Hammer of the Pygmies
Part Five – The Trek North
Despite Doctor Gooding’s confident prediction, it took him a few days longer than he anticipated to get the mechanical mule up and running again, spending the time tinkering away with it to get it up to peak performance. Sir Richard partook of the resultant delay to spend time down at the Club, catching up with acquaintances and with news, in particular with the newly arrived Lord Redsmith, who had come by way of Australis, where he had been Chief Magistrate at the Port Jackson colony. Sir Richard knew him from before his departure out to Australis, years before, for the man had been good friend’s with his father. Lord Redsmith’s arrival at the Cape Colony had been as a result of having been appointed the Lieutenant Governor, with the view to replacing Governor Mitchell when at last he retired.
“Will you be remaining in the Cape long?” Lord Redsmith enquired of Sir Richard upon their first encounter at the club, over drinks and cigars.
“For a short while, at least,” Sir Richard replied. “My good companion, Doctor Hamilton Gooding, wished to undertake an expedition out onto the veldts, to explore some pygmy ruins.”
“And once that is complete?”
“We shall most likely be retuning to old Albion,” Sir Richard told him.
“In the eventuality that you do so soon, I may have a favour to ask of you.”
“Of course, Lord Redsmith. You have but to ask.”
When all at last was in readiness, the expedition set out in the early hours of August 18th, in the cool of morning. Instructions had been left behind with the cook in the eventuality that Captain Archibald Hammerman made his arrival before their return.
In addition to Sir Richard and Doctor Gooding, the expedition comprised of Obadiah Crabb, the mechanical mule and a number of native bearers and guides, men who knew the north country out beyond the colony well.
Before their departure, Doctor Gooding filled up the tanks of the mechanical mule with water and fed one of the especially alchemically treated coal logs into the furnace. The exact formulae as to its manufacture remained a closely guarded secret by those that made them. Each formulae differed marginally, resulting in slightly different outputs in terms of heat and length of burning, but all provided steady combustion for days, requiring only top ups of water to keep the boilers running. It was such alchemy that powered the locomotives, the aeroships, steamships and boiler-rooms of industry across the globe.
With a whirring and a clanking, the pistons of its legs pumping and gears spinning, the mule waddled after the expedition, loaded down with the substantial cargo of gear and equipment required, more than what a dozen strong men could carry between them.
For the better part of three weeks they made with way north from the Cape Colony, deeper into the wilds of South Africus. Initially they proceeded through the trappings of civilisation that clung close to the coastline, travelling by locomotive, passing farms and villages, roads and rail tracks. Much in the way of traffic was seen and passed, in the form of man and beast and machine.
Gradually the civilised gave way to wilderness, where the terrain spread out wide and expansive, upon which roamed vast herds of beasts. Few beyond those native to the region lived out in those parts.
With no cooling breeze to come off the ocean and the days growing longer, they sweltered in the heat of the day, while at night the temperatures plunged low.
Twice during their trek north they were forced to halt as Doctor Gooding conducted minor repairs upon the mule. Most days they refilled its water tanks, and thrice they cleaned out the furnace and loaded it with a new treated coal log.
In time they left the veldt behind, plunging into a region of wild forests and jungles, teeming with wildlife, and also the abode, if word was to be believed, of the pygmies, a feral inhuman race that were not related to humanity. They spotted no signs of the pygmies as they pushed their way deeper through the jungles, yet Sir Richard remained ever vigilant, his rifle resting across the saddle of his horse and his revolver remaining in easy access at his side. Progress slowed with the need to clear paths at times, as much for themselves and their mounts as for the mule which clanked along steadily behind then beneath its load, unperturbed by any obstacle.
The course of their travels brought them in time to a region in the jungles that was the locale Doctor Gooding wish to reach, where a range of hills reared up all resplendent from the surrounding foliage, a series of peaks and rolling slopes where the trees did not cling as thick.
That evening they established their camp beside a stream that flowed down from the hills, a rumbling expanse of rapid flowing water churned white by jagged rocks, along whose banks plants and trees grew in dense proliferation, crowding in so tight that visibility was left much truncated. Tents were raised beneath the trees, the mounts were tethered so they did not stray and become lost in the jungles, and the mule was left to idle, its boiler ratcheted down so that it barely smouldered, conserving the slow burning coal log that empowered it.
“Where about exactly is this temple that you seek?” Sir Richard enquired. The members of the expedition sat around a glowing fire in the fading light of day, eating an even meal that Obadiah had prepared. Insects sung and buzzed about them, attracted to the flames and to the warmth of their bodies.
“The exact position is one not readily available,” Doctor Gooding responded. “It is in these hills, here. Part of the hills, one may say, carved into them, much as the recently discovered Petra of the Nabateans is.”
“I am unfamiliar with the place,” Sir Richard told him.
“It is a site only recently discovered, by the Helvetian explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, in the Levant.”
“I shall have to make a moment of time to see it some day.”
“Aye, laddie, you do that.”
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