more; but, seizing me by the throat, on the
retaliating principle, I soon had some such sensations as one would
be apt to feel if his gullet were in a vice. I shall not attempt to
describe very minutely the miracle that followed. Hanging ought to be
an effectual remedy for many delusions; for, in my case, the bowstring
I was under certainly did wonders in a very short time. Gradually the
whole scene changed. First came a mist, then a vertigo; and finally, as
the captain relaxed his hold, objects appeared in new forms, and instead
of being in our lodgings in Bivouac, I found myself in my old apartment
in the Rue de Rivoli, Paris.

"King!" exclaimed Noah, who stood before me, red in the face with
exertion; "this is no boy's play, and if it's to be repeated, I shall
use a lashing! Where would be the harm, Sir John, if a man had eaten a
monkey?"

Astonishment kept me mute. Every object, just as I had left it the
morning we started for London, on our way to Leaphigh, was there. A
table, in the centre of the room, was covered with sheets of paper
closely written over, which, on examination, I found contained this
manuscript as far as the last chapter. Both the captain and myself were
attired as usual; I a la Parisien and he a la Stunin'tun. A small ship,
very ingeniously made, and very accurately rigged, lay on the floor,
with "Walrus" written on her stern. As my bewildered eye caught a
glimpse of this vessel, Noah informed me that, having nothing to do
except to look after my welfare (a polite way of characterizing his ward
over my person, as I afterward found), he had employed his leisure in
constructing the toy.

All was inexplicable. There was really the smell of meat. I had also
that peculiar sensation of fulness which is apt to succeed a dinner, and
a dish well filled with bones was in plain view. I took up one of the
latter, in order to ascertain its genus. The captain kindly informed
me that it was the remains of a pig, which had cost him a great deal of
trouble to obtain, as the French viewed the act of eating a pig as very
little less heinous than the act of eating a child. Suspicions began to
trouble me, and I now turned to look for the head and reproachful eye of
the brigadier.

The head was where I had just before seen it, visible over the top of a
trunk; but it was so far raised as to enable me to see that it was still
planted on its shoulders. A second look enabled me to distinguish the
meditative, philosophical countenance of Dr. Reasono, who was still in
the hussar-jacket and petticoat, though, being in the house, he had very
properly laid aside the Spanish hat with bedraggled feathers.

A movement followed in the antechamber, and a hurried conversation, in
a low, earnest tone, succeeded. The captain disappeared, and joined
the speakers. I listened intently, but could not catch any of the
intonations of a dialect founded on the decimal principle. Presently the
door opened, and Dr. Etherington stood before me!

The good divine regarded me long and earnestly. Tears filled his eyes,
and, stretching out both hands towards me, he asked:

"Do you know me, Jack?"

"Know you, dear sir! - Why should I not?"

"And do you forgive me, dear boy?"

"For what, sir? - I am sure, I have most reason to demand your pardon for
a thousand follies."

"Ah! the letter - the unkind - the inconsiderate letter!"

"I have not had a letter from you, sir, in a twelvemonth; the last was
anything but unkind."

"Though Anna wrote, it was at my dictation."

I passed a hand over my brow, and had dawnings of the truth.

"Anna?"

"Is here - in Paris - and miserable - most miserable! - on your account."

Every particle of monikinity that was left in my system instantly gave
way to a flood of human sensations.

"Let me fly to her, dear sir - a moment is an age!"

"Not just yet, my boy. We have much to say to each other, nor is she in
this hotel. To-morrow, when both are better prepared, you shall meet."

"Add, never to separate, sir, and I will be patient as a lamb."

"Never to separate, I believe it will be better to say."

I hugged my venerable guardian, and found a delicious relief from a most
oppressive burden of sensations, in a flow of tears,

Dr. Etherington soon led me into a calmer tone of mind. In the course
of the day, many matters were discussed and settled. I was told that
Captain Poke had been a good nurse, though in a sealing fashion; and
that the least I could do was to send him back to Stunin'tun, free of
cost. This was agreed to, and the worthy but dogmatical mariner was
promised the means of fitting out a new "Debby and Dolly."

"These philosophers had better be presented to some academy," observed
the doctor, smiling, as he pointed to the family of amiable strangers,
"being already F. U. D. G. E.'s and H. O. A. X.'s. Mr. Reasono, in
particular, is unfit for ordinary society."

"Do with them as you please, my more than father. Let the poor animals,
however, be kept from physical suffering."

"Attention shall be paid to all their wants, both physical and moral."



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 32 of 34)