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Chapter 42

Dominora And Vivenza


The three canoes still gliding on, some further particulars were
narrated concerning Dominora; and incidentally, of other isles.

It seems that his love of wide dominion sometimes led the otherwise
sagacious Bello into the most extravagant actions. If the chance
accumulation of soil and drift-wood about any detached shelf of coral
in the lagoon held forth the remotest possibility of the eventual
existence of an islet there, with all haste he dispatched canoes to
the spot, to take prospective possession of the as yet nearly
submarine territory; and if possible, eject the zoophytes.

During an unusually low tide, here and there baring the outer reef of
the Archipelago, Bello caused his royal spear to be planted upon every
place thus exposed, in token of his supreme claim thereto.

Another anecdote was this: that to Dominora there came a rumor, that
in a distant island dwelt a man with an uncommonly large nose; of most
portentous dimensions, indeed; by the soothsayers supposed to
foreshadow some dreadful calamity. But disregarding these
superstitious conceits, Bello forthwith dispatched an agent, to
discover whether this huge promontory of a nose was geographically
available; if so, to secure the same, by bringing the proprietor back.

Now, by sapient old Mohi, it was esteemed a very happy thing for Mardi
at large, that the subjects whom Bello sent to populate his foreign
acquisitions, were but too apt to throw off their vassalage, so soon
as they deemed themselves able to cope with him.

Indeed, a fine country in the western part of Mardi, in this very
manner, became a sovereign--nay, a republican state. It was the nation
to which Mohi had previously alluded--Vivenza. But in the flush and
pride of having recently attained their national majority, the men of
Vivenza were perhaps too much inclined to carry a vauntful crest. And
because intrenched in their fastnesses, after much protracted
fighting, they had eventually succeeded in repelling the warriors
dispatched by Bello to crush their insurrection, they were unanimous
in the opinion, that the hump-backed king had never before been so
signally chastised. Whereas, they had not so much vanquished Bello, as
defended their shores; even as a young lion will protect its den
against legions of unicorns, though, away from home, he might be torn
to pieces. In truth, Braid-Beard declared, that at the time of this
war, Dominora couched ten long spears for every short javelin Vivenza
could dart; though the javelins were stoutly hurled as the spears.

But, superior in men and arms, why, at last, gave over King Bello the
hope of reducing those truculent men of Vivenza? One reason was, as
Mohi said, that many of his fighting men were abundantly occupied in
other quarters of Mardi; nor was he long in discovering that fight he
never so valiantly, Vivenza--not yet its inhabitants--was wholly
unconquerable. Thought Bello, Mountains are sturdy foes; fate hard to
dam.

Yet, the men of Vivenza were no dastards; not to lie, coming from
lion-like loins, they were a lion-loined race. Did not their bards
pronounce them a fresh start in the Mardian species; requiring a new
world for their full development? For be it known, that the great land
of Kolumbo, no inconsiderable part of which was embraced by Vivenza,
was the last island discovered in the Archipelago.

In good round truth, and as if an impartialist from Arcturus spoke it,
Vivenza was a noble land. Like a young tropic tree she stood, laden
down with greenness, myriad blossoms, and the ripened fruit thick-
hanging from one bough. She was promising as the morning.

Or Vivenza might be likened to St. John, feeding on locusts and wild
honey, and with prophetic voice, crying to the nations from the
wilderness. Or, child-like, standing among the old robed kings and
emperors of the Archipelago, Vivenza seemed a young Messiah, to whose
discourse the bearded Rabbis bowed.

So seemed Vivenza in its better aspect. Nevertheless, Vivenza was a
braggadocio in Mardi; the only brave one ever known. As an army of
spurred and crested roosters, her people chanticleered at the
resplendent rising of their sun. For shame, Vivenza! Whence thy
undoubted valor? Did ye not bring it with ye from the bold old shores
of Dominora, where there is a fullness of it left? What isle but
Dominora could have supplied thee with that stiff spine of thine?--
That heart of boldest beat? Oh, Vivenza! know that true grandeur is
too big for a boast; and nations, as well as men, may be too clever to
be great.

But what more of King Bello? Notwithstanding his territorial
acquisitiveness, and aversion to relinquishing stolen nations, he was
yet a glorious old king; rather choleric--a word and a blow--but of a
right royal heart. Rail at him as they might, at bottom, all the isles
were proud of him. And almost in spite of his rapacity, upon the
whole, perhaps, they were the better for his deeds. For if sometimes
he did evil with no very virtuous intentions, he had fifty, ways of
accomplishing good with the best; and a thousand ways of doing good
without meaning it. According to an ancient oracle, the hump-backed
monarch was but one of the most conspicuous pieces on a board, where
the gods played for their own entertainment.

But here it must not be omitted, that of late, King Bello had somewhat
abated his efforts to extend his dominions. Various causes were
assigned. Some thought it arose from the fact that already he found
his territories too extensive for one scepter to rule; that his more
remote colonies largely contributed to his tribulations, without
correspondingly contributing to his revenues. Others affirmed that his
hump was getting too mighty for him to carry; others still, that the
nations were waving too strong for him. With prophetic solemnity,
head-shaking sages averred that he was growing older and older had
passed his grand climacteric; and though it was a hale old age with
him, yet it was not his lusty youth; that though he was daily getting
rounder, and rounder in girth, and more florid of face, that these,
howbeit, were rather the symptoms of a morbid obesity, than of a
healthful robustness. These wise ones predicted that very soon poor
Bello would go off in an apoplexy.

But in Vivenza there were certain blusterers, who often thus prated:
"The Hump-back's hour is come; at last the old teamster will be gored
by the nations he's yoked; his game is done,--let him show his hand
and throw up his scepter; he cumbers Mardi,--let him be cut down and
burned; he stands in the way of his betters,--let him sheer to one
side; he has shut up many eyes, and now himself grows blind; he hath
committed horrible atrocities during his long career, the old sinner!
--now, let him quickly say his prayers and be beheaded."

Howbeit, Bello lived on; enjoying his dinners, and taking his jorums
as of yore. Ah, I have yet a jolly long lease of life, thought he over
his wine; and like unto some obstinate old uncle, he persisted in
flourishing, in spite of the prognostications of the nephew nations,
which at his demise, perhaps hoped to fall heir to odd parts of his
possessions: Three streaks of fat valleys to one of lean mountains!

Herman Melville