Melibee's Tale





There was once a seafaring man, a Captain Jones by name, who was

imprisoned by a tribe of cannibals, mutineers, it is said, from the Royal Navy.


These savages inhabited a remote region of the South Pacific, in a place of

the most unsavoury character, where they had been marooned many years

before. Captain Jones had fallen among them at a time when food was scarce

and rationing was in force. The wretches had eaten the inhabitants of all the

neighbouring villages, and despite the wealth of provender available in the

surrounding jungle - mangoes, bananas, vine leaves, not to mention the

ghastly durian fruit - they could only be satisfies by the consumptiion of their

own kind. Captain Joes was confined in a small and unhygienic wattle cell to

await his fate.


Among the Captain's qualities was an extreme fondness for animals, no

species of which was too outlandish or repulsive to excite his compassion and

curiosity. During the course of his travels he had discovered within himself a

remarkable capacity to entice the fauna of every locality to approach him. In his

presence even the most ferocious and volatile of creatures became a model of

docility. Captain Jones achieved this effect by singing; not that he was

particularly accomplished in that field, nor had he a vast repertoire from which

to draw, but he did his best: Hearts of Oak, selections from Gilbert and

Sullivan, the ocasional Steve Foster song, supplemented by the poetry of

Robert Service, all of which he delivered in a dark, stentorian baritone.


It is a well know fact that animals enjoy a particular sensitivity to human

music. The snake, for example, is easily bewitched by the bagpipe, and the

wrath of the tiger may often be subdued by the playing of the harmonica.

So it was that Captain Jones whiled away his leisure hours, for there were

many, in this manner, and he had soon struck up a peculiar rapport with the

various beasts and insects that abounded in that melancholy place.


The head man of the tribe, a former medical officer and and gaduate in

medicine from the University of Edinburgh, boasted a knowledge of anatomy 

and physiology both uncanny and arcane. He determined that due to the

imposition of rationing, Captain Jones would be consumed piecemeal, over a 

number of weeks. He knew how this might be accomplished without killing

the Captain until the very last moment, when all that would remain of him would

be his head and vital organs, connected only by a few essential veins and

nerves. Unpalatable as it might be to be consumed in toto by cannibals, there 

is often the consolation of a quick death by machete, or some other such

implement. Nevertheless, this was not to be the lot of Captain Jones.


They began with his right arm. After drawing lots, two of the seneior tribesmen 

climbed into the cage with him one evening and, without warning, began to

gnaw at the flesh of his arm. Within moments they had consumed at all, from

shoulder to fingertips, leaving only the bones, shining like marble in the eerie

jungle night.


It would be difficult to describe the grave impression this experience made on the

Captain. Nevertheless, he was a man of mettle. He did not respond by crying out,

cursing his ill-fortune, or pleading for mercy. Instead, he sang. In fact, he sang

as he had never sung before, a great, rhapsodic outpouring of sonorous

vocalising, such as had never been heard previously in those parts. As the

natives ate and his discomfort increased, the more vigorous and tuneful his

singing became; before long a strange hush descended over the jungle, so

overwhelming was the impression his song made in that godforsaken place. And

when the natives retired replete andx contented to their squalid litter-strewn hut,

many hours passed before the silence abated. Captain Jones lay down on the

floor of his cell, rested his head on his good arm, and continued to sing softly

to himself, while out of the dark the lizards and insects he had previously

befriended came to lie beside him, or sit in clusters upon his exposed body. as

if attempting in their own primative fashion to solace and comfort him after this

terrible ordeal.


The head man, who, as I have indicated, was a veritable paradigm of low cunning

and cruelty, determined that Captain Jones would need time to recover from this

first assault against his person. So it was he was allowed to lie unmolested for

several days to regain his strength. In fact, the women of the tribe, hideous

creatures with long, painted fingennails and beehive hairdos, dressed in the

ghastly fashions peculiar to naval wives, brought him items of vegetation to

consume during this period of respite, often whispering compliments into his ears

on the magnificence of his voice and the poignant beauty of his repertoire. 

However, one sultry evening, as the sun set between the palm trees, two more

men of the tribe climbed into his cage and began to dine on the Captain's left

leg with the same scant regard for his comfort as that shown by those who'd

disposed of his arm.


Once again the extraordinary song erupted from his lips, and seemed to glide up

into the sky like a huge, colourful bird, with a voice like a chorus of angels, and

vast wings that cast a shade of euphonious profundity over the countryside. Soon

the gruesome repast was completed and the men left him, exhausted, on the

floor of his cage. From the silent jungle, the reptilian and lepidopterous

inhabitants crept out to join him, wrapping themselves around him to prevent the

onset of shock.


It goes without saying that this horrible sequence of events repeated itself a

number of times, until there was nothing much left of Captain Jones but half of

his torso and his head. However the songs that now emanated from his

diminished frame had assumed a grandeur to which few of us are likely to bear

witness. The lizards and and insects were joine by a veritable Noah's Ark of

animals, wild cats with big spots and elegant tails encircled his cell, warming his

flesh with their fur; tropical birds perched on the roof above his head and sang

sweetly as he slept. Ironically these prodigious occurances only encouraged

the anthropophagi in their filthy practices, believing as they did that the

consumption of a man of such extraordinary qualities could only enhance their

own paltry attributes.


As time passed a strange thing began to happen. From the moment two of their

number entered the cage for another meal at Captain Jones's expense the

remaining members of the tribe sang along with him, their voices rising together

in a chorus of such harmonious magnificence that you have believed it could be

heard on the moon.


Within a month, however, they finished him off. There was no rescue, no

miraculous intervention, nor had Captain JOnes expected there would be. But on

the very last day,as the headsman himself devoured Captain Jones's heart, the

song of the village rose to a great crescendo and hovered briefly over the jungle

like the very first raincloud at the beginning of time. Then, suddenly, it vanished;

dissipating among the hills and streams and valleys, like morning mist in the

first rays of the sun. As Captain Jones breathed his last, all the people of the

village fell dead where they stood. A great legion of animals emerged from the

forest to devour their remains, and never again was that place troubled by their

barbarous presence.  





























As a boy I was instructed by Mr McRitchie, the nimble fingered one, in the operation of the two rowed

button accordion, whence I graduated to the piano accordion. I showed a modest dexterity, aptitude,

and memory for the repertoire of that noble instrument, and while still a youth I was on

occasion called upon to display my  abilities at feichs and village functions from one side of our island

to the other. I will tell you that my spirit would dance within me with the thrill of that little music, and my

sportive heart was much lifted by the sight of my meteoric sister Alberta dancing to my tunes, and the

sound of her sweet soprano casting its spell upon these assemblies.


I was in my thirteenth year when, much to my father's chagrin, we decamped to the torpid metropolis of

Edinburgh. I well remember our long journey south. It was winter time, the hills barricades of ice.

Ruddy clouds swirled through restless, grey skies. The lochs were frozen, gathering tribes of sleeping

birds in it's immobilising grip; death cries echoed like hammers on a steel drumskin as they awoke,

ineffectual wings flapping in the empty air. My sister turned to me and said: 'Scotland is a Sunday,'

and we played a game of which day of the week was the best, and which countries most resembled



Once settled in the capital I was commanded to learn the pianoforte, and proved myself equal

to the works composed for that instrument by the Romantics, the Baroquians, the Serialists and others

of their ilk. Despite this, and to my father's sorrow, I was drawn always to the frivolous and unimportant 

musics of the so-called Ordinary People.


I was not in my maturity before a baleful hatred crept to life in  my brain, like a worm emerging from a

sleep, and the fires of divers passions blazed at the windows of my soul's house. I looked upon the

world with the eyes of an interloper, a constant bidding of farewell at my lips. A humorless rigidity took

possession of my faculties, and within a few short years I emerged from youth as a man I did not know.


I attended the university without enthusiasm, and embarked on a Bohemian career performing the 

compositions of American Negroes for the begrudging applause of the student population in a small

hotel. During the course of my clandestine activities I became acquainted with a purveyor of anodynes,

and within a short period of time became one of his 'most trusted customers.' Thanks to the

consumption of prodigious quantities of his goods, the malicious voice of the worm was subdued, the

conflagration in my heart appeased, and I became briefly happy, gegarious, optimistic.


Unfortunately, my complacency was of brief duration. A fellow student, known to my father, brought my

activitiesto his attention. As a consequence, my academic career was abruptly terminated and    

through the good offices of a business acquaintance, my father secured me a position on a

ship of the Donaldson Line, bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. At the age of twenty on a clear

day in April, I watched from a ship's deck the shores of Scotland slip beneath the waves. I

recall my sist er standing on the jetty, her dark eyes as imperturbable as a compass hand

piercing the long sky between us.


The years pased. Despite my unsuitability for the physical work I was employed to do, I was

treated with kindness and consideration. In truth, I believe my role on the ships on which

I served  resembled that of a household deity such as Orientals employ to ward away evil, or

of an object of charity whose presence brings divine benediction to his patrons. I was rarely

the object of ridicule, and whenever I did succeed in performing some task satisfactorily was

heaped with a disproportion of praise, so remarkable and uncharacteristic was my acumen

deemed to be. 


One evening we were lying off Grand Bank awaiting entrance to the St Lawrence Waterway. I had been

 passing an hour on deck, discussing clulinary matters with the ship's cook. In the distance becalmed

icebergs shone like great sailing ships in the merciless, moonlit sea, and far below us placid waves

lapped at the ship's side. At last, tiring of our pleasantries, the cook returned below and I was left

alone.  I pulled my heavy jacket around me and my scarf up over my face, and leaning against the rail

peered through frost-encrusted eyelids up into a vast, black night, illuminated by the suns of worlds

beyong numbering.






I was relatively unmoved when I heard a voice rising from the waves below, somewhere at the ship's

side. At first I believed that this apparition was an halucination. However, the coherence of the creature's

utterances soon aroused my suspicions.  Whereas all my previous communications with phantasmal beings

had swiftly degenerated into meaningless fatuities, in this case there seemed to be a definite cogency

in the creature's words.

   "Oh, Man," it declaimed, 'Poor exile from the world of marvellous Waters.We, your kinfolk still await your

return. Do you not hear our song in your body, the cry of life swirling in your bones? Do you not dream

of abandoning your habitats of stone and dancing with us in the deepest regions of the Sea? 

   I leaned over the rail and scanned the darkness and the quicksilver water for the author of this strange


   "On this star of water why be estranged? Your blood, your body, your mind, your thoughts and dreams,

are they not those of a watery creature? Is it not curious that you search always for the fixed, the solid,

the unchanging, whereas our world is a flux, a tide, an ocean, a drop of rain, gathering itself together,

disintegrating, insinuating itself into form, abandoning form, freezing to ice or vanishing into air in the sun's


   At last, beneath me I located a pair of glittering, prescient eyes staring up at me from a rippling circle of 

reflected moonlight. As our eyes met, the creature, a halicore I believe it was, concluded its discourse

with the following words:

   'You are not alone. You will unite with us again, live again as rain, ocean, as a creature of land, of sea,

of air, unlocked forever from the cage of life. We are your memory as you are ours.'

   'Don't go!' I cried, as a swell rose beside the ship and dark water closed in around the animal's head. 

   'Do not forget . . . the animal concluded.

   I stared into the widening ripple left by its departure, then looked about me to see if any other member

of the crew had witnessed this strange event. The deck, however, was empty. Above my head

I heard the tapping of a rope against the mast as a light breeze wafted from the night, but there was no

one to be seen.

   As I reflected on the creature's observations, my entire being swarmed with such a tumult of thoughts

and emotions, that I succumbed to unconsciousness. Several hours passed before my absence was 

noticed. When I was discovered I was carried to the sick bay. I had been badly frostbitten. My heavy

scarf had protected most of my face, but my hands were naked. Two left fingers were amputated below

the last knuckle, and the entirety of the right index finger. As I came to I wept helplessly and heard as

if from a great distance the sound of a button accordion and my sister's feet tapping out the rhythm of a

ghostly slip jig on the bare floor of an empty house.




                                                                             Photos of Antarctica from the RSS William Scoresby III by John Williamson (c) 1935


















 Williamson's lucid narrative is philosophically adept and intriguing -- a profound insight into changing states of identity in a search for freedom. 

                                                        Edinburgh Review