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Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1203879
Third and final part of the journal of Edgar Williams

September 16 1897

Something strange is most definitely afoot. I am now able to sleep better on the hard ground of the African veldt than I am on the softest of sheets. I am now more at home in the wide-open spaces of the great outdoors than I am in the sophisticated company of civilised gentlemen. I can converse more eloquently on the subject of tracking elephants than I can discuss politics or literature. I cannot explain the change but my travels thus far have opened my eyes in a way that I could never have imagined.

Our journey today took us into the region of Matopos. Here we were privileged to stand within fifteen feet of a herd of mighty white rhino, a rare and elusive beast. They are usually at peace with the world, in which blessed state they were on this fine day. However, we heard tales of those less lucky, and these are stories to chill the blood of the stoutest of men. Thus, I will not recount them here, but as a warning I will say that they are dark tales of blood and violence where mankind is the inevitable vanquished.

Our walk took us deep into this starkly beautiful area and we exhausted ourselves by climbing the highest hills and marvelling at the endless panoramic views of rolling hills and wind carved rocks that cast the most evocative of shadows. Perched precariously within these rocks, a majestic eagle had made its home and those of us with the sharpest eyes could just make out its young feeding hungrily on some unfortunate animal.

On our way back down we stumbled across a great cave, upon the walls of which was painted an incredible frieze, an ancient tapestry depicting the native tribes and their long vanished gods in a tale untranslatable by our untutored Western eyes. Even our guides knew not how long this remarkable work of art had lain here unseen, but we returned to camp feeling just a little humbled and more aware of our own mortality than ever before.

I go to sleep now at the end of another rewarding day with a great hope in my heart. We have learned today from a wandering sage of an area to the east where lions are plentiful and are almost accustomed to the presence of humans. Here I should be able to pluck from one the whisker that is symbolic of my entire journey. But my reasons for doing so are now my own and not those of my beloved Amy.

September 17 1897

Today I came face to face with my destiny. We awoke near the village of Gweru, having travelled long into the night, and my mind was full of tales of the prowess of the lion. We set out early, the best time to sight the beast, and met up with our local guides. To our great delight, they informed us that three young males, brothers in fact, some eight months old, had been sighted and should be easily approachable. However, before our fateful meeting we were due two incredible surprises.

First came the opportunity to swim and play with two enormous bull elephants in the turgid river waters. To be this close, to ride on their very backs was an incredible experience but one that was quickly superseded by something even more amazing.

Three lion cubs, not three months old, had lost their mother in a hunting incident and had been adopted and raised for the past few weeks by a local family. Whilst not completely tame, they were more used to human company and we spent an all-too-brief time playing and wrestling with these beautiful animals. Seeing them there in front of us, as sociable as house cats, it was hard to believe that they would someday soon grow up to be fearless killers.

We soon moved on from the village to find the real reason for my hunt, for nothing less than the whisker from a fully-grown lion would satisfy me.

After a short hike into the surrounding countryside, we were rewarded with the sight of the three males, their golden coats shining ethereally in the morning glow. My guide informed me that I would be able to approach the youngest relatively easily but that to pluck out a whisker would require pinpoint timing and the sharpest of reflexes, not to mention the boldest of nerves. Nevertheless, I felt more than capable of the task.

My heart in my mouth, memories of our last encounter uppermost in my mind, I picked my moment and approached cautiously. The dark brown fur of its mane ruffled gently in the breeze as it watched me unconcernedly, unaware of my intentions. I paused some five feet away and locked eyes with my quarry. For a moment, there was some connection between us, an understanding that I was not here to hurt this awesome animal but that something deeper was at hand.

It was at this moment that I realised for certain that I was no longer here for Amy but for myself. Everything in the last week or so had been leading up to this very moment and now that it was here, doubt filled my mind. What exactly was I doing here in this remote country, stalking the king of the jungle in the belief that it would bring me happiness?

My soul searching was cut short by a sudden earth-shattering roar, not from the lion in front of me, but from another unseen. This newcomer distracted my lion’s attention and I seized my opportunity with uncommon swiftness. I leapt the remaining distance, hand outstretched and grasped a good handful of whiskers. Using all my might, I pulled and staggered backwards, just as the lion opened its great mouth and bellowed in anger and pain. As I rolled back into the dirt, my guide had the foresight to hurl a rock as a distraction from me. In a daze, I came to my feet and ran headlong towards my guide, not knowing if I was heading for safety or if a grisly death was but seconds away. I dimly remember hearing another angry roar but slightly distant now and I realised with astonishing clarity that the danger was past. A glance over my shoulder revealed only the barest glimpse of the departing lions, their twitching tails disappearing into the long grass.

I came to a halt, breathing heavily and slowly lowered my gaze to my tightly closed hand, not knowing whether Lady Luck favoured me this day or if I would have to endure this all once more. As the rest of the party gathered around with bated breath, I unclenched my fist. There before me was a single lion’s whisker. I had won my prize. My quest was over.

September 18 1897

I awoke today a confused man, torn with indecision. After an incredible celebration the previous evening, of which I remember mercifully little, I should now be making immediate plans to return to England, to present my hard won prize to its intended recipient. Instead, I am seriously considering extending my stay and journeying on further.

A strong bond has grown up between my fellow adventurers and myself and, much as I think of my home, I am loath to break this unexpected fellowship. It is a rare thing indeed for me to find a state of mind such as this, and I cannot imagine giving it up so soon. I have the rest of the day to mull over my options, as the party strikes further east into Mozambique, but my decision must be made by evenfall.

I sit now by the shores of Lake Chicamba, a tall glass of something cool and refreshing by my side and with the clearest skies imaginable stretching into infinity above me. I gaze up into the heavens and I no longer see the face of my Amy, only questions unanswered. Before my tangle with the lion, everything seemed so clear. I would claim my prize, the whisker and return home to spend the rest of my more than comfortable life by Amy’s side. But now, after a day deep in contemplation, with little to disturb me in the African landscape, save for the enthusiastic attentions of some native children, I believe I have reached a decision. I will delay my return indefinitely and continue onwards to the Indian Ocean, to see what else this great continent has to offer.

As I settle down to sleep, lulled to drowsiness by the gentle whispering of the warm wind through the leaves, I know in my heart that I have made the right choice and I am filled with the giddy thrill of excitement as I wonder to what sights I may soon bear witness. But fear not Amy, I shall return.

September 19 1897

A further day of leisurely travel has allowed me to reflect upon the journey thus far and to contemplate the wonders I have seen and the deeds I have performed. I cannot help but smile as I am reminded of our days spent in the wilderness of the Delta with the company of the lively Makoro polers. Or indeed the time I spent soaring over the Earth like the mightiest of eagles. My first encounter with the lion still sends a shudder down my spine and yet I believe that my failure drove me onwards, more determined than ever to complete my task.

The great beauty and awesome power of Victoria Falls still stands with incredible clarity in my mind and I can recall every stunning colour of the rainbow that hung in the mist, every last droplet of purest water that saturated the very air. All this and more are the things that I will take away from this trip, not least the great bond of friendship that I feel I now share with my companions.

The scenery that rolls gently past has taken on a noticeably different nature and towering mountains and playful foothills surround us on all sides. Even the design of the villages has changed, reflecting the area’s rich Portuguese history. As we pass slowly through, the children rush out excitedly to greet us, waving and cheering at our simple presence. I fancy even that they have heard tell of my triumph and are saluting this insane foreigner. Their friendly faces are a welcome sight and one that is guaranteed to raise our spirits ever higher.

September 20 1897

Against my better judgement, I took today to the azure blue seas of the vast Indian Ocean, aboard a fine hand-crafted Arabian dhow, setting sail from the small town of Villanculos. Given the change that has come over me these past weeks however, perhaps it was not such an unusual decision and instead of being repulsed by the sea, I am now her willing servant, eager to obey her every thrilling desire.

We struck out for some nearby islands, known as the Bazaruto Archipelago and paused for lunch around noon-ish. To work up an appetite for the feast that was being prepared by our crew, we abandoned our dignity and plunged headlong into the shallows. The locals had equipped us with facemasks and breathing tubes fashioned from reeds to enable us to see beneath the ocean waves. There I was staggered by the wealth of marine life swimming gaily, mere inches from the surface and I was captivated by their ritual movements for a time I could not place a value on. And indeed, what use is there for time in Paradise?

September 21 1897

Another day spent ploughing the ocean waves and exploring the mysteries of the unseen world beneath. A stop at a remote area known as Two-Mile Reef revealed a plethora of exotic marine life, many of which I was able to place a name on, after learning of their ways from an island boy named Zachary. Moray eels, Moorish Idols, groupers, clown triggers, fusiliers and many more were our companions this wonderful day. All-too-soon we started back, but an impromptu stop at another island provided yet more delights.

Here was a huge shifting orange sand dune. A short climb to the peak afforded wonderful panoramic views of the entire region, of rich sapphire seas and white sandy beaches that dared the eye to try and take every last exquisite detail into permanent memory. But then a delight of a more visceral nature was suggested. The other side of the dune was both steeper and far longer than the side that we had climbed up and we listened in trepidation as it was proposed that we make a headlong sprint for the bottom. But what fears does life hold for a man who has plucked from the lion his whisker?

It was with this thought in mind that I led the charge with a mighty yell and plunged into the abyss. Amazingly, I managed to keep my footing on the constantly moving dunes for the entire duration of this preposterous descent into madness and when I finally reached the bottom and turned to face my comrades, it was with the most magnificent expression of delight. The ride down was most exhilarating, but the return climb sapped the strength of even the stoutest of our number.

The rest of the afternoon, after a delightful lunch of freshly caught squid lightly grilled over an open fire, was spent in peaceful relaxation by the shore or in the shade. As the day wore on, and the heat had started to wane, the more active among our number began to seek entertainment. The unlikely form that this took was that of the most civilised game, a football match, between we the travellers, and several of the local lads. Even on the unfamiliar sandy pitch I was able to summon all my skills and I led our team to a glorious if hard fought victory. As the ocean sun began to set, we joined arms with our newfound friends and headed triumphantly to what constituted the local bar in a true spirit of fraternity. Here we span yarns and told tall tales well into the early morning until we staggered back to our beds, huge smiles plastered across our now well-tanned faces.

September 22 1897

Sadly no more snorkelling, as this wondrous sport is known, but instead a most energetic hike to the other side of the island. We crossed sandy unspoilt beaches, green pastureland and gently rolling hills. Along the way we passed through, not villages but simple collections of straw huts. Here the locals rushed out excitedly to greet us and invite us into their homes, where I sat for some considerable time with several small children crawling about my person while we learned of their ways. Some weeks ago this would have been unthinkable to me, but now it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

Our walk concluded at Crocodile Lagoon, where several of these great beasts lurked and wallowed at the water’s edge. At the end of the return journey we dived into the sea for one more refreshing dip before reluctantly loading our provisions into the dhow and setting sail for the mainland. We were all downcast at leaving behind this earthly Eden, but a sense of excitement also filled me, eager as I was to discover what we might next encounter.

For the first time in many a long week, I have experienced true misery. We struck forth under clear skies and good wind in high spirits, but our fortune was not to last. Within minutes of departing, dark clouds had rolled across the sun, the winds had turned and the waves became great crashing walls of icy doom. It was all we could do to hold on and I have never felt so close to death, not even when I faced the lion. Too many times I nearly departed the ship in an untimely manner and I felt sure that we would be supping with Poseidon himself that evening. Even our local sailors were unnerved by the mighty ten-foot waves that beat incessantly down upon us and they repeatedly offered up prayers to whatever gods might be listening.

At long last, a brief ray of hope shone down upon us like a beacon sent from Heaven. One of our number spied a lone dolphin leaping gracefully from the roiling seas and taking this as a good omen, our spirits raised immeasurably. Before long, we spied the headland and we inched intolerably slowly towards it. Finally after some three-and-a half-hours we beached the dhow and leapt gratefully to the shore, shouting our thanks to the gods above.

September 23 1897

Rising late this morning after the previous day’s ordeal, I was shocked to take stock of my appearance. Gone is the neatly turned out young gent suited to taking afternoon tea at the Dorchester and in his stead is a man beyond recognition. My hair, previously light brown, has been bleached blonde in the unceasing sun, my skin is now tanned and leathery. My figure, once elegantly slim, has become more muscular, the effects of my enforced outdoor life. I feel that when, or if, I should return to England, my friends and family will not acknowledge me, my appearance is that much altered. My transformation, both physical and mental, is near complete.

We are camped now at Inhambane, some distance south of Villanculos. This evening we gathered around a huge fire on the beach to be entertained by a display of dancing by the local children. It was an incredible exhibition of rhythm and skill and we were left astonished and breathless at their vitality and dexterity. However, I think they were not so impressed with my skills, as after much cajoling and persuasion, I was dragged up to dance, but the important thing was not the skill but the willingness of the spirit.

September 24 1897

I had thought that my previous forays beneath the sea were unbeatable experiences of discovery, but today I have been proved absolutely wrong. I was taken out, under great secrecy, in a large smooth-hulled boat, a great sheet covering some mysterious object at the prow. Some distance out, we dropped anchor and the enigma was at last revealed. There before my eyes was a six foot transparent bell, a long tube snaking out from its rounded top. I immediately guessed its purpose, but could not believe that I was expected to abandon myself to its mercies.

After due consideration and some half-remembered physics tutoring, I was persuaded that this creation might indeed allow me to journey deep beneath the rolling waves. After all, had I not previously taken to the skies in a device far more intricate in construction than this simple diving bell?

It was lowered into the water by mean of a complex pulley system and I entered after it in great caution. Due to the relative pressures, water was prevented from entering all the way and I was thus able to descend in safety, lowered from above by the attached line. Oh, and how glad I am that I trusted my faith in these men of Mozambique, for within moments I was rewarded with a vast array of colourful marine life, even more exotic than those which I had previously borne witness to.

As I reached the bottom at a depth of some sixty or seventy feet, I caught the barest glimpse of some great shadow just on the edge of sight. Curious yet unafraid, I awaited patiently as these ghosts of the abyss slowly drew nearer. I literally gasped with astonishment when they revealed themselves to be four great devil rays, each easily twenty feet across, their mighty wings undulating gracefully in the undersea currents. They circled around and beneath me, passing within inches, completely unconcerned about this invader from the world above.

To my great disappointment, these spectacular creatures, complete as they were with remora fish clinging on like lifeboats, soon swept away in to the distance, leaving no trace of their existence, save for the memory of their ethereal presence burned indelibly in my mind.

I touched down gently on the ocean floor amongst the corals where huge numbers of incredibly varied fish completely surrounded me. Parrot fish crunched away at the coral, moray eels slunk in deep dark holes and any number of other fish whose names I could never hope to learn peacefully glided silently through the impossibly clear water. I even spied a lone shark resting on the seabed, conserving its energy for the evening hunt.

The bell had begun to fill with water, so I reluctantly started to propel myself slowly skyward. As the colours began to return to normal and the sun pierced the surface, I felt fortunate indeed to count myself amongst the very few on this Earth to be both master of the ocean depths and of the dizzying heights of the blue skies above.

After a restful few hours by the beach recovering from my undersea excursion, I was ready for further excitement. And I was not to be disappointed. Our guides had suggested a visit to the neighbouring villages and we eagerly agreed. The strange smile on Japhet’s face however, told me that he was not giving us the complete story. And indeed, when we arrived at our departure point, the astonishing sight of our mounts greeted us. These were not the expected horses or even donkeys, but instead the ungainly bird that is the ostrich.

After the initial shock we all embraced this wonderful opportunity and clambered enthusiastically aboard. Almost as soon as we had grasped the reins, the birds were off, accelerating at an incredible rate. They are surprisingly comfortable to ride even at the great speed that they can maintain for long periods of time.

We quickly became adept at manoeuvring them along the narrow paths that wound their way through the countryside and as we passed by, the children would rush out excitedly, waving at these extraordinary white folk on their ostriches.

We paused at some of these villages, to learn their habits and see firsthand their unusual way of life. At one village we were even given a sample of the local brew, a fiery concoction distilled from almonds that I am sure left me with fewer tastebuds that I began the day with. Fortunately one of the boys recognised my expression of distaste and within seconds, he had nimbly scaled the dizzying heights of a nearby coconut tee and before we knew it we were gratefully supping their sweet milk and devouring the tender flesh.

Remounting our ostriches, we sped onwards, hoping to reach a vantage point high above the bay that afforded the most spectacular view of the magnificent setting sun. We reached the very spot at exactly the right moment and we watched transfixed as the orange rays danced and sparkled across the winding waters laid out below.

When the great orb had at last descended below the horizon and the land was once more shrouded in darkness, we made our way back to camp atop our sure-footed steeds. By the time we arrived we were more than ready to retire to bed, where the gentle roar of the nearby surf sent us swiftly to sleep.

September 25 1897

A brief overnight stay in the town of Maputo. Having spent the last few weeks out in the great wide open spaces of the countryside, I now find myself most uncomfortable when surrounded by anything even remotely resembling civilisation. I am glad that we shall not be here long as I yearn to be returned to the blessed state that is the great outdoors.

One high point of our time here has been the cuisine which is rather richer than the usual hearty fare to which we have been accustomed. I spent a mouth-watering and highly energetic time with an enormous curried crab. I am not used to having to extract my meal from within its host, but I must say that the succulent meat was all the more flavoursome for the energy expended in its removal. My fellow diners sat at some distance, wincing occasionally as I cracked and crunched away at the unfortunate crustacean, bits of claw and shell pinging this way and that!

September 26 1897

At last we have returned to the wilderness to which I have lost my heart. We have left behind Mozambique and crossed the border back into South Africa and I find myself at peace once more. There is something strangely calming about these incredible landscapes stretching out to the horizon in all directions and despite the knowledge that wild vicious death could lurk behind every bush and tree, I feel more at home here than ever I did in London.

As we had not seen much wildlife these past few days, the entire party was anxious to return to the trails for some further close encounters. As the sun began its leisurely earthwards fall, we struck out on horseback, savouring the heat on our backs. Our eyes, now well-attuned to tracking down the lurking animals, soon picked up great quantities of impala, elephants, hippos and vervet monkeys that make up this region’s population. A large pride of lions, including one great fully-maned male, basked in the setting sun and as I gazed in wonder at them I was reminded of my quest. But now I was not here to take from this lion his whisker, but just to admire this awesome predator in his own natural habitat.

We turned back as the light began to fade and rode on in silence, each person lost in their own private reveries. How it was then, that anyone saw the leopard, the most elusive of African predators, I will never know, but I am truly thankful indeed that they did.

Some seventy to eighty feet away from the trail that we followed was a long line of lightly-coloured bushes, surrounded by sandy scrub. And there, in amongst the bushes, peacefully watching the world go by, was a solitary leopard, almost perfectly camouflaged against all but the sharpest of eyes. After several minutes of observation, the beast must have felt unnerved by our presence and stalked silently away with a swish of his long tail.

Tonight is our last night together as a party, and although spirits are high as a result of our triumphant sightings, there is an unspoken sadness in the air, which I feel will only become more apparent on our long trip tomorrow.

September 27 1897

Much of today’s journey has been in silent reflection, each member of the group left alone with their private reflections of this incredible adventure that we have been privileged to share. What little conversation has been forced, as if we are all unwilling to acknowledge the fact that our time together is coming to an end. Even the beautiful landscape has not been enough to lift our spirits and as we arrive on the outskirts of Johannesburg, reluctant plans are made for our last evening together.

September 28 1897

I awoke today alone. My friends have now departed to further adventures of their own while I myself face an uncertain road, my adventures still but a blank page. My only certainty is that I will not see England again for some time, if indeed I shall ever return home. I believe now that there is more to this world than I had previously imagined and I have every intention of exploring it to the fullest.

I will continue my travels within Africa to begin with and perhaps after seeing all that she has to offer, I will be lured by the mysteries of the Orient or seduced by the ancient wonders of South America. I know not where my path will lead me or whether it will be graced with good fortune but I will do my very best to ensure that it is filled with incident in the hope that when I go to meet my maker it will be safe in the knowledge that I have enjoyed a life well lived.

I do not know whether anyone will ever read this record of my enlightenment but if they should, I hope that it may prove to open their eyes in a manner similar to my own and that it may inspire them to tread a different path.

To my Amy, I make this heartfelt apology. Truly I am sorry that I will not return to you, and everywhere I go you shall be there with me also. I hope that you will find happiness of your own and that your life will be blessed with joy and bounty. Please do not forget me, as I am forever indebted to you for setting me along this new road. I have sent to you the Lion’s Whisker, fashioned into a necklace that I hope will stay with you always. Farewell and adieu.

I shall now put down my quill and leave the haven of this hotel to face whatever this Earth has to offer. I shall walk it lightly, leaving little trace of my existence. Perhaps one day I will tire of the wandering life and settle down to record my history, but for now, this is the last the world will hear of Edgar Williams.

Edgar Williams

1897




Afterword

And these final words of young Edgar Williams have proved accurate, these many years later. I have travelled far and wide, exploring Africa to the fullest and venturing further afield to the lands that Williams felt might one day tempt him. And to this day, I have found no trace of his existence whatsoever, try as I might. Perhaps he met his end in darkest Congo, or perhaps even now he sails down the mighty Amazon in his never-ending quest to see all the riches of this world. Perhaps he has even... , but no, it is useless even to speculate, as the possibilities are truly endless.

For myself, I believe he is still out there, as even cynical old game hunters need something to believe in and perhaps one day our paths may cross. Should I be honoured in this way, and I pray every day that I am, and we sit down together, I will buy him a drink and press him to impart just a fraction of his experiences to my eager ears. Until that great day comes however, this journal will have to suffice and I hope that you will glean as much pleasure from it as I have and that your own quest for the Lion’s Whisker will prove as fulfilling.

Henry Ballantine












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