Late September, 187-
My heart, my Josephine
Just as I’d prayed, we were able to find passage from Suez, one of the last dhows of the season, recently arrived from Aqaba, and only in port for that tide! Our luck was immense, and I can only look upon it as proof of God’s smiling on our venture here. The captain of the ship, in stark contrast to the hard-working master of the Greenwich, is a sly, oily Mohammedan. As you’ll recall from my last letter, my dear Mbubu, well, he has a bit of a history with men of this sort, and has been…understandably…rather uncomfortable since we joined the crew. The dhow is of a larger variety, or so I’m told, better to traverse the sometimes raucous seas hereabouts. As such, Mbubu, much to my chagrin, has been slightly remiss in his duties to me, and has remained holed up in our cabin.
Without his constant company, I’ve had to seek out the companionship of the other members of the crew, in order that I might stave off the boredom that is the everpresent menace of sea travel. Aside from the captain, that unsavoury fellow, Ihsan, there are some 18 members of the crew. Most hail from Arabia, much like their swarthy captain, and, as such, speak even less of the Queen’s than he himself does. However, they go about their work with a, granted, admirable amount of efficiency, and so, despite their brooding silence as it is directed towards me, I cannot in good conscience name them lax.
Another blessing has fallen into my lap in the form of the other passenger, though. A German, of a good family, who is setting out to hunt the African Great Lakes, alongside some six retainers, name of Anhalt. He is a man of broad learning, having acquired a degree from the prestigious Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. I’d dare posit that it over-reaches his talent as a sportsman, as I find it difficult to think that an individual could be dedicated to such an extensive and thorough nature to two very disparate subjects. While his physiognomy is a pleasant, robust one – a strong chin, and high forehead, capped by lustrous blonde hair and possessing a mouth both expressive and well-formed – he is a relatively slight man, standing some five and a half feet, with a weight of maybe around 9 stone, if I had to make a wager. Equipped with his elephant gun, Dunkelblau, and topee, he still strikes a diminutive figure, I’m afraid to say. I’m no strapping specimen myself, but, like I mentioned a moment ago, I am wary of his shot – I fear it would set him on his rear before ever laying low any rude beast.
He has, however, brought with him a more exemplary model of the Teutonic vigour. His attendant, Hans, hails from peasant stock near the Black Forest, stands somewhere north of six feet, and sports the largest moustache I’ve seen on a man. I dare say, it hangs from his face in two thick ropes for a good several inches. His is a visage that would have put fear into the heart of even Caesar. A modern-day Vercingetorix, an Alaric reborn! No reason to doubt his potency, I assure you!
Thus, despite Mbubu’s antisocial behaviour, I’ve found myself quite content on our voyage. Herr Anhalt has a superb command of our tongue, and he is a consummate conversationalist. He tells me that there have been recent expeditions into the more hidden parts of the Dark Continent the findings of which have yet to be disseminated to the greater Academic world – and, if what they claim is true, I can only imagine that they’d be the talk of the Academy for some years to come! Fantastic tales they are, of great and forgotten cities, the likes of which, in their ancient pedigree, would challenge Babylon itself for the well-spring of mankind and society! Anhalt has confided to me that the corroboration of these far-fetched claims are his mainmotivation in leaving sunny Germania. He hopes to investigate these remote locales himself, and, if he can, get a jump on their promotion amongst the English-speaking Universities. The sport hunting, while it is assuredly a passion of his, is largely a legerdemain, to throw off the unwanted attention of his colleagues.
It appears, then, that I have secured another travelling companion, at least for a little while. Herr Anhalt seeks to make landfall some distance north of the Zambezi, and, while Mbubu and I will be travelling further south than that by a goodly few miles, I will appreciate the company.
We have been sailing for some few days now, and the captain, that viscous Ihsan, tells me we should be reaching the Ottoman port of Zeila at some point late tomorrow. It is from there that I shall post this letter, as I don’t know if we’ll make land again before reaching the slaving isles of Zanzibar. While I am well-pleased to have found such temperate company, I’ll be happy for the chance to stretch my legs for an evening, and leave behind the perpetual stench of pitch and sweat. Till then, I must pinch my nose!
Keeping you in my heart,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
Posted on September 21, 2014, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland, Mauve Prose, Short(er) Stories and tagged Africa, British Empire, Colonialism, Great Zimbabwe, Imperialism, Racism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.