A Letter written by Emma Cranford (recovered during the 10th Wahiri Hiri Rebellion of Umbongo Bongo)
Church of the Unbridled Redemption of St John (the Methodist),
Ribakiba Mission Post,
T’is nigh upon a year since last I wrote and I thank he whose beneficent, benevolence, has seen fit to furnish me with pen and paper with which I now write. I speak of the estimable Captain Jamieson who having arrived at our mission only last week, now resides with ourselves at RibaKiba . He is the first white man I have seen here (besides my brother), a man quick and decisive in his movements, lithe of limb, tousled of head and oh my dear! That piercing blue gaze! I walked with him this morning, under the shade of the Nederhiwi palms, with the gentle cawing of the Chinky-birds & the Hysterius Ukippus overhead, swooning only a little in his presence. Perhaps it was mild sunstroke my dear, I cannot tell, but that my collar was speedily loosened (by Ileana my maid!) and Captain Jamieson escorted me home half-supported upon his arm. Once in my quarters I trembled, so that Ileana (once she had finished smoking her cigar) asked if I were ill, and, having readied me for my evening nap, bade me get some sleep before the evening matins.Would that Arthur, my dear brother, displayed half that attentiveness to my desires, but he thinks only of the RibaKiba souls whom the good lord has seen fit to entrust to his (and my) care.
“That child, Emma”
“What child dearest?”
“That child” exclaimed Arthur impatiently clasping his monocle firmly before his eye, “The one tied by the wrists to his horse, pray, what is her name?”
“Her name dearest?” I replied, for it seemed obvious to me that the child was an Umbongo slave, not of RibaKiba origin, and therefore of no spiritual concern to us, “Is it important?” I asked pinning on my best cameo brooch (the one left to me by mama in her will).
“Not as such only I observe that she is rarely out of Captain Jamieson’s sight. When you walked with him last he had her chained to his belt did he not?”
“I cannot remember dearest, no I don’t think so” I lied, though in truth I could not tell, enthralled as I was by his masculine proximity.
“You look flushed my dear” Arthur exclaimed with some concern,
“Do I?” said I dabbing my forehead a little with a delicate lace hanky (also bequeathed me by mama)
“T’is nothing, a little fatigue from the heat is all” but as my heart throbbed urgently beneath my corseted bosom I could think only of him, Captain Jamieson, and his masterful hands.
How best shall I describe our meeting place to you dear Abilene? Picture an imposing building elaborately hewn from grey stone, with elegant soaring spires and now picture its antithesis. Yes my dear, to this we have been called! Far from our beloved England to this! This heathen fleshpot of iniquitous dealings that teetered on the brink of famine! A famine brought on by that unspeakable wickedness that had, held sway amongst their much depleted numbers! We have been called to succour the indigent and the reluctant, the intransigent and the inordinately violent! It was not easy my dear, for at first we were greatly opposed by the Wahiri Hiri (rouble-makers) who turned a fine profit out of selling the tribesmen prodigious amounts of Vodka and fire wood!
Indeed, when we first arrived in RibaKiba they contrived to take us hostage and then to sell us onto the RibaKiba tribesmen, with a free wooden Barbey-Kooo (some invention of theirs) thrown in! Had the RibaKiba been drunk we should have been at their mercy, alas, then, for the Wahiri Hiri that Arthur carried a loaded pistol, and they were sober! I cannot recount the fate of these iniquitous souls (t’is more than becomes such as I), suffice it to say that the grounds of the graveyard, behind our place of worship, are vast my dear!
Eighty souls have been placed in our care, all of whom flock around Arthur constantly, plucking at his linen suit with their sweaty little fingers and hanging on his every utterance. I wish they would hang around him less, obliged as I am to play the church organ at morning bible study when the eyes in their dull faces may be most clearly seen. Oh, some might think me most uncharitable and even a little racist, but there is something about those Negro faces and in particular about their eyes.
” Emma dearest shall we begin?” I nod slightly and with my back turned towards the RibaKiba Christians and my face buried in my Methodist hymn book I begin,
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee!
Be of sin the double cure
save me from it’s wrath and power!”
May the good Lord forgive me, but I found myself adrift on the tides of romantic yearning to such a degree that even as my fingers slid across the organ keys, even as my dainty feet trammelled the peddles, I failed to note that Arthur had fallen silent and all singing had ceased. Raising my head from the hymnal I gathered sufficient courage to look around for the reassuring presence of my brother, but he was not there. Glancing at the RibaKiba I noted with some relief that their backs were turned towards me, their necks and faces straining towards something that was occurring just out of my line of sight. I noted also with some alarm, that the Ileana (my Wahiri maid) was present, cigar in hand!
“Ahhhhhhhh! Aaaaaaah!” the little Umbongo’s child’s cries (for t’was she), caused the hair on the nape of my neck to stiffen, in a trice all thought of berating Ileana had fled and I wondered instead with much foreboding, where Arthur could have got to. “Unhand her you fiend!”
“Never!” came the reply (most brutally I might add), “I’ve travelled here at great expense to paint the Umbongoan child being prepared for dinner and eaten and paint her I shall!”
“Oh, you most pitiful wretch! You SHALL NOT!!! Unhand herrrrrrr!!”
T’was Arthur and at the very sound of his voice (accompanied most shockingly by the blast of his shotgun) the RibaKiba glanced at one another knowingly, and turning to me at once, they resumed singing. Taking one last puff on her cigar Ileana favoured me with a smirk,
“Look like Captain Jamieson get himself caught in an elephant trap no?”
Oh my dear, these are the times that try us……..