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Told by the Death's Head By Mór Jókai Characters: 12989

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Although my crime has been most generously condoned by your highness, I have not escaped punishment for it. I have suffered severely. After partaking of the unnatural food, all in the boat were seized with frightful convulsions, similar to those exhibited by a dog afflicted with rabies.

The smallest particle of the accursed food is sufficient to make a man experience all the tortures of purgatory. I dare say the reason my sufferings were not so severe as those of my comrades, I ate only the foot. They foamed at the lips; their eyeballs burst from the sockets; they bit each other, and rent and tore their own flesh. They bellowed, roared, and whined, as dogs do at the moon. Many of them sprang at once into the water and were devoured by sharks.

When my worst torture passed, my limbs became cold and rigid as stone; it was the marasmus. I could see, and hear, but I could neither feel nor move. The fierce sun beating on my face threatened to burn out my eyes, but I could not lift my hands to cover them. To seize the horizon and draw it up to the zenith would have been an easier task than to close my eyelids over the burning eyeballs.

Yet, amid all this horrible pain, I had the feeling as if a faint zephyr from fluttering wings were sweeping across my cheek. It was the white dove perched on my shoulder, my beautiful white dove, who was come to me again in my hour of direst need! She tried with her outstretched wings to shield my face from the scorching sun, and the blessed shadow brought such relief that I was at last able to close my eyes in sleep.

How long and whither the dismasted and rudderless boat drifted; whether it touched any shore-I cannot remember. I don't know what happened during my madness.

My comrades in misfortune were lost; some drowned themselves to end their agony; some died a horrible death in the boat. I alone was saved by a heavenly providence for further trials. The drifting boat was found by an Indian merchantman bound for Antwerp, and the noble Christians aboard of her, believing life not yet extinct in my miserable body, worked over me until they brought back the soul to its earthly tenement.

I forgive every enemy I have in the world; but my benefactor on that Indian merchantman, who brought me back to life, I never can forgive. Had he cast me into the waves instead of resuscitating me, I should now be ambergris, for, as the honorable gentlemen know, that valuable substance develops in the stomach of a shark, and I should have been devoured by one of those voracious beasts. Instead of a wretched criminal on trial for his many misdeeds, I should now, had I been allowed to become ambergris, be swinging in a censer perfuming the altar of a church. The care I received on board the Indiaman fully restored my strength, and when we arrived in the harbor in Holland there was no trace about me of the many hardships I had endured.

I could hardly wait until I got back to Nimeguen to see my dear wife and child. The child would be running about now-perhaps the mother had taught it to call me by name!

How happy I should be to be home again!-no captain, no rajah, but a father.

Not the consort of a Begum, but the husband of my wife. I blessed the fate which had delivered me from the land of lions, tigers and serpents. Had not I a tulip garden worth all the wealth of India?

I turned night to day in order to reach home as quickly as possible, and sent mounted estafets in advance to announce my coming. My wife, who had increased in weight fully twenty-five pounds, had a splendid repast prepared for me; and flung her arms around my neck when I alighted from the carriage.

After our first transports of joy were over, my first words were:

"Now, where is my child?"

"There they come," replied my wife, pointing, with a beaming countenance, toward two nurse-maids who were descending the staircase. One of the maids led by the hand a little toddling lad; the other carried an infant in long clothes on her arm.

"What-what does that mean?" I stammered, pointing toward the smaller child.

"That is your second born, you silly fellow!" replied my wife, smiling affectionately.

"My second born?" I exclaimed in amazement. "Why, I have been absent for nearly three years."

"Have you forgotten Maimuna and Danesh?" she whispered, hiding her blushing face on my breast. "Have you forgotten our meeting in the palace on Ararat?"

"Maimuna and Danesh?-Himmelkreuzelement!" I exclaimed, unable to suppress the forcible expletive.

My wife, however, was roused to anger by it. Did I presume to doubt her fidelity? she demanded in no gentle accents. Had she not in her possession ample proof that she was true to me? Had she not my own letter, in which I related at length the circumstances of our meeting on Ararat, whither we had been taken by the two genii? Was a better proof required than the lingam I had given her at that meeting-also the fragment of stuff with gold dragons woven in it? And, if it was true that I was a king at the time of our meeting on the mountain, then the infant on the maid's arm must be a prince!

"Woman," I returned in a severe tone, "this is not a matter for jest. Visions are not real. That I dreamed a delightful dream I admit; but this squalling brat is no dream! On the contrary, he is a very disagreeable reality! I'll go at once to the burgomaster! I'll denounce you to the arch-bishop! I'll summon the consistory! I will not allow myself to be made a fool of!"

"Very well," retorted my wife, "go to the burgomaster-go to the arch-bishop-summon the consistory, make a tremendous ado, and you will prove yourself a greater fool than I believed you!"

I carried out my threat and rushed to the burgomaster's residence. He was still asleep, but I dragged him out of bed, and told him the French were coming to attack the town. That drove slumber from his eyes; and I proceeded to lay my complaint before him. He kept yawning the while so dreadfully that I feared he might swallow me before I got through with my story.

When I concluded, he deliberated several minutes, then said I should come again the next day-he would have to think over the matter.

I was forced to go back to my wife. I couldn't help myself, for I hadn't a groschen to my name, and the Nimeguen inns will not receive a guest unless he pays in advance for his entertainment.

To my shame therefore I was compelled to go home, and now it was my wife who raged and sco

lded. She said I might complain as much, and to whomsoever I wanted, it would benefit me nothing. If I did not accept the situation with a good humor, mine would be the loss-and so on.

I bore her taunts, and revilings, in silence, for I felt great need of supper and rest; but I said to myself: "There is a tomorrow-I'll have my revenge then!"

The next day I went again to the burgomaster; he was able to keep awake this time.

He asked me if he should speak to me as to a Nimeguen gunner, or an East Indian sovereign?

"As to an Indian rajah," I replied.

"Very good!-also: Sublime Maharajah, nabob, or Shah-whichever is the proper title-be seated." My title permitted me to put on my hat, while respect for it obliged the burgomaster to remove his office cap. He continued: "Be kind enough to answer the following questions: How many wives does the law permit an Indian sovereign to marry? How many elephants, camels, rhinoceroses, male and female genii, and other draught cattle, is he allowed to employ in his service?"

I saw what would be the result if I answered these questions, so I said instead:

"I beg pardon, your honor, but, on second thought, I believe I would rather have you speak to me as to a gunner of Nimeguen-according to European custom."

"Very good again-also. You gunner-fellow, take off your hat this instant!" he commanded, at the same time placing the cap on his head. "As it is contrary to our Christian laws to take a second wife while the first is still alive, I shall pronounce you guilty of bigamy, the punishment for which is the pillory first, and the galleys afterward."

This did not suit me either, so I interrupted:

"May I beg that you will speak to me as to an Indian sovereign?"

I put on my hat, but the burgomaster did not again remove his cap. He said:

"You had command of a province, and a pair of flying genii; therefore, it is quite within the bounds of possibility that you and your first wife were borne through the air to the meeting-place on the mountain you mention. That being settled, what else do you complain of? Have you lost anything?"

"No, your honor, quite the contrary; I have found something; a son I did not expect."

"Is the child living?"

"He is."

"Well-if he is living he is alive. That which is, cannot be denied-it is a fact, and that which is a fact cannot be termed fiction-"

This ridiculous un-reasoning angered me, and I interrupted him, whereupon there ensued a war of words that raged furiously until it culminated in an exchange of blows.

The case was not one for a mere burgomaster to decide; I would submit it to the consistory. I did not know then what I had undertaken!

All Nimeguen is related; its citizens are cousins or brothers-in-law, and withal exceedingly moral. If it so happens that any one of them commits an indiscretion, all the rest take great pains to conceal the misdeed. I don't mean that it is never mentioned in private; but there is not a court of law in the land that could summon a witness who would admit that he, or she, knew anything about the matter. In my case, servants, neighbors, citizens, all averred that my wife was the pattern of fidelity; that she had not been known to leave her house, only when she went to confession and to church; that she had not even bought a new cap during my entire absence.

Consequently, my accusations were ridiculous, and wholly without foundation.

Her defense had a powerful base to rest on. There was the letter written by my own hand on Chinese palm-paper, describing our meeting in the palace on Mount Ararat, and attested by the bonzes, who, as everybody knows, are learned men, and as worthy of trust as any member of our chapter-house.

Consequently, there must be such fairies as Maimuna and Danesh, else the bonzes would not have testified to their existence. If there were no such creatures in Europe, it was because the climate was too severe. There are no elephants in Holland, yet no one would deny their existence elsewhere-not even the man who had never seen one, would deny that they roamed the jungles of India! Moreover, is there not mention made in the Holy Scriptures of a chariot of fire journeying with a passenger through the air? And did not Jonah make a voyage on the ocean, in the stomach of a whale?

If holy men could make such journeys, why should anyone deny that the genii Maimuna and Danesh had carried a man and his wife to the palace on Mount Ararat?-especially as both man and wife had desired the meeting, whereas Jonah had never expressed the least desire to enter the whale's belly.

Added to this evidence, my wife possessed in the lingam absolute proof of my having been with her on Ararat-also the fragment of dragon-cloth, the like of which was not to be found in all Europe-all irrefragable proofs!

You may guess that the consistory did not hesitate long to deliver an opinion.

Although it was almost impossible to believe that so remarkable a journey could have been accomplished a respectable and pious lady had really travelled from Nimeguen on the wings of an East Indian Jinnee, at night, to Mount Ararat, and back in the morning.

Also: It was not at all likely that the said respectable and pious lady, the former widow of a captain, wife of a gunner, and consort of an Indian rajah, would demean her respectable station, and inflict a stain on her wedded fidelity. Therefore, the woman accused of adultery was guiltless; and the father of the surculi masculi found at home by the returned gunner, was no other than he, the nupti? demonstrant. And with this decision I was forced to be satisfied, also with my wife and the infant.

Here, the prince laughed so heartily that he burst a button from his collar.

"An amusing story, by my word!" he exclaimed. "I would not have missed it for a riding-horse! Ha, ha-to decide that a vision really happened because the dreamer wrote an account of it-ha, ha, ha!"

"And did everything really happen as you related it?" inquired the chair.

Everything-I give my word of honor-what am I saying? Not by my honor, but by the rope around my neck, I swear that everything happened just as I told you. You may apply to the authorities of Nimeguen, who will substantiate my account. Because of its remarkable character, the case is recorded in the chronicles of the city. This will explain the deed I was forced to commit afterward.

"We will hear you confess it tomorrow," said the prince.

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