by Raji Singh (editor, archivist, archeo-apologist, Fiction House Publishing)
The upcoming passage comes from the galley proofs of; THE BEAGLE HAS LANDED by Charles Darwin. Fiction House Publishing, 1838. Memos I am discovering in the Fiction House archives indicate the publisher, James Thaddeus ‘Blackjack’ Fiction, my great-great grandfather, was dissatisfied with the original draft supplied by Darwin. He enlisted Fiction House’s chief writer, William ‘Golden Boy’ Golden to collaborate with Darwin on what would become the final version.
Because Golden Boy was mostly associated with western writing so popular during that time- period, Fiction omitted Golden’s ‘as told to’ name from the publication. He made that decision in the thinking that it might hinder both Golden Boy’s entertainment sales and Charles Darwin’s scientific sales.
This passage can be viewed in its full context in TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE
* * *
On calm waters, aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. Charles Darwin adjusts his spectacles as he writes at the desk in his wood-paneled cabin.
‘I met the strangest creature during the third week of our voyage. He had been following us for a good two weeks, as if he knew our plans. We netted him up. He did not fight us. It was as if he was curious about something and wanted aboard.
‘Age 25 to 45. Length, beak to tail, 144 cm. Head, the size of my fists together. I wonder how big eventually he will become. Hippo, elephant-sized, or stay the height of a large St. Bernard as he is now. He is shelled, but make no mistake, despite the abbreviated lettering on his shell – T-U-R-T – he is no turtle.
‘(There are tales of an island of those like him. They sun by day and at night blare trumpet-like, beautiful seductive music, through their highly intricate larynx. They would be extinct now, if accounts I have heard are true.)
‘His feet are finned yet strangely clawed, as those of a large raccoon. He could traverse land – he demonstrated that as he coursed the Beagle’s deck – as well as he could swim seas, though not as fast.
‘There is artwork on his shell. It is Exquisite! Like those of sailors who are completely illustrated. The artwork on his shell encompasses within an African village motif. Surely, it is the work of the finest of tattoo visionaries.
‘Perhaps that is where he was hatched and it was carved in when he was hardly bigger than my thumb. I will go into more detail on that later when I study the ship artist’s precise copy. The art may reveal clues to the mystery of his species. (A crewman sneaked onto the deck one night and painted the ship’s mascot, the beagle, next to an existing image of a sneering tabby standing erect, his paws poised in boxing gloves.)’
~ ~ editor note: Cat Boxing of the 19th century: P.T. Barnum called it ‘The greatest sport on earth’. The top cat boxers were most always foundlings because those, like Puss ‘N Gloves, depicted on Turt, were the toughest of pusses, having to survive the wilds as cute kittens. From alley – to ring royalty. They were treated s top racehorses are today. Carried on the shoulders of a quartet of humans, the combatants traveled to bouts in ‘spired edifices’, velvet inside, large enough for feline cousin, the tiger. Humans by the thousands, lined-up to view the parade of lavish ‘cat-sels’. ~ ~
‘I speculate that this ‘TURT’ who honored our BEAGLE with his visit is a creature only thought extinct.
‘He stayed with us all the way to and through our Galapagos Island studies. It was as if he were on his own voyage of discovery. Of what I will probably always wonder. He seemed nervous, disconcerted, and maybe even lonely. As if he were the last of his kind, yet, didn’t want it to be so, I theorize.’
Darwin’s long face wrinkles. He sets aside pen, removes jacket, tie, spectacles, and rolls up shirtsleeves. He stretches, puts hands behind his head, and thinks. I miss the fellow. Been gone three weeks now. I admire what must be his tenacity for life. For what more, could one ask?
Darwin, exhausted from a day spent in writing, begins to doze. Aloud, but to no one but himself, he says, “Ah Turt. You will probably be around long after I have departed this world. The wonderful adventures you will have that never will I see.”
Then, Charles Darwin drifts to sleep and dreams of crossing the Atlantic, blissfully riding atop Turt’s shell. And Charles is naked, and loving it.
(Journey with Charles and Turt in the novel, Tales of Fiction House. Join me every Sunday night at the Fiction House, your place for short story, lark, whimsy, and merriment. Meet the many residents as I archive their lives and centuries of adventures. You can read of their origins in my novel TALES OF THE FICTION HOUSE. My novel is available at Amazon, (Kindle and Trade Paperback) and Barnes and Noble.)
©Raji Singh, 2012