I aknowledge that the first chapter was perhaps a bit of a slow start. For those of you who were not completely charmed, I beg of you the indulgance of reading this one as well before passing judgement. I daresay that this one is several times better, by my own estimation.
The Curse of the Rhino King
A Ripping Dr. Sir Reginald Kingsley II Adventure
"I believe," she began, trying her best to retain her dignified posture and composure as Ivan's rough fingers prodded and pulled at her shoulder wound, "That you are an acquaintance of my father, one Professor Alexander Elliot, of Camblee University, are you not?"
"Indeed I am", I said, "Fine fellow. Stout chap. Good character, fine bone structure and impeccable personal grooming habits. Can't stand him personally, naturally, but that's neither here nor there".
"No, of course not," she replied mildly. "Few enough men can, and indeed I daresay most who have been burdened by his unctuous acquaintance personally loathe him. Certainly the tears I would shed at his funeral would be for form's sake only, but I love him dearly all the same."
"Nevertheless, I fear he has found himself in something of a predicament, and one which it seems it may be beyond my abilities to aid him in the solving of."
I steepled my fingers thoughtfully below my lower lip as I considered this. "And do I correctly deduce that this is in some part to blame for your current discomfiture?" I gestured vaguely once more to her shoulder as I said this, where even now Ivan was beginning to carve away great wads of what appeared to be diseased or gangrenous flesh surrounding the arrow with his knives, all the while singing what I had gathered was a jolly old folk song his people (god rest their pagan souls) had sung during times of great misfortune for others so as to keep their minds off of their dire predicaments. It seemed he had the matter well in-hand.
"Your fabled powers of insight are as quick as your reputation credits them to be", she said, grinning nervously. She appeared to be attempting not to pay too-close attention to the surgery at hand, as though acknowledging the mass of muscle tissue even now being sheared away from her body would somehow make it real, and not doing so would make it unreal. Ah, the frailties of the fairer sex. "Ah, but where to begin?"
"The beginning, I find, is often a good place to start from."
"Is it? Well, of course! What a clever idea! Yes, beginning it is, then. It began," she began, "nigh unto a year ago, when my father and brother, Jonothan, set out on safari in darkest Africa. It was a purely scientific pursuit, you understand; gathering specimens and the like. Quite the bloody business, what with all of the shooting of specimens with hunting rifles and such, and so naturally I heard of this second hand when they returned home. As it was told to me, they evidently gathered from their local guide that two of the area's kingdoms - as apparently they call themselves", she said, chuckling softly, "had recently resolved to forge a sort of peace treaty with one another and seal the compact by means of marrying off the virgin daughter of one of the kings to the son of the other. Father was quite taken with the whole business, as you can well imagine. He had never seen an African child bride in her native regalia, and when he did, he quite knew he must learn more about the whole affair."
"He would have been a traitor to Dame Science had he not," I said, "Arriving at her supper table, eating her food and then holding her down roughly upon the floor and voiding that selfsame food from his bowels upon her face at night's end."
"That's precisely what my brother said!"
"Well, it's a common enough figure of speech", I said, waving it off dismissively. "But pray, do go on."
"Ah, yes. Well. Through their interpreter, my father invited the African king Ngumbah and his daughter - the bride-to-be - to a feast in celebration of the upcoming nuptials and to pay tribute to his majesty. They were told of the ship which my father had off-shore; 'a great metal palace floating upon the waves', they said, where there would be dancing and music and such awaiting them and their retinue, should they wish to be so-honoured. Naturally, the savages were quite entranced by the tale, and in their gross, ignorant egomania, they had no difficulty believing themselves deserving of such honours, readily agreed, and arrived - as requested - in their most elabourate tribal finery."
"Naturally, naturally," I said, rubbing my chin thoughtfully, "I assume," I continued shrewdly, "That the finery was kept in good condition after they were killed?"
"Mister Kingsley!" She exclaimed indignantly, half-rising from her chair. This elicited a grunt of annoyance from Ivan, who was even then busily cauterising the wound with a hot poker, "My father is a professional! A man of science! Of principle! Of course he kept it in good condition. How dare you, sir?"
"I meant no offence, I assure you," I replied, gesturing for her to sit down peaceably, "and I beg your pardon. But please, do go on."
She settled back into her chair, peering with some annoyance at Ivan's work. It seemed that after his brief interruption, he had resumed his nonsensical little folk song and was now stomping his feet in time with his guttural bleatings as he returned to his work. Drawing a deep breath, she then continued. "Well. As you have no doubt surmised, the king and his men were poisoned during their feast, and the child bride, who my father since named 'Bango-Bango', for the way she endlessly bangs her head against the bars of her cage whenever he is not kept sedated, was taken into captivity for the sake of scientific inquiry."
The sound of her name had sparked a momentary recollection in me. I shuffled through some newspapers on my desk-top before retrieving the one I was looking for. "Bango-Bango, you say? Was she not the one who is currently on-tour with the London Circus in Hamburg?" I glanced at the photograph in the story on the subject. Delighted children who had paid a penny to the circus master were feeding the princess peanuts through the bars of her cage. I couldn't help but smile at the look of innocent delight painted so plainly on their faces. The joy of education they experienced in that moment, I silently prayed, would never leave them.
"One and the same, good sir", she replied. "My farther is a proud man, but also a kind and generous one, in his fashion. God how I loathe that about him. He saw no reason why the peoples of Europe should be denied the opportunity to learn from this marvellous specimen simply because they lacked the means to travel to darkest Africa themselves."
"It seems that perhaps I ought to revise my estimation of the man's character", I said, "Is he on tour with the circus himself?"
"No, Mister Kingsley, I'm afraid this is the very reason that I have come to you today. For you see, it seems he has been kidnapped!"
"Kidnapped! Whatever for? A man like him? Surely he had no enemies! Who could possibly wish him ill?"
"If you can believe it, sir, the African king whose son was to marry Bango-Bango has made a spot of trouble for us. Laid a bit of a curse on the family, so it seems."
"An arrow curse?" I asked.
"In part, yes, I fear. Wheresoever we go, we are pursued and vexed by these savages and their hunting animals. Last night, they burst into my father's office and subdued him. They plan on sacrificing him to their jungle spirits, I have been given to understand, should not Bango-Bango be returned to them within the next lunar cycle."
"Well, that's simply barbaric! To think, bursting in on a man's home uninvited and demanding that his contribution to the education of children - of CHILDREN - " I snapped angrily, "ought to be snatched away to ignorant lands where they have nothing to learn from her, and lack the brains necessary to learn anything at any rate ... ghastly business!"
"It's frightfully embarrassing, Mister Kingsley. Frightfully. But now I fear that a rescue effort must be mounted to retrieve my father. And I pray you, sir... your reputation for bravery and woodcraft being what they are, and your acquaintance with my father..."
"Yes, yes. So, you would have me arrange passage to Africa?"
"Yes and no, sir, for you see..."
At that moment, there arose a great clatter and the sound of splintering wood from outside of my study. I could hear my maid shrieking with terror as thunderous footsteps began to sound in the hallway, drawing closer, closer, ever closer with every moment. I looked sternly at my guest, scowling "What did I JUST finish telling you about bringing drama into a civilised man's home?"
"Oh! Mister Kingsley, I must... that is, I..." she stammered and sputtered in embarrassed shock, "I never would have... that is, this must be the doing of the Rhino King... the curse, you see...?"
"Rhino King?" I asked, dumbfounded. I recalled the word 'rhino' from my Latin lessons as a youth. "What a preposterous epithet. Has he some great ungodly nose, perhaps?" I was rising as I was speaking, moving to fetch a rifle from the case in the hall outside my door.
"I haven't the foggiest ide..." she began, before a veritable explosion of splintering wood atomised my study door, through which opening a great beast came charging, crushing the broken door frame underfoot. Large it was, with a grey leathern hide, and two enormous horns, one behind the other mounted upon its head between its eyes, which were themselves small and beady black things set in deep folds of skin far back on its head. It stamped and snorted angrily at the sight of her.
"Good god," I whispered. "A unicorn! I never thought I should live to see the day!"
Miss Elliot was at this point beside herself with mortified embarrassment and was making squawking noises not unlike some ungainly jungle bird. This put me in mind of my own rare blue Parrot, Napoleon, and how I dealt with him when he became too agitated. Swiftly yanking a tablecloth off of a nearby table, I tossed it over her head as one would a birdcage, such as to trick the bird into believing it to be night-time so that they would fall asleep. Sure enough, within moments, her distressed noises faded and stopped, only to be replaced by the sound of soft snoring. That was one problem dealt with. Now to deal with my equine intruder. "Ivan, you continue with your surgery", I said. "I shall have to dispatch this beast with my bare hands." Ivan didn't make so much as a grunt of concern for my safety. This spoke naught at all of his care for me, but rather, spoke volumes of his knowledge of my skill with fisticuffs. He had, after all, seen me employ, on any number of occasions, the hidden art of Mookalakapeekapo. I rolled up my sleeves and advanced upon the enraged steed who had so mysteriously chosen this moment to invade the sanctity of my home, even as it lowered its long equine head, aimed its curiously thick horn directly at my chest, and made ready to charge.
(To be continued in chapter three!)