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Chapter 25

A, I, AND O


The old Begum went by the euphonious appellation of Ohiro-Moldona-
Fivona; a name, from its length, deemed highly genteel; though scandal
averred, that it was nothing more than her real name transposed; the
appellation by which she had been formerly known, signifying a
"Getterup-of-Fine-Tappa." But as this would have let out an ancient
secret, it was thought wise to disguise it.

Her daughters respectively reveled in the pretty diminutives of A, I,
and O; which, from their brevity, comical to tell, were considered
equally genteel with the dame's.

The habiliments of the three Vowels must not he omitted. Each damsel
garrisoned an ample, circular farthingale of canes, serving as the
frame-work, whereon to display a gayly dyed robe. Perhaps their charms
intrenched themselves in these impregnable petticoats, as feeble
armies fly to fortresses, to hide their weakness, and better resist an
onset.

But polite and politic it is, to propitiate your hostess. So seating
himself by the Begum, Taji led off with earnest inquiries after her
welfare. But the Begum was one of those, who relieve the diffident
from the embarrassment of talking; all by themselves carrying on
conversation for two. Hence, no wonder that my Lady was esteemed
invaluable at all assemblies in the groves of Pimminee; contributing
so largely to that incessant din, which is held the best test of the
enjoyment of the company, as making them deaf to the general nonsense,
otherwise audible.

Learning that Taji had been making the tour of certain islands in
Mardi, the Begum was surprised that he could have thus hazarded his
life among the barbarians of the East. She desired to know whether his
constitution was not impaired by inhaling the unrefined atmosphere of
those remote and barbarous regions. For her part, the mere thought of
it made her faint in her innermost citadel; nor went she ever abroad
with the wind at East, dreading the contagion which might lurk in the
air.

Upon accosting the three damsels, Taji very soon discovered that the
tongue which had languished in the presence of the Begum, was now
called into active requisition, to entertain the Polysyllables, her
daughters. So assiduously were they occupied in silent endeavors to
look sentimental and pretty, that it proved no easy task to sustain
with them an ordinary chat. In this dilemma, Taji diffused not his
remarks among all three; but discreetly centered them upon O. Thinking
she might be curious concerning the sun, he made some remote allusion
to that luminary as the place of his nativity. Upon which, O inquired
where that country was, of which mention was made.

"Some distance from here; in the air above; the sun that gives light
to Pimminee, and Mardi at large."

She replied, that if that were the case, she had never beheld it; for
such was the construction of her farthingale, that her head could not
be thrown back, without impairing its set. Wherefore, she had always
abstained from astronomical investigations.

Hereupon, rude Mohi laughed out. And that lucky laugh happily relieved
Taji from all further necessity of entertaining the Vowels. For at so
vulgar, and in Pimminee, so unwonted a sound, as a genuine laugh, the
three startled nymphs fainted away in a row, their round farthingales
falling over upon each other, like a file of empty tierces. But they
presently revived.

Meanwhile, without stirring from their mats, the polite young bucks in
the aigulettes did nothing but hold semi-transparent leaves to their
eyes, by the stems; which leaves they directed downward, toward the
disordered hems of the farthingales; in wait, perhaps, for the
revelation of an ankle, and its accompaniments. What the precise use
of these leaves could have been, it would be hard to say, especially
as the observers invariably peeped over and under them.

The calamity of the Vowels was soon followed by the breaking up of the
party; when, evening coming on, and feeling much wearied with the
labor of seeing company in Pimminee, we retired to our mats; there
finding that repose which ever awaits the fatigued.

Herman Melville