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The Three Mulla-Mulgars
(The Three Royal Monkeys)
By Walter De la Mare, Dorothy P. Lathrop
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
On the borders of the Forest of Munza-mulgar lived once an old grey fruit-monkey of the name of Mutt-matutta. She had three sons, the eldest Thumma, the next Thimbulla, and the youngest, who was a Nizza-neela, Um-manodda. And they called each other for short, Thumb, Thimble, and Nod. The rickety, tumble-down old wooden hut in which they lived had been built 319 Munza years before by a traveller, a Portugall or Portingal, lost in the forest 22,997 leagues from home. After he was dead, there came scrambling along on his fours one peaceful evening a Mulgar (or, as we say in English, a monkey) named Zebbah. At first sight of the hut he held his head on one side awhile, and stood quite still, listening, his broad-nosed face lit up in the blaze of the setting sun. He then hobbled a little nearer, and peeped into the hut. Whereupon he hobbled away a little, but soon came back and peeped again. At last he ventured near, and, pushing back the tangle of creepers and matted grasses, groped through the door and went in. And there, in a dark corner, lay the Portingal's little heap of bones.
The hut was dry as tinder. It had in it a broken firestone, a kind of chest or cupboard, a table, and a stool, both rough and insect-bitten, but still strong. Zebbah sniffed and grunted, and pushed and peered about. And he found all manner of strange and precious stuff half buried in the hut—pots for Subbub; pestles and basins for Manaka-cake, etc.; three bags of great beads, clear, blue, and emerald; an old rusty musket; nine ephelantoes' tusks; a bag of Margarita stones; and many other things, besides cloth and spider-silk and dried-up fruits and fishes. He made his dwelling there, and died there. This Mulgar, Zebbah, was Mutta-matutta's great-great-great-grand-father. Dead and gone were all.
Now, one day when Mutta-matutta was young, and her father had gone into the forest for Sudd-fruit, there came limping along a most singular Mulgar towards the house. He was bent and shrunken, shivering and coughing, but he walked as men walk, his nut-shaped head bending up out of a big red jacket. His shoulder and the top of his head were worn bare by the rubbing of the bundle he carried. And behind him came stumbling along another Mulgar, his servant, with a few rags tied round his body, who could not at first speak, his tongue was so much swollen from his having bitten in the dark a poison-spider in his nuts. The name of his master was Seelem; his own name was Glint. This Seelem fell very sick. Mutta-matutta nursed him night and day, with the sourest monkey-physic. He was pulled crooked with pain and the shivers, or rain-fever. The tips of the hairs on his head had in his wanderings turned snow-white. But he bore his pain and his sickness (and his physic) without one groan of complaint.
And Glint, who fetched water and gathered sticks and nuts, and helped Muttamatutta, told her that his master, Seelem, was a Mulla-mulgar—that is, a Mulgar of the Blood Royal—and own brother to Assasimmon, Prince of the Valleys of Tishnar.
He told her, also, that his master had wearied of As-sasimmon's valley-palace, his fine food and dishes, his music of shells and strings, his countless Mulgar-slaves, beasts, and groves and gardens; and that, having chosen three servants, Jacca, Glutt, and himself, he had left his brother's valleys, to discover what lay beyond the Arakkaboa Mountains. But Jacca had perished of frost-bite on the southern slopes of the Peak of Tishnar, and Glutt had been eaten by the Minimuls.
He was very silent and gloomy, this Mulla-mulgar, Seelem, but glad to rest his bruised and weary bones in the hut. And when Mutta-matutta's father died from sleeping in the moon-mist at Sudd-ripening, Seelem untied his travelling bundle and made his home in the hut. Mutta-matutta was a lonely and rather sad Mulgar, so at this she rejoiced, for she had grown from fearing to love the royal old wanderer. And she helped him to put away all that was in his bundles into the Portingal's chest—three shirts of cotton; two red jackets, like his own, with metal hooks; a sheep's-coat, with ivory buttons and pocket-flaps; three skin shoes (for one had been lost out of his bundle in the forest); a cap of Mamasul skin (very precious) ; besides knives, fire-strikers, a hollow cup of ivory, magic physic-powder, two combs of Impaleena-horn, a green serpent-skin for sweetening water, etc., and, beyond and above all, the milk-white Wonderstone of Tishnar.
Here they lived, Seelem and Mutta (as he called her), in the Portingal's old hut, for thirteen years. And Mutta was happy with Seelem and her three sons, Thumb, Thimble, and Nod. They had a water-spring, honey-boxes or baskets for the bees in the Ollaconda-trees, a shed or huddle of green branches, for Glint, and a big patch of Um-muz-cane. Nod slept in a kind of hole or burrow in the roof, with a tiny peeping-hole, from which he used to scare the birds from his father's Ummuz.
Mutta wished only that Seelem was not quite so grim and broody; that the Munza-mulgars (forest-monkeys) would not come stealing her Subbub and honey; and that the Portingal's hut stood quite out of the silvery moon-mist that rose from the swamp; for she suffered (as do most fruit-monkeys) from the bones-ache. Seelem was gentle and easy in his own moody way with Mutta and his three sons, but, most of all, he cheered his heart with tiny Nod, the Nizza-neela. Sometimes all day long this old travel-worn Mulla-mulgar never uttered a sound, save at evening, when he sang or droned his evening hymn to Tishnar. He kept a thick stick, which he called his Guzza, to punish his three sons when they were idle and sullen, or gluttonous, or with Munza tricks pestered their mother. And he never favoured Nod beyond the others more than all good fathers favour the youngest, the littlest, and the gaysomest of their children.
One of the first things that Nod remembered was Glint's tumbling from the great Ukka-tree, which he had climbed ait ripening-time, bough up to bough from the bottom, cracking shells and eating all the way, until, forgetting how heavy he had become, he swung his fat body on to a slender and withered branch, and fell all a-topple from top to bottom on to the back of his thick skull. Beneath this same dark-leaved tree Seelem buried his servant, together with a pot of subbub, seven loaves or cakes, and a long stick of Ummuz-cane. But Mutta-matutta after his death would never touch an Ukka-nut again.
Seelem taught his sons how to make fire, what nuts and roots and fruits and grasses were wholesome for eating; what herbs and bark and pith for physic; what reeds and barks for cloth. He taught them how to take honey without being stung; how to count; how to find their way by the chief and brightest among the stars; to cut cudgels, to build leaf-huts and huddles against heat or rain. He taught them, too, the common tongue of the Forest-monkeys—that is the language of nearly all the Mulgars that live in the forests of Munza—Jacquet-mulgars, Mul-labruks, purple-faced and saffron-headed Mulgars, Skee-toes, tuft-waving Manquabees, Fly-catchers and Squirrel-tails, and many more than I can mention. Seelem taught them also a little of the languages of the dreaded Gunga-mulgars, of the Collobs, and the Babbab??mas. But the Minimul-mulgars' and the Oomgars' or man-monkeys' languages (white, black, or yellow) he could not teach, because he did not know them. When, however, they were alone together they spoke the secret language of the Mulla-mulgars dwelling north of the Arakkaboas—that is, Mulgar-royal. This language in some ways resembles that of the Portugalls, in some that of the Oggewibbies, and, here and there—but in very little—Garniereze. Seelem, of course, taught his sons, and especially Thumb, many other things besides—more, certainly, than would contain itself in a little book like this. But, above all, he taught them to walk upright, never to taste blood, and never, unless in danger or despair, to climb trees or to grow a tail.
But now, after all these thirteen years of absence from Assasimmon's palace in the beautiful Valleys of Tishnar, Seelem began to desire more and more to see again his home and his brother, with whom as a child he had walked in scarlet and Mamasul, and drunk his syrup from an ivory cup. He grew more gloomy and morose than ever, squatted alone, his eyes fixed mournfully in the air. And Mutta would whisper to Nod: "Sst, zun nizza-neela, tus-weeta zan nuome."
The more cunning of the Forest-mulgars at first had come in troops to Seelem, laden with gifts of nuts and fruits, because they were afraid of him. But he would sit in his red jacket and merely stare at them as if they were no better than flies. And at last they began in revenge to do him as much mischief as their wits could contrive, until he grew utterly weary of their scuffling and quarrelling, their thumbs and colours, fleas and tails. At last he could bear himself no longer, and one morning, in the first haze of sunrise over the sleeping forest, he called Mutta and his three sons to where he sat in the shadow of Glint's great budding Ukka-tree. And he told them he was going on a long journey—"beyond and beyond, forest and river, forest swamp and river, the mountains of Arakkaboa, leagues, leagues away"—to seek again the Valleys of Tishnar. "And I will come back," he said, leaning his hand upon the ground and blinking at Nod, "with slaves and scarlet and food-baskets and Zevveras, and bring you all there with me. But first I must go alone and find the way through dangers thick as flies, O Mulla-mulgars. Wait here and guard your old mother, Mutta-matutta, my sons, her Ummuz and ukkas. And grow strong, O tailless ones, till I return. Zu zoubé seese muglareen, een suang no nouano zupbf!" And that was all he said.
But Mutta-matutta, though she could not hide her grief at his going, helped him in every way she could to be quickly gone. He seemed beside himself, this white, old, crooked Mulla-mulgar. His eyes blazed; he went muttering; he'd throw up his hands and snuff and snuff, as if the very wind bore Tishnar on its wings. And even at night he'd rise up in the darkness and open the door and listen as if ouft of the immeasurable and solitudinous forests he heard voices calling him from far away. At length, in his last shirt (which had been carefully kept these thirteen years, with a dead kingfisher and a bag of civet, to keep off the cockroaches); in his finest red jacket and his cap of Mamasul-skin; with a great bundle of Manaka-cake and Ummuz-cane, knife and fire-striker and physic, and the old Portingal's rusty musket on his shoulder, he was ready to be off. In the early morning he came stooping under the little hut-door. He looked at his hut and his water-spring, at his bees and canes; he looked at his three sons, and at old Mutta-matutta, with a great frown, and trembled. And Mutta could not bear to say good-bye; she lifted her crooked hands above her old head, the tears running down her cheeks, and she went and hid herself in the hut till he was gone. But his three sons went a little way with him.
Thumb and Thimble hopped along with his heavy bundle on a stick between them to the branching of the Mul-gar-track, which here runs nearly two paces wide into the gloom of Munza-mulgar; while Nod sat on Seelem's shoulder, sucking a stick of Ummuz-cane, and clutching the long, cold, rusty barrel of his musket. The trees of the forest lifted their branches in a trembling haze of heat, hung with grey thorny ropes, and vines and trailing creepers of Cullum and Samarak, vivid with leaves, and with large cuplike waxen flowers, moon-white, amber, mauve, and scarlet. Butterflies like blots and splashes of flame, wee Tominiscoes, ruby and emerald and amethyst, shimmered and spangled and sipped and hovered. And a thin, twangling, immeasurable murmur like the strings of N??manossi's harp rose from the tiny millions that made their nests and mounds and burrows in the forest.
Seelem took his sons one by one by the shoulders, and looked into their eyes, and touched noses. And they lifted their hands in salutation, and watched him till he was gone from sight. But though his grey face was all wizened up with trouble and wet with tears, he never so much as once looked behind him, lest his sons should cry after him, or he turn back. So, presently, after they all three lifted their hands once more, as if his Meermut might still haunt near; and then they went home to their mother.
But the rains came; he did not return. The long days strode softly by, the chatter and screams of Munza at dawn, the long-drawn, moaning shout of Mullabruk to Mullabruk as darkness deepened. Nod would sometimes venture a little way into the forest, hoping to hear the gongs that his father had told him the closes-horn slaves of Assasimmon tie with leopard-thongs about their Zevveras' necks. He would sit in the gigantic shadows of evening, watching the fireflies, and saying to himself: "Sst, Nod, see what they say—to-morrow!" But the morrow never came that brought him back his father.
Mutta-matutta cared and cooked for them. She made a great store of Manaka-cake, packed for coolness all neatly in plantain-leaves; Nano-cheese, and two or three big pots of Subbub. She kept them clean and combed; plastered and physicked them; taught them to cook, and many things else, until, as one by one they grew up, they knew all that she could teach them, except the wisdom to use what they had learnt. She would often, too, in the first hush of night, tell them stories of their father, and of her own father, back even to Zebbah, and the Portingal dangling with his bunch of wild-eats' tails in the corner. But as the years wasted away, she grew thin and mournful, and fell ill of pining and grief and age, and even had at last to keep to her bed of moss and cotton in the hut.
Her sons worked hard for her, pushing into the forest and across the narrow swamp in search of fruits to tempt her appetite. Nod heaped up fresh leaves for her bed, and sang in his shrill, quavering voice every evening Tishnar's hymn to his poor old mother. He baked her sweet potatoes and Nanoes wrapped in leaves, and would dance round, "wriggle and stamp—wriggle and stamp," as Seelem had told him dance the Oomgar-nuggas, to try to make her cheerful. But by-and-by she began to languish, her teeth chattering, her eyes burning, unable to eat.... And one still afternoon, when only Nod was near (his brothers, tired of the heat and buzzing in the green hut, having gone to gather nuts and sticks in the forest), as Mutta-matutta sat dozing and muttering in her corner, came the voice of Tishnar, calling in the hush of evening: and she knew she must die.
Nod crept close to her, thinking at first the strange voice singing was the sound of Seelem's Zevveras' distant gongs, and he held the hard thin hand between his. When Thumb and Thimble returned with their bags and faggots of smoulder-wood, she called them all three, and told them she too must go away now, perhaps even, if only in Meermut, to find their father. And she besought them to be always true and faithful one to another, and to be brave. "Five fingers serve one hand, my good men," she said. "And oh, remember this always: that you are all three Mulla-mulgars, sons of Seelem, whose home is far from here—Mulla-mulgars who never do walk flambo—that is, on all fours—never taste blood, and never, unless in danger and despair, climb trees or grow a tail."
It was hot and gloomy in the tangled little hut, lit only by the violet of the dying afterglow. And when she had rested a little while to recover her breath, she told them that Seelem, the night before he left them, had said that, should he perish on his journey and not return, in seven Munza years they were, as best they could, bravely to follow after him. In time they would perhaps reach the Valleys of Tishnar, and their uncle, Prince Assasimmon, would welcome them.
"His country lies beyond and beyond," she said, "forest and river, forest, swamp and river, the Mountains of Arakkaboa—leagues, leagues away."
And, as she paused, a feeble wind sighed through the open window, stirring the dangling bones of the Portingal, so that, with their faint clicking, they too, seemed to echo, "leagues, leagues away."
"It will be a long and dreary journey, my sons. But the Prince Assasimmon, Mulla-mulla of the Mulgars, is great and powerful, and has for hut a palace of ivory and Azmamogreel, with scarlet and Mamasul, slaves and peacocks, and beasts uncountable; and leagues of Ukka and Barbary-nuts; and boundless fields of Ummuz, and orchards of fruit, and bowers of flowers and pleasure. And his, too, is the Rose of all the Mulgars." And as he listened Thimble shuffled from foot to foot, his heart uneasy, to hear her cry so hollowly the beauty of that Rose. And at her bidding, out of the cupboard they took the civeted bundles of all the stuff and little Mulgar treasures she had been hoarding up all these years for them against this last day.
Excerpted from The Three Mulla-Mulgars by Walter De la Mare, Dorothy P. Lathrop. Copyright © 2013 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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