Path, Approach Billington
I found it easy enough to make my intentions plain. I simply laid out my case.
“Dr. Billington,” I said, “what exactly do you know about the region around the Congo River basin? You seem entirely too convinced,” I added, “that you will be safe. I conducted expeditions in that area for more than a year, and while I may not have all of my wits about me, I can tell you with the fullest confidence that the jungles of that region are teeming with things that would gladly serve you with tea.”
“Then I will get a guide,” he explained.
“You! A guide. Ha! The Belgians have tied that area down. You would just as likely be dragged off into the thick of it and left there. You’re English. They have no desire to share their spoils with Victoria, I can tell you that.”
“Are you telling me that the English pound doesn’t carry the same weight at Livingstone Falls. That’s ridiculous.”
“The Belgian companies down there can be a bit draconian. It is not a place they send honorable men.”
“But you say I will need a guide. If that’s the case, I expect I’ll just have to make due.”
I threw out my chest as best I could. “I could serve in that capacity.”
“You? Nonsense, you’ve suffered an injury to your skull. You are not fit to travel.”
“I’m a fast healer Dr. Billington. I am already up and running around, and beside, the Congo is no feral land to me. It has been my home these past fourteen months. I’m more in my element there than I am here.”
He considered the notion carefully. “I suppose,” he said when he finally spoke, “that I’d rather have you with me than in the care of another physician.”
“You won’t regret it,” I said beeming as I shook his hand. “Why I even speak Lingala! The regional dialect of the river people.”
He seemed imminently happy as if this had been his plan all along.
“Tell me,” he asked, “have you ever heard or seen signs of an ape somewhere between the size of a Chim Ponzee and the Mountain Gorilla?”
I asked him slowly what he meant, feeling suddenly a bit off.
He looked away as if it had been nothing but a casual ponderance. “It is a creature,” he offered, “that I hope to discover during the length of this expedition.”
I would, I suppose, have discussed the subject at greater length, but I felt a bit queasy just then, and Nurse Huzzit was summoned to offer her care.
I could not quite say why, but the only ship both headed South and available for public charter left in the early hours of a fog filled London morning. I joined the carriage with Billington and a man whom I had never seen before named Pennworth Gloam. He seemed familiar to me but I could not place his face. Finally, I decided that he bore an extraordinary resemblance to one of the orderlies in the day room. Both men were about twice my size.
Dr. Billington gave me a shot so as to sedate me for the beginnings of the sea voyage which he described as chaotic and turbulent, but the sedation worked too well and I was asleep before we’d left the hospital grounds.
By the time I awoke we were deep out to sea.