'That Very Mab'
by May Kendall and Andrew Lang
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

'Yes, you have,' said Queen Mab, whose thoughts had been wandering. 'I did not suppose you meant to stop. Is it not time for us to go?'

It was indeed growing late, and the Owl was tired after his long harangue, but though they set out at once on their return journey, the day's experiences were not quite ended. For behold! the mob, returning from Hyde Park, with the Democrat at its head, in search of a Cabinet Minister, a Lord Mayor, a Government, anything administrative and official that they could lay their hands upon, and to whom they could make representations. The mob was half-starved; but that, as the Owl whispered to Queen Mab, was a way it had, and did not amount to much. It was also able-bodied and unemployed but these too were normal characteristics, and did not amount to much either. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it met a Cabinet Minister just at the entrance of Oxford Street, and the Cabinet Minister, who had been walking gaily, and twirling his cane, instantly slackened his pace, and, with inherent fine tact, put on a serious and sympathetic expression. The mob pushed the Democrat forward, and he confronted the Cabinet Minister.

'What are you going to do for these people?' he said abruptly; 'they are starving.'

'No; are they?' said the Cabinet Minister, looking very properly horrified, at which the mob cheered. 'I am very sorry indeed to hear it. Let me see if I can find a sixpence.'

He fumbled in all his pockets, and, finally, with some difficulty, produced a threepenny bit. The mob cheered again.

'I am sorry,' he said, 'that I haven't a sixpence, but perhaps this will be of use?'

'That won't do,' replied the Democrat roughly, as he pocketed the coin. 'Do you suppose that you are going to feed thousands of starving men, women, and children on a threepenny bit?'

'I deeply sympathise,' said the Cabinet Minister, without any distinct impression that he was quoting from 'Alice in Wonderland.' 'In fact, I may say that I weep for you; but what can I do? Am I not with you? Don't I hate criticism, and political economy, and Mr. Goschen?'

'You must act, returned the Democrat impressively. 'You are in the Government; 'and there came from the mob a hoarse, funereal echo, 'You are in the—qualified—Government!'

'Ah, but I am not in that department,' said the Minister, seeing a way of escape. 'My friends—I may say, indeed, my suffering fellow-citizens—be reasonable. Don't be vexed with me. I am only a capitalist, a toiler and spinner. Go for dukes and earls, or better—exercise patience. "The night," says the poet, "is always darkest just before the dawn." I am not in that department.'

'Hang your departments!' said the Democrat. 'If you are not in that department, at least you might be expected to know where it is, and to tell it what to do. Who would give a farthing for departments and officials who can't join hands at a time like this, to help their starving countrymen? We shan't stop to quarrel with you how you do it, if you only lift us out of the mire. Here are these men'—he pointed to the mob, and the mob hurrahed—'willing to work, eager to work, perishing for want of food, and not a soul of your benevolent Governments will lift a finger to set them to work for it. Give them public buildings to erect and to be blown up, canals to make, railways to cut; assist them to emigrate, if you have nothing for them to do at home, but in Heaven's name be sharp about it!'

'It is really very awkward,' said the Cabinet Minister. 'You see I am not in the Railroad Department, nor in the Canal Department, nor in the Emigration Department. I am sure you see that!' he continued hopefully, looking round upon the crowd, who, though they admitted the fact, did not appear to appreciate its deep and intrinsic force. 'But I am quite willing at some future opportunity—indeed, I may say I hope at some opportunity comparatively not distant, to consider the advisability of representing the matter to the heads of certain departments who might be able, in the course of the next but one Septennial Parliament, or' (even more sanguinely) 'I might under favourable circumstances even hope to say, the next Septennial Parliament, to lay the topic before the Government. In the meantime, my friends, consider that such means as you have suggested for alleviating the hardships with which I so profoundly sympathise are not things to be lightly rushed into. You will agree with me doubtless. You will show that fine sense of the propriety of your lots innate in the breast of every Briton, by agreeing with me that canals, for instance, are not things to be lightly rushed into. Emigration, my friends, is not a thing to be lightly rushed into. In the meantime, knowledge, as the good old maxim tells us, never comes amiss, and whatever be the eventual scheme resolved upon by Government for relieving your necessities, you cannot better employ your leisure than in preparatory academic study of the arts of building, railway cutting, and canal-making, and in acquainting yourselves with the principles and methods of emigration, the nature of our different colonial settlements, their situation and productions, during the seven years that must inevitably elapse—'

He would have proceeded, but a howl, long and loud, drowned his utterance, and the mob surged forward, driving him back, in a state of bewildered astonishment, into the premises of a fashionable dealer. Various tokens of regard followed him in the shape of rotten eggs and cabbage leaves, which, as the Owl observed in a thoughtful voice, were doubtless symbolical.

Then the mob broke up and went on its different ways. Mab and the Owl, following one of its scattered detachments, met another procession, with a drum and trumpets and other instruments, all working their hardest at one of Sankey and Moody's hymns, which procession drew up straightway before the remnant of the mob, and began to convert it.

'What is this?' asked Queen Mab. 'Is it British Polynesians going to a war-dance?'

'No,' replied the Owl. 'It is only the Salvation Army, walking backwards into glory.'

'Come away,' said Mab. 'They are very noisy, these British Polynesians, and the mob makes me miserable. Let us go back.'

'I am ready,' said the Owl. 'I don't wonder that London has this effect on you at first. You are not sufficiently automatic, and a non-automatic mind has always much to contend with.'


'Now to the eye of Faith displayed, The Prototype is seen, In every office, every trade, I mark, in human garb arrayed, The conquering Machine!

By careful evolution planned, With many a gliding wheel, To warn, to comfort, to command, Or fly, or drive a four-in-hand, Or dance a Highland Reel!

When, urged no more by Passions gale, Or impulse unforeseen, Humanity shall faint and fail, Upon its ruins will prevail The conquering Machine!'

Perhaps the exhibition of machinery-struck Queen Mab with more horror than any other novelty in this country. The Owl declared that she ought to develop a stronger automatic principle, and he therefore took her to an exhibition full of appliances for making the world over again, if ever, as North-country folk say, it 'happened an accident' All the different industries of the higher life were represented, and the scene was calculated to drive a non-automatic mind, as the Owl called Queen Mab's, entirely out of itself in the course of three-quarters of an hour.

There was machinery, worked by electricity, for beating gold to that degree of fineness that it could not be seen except through a powerful microscope, and there was the powerful microscope for seeing it through, also worked by electricity.

'Why do they want it so fine?' asked Mab.

'In order,' said the Owl, 'that they may be able to take a microscope to it, and so increase the demand for microscopes. The trades play into each other's hands. Look at these watches making themselves.'

He pointed to an arrangement of ropes and wheels and pulleys and electricity, directing the movements of a few human assistants with admirable dexterity and precision.

'You don't have anything like that in Polynesia!' said the Owl with pardonable pride.

'No, I should think not,' said Queen Mab. 'Why, we haven't any watches at all there. We look at the sun.'

'Ah yes,' returned the Owl. 'But the sun is rather unreliable, after all. He has the Ecliptic to go round, and the whole of the Solar System to attend to, and one must make allowances for him. But, for purposes of strict chronology, watches are better, especially these watches! They wind themselves up punctually every night, and if their owners break the mainsprings of them, they pack themselves up to go by Parcels Post back to the Company, and then they direct the parcel—or so I hear. Oh! they are very intelligent watches!'

'Is that true? 'inquired Mab doubtfully.

'I believe so,' said the Owl.

There seemed to Queen Mab something rather too preternatural about this, though she could well believe it, as she looked at the wonderful manner in which the watches turned themselves out. It frightened her, and they proceeded farther on, and came to much artillery, carefully constructed by the higher civilisation for the purpose of turning the lower civilisation, or the non-civilisation, or the alien civilisation, from the error of its ways.

'These,' said the Owl, pointing at random to a collection of elegantly polished torpedoes, cannons of superior excellence, gunpowder and gun-cotton of all descriptions and colours, arranged artistically in cases, to resemble sugar-candy and other confectionery, 'are the weapons of our philanthropy, the agents by which we disseminate truth, charity, and freedom, among tribes and races as yet imperfectly supplied with cardinal virtues and general ideas. They cost a great deal, but we would sacrifice anything for such a purpose. There is nothing mean about the British public. "What are a few bales of gun-cotton,' it cries—" a few tons of paltry bullets, in comparison with the march of civilisation and humanity and open markets? We do but give them of our best, our finest Bessemer steel, our latest thing in torpedo-boats—nothing is too good for them. What are we, if not magnanimous?' says the British public. I always like that about it—it never grudges a few millions for war expenditure in the cause of philanthropy! Considering how very sharply it looks after its L s. d. in other directions, this liberality is especially touching and gratifying.'

But Queen Mab preferred to hurry past these dangerous-looking engines of Altruism, and they continued their survey. They came next to a company of umbrellas who were also barometers, and found out when it was going to rain in time for their masters to take them out. This, Mab said, was absurd, and, in fact, she was heartily tired of the whole thing before the Owl had explained to her half-a-dozen ingenious structures. She said that inanimate objects had no business to be so clever, and that, if the mechanicians did not take care, they would shortly invent machines that would conspire together to assassinate them, and then share the profits.

'Let us go away,' she exclaimed finally, 'before we turn into machines ourselves! Everything is going round and round, and I am afraid of having to begin to go round and round too.'

'Ah, I knew this would be the place for cultivating the automatic principle in you,' said the Owl triumphantly. 'We will come again.'

'No, thank you,' said Mab, energetically spreading her wings, and, in her preoccupation, taking the wrong road and darting into the great luncheon-room, whither the Owl followed her. The tables were crowded with people, and numbers of other people who had not yet lunched, were pacing up and down, looking anxiously for vacant places which were not there. The invisible spectators recognised the British manufacturer they had seen in Richmond Park. He was seated at a table; he had been sitting there since the disappearance of his last glass of claret, half an hour by the great clock, and for the whole of that half-hour several persons, standing very near his chair, had been fixing hungry eyes upon him, and expecting him to get up. Every time his boots creaked they moved perceptibly nearer, and made swift mental calculations of the chances each would have to reach the chair; but the worthy manufacturer still sat on, stolid and complacent, with a sense of comfort the keener by contrast.

Queen Mab and the Owl found him uncongenial, and flew away again.

'That is just like him,' said the Owl, when they had reached the outside of the building at last, and were perched on the roof, enjoying the fresh air. 'He will get all he can for his money. In him you may see a typical and beautiful example of the Survival of the Fittest. He worked his way, by means of native moral superiority and pure chocolate composed of mortar and molasses tinted with sepia, right from the gallery into one of the very best reserved seats, and now has little books written on himself, as exemplifying the reward of virtue, and exhorts everybody to go in and do likewise. The pamphlets conclude:

'"If your vocation furnishes only the trivial round and the common task; if it does not fall to your lot to invent a new pure chocolate, you can at least buy Mr. Tubbs's pure chocolate, and reverence the benefactors of humanity."

'He sends copies to all the dukes, and earls, and archbishops, and the result is an immense sale of the pure chocolate. He has never missed a chance of advertising it; he takes boxes to the meetings of the Church Missionary Society for propagation among the heathen, and so has managed to get large profits from the Zunis, and the Thlinkeets, and the Mikado, and the Shah. He nearly got into difficulty with the Low Church party once by writing privately to the Pope to solicit orders—not holy orders; orders for pure chocolate, I mean. I hope he won't carry it too far. His wife's uncle, who was a wholesale draper, seized one golden opportunity too many, and never recovered from the effects.'

'How was that?' asked Mab.

'It was an incident that took place in the Strand one day,' said the Owl with a modest air, 'of which I learned the particulars from two City sparrows. It struck my fancy, and I wrote a few stanzas upon it. The kingfisher, in fact, did me the honour to say that I had wedded the circumstance to immortal verse; but that was his partiality. I will, however, repeat the little poem to you.' And with becoming diffidence the Owl recited:

'The Seraph and the Snob.

It was a draper eminent, A merchant of the land, On lofty calculations bent, Who raised his eyes, on cent, per cent.

From pondering, in the Strand. He saw a Seraph standing there, With aspect bright and sainted, Ethereal robe of fabric fair, And wings that might have been the pair Sir Noel Paton painted.

A real Seraph met his gaze— There was no doubt of that— Irradiate with celestial rays. Our merchant viewed him with amaze, And then he touched his hat.

I own, before he raised his hand, A moment he reflected, Because in this degenerate land, To meet a Seraph in the Strand Was somewhat unexpected.

Yet there one stood, as wrapt in thought, Amid the City's din, No other eye the vision caught, Not even a stray policeman sought To run that Seraph in.

But on the merchant curious eyes Men turned, and mocking finger, For well they knew his mien and guise, He was not wont, in moonstruck wise, About the Strand to linger.

Mute stood the draper for a space, The mystery to probe, Alas! in that his hour of grace, His eyes forsook the Seraph's face, And rested on his robe.

And wildly did he seek in vain To guess the strange material, And golden fancies filled his brain, And hopes of unimagined gain Woke at the sight ethereal.

Then, suffered not by fate austere The impulse to discard, He never paused to idly veer About the bush; but calm and clear He said: 'How much a yard?'

A bright and tremulous lustre shone Through the dull, dingy Strand, From parting wings seraphic thrown; And then, mute, motionless, alone, Men saw the merchant stand.


In town to-day his memory's cold, No more his name on 'Change is, Idle his mart, his wares are sold, And men forget his fame of old, Who now in Earlswood ranges.

Yet evermore, with toil and care He ponders on devices For stuffs superlatively rare, Celestial fabrics past compare, At reasonable prices.

To him the padded wall and dead With gorgeous colour gleams, And huge advertisements are spread, And lurid placards, orange, red, Drive through his waking dreams.'

'Thank you,' said Queen Mab, 'that is very interesting; but I can't help being sorry for the merchant. For, after all, you know, it was his nature to. Is it not time, now, for us to go back?'


'Tweet!' cried the sparrows, 'it is nothing! It only looks like something. Tweet! that is the beautiful. Can you make anything of it? I can't?' Hans Andersen.

'How exceedingly successful,' observed Queen Mab one day, 'the Permanent Scarecrows have been!'

'The Permanent Scarecrows?' said the Owl.

The winged and gifted pair had been on another visit to London, and Mab had found rows on rows of stucco houses, where she had left green fields, running brooks, and hedges white with may, on the northern side of the Strand.

'Yes 'said Mab 'you hardly ever see a crow now, where, in my time, the farmers were so much plagued by the furtive bird. But, as the crows have been thoroughly frightened off, and as there are now no crops to protect, I do think they might remove the permanent scarecrows.'

'Your Majesty's meaning,' said the Owl, 'is beginning to dawn on me. True, in your time there were no statues in London, and the mistake into which you have fallen is natural. You went away before the great development of British Art, and British Sculpture, and British worship of Beauty. The monuments you notice are expressive of our love of loveliness, our devotion to all that is fair. These objects of which you complain are not meant to alarm predatory fowls (though well calculated for that purpose) but to commemorate heroes, often themselves more or less predatory.'

'Do you mean to tell me?' asked Mab, 'that that big burly scarecrow, about to mend a gigantic quill with a blunt sword, was a hero?'

'He was indeed,' said the Owl, 'though I admit that you would never have guessed it from his effigy.'

'And that other scarecrow, all claws and beak, who blocks up the narrow street where the Dragon worshippers throng? Was he a hero?'

'He is believed by some to be the Dragon himself,' said the Owl; 'but no one knows for certain, not even the sculptor.'

'And the Barber's Block with the stuffed dog, looking into the Park?'

'He was a poet,' said the Owl, 'and expressed so much contempt for men that they retorted by that ridiculous caricature. Would you believe it, English sculptors actually quarrelled among themselves as to who made that singular and, for its original purpose, most successful scarecrow!'

'I don't wonder,' remarked the Queen, 'that birds of taste are rare in the Metropolis, and that, on the Embankment especially, a rook would be regarded as a kind of prodigy. Nowhere has the manufacture of permanent scarecrows been conducted with more ingenious success. But tell me, my accomplished fowl, have Britons any other arts? Long ago the men used to paint themselves blue, but, as far as I have remarked, the women are now alone in staining their cheeks with a curious purplish dye and their locks with ginger colour.'

'Among the Arts,' said the Owl, 'the modern English chiefly excel in painting. To-morrow, by the way, the shrine of Loveliness begins to open its gates. The successful worshippers, are admitted to varnish their offerings to Beauty, while the unsuccessful are sent away in disgrace, with their sacrifices. Suppose we go and examine this curious scene.'

'In Polynesia,' replied Mab, 'no well-meant offering is rejected by the gods.'

'The Polynesian gods,' answered the Owl, 'are too indiscriminate.'

On the next morning any one whose eyes were purged with euphrasy and rue might have observed an owl and a fairy queen fluttering in the smoky air above Burlington House. Here a mixed multitude of men and women, young and old, were thronging about the gates, some laughing, some lamenting. A few entered with proud and happy steps, bearing quantities of varnish to the goddess; others sneaked away with pictures under their arms, or hastily concealed the gifts rejected at the shrine of Beauty in the hospitable shelter of four-wheeled cabs.

'Let us enter,' said the Owl, 'and behold how wisely the Forty Priests of Beauty (or the Forty Thieves, as their enemies call them) and the Thirty Acolytes have arranged the gifts of the faithful.

Lightly the unseen pair fluttered past the servants of Beauty, nobly attired in gold and scarlet. They found themselves in a series of stately halls, so covered with pictures in all the hues of the aniline rainbow, that Queen Mab winked, and suffered from an immortal headache.

'How curious it is,' said Queen Mab, 'that of all the many thousand offerings only a very few, namely, those hung at a certain height from the floor, are really visible to any one who is neither a fairy nor a bird.'

'The pieces which you observe,' remarked the Owl, 'are almost in every case the work of the Forty Priests of Beauty, of the Thirty Acolytes, and of their cousins, their sisters, and their aunts. Those other attempts, almost invisible, as you say, to anyone but a bird or a fairy, have been produced by other worshippers not yet admitted to the Holy Band.'

'Then,' asked the Queen, 'are the Forty Priests by far the most expert in devising objects truly beautiful, and really worthy of the Goddess of Beauty?'

'On that subject,' said the Owl, 'your Majesty will be able to form an opinion after you have examined the sacrifices at the shrine.'

Swiftly as Art Critics the winged spectators flew, invisible, round the galleries, and finally paused, breathless, on the gigantic group of St. George and the Dragon, then in the Sculpture Room.

'Well, what do you think?' asked the Owl.

'The Forty Priests,' replied Queen Mab, 'are, with few exceptions, men who seem to have been blinded, perhaps by the Beatific Vision of Beauty. If the Beatific Vision of Beauty has not blinded them, why are they and their friends so hopelessly absurd? Why do they have all the best of the shrine to themselves, while the young worshippers are consigned to holes and corners, or turned out altogether? Who makes the Forty the Forty? Does the goddess choose her own Ministers?'

'By no means,' said the Owl, 'they choose themselves. Who else, in the name of Beauty, would choose them? But you must not think that they are all blind or stupid; there are some very brilliant exceptions,' and he pointed triumphantly to the offerings of the High Priest and of five or six other members of the Fraternity.

'This is all very well, and I am delighted to see it,' said Queen Mab, 'but tell me how the choosing of the Forty and of the Acolytes is arranged. 'When one of the Forty dies,' replied the Owl, 'which happens only at very long intervals, for they belong to the race of Struldbrugs, several worshippers who have become bald, old, nearly sightless, with other worshippers' still young and strong, are paraded before the Thirty-nine. And they generally choose the old men, or, if not, the young men who come from a strange land in the North, where rain falls always when it is not snowing, and whither no native ever returns. If such a man lives in a fine house, and has a cunning cook, then (even though he can paint) he may be admitted among the Forty, or among the Thirty who attain not to the Forty. After that he can take his ease; however ugly his offerings to Beauty, they are presented to the public.'

'Well,' said Queen Mab, 'my curiosity is satisfied, and I no longer wonder at the permanent scarecrows. But one thing still puzzles me. What becomes of the offerings of the Forty after the temple closes?'

'They disappear by means of a very clever invention,' said the Owl. 'Long ago a famous priest, named Chantrey, perceived that the country would be overrun with the offerings to which you allude. He therefore bequeathed a sum of money, called the Chantrey bequest, to enable the Forty to purchase each other's pictures.'

'But what do they do with them after they have bought them?' persisted Mab, who had a very inquiring mind.

'Oh, goodness knows; don't ask me,' said the Owl crossly; 'nobody ever inquires after them again!'


'Were it not better not to be!' Tennyson: The Two Voices.

'Si tu veux', je te tuerais ici tout franc, en sorte que tu rien sentiras rien, et m'en croy, car j'en ay bien tue d'autres qui s'en sont bien trouvez' Pantagruel, ii. xiv.

'Look there!' said the Owl one day. 'There is a bishop, one of the higher priests of St. George.'

He was a beautiful bishop, in his mitre, canonicals, and crozier, all complete—so the Owl said. It strikes one as a novelty for bishops to wear their rochettes and mitres when they go out walking in Richmond Park; but one is forced to believe the Owl, he has such a truthful way with him, like George Washington. By the way, what scope George Washington had for telling lies, if he had wished it, after that incident of the cherry-tree, which gave everyone such a high opinion of his veracity!

The Bishop advanced slowly into full view, and then drew up before a tree. He did not lean against the tree, for fear of spoiling his splendours, but he drew up before it, and began to ponder, with a mild, benevolent expression on his fine features. At the same time, two hundred yards away, Queen Mab caught sight of the Democrat, walking very fast, a little out of breath, and looking for the Bishop. He wanted to explain to him the principles of Church and State, and to talk things over in a friendly way. The Democrat had great faith in talking things over, spite of his failure to convince the Aristocrat; he never really doubted that if he only harangued against obstacles long enough they would ultimately disappear. The Bishop, for instance, would willingly rush into nonentity, if once he could be brought to look at his duty in that light, and the Democrat was eager to begin to put it before him in that light immediately. But while he was still looking earnestly for his expected proselyte, someone else advanced with a similar purpose—a tall, gentlemanly individual, with a pleasing exterior, spotless linen cuffs, and a black bag. The Owl uttered a cry of horror.

'Come away!' he exclaimed. 'It is a Nihilist, a dynamiter!'

But Queen Mab held her ground, or rather her branch. She was a courageous fairy, and though she turned a shade paler she spoke resolutely:

'No!' she said. 'I mean to stay and see what he does with it You may go.'

But the Owl was either too chivalrous to desert her, or he was paralysed with terror.

'Dynamite strikes downwards,' the fairy heard him murmur with chattering beak, and that was all he could say. Meanwhile the Nihilist went up to the Bishop.

'Excuse me!' he murmured politely, and knelt down. The Bishop stretched out his hands absently, in an attitude of blessing; but the Nihilist did not look up. He took an American cloth parcel from the black bag and laid it at the Bishop's feet. Then, gradually withdrawing, he began to lay the train.

'He is going to blow him up!' whispered Mab, shuddering. But the Bishop, absorbed in rapt contemplation, heard and saw nothing, till the Democrat, breaking rudely through some bushes and into his reverie, roused him effectually. The Democrat was not a person of whose neighbourhood one could remain unconscious.

'Ah!' he exclaimed, while the Bishop looked upon him with an air of mild disapprobation. 'I have found you at last! I was anxious to discuss with you—but what is this?'

For the more observant Democrat had caught sight of the cloth parcel.

'What is this?' he repeated suspiciously.

'I really don't know,' said the Bishop mildly, putting on his spectacles and gazing down. 'I am a little shortsighted, you know. It is the size of the quarto edition of—'

'There!' interrupted the Democrat, who had caught a glimpse of the Nihilist's shadowy figure. He darted after it, while the Bishop, a little perturbed, moved slowly in the same direction.

'Don't move,' said the Nihilist, raising an abstracted face. 'I will only be a moment. Just step back there, will you?' and he pointed towards the parcel with one hand, while the other still scattered the train.

'What are you doing?' cried the Democrat, shaking him.

'Stop that!' said the Nihilist 'You had better not lay hands on me, or you mayn't like it. It is really inconsiderate,' he continued, appealing to the Bishop in an injured voice. 'I am only going to blow you up, and you won't be quiet half a minute together. How can I blow you up properly, if you will keep walking about?'

'You are going to blow me up!' said the Bishop, awaking to the situation, and becoming as indignant as his gentle nature would allow him to be. 'Miserable man! What will you want to blow up next? I utterly discountenance it. Take your dynamite to the haunts of iniquity and atheism, if you will. Rather blow up Renan, and Dissenters, and the Rev. Mr. Cattell; but as for me, this is really carrying it too far!'

'Waal,' said the Nihilist, rising with a surprised stare, and in the astonishment of the moment betraying his nationality, 'I guess things air come to a pretty pass when a Bishop of the Church of England refooses to be blown up in the interests of hoomanity!'

He took up the American cloth parcel as he spoke and walked despondently away, musing over the lack of public spirit displayed by established orders in general and prelates in particular.

'I would cheerfully consent to be blown up any day,' he murmured pensively, 'in the interests of hoomanity; but it is not for the interests of hoomanity—'

'Why did you not arrest him?' said the Bishop reproachfully, when he was out of sight.

'He is the natural product of the present depraved state of Society and of the Legislature,' replied the Democrat, shaking his head, 'and therefore to be pitied rather than condemned. He should be accepted as a warning, a merciful token sent to all thrones, principalities and powers, reminding them of the error of their ways and of their latter end. And besides,' he continued unwillingly, 'he has a whole magazine of explosives on his person. If I had not been carried away by my indignation just now I should never have taken him by the collar. I did remonstrate with him once, on the strength of his political bias. I said, "Look at us, why can't you profit by our example? We don't wish to blow up, but gently to 'disintegrate. We are mild, but firm. We never express a wish for revolution, but for reform. We are as active as anyone in bringing about the Millennium, but we don't desire to be shot into it head foremost, like a projectile from one of your infernal machines. Dynamite, that last infirmity of noble minds, should only be resorted to when all other modes of conciliation have failed." And what do you think he replied? He smiled affably and offered me a box. "Thank you!" he said, "Take a torpedo?"'

'Dear me!' said the Bishop; 'he is really a terrible character. I have here some of his advertisements, sent to me the other day. Actually sent by post, to me, a Prelate of the Church of England. I saved them, intending to deliver a discourse upon the subject.'

He took a handful of papers from his pocket-book, and the Democrat perused them, while Queen Mab, invisible, looked over his shoulder.

'Home Comfort! Hints to Architects and Builders.

'In the construction of tenements, it is absolutely necessary, for the safety and convenience of the inmates, to place in the recess at the back of each fireplace a couple of Donovan's Patent Dynamite Fire Bricks, warranted. The advantages of this novel and most ingenious contrivance will be fully appreciated when, for the first time, the family circle gathers round the cheerful blaze.'

'To Clergymen.

'For a pure religious light, suitable to the Liturgy of the Church of England, try Donovan's Wax Tapers for Church Illumination. Two of these, placed in the sconces, will give more light than twenty ordinary candles, and will also impart vigour and fervency of tone to the whole of the proceedings. Donovan and Co. are so confident of the superiority of their manufactures that they are willing to refund costs, on receiving the written attestation of the Bishop of the diocese that the article has proved unsuitable. Try them; you can have no idea of the effects.'

'Directors of Railway Companies.

'Take care to have carriages illuminated with Donovan's Patent Safety Lamps. These exert a bracing and salutary influence, not only on the atmosphere and the spirits of the passengers, but on the tunnel walls themselves, which are invariably found, after the passage through them of a train lighted by Donovan's Patent Safety Lamps, completely prostrate with astonishment at the unparalleled effects of the same, to the immense convenience of traffic and judicious prevention of accidents.'

There were several more advertisements, similar in tone and of attractive appearance, which the Democrat perused with interest.

'What could possess the fellow to send all these to you?' he exclaimed when he had finished. 'I always said he pushed the thing to an extreme. He has got dynamite on the brain: he will go off himself some day if he doesn't take care, like a new infernal machine.'

'I wish he would!' said the Bishop hastily; and then correcting himself, 'I was about to say, "Whatever is, is best."'

'Oh, stow that!' exclaimed the Democrat. 'I mean,' he added apologetically, on observing the Bishop's startled glance, 'that, of course, that sounds very well, and it is a pretty thing to say, but everybody knows it isn't true. I will undertake to prove to you, if you will allow me'—here the Bishop's face gathered a shade of melancholy—'that, in fact, there never was a more outrageous falsehood on the earth. As for the Nihilist, naturally we should be thankful to get rid of him, either by explosion or otherwise; but he is such a dangerous fellow to tackle. The fact is, one hardly dare shake hands with him, for fear of being blown into the middle of next week, and then one couldn't toil for the benefit of humanity.'

'Act, act in the living Present,' murmured the Bishop.

'Just so,' said his companion approvingly. 'And you can't act in the living Present when you are in the middle of next week.'

'And yet, you know,' said the Bishop, with a glimpse before him of some possible advantage in the argument, 'I have often fancied that you yourself—'

He paused judiciously.

'Oh no!' returned the Democrat promptly, 'we wouldn't do it on any account. I assure you that our motives are quite unimpeachable.'

'Oh!' said the Bishop. 'And about the House of Lords, for example? Being a Spiritual Peer oneself, you see, one naturally takes an interest—limited.'

'Well, as for that,' said the Democrat, 'it would really be such an excellent thing for you in all respects to be abolished, that you would never make any objection, would you now? We have your welfare so deeply at heart, and long study of your characteristics has convinced us that a course of judicious abolition would be your salvation, temporal, spiritual—and eternal.'

'I say!' exclaimed the Bishop, 'isn't that putting it rather strong? To a Bishop, you know.'

'Ah,' said his companion encouragingly, 'all that feeling will pass away. The full beauty of true Democracy is not, I admit, at first wholly apparent to the Conservative mind; but once afford the requisite culture, and it unfolds new attractions every day. Believe me, we are acting in this matter solely, or almost solely, with a view to your ultimate benefit. We are not acting for ourselves—ourselves is a secondary consideration. But your true fife, as Goethe so beautifully says, probably with an intentional reference to bishops and noble lords, must begin with renunciation of yourself. Till you have once been abolished you can never know how nice it is.

"The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower,"' he added, quoting the words of the hymn-book, with the firm impression that they were from some Secularist publication.

'And is it necessary?' said the Bishop somewhat helplessly.

'Absolutely necessary,' replied the Democrat.

'I don't know about that,' said a voice behind them, and Queen Mab started, seeing the Professor. 'But depend upon it, the fittest will survive. I think, myself, that it is quite time you were gone; but some types die out very slowly, especially the lower types; and you may be said, as regards freedom of intellect and the march of Science, to be a low type—in fact, a relic of barbarism. There can be no doubt that, in the economy of Nature, bishops are an unnecessary organ, merely transmitted by inheritance in the national organism, and that in the course of time they will become atrophied and degenerate out of existence. When that time comes you must be content to pass into oblivion. Study Palaeontology.' Now he pronounced it Paleyon-tology, not having had a classical education. 'Think of the pterodactyles, who passed away before the end of the Mesozoic ages, and never have appeared again. What, in the eternal nature of things, are bishops more than pterodactyles?'

'I wonder,' interrupted the Bishop severely, 'that you dare to speak of your pernicious teachings under the name of Paleyontology, as if the First Principles of that revered divine, whose loss we all deplore, were ever anything like that!'

The Professor only glared, and was going on, but the Democrat stopped him, by remarking, in a loud and exasperatingly complacent voice:

'You are quite correct. Only upon the wreck of the old order of existence can arise the New Democracy.'

'Can you never stop talking about yourself?' snapped the Professor testily. 'One would think, to hear you, that Democracy was the goal of everything.'

'So it is,' said the Democrat.

'Not a bit of it. You and your democracies are only a fleeting phase, an infinitesimal fraction of the aeons to be represented, perhaps, in some geological record of the future, by a mere insignificant conglomerate of dust and bones, and ballot-boxes, and letters in the Spectator and other articles characteristic of this especial period. What a dream of Science that, interstellary communication established, some being of knowledge and capacities as infinitely excelling our own as our faculties excel those of the lowly monad, wandering on this terrestrial globe, and culling from the imperfect archives of these bygone years a corkscrew, an opera-glass, or, perchance, a pot of long since petrified marmalade, preserved intact by some protecting incrustation of stalagmite from the ravages of time, may dart a penetrating gleam of intelligence through the dark abysses of innumerable ages, and exclaim: "This clay, upon which I gaze, was of the human period. This coin, this meerschaum, this china shepherdess, this prayer-book with gilt edges, this Sporting Times, were the inseparable companions of a fossil species of Englishmen who once colonised this globe, and minute traces of whom have been found in its most widely separated regions. Alas that the action of marine and subaerial denuding agents has deprived us of an opportunity for closer examination of the habits and idiosyncrasies of this interesting fossil. Into such small compass are compressed the pride and wealth of nations and of centuries. O genus humanum! O tempora! O mores!" Thus will he muse. No democrat! no stump orator will be that Being of the Future, nor anything of human mould. One's imagination may well revel in the thought that Evolution, mighty to conceive and to perform, lias not yet completed her work. What are vertebrates? Even these are transient. But four classes of vertebrates—only four!' shouted the Professor in his enthusiasm, wholly forgetting the Democrat, and the Bishop, who was gazing at him with a look of blank horror on his venerable countenance. 'Why, it is preposterous, it is inconceivable that we should stop at four!—fishes, reptiles, birds, and mammals! Where is the fifth! Cannot Natural Selection, Struggle for Existence, Variability and Survival of the Fittest, between them, furnish a fifth class of vertebrates? I demand it in the name of Science and of Evolution. We have been human long enough. There we are, ever since the Age of Stone, pinned down to one particular tribe of mammals. Ah, when shall we begin to move on again? Is not this a hope beyond the niggardly aspirations of a purblind democrat?'

'What will the future reality be? I care not; but progress demands a new and conquering organism. For my part, I see no reason why we should not immediately leave the vertebrates. That would be something like a New Departure.'

Here the professor stopped suddenly, becoming aware of the eyes of the Democrat, which were fixed on him with a mixture of contempt and curiosity.

'I don't understand all that,' he said in an exasperating tone. 'It is very elevating, I daresay, but what I want is Universal Suffrage. There is something tangible for you. When we get that, there will be time to think about the future, and indeed, we shall have it in our own hands, and can furnish any kind we like, by Ballot. Ballot is better than Natural Selection. Natural Selection is all very well; but it does not know what we want. We do.'

'Science may be allowed her dreams as well as Theology,' said the Professor rather shamefacedly.

'But you can't bring about a new sub-kingdom, or the kingdom of heaven either, by Act of Parliament.'

'Why not?' returned the Democrat confidently. 'It is only to get a majority; and there you are, you know!'

'My brethren,' said the Bishop, inspired thereto, as the Owl observed, by reflex action, 'Perfection is not of this world!'

'It will be though,' replied the Democrat cheerfully,' before we have done with it. Bless you, Perfection will be upon you before you have time to turn round! That is the beauty of the New Democracy. You have merely to be abolished, and then we get a majority, and then, you know, there we are!'

'What will you do with the minority?' said the Professor grumpily. 'How about Proportional Representation?'

'Oh, the minority?' said the Democrat. 'Well, it will be all right—you will see how right it will be if you give us a majority. We have everybody's interests at heart—deeply at heart!' he added hopefully. 'We first pass a Bill for the manufacture (National Monopoly) of all the cardinal virtues at reduced prices—may be ordered direct from the Company, carriage paid; and then a Bill for the repression of all the Cardinal Crimes, which the Company is also willing to buy up at market value, for exportation—and then, you see, there we are!'

'Where are you?' said the Professor sharply.

'Where?' replied the Democrat, looking puzzled for a moment, but soon recovering himself triumphantly. 'Where? oh, we are there, you know. There we are!'

'Humph!' ejaculated the Professor, turning on his heel. The Bishop turned away also, saying that he had an engagement, and the Democrat followed him, talking very fast and bringing forward arguments. When they reached the gate there was a sad, perplexed look upon the Bishop's face, and finally shaking off his companion by an effort of the will, he entered the nearest churchyard and began to meditate upon mortality. The Democrat, observing in an acrid voice that he had something better to do with mortality than to meditate upon it, turned away reluctantly from the gate, and began to compose a popular ode, which had tremendous success, and of which the rhymes were dubious but the sentiments unimpeachable. Meanwhile, Queen Mab and the Owl, who had followed un-perceived, perched upon the tower of the church, and surveyed the landscape and the Bishop, who, a venerable appropriate figure in his vestments, had turned naturally to the east, and was standing by a marble cross.

'What a pleasant place!' said Mab. 'The dead must rest quietly here.'

'I am not sure that they don't keep up class distinctions,' said the Owl rather misanthropically. 'They would if they could. But, on the whole, I prefer to think that this place is the goal of the Democrat, where Equality reigns indeed. If so, it will be consoling to him, for I am afraid he will never get equality in life. Death, at present, has the monopoly. Mr. Mallock thinks that Social Equality, if it ever came to pass, would be ruinous to the welfare of the nation; but happily we are in no immediate danger of it. Inequality, he says, is the condition of Progress, and if it is only Inequality that is wanted, Progress ought to be making rapid strides. Oh yes, we have Social Inequality enough to carry us on at the rate of a mile a minute. It would be interesting, would it not, to know in what direction we are progressing—though, of course, the Progress is the chief thing—from good to better or from bad to worse?'

'Very interesting,' said Queen Mab. 'I mean to think that we are progressing from good to better. But do you know that you are a very dismal bird? Are things really as bad as you say they are?'

'Perhaps I am cynical,' replied the Owl. 'The kingfisher says so. The kingfisher is an optimist, and he told me I thought it was clever to be cynical; but that was when we had a few words one day. It is from living in a belfry, doubtless, that I have contracted a habit of looking at things on the dark side; but when one has made allowance for the belfry, the world is not so bad after all. Of course animals can't be expected to know what it means; they are not social philosophers, and men say so many different things. Some think the universe is under a dual control, and some that it is altogether a blunder—a clock running down and the key lost I don't know about that, I am only a bird; but if it is a failure, it is a glorious failure. Sometimes, indeed, the theologians call life a howling wilderness; but that is in comparison with the next world. For they are immortal.'

'I am immortal too,' said Queen Mab proudly.

'So you are,' returned the Owl. 'I was forgetting. I'm not,' he added rather doubtfully. 'But I hope you will enjoy it.'

'It is my intention,' said Queen Mab.

The Bishop, from whose face the look of perplexity had departed, leaving only his old serene, benevolent expression, turned as the bell chimed out the hour, and walked slowly towards the gate. The east was growing grey towards sunset, the east that lent the light wherein he lived, for he was a man of a gentle heart. Far off, in the town, a million lamps were beginning to burn. Gas lamps, and electric, and matches that struck only on the box, and not always on that. But the face of the Bishop shone with another radiance, and a lustre not of this world.


'Cucullus nonfacit monachum.'

Queen Mab and the Owl were returning, rather tired, from an excursion, when a procession of the Salvation Army came across them, with drums and banners, and the General at its head, and,—they could hardly believe their eyes,—the Nihilist walking by the side of the General and weeping abundantly. The Salvation Army had brought him to a conviction of his sins, and he was wringing his hands—at least one of them; the other, as if automatically, still carried the black bag. The General, on the contrary, was highly delighted. It was not every day that he converted a Nihilist, and the thought occurred, small blame to him, that the whole history of the incident would sound remarkably well in the 'War Cry.' So it would have done, but for that unfortunate bag.

'You renounce the devil,' said the General confidently, 'and all his ways?'

'I renounce him,' said the Nihilist, still clasping the black bag fervently, in a glow of pious enthusiasm, as if it were a prayer-book.

'Then you are all right,' said the General in an encouraging tone. 'Throw away the black bag, my friend, and shout Hallelujah! Do you feel your sins forgiven?'

'I do! I do!' exclaimed the Nihilist. 'But I daren't throw it away: it would make such a noise in the street. I'll tie it on to the next balloon that comes by empty. They'll assassinate me; but I don't care: I have peace in my heart!'

'That's the right ring,' said the General, not without conquering a feeling of repugnance towards the vicinity of the bag. 'Faith without works, you know. Well, my brother, we must be back to head-quarters. You'll meet us at the Hall to-night—seven sharp.'

'I will,' cried the Nihilist enthusiastically. 'I must go to one of your blessed gatherings before my enemies are on my track. Ah, it's true—the world is vanity. Dynamite is vanity. Torpedoes, nitro-glycerine—they're dust and ashes, broken cisterns! I renounce them all.'

They had reached an important metropolitan railway station, and the General's party, entering, began to take tickets for their return journey. Then, for the first time, the Nihilist noticed that the General also carried a black bag, in shape and size similar to his own, which he placed on the floor of the booking-office as he went to take his ticket. Queen Mab never fully comprehended what happened next. She could only assert that the expression on the face of the Nihilist was one of fervent and devoted piety, as, with an ejaculation of 'Hallelujah!' he absently put down his own bag and took up that of the General. Then he broke out, as in irrepressible enthusiasm, with a verse of 'Dare to be a Daniel!' The General, turning round, looked duly edified at this outburst of ardour, and took up his bag of pamphlets, as he supposed, without any suspicion of the length to which his friend's devotional rapture had carried him. The Nihilist then bade a hurried farewell, observing rather incoherently that the weight of sin was heavy on his conscience, and he was going to submerge it instantly at St. Paul's Pier. With this parting statement he rushed from the station, and Queen Mab, with a sense of misgiving, followed hastily.

A moment after, the city was thrilled by a loud explosion. No one was killed: above a hundred persons were injured, and the cause of the disturbance was traced to a bag left by the General on the platform close to the bookstall. For the next two or three days the station wore a blackened, distracted, and generally intermingled appearance. The big drum suffered the most severely, and shreds of parchment were wafted to a great distance, and gathered up, many of them, by adherents of the Army, as relics of this unfortunate martyr of Progress and of Nihilism. Many of the other instruments were shattered, and so great was the force of the explosion, that a small fragment of a bagpipe was propelled into St. Paul's Cathedral, where it was discovered next day, on the lectern, by the Canon who read the lessons. The General, for some time, was supposed to have disappeared with these instruments; but it was afterwards asserted, on good authority, that he had been seen the same evening on board a vessel bound for America; and the most reasonable conjecture appeared to be, that his native discrimination, at once perceiving the weight of evidence for the prosecution, had led him, during the tumult incident on the explosion, to effect an escape. Certain it is that the Hall at Clapton knew him no more.

Meanwhile, outside the station, amid a medley of blackened officials, disintegrated portions of railway carriages and book-stalls, Salvation Army captains, converted reprobates, policemen, cabmen, and orange vendors, was found a Nihilist! Once a Nihilist, but a Nihilist no longer. With a threepenny hymn-book in one hand and a black bag in the other, filled, not with dangerous explosives, but with a whole arsenal of tracts, 'War Crys,' hymn-books, addresses to swearers and Sabbath-breakers, and other devotional literature, he was calmly spouting:

'Convulsions shake the solid world, My faith shall never yield to fear!'

It may not be amiss, here, to say a few words as regards his subsequent history, as related by the Owl. After that somewhat untoward incident, he was not warmly received into the ranks of the Salvation Army. A coldness sprang up which, though not inexplicable, had the unfortunate effect of causing our Nihilist to renounce connection with that body. The influences which they had brought to bear upon him, however, did not so easily pass away, and it was in the continued glow of pious enthusiasm that he joined a Dissenting Society, in which respectability and fervour were happily combined, and which, accusing the Salvation Army of the fervour without the respectability, regarded the Nihilist as an interesting martyr of unjust suspicion. For two months he remained in this society, and rose to the post of deacon, or what corresponded to deacon in their system; but at the end of that time his native bias proved too strong for him. With singular injudiciousness he brought to the Sunday evening service a hymn-book carefully constructed, including the hymns of the society, and also a small but superlatively powerful block of explosive material, arranged to go off at the moment in which the collection was being taken up. So confident was he of the excellent workmanship of this article that he did not scruple even to write his name in it, and to leave it in the pew, assured that, once exploded, no trace of its ownership would remain. He then left before the collection—a thing which he had been repeatedly known to do before, and which struck the congregation with no alarm. But, from the pew behind, an eye was upon him. It was the eye of the Professor. What was the Professor! doing there? The answer was simple enough. He was writing a book on 'Competition, and the Survival of the Fittest, as displayed in Modern Sectarianism,' and he had come to this! dissenting place of worship in quest; of information. Always ardent in the pursuit of knowledge, he entered the Nihilist's pew the moment that individual left it, and began to scan the leaves of the hymn-book. To his infinite amazement, on turning over page 227, he came upon a cunning piece of machinery, not a musical-box, like those one comes to unexpectedly in the midst of photograph albums, but a "chef d'ouvre" of Donovan's own, smouldering away at a great rate. The time was just up; the collection-boxes were being handed round; instant destruction seemed inevitable, when, to the amazement of the congregation, the Professor, starting up, rushed to the altar, and, with the cool forethought and intrepidity so eminently characteristic of that gifted man, dropped the hymn-book into the large font, then full of water. The ignited wick ceased to smoulder; the peril was averted.

But the Nihilist was sought for in vain by the civil authorities. Glancing back at the threshold of the building, he had caught sight of the Professor, and, as if fascinated to the spot, he had watched him take up the fatal hymn-book. Then, with an instant presentiment of the consequences, he had rushed away. He has since joined the Parsees, and the Democrat, visiting America on business, met him the other day in New York, in the full costume of a Fire-worshipper. His complexion had assumed a more Eastern appearance, and his turban was pulled low down, and partially concealed his features; but the Democrat's keen eyes detected a resemblance, even before the Parsee began to hum, in a singularly rich and flexible tenor voice, a verse from Omar Khayyam:

'Ah Love, could you and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits, and then Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire?'

From the depth of feeling which the Nihilist flung into these words, the Democrat conjectured that he had at last found his true devotional sphere, but he did not venture on renewing the acquaintance, judiciously reflecting that the flowing costume of a Persian magnate was favourable to the secretion of infernal machines of all sorts and sizes.


Knowest thou the House where the members elected Consider the measure apart from the brand, Where Voting by Party is quite unaffected, And solely concerned with the good of the land? Knowest thou the House of Amendments and Clauses, Where Reason may reel but debate never pauses, Where words, the grand note of Humanity, reign (Oh Mueller, Max Mueller, expound us the gain!), Articulate always, if often insane?


'Tis the Temple of Justice, the home of M.P.'s, Our noble, our own representatives these, But endless as sands of the desert, and worse, Are the Bills they discuss and the rules they rehearse.

'What about the Government?' said Queen Mab to the Owl one day. 'Is there anything that it would do to introduce into Polynesia—that is, if the Germans and the missionaries have gone away again? If they haven't—!' and she sighed.

'I think you had better not try,' returned her counsellor, after considering the point. 'You have got a queen already, and I should think the Polynesians are hardly ripe for a representative Government No doubt, in the course of the struggle for existence, they will get into a good many difficulties, but I rather think that a British constitution on the top of them would not improve matters. If you could get up a Witenagemot now!'

'Oh, the gathering of the Wise Men,' said the fairy. 'I remember that. Has not England got a Witenagemot now, then?' she inquired. Her historical notions, during her long residence in Polynesia, had got fearfully mixed up and hazy.

'They don't call it so,' said the Owl gravely. 'I wonder they don't, it would be very suitable.'

'And what is it for?' asked Mab.

'Chiefly to legislate for the Millennium, I think,' replied the Owl. 'They have been legislating now for a considerable time, but it hasn't come yet. It is late. We expect, however, that it will arrive when the New Democracy is in power. There has been a good deal of annoyance with the Established Church lately for not telegraphing for it sooner, and people say that but for the Church's neglect the Millennium would have been here a very long time ago. Therefore, when the New Democracy comes, it intends, as the Democrat was saying, to be mild but firm, and see if the Millennium can't be got to travel faster. And the first mild but firm thing it will do will be to pull down the Established Church of England and level it with the—with other denominations.'

'What is the Millennium?' said Queen Mab.

'Some think one thing and some another,' returned the Owl. 'Perhaps we had better not discuss it; it is so easy to be profane on the subject before you know where you are. But you can hear Parliament legislating for it any day, and see people living up to it under the gangway.'

'I should like to go and see how they do it,' said Mab, 'just for once.'

'Well, so you can,' said the Owl. 'We can start directly if you like. It is the safest place in London now that the session is on, because of the Home Rulers. The dynamiters couldn't very well blow it up with the Irish members in, and it would look too pointed for them all to be away at the time of its being blown up. Make me invisible and we will go.'

So Queen Mab made them both invisible, and they flew away to the House of Commons. There ensconcing themselves on a high beam, they soon forgot the cobwebs in the interest of the debate. It was a remarkable debate, and, what is also remarkable, I can find no traces of it in the Hansard for that year, and it hardly conforms to the latest rules. Sometimes I am inclined to think that the Owl must have invented it or dreamed it, but he says that every word is mathematically correct, and I know him for a most truthful bird, who never told, or at all events never meant to tell, a lie. The debate was on a Bill introduced by Government for the colonisation of the lunar world by emigration of the able-bodied unemployed, and the House was full. All the Home Rulers were present, a fact which gave the Owl a feeling of pleasant security, and members generally were wide awake and very attentive.

In a brief speech of three hours the Prime Minister advocated the principles of the Bill.

'I am not what is vulgarly called a Jingo' (hear, hear!) he said finally, 'and measures of simple aggrandisement, sir, I have never been known to advocate.'

'How about Bechuana?' from Mr. Jacob Bright.

'If the rules of courtesy demanded a reply to that interruption,' said the Prime Minister, 'I would answer,' and he did so for an hour by Shrewsbury clock. He then proceeded:

'But there is a wide difference between annexation necessary to maintain the integrity of our glorious realm, as in the case of Bechuana, and the annexations so often observed in the policy of Continental Powers, springing from a mere greed of empire. We may deplore, indeed, that a preceding Administration has involved us in responsibilities almost beyond the power of statesmen to grapple with successfully; but that is the habit of preceding Administrations, and now that such measures are beyond recall we shall not shirk their consequences. The recent annexation of Mercury by Russia, and the presence in Jupiter of a German emissary, whose ulterior object, though the Press of that country states him to have gone there solely for the benefit of his health, cannot be viewed with too much suspicion, make it incumbent on all parties to unite in speedy measures for the security of our home and colonial interests.' (Ministerial cheers.) 'I am at a loss to conceive,' said a member of the Opposition, rising—and here the irregularity comes in, for which we can only refer readers to the Owl—'what is the drift of the remarks we have just listened to. I am no enemy to annexation, as honourable members know well. We have been annexing ever since we had a rood of land to make annexations to, and it would be a pity to begin to stop now. But as for occupying a place like the Moon, without water, without air, without inhabitants—that, sir, appears to me to be adding folly to madness. Is the Government not content with the proofs of utter imbecility'—(order)—'I will say, of excruciating feebleness, it has given to the public, that it must squander the resources of the nation for the sake of a wild-goose chase like this? As for the German envoy, he has gone to Jupiter for the benefit of a settled climate, and to drink the waters, not to annex a planet which, with the present indifferent means of communication, could be of no service to his country. This is the simple explanation, which anybody but an old owl like the Prime Minister—'

'Order, order!' shouted several voices, and the Speaker, rising gravely, called upon the honourable member to withdraw the epithet of 'old owl' as unparliamentary.

'I withdraw it,' said the member readily. 'I should have said, the gentleman so highly distinguished for youth and sanity, who has plunged us into oceans of disaster at home and abroad, and, not content with making the world we live in too hot to hold us, intends to make all the planets related to us in the Solar System too hot to hold us, as well. He has determined wantonly to attack a sphere with which we have always maintained the most cordial relations, to invade its territories, ravage its villages, and introduce the atrocious benefits of Maxim guns and Gladstone claret to the Selenites.'

'The honourable member observed a moment ago,' said the Prime Minister ironically, 'that there were no Selenites.'

'So I did,' returned the Opposition member unabashed. 'I am not ashamed of that. If the Moon has no inhabitants, you can have no commercial relations with the Moon; if it has, you can only demoralise an unsophisticated population. But I refuse to be held responsible for the opinions I expressed two minutes ago. I am a true Briton, and I absolutely decline to limit myself to a single contradiction, or to a dozen, in the course of a quarter of an hour's harangue.'

'We can quite believe that!' said the Home Secretary blandly. 'But till my honourable friend undertakes the management of affairs—before which may heaven remove me! ("Hear, hear!" from the honourable friend)—it is the business of competent statesmen to preserve relations friendly yet firm with foreign Powers terrestrial and celestial, and we shall do it, sir, if we have to annex the Pleiades (cheers). To illustrate by a single case the urgency of an action which the honourable member, in his own choice and happy phraseology, stigmatised as a wild-goose chase. If a Power which I will not specify is allowed to occupy that interesting orb which it is our hope to link closely with our own destinies in national union—what of the tides? (Cheers.) Sir, it has long been our proud boast that Britannia rules the waves. How much longer, I ask you, would she continue to rule them, if once the sway with which the studies of our childhood have made us all familiar passed into the hands of alien and perhaps hostile authorities? (Prolonged cheers.) Can we doubt that unfriendly arbitration would eventually turn away all the tides from our hitherto favoured island, and would divert the current of the Gulf Stream to Powers with whom our relations are strained, while punctually supplying us with icebergs and a temperature below zero from the Arctic Zone? Once hemmed in (or surrounded) by icebergs, what becomes of your carrying trade? Can we doubt that the trade-winds, too, would be mere playthings in the hands of a lunar colonial Government, inspired in every action by the malice of an unfriendly terrestrial Admiralty, and that, in short, by a terrible reversal of the national motto for which we feel so just a reverence, Britannia would cease to rule the waves, while the waves would rule Britannia?' (Loud and prolonged Ministerial cheers, during which another member of the Opposition rose and inquired the precise policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the Selenites.)

'I am instructed,' said a Cabinet Minister, 'to inform the honourable member that the Selenites have no existence. The step contemplated is therefore a mere peaceful annexation, and war and bloodshed, such as were pathetically alluded to by the honourable member for Putney, are out of the question. I may here bring clearly before the minds of the House the fact that, as the Moon is destitute of any atmosphere, scientific men have unanimously declared the impossibility of animal life upon it.'

'I should like to know,' said a member, rising below the gangway, 'whether the Government has given its attention to one point, namely, that as where there is no atmosphere there can be no inhabitants, where there can be no inhabitants there can be no representatives of rival terrestrial Powers. Unless the forces of a certain Power are capable of living without air, I fail to see that we have anything to apprehend from their occupation of the Moon. Russians, for instance, are not personally dear to me; and I should say that the more of them introduce civilisation to that extinct and uninhabitable sphere the better; but I utterly decline to go there myself, or to vote for sending even our convicts there, much less our able-bodied unemployed. I should like this little difficulty explained, for I confess that, to an unstatesmanlike mind, this debate seems to be verging on nonsense.' 'I had not thought it necessary, at this early stage of the debate,' observed the Prime Minister plaintively, 'to remind the House that no such difficulty as that present to the mind of the honourable member really exists. Has my honourable friend below the gangway never heard of a mental or a moral atmosphere? Is it not one which inevitably surrounds us, in the incandescent Soudan or in the chill abode of departed Selenites? What he regards as an insuperable drawback only furnishes me with another reason for urging the Bill upon you. Would it not be a disgrace to the British flag, ever the friend of civilisation and of virtue, to allow a perverted moral atmosphere to be introduced into an orb which has done so much for us in the way of tidal action, of artistic enjoyment, and, I will say, of amatory sentiment—(cheers)—as our satellite? Now what kind of moral atmosphere, I would ask, surrounds the average Russian? Of a mental atmosphere I will not speak—suffice it to say that that also is immeasurably inferior; but is it fitting for a nation like ours, in the van of progress, to suffer a moral atmosphere degraded, pernicious, and suffocating to circulate in regions to which we could furnish one so infinitely more salubrious?' (Prolonged Ministerial cheers.)


'The drivelling of politicians!' Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

It is said that the unexpected always happens, and therefore one may deplore without surprise the fact that schemes set on foot by a charitable government to relieve the necessities of their starving fellow-countrymen should frequently have a diametrically opposite effect. Into the Ministerial cheers that followed the Premier's last statement broke a sound outside the House, a sound as of much wailing, the howling of innumerable newsboys, the cries of 'Woe, woe!' the dirge of an empire qui s'en va! With those now familiar noises was mingled, but at a greater distance, a strain of martial music.

'What is this?' said the Prime Minister through the increasing tumult, with a vague idea of legions of the able-bodied unemployed coming in person to state their views on the debate. 'A riot?'

'No,' shouted the member below the gangway, promptly divining, by a prophetic instinct, the real nature of the case. 'It is a Revolution.'

'Heavens!' said the leader of the Opposition helplessly. 'I hope not. I had no idea!'

It was too true. The Army was advancing to the House—the broken-down, ragged, wasted remnant of an Army of Heroes. Sent forth, too late, to 'smash' Prester John, and relieve the Equator, they had all but overcome the Desert, and had only been defeated by space. Too many of them lay like the vanished legions of Cambyses, swathed by the sand and lulled by the music of the night wind. The remnant had returned of their own motion. It was an impressive spectacle, and the British public, finding no more appropriate action, cheered vociferously, while the newsboys, hundreds of them, continued to howl one against another. For the newspapers had got wind of Something, and it only remained for them to find out what the Something was. At present they had confused the facts—an accident which will happen sometimes with the best-regulated newspapers. But all of them had made shots at the truth, more or less un-veracious. 'The Banner' asserted that Sir Charles Dilke and the Democrat, arrayed in costumes of the beginning of the seventeenth century for effect, were parading the cellars under the House of Lords, after the manner of Guy Fawkes, laying trains of gunpowder and singing the well-known lines about the fifth of November. The 'Daily Pulpit,' on the other hand, declared that Lord Randolph Church-hill had set the Thames on fire with native genius and a lighted fusee, which, on the face of it, seemed so extremely probable, that all of the British public that was not cheering the Army's arrival rushed to the bridges to investigate the river. Delegates from the 'Holywell Street Gazette,' in the meantime, were madly interviewing everything and everybody with such celerity that the British public probably arrived at the truth of matters somewhere about that journal's fifth edition. Up to this time, unfortunately, the 'Gazette' had only been able to contradict flatly all the statements of all its contemporaries in language, to say the least of it, most emphatic. But at a national crisis one is nothing if not emphatic. And this was a national crisis. And while the crowd was rushing and swaying hither and thither, and the light-fingered brigade was taking advantage of the crowd's absent-mindedness to borrow its watches and pocket-handkerchiefs, the General, just returned from the Desert, with the demeanour of a second Cromwell, was marching on the House of Commons. In the House itself reigned confusion much worse confounded. There was no time for lengthy recrimination, for in another moment the General, alone, and with a mien of indignant resolution that struck a chill to the hearts of the most irrepressible members, was striding boldly up to the table. The Speaker looked at the Serjeant-at-Arms, and the Serjeant-at-Arms looked at the Speaker, but neither of them said a word. This was worse than Mr. Bradlaugh at his worst.

'Behold in this handful of broken and wasted men, returned, not by your order, but by mine, to their native shore,' exclaimed the General in a voice of stern thunder that reverberated through the building, 'the result of your imbecile, idiotic, ignominious, incomprehensible policy and of your absurd "Intelligence" and "Righteousness!" Call yourselves a Parliament? I tell you, your Constitution is rotten to the core. Do you think we are to shed our blood for you, to perish of famine, sword and pestilence, while you sit here, talking the most delirious nonsense that ever was talked since the Confusion of Tongues? You never have anything fresh to say; but there you are, and nothing stops you. If it was the Day of Judgment you would go on moving resolutions; and you have the insolence to maunder over your gallant band of heroes, sacrificed to a whim of party rancour or a struggle for place. We put you here to maintain law and order, to give justice to your fellow-countrymen, and you sit listening to your own melodious voices raving of the welfare of the nation, of Political Economy, Budgets, and Ballots; but so much as the meaning of true justice the bulk of you never guess. You, you turn Parliament into a club, and your ambition is satisfied by invitations to dinner. But we have borne enough, and marched enough; now you must march. We have trudged at your bidding thousands of weary miles, for an end you made impossible by your word-splitting cowardice. Your turn has come. The troops are in readiness; we are drilling the unemployed in event of civil war, and you had better look out. "Obey me,"' added the General, insensibly sliding into a popular quotation, '"and my nature's ile: disobey me, and it's still ile, but it's ile of vitriol."'

For the most part honourable members sat stunned and silent; but from the more rebellious came a few cries of 'Order!' 'Turn him out!' and the Speaker slowly rose. 'I would remind the gallant General of the Mutiny Act,' he said.

'An obsolete restriction of free contract,' said the General. He stamped his foot, and in a second a file of soldiers had appeared.

'Take away that bauble!' exclaimed the General to his aide-decamp in a severe and terrible tone, as he pointed to the mace. But as he gazed upon the venerable emblem his frown melted, and his eyes grew dim. For one instant the victorious warrior, the inexorable avenger of his country's wrongs, was the dreamy worshipper of Blue China, the aesthetic adorer of marquetry, and Chippendale.

'Take away that bauble,' he repeated in a low voice of ineffable sweetness, 'and deposit it in the upper compartment of my bureau. You know the spot. The bauble has a Chippendale feeling about it.'

Then his fortitude returned; he was once more the dauntless General, the saviour of society.

'A passing weakness,' he said, smiling sadly. '"Richard's himself again!"'

Into the lull that followed his words fell the familiar accents of the future Dictator, the Member for Woodstock, as he said in a cool aside to Mr. Goschen:

'The Hour has come.'

And Mr. Goschen, with his usual calm impartiality, replied:

'Yes, Randolph, and the Man!'

Through all the uproar Queen Mab and the Owl had looked on with breathless interest; but now, at a reiterated mandate from the General, the members were compelled to disperse, some furious, some alarmed, and all discomfited. There only remained one policeman, the General, and the Democrat to fight it out between themselves, and decide whether a European war would be advisable, or whether they should disband the army and devote themselves to Home Reform. But by this time Queen Mab and the Owl had had enough, for the din which still continued outside the windows was giving them neuralgia. They therefore left the House and flew away westward over the crowd, where differences of opinion, expressed in the British public's own graceful and forcible manner, had become the order of the day. They met Mr. Bradlaugh at a little distance, hurrying to the scene of combat with the air of 'Under which king, Bezonian?' and if the locality had not been so extremely noisy they could not have but turned back to see the fun. The Prime Minister had unaccountably (though not unexpectedly) disappeared from the arena, and his adherents were under the impression that he had been treacherously stowed away in the Tower or some subterranean dungeon. The fact was, that, as eloquence could have no effect on the House in its present state of delirium, the temptation to study Hittite inscriptions in their native home became too strong for him, and he was on his peaceful way to the shores of the Orontes and the ruins of Megiddo.

Shortly after, the Owl and the Fairy met the Bishop, who had heard of the catastrophe, and was torn by conflicting emotions; personal anxiety about his prospects being overclouded by the fear that the new Government might proceed to pass the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill immediately. 'And a man who marries his Deceased Wife's Sister,' he exclaimed pathetically to the air, 'may very soon end in the swamps of Rationalism!' Only Queen Mab and the Owl heard the words as they flew overhead. Next they met Mr. Matthew Arnold, smiling a happy smile, and concocting a 'childlike and bland' article for the 'Nineteenth Century' on the present crisis. So they flew on westward till, gaining a freer and fresher neighbourhood, they came upon a wide green lawn, and on the lawn three old acquaintances, the Poet, the Palaeonto-theologist, and—wholly altered from the pale and dreamy boy of their recollection—Walter, the Professor's child.

The Professor was a man given to promptitude of speech and action, and, once awakened to the serious state of Walter's health, physical and mental, he had resolved, at whatever discomfort to himself, to check the boy's undue mental precocity and substitute for it mere physical vigour. He was content with no half-measures, and he sent the lad at once to a preparatory school for Eton. At Eton he knew Walter's brain would have a rest. The effect was miraculous. The boy, whom the Palaeonto-theologist had rashly invited to spend a holiday at his home, was a different creature. He had become sturdy and robust; he had forgotten his new religion of Dala, with his science primers, and could no more have composed a hymn to a fairy than he could have endured a false quantity. He had forgotten the Goona stones; he had forgotten the dates of the Kings of England. He said that bogies were all bosh; he said that Cardinal Wolsey was imprisoned in the Tower for thirteen years and wrote 'Robinson Crusoe' there, and that the Nile rose in Mungo Park. He had forgotten his father's instructions, and regarded birds, not as products of Evolution, but as things suitable to shy stones at, and to be treated with contempt, and catapults. He was incorrigible at Euclid, but he was excellent at cricket, and on this occasion he had fagged the Poet and the Palaeonto-theologist to bowl to and field out for him. It was beyond human nature to expect them to enjoy it. The Poet was in the midst of a sublime stanza when he was peremptorily ordered to come and bowl, and he went dreamily and reluctantly, to be greeted with a further mandate of 'Look sharp there!' The Palaeonto-theologist was deep in an exhaustive inventory of the animals in Noah's Ark, and was discussing the probability of the Mammoth's having been one of its residents. If so, there came the knotty point of how Noah contrived to stow him and the Megatherium in comfortably, and whether they never wanted to do away with the other animals, in which case the Patriarch must have had stirring times. The Palaeonto-theologist was just about to begin the grand chain of evidence in which he proves conclusively, from careful study of the original Hebrew manuscripts, and from examination of the soil of Mount Ararat, whose fossils are abraded to this day where the Ark rested on them, that the dimensions of the Ark were anything but what they are said to be, when Walter ordered him to come and field. There was no help for it; he went and fielded; 'he ran, he fell, he fielded well.'

While he and the Poet were thus occupied, Mab and the Owl rested on a great horse-chestnut and watched the game, and Mab, under the impression that the boy, at sight of her, would be filled with wonder and delight, slipped off her invisible cloak. For some time he was too much absorbed in 'crumping the Poet's slows,' as he said, to notice her; but at last, when the Poet and the Palaeonto-theologist were utterly 'collared' (as Walter put it) and exhausted, and the perspiration stood thick on their intellectual foreheads, the advent of refreshments gained them a momentary respite. Walter attacked the fruit and cakes so vigorously that Queen Mab grew impatient, and descended to a lower branch of the huge tree, where at last the boy, raising his eyes, beheld her.

'Hi!' he cried, rushing indiscriminately at his companions. 'Get me a catapult, lower boy, I say! Stones, peashooter, anything. Look alive! Here goes!'

And he assailed the astonished Mab with a cricket-ball, and next 'it came to pleats,' as Mrs. Major O'Dowd said; and then he hurled a jampot and a fruit-knife. Fortunately for the fairy, who at the moment was too much astonished to move, his aim was rendered inaccurate by his excitement, and the missiles flew wide. The unhappy fags had started up, and the Poet, looking round bewildered, with a volley of desperate expletives un-uttered in his soul, caught sight of Mab.

'Celestial being!' he exclaimed rapturously. 'I again behold thee. Bright inmate! How did it run?'

'Bother your verses!' cried the boy with utter contempt. 'Shy at it, you duffer! Oh, what a Butterfly! Get her into the teapot. Blockhead!'

This last disdainfully to himself, for he had hurled the ancient and valuable teapot at Mab, who was flying to a higher branch, and the teapot had missed.

'Rash boy!' cried the Palaeonto-theologist, shaking him angrily, 'you have broken my grandfather's teapot.'

'Run for the butterfly-net,' returned the boy unabashed. 'By George, I'll give you the jolliest licking!'

'Hi, there she goes! Seize her!' he shouted distractedly, and the unlucky Palaeonto-theologist rushed after a butterfly-net, while Queen Mab, in unutterable indignation, rose slowly into the air, followed by the bewildered Owl, who had not had time to explain the boy's 'new departure' to himself on scientific principles. It was not till they were fully half a mile from the ill-starred spot that the Owl opened his beak to murmur, with an air of long-suffering melancholy but scientific delight, the word—


But Queen Mab, after this crowning insult, was fain to depart from Britain and renounce the higher civilisation. In the Councils of the New Democracy she had no place. Church and State abjured her: the rising generation needed no fairies, but was content with football and cricket, 'Treasure Island,' and the Latin Grammar. Education, Philosophy, and the Philistines had made of the island she once loved well a wilderness wherein no fairy might henceforth furl its wings.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse