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The Ships of Tarshish

Chapter XVIII. The Situation

Chapter XVIII. The Situation.

It was in July, 1867. It is now time to glance over as much of the political situation as had connection with, or led to the events yet to be described in this narrative. It had in truth, latterly, been getting more and more alarming. The Great Mogul had been growing moody in his manner towards our ambassador. He had been making ominous speeches. Of course, though all this and the serious consequences which followed, and the indisputably worse consequences that might have followed but for Mandevil, have long been recognized as matters of history, yet, for the sake of the general reader, and in order to make the narrative more clear, it will be as well to state the causes which led to it.

The chief cause was the question of the inevitable old Hope of the sect of Universals, which was not to be shoved on one side, or indefinitely ignored. The Great Mogul would gladly have done either of the two things. But whether, thinking that he page 65was obliged to find some solution of the question, or fancying that be perceived a feasible one, he accomplished the feat by withdrawing the props and supports with which he had heretofore shored up the shaky sides of the Tub-and-Can, as in political slang the old Hope's establishment was denominated. In consequence of this, the latter had to decamp, and his place was taken possession of by others.

In one circumstance his experiences were analogous to those of one claimed by him to be his earliest predecessor. After suffering his dynastical shipwreck, he reached the shores of the island of Melita, where the Barbarians* in possession showed him no little kindness.

For once upon a time, to the surprise of a great, decidedly Non-Universal nation, it was reported that a minister of that nation, in a fit of sentimental hospitality, had offered him a residence on the island, should he require it. Most people of the nation thought that this, if true, at least was a case in which might have been observed the maxim about minding one's own business, and leaving other people's alone. But wonderful are the ways of diplomacy. And perhaps that was just it. It was (still supposing it to be true) in accordance with one of the old shreds of the traditions of feudal diplomacy clinging to the office. Such doings remind one of the plot of a French novel, in which the wonderful ways, past understanding, of the old diplomacy are set forth. The wheels within wheels that distract the reader's mind; the soul-stirring plots and intrigues by which the Regent is—may be —to be induced to go to the Duchess's private theatricals in preference to the Princess's ball. Or may be—to move him to prefer the rival petition of Mdlle. Precocity for the place of lady of honour, to that of Mdlle. Cheeky. Though why such intensity of feeling should be bestowed on it all—or what difference it would have made to Tom, Dick, and Harry, representing the nation at large, if the party that succeeded hadn't succeeded, or vice versâ, nobody can tell Only, those who understood these things would declare that it was something superb.

A faint glimmering of an idea in the reader's mind leads him to believe that the great point to be achieved was, that as many other people as possible were to be annoyed, and as much as possible. The greater the annoyance, the more the annoyed—the

* So called by the Germans and Chinese.

page 66completer the triumph of the diplomacy. And this perhaps is the key to the motives under discussion. It was not from any cordial feeling of the nation he represented (and a minister ought only to represent the feelings of his nation) which led him to proffer the hospitality. No—it was the temptation of the moment, in which the old feudal flunkey spirit of diplomacy flashed a little of its ancient flame. If the offer should be accepted, which was probable, —at least not decidedly refused,—the latter alone a triumph —what an annoyance to the Imperators, Kaisers, and Kings, who would morally give their eyes to have a real live Hope all to themselves! Though not that any one of these would estimate the value of his treasure, save by the annoyance that his exclusive possession of it caused the rest.

Thus was terminated a temporal sovereignty, which was commenced exactly 1260 years previously by Phocas, was carried on after, as some said, by means of Hocus, and ended in a sort of combination of the latter with Pocus.

All this, by the natural laws of reaction, produced a great excitement among the Great Mogul's people, and equally naturally the occasion was improved to the greatest possible extent by the Universals.

Of course, in the fullest of full vigour were the Ultramarines—the portion of the Sect which is so called, because it represents the true political colour of the Universals, which is bluest of the blue. For though, like the chameleon, they possess the most wonderful facility of assuming the colour best suited to their purpose at the moment (consequently in England, at times, they are amongst the yellowest of the yellow—in fact, in this matter of colour, shame, or pride, with reference to inconsistency or its reverse, is a thing unknown to English Universals), yet for all this, blue is their real standing colour when they are at home. Like the chameleon, too, with this wonderful facility of putting on a beautiful variety of colours, they do great execution amongst the butterfly breed.

The reaction was great among a large portion of the Great Mogul's people; so, consequently, was the dissatisfaction at the course of events, and the Ultramarines had it all their own way. What had the nation done, or allowed to be done? A neighbouring state had become stronger, and of course themselves were proportionately weaker; consequently it had been at their expense.

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They had neglected the time-honoured, generous, feudal maxim of "keeping your neighbour down when he is down," and what was the consequence? Perfidious Albion, with hypocritical smoothness of face, and with assumed indifference and impartiality, inwardly chuckles with ecstasy. Perfidious Albion! "We thank thee for that word!" Against whom shall the wrath be turned? Not against those who have outwardly profited, but against the real head and fountain of enmity. No direct proofs? Cannot be traced home? So much the worse! So much the blacker the perfidy!

Great was the prevailing irritation. Even that good Christian' the Count Tompinchembert, felt its influence, as he reflected on the fallen fortunes of the great Architect of his belief. But if it was so with this mild spirit, how must it have been with his contemporary, the redoubtable Baron Noisy.*

When the angry god, after hearing the prayer of the old man on the shore of the loud-resounding ocean, stalked along the tops of Olympus, as he went, his countenance was like unto Black Night, and the arrows rattled terribly on the shoulders of him moving, and afterwards, dreadful was the clang of his silver bow.

As the rattling of that quiver, as the twang of that silver bow, even so terrible and dreadful was the Rat-tat-tat of the Noisy drum. The performer on this dreadful musical Instrument of War, his cry had ever been "Delenda est perfidious Albion," and, would his nation only declare war—were his talents not worthy of a more important post, he should be delighted to join in the humble capacity of drumme. Now at length he was about to be taken at his word, and adjudged worthy of—his coveted post But in the mean time his moral drum ceased not its portentous sounds.

And thus it was that the Ultramarines had it all their own way, and aided, some say, by the Great Mogulla, his consort, worked upon the mind of the Great Mogul. Whether his understanding had lost its wonted clearness, whether the temper of the nation constrained him, or whether it fell in with one of his great ideas, saving up for a suitable opportunity, cannot be said. Perhaps it was a mixture of all three influences; but, as cones-

* This nobleman's name, when pronounced familiarly through the nose by his more intimate friends, was sounded as though it commenced with a B, instead of N, and thus by usage came at length to be written with a B; but nevertheless Noisy is the correct form.

A declaration made in a senatorial harangue by the bold Barón.

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showed, his mind was worked upon. This was indicated at first by his altered demeanour, and his ominous speeches to our ambassador.

Unfortunately, favouring this policy, certain circumstances which appeared to promise him an easy triumph, then existed. The results will be shown in the proper order of this narrative. But, certainly, at the time, appearances seemed to favour the probability of his carrying out cheaply the only one of the great ideas attributed to him, which had been given up openly by himself, and which all thought to be next to impossible—Albion's defeat and humiliation, in revenge for the great Cat's-paw battle, that grand consummation of a series of similar achievements with reference to continental chestnuts. He wavered greatly, though; but the Ultramarines struck incessantly while the iron was hot, and at last gained their point, Mandevil, by means of his secret agents, knew all these things, and this was what he referred to when he said he saw it—"brewing—brewing—brewing."