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Chapter 34

Of The Isle Of Diranda

In good time the shores of Diranda were in sight. And, introductory to
landing, Braid-Beard proceeded to give us some little account of the
island, and its rulers.

As previously hinted, those very magnificent and illustrious lord
seigniors, the lord seigniors Hello and Piko, who between them divided
Diranda, delighted in all manner of public games, especially warlike
ones; which last were celebrated so frequently, and were so fatal in
their results, that, not-withstanding the multiplicity of nuptials
taking place in the isle, its population remained in equilibrio. But,
strange to relate, this was the very object which the lord seigniors
had in view; the very object they sought to compass, by instituting
their games. Though, for the most part, they wisely kept the secret
locked up.

But to tell how the lord seigniors Hello and Piko came to join hands
in this matter.

Diranda had been amicably divided between them ever since the day they
were crowned; one reigning king in the East, the other in the West.
But King Piko had been long harassed with the thought, that the
unobstructed and indefinite increase of his browsing subjects might
eventually denude of herbage his portion of the island. Posterity,
thought he, is marshaling her generations in squadrons, brigades, and
battalions, and ere long will be down upon my devoted empire. Lo! her
locust cavalry darken the skies; her light-troop pismires cover the
earth. Alas! my son and successor, thou wilt inhale choke-damp for
air, and have not a private corner to say thy prayers.

By a sort of arithmetical progression, the probability, nay, the
certainty of these results, if not in some way averted, was proved to
King Piko; and he was furthermore admonished, that war--war to the
haft with King Hello--was the only cure for so menacing an evil.

But so it was, that King Piko, at peace with King Hello, and well
content with, the tranquillity of the times, little relished the idea
of picking a quarrel with his neighbor, and running its risks, in
order to phlebotomize his redundant population.

"Patience, most illustrious seignior," said another of his sagacious
Ahithophels, "and haply a pestilence may decimate the people."

But no pestilence came. And in every direction the young men and
maidens were recklessly rushing into wedlock; and so salubrious the
climate, that the old men stuck to the outside of the turf, and
refused to go under.

At last some Machiavel of a philosopher suggested, that peradventure
the object of war might be answered without going to war; that
peradventure King Hello might be brought to acquiesce in an
arrangement, whereby the men of Diranda might be induced to kill off
one another voluntarily, in a peaceable manner, without troubling
their rulers. And to this end, the games before mentioned were

"Egad! my wise ones, you have hit it," cried Piko; "but will Hello say

"Try him, most illustrious seignior," said Machiavel.

So to Hello went embassadors ordinary and extraordinary, and ministers
plenipotentiary and peculiar; and anxiously King Piko awaited their

The mission was crowned with success.

Said King Hello to the ministers, in confidence:--"The very thing,
Dons, the very thing I have wanted. My people are increasing too fast.
They keep up the succession too well. Tell your illustrious master
it's a bargain. The games! the games! by all means."

So, throughout the island, by proclamation, they were forthwith
established; succeeding to a charm.

And the lord seigniors, Hello and Piko, finding their interests the
same, came together like bride and bridegroom; lived in the same
palace; dined off the same cloth; cut from the same bread-fruit; drank
from the same calabash; wore each other's crowns; and often locking
arms with a charming frankness, paced up and down in their dominions,
discussing the prospect of the next harvest of heads.

In his old-fashioned way, having related all this, with many other
particulars, Mohi was interrupted by Babbalanja, who inquired how the
people of Diranda relished the games, and how they fancied being
coolly thinned out in that manner.

To which in substance the chronicler replied, that of the true object
of the games, they had not the faintest conception; but hammered away
at each other, and fought and died together, like jolly good fellows.

"Right again, immortal old Bardianna!" cried Babbalanja.

"And what has the sage to the point this time?" asked Media.

"Why, my lord, in his chapter on "Cracked Crowns," Bardianna, after
many profound ponderings, thus concludes: In this cracked sphere we
live in, then, cracked skulls would seem the inevitable allotments of
many. Nor will the splintering thereof cease, till this pugnacious
animal we treat of be deprived of his natural maces: videlicet, his
arms. And right well doth man love to bruise and batter all occiputs
in his vicinity."

"Seems to me, our old friend must have been on his stilts that time,"
interrupted Mohi.

"No, Braid-Beard. But by way of apologizing for the unusual rigidity
of his style in that chapter, he says in a note, that it was written
upon a straight-backed settle, when he was ill of a lumbago, and a
crick in the neck."

"That incorrigible Azzageddi again," said Media, "Proceed with your
quotation, Babbalanja."

"Where was I, Braid-Beard?"

"Battering occiputs at the last accounts," said Mohi.

"Ah, yes. And right well doth man love to bruise and batter all
occiputs in his vicinity; he but follows his instincts; he is but one
member of a fighting world. Spiders, vixens, and tigers all war with a
relish; and on every side is heard the howls of hyenas, the
throttlings of mastiffs, the din of belligerant beetles, the buzzing
warfare of the insect battalions: and the shrill cries of lady Tartars
rending their lords. And all this existeth of necessity. To war it is,
and other depopulators, that we are beholden for elbow-room in Mardi
and for all our parks an gardens, wherein we are wont to expatiate.
Come on, then, plague, war, famine and viragos! Come on, I say, for
who shall stay ye? Come on, and healthfulize the census! And more
especially, oh War! do thou march forth with thy bludgeon! Cracked
are, our crowns by nature, and henceforth forever, cracked shall they
be by hard raps."

"And hopelessly cracked the skull, that hatched such a tirade of
nonsense," said Mohi.

"And think you not, old Bardianna knew that?" asked Babbalanja. "He
wrote an excellent chapter on that very subject."

"What, on the cracks in his own pate?"

"Precisely. And expressly asserts, that to those identical cracks, was
he indebted for what little light he had in his brain."

"I yield, Babbalanja; your old Ponderer is older than I."

"Ay, ay, Braid-Beard; his crest was a tortoise; and this was the
motto:--'I bite, but am not to be bitten.'"

Herman Melville