Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Two – The Club
Despite the hour of the day, with evening having already made its presence felt and the long shadows of night emerging, the air still felt oppressive with a heavy heat as Sir Richard emerged from the house. Fans had cooled the interior, run from the boilers in the basement. No such cooling breeze blew through the streets. Lamp posts glowed down the way, illuminating the street of the modest, white painted houses of the gentry, each with fence of iron railings before it. Out on the waters, lights twinkled from the many ships at anchor.
From overhead came a loud rumbling drone. One hand to the rim of his top hat, Sir Richard glanced up as a dark shape passed overhead, blotting out the emerging stars. A vast aeroship made its way towards the aerofield that lay on the outskirts of the city, its great propellers driving it forward while smoke billowed from engine vents.
Horse hooves clattered along the paved street and a smart little carriage pulled by a pair of fine white horses stopped across the street. From within an elderly white haired gentleman emerged, thin but hale, in tails and top hat, vest and cravat, a walking cane in hand.
“Good evening, Sir Arthur.”
“Evening Sir Richard,” Sir Arthur responded jovially, doffing his top hat. “Headed to the Club?”
“I am indeed.”
“Then I may see you again later. I have some business to attend to first with the staff, but it if is concluded in time I mean to put in an appearance at the Club.”
“I shall look forward to it, sir.”
Sir Arthur returned his hat to his head and strolled towards the entrance to the house across the street while the carriage drove off. Resuming his walk, Sir Richard headed down the street that cut through Cape Colony towards the waterfront, where lay the imposing, majestic edifice that was the Club. The walk there was marked by the presence of but only a few people, most remaining indoors, and a number of the clanking mechanicals more commonly referred to as mules, carrying their heavy loads to pre-arranged destinations.
Upon his arrival at the Club, he climbed up the broad stairs to the entrance, nodding a greeting to the smartly dressed doorman who opened the door from him, allowing him inside. Another servant waited inside, in the marble floored lobby with its red pillars, taking Sir Richard’s hat and cane and storing them away. From there it was a matter of entering the gaming room, a place thick with smoke, woven carpets and comfortable leather-backed chairs. Servants flowed through the room, carrying trays of drinks, while the low susurration of men at the studious task of gambling filled the room. His partners for the evening were already waiting at one of the polished tables, brandies set down before them. They rose from their chairs at his approach.
“Sir Richard, so good to see you.” The speaker, a military man in scarlet coat, replete with gold braids, who sported a pair of impressive grey sideburns, offered Sir Richard his hand.
“Colonel Macintyre,” Sir Richard responded to the man, before turning to the two others. “Governor Mitchell, Sir Joseph.”
Sir Richard’s three companion that evening were men of note in the colony, indeed, as were all in the room, comprising of the Colony’s Governor, Isambard Mitchell, the Colonel of one of the Redcoat Battalions stationed in the colony, namely the Scotti Colonel Callum Macintyre, and the famed natural philosopher, alchemist and favourite of the Immortal Queen, Sir Joseph Banks, a man still vigorous looking for one well beyond his one hundredth year of living.
They resumed their seats as a servant came across to the table. Sir Richard ordered a brandy to be brought over while Colonel Macintyre lit up a cigar. Sir Joseph commenced breaking open a pack of cards.
“How is Doctor Gooding?” Sir Joseph enquired, starting to shuffle the cards. “I have not had the honour of encountering him since my arrival in the Cape Colony.”
“He is well enough,” Sir Richard replied, laying a bundle of bank notes upon the table in front of him. “He has been experiencing a spot of bother with his mule.”
“Cantankerous contraptions,” Governor Mitchell exclaimed, neatly stacking his own bank notes in a pile.
“Aye, but most useful,” Colonel Macintyre observed between puffs of his cigar. “Ye can take them place no wagon can get to, and they carry heavier loads than men. The army runs on them. Dashed inconvenient that else wise they are so limited in performance, otherwise we could outfit them with ordnance and use them in battle.”
“I do believe that Charles Babbage is working on a means by which to accomplish just that,” Sir Joseph responded.
“His engines may be all well and good, Sir Joseph, but even ye would have to admit they are a wee bit clunky for our needs.”
“Give him time, Colonel, give him time.”
“Time is precisely what we may not have,” Colonel Macintyre announced. “The Prussians are getting all uppity, the Iron Tsar is casting a greedy eye south towards Indus and the Franks are starting to make rumbles again. You’d have thought that after Wellington dealt them a lesson the last time, they would have learnt their lesson.”
“If there is one occurrence that I have noted in my studies,” Sir Joseph stated, “It is that we are prone to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Another officer came across to the table through the haze of smoke, his read coat swimming with braid and medals. Major General Thomas Mallory, Commander of Her Majesty’s Cape Colony Garrison, waved for them to retain their seats.
“Good evening, gentlemen. Sir Richard, I do not wish to impose on your time and interfere with your game, but I had rather hoped I could trouble your for a brief word.”
“But of course, General Mallory,” Sir Richard replied, rising to his feet. “Gentlemen, if you would excuse me for a moment.”
General Mallory led Sir Richard from the table to a corner of the room, where a pair of soft leather chairs sat, a low table with a folded up newspaper between them. Each sat down in one of the seats.
“Sir Richard, I am led to believe that you are due to head north on an expedition in the immediate venture, up north into the veldts towards pygmy country.”
“Indeed, sir, you are correct. My good companion, Doctor Gooding, is of the opinion that he has uncovered evidence of a long lost pygmy temple. He is of the view that it merits further investigation.”
“Pygmies and temples,” General Mallory responded, half a frown forming on his brow. “My word, what is the world coming to? As a matter of fact, it is about the pygmies that I wished to discuss matters, Sir Richard. Of late I have been receiving some dashed odd reports from that corner of the world. Some of them have been too fanciful to believe. On the other hand, previous to that I would have staked to the reliability of those who have related the tales. Yet when they speak of the dead who walk like men, and do the bidding of the pygmies, one must treat such tales sceptically and wonder if those who reported them haven’t had too much sun. What we require is a reliable witness to this supposed devilry and a report as to whether it is of concern or not. As we heard that you were headed in that direction, we felt it prudent to enquire as to the possibility that you could take a look while you were out that way, and to warn you of the dangers, naturally.”
“Your concern is most appreciated, sir, and if we do come across any matters that appear out of the ordinary, we shall alert you to it.”
“Much appreciated, Sir Richard. I do feel it wise that you not speak of this matter with others. We do not wish to raise undue alarm where none may exist, not before we are certain as to the veracity of these claims, and indeed if they pose any threat at all.”
“Of course, sir. We need to remain prudent.”
“I shall let you get back to your game then, Sir Richard, and wish you luck in your endeavours.”
Upon returning to the gaming table and taking his seat, Sir Richard found that his brandy had already been delivered. Picking up the cards that had been dealt out to him to await his return, he nodded to his companions. “Let us play, gentlemen.”
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