Along the Shores of the River

Late December, 187-

My Shining Light, my Josephine

It’s been two days now since I last recorded my thoughts, and those two days have been the most difficult I’ve experienced in my life. I say this, but I can only see the coming weeks and months to be far worse, and so, perhaps I should describe them, not as my most trying period, but as a Purgatory, of sorts, the antechamber for something much worse. As you might guess, my frame of mind is not an optimistic one.

Some of our cohort have begun to show signs of illness – succumbing, no doubt, to the unhealthy vapours that surround us day and night. I pray that we reach higher ground soon. One of the Arab crew, his name, I believe, is Hafiz, has taken on a terrible colour – the man, not very robust to begin with, has developed a unhealthy shade to his dark flesh, and can be seen to sweat something profusely at every hour. Meanwhile, one of Herr Anhalt’s men, a certain Klaus, has been struck more directly. His fever is already at an advanced stage, and he vomits up what little he has left to him almost like clock-work. Without the appropriate medical attention and supplies, I fear he will not last long.

In stark contrast to our more unhealthy members, Mbubu is in his element. Honestly, I couldn’t say that I’ve seen him more pleased at any time in our months’-long acquaintance. Here we are, stranded in a barbarous country, surrounded by the Lord alone knows what menacing beasts, and he strides about, chipper than Disraeli propping up Papists. One would not be remiss in believing that he actually enjoys the bites of these stinging gnats, these devil-mosquitoes; that they fill him with a sense of well-being, rather than the awful irritation the rest of us receive. The flies in these parts, they are nothing like the marsh midges of home. Wing-span the breadth of my hand, if not greater. Needle the length of a quill. Savage land, antediluvian beasts. It stands to reason.

Oddly, though, there are signs that, once, long ago, this land may not have been as primitive as we now find it. Every few miles, we come across brick-work, the makings of old embankments built into the former river’s edge, before it shifted away and left them stranded in grassy hummocks. At one point, there must have been some organised society ‘round these parts, possessing greater technological abilities than are exhibited by Mbubu’s rough countrymen.

It has piqued the interest of Herr Anhalt no end, stirring in him the fires of scholarly passion. If Mbubu be counted a merry fellow, then Anhalt is a lively one, despite the uncertainty of our condition or our future. He has the upbringing to continue to express concern over poor Klaus, but you can see the tension it brings him to restrain himself so. I daresay, if we were slightly better prepared, I suspect that the good Saxon could think of fewer places he might wish to be. As it is, his constant desire to inspect the piles of masonry has hindered our progress up-river, poring over the shambled mounds each time we come across one. I can’t think we are headed towards any great place of Sanctuary – I have in fact begun to resign myself to our fate; to place myself fully into the hands of Providence – but I can see that the slowing of our pace has begun to grate somewhat on the nerves of the remaining Mohammedan crew. Herr Anhalt, in his lust for Antiquities, is, alas, blind to it. I will keep watch, to make sure the situation should not overboil into any great tragedy. If we are to survive this, we will need to band together, to express a proper, collegial attitude to one another, and see this through like Men! To divide ourselves against one another will only brook disaster.

Ah, evening draws close. The sun at last sets itself down, releasing us from its sweltering grasp. The steamy jungle is nearly bearable during the night. It is a shame that footing is so treacherous hereabouts, otherwise, it would be a straightforward choice to travel under the cloak of darkness, to avoid Helios’ wilting orb. Though I suppose there are the wild brutes to concern ourselves with, as well. They do seem to be more active during the night. It is a beneficent turn that we have as robust a man as Hans along with us – I fear that some of the coarse animal howls we are subjected to at night might prove to unsettle some of our less resolute comrades, otherwise. Just last night, the countryside echoed with the mad laughter of some sort of demon – Mbubu tells us that it was merely a type of wild dog, but I scarcely believe him – no dog, that ancient friend of man, could utter such a loathsome sound, such a spine-chilling racket.

I can see Hesperus rising. What with the thick foliage above us most times, the sight of the stars has grown much scarcer than it was while asea. It is not something I regret – they seem to peer down at us in a most inhospitable way, as if they were so many leering eyes, looking on with ill-intent. Oh, it is a grim mood that has grasped me!

H. O. P.

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Posted on November 21, 2014, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland, Mauve Prose, Short(er) Stories and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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