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Chapter 77

They Sup


There seemed something sinister, hollow, heartless, about Abrazza, and
that green-and-yellow, evil-starred crown that he wore.

But why think of that? Though we like not something in the curve of
one's brow, or distrust the tone of his voice; yet, let us away with
suspicions if we may, and make a jolly comrade of him, in the name of
the gods. Miserable! thrice miserable he, who is forever turning over
and over one's character in his mind, and weighing by nice
avoirdupois, the pros and the cons of his goodness and badness. For we
are all good and bad. Give me the heart that's huge as all Asia; and
unless a man, be a villain outright, account him one of the best
tempered blades in the world.

That night, in his right regal hall, King Abrazza received us. And in
merry good time a fine supper was spread.

Now, in thus nocturnally regaling us, our host was warranted by many
ancient and illustrious examples.

For old Jove gave suppers; the god Woden gave suppers; the Hindoo
deity Brahma gave suppers; the Red Man's Great Spirit gave suppers:--
chiefly venison and game.

And many distinguished mortals besides.

Ahasuerus gave suppers; Xerxes gave suppers; Montezuma gave suppers;
Powhattan gave suppers; the Jews' Passovers were suppers; the Pharaohs
gave suppers; Julius Caesar gave suppers:--and rare ones they were;
Great Pompey gave suppers; Nabob Crassus gave suppers; and
Heliogabalus, surnamed the Gobbler, gave suppers.

It was a common saying of old, that King Pluto gave suppers; some say
he is giving them still. If so, he is keeping tip-top company, old
Pluto:--Emperors and Czars; Great Moguls and Great Khans; Grand Lamas
and Grand Dukes; Prince Regents and Queen Dowagers:--Tamerlane hob-a-
nobbing with Bonaparte; Antiochus with Solyman the Magnificent;
Pisistratus pledging Pilate; Semiramis eating bon-bons with Bloody
Mary, and her namesake of Medicis; the Thirty Tyrants quaffing three
to one with the Council of Ten; and Sultans, Satraps, Viziers,
Hetmans, Soldans, Landgraves, Bashaws, Doges, Dauphins, Infantas,
Incas, and Caciques looking on.

Again: at Arbela, the conqueror of conquerors, conquering son of
Olympia by Jupiter himself, sent out cards to his captains,--
Hephestion, Antigonus, Antipater, and the rest--to join him at ten,
p.m., in the Temple of Belus; there, to sit down to a victorious
supper, off the gold plate of the Assyrian High Priests. How
majestically he poured out his old Madeira that night!--feeling grand
and lofty as the Himmalehs; yea, all Babylon nodded her towers in his
soul!

Spread, heaped up, stacked with good things; and redolent of citrons
and grapes, hilling round tall vases of wine; and here and there,
waving with fresh orange-boughs, among whose leaves, myriads of small
tapers gleamed like fire-flies in groves,--Abrazza's glorious board
showed like some banquet in Paradise: Ceres and Pomona presiding; and
jolly Bacchus, like a recruit with a mettlesome rifle, staggering back
as he fires off the bottles of vivacious champagne.

In ranges, roundabout stood living candelabras:--lackeys, gayly
bedecked, with tall torches in their hands; and at one end, stood
trumpeters, bugles at their lips.

"This way, my dear Media!--this seat at my left--Noble Taji!--my
right. Babbalanja!--Mohi--where you are. But where's pretty Yoomy?--
Gone to meditate in the moonlight? ah!--Very good. Let the
banquet begin. A blast there!"

And charge all did.

The venison, wild boar's meat, and buffalo-humps, were extraordinary;
the wine, of rare vintages, like bottled lightning; and the first
course, a brilliant affair, went off like a rocket.

But as yet, Babbalanja joined not in the revels. His mood was on him;
and apart he sat; silently eyeing the banquet; and ever and anon
muttering,--"Fogle-foggle, fugle-fi.--"

The first fury of the feast over, said King Media, pouring out from a
heavy flagon into his goblet, "Abrazza, these suppers are wondrous
fine things."

"Ay, my dear lord, much better than dinners."

"So they are, so they are. The dinner-hour is the summer of the day:
full of sunshine, I grant; but not like the mellow autumn of supper. A
dinner, you know, may go off rather stiffly; but invariably suppers
are jovial. At dinners, 'tis not till you take in sail, furl the
cloth, bow the lady-passengers out, and make all snug; 'tis not till
then, that one begins to ride out the gale with complacency. But at
these suppers--Good Oro! your cup is empty, my dear demi-god!--But at
these suppers, I say, all is snug and ship-shape before you begin; and
when you begin, you waive the beginning, and begin in the middle. And
as for the cloth,--but tell us, Braid-Beard, what that old king of
Franko, Ludwig the Fat, said of that matter. The cloth for suppers,
you know. It's down in your chronicles."

"My lord,"--wiping his beard,--"Old Ludwig was of opinion, that at
suppers the cloth was superfluous, unless on the back of some jolly
good friar. Said he, 'For one, I prefer sitting right down to the
unrobed table.'"

"High and royal authority, that of Ludwig the Fat," said Babbalanja,
"far higher than the authority of Ludwig the Great:--the one, only
great by courtesy; the other, fat beyond a peradventure. But
they are equally famous; and in their graves, both on a par. For after
devouring many a fair province, and grinding the poor of his realm,
Ludwig the Great has long since, himself, been devoured by very small
worms, and ground into very fine dust. And after stripping many a
venison rib, Ludwig the Fat has had his own polished and bleached in
the Valley of Death; yea, and his cranium chased with corrodings, like
the carved flagon once held to its jaws."

"My lord! my lord!"--cried Abrazza to Media--"this ghastly devil of
yours grins worse than a skull. I feel the worms crawling over me!--By
Oro we must eject him!"

"No, no, my lord. Let him sit there, as of old the Death's-head graced
the feasts of the Pharaohs--let him sit--let him sit--for Death but
imparts a flavor to Life--Go on: wag your tongue without fear,
Azzageddi!--But come, Braid-Beard! let's hear more of the Ludwigs."

"Well, then, your Highness, of all the eighteen royal Ludwigs of
Franko--"

"Who like so many ten-pins, all in a row," interposed Babbalanja--
"have been bowled off the course by grim Death."

"Heed him not," said Media--"go on."

"The Debonnaire, the Pious, the Stammerer, the Do-Nothing, the
Juvenile, the Quarreler:--of all these, I say, Ludwig the Fat was the
best table-man of them all. Such a full orbed paunch was his, that no
way could he devise of getting to his suppers, but by getting right
into them. Like the Zodiac his table was circular, and full in the
middle he sat, like a sun;--all his jolly stews and ragouts revolving
around him."

"Yea," said Babbalanja, "a very round sun was Ludwig the Fat. No
wonder he's down in the chronicles; several ells about the waist, and
King of cups and Tokay. Truly, a famous king: three hundred-weight of
lard, with a diadem on top: lean brains and a fat doublet--a
demijohn of a demi-god!"

"Is this to be longer borne?" cried Abrazza, starting up. "Quaff that
sneer down, devil! on the instant! down with it, to the dregs! This
comes, my lord Media, of having a slow drinker at one's board. Like an
iceberg, such a fellow frosts the whole atmosphere of a banquet, and
is felt a league off We must thrust him out. Guards!"

"Back! touch him not, hounds!"--cried Media. "Your pardon, my lord,
but we'll keep him to it; and melt him down in this good wine. Drink!
I command it, drink, Babbalanja!"

"And am I not drinking, my lord? Surely you would not that I should
imbibe more than I can hold. The measure being full, all poured in
after that is but wasted. I am for being temperate in these things, my
good lord. And my one cup outlasts three of yours. Better to sip a
pint, than pour down a quart. All things in moderation are good;
whence, wine in moderation is good. But all things in excess are bad:
whence wine in excess is bad."

"Away with your logic and conic sections! Drink!--But no, no: I am too
severe. For of all meals a supper should be the most social and free.
And going thereto we kings, my lord, should lay aside our scepters.--
Do as you please Babbalanja."

"You are right, you are right, after all, my dear demi-god," said
Abrazza. "And to say truth, I seldom worry myself with the ways of
these mortals; for no thanks do we demi-gods get. We kings should be
ever indifferent. Nothing like a cold heart; warm ones are ever
chafing, and getting into trouble. I let my mortals here in this isle
take heed to themselves; only barring them out when they would thrust
in their petitions. This very instant, my lord, my yeoman-guard is on
duty without, to drive off intruders.--Hark!--what noise is that?--Ho,
who comes?"

At that instant, there burst into the hall, a crowd of
spearmen, driven before a pale, ragged rout, that loudly
invoked King Abrazza.

"Pardon, my lord king, for thus forcing an entrance! But long in vain
have we knocked at thy gates! Our grievances are more than we can
bear! Give ear to our spokesman, we beseech!"

And from their tumultuous midst, they pushed forward a tall, grim,
pine-tree of a fellow, who loomed up out of the throng, like the Peak
of Teneriffe among the Canaries in a storm.

"Drive the knaves out! Ho, cowards, guards, turn about! charge upon
them! Away with your grievances! Drive them out, I say, drive them
out!--High times, truly, my lord Media, when demi-gods are thus
annoyed at their wine. Oh, who would reign over mortals!"

So at last, with much difficulty, the ragged rout were ejected; the
Peak of Teneriffe going last, a pent storm on his brow; and muttering
about some black time that was corning.

While the hoarse murmurs without still echoed through the hall, King
Abrazza refilling his cup thus spoke:--"You were saying, my dear lord,
that of all meals a supper is the most social and free. Very true. And
of all suppers those given by us bachelor demi-gods are the best. Are
they not?"

"They are. For Benedict mortals must be home betimes: bachelor demi-
gods are never away."

"Ay, your Highnesses, bachelors are all the year round at home;" said
Mohi: "sitting out life in the chimney corner, cozy and warm as the
dog, whilome turning the old-fashioned roasting jack."

"And to us bachelor demi-gods," cried Media "our to-morrows are as
long rows of fine punches, ranged on a board, and waiting the hand."

"But my good lords," said Babbalanja, now brightening with wine; "if,
of all suppers those given by bachelors be the best:--of all
bachelors, are not your priests and monks the jolliest? I mean, behind
the scenes? Their prayers all said, and their futurities securely
invested,--who so carefree and cozy as they? Yea, a supper for two in
a friar's cell in Maramma, is merrier far, than a dinner for five-and-
twenty, in the broad right wing of Donjalolo's great Palace of the Morn."

"Bravo, Babbalanja!" cried Media, "your iceberg is thawing. More of
that, more of that. Did I not say, we would melt him down at last, my
lord?"

"Ay," continued Babbalanja, "bachelors are a noble fraternity: I'm a
bachelor myself. One of ye, in that matter, my lord demi-gods. And if
unlike the patriarchs of the world, we father not our brigades and
battalions; and send not out into the battles of our country whole
regiments of our own individual raising;--yet do we oftentimes leave
behind us goodly houses and lands; rare old brandies and mountain
Malagas; and more especially, warm doublets and togas, and
spatterdashes, wherewithal to keep comfortable those who survive us;--
casing the legs and arms, which others beget. Then compare not
invidiously Benedicts with bachelors, since thus we make an equal
division of the duties, which both owe to posterity."

"Suppers forever!" cried Media. "See, my lord, what yours has done for
Babbalanja. He came to it a skeleton; but will go away, every bone
padded!"

"Ay, my lord demi-gods," said Babbalanja, drop by drop refilling his
goblet. "These suppers are all very fine, very pleasant, and merry.
But we pay for them roundly. Every thing, my good lords, has its
price, from a marble to a world. And easier of digestion, and better
for both body and soul, are a half-haunch of venison and a gallon of
mead, taken under the sun at meridian, than the soft bridal breast of
a partridge, with some gentle negus, at the noon of night!"

"No lie that!" said Mohi. "Beshrew me, in no well-appointed
mansion doth the pantry lie adjoining the sleeping chamber. A good
thought: I'll fill up, and ponder on it."

"Let not Azzageddi get uppermost again, Babbalanja," cried Media.
"Your goblet is only half-full."

"Permit it to remain so; my lord. For whoso takes much wine to bed
with him, has a bedfellow, more restless than a somnambulist. And
though Wine be a jolly blade at the board, a sulky knave is he under a
blanket. I know him of old. Yet, your Highness, for all this, to many
a Mardian, suppers are still better than dinners, at whatever cost
purchased Forasmuch, as many have more leisure to sup, than dine. And
though you demi-gods, may dine at your ease; and dine it out into
night: and sit and chirp over your Burgundy, till the morning larks
join your crickets, and wed matins to vespers;--far otherwise, with us
plebeian mortals. From our dinners, we must hie to our anvils: and the
last jolly jorum evaporates in a cark and a care."

"Methinks he relapses," said Abrazza.

"It waxes late," said Mohi; "your Highnesses, is it not time to break
up?"

"No, no!", cried Abrazza; "let the day break when it will: but no
breakings for us. It's only midnight. This way with the wine; pass it
along, my dear Media. We are young yet, my sweet lord; light hearts
and heavy purses; short prayers and long rent-rolls. Pass round the
Tokay! We demi-gods have all our old age for a dormitory. Come!--Round
and round with the flagons! Let them disappear like mile-stones on a
race-course!"

"Ah!" murmured Babbalanja, holding his full goblet at arm's length on
the board, "not thus with the hapless wight, born with a hamper on his
back, and blisters in his palms.--Toil and sleep--sleep and toil, are
his days and his nights; he goes to bed with a lumbago, and wakes with
the rheumatics;--I know what it is;--he snatches lunches, not dinners,
and makes of all life a cold snack! Yet praise be to Oro,
though to such men dinners are scarce worth the eating; nevertheless,
praise Oro again, a good supper is something. Off jack-boots; nay, off
shirt, if you will, and go at it. Hurrah! the fagged day is done: the
last blow is an echo. Twelve long hours to sunrise! And would it were
an Antarctic night, and six months to to-morrow! But, hurrah! the very
bees have their hive, and after a day's weary wandering, hie home to
their honey. So they stretch out their stiff legs, rub their lame
elbows, and putting their tired right arms in a sling, set the others
to fetching and carrying from dishes to dentals, from foaming flagon
to the demijohn which never pours out at the end you pour in. Ah!
after all, the poorest devil in Mardi lives not in vain. There's a
soft side to the hardest oak-plank in the world!"

"Methinks I have heard some such sentimental gabble as this before
from my slaves, my lord," said Abrazza to Media. "It has the old
gibberish flavor."

"Gibberish, your Highness? Gibberish? I'm full of it--I'm a gibbering
ghost, my right worshipful lord! Here, pass your hand through me--
here, _here_, and scorch it where I most burn. By Oro! King! but I
will gibe and gibber at thee, till thy crown feels like another skull
clapped on thy own. Gibberish? ay, in hell we'll gibber in concert,
king! we'll howl, and roast, and hiss together!"

"Devil that thou art, begone! Ho, guards! seize him!"

"Back, curs!" cried Media. "Harm not a hair of his head. I crave
pardon, King Abrazza, but no violence must be done Babbalanja."

"Trumpets there!" said Abrazza; "so: the banquet is done--lights for
King Media! Good-night, my lord!"

Now, thus, for the nonce, with good cheer, we close. And after many
fine dinners and banquets--through light and through shade; through
mirth, sorrow, and all--drawing nigh to the evening end of these
wanderings wild--meet is it that all should be regaled with a supper.

Herman Melville