Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Ninety-Nine

Chapter I. Strange Doings

After Crimea, and the White Nile fiasco, I was somewhat at Ps and Qs, and had retired to the family estate at Widworth to take the measure of things. My dozens of medals for extraordinary bravery and whatnot seemed but childish baubles; the fever attacks had decreased in frequency and severity to the point where I no longer had to chain myself in the pantry when the moon entered a pernicious phase; I busied myself with painting lascivious Arthurian scenes in the chapel, cataloguing the shrunken human skulls from Zybar-on-the-Rift, laboriously inking the seven volumes of my memoirs, writing the odd pastoral symphony, and keeping the pain from war wounds at arm's length with regular doses of the medicinal potion prepared for me by Dr Zu in the Hidden City of Mongo. My father, still adamant behind his decorative moustaches, told me I'd become a fop and a wastrel, and threatened to disinherit me, as he'd done daily from my lonely childhood, but my mother, as ever, rose long enough from her bed of drama to implore his indulgence on my behalf.

It was thus that I found myself tripping the merrily misty cobbled lanes of London on that fateful evening in 18--. I had enjoyed the several talents of Miss Jenny Lind earlier, and was seeing Lady Tumblebuff to her carriage, but her instructions were garbled by her hereditary lightheadedness, and soon we were lost. I had stopped near a looming edifice of obscure origins, in order to calculate her position, when of a sudden I heard a ghastly shreik ending in a gurgle, a sigh, a moan, and a distinctive sputter, and knew instantly that she had gotten herself into some improbable difficulty. I saw her splayed indignantly in the gutter then, and heard the malevolent clop-cla-clop-cla-clop of what soon proved to be a vanishing figure, which leaped abruptly into the air and landed, with a chilling smirk, on a waiting horse, which quickly raced into the night. "My jewels!" warbled her ladyship, clutching her neck with one hand and a naked garter with the other. And I'd left my pistols at home! Thinking strenuously, I fixed the fleeing steed with my highly trained mental gaze and flung my ivory-handled cane with a flicker of the elbow into the fog. Momentarily, everything hung in the balance. Then, with that sickening series of crunches I knew all too well, the horse, propelled head over heels for some little distance by the force of my walking stick, ejected its rider fifty feet into the air, whence he came to land gracefully on a rooftop and, tipping his hat in acknowledgement of a superior sportsman, fled deftly into the night. The jewels lay gleaming in the lane, where the villain had dropped them, and I rapidly scooped them up and returned them to Eliza, who sat palely panting and pinning her hair on the curbstone.

The incident would hardly be worth recalling had it not been for the sequel, which was to alter my life profoundly, and, not incidentally, affect the course of civilsation itself. An hour later, I was alone at my club, tossing back a stout and grenadine concoction I'd gotten a taste for in the subSaharan delta. As I struggled to focus my gaze on the cricket scores, I found myself joined at table by a shadowy, imposing figure who materialized, as it seemed, from the very floorboards.

"I say," wheezed a gritted, gangling voice, "you won't mind if I join you." It was not a question.

Coming soon enough for blogwork: Chapter II. A Mysterious Gentleman