My Dearest Mater,
Having survived the tumultuous waters of the Luabalaba and the furious onslaught of stray Wahiri Hiri, we have now arrived at the Nederhiwi flatlands. Staggering ashore and dragging our provisions with them, the Umbongo Bongoans were soon able to collect sufficient kindling for a bonfire. This they set to building immediately, setting it alight with a flint that one of them had, had, the foresight to clench between his teeth when we had slipped over the waterfall. But once the fire was lit what a ghastly discovery was made! For Jamieson’s dinner jacket (along with his charcoals for sketching) had been lost to the waters of the Luabalaba! Captain Jamieson put a good front on it however (though I noted with much apprehension, the minute tremor beneath his left eye) and we were soon able to make camp for the night.
My darling, how best may I describe to you the savage wonders of the Nederhiwi? The infernal wonderment that suffused my weakened bosom each time I gazed up towards the stars? The brooding sense of foreboding that overcame me as I listened to the lurid squawks of the Hysterius Ukippus? I can only quote those phrases handed down to me by my mentor in his last missive,‘Gone! The faces of my loved ones. Gone! The works of Louis Pasteur and Purcell and that cultured enlightenment that can scarce be glimpsed at by these primitive hordes! Gone all vestige of culture, all civilised pretence. For I too am of Umbongo Bongo and all I may do now is twerk! Clustered around the roaring camp fire, we sipped on our gin and tonics and expressed the hope that we might make good progress towards the Ivory Station tomorrow. “Will there be time to stop by Ribakiba?” Jamieson inquired to which I innocently replied,”Hardly, why?”
“I have a fancy for painting some watercolours of the terrain” was his disingenuous response and this I did not question, for it was well known that Jamieson had a brooding artistic obsession with Umbongo Bongo. But later that evening, when all save I had fallen asleep, Pasher Arshad (our Syrian interpreter) voiced his disquiet. “I do not think sir” he murmured,”That you ought to let Captain Jamieson anywhere near the Ribakiba”
“That’s hardly for you to say!” I retorted, but the deferential manner of Pasha Arshad stopped me dead in my tracks and so I inclined my hand for him to continue,”The Ribakiba are infamous for their cannibalistic practices, Captain Jamieson spoke of this in the hearing of several of the boys, indeed, he purchased several boxes of watercolours and a little girl for the purpose”
“For what purpose?” asked I to which Pasha Arshad calmly replied,”To paint the rituals of cannibalism in the minutest detail“
“Dear God! Has he gone mad?!” I cried but Pasha Arshad eyed me sombrely, “No more than any other Englishman I have served” he replied. Such is the nature of the Umbongo Bongo my dear, it makes savages of us all!
The following morning we struck out for the Ivory station and were pleasantly surprised to find that we had not very far to go at all. Indeed, but for the ferocious emergence of a tribe of Moncktus Brenchley we would have reached the Ivory station by noon. T’was as though nature herself conspired against us and had it not been for the bravery of the porters, she would have had her way. As it was our path lay strewn with the mangled bodies of several porters, who had, had, the good fortune to impale themselves on the enemies spears for our sake, and so our journey continued.
How shall I describe that final journey over the heartlands of darkness my dear? How may I best convey the creeping on of shadows, fast obscuring the faltering light of day and the relentless heat? So that as fast as we consumed one flagon of beer, another had to be prepared. It is hard to describe my desperate yearning for the journey’s end and yet the dawning horror of its conclusion. To lay eyes on my mentor at last, to observe what changes this brutal terrain had wrought upon his person. We had left the waters of the Luabalaba lapping seductively against the shore and in its place? We had entered a place of boundless terror, of limitless despair,”What are they?” Jamieson cried out, clutching the little girl tightly by the hand. “Lithuanians” Pasher Arshad murmured,”Perhaps even Poles” he continued unsheathing his sword. “Poles?” I cried, “This far inland? What could they possibly want with us?”
Pashar Arshad shrugged,”Who knows? Maybe they’re between jobs? Try throwing some beer at them” we had wrestled with death and emerged victorious but worse was to come.”Pasher Stanley! Pasher Stanley! Where is Captain Jamieson?”. Oh, we knew beyond any reckoning where he had gone, for the little Wahiri Hiri child was not to be found either, but tempus fugit. I could only hope that Captain Jamieson might remember his breeding, that and the fact that he was heir to a lucrative whisky business, and change his mind.
Pasher Arshad’s distaste, on the other hand, prompted him to draw my attention to article thirty-five of the constitution of Umbongo Bongo, which he assured me dealt with the suppression of savage customs,”Cannibalism” he assured me was such a custom. It was my painful duty to assure him in return that the British Empire could never be signatory to a barbarous convention such as this. Furthermore, next to the acquisition of that Ivory station and the discovery of Mr Livingstone, the death of one Wahiri Hiri was of little consequence.
Pasher Arshad paled, he seemed profoundly shocked by my response, though I could not for the life of me see why, after all had he not stood as military interpreter to General Gordon of Umbongo Bongo?
Parts of this tale are based on a true story, the question is which parts?