Master Weenum’s Conundrum
PART 1: Dorias Jones
“Hello there, my name is Hugo Shervington, butler and personal friend of Master Weenum as well as the author of these short biographical tales. Our story begins in Paris 1819, the American War for Independence was well and truly over and the great Empire was stretching its limbs, the result was a remarkably care-free time for both myself and master Weenum and we were both thoroughly enjoying our holiday, visiting all the local delights as well as the various business partners master Weenum had scattered around the city.
One such partner was that of Dorias Jones, well-known literature critic for the Times, botanist, and author of several esteemed publications concerning the sexual nature of women and how to better satisfy said nature through the use of natural stimulants as well as chemical stimulants. He was also an opium refiner. It was for this last little quirk that we were here, enjoying the rich, British nature of the man’s intellect and enthusiasm for all his various hobbies in the crowded four-room museum that was his home. There were bookshelves stacked high with books on every subject one could dream of (if one dreamt purely about botany, pleasing women, classical literature and opium that is) and the walls and floor were bedecked in every colour, texture and shape of rug to be found from here to the Oriental nations. He also had a delightful pantry, filled with the most choice cuisine and situated so as to catch the warm, energizing rays of morning light as they filtered through the large, slightly dusty bay window.
“So, Bryce old boy how are you finding your time in the most capital, capital in the world?” asked Dorias, smirking slightly at his pun.
“Oh it’s delightful as always Bryce, I can’t bear the idea of returning home after this business is done.”
“Yes quite, I never could and that’s why I remain here, where the air is sweeter, the food is richer and the women are far more adventurous than any stout, well-bred English woman could ever be.” Said Dorias, enthusiastically.
“Yes I do believe they breed them fairly wild around here.” My master replied disapprovingly.
“Oh yes, and you know what? I much prefer it.”
“Hmm, well I don’t think I go in for that kind of thing myself.”
“Really? What a shame. Anyway, returning back to the matter of ‘this business’ what exactly did you have in mind?”
“Well,” began master Weenum, brightening at the mention of business. “I’m planning on a large shipment coming in tonight at Le Havre. Finnegan has organised all the transportation necessary to get it the rest of the way here. All you have to do is refine it and then we’ll ship it out to China on the thursday.”
“Sounds like a plan, I assume you’ll be accompanying the cargo to see that it has a comfortable voyage?”
“Yes, we’ll be going first to Canton by ship and from there the crew will assist us in escorting the goods to a nearby village where we’ll meet up with some local traders who have agreed to distribute it through all the villages and ports along the coast.”
“Smashing! Well now, seeing as you’ve got that covered why don’t you accompany me to Lady Bonhomme’s for a spot of luncheon?”
“I don’t see why not. Hugo, do we have anything else planned for today?”
“No sir, I think not.” I replied, consulting the master’s planner.
“Well in that case let’s be off shall we?” Enthused master Jones.
PART 2: Lunch with Lady Bonhomme
Lady Bonhomme’s manor was a stately example of aristocratic opulence, situated on the outskirts of Paris it was a shining beacon of hope for those who thought they had enough but weren’t sure, a haven for those who were tired of all the grime and squalor of the lower classes and now wanted a peaceful setting in which to enjoy a mid-day meal. As it turns out however, master Jones’ plans did not just include a relaxing meal, but rather a business opportunity, a chance to trial one of his new ‘lollies for the new age woman’ as he liked to call them. On our arrival we were greeted by the large, flowering form of Lady Bonhomme herself who quickly ushered us inside with the eagerness of one who has stretched their patience far over the bounds of safe deflation and was now a quivering bundle of excitement.
“How do you do Lady Bonhomme?” Asked my master, brushing the back of her hand with his lips.
“Oh tres bien, tres bien!” Squealed Lady Bonhomme, dancing out a most curious dance while plucking at her frocks like a nervous chicken.
“Are we all ready to go madamoiselle?” Drawled master Jones in a lazy French accent.
“Wee wee!” Was all Lady Bonhomme managed to get out before turning to us and gesturing in the direction of the dining room. “Would you mind taking a seat while Mr Dorias and I took care of a little business?” She asked, already making for a door off to the side of the grand reception hall, clasping the arm of master Jones.
“Um, sure I guess…” muttered my master in a much bewildered fashion.
Master Weenum and I made our way to the banquet hall, feeling a little out-of-place and abandoned in this enormous labyrinth of hallways, doors and staircases, all adorned in flowery, sculpted cornices with cherubs peering out from amongst the many layers of plaster or peering down from high, vaulted ceilings. Eventually, we found our way to the dining room and took our places at the table. After peering around the grand room for several minutes, master Weenum turned to the butler standing nearby and asked, “So how often does Mr Dorias come by for ‘business’ Mr…?”
“Sanchez, sir. And to answer your question, he visits roughly twice a week.”
“Hmm, I wonder how many other women he visits around the city each week, must be quite good business I would imagine.”
“I would imagine so sir.” I replied.
“I wonder…” With this my master sunk into deep thought for several minutes, until at last Lady Bonhomme and master Jones returned from their ‘business’. Lady Bonhomme adjusted her wig, which was slightly askew and then clapped her hands twice, indicating that lunch be served.
We had a rather pleasant lunch, an entrée of chilled soup followed by escargot, which I believe is quite a delicacy here in France, both I and master Weenum however, did not think it quite so and resorted to quickly swallowing each snail without chewing, smartly followed by a mouthful of red wine. After the main of roast duck, the conversation turned to affairs in the East.
“I for one, think we should just go in and show those yellow-skinned natives a thing or two about proper trade relations! I mean the whole idea of restricting the import of a product which they themselves virtually invented is madness!” Argued Mr Jones, by this stage quite intoxicated from all the wine he had been drinking over lunch.
“I agree entirely!” Agreed Lady Bonhomme emphatically, also quite drunk.
“Well I think they’re perfectly within their rights to restrict imports,” stated my master. “I mean seeing as it’s had such a negative impact on their culture and economy, and don’t worry I realise fully the irony of that statement, but I stand by it nonetheless. What I do have an issue with, is their confiscation of these goods when found upon the personage of any English trader!”
“Well, I disagree with you on the first point, but I entirely agree upon the second! Something should be done I say!” Slurred master Jones.
“Yes, well, I suppose we’ll get a better view of the situation once we arrive in Canton. For the moment however, I think Mr Shervington and I will be heading off home what do you say?”
“Certainly sir, whatever you wish.” I replied.
“Goodbye Bryce old chap, I imagine I’ll be seeing you before the week is out.” Said Master Jones, languidly reclining in his chair.
“Aurevoir monsiuer Weenum.” Giggled Lady Bonhomme.
“Aurevoir Lady Bonhomme and thankyou for your hospitality.” And, turning on his heel, master Weenum led the way back through the manor and out into the rose scented air of the courtyard.
PART 3: The Voyage Begins
A few days passed, in which the shipment arrived and master Dorias was able to refine the opium into its’ crystalline state, ready for shipping to the Far East. We awoke thursday morning to a fairly overcast, leaden sky and ate our breakfast to the sound of rain trickling down the window panes. After that we caught a coach down to the docks from which our cargo ship was leaving, bound for China and loaded with our merchandise. Canton, the last free-trade port in China was to be its’ destination and master Weenum, as the proud owner of this business enterprise were to oversee its safe arrival and to ensure that the transfer between ourselves and the traders went according to plan. The captain of this particular ship was a fairly charming fellow, an Irishman, always with a tune to whistle, a bounce in his step and a wide toothy smile, broken only by the stout pipe that he smoked at all times. As master Weenum and I strolled towards the captain in order to make the necessary payments for both ourselves and the goods being shipped, the captain turned and signalled to his crew who promptly hurried over, took a bag in each of their salt-hardened, callused hands and made for the hold of the ship.
“Mr Bryce Weenum, ahoy there sir!” Hailed the captain. “All set for the long voyage?”
“I should hope so, it would be dreadfully unlucky to forget something and only remember it by the time we were halfway around South America.”
“Aye, that it would be sir. And talking of luck, have you heard that the Chinese are planning on restricting British ships into Canton? An attempt to stop the flow of opium, or so I hear.”
“Really? Well, that is most unfortunate indeed… and you’re sure it’s just British ships?” My master asked keenly.
“Quite sure sir. Of course that shouldn’t be a problem for us sir, us being Irish and coming form a French port and all.” The captain replied reassuringly, still with the unlit pipe dangling from his bottom lip.
“Yes, well, let’s hope so.” Despite the captain’s assurances, master Weenum still had a faintly worried look on his face as we clambered aboard the heaving vessel, carefully trying to avoid slipping in the puddles that were collecting on the deck. “Blasted rain, nothing good ever comes of it.” Muttered master Weenum to himself.
PART 4: The Conundrum
As your humble biographer I will not bore you with all the details of our voyage, needless to say it was interminably long and devoid of any action whatsoever. Long hours were spent playing cards, reading or writing up these tales for all of you as well as just generally looking after my master who was as equally bored, if not more so, than I. In fact, to relieve the boredom he had taken to pacing in his cabins, thinking, sometimes coming out to say things like, “I think it could work if we just had enough people!” and to ask things like, “China does have brothels right?” I answered these questions to the best of my ability and spent the rest of the voyage idly thinking them over, or when that bore no fruits I lapsed back into the semi-coma that comes with a long voyage or an extended amount of time in one place with no real relief or change in scenery, only endless expanses of salty blue water stretching out to all points of the compass.
We made port, finally, at Canton after too many weeks at sea and as we stumbled wearily down the ramp and on to the mainland we were instantly greeted by two official-looking men, each bearing the traditional, solemn facade worn by men in officious positions everywhere. They took turns asking us questions in broken English and then, after what seemed an age of pointless, poorly worded interrogations they requested that they inspect the cargo hold for ‘banned goods’. At this I felt my master stiffen next to me, but he held the eye of the official and calmly replied that it was perfectly okay with him, should the captain be in accordance as well. Not knowing what was happening I leant slightly closer to master Weenum and whispered, “But sir, begging your pardon, but will they not find the ‘goods’ in the cargo hold?”
“Let’s find out shall we.” Was the reply. I glanced up, confused by my master’s calm demeanour at such a time. As I was about to utter a reply however, a great commotion broke out on board the ship.
“Unhand me you yellow devils! I am a citizen of the sea’s, I answer only to her call! You have no right to search my vessel, let me speak to your officer.” I turned startled, to see the captain standing, pipe gritted between his teeth in a fierce snarl, in front of the door to the hold. I looked back at master Weenum and saw a curious glint in his eye as he too looked on at the scene unfolding on deck. Suddenly a crack rang out, cutting sharply through the general noise of the shipyard. I saw the captain standing, feet splayed proudly with a pistol in his hand, still smoking from the shot. The officials, though unhurt, were certainly shaken and groped wildly for their swords, scurrying backwards all the while as they tried to put as many objects between themselves and the clearly sea-mad captain who was advancing on them with all the confidence and madness of an Irishman in full readiness for a fight.
His advance was cut short however, as a musket ball buried itself into the banister in front of him, spraying splinters of wood and causing him to look up from his prey towards the dockyards where a group of gun-bearing officers were gathering in a loose formation and taking aim at the ship. He stood tall and called to his men to draw the ship about and prepare to set sail as the two shaken officers scurried down the gangway and onto the dock, running to join the protection of their comrades. With a wink to us and a jaunty wave to the officers, the captain lit his pipe and strutted back to his quarters as the ship turned and sailed off, presumably back towards France or maybe even Ireland, now a story richer for their troubles.
“Well that was jolly exciting wasn’t it?” Remarked master Weenum calmly.
“I… I should say so sir!” I replied breathlessly, quite shaken from the whole ordeal. “But what I really need now is a stiff drink to revive my shaken spirits.”
“All in good time Mr Shervington, but first we have the issue of the opium to sort out.”
“Why, yes of course! That scoundrel sailed off with our goods!” My master chuckled at this and patted me on the back reassuringly.
“Don’t worry old friend, the opium is still here, most likely in those crates over there that the captain’s crew were so kind as to unload.” Master Weenum announced confidently, directing my gaze towards a pair of wooden crates lying near where our ship had made its’ dramatic exit.
“Surely not!” I declared, astounded at the brilliance and simplicity of my master’s plan.
“Oh surely so! And don’t worry, I paid the captain enough to keep him and his marvellous crew happy for a long time to come. Now how about that drink you were after?”
“I think I must really be in need of it now, but what of the crates? Are we to carry them ourselves all the way to the village?”
“Ah, yes, see now that is a slight problem that I am still working on solving. But needless to say I shall solve it and then we shall be off home again!”
“I should like that very much I think. Though this certainly is a conundrum if ever I saw one.” I mused quietly to myself, as we walked past the two, still shaken, officers who were gratefully accepting bowls of hot tea, completely unaware that we were now safely on Chinese soil and still on track to completing our delivery.
“Hmm, maybe I’ll try some of that tea myself.”