In our last episode Iarcus’ companion Miss Fundament disappeared into the sea when she stamped her feet too hard and broke a hole in the frail dinghy in which they had been cast away. Now read on….
Dear reader, you must not suppose that I was insensitive to the plight of my companion, ill-suited as we had been in this, our common ordeal. But you will recall that a plank of the dinghy had been shattered by the lady’s foot, and water now began to gush in in a most alarming manner. Having no other means to staunch this flow, I flung myself down on the planks of the boat, and inserted my posterior into the gaping hole through which the ocean was attempting to enter. Thus positioned, I was borne rapidly away by a lively breeze that had chosen this inopportune moment to spring up.
Greater writers than I have mused on the capricious cruelties of Nature; I venture to say that in my distress I compared myself to Odysseus, pinioned to his mast, and Sir Horace Wotherspoon, hero of the War of King’s Lynn, shipwrecked off Great Yarmouth within minutes of setting sail, whose corpse was cast up on the shore still enclosed in the ship’s privy.
The horror of the next two days is fresh in my memory even today. Deprived of my last source of nourishment, I was borne along under the fierce heat of the tropical sun. Valiantly I attempted to maintain my spirits; in vain did I summon up the worthy precepts of my old schoolmaster who had encouraged my flagging spirits, as I attempted to scale ever greater heights of learning, with quotations from the Church Fathers and readings from Mary Biffy’s great work, “The Man Who Cleaned His Face With Sandpaper.” I came close to despair in spite of all my efforts. Try as I would, I could not summon up enthusiasm for further projects, or hopes of future glory.
On the morning of the third day, as I was preparing myself to bid farewell to this world, I perceived that my craft was entering a narrow bay, with a long strip of land running as far as the horizon at my right. Within minutes, I was deposited with a thump on a wide beach, characterised by sands of a peculiar deep yellow. Heaps of oddments of blue glass-like material lay here and there interspersed with broad strands of seaweed. Emerging from the boat, I fell to my knees and thanked the Lord for my preservation, all my natural spirits rebounding so that I even ventured a few steps of the dance known as Lord Darnleigh’s Revenge. Thus engaged, I failed to notice immediately that a human figure was approaching. As my dance revolved my body in his direction, I perceived a tall, dignified person clad in close-fitting hosiery offset by an ample and wide-cut jacket of a sombre but brilliant hue. A shallow yellow hat with a huge brim and a heavy wooden walking stick completed his attire.
Benign as his appearance was, I remained cautious: the fellow could be a savage in spite of his well-tailored exterior and fair complexion. Accordingly, I adopted a manoeuvre that I had developed for greeting the inhabitants of strange lands. My procedure was designed to allay all possible suspicion on the part of the subject, and to avoid any infraction of the local forms of etiquette. First of all, I hunched myself into a standing position considerably lower than the eye-level of the other party. The attitude thus created was one of humility without impairment of my faculties of observation. Next, I placed my arms behind my back, each elbow being clasped by the opposite hand. This procedure would clearly obviate the use of most weapons. I then raised my face and opened my eyes very wide and retracted my lips to the fullest extent, thus providing full view of the teeth. My purpose here was to indicate a friendly openness of character.
Confronted with this posture, the stranger came to a halt. However, his expression appearing to be one of polite curiosity rather than hostility, I felt encouraged to encourage my routine. I began making a series of quick, shallow bows, during which I clearly enunciated greeting formulae in the following languages: Swahili, Hindostanee, Urdu, Attic Greek, Koine Greek, Coptic, Cape Dutch, Arabic and Armenian. After each greeting, the stranger would briefly halt, then resume his forward progress. As he approached, I would creep backwards slightly so that he would feel drawn towards me rather than tempted to flee in self-defence.
During the delivery of the greeting in Armenian, I stepped into a piece of seaweed. My feet sliding from under me, I crashed face forward on to the sand. As I struggled to rise from this undignified position, I found the stranger’s hand on my shoulder, and dulcet English tones issuing from his mouth.
“My dear sir, are you quite well?”
In amazement, I gasped, “You speak English?”
“Yes, indeed, sir. But do you?” was the polite reply.
“Of course I do!” I exclaimed proudly, as the stranger helped me to my feet. “I am an Englishman!”
“An Englishman?” his brow was creased in puzzlement, “pray, what is an Englishman?”
It was clear to me that I had arrived in an uncivilized land unacquainted with the glories of the British Empire. Thus I replied, firmly but not unkindly, “ I come from England, the home of the English language. Surely, as you speak our language, you must have some knowledge of the great country that is its birthplace?”
“There, sir,” replied my amiable companion, “I must confess my ignorance. It is, of course, the view of Professor Stringer, of whom you must have heard, that the English language was developed as an amusement at a garden party by Mary Biffy the First, and that its adoption in this country is due to its unparalleled capacities for vituperation and obfuscation. I myself, I must admit, have become somewhat lazy in my old age and find the use of English somewhat simpler that that of our native Arrapamattian. Besides, I have observed that persons of feeble intelligence appear to understand it with relative ease, and it is therefore generally of more use.”
So benign was his tone, so guileless his countenance, that I could not take offence at this extraordinary pronouncement. Being at a loss for a riposte, I remained speechless while the gentleman continued,
“But sir, you appear to have made an arduous journey and to be in need of rest and nourishment. Please do me the honour of accompanying me to my small house, which is at hand.” So saying, he took me courteously by the elbow and led me from the beach.
Gentle reader, I perceive that your eyes are drooping and the night draws on apace.
Let us retire to our respective abodes and in the morning, revivified by the sleep of the just, I will unfold the subsequent adventures that befell me in the land of Arrapamatta.