admiral morwyn stood looking out the north facing window of the "conservatory" on the top floor of castle morwyn, as had been his wont, at that particular time of day, for as long as any living morwyn, or any of the servants, could remember.
behind, him "aunt" morwyn, so called because she was the oldest of the numerous aunts - all the others of whom had to make do with proper names - "aunt sophie". "aunt jane", etc - asked him,
"what are you looking at, out that window?"
"i am looking out the window."
"i know you are looking out the window. but what do you see, looking out the window?"
"what would there be to see?"
"whatever is out there."
"it has not been my experience that there is a great deal to see out there."
"you are testy this morning, admiral. have you not had your breakfast?"
"it is not morning. it is afternoon. the sun has reached its zenith, as is it is inclined to do, and is now beginning its pitiless descent into oblivion. an oblivion all too short lived, as it will be back to do its mischief again tomorrow, all too predictably."
"i asked you if had had your breakfast. i did not invite your tiresome philosophical musings."
"observations of the sun's path hardly qualify as philosophy."
"they did in babylon and chaldea. and perhaps in assyria and the minoan empire as well."
"perhaps," agreed the admiral. "but not in today's world."
"today's world! what an expression! what other world would it be, but today's world?"
the admiral did not deign to answer.
he stood silent, continuing to look out the window.
behind him aunt morwyn remained silent also.
the subject of the admiral's breakfast was forgotten, or at least no longer alluded to, which is not the same thing. is anything ever totally forgotten? a question which has perplexed, or at least engaged philosophers in times ancient and modern.
"modern!" what an absurd concept. reader, we take a stand with aunt morwyn, in regarding the word as totally ridiculous.
human language is a dark overgrown jungle in desperate need of judicious pruning. at least ninety percent of the words which clutter it should be eliminated. what better place to start, than with the word "modern" ?
reader, if you exist and wheresoever you be, we promise that that word will no longer deface this narrative.
aunt morwyn and the admiral continued their silent observations, the admiral of the world outside the castle, and aunt morwyn of the admiral's back.
they were old hands at both of these occupations - silence and observation.
the sun continued its pitiless descent into short lived oblivion.
after an eternity - eternity! another word to be consigned to the dustbin!
reader, consider it consigned.
… aunt morwyn ventured to observe, "soon it will be time for tea."
the admiral nodded, without averting his gaze from the spectacle outside the window.
"the servant who brought the tea yesterday… or was it the day before….", aunt morwyn began.
the admiral interrupted her. "a servant did indeed bring tea yesterday. and the day before. and the day before that."
"i was referring to a particular servant. the one that brought tea yesterday. or perhaps it was the day before."
"so you can tell the servants apart?"
"sometimes. especially if one is male and wearing trousers and one is female and wearing a dress."
more time elapsed, or passed, or evaporated.
"and what was there, about this particular servant, that so excited your interest," the admiral ventured at last.
"i am afraid i have quite forgotten. you caused me to lose my train of thought."
if aunt morwyn was expecting an apology from the admiral for causing her to lose her train of thought, she did not get one.
"if you have a problem with the servants, you should take it up with beckwith."
at the admiral's intonation of the word "beckwith" a chill fell over the room and down the spines of aunt merwyn and the admiral himself, even though it had been he who uttered the name.
beckwith was the chief butler at the castle, and ruled both the servants and the morwyns with an iron hand.
"yes," aunt morwyn replied after a pause, "beckwith will know what to do. if i recall the problem i had with the servant - if it indeed was a problem, and if i can recall which servant it was, and whether it was a man or a woman, and whether it was yesterday or the day before or last year, then, yes, perhaps i shall consult beckwith. but, then, beckwith is a busy man and does not always take kindly to being addressed regarding what he considers trifles."
"indeed he does not," agreed the admiral.
more time elapsed, or passed, or evaporated.
the sun, softening its assault just a bit, continued on its path.
"i see something," said the admiral.
"i should hope you do. for what indeed, would be the purpose of looking out a window if one did not see anything?"
"i see a man."
visitors were not common at the castle. both the admiral and aunt morwyn would have been hard pressed to remember the last one.
"oh? is he coming up the path?"
"no, he is crossing the lawn. he seems to have burst through the hedge."
"not some sort of tramp or beggar, i hope."
"it is difficult to tell, as he is covered from head to foot with leaves and brambles from the hedge. he is coming closer now, and picking the leaves and twigs off his person with one hand and waving a stout stick distractedly in the air with the other."
"i ask you again - i put it to you directly, my dear admiral - does he look a vagrant or beggar?"
"i should say - as a tentative observation - that he attempts to present himself as a gentleman, but not quite successfully."
"not quite successfully?"
"now that he has continued his progress, and i have a better view, and can make a better judgment, i shall revise my estimate and say not at all successfully."
"then he is not quite out of the top drawer?"
"he does not seem to be out of any drawer at all, " the admiral replied emphatically.
the trees they were walking through, though giving a bit of shade, made it even hotter.
wilkinson wanted a drink.
margrave needed a drink.
mercer was on the verge of weeping for want of a drink. however, as the assistant manager of the main plantation, and de facto manager since the murder of hawkins, it was up to him to escort the man from the colonial office, who had arrived to investigate the crime, around the plantation and the settlement.
despite their differences, wilkinson, margrave and mercer had been united in hoping the colonial office fellow would regard his mission as a formality, and quickly retire with them to the relative cool of the bar at the hotel.
but ashley, the man sent from cairo, was having none of it. right keen, he was, and determined to "get to the bottom" of the matter.
he insisted on being led to the spot where the body of hawkins had been found.
the spot mercer led him to was quite indistinguishable from the rest of the path and the wood around it.
ashley looked around. "so, this is where the body was found?"
"close enough," mercer answered, after a slight hesitation.
"close enough, eh?" ashley snorted. he looked the sweating mercer up and down like a colonel inspecting a private on parade. "but it was you who discovered him, was it not?"
"one of the boys discovered him. he came to me. i was the first white man to see him."
"so far as you know you were the first white man to see him."
mercer winced. behind him margrave and wilkinson rolled their eyes. "what is that
supposed to mean?" mercer asked.
"what does it mean? it means that if he had been shot by a white man, that white man would have been the last to see him, would he not?"
"he wasn't shot by a white man. he was shot by a native."
"you know that, do you? how do you know that?"
good god, was this son of a bitch a bloody barrister as well as a sniveling bureaucrat? "it's what the natives do," mercer answered gamely. "besides, none of us had any reason to kill him. why would any of us want to do him in?"
"why, why does anybody do anybody in? an argument over money, a woman, perhaps - "
"there are no white women here , " margrave interjected.
ashley just laughed at this. "i am aware of that."
"surely you don't expect a chap to kill another over a native woman," wilkinson put in.
"expect has nothing to do with it, " ashley answered impatiently. "i am just trying to find the facts."
"but surely you have never seen such a thing?" wilkinson. "a chap killing a chap over a black woman?"
"have i seen it? why, yes, as a matter of fact i have, all over the empire. over black women, black boys, over great strapping blackfellows who could beat a tiger with a riding crop." ashley looked up at the almost white sky, which was beating down hotter than ever through the trees.
"look here, this is enough of this palaver." he turned away from mercer and fixed his gaze on wilkinson. "you are acting chief of police, are you not?"
"why, yes, but i am not actually a policeman, you know. the bailiwick is hardly big enough for a real force. somebody has to have the title, and i stepped up."
"no need to get your back up, old chap, i understand how things are done in these places. it is what i deal with. i just have a few questions, if you don't mind. i will be as happy as you to get them over with and get out of this sun. "
wilkinson stiffened. "fire away."
"you are sure the fellow was shot?"
"i know a bullet wound when i see one. "
"no doubt. but no bullet was recovered?"
wilkinson hesitated. "no."
"was one searched for?"
"none was found."
"as i thought. and no bullet was found in the body?"
"he had been shot clean through."
"was an autopsy performed? "
"doctor wilson had a look at him."
"and he determined what?"
"why, he determined that he had been shot and that he was dead as a dog."
"of course. of course." ashley sighed. "look here, i want a thorough search made here for the bullet. within a radius of a thousand yards of the spot i am standing on."
" but - " wilkinson hesitated.
"it has been over a week," margrave put in. "anything could have happened to the bullet - if there was one - in that time."
'if there was one?" ashley replied. "i thought we had established that there was. and what could have happened to it?"
"why, a native could have picked it up. you wouldn't believe what scavengers they are. or a wild dog. or the ants."
"ants? what use would ants have for a shell casing?"
"who knows what an ant wants? any more than what a native wants?"
"we have some bully ants here," wilkinson added. "they can drag away the carcass of a rhino. they wouldn't have any trouble with a bullet."
"and have you ever seen these ants drag away the carcass of a rhino?"
"not myself, no, but i've heard tales -"
"i am sure. enough of this. have the area searched. as soon as possible. it will be one thing done and out of the way. we can proceed from there."
"but, look here," mercer put in. "we can tell the boys to search, but unless we stand over them the whole time they won't really do anything. in fact, they are as likely to hide the bullet, out of spite, if they do find it."
"well then, stand over them, captain jenks, stand over them when ready, if that is what it takes. or get down on your hands and knees and search yourself. "
"what is the point?" margrave was close to losing his temper. "we know he was shot. what will finding the bloody bullet do?"
"the bullet might be matched with a particular gun."
"oh come, that's all mumbo jumbo."
"hardly. in any case, it's regulation mumbo jumbo. his majesty's regulation mumbo jumbo."
suddenly all the fight went out of wilkinson and margrave. the two of them, and mercer, who had no fight in him to begin with, looked down at the dust, surrendering to the man from cairo.
the sun had reached its zenith.
"so you will have the search done this afternoon?"
"yes," wilkinson muttered.
"excellent. with any luck we will spared the nuisance of digging up the poor chap."
they all nodded. "i need a drink," margrave declared.
"of course, " ashley agreed. "of course. i could use a glass of club soda myself. with ice. you do have ice, do you not?"
"yes, we have ice, " wilkinson answered. "we are not completely uncivilized."