A 17-century voice from Lizard World: An Excerpt from “The English Fella’s Tale”

I.

. . . and presently we did disembark from our galleon in a pleasant cove, and those few of our men whom the pox had wasted my mariners did bury forthwith, besprinkling their corses with lyme and o’erwhelming them with rocks, lest ravening beasts should disturb their rest and spread the plague still further.

No sooner had we thus fulfilled the melancholy offices of Christian Buriall, than we did find ourselves encircled by a fearsome flock of salvages. For they had stol’n upon us with silent tread most wondrous whilst the men did dig and pray and weep for those poor comrades they had lost.

“I shall be slain,” cries Young Bromley, “and my corse become the food of buzzards!”

“Tsk! Tsk! Be silent!” says I.

But finding ourselves thus encircled and outnumbered by these salvages, many of whom did brandish spears and whose bedaubed countenances rendered them yet more odious to look upon, we stood for that moment bemazed. Stood, I say, but that were more trope than truth, for in sooth I myself didst sit within my litter whilst old Mitchell and Young Bromley stood without giving shoulder to my burden.

“Oh marry! marry! I shall be slain!”

Thus it was that young Bromley yet again did whimper and quake, and since he thus had disquieted the repose of my couch and since fortune now teetered in uncertain balance, methought it meet to descend from my chair forthwith. Which no sooner had I done, than these salvage brutes made moan and were sore afraid, and did raise their hands to shield their eyes as if o’erwhelm’d by the sudden brightness of my splendour. The largest of these devils, whom I was to learn hereafter was their prince, albeit he had neither orb nor crown but was stark-naked save for a necklace of sharp teeth which he bore about his gullet, now cur-like upon four did crawl towards me and with feeble moans and other such-like shows of brutish consternation, endeavoured to discover what it was I held within my hand.

“Egad,” methinks,” what foolishness is this?” But when I did discern the meagre cause of this brute’s great anguish and sudden subjugation, methought that my sides would brast in twain for the mighty laughter which I must perforce suppress.  For in my hand I yet held the gilt looking-glass which the Duke my father had given me when last we parted and into which, moments ere this, I’d gazed to purge a pustule whilst the crew of our small ship interr’d their comrades in the sand.  ‘Twas this mere glass, into which the sun shone with so fierce a vigour whilst my foot touched ground, that had astonied these brutes with the advent of my glory as if some heathen god had deigned to walk on earth amongst them. When now I saw how thus it stood and that these salvage brutes were conquered by a chimera, I restrained my mirth and gave their prince my least favourite snuffbox and other such trinkets which I had about my person.

“O marry! They will slit my throat,” yet again cries Bromley. “And my widowed mum be left without a farthing!”

Yea, it even befell that young Bromley, whose shivering face all this while had betrayed a wonderful deal of misery, did now beshit himself and fall to howling upon the ground and altogether make a great show of unworthy terror, in such wise that these salvages began to mutter ‘mongst themselves as if it were they questioned how so great a god could have so weak a servant.

“Fie! Fie!” says I. “Thou hast disgraced thyself and disgraced the King, whom God long keep, bless and preserve!”

And so it was I gave the brutes Young Bromley, for he was but an indifferent footman and the exchange of gifts is ever a politic practice amongst princes.

II.

This heathen prince did seize upon Young Bromley with a right good liking. For I had no sooner made this proffer of my bounty, than this salvage did sever Bromley his right ear—which thereupon he did thrust into his maw with grunts and upcast eyes and other such evidences of seeming relish, in such manner as we ourselves might dote upon a capon or some other dainty. For these wretches, who have not Christian souls but mutter their blasphemies to monstrous idols, scruple not to banquet upon human flesh, which they aver is sweet and prize more than swine or pullets.

For another 17th-century voice, please see my excerpt in The Evergreen Review.

For a 21st century excerpt from Lizard World, go here.

Illustration © Louis Netter