Cashel Byron's Profession HTML version

Chapter 7
Society was much occupied during Alice's first season in London with the upshot of an
historical event of a common kind. England, a few years before, had stolen a kingdom
from a considerable people in Africa, and seized the person of its king. The conquest
proved useless, troublesome, and expensive; and after repeated attempts to settle the
country on impracticable plans suggested to the Colonial Office by a popular historian
who had made a trip to Africa, and by generals who were tired of the primitive remedy of
killing the natives, it appeared that the best course was to release the captive king and
get rid of the unprofitable booty by restoring it to him. In order, however, that the
impression made on him by England's short-sighted disregard of her neighbor's
landmark abroad might be counteracted by a glimpse of the vastness of her armaments
and wealth at home, it was thought advisable to take him first to London, and show him
the wonders of the town. But when the king arrived, his freedom from English
prepossessions made it difficult to amuse, or even to impress him. A stranger to the
idea that a private man could own a portion of the earth and make others pay him for
permission to live on it, he was unable to understand why such a prodigiously wealthy
nation should be composed partly of poor and uncomfortable persons toiling incessantly
to create riches, and partly of a class that confiscated and dissipated the wealth thus
produced without seeming to be at all happier than the unfortunate laborers at whose
expense they existed. He was seized with strange fears, first for his health, for it
seemed to him that the air of London, filthy with smoke, engendered puniness and
dishonesty in those who breathed it; and eventually for his life, when he learned that
kings in Europe were sometimes shot at by passers-by, there being hardly a monarch
there who had not been so imperilled more than once; that the Queen of England,
though accounted the safest of all, was accustomed to this variety of pistol practice; and
that the autocrat of an empire huge beyond all other European countries, whose father
had been torn asunder in the streets of his capital, lived surrounded by soldiers who
shot down all strangers that approached him even at his own summons, and was an
object of compassion to the humblest of his servants. Under these circumstances, the
African king was with difficulty induced to stir out of doors; and he only visited Woolwich
Arsenal--the destructive resources of which were expected to influence his future
behavior in a manner favorable to English supremacy--under compulsion. At last the
Colonial Office, which had charge of him, was at its wit's end to devise entertainments
to keep him in good-humor until the appointed time for his departure.
On the Tuesday following Mrs. Hoskyn's reception, Lucian Webber called at his cousin's
house in Regent's Park, and said, in the course of a conversation with the two ladies
"The Colonial Office has had an idea. The king, it appears, is something of an athlete,
and is curious to witness what Londoners can do in that way. So a grand assault-at-
arms is to be held for him."