It s the twelfth day of the expedition Abercrombie, Hendricks, Collingswood, and I were examining a portion of the Manuscript when Fowler called out. “I say! What manner of buffoonery is he up to now,” Abercrombie said. Of the four of us Fowler was the least experienced at fieldwork. This was his first extended expedition and he was prone to mishaps.
Our guide, Mr. Fletcher, a rough sort of fellow from somewhere North of York, crashed through the underbrush and into the clearing where we had set up camp for the night. He had poor Fowler in tow by the back of his collar,, looking for all the world like a pup carried by the scruff of its neck, and the latter was protesting with considerable vehemence. “Unhand me you great oaf! I am perfectly capable of walking on my own, thank you very much.”
Next to Mr. Fletcher’s muscular bulk, with his bandolier and armaments. Fowler’s slight frame and waxy complexion made him appear a mere shade of a man. The rest of us fares little better bu comparison, being primarily scholarly gentlemen rather than former Corporals in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines even those off us who maintained ourselves in good physical form were no match for the raw towering musculature of our hired man. “Aye, and you were that close to walking right into a nest of hornets. My what a fine mess that’d been.”
Despite his somewhat coarse manner at times, Mr. Fletcher was quite useful for keeping the rest of us from any serious harm. We’re not quite sure what duties he performed under Her Majesty’s service. He claims to not be able to speak of it as a matter of state secrecy. We do know that he was employed in several operations in the Indian sub-continent and is therefore quite familiar with the hazards of the jungle. We have our theories, of course. Based on some few hints he has dropped along the way we suspect Mr. Fletcher was quite active in establishing Her Majesty’s dominion over the region. In any case he has proven quite useful in ensuring our safety.
Mr. Fletcher marched Fowler right up to us before conceding to release him. “Doctor Fowler, sir, I’ve warned ye about wanderin’ off now.” Always polite, our Mr. Fletcher. “There’s a hunnert reasons why, and I’ve been over them with you near a hunnert times. One step too far, and that quick you are lost to us. I’ll not be losing any of you lot on my watch, is that clear? I mean no disrespect, sir, but the Dean would have my hide stuffed and mounted if I dinna bring every last one of you back with me.”
As soon as Fowler was released Colingswood put down her magnifier and went round to his side. She tended to mother him a bit, but it had been her idea to bring him along. Fowler had been instrumental in cracking a particularly tricky passage in the Manuscript, after all. A contribution which led directly to this very expedition. Fowler indignantly straightened his collar and jacket but made no further argument. Instead he addressed us, “I hadn’t meant to go far at all. It’s just that I had thought I heard something. Didn’t you fellows,” he touched his forehead and nodded to Hendricks, “and lady, hear anything?”
“The only thing I heard was you bleating like a spring lamb when Mr. Fowler jerked you up,” Hendricks chuckled through his whiskers.
“Oh shush, you!” Collingswood said. Then she asked Fowler, “Just what did you hear?”
“It was rather like drumming,” he answered. “It was faint as if off in the distance off in that direction.” He pointed off to the North-East. “It was a low rhythmic beating as from a large skin drum. Are you sure you didn’t hear it?”
None of us, of course, had heard anything of the sort.
“Drumming, did you say, sir?” Mr. Fletcher joined in. He tapped his chin, which made a quiet metallic sound. The lower half and right side of his face had been replaced by a brass casing some time ago after he had taken a rather nasty blow from a Punjabi club. It lent his voice a rather clipped quality, probably why he didn’t talk overmuch. “It could have been some local tribe in a hunter’s dance. I’ll let the sentries know to be watchful.”
He strode off to attend to the camp’s defenses and I wondered not for the first, nor last, time why a man such as he chose to bide his time with the likes of us. To be sure, we were thankful for his services. I wouldn’t dream of partaking in an excursion of any length in this wild and forbidding place without him. The red lens of his ocular replacement might cause some people discomfort, but I saw it as the marvel of engineering that it was.
It was, in fact, his eye which first brought Mr. Fletcher into my acquaintance. Being the university’s expert in Optics I was called in to assist when Mr. Fletcher was brought in for his facial repairs. The original socket had been torn partly away and even with reconstruction he would need to constantly apply drops to keep the eye itself moist. I designed a better alternative, if I do say so. The lads in the engineering lab did a marvelous job of implementing my designs. We encased the remainig eyeball in a water tight vessel of sorts with a reservoir of saline. My contribution was to include some ocular enhancements. I fitted the front of the eye vessel with a crystalline double lens capable of adjustment to provide a telescoping effect. Over the last few years I have also made further enhancements. The front piece is exchangeable with different lenses, some with various spectrum filters, others which enhance sight in the dark and so forth. He seems to prefer the red one, usually. It is fitted with a targeting reticule and quick magnification.
To be sure the ocular device is hardly the only, nor the most impressive, of Mr. Fletcher’s gifts from the university. He has also been equipped with the most advanced set of armament ever designed. The long gun he carries on his back is more than a mere slug thrower. But perhaps even more devastating is the wist mounted, multiple projectile, mini-cannon. Yes, our Mr. Fletcher is well suited for his purpose. Perhaps that is why he deigns to “babysit the explorers” as he puts it. He gets to play with the best toys.
Word Count: 1111