It really is a most extraordinary story, one that you’re liable to judge as pure fanciful fiction. But it’s as true as the hat here on my head, I can assure you.
You could say it all started when young Emerson – Emmy, as was often called as a boy – travelled with his father. The old man was a diplomat of the Queen’s favour, you know – posted in the depths of wildest Africa. He grew up there, did the young lad, and one could say he thrived as only a Victorian gentleman could, in the blazing heat, among beasts with boldest stripes, spots, and teeth the size of your arm.
Emmy always seemed to have a knack for befriending the animals, and when it was simply chattering parakeets of emerald greed and dainty boggle-eyed mice in the shape of kangaroos, nobody saw a jot of harm in it. But you can imagine his mother’s alarm when she discovered his latest companions were a pride of lions.
Alas, her protestations were met with blank stares. They’re my friends, mummy, young Emmy would say, as if truly oblivious to the unusual nature of the situation. His mother tried to ban him from communing with the monstrous felines, and even persuaded Emmy’s father to forbid it, but the lions saw no validity in Emmy’s parents’ authority.
As is the way of the world and the minds of young men, when he grew a little older and began to insist on being addressed by his full name, Emerson’s eyes began to linger over the forms of the female of his own species – which had previous possessed little to no intrigue, in his view. There was one particular – well, one could hardly call her a lady – acquaintance who had a rather debilitating effect on him. Something inside his chest would begin to flutter like a hummingbird, and the most unmanly giggles would sally forth from his throat.
Her name was Saariya, and she was the daughter of the chief of the Mawafi tribe, whose settlement was not far from Emerson’s mansion. When the two began to spend more leisure time in each other’s company, neither pair of parents were enthused, to say the least. Saaryia’s father had a particularly virile and masterful warrior in mind to wed his only daughter, while Emerson’s mother had her eye on a highborn lady whose family had recently doubled their already substantial fortune importing ready rolled cigarettes.
So when Saariya and Emerson declared that they had secretly married, there was no shortage of unwellwishers, those ready to rejoice in their union’s fissure.
To the chagrin of their critics, the young couple’s marriage began well, and soon Saariya’s belly was swelling with their love. But when the child was at half-term, and his wife was in the clutches of the expectant mother’s incubus, Emerson found himself longing for the peaceful companionship he had known with the lions, and began to visit them again.
Saariya was aghast when she learned of her husbands habits. They are wild animals! She cried. But once again, Emerson paid the woman’s warnings no heed, and would not abandon his unconventional companions.
The Mawafi people began to whisper of this strange ghostly man who preferred the company of savages to his wife, and eventually Saariya could take no more. It’s me or them, she told him one night. She cut a terrifying figure with her middle swollen to almost double her size and her eyes aflame with resolution.
He looked at her sadly, and left without a word.
Saariya was filled with baby and fury, and unlike a good Victorian gentle-lady, was not about to be ruined in a meek fashion. She marched straight to the tribe’s witchdoctor.
The next day, Saariya sought out Emerson, who was lounging among the pride, and fell to her knees, bowing her head. My dear husband, please forgive me for my insolence, she murmured. I truly love you, and wish nothing more than for you to return home with me.
While maintaining a haughty stare, Emerson secretly congratulated himself for having played the situation so perfectly. He had not stood for any nonsense, and had been rewarded justly. When he felt she had grovelled enough, he nodded, took her arm and walked with her back to the house.
Wouldn’t you like to have a nice bath after being out on the grimy plains for a night and a day? she asked, her eyes filled with concern. Why, yes, that does sound like a good idea, he replied. I shall run it for you then. At those words, he did have a moment of suspicion, as she had never behaved in such a way before, but he supposed she must have gone running to his mother when he had refused to bow to her pressure, and his mother must have advised her on how a good wife should behave.
When the bath was ready, she led him upstairs by the hand, and helped him undress. The water smells funny, he said, wrinkling his nose. I have filled it with special salts to cleanse your skin and ease your aches, she replied. In he stepped, and lowered himself down into the fizzing liquid.
Wait, something’s wrong! He cried, and tried to leap out, but Saariya held him down, her palms flat on his shoulders, pushing his face under the surface as he flailed, unable to get any purchase to resist her. Finally, his movement stopped, and he lay still, dead.
Saariya began the process of spreading the word of her prize, a ghostman pickled in brine for all eternity – only 5 dinars to see with your own eyes. Emerson’s parents soon fled back to London, but Saariya grew rich over the years, and Emerson’s body was rather marvellously preserved in the solution prepared by the witchdoctor, causing the London paper’s to run the following humorous, if slightly unfeeling limerick:
Emerson Artemius Dickle
a gentleman ever so fickle
his bride or his pride
could never decide
which left him in a bit of a pickle