Imaginotions/Chapter 5



MY rudeness, as usual, was entirely unintentional; I meant to have given him my undivided attention. But the long roll of the steamer, the soft ocean breeze, and the flapping wings of the sea-gulls must have overpowered me. At all events, I slept, and heard only the sequel.

The steamer ran between Calcutta and Liverpool, and was on her return voyage. Among the passengers was Mr. Chubaiboy Mudjahoy, supposed to be an East Indian gentleman from the interior. Attracted by his quiet and intellectual face, I had become well acquainted with him, and our acquaintance had grown, during the long voyage, almost to intimacy. Upon the day of which I am speaking we had been much together. He grew communicative, and at last proposed to tell me the story of his life.

To my surprise, he said that the impression that he was an East Indian was without foundation in fact; that he came from Tibet, from an unknown district of that unexplored region.

If I remember correctly, he related a marvelous story of having entered into competition for the hand of a neighboring princess. This part, so far as I recall it, was quite in the old-fashioned fairy-tale style; and the tests required of the candidates were certainly astounding. One I remember vaguely was to bring the favorite uncut pigeon's-blood ruby from the Rajah of Camaraputta, a cruel Indian magnate.

Here it was, however, that the sea began to gently roll, the breeze to soothingly blow, and the sea-gulls to drowsily flap their limber wings. I slept some time, for when, thoroughly refreshed, I blinked lazily to waking, all I heard was:

"And so I married the Princess!"

I was sorry to have lost the story, for it was, no doubt, just the sort I like. But I did not dare to confess my doze, so I said as brightly as I could:

"And lived happily ever after!"

Mudjahoy moved uneasily, and replied:

"Well, hardly. Of course I expected to; but then, you know that real life is often different from what the kindly story-tellers would have it. No; I can't say we lived happily ever after. Nor was it Dorema's fault. I have met a number of princesses, and I really cannot see that my Dorema has any superiors."

"How then do you explain it?" I asked. (Of course I had to be a little cautious in my questions, for fear of bringing up references to points I had missed during my nap.)

"I 'll tell you the story, if you have not heard too much already?"

"Oh, no!" I replied. "Not at all too much. Pray go on."

So Mudjahoy told me the second part. I have always regretted that I heard only this sequel. I tell it in his words:

You can see that after having accomplished such a series of tasks I was sure to be respected and envied at court. We passed the honeymoon in the mountains, and as we took but a small retinue, several thousands, Dorema often spoke of the strange solitude as a delicious rest after the bustle and turmoil of court life.

For my part, even in my happiness with Dorema,—she was really charming!—I found the retinue something of a bore. At home, I had never been attended by more than three or four servants, while here I had to find employment and use for a hundred times as many. It was really one of the minor nuisances of my new dignity.

If the old king had not abdicated, it would have been easier; but now all his servants were added to the new ones purchased or given as wedding-presents to me.

It was like this:

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If I wished to shave in the morning in the old days, I would heat some water, strop my razor and whip up some lather, and shave away; but as a king it was very different. As a king, I had first to clap my hands. Enter a small boy in white linen. To him I intimated my desire to see one of the high officials. High official arrives, and I say: "We wish to shave our effulgent self." High official says: "Oh, very good, Most Particularly Noble Cousin of the Dog-star," and so on. Then he disappears and sends the Chamberlain to tell the Seneschal to tell the Chief Barber that his Imperial Master wishes to be shaved. Not to weary you, after some more, many more, wholly unnecessary and irritating ceremonies, behold me ready to be shaved!

I am extended at length in a chair, being lathered by the First Latherer in Waiting, while the Bowl-holder or one of his assistants stands by with the lathering mug, and is supported by the Brush- Receiver. The Chief Barber sits in state, fanned by two slaves, while the Razor-Stropper Extraordinary (a very powerful and much courted personage, as expert ones are rare) is getting the razor to an edge. He also is fanned by a fan-bearer or two. The Lord-High-Wielder of the Towel, and the Bay-Rum Custodian, also with attendants, are near, and in the anteroom I hear a confused murmur of voices, showing that the Court Surgeon and Court-Plaster-Bearer are, with their retinues, within call.

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It was not so much the crowd of people that annoyed me, but then it took so long to be shaved. We would begin at, say, ten o'clock, they would n't hear of my getting up earlier!—and frequently when the last bit of lather was removed from my royal ear, it would be half-past one in the afternoon!

I give this only as a sample part of my day. It is vividly recalled because it was one of the earliest of the inconveniences attaching to my newly acquired royalty. Of course it is only a specimen brick—there were dozens of a similar clay.

It was only after I returned to the capital and took up my residence in the palace, that I felt sufficiently at home to make an objection.

One memorable day, a Thursday, I betook myself to my dressing-room and clapped my hands thrice. The linen-wrapper boy entered. I hated the sight of him already.

"Bring us a new turban," I said shortly.

"O Brother-in-Law of the Pleiades—" said the boy in a trembling tone.

"Speak up, copper-colored child," I answered a little impatiently. "What are you afraid of?"

"O your Imperial Highestness of the Solar System, your rays need clipping!" replied the boy violently making salaams.

"I was shaved yesterday," I said.

"But—" began the boy.

"By the royal Palanquin!" I broke out; "send in the Master of Ceremonies!" The boy vanished, and soon with a sound of bugles, shawms, and tubas (several out of tune, too), the Master of Ceremonies, and his retinue, came in. This took about half an hour. When they were all settled I said:

"O Master of Ceremonies and—and such things" (I forgot the proper titles for a moment), "we would hold converse with thee apart, as it were."

Again the wind instruments were wound, the brass band and retinue took its devious course along the corridors, and the music and marching gradually died away. This took about twenty minutes.

"Now that we are alone," said I to the Master of Ceremonies, "let's have a reasonable talk."

"O Nephew of—!" he began.

"Never mind the astronomy," I broke in, "but proceed to business."

"Yes, Sire," he answered in a terrible fright, no doubt expecting the bowstring.

"Don't be a fool!" said I. "I'm not going to hurt you. Stand up and have some style about you!"

So he did, somewhat reassured.

"Now," I said, "I'm tired of all this fuss. Bring me a razor, and I 'll shave myself."

"But, your Serene Imperialness—"

"See here!" I said positively; "there's not a hearer around. Just drop the titles and call me Mudjahoy or I 'll have you beheaded!"

"Well, Mudjahoy," said the Master of Ceremonies, easily, "I'm afraid that it can't be done!"

"Can't be done? Am I the Emperor of this place, or—what am I?"

"Why, of course, Mudjahoy, you 're Emperor, and all that," he answered, with an ease of manner that surprised me; "but then there are a great many things to be considered."

"Well, go on," said I; "but I'd like to have this thing settled one way or the other. Speak freely."

"It's just this way," said the Master of Ceremonies; "what would you do with the Chief Barber?"

"Do with the Chief Barber? Why, nothing. He could do with himself."

"But his salary is enormous."

"Cut it down."

"But he is a very influential man; he has dependent upon him, directly or indirectly, about twenty thousand men, and these men, with their families, are a powerful faction. Then, too, the officials whose duties are similar—such as the First Turban-Twister, the Sandal-Strapper and his understrappers, and so on—would make common cause with him. You see?"

"Yes, I see," I said thoughtfully; "but in the same way you could justify any foolishness whatever. You would prevent all reforms."

"Oh, no!" said the Master of Ceremonies; "oh, no, Mudjahoy. Not reforms, but revolutions. You can very easily institute reforms; but you must go slowly."

"But," I objected, "you as the official in charge of ceremonies may well be prejudiced. Let us have the Grand Vizir summoned."

"That will take an hour, at least," answered the Master of Ceremonies, who really seemed a very nice fellow when you knew him well.

"Well, you slip out and get him on the sly," I answered with an unofficial wink.

"All right, Mudjahoy," he said, and out he went whistling a popular air.

While he was gone it occurred to me that I was now a married man, and that Dorema was certainly entitled to know of the step which I was contemplating. So, by the aid of four or five assistants, I caused her to be summoned.

She arrived a moment before the Grand Vizir made his appearance.

"I have called you, my dear Mrs. Mudjahoy—" I began, but she interrupted me.

"You must n't call me that!" she said, looking shocked.

"Why not?" I asked.

"You must say, 'my Imperial Consort," she replied, taking a seat upon a divan.

"Oh, no. Mrs. Mudjahoy is a pet name," I explained. She was pacified, and I proceeded: "I have called you, Mrs. Mudjahoy, to be present at the beginning of a Great Reform. I am about to make our life simpler, more enjoyable, and less burdensome in every way."

"Do you find it burdensome so soon?" she asked reproachfully, turning away her lovely head and trying to coax out a sob.

I saw I had made a mistake. "Not at all," I answered hurriedly; "but—here comes the Grand Vizir; you listen attentively, and you will soon understand it all."

The Grand Vizir entered. He seemed ill at ease, and I saw that he had a simitar under his caftan.

"What does the Celestial Orb require of the humblest of his slaves?" said the Grand Vizir, prostrating himself.

"Oh, get up!" I said wearily. Then I asked the Master of Ceremonies to explain how the interview was to be conducted. So while Dorema and I exchanged a few tender nothings about the weather, the Master of Ceremonies explained to the Grand Vizir the nature of the conversation I had held with him that morning. The Grand Vizir seemed much impressed. I saw him tap his forehead inquisitively and feel for his simitar. But the Master of Ceremonies soon reassured him. Then they turned to me.

"See here, Mudjahoy, old man—" began the Vizir, with a refreshing absence of conventionality. Dorema looked horrified. She was about to clap her hands, undoubtedly to order the Vizir's instant execution, but I restrained her.

"Vizir," I said, "I do not care for ceremony, but civility is a sine quâ non" (That staggered him; he was weak on Latin.) "So drop the titles, but proceed carefully. Now go on."

He went on: "Mudjahoy, sire, I have been told of your contemplated reforms, and I am bound to tell you, as an honest adviser, that they will not work. You propose to dismiss the Chief Barber?"

"I do," said I firmly.

"And, I suppose, the Turban-Twister, and so on?"


"And to live in a simple and businesslike way?"

"I do," I replied.

"Well," said he, spinning his turban upon his forefinger and looking at it with one eye closed, "it will never do in the world—never! There was formerly an autocrat who tried to run this government on business principles, and—" he paused and sighed.

"Where is he?" I asked.

"The Garahoogly contains all that is mortal of him,—in a sack!" said the Grand Vizir meaningly.

Dorema clung to me and looked at my face imploringly.

"No matter," I said determinedly; "I shall carry out these reforms."

"You will fail," said the Master of Ceremonies, and the Grand Vizir nodded solemnly.

"So be it!" I said. "Kismet. I shall therefore request you, Grand Vizir, to give public notice of the abolition of all useless offices, of which I will give you a list after dinner."

"But consider!" said Dorema, in a low, frightened tone.

"Would you rather be the Imperial Consort Dorema, Queen and Empress of King Chubaiboy the First," I asked her proudly, "and have to be at the beck and call of all these palace nuisances, or would you rather be my own Mrs. Mudjahoy, free to do as you please?"

For a moment she hesitated, and I trembled. But, brightening up, she asked: "And travel incog.?"

"Certainly," I answered; "nay, more: live incog, wherever we choose!"

"I'm for Reform and Mrs. Mudjahoy," replied my lovely bride.

The Vizir and Master of Ceremonies remained respectfully silent during our interview. Then the Vizir asked me: "Do you intend to abolish the Royal White Elephant?"

"Precisely," I answered. "That albino sinecure will be the first to go on the list."

"Is your life insured?" asked the Master of Ceremonies politely but impressively.

"No," I said. Dorema sighed. "But," said I, "you will see that the whole people will hail me as their deliverer."

"We shall see," said the Vizir; but I did n't like the inflections he chose.

Declaring the interview at an end, I dismissed my ministers, said farewell to my brave queen, and gave the rest of the day to the preparation of the List. It was comprehensive and complete.

"There!" said I, as I laid down my reed pen and corked the ink-horn. "To-morrow will look upon an enfranchised people!"

But the Grand Vizir was a man of considerable wisdom. We were awakened the next morning by a confused sound of murmuring beneath the palace windows. I rose and threw open the flowered damask curtains.

The whole courtyard was filled with a tumultuous mob armed with an assortment of well-chosen weapons. They carried banners, hastily made but effective, upon which I read at a glance a few sentences like these:

"Down with the Destroyer of our Homes!"

"Chubaiboy to the Garahoogly!"

"We must have our White Elephant!"

"The Chief Barber or Death!"

"Turban-Twister Terrors!" and so on. Before I could read more, I saw the Chief Barber on the back of the White Elephant at the head of the mob. He was a Moor.

"O Chubaiboy!" said he, wielding a bright razor so that he reflected the rays of the morning sun into my eyes. "Will you abdicate, or shall it be the sack and the gently flowing Garahoogly?"

"Where is the Grand Vizir?" I said, after a moment's hesitation.

"Here, your Majesty," answered that official. I saw he was in command of the right wing of the mob. He looked very well, too.

"And the Master of Ceremonies?"

"Here, your Highness," was the answer. He apparently led the left wing.

"And are you both against me?' I asked.

"We are!" they answered respectfully, but with considerable decision.

"And where are my adherents?" I shouted.

"Here!" said a sweet voice at my side. It was Dorema.

"Here!" said another soft voice. It was the boy in starched linen. I almost liked him at that moment.

"Any others?"

Then there followed a silence so vast that I could hear a fly buzzing derisively on the window-pane above me.

"And you are not in harmony with the Administration?" I asked the mob.

"No!" It was unanimous.

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"Very well," I said. "Then I resign, of course. Let me thank you, my late subjects, for your prompt and decisive interest in public affairs. I had meant to carry out some much-needed reforms, and I had some thoughts that they would fill a long-felt want. Thanking you for this early serenade, and with the highest respects for you all and for all your families, from myself and from Mrs. Mudjahoy, I abdicate. Good-by!"

There were some cheers, I think from Dorema and the linen-coated boy. Then the mob cheered for the Chief Barber, and I saw that my successor was already chosen.

We left that afternoon, and purely as a matter of humanity took the linen-coated boy with us; for I felt sure that he would not be popular nor long-lived if he should remain at home. He is a little afraid of me, but is useful.

We made our way to Calcutta, and took the steamer for Liverpool.

At this moment Mr. Mudjahoy was interrupted. His graceful wife came to his chair and touched him on the shoulder.

"Come," she said. "It is chilly on deck."

"Certainly," answered Mudjahoy, rising; "but let me first present my friend to you."

I was presented, and soon after said:

"Mr. Mudjahoy disbelieves the fairy tales."

"I do not understand?" said Mrs. Mudjahoy.

"He thinks that the hero and princess are not always 'happy ever after,'" I said.

"Why,—but they are!" said Mrs. Mudjahoy. "Are n't they, Chubaiboy?"

"On reflection, I think they are!" said he.

Then they bade me good-night.