I awoke a second time, to my relief, in my cabin, the sunlight through the porthole painting a circle on the opposite wall that danced with the ships movement to the sound of gently lapping waves. A bright circular Aura dismissing the darkness of the previous night’s storm. The erstwhile awakening merely the dream of an opiated mind. I was in my nightshirt and could see that my previous evening’s attire had been neatly folded and laid on a chair. I had no memory of having returned, but that is not an unusual situation for me and did not provoke any anxiety. On the contrary I felt at ease and purposeful for the first time in a fortnight.
I went to the purser’s office to find which cabin my new comrade was in, for I was keen to invite him for breakfast and continue with our discussions.
The Purser replied there was no ‘Mr. Ho’ listed in the ships manifest. For the next six days until we docked in Shanghai I searched the ship several times and found no evidence of Mr. Ho. I did not enquire any further lest I somehow jeopardise his situation, having come to the conclusion he may be a stowaway, having gone to considerable lengths to affect our meeting . By the sixth day I was wondering if I had dreamed the encounter or if Mr. Ho was indeed some charlatan. I realised should he turn out to be a fake, I harboured no ill-will to the man who had released me from my preoccupation with my own ego.
On the morning Shanghai hewed into sight I went to have breakfast and as I dabbed at my mouth with a napkin I suddenly remembered the carving that Mr. Ho had done in the lifeboat. I returned to my cabin and took a piece of paper and pencil from my valise. I then went to the lifeboat, there was no one in sight so I loosened the tarpaulin and I let myself in. It was there, the Map! It looked somewhat rougher than I remembered it. Taking the pencil and paper I made a rubbing of the map and to my delight the effect was very clear. At that moment, my journey changed from escapism to having some better purpose. I determined I would seek out the village he had mentioned.
Upon arrival in Shanghai I went to the Astor where my club keeps several rooms. I then contacted a local agent to see if I could arrange a guide to the village. The agent looked as the pencil-rubbing I had and by deciphering the characters was soon able to match it to one of their maps. Although the village was not mentioned on their own map, the mountainside was correctly depicted and, my guide assured me that it was common for lowly rural villages of no import to not be marked.
It was a long trek to the mountainside travelling by carriage for the first stage, then by boat and finally by horse. Eventually in the middle of a forest my guide stood shaking his head. That this was, as far as he could tell, the position marked on the map.
Turning round we were in a glade in a forest with no village in sight. I sat down but yet did not feel deflated. The journey it self had calmed my spirit and I had set out fully expecting disappointment and embrace this journey as a cathartic experience. This had made me enjoy the moment of the journey without considering the destination. I believe this released my senses so I was able to enjoy every view of the countryside, the smells of the forest and now the light dappling through the trees. I felt an immense peace. I told my guide we would rest exactly here and then return to Shanghai. He seemed equally non-plussed and had perhaps considered this a fools errand from the start.
“I will make tea!” he declared, fully understanding the common solution to all problems shared by the British and the Chinese. He then set about gathering kindling. I was soon sat at a fire draining the last drop of tea from a metal cup when I saw out of my eye a figure in a large hat under a tree. Without approaching he removed his hat and bowed, as his face came up I could see it was none other than Mr Ho!
“Professor Fiendish how good of you to come!”
I stared in disbelief.
“Mr Ho!” was all I could say.
“I trust your journey was pleasant.”
“It was… invigorating! Yet have we mistaken the way to the village?”
“You are not mistaken, it is just that outsiders are always asked to meet in this glade and must be taken into the village by a local, or in this case, me.
“But how did you know to meet at this time?”
“You will have to take my word, that the villagers sensed your arrival. This is a side-effect of the Beige Matter. They can do this over some distance and with great accuracy.
“The village is but a ten minute walk from this very place, but perhaps first…” he glanced at the fire somewhat wistfully.
I knew his meaning at once and offered:
” A cup of tea?”
Smiling he joined us and around the campfire we chatted like old friends mainly him enquiring after my journey. I saw it was time for small-talk and there would be time to discuss scientific matters latter.
After the tea and my guide had packed up and ladened our donkey we followed Mr. Ho through the forrest, until at last we came upon a hut, then another then more until we were in the middle of a small circular village. I could not help noticing that among the villagers that greeted us with modest smiles nearly all were elderly with a few young grand-children scattered about. We were soon introduced into the hut of the Elder or Head Man of the village who greeted us utmost hospitality.
After some exchanges with Mr. Ho in their pleasant sing-song dialect, Mr. Ho turned to me and said:
“Their language is still difficult for me, but I will be happy to act as translator under the forgiveness of my inadequacy.”
“I am sure you are quite fluent Mr. Ho! This is a rare opportunity to understand the origin of these mysterious Auras, and I would be grateful for an explanation of how how the villagers had come to learn the properties of the ‘Beige Matter’ in the first place.”
Mr Ho then translated the words of the Elder in a fluid and evocative way that left me no doubt that Mr. Ho had mastered the dialect to a great degree.
This then, is the story of the Elder…