A Victorian gentleman travels to Africa on a quest to win the hand of his love.
| The Quest for the Lion's Whisker
It is said by many that I am a harsh man. If you are among that number, then it may surprise that I am publishing, at my own expense, the following account. Many times have I contemplated my motives, yet I have still not reached a wholly satisfactory conclusion. I believe that it may be that a part of me is still uncorrupted by the cruel and vicious hand that life has dealt me, and that I secretly yearn to be as pure as the man whose tale I am about to give to you, the curious reader.
It was in October of 1897 that I came across the diary of Edgar Williams, a young Englishman of whom History had in mind no great role. I myself was experiencing a periodic upswing in my own fortunes and had found a home, at least for a while, in the gold-reef city of Johannesburg, my first visit there despite a number of years in Africa. I had just emerged from a particularly dark time in my tumultuous life, an interesting tale but not one to be told here, and was celebrating my return to grace in the usual manner of a big game hunter abroad.
I was in a bar, the name of which I forget these many years later, but which was by many degrees more elegant than my usual haunt. I overheard, quite by accident, as it is not my style to eavesdrop deliberately, the conversation of two elderly gents, which revolved around one Edgar Williams. This young man had travelled from England some months ago on a mysterious quest. One of the gents had offered Williams some advice regarding his search and had bid the lad farewell from this very hotel. However, these many weeks later there was no sign of young Mr. Williams. As neither man could offer any solid evidence as to his fate, their talk soon turned to other matters. I myself considered a few possibilities, but the disappearance of an inexperienced Englishman in Africa is not in itself unusual. There are any number of dangers to threaten the unwary, many of which I have been unfortunate enough to have had first hand dealings with.
As the hour was now growing late, I decided to retire to the uncommon luxury of my suite and savour my good fortune, for how long it was to last, I knew not. I poured myself a goodnight drink, and my thoughts turned idly to the past, as one often does in such a situation. It was in this peaceful state that I turned and stumbled across something that half lay under the bed. Stooping to pick it up, I was surprised to find a book, a journal to be precise, that I did not number amongst my own possessions. My fatigue forgotten, my curiosity piqued, I opened the saddleworn cover to reveal a name that brought a cry to my lips: Edgar Williams. Incredibly, here was the very diary of a stranger whose curious disappearance had been speculated about by myself and the two elderly gents not twenty minutes previously. For the book to be here in this room meant that Williams had slept in the same bed as I before his fateful journey began.
Hoping to find some clue as to Williams’ destination, I opened the journal at the last entry. Instead, I was to find a surprise even greater than the initial discovery itself: the final date was less than a week earlier. Williams had apparently returned safely from his quest but sometime in the last few days something had occurred which raised a question over his continued safety. Resisting my desire to read this last entry, I forced myself to return to the beginning and learn how this queer affair began. Some hours later, my drink untouched, I turned the final page and closed the cover of an extraordinary tale. I am not a literary man, quite the opposite in fact, but here upon these pages were words that struck at my very soul.
This is the short history of how I came to be in possession of the journal of Edgar Williams and I shall now fall silent and allow his own unusual adventure to be told in his own unusual voice. Exploits of the kind experienced by men such as I are so commonplace nowadays that they cease to have much meaning. Men such as Edgar Williams are less often heard, but as I hope you are about to discover, they often have much more to say.
Henry Ballantine, 1907