The Letters of C.B. Fry

7th December, 1879

My Dear Poesy

I attended a party in Berkeley Sq last evening, given by one Mr and Mrs David Niven. It was a jolly affair. As ever I remained the life of the party. So successful was I that they asked me to produce my great entertainment of jumping backwards onto the mantel, not once but twice.

After mince pies the men of the William Blunt’s XI donned their cricket caps and gave the assembled crowd a loud rendition of “In the bleak of midwinter.”

As ever my own bass soared above the mass and so I was asked to deliver a solo rendition of “How Green was your valley, Tim?”

I daresay that my mellifluous tones, the liquid moistness of my voice, was rather appreciated by the ladies, though it did not have quite the same effect on the men, some of whom were struck down by that worst of all evils, envy. Indeed, partway through my singular rendition, Mr Niven,  a small man with upturned moustaches and rattish face, was seen to slope off into the backroom to imbibe more mulled wine.

An hour later, just as I was just beginning another performance of “Darren the Dullard Donkey,” whilst at the same time jumping backwards onto the mantel, in staggered Mr Niven, his thin lips red with the mull and twitching in a kind of frenzied vim.

The chap grabbed the hand of the good lady Miss Tania Lambkins and launched her around in a mad whirligig. This unbecoming act went down like a rather heavy lead iron, and the poor woman collapsed onto the floor with a shriek.

Now I am not one to tolerate ungentlemanly behaviour and frankly this appeared to me the work of a ruffian.

And so I chased Mr Niven around the dining table in order to pay him my own recompense. The impetuous fool tried to flee but of course it was a fruitless affair. After one roundel of the table he lost his footing and fell headfirst into the flower arrangement. I then recovered the poor woman’s modesty by flaying the scoundrel with the flat of my cricket bat (which I had brought with me in case I was asked to demonstrate my fabled square cut).

However things now turned particularly nasty. Mr Niven decided to run off with the bowl of eggnog and poured it all the way down Mrs Perkins’s front. Now I was not to stand for this latest impertinence. I chased him all around the dining room and was eventually able to catch him after his footing gave way and he landed, headfirst, into the nut arrangement.

Indeed I was in such a rage that I forced him to bend over and inserted the cricket bat, pointy side up, into his bottom.

We made him stand infront of the fire in this pose of humiliation for a good hour whilst I completed my rendition of “Mr Pips Poor Postal” and jumped onto the mantel a few times to please the crowd.

Yours cherishingly

CB Fry

21st December 1887

My Dearest Poesy

I have, of late, adopted a new perambulation around Chestnut Grove on the south side of Hyde Park. This deviation from my usual route occurred quite suddenly one summer day. Let me recount to you the tale:

As you know I am a creature of habit. Long were the days in my youth when I unbuckled my trousers before I laid into any poor creature who happened to cross my path. Well on this day I was in quite the rage. You see I had earlier attended the annual Christmas lecture at the Natural Maritime Museuem.

It was this year given by George Bernard Shaw. Well we all know what a winkled sort this man is. Indeed I had only attended the lecture at my friend Mr Kipling’s request but, in the eventuality, Rudy was unable to make it and so I sat in the darkened theatre all by myself.

The talk was something else! To be honest Poesy I cared not to listen. Five minutes in and I was just entering into that recalcitrant state that precedes slumber (I had thoughtfully consumed a hearty luncheon of quails eggs and liver in pre-emption of the long day) when I noticed a hand resting on my thigh.

Now I am not a man to object the hand on the thigh. But when one is in a darkened ampitheatre and the owner of said hand remains hidden in the shade, the experience may well arouse distress.

I rose to my feet and shouted out loud: “Get back you faceless palm. Wither back into the velvet night,” before whacking it with my cane.

Well the distress of my whack led to the owner of hand emitting a sharp scream of pain. I then plucked it up off the seat and threw it along several lecterns. Of course this coward was not one for fighting back and it tore off into the dark recesses, out through the door before I had a chance to catch proper sight of it.

Now normally that would have been the end of the matter. But, later that day as I took my usual stroll through Hyde Park I came across a solitary walker treading its way through the undergrowth. This figure was wearing a deer stalker, a long cape and happened to be smoking a distinctive looking Calabash. He (for it was not a she) also had his left hand wrapped in a very severe looking bandage.

Yes these props could have belonged to one person and one person alone—none other than that fiend of Baker Street and my arch enemy himself—Arthur Sherlock Doyle!

Suffice it to say that the sight of him roused in me such fury that I took my cricket bat and ‘rushed him’ (as we used to call it at Rugby). The fellow fell back into the bushes from whence he had sprung, emitting a gargling noise rather like a frog being smothered under foot. I whacked him and whacked him, by Jesus I whacked him, until there was nothing left but a smouldering calabash and two pairs of broken quills. And only tomorrow do I have my first match of the summer for the Queen’s Players XI.

I remain yours

CB Fry

PostScript: I am led to believe that Doyle injured his hand playing for the Detective XI of Cheshunt last evening. Further investigation suggests this is true. I can only ask– why was I not invited?

24th December 1892

Dearest Poesy

Christmas is almost upon us. Chill does the wind lie and slant falls the rain. It reminds me of the time of our tender conjugation, last winter. Do you remember it like I do?

I was playing for the Duke of Marlborough XI while you were a mere tea lady, a chit of a girl, in the employ of the Scullery Maids Dias CC XI.

Do you recall my heroics? A century before lunchtime and six wickets after tea? Like Titan I bestrode the game, trampling foe and enemy with the swish of my bat.

I approached you over the luncheon interval and asked if you would picnic with me. You said “Oh yes,” the diamond crush of your eyes squeezed tight into the porcine folds of your cheek.

Thus we sat, side by side,  on the grass verge, my hamper spread out before us. You told me you had never seen a hamper like it as your eyes devoured the vast array of cucumber sandwiches, teacakes, cakes, scones and creamy tart.

Soon you could not resist and greedily you took a double cucumber from the hamper, relishless however. I asked whether you would like some sauce and you acquiesced. And so I took a big dollop of the Fry special and smeared that cucumber in gentlemen’s relish. Do you remember how you gorged yourself on it? Ere sipping from the nub, there nibbling on the crest. O and do you remember your laughter as you spilt the relish all adown your laced petticoat? Do you remember it? I recall like it was yesterday. How mightily annoyed I was that you had wasted my sauce in such a stupid, slipshod fashion.

And then the snow flakes fell over the pitch and play was abandoned.

I remember it so well. And how could I not? For it was indeed the fastest cricketing century off the season—scored off a mere 372 balls. How I was lauded. Man after man came to shake my rough hand. O but that was not all for I also took six wickets for a mere sixteen runs.

But the fairest thing was the maiden I bowled that day. My fourth over— six deliveries of such artistry, such control that the next day the Times wrote—“never has bowling of such controlled artistry been seen on the cricket field.” Yes the mighty WG Grace (less, if I may), reduced to the status of a bumbling fool. He couldn’t touch one of those balls. Not one! The fool; the bewhiskered, bumbling, arrogant fool. My mastery of him was complete, how I rejoice looking back. How he ever dared to denigrate the great name of Fry! I taught him, by God, I taught him!

Oh but I digress dear Poesy, my Poesy. Later that evening we went back to my quarters on the Albermarle where I performed the backwards jump onto the mantelpiece for you. I can still see the embers ignite in your eyes, caused by my displacement of the mantel coals, one of which landed on your petticoats and set it aflame. How you shrieked with fear as the burning took hold of your underskirts and crept inexorably up towards your hidden middle. How you burnt, Miss Haversham-like, reduced to a tinder cinder, my crispy kinder.

And then how you quivered as I rubbed liniment all over your seared left leg. A short silly leg it was dear Poesy. A short silly leg…..

And then the snowflakes fell over old Piccadilly passage….the sky sighed…..and all was white.

Yours truly,

CB Fry

17th Janvier 1888

Dear Poesy

Yesterday I attended the conference of England schoolmasters in Taunton-on-Wye. They had gathered from all about the country. Famous masters, personalities and cogitators. There was Mr Alec Guinness, teacher of Latin and mimic extraordinaire, all kind heart and coronet.  There was Sir Matthew Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, possessed of sonorous voice and black temperament. Also Mr Robert Lewis Stephenson, heavily bewhiskered and broad-set, his head buried in thistle, haggis balanced on one side of his moustache, moneybag knotted tightly on the other.

I sat with the games masters– Newman the evangelical footballer, Tom Cribb, pugilist and master of Computer Sciences and Keble, who did what I know not, though I rather suppose it was Geography. Between you and I, my heart ached to be among the Humanities. But hey ho.

After lunch the masters had a game of cricket. I led one party to the finals. That is when the trouble started. PP Pitstop, the parson of Charterhouse, took it upon himself to prove his manhood and opened the bat for the opposition. Of course he was never likely to be a match for my arrows. In my third over I felled him with a bounced ball which caught the fellow directly between the eyes. The blow was not sufficient to kill him there and then, however it did induce a cardiac arrest from which he never recovered.

Some of the men ambled over from the outfield to rouse him from his stupor but I remained at my mark. As you know the cricket field is no place for pity.

But, dear Poesy, as I waited for the boundary staff to remove the cadaver, I noticed from the corner of mine eye a piece of inveterate skullduggery the kind of which behoves neither gentleman, nor for that matter dog!

Yes, there, stood at mid off, I caught sight of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent Albert of Saxo-Coburg XI who had taken the crimson rambler and was applying a mysterious liniment to it.

He of course thought that this miscreancy had passed unnoticed. And I let him assume so! But the very next ball, I carted in ripping the frozen nose of Rudolf  in my clasp. Yet instead of delivering it in my usual manner I turned around and beamed the whistling missile straight at the Prince Regent’s head. The merry berry hit him on his very noggin! Yes, it smashed open his fore’ad, and the man went down with a loud wail, like a seal that has lost all its salmon.

By God I was furious. The cur then got up and tried to escape me too! Suffice to say I soon caught him and dealt him a blow so vicious, so hard and fervid that he lost all his luncheon in that one sitting.

Ever yours,

CB Fry

23rd of Febrary 1899

Dear Poesy

Yesterday I attended the illustrious Olympiad for the World’s strongest man held at the Crystal Palace of London. They came from all four corners of the world.

LittleJohn of the North, from a grim place named Cleethorpes, the mighty Tom Cribb from Hackney Wick, Goliath, who lives in Runcorn, and a French pretender named Xerxes who heralded originally from the Rhone valley, but left to set up a roofing business in Paignton in 1872, where he has resided ever since. All were in attendance, the mightiest men in the world, brutes Poesy. .

In amidst this muscular symphony I caught sight of a familiar face. For there, dressed in a leopards-printed maillot, whiskers twitching four to the two, was the cur himself, Mr David Nivens. He had recovered the cock that had so deserted him that fateful night last December. Indeed, despite a certain paleness of his cheek, which may have indicated gout or perchance jaundice, I know not which Poesy, despite this ague, the presence of this unwholesome corona, Mr Nivens appeared in fruitful health.

He bounded up to me like a dog with constipation  as I stood performing my stretching routine and hollered in his chafing tone

“What Ho Fry! Planning a little performance are we?”

To which I countered with disdain

“Like the performance you gave us last Christmas Mr Nivens?”

To which he replied

“Yes my performance, good, hahahaha, very good Mr Fry…”

The argument won, I sauntered off to take my mark in the wings.

It was quite obvious that I was going to trump all and sundry and trump them I did. For the first event, the clutch, I set a new champions ship record of 40kg, which nobody else perforce could master. It was indeed the third year I had set this mark. This was followed by the second event the lunge, wherein I took a bell in each hand and thrust the leg out in forwards motion. My score of 32kg was a new world record.

And thus it came to the final event the clunge.

Somehow the reedy Dr Niven had made it to the final stages. However it was time for misfortune to strike. As he strode onto the stage, a moment after Xerxes of Ramsbottom and two minutes before Goliath of Paignton, I noticed something amiss. Indeed Poesy, twas a small thing visible to only the keenest of human eyes.

For as he strode onto the stage, there, cradling in the leopardskin maillot (which in latter days has come to be known as the ‘leotard’ after that French chagrin Leo Tard) was a bulge! Yes dear Poesy, priapus stirred. Of course no one else noticed this but I did. I had to! For herein lay Mr Niven’s secret!

And so he climbed onto the stage to tackle the biggest beast of them all—the never before stirred 50kg bell.

As he was doing this I, yes I Poesy, was in the wings rifling through Dr Niven’s surgery bag. And there I found it—the horny root! Clutching the horny root I paced it back to the stage just as Dr Niven was raising the old iron over his head and bellowed—“Mr Dr Nivens! Once again your felony has been discovered. You are unmasked and now you must pay.”

Well his eyes fairly bulged, while his moustaches twitched with that feverish anxiety that one only sees displayed on the face of the mountain goat (capra hornus) during the mating season.

O glorious conclusion Poesy, for he fell back in a perfect parabola, the iron slipped from his clutches and flew into the face of Xerxes who collapsed with a roar. The resultant hulbubabaloo rendered him moribund and he fell down clutching his face in a vain attempt to feign injury! The cur. The damned insolent cowardly cur. While the judges (bufoons all) clamoured around him to look I, of course, was not to be fooled and ran onto the stage to deliver him a procession of blows and kicks of such dexterity that priapus was, for once and for all, quenched.

They gave me my medallion and sceptre and crowned me the World’s Strongest Man for the third year running. Meanwhile Mr Nivens was banned from the Olympiad for three years hence and slumped home with his sceptre shattered. Yet again I triumphed.

Yours lovingly

CB Fry

Dearest Poesy

This afternoon I was woken by a peculiar scratching noise outside my window. As my rooms are situated on the upper floor of the house at 23 Albermarle Street, this noise was a cause for some curiosity on my part.

Without a second’s thought I hopped out of bed and peered out of the cask blinds…and what did I see? There, hanging off the ledge of the window was a short, swarthy looking chap wearing a fez!

At first I thought it was an entertainer monkey, the kind I have seen perform with the organ grinders in Piccadilly, to the amusement of passing tourists and folk who have not ventured beyond these shores. However, closer inspection revealed that the object had a human face, albeit a thoroughly disgusting one, blackened, as it seemed to me , by soot and dirt.

By and by it dawned on me that this unhappy sight was infact one of the race of men known as Hindoos.

Well, I was incensed at this intrusion of privacy. Taking my cane from the corner of the room, I opened the window and gave several hard whacks to the hairy hands of this grim supplicant. Soon I was able to force him to loosen his grip and he fell to his death on the street below.

This unexpected alarum has caused me to lose near two hours of sleep. Why is it my misfortune to be put upon in this manner? I play for the MCC in a matter of hours. And now my brain is addled.

I remain

C.B Fry

Part the 1st

Poesy dear Poesy

‘Tis a stroke before midnight. I would normally be three hours asleep at this late hour. But tis not a normal night. Nay tis abnormal.

For I sit at my writing desk quill in one hand, in the other……my pistol.

Plagued by shadows and shapes I am. In and out they whirl. Out and in they go. Round and round, up and down, a clown Poesy, a clown! For one looms above all. A blubberous shape. A cretinous mass. That wheezing white whale—Grace!

How he haunts me. How I fail. But wait. Soft Poesy, soft. Hush.

Hush for I must first recount the tale before I whirl out of control. Let me begin.

The year is 1898. The place the Congress of the League of Nations, Cairo. The greatest gathering of leaders, princes and kings since the Royal Symposium of Sandwich last May.

I had been asked to attend by my Surrey cricket colleague Prince Ranjitsinhji. Prince, as I call him, posed the delicate matter of me last winter as we batted side by side in the Oval nets.

“CB,” says he.

“Yes,” says I.

“Would you like to attend the Congress of the League of Nations with me.”

“Yes,” says I, before shouting “WATCH THE BALL,” as a delivery from Tyson honed into his most private region (that which you know not off yet P) and shattered it irreversibly.

Two months subsequent and I was in Cairo.

Cairo!! City of thieves. City of beggars, slaves, vagabonds, mercenaries, pirates, imbeciles, neanderthals, uncultured oafs, sneaky cut-throats, sooty cutpurses, blaggards, viziers, footpads and desolates.

As I leaned out of my window I saw all the sights of the East. The pilgrims walking to mecca, mooselmen bartering in the shadows, the markets cramped with camels and elephants and beyond them the Sphinx, towering in the distance like a shuffling creature laden with gold and other exotic gems. I saw the dust dunes whispering in the wind. I saw the crescent moon newly risen into the sky and heard the yodelling call of the fakir. I saw a wizened brown man climbing up a rope that bent into the sky, as another laid himself upon a bed of nails and promptly screamed

“Aaagh, I told you to switch them for the rubber ones!”

In among all this hurly burly I almost felt at ease. And then suddenly it hit me. A rock thrown by a street urchin from below had entered the window and struck me a blow on the clavicle. In a state of vengeful anger I rushed to the street ready to slake my ire on this perpetrator. But by the time I reached down, there was no one there. He had disappeared.

I was mad at this trick. But you see this is the foul and pestilent way of the East dear Poesy. One minute she will lull you into the tides of a tranquil sea, the next plunge you into a hotbed of molten anger.

I retired to my chambers once more and comforted myself by smashing the wooden bed into smithereens. A few hours later I had recovered myself and accompanied Prince to the great congress hall of the fifteenth League of Nations.

But what a sight it was! The greatest men of the day in concord. There was Wilhelm II of Schlafenschlaven, Prince of Prussia, Faure the famous pumper of France, Gonzalo of Spain with his wine dark skin, Little Charlemagne and Old Pinky the Bohemian Pumpernickel. There were Americans too, Beaky Jones, their president and Capt Custer, soon to be a great General. Lastly the orientals. Ching Chong Chee and Pee Chung Chang, feudal lords of Wankdon Province.

O the great grand hall was a chaos of noise and colour. Behind the great seigneurs stood armies of natives, the hod carriers and food makers. Black African orderlies holding trays of multivarious fruit, moors the colour of nightshade silently manning the atrium, choleric Eskimaux with strange herbs and potions and sooty Hindoos pouring cordials.

Prince was in his element, striding this way and that like the Shah of Shahenshehabad himself. He wore a codpiece of massive girth and had upon his head a towering red turban so large that it seemed it would topple over any second and crush fifteen men in its wash.

As I bestrode the halls, picking a fruit from the bowl here, taking a drink of foaming sherbet there, I felt perfectly at ease. How natural ‘twas for me CB Fry to be in this company. Finally in my milieu. With men who were of my ilk. My own standing. Great, wealthy men.

As I was about to place an exotic love apple into my mouth of a sudden my reverie was shattered. Like a playground oaf he sat there peering into a copy of the Times, his two little eyes darting hither and thither, like an otters. For yes it was the adipose platypus. That foolish, hirsute vole. The bewhiskered buffoon, the very height of pomposity—Grace!

My humeur left me immediately.

“Fry,” he bellowed as he spied me through the folds of the paper, “what on earth are you doing here?”

“Grace,” I replied with some hauter, “I might ask you the same question.”

“As the representative of the Gentlemen of England CC and Marylebone XI I am of course entitled. But I wouldn’t have expected you, unless…ah, oh yes, I see. You come as the servant of that Indian. I see. It all becomes clear.”

“I am no servant Grace. I am here in a consolatory capacity. And it would appease me not to see your face again these days.”

“O come, come Fry,” he retorts. “We must treat each other like civilised Englishmen. I will be lunching in the consulate halls this afternoon should you care to join me.”

“I think not,” I replied curtly. I was about to deliver him an even more cutting thrust of my wit (which that great flaneur of Piccadilly Fingal O’ Flaherty  himself has praised) when suddenly my ears were assailed by another noise. For I heard a loud shout.

“Awrence!”

I looked up to see a black-faced man flying towards me, his white robes billowing behind him like the wings of a gull.

“Awrence, Awrence! ‘Tis you ’tis you, here!!”

“Away with you Jamal,” I screamed, disgusted to my very shoes. “I have no need for manservants.”

“But Awrence tis me. Fawad. Do you not remember me?”

He looked at me through devious, hooded eyes, undoubtedly intoxicated on some Eastern narcotic—baklava, Turkish delight, fondant fancy ‘tis all the same— foul nauseating things unfit for an Englishman. The sight of him sickened me and the rage rose.

“Who are you, you impudent fool?” I cried at him. I could see Grace peering above his paper at me.

“I am no manservant Awrence. I am the Fawad of Al Khaleel al Jumeira Sharm el Sheikh, Kasheef.

“Cover your nose man!”

“No, I am called Kasheef, that is my name. Have you forgotten me so soon?”

Indeed this hooked nose-bonobo was right. I had forgotten him. If I ever knew who he was. Enraged by the man’s contemptible familiarity, the nerve, the sheer unadulterated nerve I took him by the collar and hauled him firmly over the palace tiles. Just as I prepared to throw him out the door up stands another shape. A gory slinking shape, hidden among vapours and fog. A mountainous simian form.

“Unhand him,” he whispers.

I dropped the fakir into a weeping pool on the floor and met this monstrosity. Swarthy, sun-tinkled skin. Like an African manatee. He wore something like a gentleman’s uniform though his skin showed him to be anything but.

“And who are you?” I cried at this new intrusion.

“My name is King Egalabalus. I am this man’s master. ”

Had it been another sand-man I would have struck him down there and then. Yet, and yet dear Poesy there was something strangely noble about this man. His swarthy complexion belied a fiendishly cunning intelligence—one that would rape you with a rapier or crush you like a grape in a grapple. Behind the eyes was a sneaky intellect. His briny moustaches concealed a deep philtrum which I could see was not one which might be called….common.

All these things told me one thing—I must learn more.

Part the 2nd

O Paramour! O Pointed fate. Avails us of despair and leaves us with……naught!

Pardon me Poesy. I am having one of my ‘turns.’ The story shakes me. For I have but four hours. Four short hours until I must meet my destiny. And then…….then who knows. But soft. Soft dear Poesy for I must continue. This tale must be told before the sun rises.

CB FRY AND THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS VOL.2

Fawad arrived on his camel as dusk dawned. Of course I refused this hideous escort and walked. It was a warm evening and the air stirred with the scent of jasmine and lavender. With my noble bearing, my silk shirt, my aristocratic mien and my high moustaches what a sight I must have looked! The very quintessence of nobility. The epitome of kinglihood.

Indeed my curiosity had been piqued by this strange and jabbering man. To be king of Australia. To rule! To reign! Perchance to sweep away all the trash. Ah I welcomed the thought.

We arrived at the hotel in the winking evening light. A warty faced crone greeted us. When asked where I could find the Emir of Australia she shook her head outside and shrieked “Australiaka no eeey.”

Her strange dialect, which I took to be one of the Haloumi tribe, was one of the few that I was not familiar with—and how could I for it was that of a goatherder’s clan. Even though I took her by the shoulders and repeated very slowly “The Emir of Australia” in the finest Queens, it was no good for the crone was insensible. Fawad interrupted and started jabbering something in Arabic. I was about to throw him out of the door but realised that he spoke the crone’s language. Finally after an age of jabbering to-and-fro, with much finger pointing and head-shaking, the two sand people arrived at some kind of accord and Fazad led me to the hall, to a magnificent ante room outside of which stood two negroid slaves carrying broad camel spears.

At a word from Fawad one of them pulled a long golden cord and the doors opened to reveal a fabulous room. What a sight! It was filled with the finest antiquities, peacock feathers, jewel-encrusted tortoises and leopard hangings on the wall. Fountains poured water into the streams

At the very end up on was a raised dais shrouded a thin drape/skein of silk. I could just about make out a form behind it

“Awrenccce!”

The cry was like of a mystical sufi, a long ululating call, piercing to mine ears.

“Awrence you have arrived.”

The curtain parted and revealed a supine shape, laid upon a gold sofa, munching grapes. It was a small, misshapen, reedy man. Swarthy, sun-tinkled skin. Like an African manatee. He wore something like an English gentleman’s uniform, though his skin showed him to be otherwise. In good humour I approached and offered him a firm English salute.

“CB Fry at your service. Sah!”

“Good. Goooood. We sent for you and you came. We are very glad you could make it. Our emissary has chosen well.”

Fawad stood there looking insensate.

“I am Egalabalus.”

“Yes,” he continued. “Forgive my emissary. He is a simple fool. But we have heard much about you Awrence. We have been told that you are a gentleman and a hero. A great leader. A man of honour.”

“I am that.”

“ And I come to deliver an invitation.”

“Yes.”

“We would like you to come to our country as our Zod.”

“To be your God you say?”

“No Awrence, there is no such thing. We want you to be our Zod. The ruler of our lands. Our prime potentate. The divine incarnate.”

Yes Poesy. This man had seen in me the great qualities that nature had bequeathed me. He saw the talents, the qualities that CB Fry possessed. I, would be king. King of Australia. I realised that these antipodean folk had their strange ways it mattered not to me. For when I was their king I would rule with a fist of iron. I would dismiss all the poorest convicts to New Zealand and leave it only with the pleasantest of men. I would make it the fairest dominion in the Commonwealth. And more I would choose my own cricket team. I would open against England. I would beat Grace himself! Finally, someone who recognised in me the right of dominion, the nobility of leadership.

“Your highness I am honoured. And I accept.”

“Good. Goooood. But first you must pass the five labours of Zod. You must defeat the other challenger to the throne. For we have two candidates for the position. You and a man of much nobility from the Irish royal family of Donegoon. His name is Zod. He is the owner of the petroleum lands of Galway.”

“The Irish royal family?”

“Indeed. For we wanted a white man to sit on our throne. And dear ‘Awrence, your lily white skin doth suit our needs. You shall hence be known as the Pale King.”

You understand our ways! And your skin, ‘tis so milky.  there is none whiter than you. Except this Zod.”

I looked at Fawad askance. I would later hand him such a beating that he would remember it for the rest of his life. But, for now, I must be calm. I must accept the position. I would undertake the challenge and I would prevail. And how could I not. For am I not CB Fry?

Yes Awrence. But fear not. For we have heard of your prowesses. Pass this test and obtain your rightful place. Win the throne and become the Emir of Albania!”

“Albania? You mean the poorest country on earth. What trickery is this? Where is the man from Australia?”

The man looked at me.

“Australia? What is Australia? I come from the state of Albania. Land of the Albans.”

The fury started to rise in me. I had been tricked. I was made a nincompoop. I was about to turn on my heels and walk away when Egalablus said.

“We want you to be our king, Awrence. King of the Albans. With all the wealth, wine and women our lands have to offer. They will be yours. All yours!”

Indeed Poesy, at this time I felt this man to be mad. Utterly insane. And yet. There was something. Something quite noble about him. Had it been another sand-man I would have struck him down there and then. His swarthy complexion belied a fiendishly cunning intelligence—one that would rape you with a rapier or crush you like a grape in a grapple. Behind the eyes was a sneaky intellect. His briny moustaches concealed a deep philtrum which I could see was not one which might be called….common.

“The procession of labours will begin at 1pm tomorrow. I will be here to crown the new King. One man shall be the king. It is destiny! Grape?”

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