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Chapter 41

Chiefly Of Sing Bello


"Now Taji," said Media, "with old Bello of the Hump whose island of
Dominora is before us, I am at variance."

"Ah! How so?"

"A dull recital, but you shall have it."

And forthwith his Highness began.

This princely quarrel originated, it seems, in a slight jostling
concerning the proprietorship of a barren islet in a very remote
quarter of the lagoon. At the outset the matter might have been easily
adjusted, had the parties but exchanged a few amicable words. But each
disdaining to visit the other, to discuss so trivial an affair, the
business of negotiating an understanding was committed to certain
plenipos, men with lengthy tongues, who scorned to utter a word short
of a polysyllable.

Now, the more these worthies penetrated into the difficulty, the wider
became the breach; till what was at first a mere gap, became a yawning
gulf.

But that which had perhaps tended more than any thing else to deepen
the variance of the kings, was hump-backed Bello's dispatching to Odo,
as his thirtieth plenipo, a diminutive little negotiator, who all by
himself, in a solitary canoe, sailed over to have audience of Media;
into whose presence he was immediately ushered.

Darting one glance at him, the king turned to his chieftains, and
said:--"By much straining of your eyes, my lords, can you perceive
this insignificant manikin? What! are there no tall men in Dominora,
that King Bello must needs send this dwarf hither?"

And charging his attendents to feed the embassador extraordinary with
the soft pap of the cocoanut, and provide nurses during his stay, the
monarch retired from the arbor of audience.

"As I am a man," shouted the despised plenipo, raising himself on his
toes, "my royal master will resent this affront!--A dwarf, forsooth!--
Thank Oro, I am no long-drawn giant! There is as much stuff in me, as
in others; what is spread out in their clumsy carcasses, in me is
condensed. I am much in little! And that much, thou shalt know full
soon, disdainful King of Odo!"

"Speak not against our lord the king," cried the attendants.

"And speak not ye to me, ye headless spear poles!"

And so saying, under sufferance of being small, the plenipo was
permitted to depart unmolested; for all his bravadoes, fobbing his
credentials and affronts.

Apprized of his servant's ignoble reception, the choleric Bello burst
forth in a storm of passion; issuing orders for, one thousand conch
shells to be blown, and his warriors to assemble by land and by sea.

But bethinking him of the hostilities that might ensue, the sagacious
Media hit upon an honorable expedient to ward off an event for which
he was then unprepared. With all haste he dispatched to the hump-
backed king a little dwarf of his own; who voyaging over to Dominora
in a canoe, sorry and solitary as that of Bello's plenipo, in like
manner, received the same insults. The effect whereof, was, to strike
a balance of affronts; upon the principle, that a blow given, heals
one received.

Nevertheless, these proceedings but amounted to a postponement of
hostilities; for soon after, nothing prevented the two kings from
plunging into war, but the following judicious considerations. First:
Media was almost afraid of being beaten. Second: Bello was almost
afraid to conquer. Media, because he was inferior in men and arms;
Bello, because, his aggrandizement was already a subject of warlike
comment among the neighboring kings.

Indeed, did the old chronicler Braid-Beard speak truth, there were
some tribes in Mardi, that accounted this king of Dominora a testy,
quarrelsome, rapacious old monarch; the indefatigable breeder of
contentions and wars; the elder brother of this household of nations,
perpetually essaying to lord it over the juveniles; and though his
patrimonial dominions were situated to the north of the lagoon, not
the slightest misunderstanding took place between the rulers of the
most distant islands, than this doughty old cavalier on a throne,
forthwith thrust his insolent spear into the matter, though it in no
wise concerned him, and fell to irritating all parties by his
gratuitous interference.

Especially was he officious in the concerns of Porpheero, a
neighboring island, very large and famous, whose numerous broad
valleys were divided among many rival kings:--the king of Franko, a
small-framed, poodle-haired, fine, fiery gallant; finical in his
tatooing; much given to the dance and glory;--the king of Ibeereea, a
tall and stately cavalier, proud, generous, punctilious, temperate in
wine; one hand forever on his javelin, the other, in superstitious
homage, lifted to his gods; his limbs all over marks of stakes and
crosses;--the king of Luzianna; a slender, dark-browed thief; at times
wrapped in a moody robe, beneath which he fumbled something, as if it
were a dagger; but otherwise a sprightly troubadour, given to
serenades and moonlight;---the many chiefs of sunny Latianna; minstrel
monarchs, full of song and sentiment; fiercer in love than war;
glorious bards of freedom; but rendering tribute while they sang;--the
priest-king of Vatikanna; his chest marked over with antique
tatooings; his crown, a cowl; his rusted scepter swaying over falling
towers, and crumbling mounds; full of the superstitious past; askance,
eyeing the suspicious time to come;--the king of Hapzaboro; portly,
pleasant; a lover of wild boar's meat; a frequent quaffer from the
can; in his better moods, much fancying solid comfort;--the eight-and-
thirty banded kings, chieftains, seigniors, and oligarchies of the
broad hill and dale of Tutoni; clubbing together their domains, that
none might wrest his neighbor's; an earnest race; deep thinkers,
deeper drinkers; long pipes, long heads; their wise ones given to
mystic cogitations, and consultations with the devil;--the twin kings
of Zandinavia; hardy, frugal mountaineers; upright of spine and heart;
clad in skins of bears;--the king of Jutlanda; much like their
Highnesses of Zandinavia; a seal-skin cap his crown; a fearless sailor
of his frigid seas;--the king of Muzkovi; a shaggy, icicled White-bear
of a despot in the north; said to reign over millions of acres of
glaciers; had vast provinces of snow-drifts, and many flourishing
colonies among the floating icebergs. Absolute in his rule as
Predestination in metaphysics, did he command all his people to give
up the ghost, it would be held treason to die last. Very precise and
foppish in his imperial tastes was this monarch. Disgusted with the
want of uniformity in the stature of his subjects, he was said to
nourish thoughts of killing off all those below his prescribed
standard--six feet, long measure. Immortal souls were of no account in
his fatal wars; since, in some of his serf-breeding estates, they were
daily manufactured to order.

Now, to all the above-mentioned monarchs, old Bello would frequently
dispatch heralds; announcing, for example, his unalterable resolution,
to espouse the cause of this king, against that; at the very time,
perhaps, that their Serene Superfluities, instead of crossing spears,
were touching flagons. And upon these occasions, the kings would often
send back word to old Bello, that instead of troubling himself with
their concerns, he might far better attend to his own; which, they
hinted, were in a sad way, and much needed reform.

The royal old warrior's pretext for these and all similar proceedings,
was the proper adjustment in Porpheero, of what he facetiously styled
the "Equipoise of Calabashes;" which he stoutly swore was essential to
the security of the various tribes in that country.

"But who put the balance into thy hands, King Bello?" cried the
indignant nations.

"Oro!" shouted the hump-backed king, shaking his javelin.

Superadded to the paternal interest which Bello betrayed in the
concerns of the kings of Porpheero, according to our chronicler, he
also manifested no less interest in those of the remotest islands.
Indeed, where he found a rich country, inhabited by a people, deemed
by him barbarous and incapable of wise legislation, he sometimes
relieved them from their political anxieties, by assuming the
dictatorship over them. And if incensed at his conduct, they flew to
their spears, they were accounted rebels, and treated accordingly. But
as old Mohi very truly observed,--herein, Bello was not alone; for
throughout Mardi, all strong nations, as well as all strong men, loved
to govern the weak. And those who most taunted King Bello for his
political rapacity, were open to the very same charge. So with
Vivenza, a distant island, at times very loud in denunciations of
Bello, as a great national brigand. Not yet wholly extinct in Vivenza,
were its aboriginal people, a race of wild Nimrods and hunters, who
year by year were driven further and further into remoteness, till as
one of their sad warriors said, after continual removes along the log,
his race was on the point of being remorselessly pushed off the end.

Now, Bello was a great geographer, and land surveyor, and gauger of
the seas. Terraqueous Mardi, he was continually exploring in quest of
strange empires. Much he loved to take the altitude of lofty
mountains, the depth of deep rivers, the breadth of broad isles. Upon
the highest pinnacles of commanding capes and promontories, he loved
to hoist his flag. He circled Mardi with his watch-towers: and the
distant voyager passing wild rocks in the remotest waters, was
startled by hearing the tattoo, or the reveille, beating from hump-
backed Bello's omnipresent drum. Among Antartic glaciers, his shrill
bugle calls mingled with the scream of the gulls; and so impressed
seemed universal nature with the sense of his dominion, that the very
clouds in heaven never sailed over Dominora without rendering the
tribute of a shower; whence the air of Dominora was more moist than
that of any other clime.

In all his grand undertakings, King Bello was marvelously assisted by
his numerous fleets of war-canoes; his navy being the largest in
Mardi. Hence his logicians swore that the entire Lagoon was his; and
that all prowling whales, prowling keels, and prowling sharks were
invaders. And with this fine conceit to inspire them, his poets-
laureat composed some glorious old saltwater odes, enough to make your
very soul sing to hear them.

But though the rest of Mardi much delighted to list to such noble
minstrelsy, they agreed not with Bello's poets in deeming the lagoon
their old monarch's hereditary domain.

Once upon a time, the paddlers of the hump-backed king, meeting upon
the broad lagoon certain canoes belonging to the before-mentioned
island of Vivenza; these paddlers seized upon several of their
occupants; and feeling their pulses, declared them born men of
Dominora; and therefore, not free to go whithersoever they would; for,
unless they could somehow get themselves born over again, they must
forever remain subject to Bello. Shed your hair; nay, your skin, if
you will, but shed your allegiance you can not; while you have bones,
they are Bello's. So, spite of all expostulations and attempts to
prove alibis, these luckless paddlers were dragged into the canoes of
Dominora, and commanded to paddle home their captors.

Whereof hearing, the men of Vivenza were thrown into a great ferment;
and after a mighty pow-wow over their council fire, fitting out
several double-keeled canoes, they sallied out to sea, in quest of
those, whom they styled the wholesale corsairs of Dominora.

But lucky perhaps it was, that at this juncture, in all parts of
Mardi, the fleets of the hump-backed king, were fighting, gunwale and
gunwale, alongside of numerous foes; else there had borne down upon
the canoes of the men of Vivenza so tremendous an armada, that the
very swell under its thousand prows might have flooded their scattered
proas forever out of sight.

As it was, Bello dispatched a few of his smaller craft to seek out,
and incidentally run down the enemy; and without returning home,
straightway proceed upon more important enterprises.

But it so chanced, that Bello's crafts, one by one meeting the foe, in
most cases found the canoes of Vivenza much larger than their own; and
manned by more men, with hearts bold as theirs; whence, in the ship-
duels that ensued, they were worsted; and the canoes of Vivenza,
locking their yard-arms into those of the vanquished, very courteously
gallanted them into their coral harbors.

Solely imputing these victories to their superior intrepidity and
skill, the people of Vivenza were exceedingly boisterous in their
triumph; raising such obstreperous peans, that they gave themselves
hoarse throats; insomuch, that according to Mohi, some of the present
generation are fain to speak through their noses.


Herman Melville