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The Latin Scholar

I first met James through  his dog Querke. I was out looking for accommodation when I noticed a fine looking husky of a pale rust coloured hue. The husky was surrounded by a gang of young louts, who where tormenting him. Being me of course I  intervened. I got a sore head and a painful ear for my trouble as the gang turned their attention towards me, that is until Querke torn into them. What a fine image of a wolf he became, growling with teeth bared, he sent one lad flying and then stood snarling between the rest of them and me. This brought them to the attention of a peeler, and they moved off.

My husky relaxed, and slowly approached me, of course he was not mine, but I was to share my lunch with him, as we rested under the porch of St Bartholomew’s church. I was just wondering what I was to do with my new found friend, when he spotted a rather neglected gent of about fifty heading towards us. This gent with a large array of whiskers which were of the same colour as my new companions fur, seemed determined on meeting us. I soon realised that it was Querke he wanted to reach, as they fondly embraced. I could see that they were old friends and for the first time I heard my husky’s name, as he was loudly chastised for wandering off. Leaving his owner browsing inside a local booksellers premises.

 Querke’s owner James invited me back to his home to clean up and have tea. As I had yet to arrange my accommodation and had no prior commitments I readily agreed and we set out with Querke walking between us. As we walked James introduced Querke formally to me. Querke had arrived in Hull aboard a whaling boat, brought here by the master of the vessel. The master had obtained him in leu of a gambling debt. James had heard about Querke when he had undertaken some legal work for the captain. James had obtained Querke when the captain had decided to return to sea, in part payment for the work. I was to soon learn that James often would take items in part or full payment for work done. It was to be letters taken into his ownership which would lead me into travelling around the world.

Arriving at James accommodation I was struck at once by its unusual nature. James rented what had once been the ground floor of a bonded warehouse, the small barred windows cast a poor light so James lit several candles. I then became aware of the high vaulted ceilings a legacy of the great weight once carried by the floor above. The rooms that James rented were unheated but the thickness of the buildings walls along with the paraphernalia that James had collected kept the worse of the cold at bay. Hot water was brought for me by James servant, as set about clearing away the evidence of todays conflict I told James a little about my own circumstances. That I was at present out of work having just finished my degree in Latin at Oxford, and that I had just arrived in the capital today by the post coach. As I had yet to arrange accommodation, James insisted that I should except his hospitality and stay the night at his home. 

When later we sat down to tea, I could not help but see a pile of faded letters, tied together by black ribbon. James seeing the direction of my glaze, smiled and said now there’s a set of letters with mystery attached. After we had enjoyed a fine meal and a congenial evening and several glasses of fine port. My host asked if I was interested in hearing about the letters, being of a curious nature I readily agreed. James reaching for the letters told me that they had recently come into his ownership, on behalf of client of his. The client a man of letters and politician had used James for legal work for many years.

The letters related to young man who had gone out to the Cape Colony to find his father, the youngest brother of the politician. It appeared that lad had found employment in the colonial service and had regularly sent letters back to his fathers brother. The last two letters had shown a marked difference to the earlier letters, These two letters showed a degree of excitement, and illustrated a belief that the lad was getting close to finding his father. Mention was made of a new diamond mine, and of two young European women. A rough drawing on the reverse of the last letter showed a planned journey following a tributary of the Orange River. Then the letters stopped arriving. So the politician had asked James to write to the colonial office and try and find out some information as to what had happened to the young gentleman known as Joseph Ruskin.

The politician had then sent for James and asked him to arrange help in locating his brother’s son. A not insubstantial sum of money had been passed to James to undertake this task. Now James was planning what steps to take next. As he placed a cup of tea in front of me, I suggesting that what was needed was for someone to trace the young mans steps, and visit Africa. James looked straight at me, that’s right. Then he asked, would I consider going to Africa.

Within the fortnight we where aboard a steamer leaving Southampton, in our pockets a letter of introduction to the South African colonial service, a brace of pistols and adequate funds to ensure our task.  By now I had learnt a little more about my companion. A former London peeler, James Maldon now worked as a private detective.

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