She was deputed to ask

My earnest consideration for the next few days was devoted to the
question of ways and means. Knowing it to be the custom of the country
to entertain strangers hospitably, I had hitherto accepted the
attentions offered me in the frank, cordial spirit in which they were
given. But this could not continue beyond a reasonable term, and now
that my stay in the country seemed likely to be permanent, my
self-respect demanded that I should at once take steps to prove my
capability of assuming an active part in the battle of life.

As before hinted, I was not likely to encounter many difficulties in the
way of earning a livelihood, for my own experiences were a subject of
such interest to New Amazonians, that sketches of them would easily find
a market in the native journals. In fact, even while debating the point
with myself, Principal Grey came to me as the bearer of a message from
the Mother.

She was deputed to ask me if I purposed making Andersonia my permanent
abiding place, and I was also requested to state my views for the future
in any case. She was somewhat surprised to find me full of grief at the
conviction that I had indeed parted for ever from all and everything
which I had ever loved, and she did her utmost to console me, some of
her utterances dwelling in my memory yet.

“It has certainly struck us as a great wonder,” she said, “that you
should have appeared so strangely in our midst. Some of our savants have
had discussions on the subject, but can come to no rational solution of
the questions mooted. To believe that you were magically transported
hither, is revolting to our twenty-fifth century common sense,
especially as we can locate no country which is in the condition
described by you as that of your native land. To believe that you have
been in a state of torpidity for six hundred years seems more likely.
But if we accept this hypothesis, we are confronted with the problem of
accounting for your whereabouts prior to your resuscitation. There has
been found not a single trace of your resting place. Had you been borne
hither on the wings of the wind, your advent could not have been more
mysterious, nor more bereft of all clue as to your former place of
abode. Your own utterances, and those of your odd compatriot, only seem
to leave one opinion open to us, and that is, that you have been in a
state of trance. The descriptions you have given of your own country and
its state of civilisation, as known to you, tally exactly with what is
known of Teuto-Scotland as it existed in the nineteenth century. The
fact that you call it England puts us, of course, on the right track at
once. But whatever may account for your arrival here, it is an undoubted
fact that you are of as real flesh and blood as we are, and that you are
now leading as commonplace a life as any of us. This being so, it is
expedient that some plans should be laid for your future, and I, as the
Mother’s representative, am deputed to elicit your views and intentions
on the subject. That you should only just have realised the
impossibility of finding England or its inhabitants as you left them
possibly makes my errand appear somewhat in-apropos and precipitate to
you. I have, however, my instructions to carry out, and you must forgive
me, if it should strike you as rather unfeeling to enquire what you
intend to do for a livelihood?”

“I could not possibly take offence where all have shown me so much
kindness and consideration,” was my reply. “I was, in fact, just
deliberating the same subject when you came. I have been encouraged to
think that I may hope to get on in the vocation to which I have already
devoted some years of apprenticeship—that of an author.”

“Yes, that is the opinion we have also formed, and it is in connection
therewith that I have a proposal to make to you. Will you write a book
descriptive of your former life, associates, and customs? The Literary
Bureau will publish it for you, and as there is sure to be a huge demand
for it, your profits will be large enough to justify the State in at
once presenting you with advance Letters of Credit. These Letters of
Credit, as you know, represent money with us, and if you undertake to
write this work, considering it a State commission, you will at once
find yourself in a position of independence.”

What other answer than “Yes” could I give to such a wonderful proposal
as this? A certain very nice, but rather gushing, young lady whom I know
would have at once exclaimed, “Oh! it’s _too_ lovely.” I did not do
that, but I managed to express my thanks and my acquiescence with such a
mixture of enthusiasm and dignity as did justice alike to my desire to
show my gratitude and to my sense of my own importance.

Let not the reader imagine that I had no legitimate room for the latter
feeling, for I was undoubtedly a very prominent and important personage
in New Amazonia. Circumstances over which I had had no control had
placed me in a position of publicity which was none the less real
because it was none of my seeking. The probabilities were in favour of
my popularity dying out as soon as I became less of a novelty. Meanwhile
it was advisable that I should take the goods with which the gods had
provided me, and make the most of the opportunities thrown in my way.

It did not take long to arrange my subsequent programme. I was to
commence writing on the following day, and to submit my work weekly to
the Bureau, which would make such arrangements as its heads might think
fit for bringing my work under the notice of the public.

Still, in spite of the interesting nature of our conversation, I could
not repress my melancholy, and was so depressed that my companion
offered the consolatory remark, “That though I was parted from my
beloved ones so long as I remained in my own probationary state, they
were not deprived of the power of knowing my whereabouts, and were
probably rejoicing at the fact that I had been placed in a sphere of
action which could not fail to assist my attempts to perfect myself for
the higher life.”

I was conscious of finding a little consolation in the Principal’s
arguments, and remarked that it would have been some additional comfort
to me if I could have known where my dear ones were buried, so that,
though deprived of their society, I might at least do honour to them by
visiting and adorning their last resting place.

The Principal did not exactly grasp my meaning at first. When she did,
she was horrified.

“Is it possible,” she cried in amaze, “that you can contemplate with
equanimity the prospect of being laid in the ground to rot in repulsive
putrefaction? to be the prey of vermin; to pollute the earth, air, and
water around you; and to be the source of death and disease to those
whom you have left behind? It is too horrible to think of!”

“Why, what would you have us do?” I enquired blankly. “You wouldn’t have
us kept above ground, would you?”

“I would have you decently cremated, as we all are when we die. How can
you expect to be healthy in mind and body, surrounded by the miasmatic
emanations of putrifying corpses? It was demonstrated to New Amazonian
satisfaction centuries ago that it would be impossible to rid the land
of fever and pestilential diseases until this principal source of water
pollution was removed. We still have pictures of ancient graveyards, and
I can very well imagine what they were like. The hoary, venerable
looking church; the funny upright slabs of stone or marble marking the
place where several bodies were undergoing the putrefactive process; the
pretty flowers and the picturesque trees; the little brooklet, which
winds its rippling way through or past the churchyard; its water,
looking pure and limpid because it has percolated its way through the
dead and decaying remains of your ancestors, and bearing no easily
discernible evidence of the deadly impurities of which it is the
conveying medium; I see them all, and can even follow the little
brooklet as it feeds the waters of a larger stream, and finally becomes
a component part of some great river, from which the water supply of one
of your immense manufacturing towns is obtained. Very interesting as a
picture, no doubt, but when you quietly contemplate the calm endurance
of such a horrible state of things—Faugh!”

Certainly, as presented by the Principal, the picture was not a nice
one. But one does not relinquish all one’s most sentimental customs
without a struggle, and a warm discussion ensued between us, from which,
however, I emerged the loser, as I might have expected. When I came to
think of it, it was not pleasant to reflect that every drink of water I
had ever had had possibly meandered its way through the dissolving
tissues of some recently departed victim of cholera or fever. Even the
idea of past near relationship to the too generously diffusive corpse
was not consolatory, for it had a sort of cannibalistic aspect about it
which did not argue true affection for the departed.

I remembered that in my country one of the chief objections to
cremation, apart from the purely sentimental reasons promulgated, was
that in cases of foul play the process annihilated all chances of ever
discovering the real cause of death, as no analysis of cremated remains
can be made. On reflection, it struck me that it was less important that
one malefactor should be brought to book, than that whole communities
should be exposed to the risk of poison.

I reflected also that the system of “Life Insurance” was mainly
responsible for the crimes of our modern poisoners. Given the abolition
of a system whereby our relatives and guardians are interested in our
speedy demise, and the substitution of the plan which prevailed in New
Amazonia, whereby every child of the State had its old age provided for,
and poisoning, by becoming so evidently useless, would at the same time
become our rarest crime.

So I thought, while admitting to Principal Grey that burial was a
dangerous and unsatisfactory mode of disposing of the dead.

By-and-bye we began to talk of other things, and in the course of
conversation it occurred to me to make some enquiries relating to Mr.
Augustus Fitz-Musicus and his future plans.

“I am afraid,” was the rejoinder, “that Mr. Fitz-Musicus can never be
converted into a sober New Amazonian. He has revolted against wearing
our National costume, and says that rather than sacrifice his British
individuality, and look like everybody else, he will brave the
probability of becoming a laughing-stock, and that he will wear his old
clothes to rags rather than have his individuality swallowed up in a
general resemblance to every nincompoop in the country. I am afraid it
would necessitate him to live as long again as he has done, to bring him
into the exact likeness of a native of New Amazonia. But his vanity is
inextinguishable, and nothing could bring him to the belief that his
appearance does not eclipse that of our handsomest men. When last I
heard of him, he was seeking some stuff with a large pattern. He says
that if he can find a nice big check, he may perhaps consent to have a
suit made in native style, but he is not at all sure yet.”

“But how does he intend earning his living?”

“He is not at all sure about that either. He says that he will think
about it. But he protests meanwhile very bitterly against a destiny that
has placed him among people who can be sordid and vulgar enough to ask
him, the pampered scion of a great house, to degrade himself by
attempting to earn his own living. He considers that the Mother ought to
be proud of being honoured by his sojourn amongst us, and that she ought
to be only too glad to extend her hospitality indefinitely to him.”

“And the Mother—what does she think of his peculiarities? Are they found
annoying?”

“Well, to a certain extent, yes. We abhor ingratitude. But in this case,
we are being forced into the belief that this Englishman is not exactly
a responsible agent. I am afraid that he is not quite sane. But, of
course, unless he becomes very much worse, it will not be found
necessary to adopt stringent measures with him.”

“And if his peculiarities should become much more pronounced?”

“Ah, then—then, we shall be compelled to do something. He has already
lost so much time during his prolonged state of unconsciousness, that it
will be a charity to release his spirit, if it becomes evident that it
is withheld from further progress towards Heavenly bliss by being
confined in a body which is more likely to promote retrogression than
progression.”

As I listened to this calm utterance my blood positively ran cold. Full
well I knew what she meant. The peculiar tenets of New Amazonian
religion had been carefully explained to me, and I knew that the life of
Mr. Fitz-Musicus was destined to be a short one, unless he restored the
native belief in his sanity. I was quite unable to talk much more after
this, and my friend, observing that I seemed fatigued and had better
rest, left me to my own resources. But I felt incapable of resting, for
I was too excited. Clearly the life of the eccentric Augustus was in
danger, and I was impatient to see him and warn him without delay.

I knew where he was located for the present, and I resolved to see him
at the earliest opportunity. All night I was restless and perturbed, and
though six o’clock was still early for the British masher, I dressed
myself with my usual care and set off to visit him, knowing that we
should have a better chance of talking undisturbed by taking a morning
stroll together, than if I waited until we were both in the midst of
society. Besides, I had to begin my book, and I intended working
honestly to discharge my debt to New Amazonia.

As I had partly expected, Mr. Fitz-Musicus was not yet astir, and when
he ultimately presented himself, he was in a state of supreme conjecture
as to my reasons for having him roused so unseasonably.

“Upon my life,” he grumbled discontentedly, “one gets no peace in this
miserable place. Only yesterday I was asked in cold blood to select some
way of earning my own livelihood. Me! who never had even to dress myself
without assistance until I came to this benighted land. And, now, you
come and rouse me at this unconscionable time. I would like to catch a
servant of ours seizing me by the shoulder and making me get up at this
time in the morning, like that fellow did just now. I would not only
have packed him about his business, but would have refused him a
character into the bargain. But in this confounded country there is no
freedom. One cannot do as one likes and an impudent boot cleaner
actually presumes to dictate to a Fitz-Musicus! And then the women are
such fools, too. They cannot appreciate a good chance when they get it.
I have proposed to no less than six of them, and what do you think they
all did? Nothing but laugh, upon my word! They didn’t believe that I
really meant to throw myself away upon them, and when I tried to
convince them that I was actually in earnest, they just grew more dense
and unbelieving, and laughed all the more. An Englishwoman would have
sense enough to jump at such an offer, and I don’t think I shall demean
myself by proposing to another New Amazonian.”

“I don’t think I would,” I rejoined as gravely as I could. “They do not
know how to appreciate you. Still, I think that you are not quite fair
to the land of your adoption. Personally, I have found nothing to
grumble at.”

“Oh! with you it is different. You see I have been used to every
consideration all my life long, while you have never been anything but a
mere nobody.”

“Precisely so. But you will forgive me, if I remark that your sense of
personal importance is running away with your discretion, and is likely
to lead you into trouble.”

“How do you make that out?”

“Very easily. It is what has brought me to see you now. Listen——.”

And then I did my best to explain the dangers of his position, and the
folly of persisting in his present course of discontent and
eccentricity.

“If you do not mind,” I concluded seriously, “you will be treated to a
strong dose of Medicated Schlafstrank some of these days, and then where
will you be?”

Poor Augustus! Oh! how frightened he was! We were in the public gardens,
and he staggered to a seat before he could say a word. Then he gasped,
“Oh, Lord! deliver me from this land of iniquity! Help me to get home to
my poor old mother, and I’ll never swear at her again! She shall have
the tickets for her gold watch and chain which I pawned, and if they’ll
take me on in the shop again I’ll promise to work honestly, and pay for
that suit of clothes I got on tick. And, oh, Lord, I’ll turn up every
penny of the money I cleared in that thimble-rigging business on Leger
day. And that money I owe to the hotel-keeper, who thought I was Lord
Hastings. I’ll pay every farthing of it. Oh, Lord! let me get out of
this very soon, or its two to one bar one that old Molly Jones will
never see her son again!”

Here was a revelation! I could scarcely credit my ears. But the very
evident terror of the man before me had brought out such truths as are
only wrung from such lips as his by dire emergency, and I involuntarily
recoiled from too near contact with an avowed blackguard, imposter, and
cheat.

He noticed my gesture of repulsion, and cried imploringly, “Oh, for
Heaven’s sake, don’t leave me! Help me to get out of this mess.”

“I do not see what further help I can afford you,” I responded coldly.
“Your fate depends upon your own conduct.”

“Ah, but there’s no knowing what might happen, no matter what I say or
do,” he protested. “I must clear out somehow. And listen. I really have
a plan. The reason I made a row about getting my own clothes back was
because there was a tiny paper packet in the left waistcoat pocket. I
had it given me at that opium den I was in in Soho. The fellow that gave
it me told me that it was a very wonderful sort of snuff, that would
bring even funnier things to pass than Hasheesh could. I only remembered
it the other day, and I thought it might perhaps help me to get home
again. But it looks so queer that I am rather frightened of it. It might
be poison, you know, and I thought I would see what you thought about
it, before trusting myself to snuff any of it.”

As he spoke he handed me the little paper parcel he had mentioned, and I
examined it somewhat curiously. It certainly was uninviting, having a
black and slimy appearance not at all pleasant to the eye. Still, it
might smell much nicer than it looked, and as I fancied that I caught a
faint, subtle aroma, I held the stuff to my nose, drew in a most
delightful perfume, and—awoke in my own study, surrounded by nineteenth
century magazines and newspapers, and shivering all over; for I had let
the fire go out during my long nap.