To my darling Josephine
I look forward with all of my distance-saddened heart to looking upon your face, your flaxen locks, your pearly skin once more.
I write to you from aboard the steamer Greenwich, as we make our way down the Suez proper, having just left the vicinity of Port Said. You wouldn’t believe the heat! The air positively ripples with it, and I’m quite often set to work mopping my brow with a kerchief. The Embassy man I met with in the city, if you could imagine his gall! advised me to adopt the linens of the locals, for my personal comfort. No! said I to he. No! If I must endure the discomfort of the elements, I shall do it with pride, as any self-respecting Englishman must! I swear, some few years stranded in this wild locale, and the man nearly set to a savage himself…would you believe, the man invited me to his place of residence, not much more than a stone hut, and offered me tobacco via one of those heathen Ottoman water-pipes? It’s nearly enough to break one’s faith in the Empire…
But enough of that rascal of an Embassy man – I must tell you of the Canal itself! Truly, it is a wonder of modern engineering. Say what you will of the Gallic spirit, but this, this is truly a miracle of reason and effort! One can only imagine how they must have driven those poor Egyptian dogs to complete it in only ten years – it is a mark of our good quality that Great Britain imposed itself on the French, requiring a humane and Christian treatment for those sad devils. You know, I got the real story on the Newport, which you may recall reading about in the broadsheets after the Canal’s opening – the French Empress was invited down to the grande opening by the local emir or whomever, and was meant to be the first through the Canal itself. On the evening immediately prior, Captain Nares, with much daring, piloted his vessel, HMS Newport, ahead of the Imperial barge. Come sun-up, to the bewilderment of the French, there sat the Newport, and nothing could be done to prevent her from sailing through into the Red Sea and claiming the honour for Her Majesty’s Navy! Of course, the official word was that Nares was admonished by the Admiralty, but I have it on confidence that he received a congratulatory letter for displaying the obvious superiority of the Royal Navy and the adventuring spirit of the English character. I would wager you hadn’t thought you’re affianced so skilled at playing the News Hound, eh? You’ll find, my abilities are more than they appear!
Oh, seemingly, some disturbance ashore – ah ha, it’s merely a local, looks to be a goatherd or some such. Hmm. He’s in an altercation with some gendarmes, look to be company men. Ah! They are making off with his goats. I cannot really discern what the commotion is all about, they are carrying on in some heathen tongue – I swear, one of the things I look most forward to upon reaching the Colony will be hearing the Queen’s own the tongue of everyman, whether he be Citizen or Kaffir. Too much of these strange Mohammedans around Egypt, it will be good to be back in lands where the word of our Lord, and his sweet Justice, have been brought and established. I know that you, gentle soul that you are, will be worrying after that blackguard goatherd, despite the fact that he is so morally below you that, upon meeting a woman of your pedigree in the street, he by all rights should lay himself in the mud at her feet. Fear not, my love! I’ve no doubt that, likely as it is that that is the all the material wealth the scoundrel possesses this side of Paradise, he’ll be able to apply for their return with ease within the city. Though they be French, those gendarmes are still Christian men, and will likely look over whatever crime it is that the blackamoor undoubtedly committed.
Mentioning blackamoors reminds me – their is a deckhand aboard the Greenwich the likes of which I’ve never seen! The darkness of his negroid flesh, it’d set your heart a-patter. Hand on my heart, his skin shines blue in the harsh sunlight, and his head, which is bald as an egg, shines in its oppressive glare. For all the heat, the man works as one possessed. If we had a cadre of them back on your father’s estate, well, I can’t but imagine that the receipts would balance in a matter of months! I can see, with some clarity, what it is about these people that causes our Colonial cousins to Sin as they do, using them in a most brutish and uncivilised manner. We must thank Providence that we good men of the Empire have found our reason in these past decades, and forsake the temptation!
Egypt is a most desolate land, my dear, nothing like the rolling fields of Kent or the lush fens of the Lake Country. Brown and tan, as far as my eyes have power to discern. It sets one to a mighty thirst, in little more than the beholding. Seeing it first hand, one can understand the hardship that faced those intrepid Jews as they marched their way to freedom. Much better to be traversing by way of coal-powered machinery, I must say!
I’ve heard that we’ll make it to the a large holding area in the canal, the Great Bitter Lake, they call it, some point in the early afternoon. I look forward to seeing the assemblage of shipping their, boats from all over the world, and none grander nor more proud than those of our own merchant navy! Perhaps, if I’m lucky, there may even be a ship of the line present! It’s true that the Ironclads have nearly rendered them obsolete, but I’ve heard that there are a few that still ply the trade-routes, assisting merchant vessels and protecting them from the heathen Corsairs that can still be found in the Mediterranean. It would be a great pleasure to behold those trusty ships that solidified our ascendency in the days of yore.
Alas, these furnace-like conditions do tire a body. I fear I must repair to a cooler area, though I suspect I’m unlikely to find one aboard the vessel at this hour. I will send this, express-post, once we’ve reached the community of Suez, at the end of the channel. Give my regards to your mother, and to dear Aunt Gerty. I hope that that spot of fever she was suffering from last you wrote has cleared up. Tell your father I’m making good time, and should, Providence willing, reach the rendezvous in the Colony in a few months.
I keep you forever in my heart,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
Posted on July 25, 2014, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland and tagged Adventure, Africa, British Empire, Colonialism, Imperialism, Racism, Satire, Suez, Victorian Empire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.