Charles bursts into laughter, his face a bright red as I complete the joke about the rhinoceros and the privy. I lean back into my chair with a feeling of content – Charles still gasping for air – and enjoy the comfort of my surroundings. Ah the life of the wealthy: Leather and velvet upholstery, plentiful liqueur, and the ever faithful servants a mere clap away. Taking out a finely rolled cigar, I clip the tip with my small pocketblade – a gift for my twenty fourth birthday, ivory with gold inlay – and the butler, Giles, offers me a light. I chuckle to myself, and gladly accept. Looking back to Charles, I toke on the wondrously spicy blend of tobacco leaves.
He has finally regained his composure to an extent, and compliments me with a “Good show old boy! Good show! I haven’t laughed that hard in ages!”
“Yes,” I reply smugly, “well, that is but one of the many such jokes I learned on the fantastic voyage from whence I have just returned.”
Charles leans forward with interest, that familiar glint of curiosity in his eye. “Fantastic voyage? Why, you must tell of it, chap.”
I throw the bait.; “Well, it is rather outrageous, perhaps some other time, over a brandy.”
“Nonsense! You remember my voyagewith the Zulu chief and the Bengal tigers?”
“Yes, you’re quite right.” He’s biting. “Though this voyage is of a somewhat different nature.” I play him a little line, shifting forward in my chair to the soft squeak of leather. “You wouldn’t happen to have a copy of ‘Poems from the Land of Dreams’ perchance?”
“But of course! I received it as a gift from that lovely woman Katharine. You remember the girl, yes? I believe it was for my fifteenth aniversary with Clara. Ha! Clara. If only she’d stayed alive long enough to realize I was only after her money.” I smile as he stands and walks to one of the many shelves lined with books of varying color and size, remembering the glorious scandal we had planned. Finally, he selects a thick, clothbound volume, and carries it back to me with pride. “Here we are. This is the fifth copy to be printed, and…signed.” He puffs up, gloating over his assumed victory, but I return the favor humbly.
“Hmmm. Then it’s the wrong one.” Ignoring the look of shattered pride on Charles’ face, I nonchalantly flip up the cover, pointing to his prized signature. “You see, this was written by John D. Clarence in the year of eighteen and twenty two, a mere sixty years ago, whilst the volume to which I am referring was written in thirteen and two by the much late -” and at this point I emit a series of shrieks and grunts, producing a look of overall dumbfoundedness on Charles’ face.
“Wot? You jest old boy! Never have I heard of anything so preposterous!”
This was expected, and I begin to reel him in. “No jest old friend, I am completely serious.” I close the book and hand it to him slowly. “This tale is true as the time on the watch in your pocket.”
“Fabulous! My watch is Swiss!”
“Yes, quite so.”
“Why then, I must aquire this book!”
“Ah…but you can’t.”
“Whyever not? I can have anything.”
“Because to the extent of my knowledge, it is one of a kind.”
“Might I read your’s then…old friend?”
I cover a smile, and reel him in closer. “Before you do that, I feel the need to warn you, it can be quite an experience.”
“What are you saying, dear fellow?”
“I am saying, that it is by this book that my wonderful adventure was spawned.”
Charles has a hard time concealing his excitement, and I know he is hooked. Leaning back in my chair once again, I slowly sip at the snifter offered to me by the understanding butler. I smile slightly, perhaps I’ll have to get this butler in my service. Charles nods, urgent for me to continue.
“As I was saying, I had just purchased the book from the owner of an old antique shoppe. I’m sure he had no idea of its true value, and it cost me a mere three shillings.” We both laugh, and I continue with my tale. “You can imagine my excitement, finding such a strange book, and handwritten as well.”
“Yes, and I immediately rushed home, so intent upon reading my newly found treasure, as to not even yell at my carriage driver.”
“You are too easy on your servants, man.”
“Only when the situation dictates, fellow, that is why I still have them. But the book; I was almost in a dream,” I chuckle, “as I rode back to my home. When I arrived, I slipped on my slippers and smoking jacket-”
“Would that be the one I gave you?” Charles interrupts.
“But of course. I had all food brought to me, and many drinks after that. I had read through many fascinating poems and stories written within, when I came upon one about a young man, standing along the banks of a sparkling blue river. Without any warning, there was suddenly a strange feeling of dizziness, and I found myself in the man’s stead. No joke! I was standing there, dressed in billowy, flamboyant clothes, such as one might find in India. I pinched myself several times, wondering if all of the brandy I had consumed might have had a hand in it, but no. I was there! The river before me was real, as real as the colorful clothes I found myself wearing.”
“Inconceivable, my dear fellow. A fascinating tale, but perhaps some other time.” He motions for Giles to bring more brandy, and the butler and I glance at each other knowingly. I let Charles think he’s getting somewhere.
“No, no! This is all completely true! My friend, have I ever lied to you?” Giles has a hard time keeping a straight face, and it takes much control for me to retain my look of sincerity.
Charles flashes the expected “Well, no” look on his face, but does it quite poorly, and I continue with a full snifter now held in my hand.