"'That Very Mab'" was a 19th century work written by Scottish poet, critic, and anthropologist Andrew Lang. This novel is an example of the writer's fiction work that strays from the poetry field. Though Lang may be more well-known for his verse, this book is still considered by many to be one of his masterpieces.
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The moonlight, in wave on wave of silver, flooded all the Sacred Island. Far away and faint ran the line of the crests of Samoa, like the hills of heaven in the old ballad, or a scene in the Italian opera. Then came a voice from the Calling Place, and the smooth sea thrilled, and all the fishes leaped, and the Sacred Isle itself was moved, and shuddered to its inmost heart. Again and again came the voice, and now it rose and fell in the cadences of a magical song (or Karakia, if we must have local colour), and the words were not of this world. Then, behold, the smooth seas began to break and plash round the foremost cape of the Holy Island, and to close again behind, like water before the keel and behind the stern of a running ship, so they plashed, and broke, and fell. Next the surface was stirred far off with the gambolling and sporting of innumerable fishes; the dolphin was tumbling in the van; the flying fish hovered and shone and sank; and clearer, always, and yet more clear came the words of the song from Samoa. Clearer and louder, moment by moment, rose the voice of Queen Mab, where she stood on the Calling Place of the Gods, and chanted to the Islands, and to the sea, and the dwellers in the sea. It was not that she left her stand, nor came nearer, but the Sacred Island itself was steering straight, like a magical barque, drawn by the wonderful song, to the mystic shore of Samoa. Now Queen Mab, where she stood among her court, with the strange brown fairies of the Southern Ocean, could behold the Sacred Island, with all its fairy crew. Beautiful things they seemed, as the sailing isle drew nearer, beautiful and naked, and brave with purple pan-danus flowers, and with red and yellow necklets of the scented seed of the pandanus. At last Queen Mab, the fairy in the fluttering wings of green, clapped her hands, and, with a little soft shock, the Sacred Island ran in and struck on the haunted beach of Samoa. What was Queen Mab doing here, so far away from England? England she had left long ago; when the Puritans arose the Fairies vanished. When 'Tom came home from labour and Cis from milking rose,' there was now no more sound of tabor, nor 'merrily went their toes.' Tom went to the Public House or the Preaching House, and Cis—Cis waited till Tom should come home and kick her into a jelly (his toes going merrily enough at that work), or tell her she was, spiritually, in a parlous case. So the Fairy Queen and all her court had long since fled from England, and long ago made a home in the undiscovered isles of the South. Now they all met and mingled in the throng of the Polynesian fairy folk, and, rushing down into the waters, they revelled all night on the silvery sand, in the windless dancing places of the deep. Tanê and Tawhiti came, the Gods of the tides and the shores, and all the fairies sang to them:
Such is the poetry of the Polynesian fairies. It is addicted to frequent repetitions of the same obvious remark, and it does not contain a Criticism of Life, so we do not give any more of it. But, such as it was, it seemed to afford great pleasure to the dancers, probably because every one of them could compose any amount of it himself, at will, and every dancer was 'his own poet,' than which nothing can be more salubrious and delightful.
Thus the dance and the revel swang and swayed through the silver halls till the green lights began to glow with gold and scarlet and crimson, burning into dawn. Then came a sudden noise, like thunder, crashing and roaring through the silence of the sea. Queen Mab clapped her hands, and, in one moment, the Sacred Isle had flitted back to its place, and the music stopped, and the dancers vanished.
Then, as the island swiftly receded, came a monstrous wave, and no wonder, which raised the surface of the sea to a level with the topmost cliff of the Calling Place. Queen Mab, who had flown to a pine-tree there, saw the salt water fall back down the steeps like a cataract, and heard a voice say, 'The blooming reef has bolted.' Another voice remarked something about 'submarine volcanic action.' These words came from a level with her head, where the Queen saw, stranded in a huge tree, a boat with a funnel that poured forth smoke, and with wheels that still rapidly and automatically revolved in mid air. In fact, a missionary steamer had been raised by the mighty tidal wave to the level of the cliff. Then the sailors climbed into the trees, talking freely, in a speech which Queen Mab knew for English, but not at all the English she had been accustomed to hear. Also the sailors had among them men with full, sleek, shining faces, wearing tall hats and long coats, and carrying little books whose edges flashed in the sun. And Queen Mab did not like the look of them. Then she heard the sailors and the men in black coats making straight for the very pine-tree in which she was sitting. So she fled into a myrtle-bush, and behold, the sailors chopped every branch of the pine clean away, and changed the beautiful tree into a bare pole. Then they brought out ropes, and a great piece of thin cloth, white with red and blue cross marks on it, and they tugged it up, and it floated from the top of the tree. Then the people from the ship gathered round it, and sang songs, whereof one repeated,
and the other contained the words,
'Every prospect pleases, And only Man is vile.'
Soon some specimens of vile Man, some of the human beings of Samoa, came round, beautiful women dressed in feathers and leaves, carrying flowers and fruit, which they offered to the men in black coats and white neckties. But the men in black coats held up their hands in horror, and shut their eyes, while some of them ran to the boat and brought bonnets, and boots, and cotton gowns, and pocket-handkerchiefs, and gave them to the women. And the women, putting them on anyhow, walked about as proud as peacocks; while the men in black coats explained that, unless they wore these things, and did and refrained from many matters, they would all be punished dreadfully after they were dead. Now, while the women were crying at such glad tidings, came another awful crash and shock, which indeed, like the previous noise that had frightened the dancers, was produced by a ship's gun. And another cloud of black smoke floated round the point, and another set of sailors got out and cut the branches off a tree, and ran up a flag which was black and red and yellow. Then those sailors (who had men with red beards and spectacles among them) cried Hock! and sang the Wacht am Rhein. Thereupon the sailors of the first steamer, with a horrid yell, rushed on the tree under the new flag, and were cutting it down, when some of the singers of the Wacht am Rhein pointed a curious little machine that way and began to turn a handle. Thereon the most dreadful cracking sounds arose, cracking and crashing; fire flew, and some of the first set of sailors fell down and writhed on the sand, while the rest fled to their boat. Several of the native women also fell down bleeding and dying in their new cotton gowns and their bonnets, for they had been dancing about while the sailors were hacking at the tree with the black and red and yellow flag.
Seeing all this, Queen Mab also saw that Samoa was no longer a place for her. She did not understand what was happening, nor know that a peaceful English annexation had been disturbed by a violent German annexation, for which the English afterwards apologised. Queen Mab also conceived a prejudice against missionaries, which, perhaps, was justified by her experience. For, in the matter of missionaries, she was unlucky. The specimens she had observed were of the wrong kind. She might have met missionaries as learned as Mr. Codrington, as manly as Livingstone, as brave and pure as Bishop Pattison> who was a martyr indeed, and gave his life for the heathen people. Yes, Queen Mab was unlucky in her missionaries.
It was on April 1, the green young year's beginning, that Mab arrived in England. She had hired a seagull—no, the seagull offered his services for nothing; I was forgetting that it was not an English, but a Polynesian seagull—to take her across. She did not altogether admire the missionaries, as we have seen, in their proceedings, the fact being that she had grown used to Polynesians in the course of the centuries she had spent among them, and the missionaries were such a remarkable contrast to the Polynesians. But their advent was certainly a source of mental improvement to her, for fairies as we know, understand things almost by instinct, and Queen Mab, one evening, chanced to overhear a good deal of the missionaries' conversation. She learned, for instance, the precise meanings, and the bearings on modern theology and metaphysics, of such words as kathenotheism, hagiography, transubstantiation, eschatology, Positivist, noumenony begriffy vorstellung, Paulisimus, wissenschaft, and others, quite new to her, and of great benefit in general conversation.
With this additional knowledge she started on the voyage, leaving her faithful subjects to take care of the island and themselves, till she came back to tell them whether their return to England would ever be practicable. She landed in Great Britain, then, on April 1, and the seagull went across to the Faroe Islands and waited there till the time which she had appointed for him to come and carry her back to Polynesia.
Queen Mab found England a good deal altered. There were still fairy circles in the grass; but they were attributed, not to fairy dances, but to unscientific farming and the absence of artificial phosphates. The country did not smell of April and May, but of brick-kilns and the manufacture of chemicals. The rivers, which she had left bright and clear, were all black and poisonous. Water for drinking purposes was therefore supplied by convoys from the Apollinaris and other foreign wells, and it was thought that, if a war broke out, the natives of England would die of thirst. This was not the only disenchantment of Queen Mab. She found that in Europe she was an anachronism. She did not know, at first, what the word meant, but the sense of it gradually dawned upon her. Now there is always something uncomfortable about being an anachronism; but still people may become accustomed to it, and even take a kind of a pride in it, if they are only anachronisms on the right side—so far in the van of the bulk of humanity, for instance, that the bulk of humanity considers them not wholly in their right minds. There must surely be a sense of superiority in knowing oneself a century or two in front of one's fellow-creatures that counterbalances the sense of solitude. Queen Mab had no such consolation. She was an anachronism hundreds of years on the wrong side; in fact, a relic of Paganism.
Of course she was acquainted with the language of all the beasts and birds and insects, and she counted on their befriending her, however much men had changed. Her brief experience of modern sailors and missionaries, whether English or German, had indeed convinced her that men were, even now, far from perfection. But it was a crushing blow to find that all the beasts were traitors, and all the insects.
If it had not been for the loyal birds she would have gone back to Polynesia at once; but they flocked faithfully to her standard, led by the Owl, the wisest of all feathered things, who had lived too long, and had too much good feeling to ignore fairies, though he was, perhaps, just a little of a prig. The insects, however, who, considering the size of their brains, one might have thought would believe in fairies and in the supernatural in general, if anybody did, behaved disgracefully, and the ant was the worst all. She started by saying that her brain was larger in proportion than the brain of any other insect. Perhaps Queen Mab was not aware that Sir John Lubbock had devoted a volume to the faculties and accomplishments of ants, together with some minor details relating to bees and wasps, of which these insects magnified the importance. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for her to countenance a mere vulgar superstition, like faith in fairies. She begged leave to refer Queen Mab to various works in the International Scientific Series for a complete explanation of her motives, and mentioned, casually, that she also held credentials from Mr. Romanes. Then, explaining that her character with the sluggard was at stake, she hurried away. Evidently she did not care to be seen talking to a fairy. It may be mentioned here, however, that Queen Mab's faith in entomological nature was considerably shaken by the fact that when no one was looking at her the ant always folded up her work and went to sleep—though, if surprised in a siesta, she explained that she had only just succumbed to complete exhaustion, and lamented that mind, though infinitely superior to, was not yet independent of matter.
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