the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs
I NEVER knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He
seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind,
and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it
happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their
accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being
large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether
people grow fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself
which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to
determine; but certain it is that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris.
About the refinements, or, as he called them, the 'ghost' of wit,
the king troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration
for breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the
sake of it. Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred
Rabelais' 'Gargantua' to the 'Zadig' of Voltaire: and, upon the whole,
practical jokes suited his taste far better than verbal ones.
At the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether
gone out of fashion at court. Several of the great continental
'powers' still retain their 'fools,' who wore motley, with caps and
bells, and who were expected to be always ready with sharp witticisms,
at a moment's notice, in consideration of the crumbs that fell from the royal table.
Our king, as a matter of course, retained his 'fool.' The fact is,
he required something in the way of folly- if only to counterbalance
the heavy wisdom of the seven wise men who were his ministers- not to mention himself.
His fool, or professional jester, was not only a fool, however.
His value was trebled in the eyes of the king, by the fact of his
being also a dwarf and a cripple. Dwarfs were as common at court, in
those days, as fools; and many monarchs would have found it
difficult to get through their days (days are rather longer at court
than elsewhere) without both a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to
laugh at. But, as I have already observed, your jesters, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are fat, round, and unwieldy- so
that it was no small source of self-gratulation with our king that, in
Hop-Frog (this was the fool's name), he possessed a triplicate treasure in one person.
I believe the name 'Hop-Frog' was not that given to the dwarf by his
sponsors at baptism, but it was conferred upon him, by general consent
of the several ministers, on account of his inability to walk as other
men do. In fact, Hop-Frog could only get along by a sort of
interjectional gait- something between a leap and a wriggle- a
movement that afforded illimitable amusement, and of course
consolation, to the king, for (notwithstanding the protuberance of his
stomach and a constitutional swelling of the head) the king, by his whole court, was accounted a capital figure.
But although Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could
move only with great pain and difficulty along a road or floor, the
prodigious muscular power which nature seemed to have bestowed upon
his arms, by way of compensation for deficiency in the lower limbs,
enabled him to perform many feats of wonderful dexterity, where
trees or ropes were in question, or any thing else to climb. At such
exercises he certainly much more resembled a squirrel, or a small monkey, than a frog.
I am not able to say, with precision, from what country Hop-Frog
originally came. It was from some barbarous region, however, that no
person ever heard of- a vast distance from the court of our king.
Hop-Frog, and a young girl very little less dwarfish than himself
(although of exquisite proportions, and a marvellous dancer), had been
forcibly carried off from their respective homes in adjoining
provinces, and sent as presents to the king, by one of his ever-victorious generals.
Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that a
close intimacy arose between the two little captives. Indeed, they
soon became sworn friends. Hop-Frog, who, although he made a great
deal of sport, was by no means popular, had it not in his power to
render Trippetta many services; but she, on account of her grace and
exquisite beauty (although a dwarf), was universally admired and
petted; so she possessed much influence; and never failed to use it, whenever she could, for the benefit of Hop-Frog.
On some grand state occasion- I forgot what- the king determined
to have a masquerade, and whenever a masquerade or any thing of that
kind, occurred at our court, then the talents, both of Hop-Frog and
Trippetta were sure to be called into play. Hop-Frog, in especial, was
so inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel
characters, and arranging costumes, for masked balls, that nothing could be done, it seems, without his assistance.
The night appointed for the fete had arrived. A gorgeous hall had
been fitted up, under Trippetta's eye, with every kind of device which
could possibly give eclat to a masquerade. The whole court was in a
fever of expectation. As for costumes and characters, it might well be
supposed that everybody had come to a decision on such points. Many
had made up their minds (as to what roles they should assume) a
week, or even a month, in advance; and, in fact, there was not a
particle of indecision anywhere- except in the case of the king and
his seven minsters. Why they hesitated I never could tell, unless they
did it by way of a joke. More probably, they found it difficult, on
account of being so fat, to make up their minds. At all events, time
flew; and, as a last resort they sent for Trippetta and Hop-Frog.
When the two little friends obeyed the summons of the king they
found him sitting at his wine with the seven members of his cabinet
council; but the monarch appeared to be in a very ill humor. He knew
that Hop-Frog was not fond of wine, for it excited the poor cripple
almost to madness; and madness is no comfortable feeling. But the king
loved his practical jokes, and took pleasure in forcing Hop-Frog to drink and (as the king called it) 'to be merry.'
"Come here, Hop-Frog," said he, as the jester and his friend entered
the room; "swallow this bumper to the health of your absent friends,
[here Hop-Frog sighed,] and then let us have the benefit of your
invention. We want characters- characters, man- something novel- out
of the way. We are wearied with this everlasting sameness. Come, drink! the wine will brighten your wits."
Hop-Frog endeavored, as usual, to get up a jest in reply to these
advances from the king; but the effort was too much. It happened to be
the poor dwarf's birthday, and the command to drink to his 'absent
friends' forced the tears to his eyes. Many large, bitter drops fell
into the goblet as he took it, humbly, from the hand of the tyrant.
"Ah! ha! ha!" roared the latter, as the dwarf reluctantly drained
the beaker.- "See what a glass of good wine can do! Why, your eyes are shining already!"
Poor fellow! his large eyes gleamed, rather than shone; for the
effect of wine on his excitable brain was not more powerful than
instantaneous. He placed the goblet nervously on the table, and looked
round upon the company with a half- insane stare. They all seemed highly amused at the success of the king's 'joke.'
"And now to business," said the prime minister, a very fat man.
"Yes," said the King; "Come lend us your assistance. Characters,
my fine fellow; we stand in need of characters- all of us- ha! ha!
ha!" and as this was seriously meant for a joke, his laugh was chorused by the seven.
Hop-Frog also laughed although feebly and somewhat vacantly.
"Come, come," said the king, impatiently, "have you nothing to suggest?"
"I am endeavoring to think of something novel," replied the dwarf,
abstractedly, for he was quite bewildered by the wine.
"Endeavoring!" cried the tyrant, fiercely; "what do you mean by
that? Ah, I perceive. You are Sulky, and want more wine. Here, drink
this!" and he poured out another goblet full and offered it to the
cripple, who merely gazed at it, gasping for breath.
"Drink, I say!" shouted the monster, "or by the fiends-"
The dwarf hesitated. The king grew purple with rage. The courtiers
smirked. Trippetta, pale as a corpse, advanced to the monarch's
seat, and, falling on her knees before him, implored him to spare her friend.
The tyrant regarded her, for some moments, in evident wonder at
her audacity. He seemed quite at a loss what to do or say- how most
becomingly to express his indignation. At last, without uttering a
syllable, he pushed her violently from him, and threw the contents of the brimming goblet in her face.
The poor girl got up the best she could, and, not daring even to
sigh, resumed her position at the foot of the table.
There was a dead silence for about half a minute, during which the
falling of a leaf, or of a feather, might have been heard. It was
interrupted by a low, but harsh and protracted grating sound which
seemed to come at once from every corner of the room.
"What- what- what are you making that noise for?" demanded the king, turning furiously to the dwarf.
The latter seemed to have recovered, in great measure, from his
intoxication, and looking fixedly but quietly into the tyrant's face, merely ejaculated:
"I- I? How could it have been me?"
"The sound appeared to come from without," observed one of the
courtiers. "I fancy it was the parrot at the window, whetting his bill upon his cage-wires."
"True," replied the monarch, as if much relieved by the
suggestion; "but, on the honor of a knight, I could have sworn that it was the gritting of this vagabond's teeth."
Hereupon the dwarf laughed (the king was too confirmed a joker to
object to any one's laughing), and displayed a set of large, powerful,
and very repulsive teeth. Moreover, he avowed his perfect
willingness to swallow as much wine as desired. The monarch was
pacified; and having drained another bumper with no very perceptible
ill effect, Hop-Frog entered at once, and with spirit, into the plans for the masquerade.
"I cannot tell what was the association of idea," observed he,
very tranquilly, and as if he had never tasted wine in his life,
"but just after your majesty, had struck the girl and thrown the
wine in her face- just after your majesty had done this, and while the
parrot was making that odd noise outside the window, there came into
my mind a capital diversion- one of my own country frolics- often
enacted among us, at our masquerades: but here it will be new
altogether. Unfortunately, however, it requires a company of eight persons and-"
"Here we are!" cried the king, laughing at his acute discovery of
the coincidence; "eight to a fraction- I and my seven ministers. Come! what is the diversion?"
"We call it," replied the cripple, "the Eight Chained
Ourang-Outangs, and it really is excellent sport if well enacted."
"We will enact it," remarked the king, drawing himself up, and lowering his eyelids.
"The beauty of the game," continued Hop-Frog, "lies in the fright it occasions among the women."
"Capital!" roared in chorus the monarch and his ministry.
"I will equip you as ourang-outangs," proceeded the dwarf; "leave
all that to me. The resemblance shall be so striking, that the company
of masqueraders will take you for real beasts- and of course, they will be as much terrified as astonished."
"Oh, this is exquisite!" exclaimed the king. "Hop-Frog! I will make a man of you."
"The chains are for the purpose of increasing the confusion by their
jangling. You are supposed to have escaped, en masse, from your
keepers. Your majesty cannot conceive the effect produced, at a
masquerade, by eight chained ourang-outangs, imagined to be real
ones by most of the company; and rushing in with savage cries, among
the crowd of delicately and gorgeously habited men and women. The contrast is inimitable!"
"It must be," said the king: and the council arose hurriedly (as
it was growing late), to put in execution the scheme of Hop-Frog.
His mode of equipping the party as ourang-outangs was very simple,
but effective enough for his purposes. The animals in question had, at
the epoch of my story, very rarely been seen in any part of the
civilized world; and as the imitations made by the dwarf were
sufficiently beast-like and more than sufficiently hideous, their
truthfulness to nature was thus thought to be secured.
The king and his ministers were first encased in tight-fitting
stockinet shirts and drawers. They were then saturated with tar. At
this stage of the process, some one of the party suggested feathers;
but the suggestion was at once overruled by the dwarf, who soon
convinced the eight, by ocular demonstration, that the hair of such
a brute as the ourang-outang was much more efficiently represented
by flu. A thick coating of the latter was accordingly plastered upon
the coating of tar. A long chain was now procured. First, it was
passed about the waist of the king, and tied, then about another of
the party, and also tied; then about all successively, in the same
manner. When this chaining arrangement was complete, and the party
stood as far apart from each other as possible, they formed a
circle; and to make all things appear natural, Hop-Frog passed the
residue of the chain in two diameters, at right angles, across the
circle, after the fashion adopted, at the present day, by those who
capture Chimpanzees, or other large apes, in Borneo.
The grand saloon in which the masquerade was to take place, was a
circular room, very lofty, and receiving the light of the sun only
through a single window at top. At night (the season for which the
apartment was especially designed) it was illuminated principally by a
large chandelier, depending by a chain from the centre of the
sky-light, and lowered, or elevated, by means of a counter-balance
as usual; but (in order not to look unsightly) this latter passed
outside the cupola and over the roof.
The arrangements of the room had been left to Trippetta's
superintendence; but, in some particulars, it seems, she had been
guided by the calmer judgment of her friend the dwarf. At his
suggestion it was that, on this occasion, the chandelier was
removed. Its waxen drippings (which, in weather so warm, it was
quite impossible to prevent) would have been seriously detrimental
to the rich dresses of the guests, who, on account of the crowded
state of the saloon, could not all be expected to keep from out its
centre; that is to say, from under the chandelier. Additional
sconces were set in various parts of the hall, out of the war, and a
flambeau, emitting sweet odor, was placed in the right hand of each of
the Caryatides that stood against the wall- some fifty or sixty altogether.
The eight ourang-outangs, taking Hop-Frog's advice, waited patiently
until midnight (when the room was thoroughly filled with masqueraders)
before making their appearance. No sooner had the clock ceased
striking, however, than they rushed, or rather rolled in, all
together- for the impediments of their chains caused most of the party
to fall, and all to stumble as they entered.
The excitement among the masqueraders was prodigious, and filled the
heart of the king with glee. As had been anticipated, there were not a
few of the guests who supposed the ferocious-looking creatures to be
beasts of some kind in reality, if not precisely ourang-outangs.
Many of the women swooned with affright; and had not the king taken
the precaution to exclude all weapons from the saloon, his party might
soon have expiated their frolic in their blood. As it was, a general
rush was made for the doors; but the king had ordered them to be
locked immediately upon his entrance; and, at the dwarf's
suggestion, the keys had been deposited with him.
While the tumult was at its height, and each masquerader attentive
only to his own safety (for, in fact, there was much real danger
from the pressure of the excited crowd), the chain by which the
chandelier ordinarily hung, and which had been drawn up on its
removal, might have been seen very gradually to descend, until its
hooked extremity came within three feet of the floor.
Soon after this, the king and his seven friends having reeled
about the hall in all directions, found themselves, at length, in
its centre, and, of course, in immediate contact with the chain. While
they were thus situated, the dwarf, who had followed noiselessly at
their heels, inciting them to keep up the commotion, took hold of
their own chain at the intersection of the two portions which
crossed the circle diametrically and at right angles. Here, with the
rapidity of thought, he inserted the hook from which the chandelier
had been wont to depend; and, in an instant, by some unseen agency,
the chandelier-chain was drawn so far upward as to take the hook out
of reach, and, as an inevitable consequence, to drag the
ourang-outangs together in close connection, and face to face.
The masqueraders, by this time, had recovered, in some measure, from
their alarm; and, beginning to regard the whole matter as a
well-contrived pleasantry, set up a loud shout of laughter at the predicament of the apes.
"Leave them to me!" now screamed Hop-Frog, his shrill voice making
itself easily heard through all the din. "Leave them to me. I fancy
I know them. If I can only get a good look at them, I can soon tell who they are."
Here, scrambling over the heads of the crowd, he managed to get to
the wall; when, seizing a flambeau from one of the Caryatides, he
returned, as he went, to the centre of the room-leaping, with the
agility of a monkey, upon the kings head, and thence clambered a few
feet up the chain; holding down the torch to examine the group of
ourang-outangs, and still screaming: "I shall soon find out who they are!"
And now, while the whole assembly (the apes included) were convulsed
with laughter, the jester suddenly uttered a shrill whistle; when
the chain flew violently up for about thirty feet- dragging with it
the dismayed and struggling ourang-outangs, and leaving them suspended
in mid-air between the sky-light and the floor. Hop-Frog, clinging
to the chain as it rose, still maintained his relative position in
respect to the eight maskers, and still (as if nothing were the
matter) continued to thrust his torch down toward them, as though
endeavoring to discover who they were.
So thoroughly astonished was the whole company at this ascent,
that a dead silence, of about a minute's duration, ensued. It was
broken by just such a low, harsh, grating sound, as had before
attracted the attention of the king and his councillors when the
former threw the wine in the face of Trippetta. But, on the present
occasion, there could be no question as to whence the sound issued. It
came from the fang- like teeth of the dwarf, who ground them and
gnashed them as he foamed at the mouth, and glared, with an expression
of maniacal rage, into the upturned countenances of the king and his
"Ah, ha!" said at length the infuriated jester. "Ah, ha! I begin
to see who these people are now!" Here, pretending to scrutinize the
king more closely, he held the flambeau to the flaxen coat which
enveloped him, and which instantly burst into a sheet of vivid
flame. In less than half a minute the whole eight ourang-outangs
were blazing fiercely, amid the shrieks of the multitude who gazed
at them from below, horror-stricken, and without the power to render
them the slightest assistance.
At length the flames, suddenly increasing in virulence, forced the
jester to climb higher up the chain, to be out of their reach; and, as
he made this movement, the crowd again sank, for a brief instant, into
silence. The dwarf seized his opportunity, and once more spoke:
"I now see distinctly." he said, "what manner of people these
maskers are. They are a great king and his seven privy-councillors,- a
king who does not scruple to strike a defenceless girl and his seven
councillors who abet him in the outrage. As for myself, I am simply
Hop-Frog, the jester- and this is my last jest."
Owing to the high combustibility of both the flax and the tar to
which it adhered, the dwarf had scarcely made an end of his brief
speech before the work of vengeance was complete. The eight corpses
swung in their chains, a fetid, blackened, hideous, and
indistinguishable mass. The cripple hurled his torch at them,
clambered leisurely to the ceiling, and disappeared through the
It is supposed that Trippetta, stationed on the roof of the
saloon, had been the accomplice of her friend in his fiery revenge,
and that, together, they effected their escape to their own country:
for neither was seen again.