The Life, Times, and Misadventures of Dennis St. Michel, Viscount of Stokington, Soldier, Gambler, Diplomat, Scoundrel, Notorious Rakehell, and Lord of Menacing House, in his Own Words.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Tale

Walker seated himself, and once Monsieur H had returned with pastries and more coffee, he began.

"As you have no doubt been apprised by Samuel Driver, I have been engaged for many years in the enterprise of African exploration. This passion for the Dark Continent began when I was a small child, and I visited the Portuguese port of Lourenço Marques. There I saw many fascinating sights--elephants, lions, and gyraphs. I also met many fine Negroes.

"It is a commonplace in both the courts and villages of Europe, particularly in England, that the Negro is inferior to the European. However, I must say I have never found this to be the case. In fact, many of them impressed me with their manners and wit, which I found in every case to be superior to the venal and corrupt traders from the so-called civilized ports of the Channel and Mediterranean. In truth, I soon became enamored with the African way of life, and sought every opportunity to increase the width and breadth of my knowledge.

"In time, as is customary, I became a man. Once at liberty to comport myself as I wished, I dwelt in Africa the whole and sum of the hours available to me. From the broad plains of Kenya to the deepest jungles of the Congo, I ventured into every corner of that great landmass. I was enraptured, as a man with his first woman.

"But in time my love seemed to sour. From the beginning, I was aware of the great wealth of that land, prodigious in riches and teeming with opportunity. Diamonds in the Congo Basin, gold among the Rowzee, precious woods and ivory from the Coasts of Ivory--all these things were there to be taken, and the worst of men emerged to take them. Cruel, vicious, and rapacious, these men sought to rob the land of every good thing. Both European and Negro, their behaviour soon came to disgust me, and I felt the vilest creature in existence when I was in their presence.

"My love for Africa was spoilt, and my faith in my fellow man--and in Europe--shattered. Civilization, after all, is only savagery silver-gilt. In despair, I followed my lord rum into the Slough of Despond, and became the most crapulent man alive.

"From port to port, I traveled in search of debasement. Every harlot and taverner below the Sahara knew my face, if not my name. At last it seemed even to me that I would do myself an irreparable harm, and so, with the last of my reis, I bought passage on a ship bound for a land of which I had never heard: Bangalla.

"Drunk and in a state of gross dishabille, I arrived in Mawitann, which is the capitol. I must confess, the first several days I spent in the city are lost to me. In time, my sensibilities returned to me. And I found myself amongst the people with whom I would spend the next ten years of my life.

"And what people! A quiet, peaceful village, Mawitann is filled with the kindest, most virtuous men in creation. At least, that is my opinion, and I will hear none gainsay it. In courage they exceed the Germans, in wit the French, in stoutheartedness even the English. And their food cannot be compared with that of the Italians, only with that of Heaven. But what is more, the natives there soon took me in hand and brought me back into a state of discipline and sobriety. I came to regard them as my brothers, and they me. I roamed far and wide throughout their broad land, and met everywhere I went with the most noble Negroes.

"I was most happy there.

"To earn a living, I acted as interpreter for the traders who came into Mawitann. Many of the same rapacious gluttons who had driven me to despair elsewhere in Africa sailed into that graceful port. But now I felt much more assured in my dealings with them, as I found myself able to act as protector for the natives, preventing the evilest of the outsiders from harming them through violence or trickery. And in time I came to be regarded with the highest prestige, as an honest and incorruptible man.

"In the course of time, I was called on some business to the Cape Colony, for nearly six months. I found my time there agreeable, but always the streets and structures of the city reminded me of the earlier times, the bad times, and I dreamt nightly of returning to Bangalla. When the time and hour came to return, I was the happiest man in Africa. I boarded the vessel taking me to Mawitann with the greatest of joy. I looked forward with eagerness to seeing old friends again. As we sailed into Mawit Bay, I could see the glow of the village’s cookfires from beyond the cape. How happy I was as we rounded the cape and sailed into the bay!

"The village was aflame.

"The horror, the horror! As the ship eased into one of the quays I leapt with all urgency onto the dock and dashed into the city. The straw and wood huts burned merrily, seeming in mockery of my earlier joy, and everywhere I saw corpses, corpses of men, corpses of women, corpses of children.

"In a kind of madness, I ran towards the house of my friend, Lua-Ga, the chieftain of the village. Smoke and flames clouded my vision, or was it tears? At last I found my friend.

"His chest had been staved in, but still he breathed. 'Walker, my friend,' he gasped.

"'Yes, I am here,' I said.

"'My friend...my friend.' His voice was hoarse, and thick, as though filled with blood.

"'Tell me how I might ease your burden, old friend,' I whispered, tears streaming down my face. 'Who did this?'

"'Slavers...white men...from the...east. White...like you.' Like you. The words seemed to bore into my mind. Like you. Had I doomed my friends? Doomed a people I loved?

"In my arms Lua-Ga breathed his last. I wept for him. I wept for them all."

For a long time, Walker was silent. The depth of emotion he had revealed moved me, but I said nothing. It seemed obscene to say anything. The horrors he had seen made my own plight as nothing.

"I buried them. (Walker continued.) It took many days. But I could not leave my brothers to rot under the hot sun. And in the course of performing such funerary rites, my grief fell away from me, leaving only a core of rage. Vengeance must be had."

A chill ran up my spine. Would I be constantly plagued by men with thoughts of revenge? Without noticing my consternation, Walker went on.

"I began to track the slavers. In my time among the Bangallans, I learned many of the secrets, and with their ancient jungle wisdom I was able to follow the slavers to Mzizima, the great Arab city on the coast. A city of sparkling minarets and the call of the muezzin, but most of all famed for its slave market.

"Dressed in the robes of a most proper imam, I followed the gossip through the Servants’ Quarter, through the Camel Gate, almost to the steps of the Green Mosque itself, and heard the story of thousands of black Africans from the south--Bangalla being in the south--who had been sold to a powerful mzungu, a white man.

"I had tarried long in Mawitann burying my friends, and was almost too late. The last shipment of slaves, bound for the Colonies, was being loaded, and would leave with the evening tide.

"With great haste I bolted for the docks, for the tide would rise within the hour, and the last of my adopted people would be sent to enslavement or worse in the New World. I must have struck a strange sight--a tall mzungu in imam’s robes sprinting through the crowded marketplace. But I cared none for my appearance. Almost before I realised it I was at the piers, where the slave-ships sat like hulking prisons afloat.

"I was too late. The last ship slipped free of its moorings as I dashed to the end of the pier. I watched with hopeless fury as my bosom friends were taken from me, bound for captivity. But at the last, I saw something that drove me to even greater heights of rage: the mzungu, the white man, who had done all this.

"He appeared at the aft of the ship. I do not think he saw me. Ancient and stooped, with a walrus-mustache beneath a hawk’s nose, he hardly cut an imposing figure, but the fineness of his clothing and the elegance of his tricorn indicated a man of great wealth and prosperity. For only a moment I saw him. And then he was gone."

Walker drank deeply of his coffee, and was silent for a time, apparently lost in memory. I knew not what this tale had to do with me, but I listened with rapt interest to it, enthralled by the accounts of wickedness in exotic climes.

Putting down his cup, he continued. “This was nearly four months ago. Needless to say, after such tragedy I drifted. Africa held little charm for me, and so I returned to the land of my birth. The only thing that kept me alive, kept me sane, was the thought that one day I could have revenge on the old man in fine clothes. I lived for that day.

"Once in London, I was at a loss as to what to do next. I decided, after much contemplation, to write my memoirs."

Really! What a fascinating idea, I thought. I should do that someday.

"But the tasks of authorship soon felt onerous and heavy upon my shoulders, and so I whiled away my days visiting the fashionable parts of the city. The finest salons, most beautiful galleries, I visited them all. I even toured the country, wasting great sums--great, at least, to me--in gambling and other vice.

"One day, not long after you and I met at the Captain’s, I chose to watch a session of Parliament. The exquisitely wrought halls of Westminster were that day excessively hot, and I chose to take a seat high in the upper galleries, hoping to escape the crush of barristers and law-makers that dominated the floor.

"The speeches were most tedious, but their subject was not. The regulation of slavery, a subject of great interest to me, as you might imagine. So I attended to the wind proceeding from the floor most carefully. Still, the hot, stifling air made me drowse.

"But I was jolted sharply awake after many dull hours. An opponent of the bill had risen and begun to speak, arguing most vociferously for the free trade of human flesh and sweat. Imagine my shock when I realised it was none other than the old man in fine clothes!

"He was here, in London. Feted by society and an honourable Member of Parliament. It took me very little work to discover his name."

Walker’s eyes bored into me, and I felt the intensity coming off him like waves.

"My enemy was one of the richest men in London: Sir Julius Dithers."

3 comments:

Tragic Magic said...

Brilliant, sir.

crescentaluna said...

Good Lord, Sir! I am so very glad you have returned!

Joanna said...

This story is the most screamingly funny thing I've come across in ages. Hearty congratulations are in order. I had to leave my desk when I remembered who Mr. Dithers was.