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The Eye of the Beholder

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  • The Eye of the Beholder

    Fanshaw awaited his fate in an outer room in the upper echelons of the Foreign Office staring miserably out of the window at the November fog creeping down Whitehall. He looked up as the door at the far end of the room opened.
    “If you will come with me, Sir Dennis will see you now”
    He was ushered into a large oak panelled room, on the far wall; a portrait of Queen
    Victoria looked down at him, austere, unsmiling. Fanshaw wondered why in 1939 there was still a portrait of the on the wall of the
    old queen.

    Sir Dennis sat in leather bound chair behind the mahogany desk checking through a batch of papers and making an occasional note in the margins.
    Fanshaw waited. He was fairly confident he was safe from dismissal but there were a selection of equally unpleasant alternatives open to the service.
    Finally Sir Dennis placed the papers in the out tray.
    “Ah Fanshaw, please, take a seat. You’re looking a trifle pale, not still worrying about that unfortunate business are we, over and done with old man, and Olga has been returned to Moscow.
    Frankly I can't see why she bothered, it’s not as though you have security clearance for anything important."

    Fanshaw shivered; Olga, dark eyed, sensuous, teasing him out of his middle class respectability into nights of limb twisting passion until that Friday evening when the men in dark coats arrived at 69 Acacia Avenue.

    “You could do with a break old man and as luck would have it I have just the job for you”
    Sir Dennis rose and crossed to the map pinned on the wall under Queen Victoria
    He lovingly traced his finger over the vast expanse of red which marked the spread of the British Empire and settled on the east coast of

    “Here we are, Backtiaria, a small nation of no more than a few of thousand square miles but fortunately it happens to have the only large deep water harbour on the east coast of Africa
    Backtiaria is far too small to warrant an embassy there but a local doctor, McLeay looks after our interests. Your mission is to secure the leasing rights for the Royal Navy".

    He returned to his desk and took a bulky folder from a drawer and gave it to Fanshaw.
    “Everything you wish to know is in there, familiarise with the contents on your journey, the price for the lease is a very generous one for a poor country. So, more of a holiday than hard work, he smiled.
    Your passage is booked on the steam packet the Rochester Castle leaving Southampton on Tuesday week"
    But sir, I don’t speak any language other than English”
    “Not to worry, the President Mumboco had the advantage of a British governess as a child and speaks reasonable English".
    He rose and escorted Fanshaw to the door.
    “Goodbye and good luck, report back when you return”.

    The young doctor found Fanshaw collapsed in a cane backed chair in his room at the only hotel in the harbour town of

    “It’s all arranged, you dine with the President Mumboco at his palace on Saturday evening”
    Fanshaw felt for a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow.
    “Thank god for that, another week here would finish me off”
    The doctor grinned.
    “You get used to it”
    “Really, have you arranged the transport?”
    “Of course, the camel will be here at six thirty”
    “Yes ships of the desert, don’t you know”
    Fanshaw groaned
    “Don’t mention ships to me, I left my stomach on that rust bucket that brought me to this god forsaken place”
    The doctor smiled again.
    “Well I have to leave. Oh, and don’t on any account discuss business over dinner, it's not done my friend”

    President Mumboco had evidently gone native, his palace turned out to be a large black marquee in a jungle clearing.
    Fanshaw however was grateful to rest his aching backside on the sumptuous cushions arranged around the various dishes set out on a large Persian carpet.
    The President and his entourage to his surprise seemed to be remarkably good company. Towards the end of the meal a dish of cooked meat was set before him. He sampled it hesitantly at first and finding it delicious emptied the bowl.
    A fanfare of trumpets announced the last dish of the evening; a large silver platter was placed in the centre of the company
    Fanshaw gulped, on a bed of rice and mangoes rested a single eyeball. He had heard of this delicacy of a sheep’s eyeball offered to favoured guests
    by certain
    Africa tribes but surely no, it couldn’t be meant for him, but his worse fears were realised when a servant placed the bowl of rice and the eyeball before him to the warm applause of the president and his entourage.

    Fanshaw thought furiously.
    “I am sorry, Your Excellency but my religion forbids me to eat the meat of a sheep”
    Mumboco rose in anger.
    “Sheep? Would I insult an honoured guest with such an offering? No my friend, be at ease before you is the left eyeball of the notorious rebel Patini Robonder which cannot be distasteful to you since you have just eaten his ears with great relish”
    At which point Fanshaw threw up over the entire company and left Backtiaria on the next available ship bound for

    Authors Note
    This started life as a short story, much later I thought about lengthen it and casting Fanshaw in the roll of an anti hero which I find much more interesting to write than two dimensional heroes. My apologies for the text that doesn't seem to like copy and paste, I have done my best and at least it's readable.
    I would e interested to know what you think.


    The day after his return home from Backtiaria Fanshaw took a morning walk in St. James’s Park more from habit than desire. The morning drizzle looked set for a day long agenda, the bare branches of the skeletal trees and the dead weeds in the flower beds were in keeping with his mood as he recalled with a grimace the interview with Sir Dennis Quiby on his return to Britain
    The tirade lasted a full twenty minutes before his superior ran out of breath, for one moment he even thought he was in imminent danger of a physical assault.

    “Through your damn stupidity you have lost the Royal Navy an important base in the
    Indian ocean and all because of a bloody eyeball. One eyeball man; you could have swallowed it couldn’t you? You didn’t have to chew the damn thing. Get out of my sight, GET OUT”

    Two days later he learned of his transfer from the Foreign Office to the Ministry of Agriculture with immediate effect and arrived at the ministry offices in good time.
    At the information desk the young clerk at the welcomed him with a practised smile.
    “Ah yes Mr Fanshaw, you are to report to Mr Loam, I’ll let him know you’ve arrived”.
    He picked up the telephone “Mr Fanshaw is here sir, shall I send him up? Thank you” the clerk replaced the phone.
    “Mr Loam will see you now, up the stairs and the third door to your left”
    Fanshaw knocked on the door
    The occupant had his back towards him turning a key to lock a filing cabinet, he turned slowly.
    Henry Loam, Fanshaw decided, would have fitted perfectly in the pages of any Dickens novel. Tall, thin, his long neck encased in a starched collar below tight closed lips which it was hard to imagine if they had ever smiled.
    After a silence that lasted while the thin man studied him through two unblinking pale eyes, Loam walked to his desk and sat down.
    “Usually I welcome new members of the service to tell them that with diligence and hard work they will find themselves set firmly on the ladder to success and promotion. However Mr Fanshaw you are not new to the Civil Service are you?
    Fanshaw shook his head.
    “No sir”
    “No you are not. I think the term is ‘shifted sideways’ is it not? And I use that term with a touch of generosity you understand. So it falls to me to find you a place in the ministry where with luck you will do the minimum amount of harm. With that in mind there has occurred a recent vacancy in our Northumberland office in the milk quota department”
    “But I must tell you Sir I know nothing of milk other than what I take with my tea”
    “I presume you have basic knowledge mathematics?”
    “Of course”
    “Then you will not find the position not too taxing for your abilities. I have arranged a semi permanent residency for you at the
    George Hotel in Wiggleswick

    You will take up your appointment on Monday next and you will be happy to learn that your present salary will remain intact, minus your
    London allowance of course. Good day Mr Fanshaw”.

    Fanshaw lay on his back in the single bed staring up at a small moth circling the overhead ceiling light in his room at the
    George Hotel was a bare twenty miles from
    Hadrian’s Wall which was built by the Romans to keep out the unruly Scots. Fanshaw wondered why the hell they had bothered, what was worth protecting in this godforsaken hole?
    High windswept moors, with a scattering of hill farms and the whole damned place inhabited by the locals who’s heavily accented English was largely unintelligible to him. Even the small town’s bleak grey stone houses in the gloom of late February blended perfectly into his mood of desolation.
    He sighed and turned on the bedside radio but the ten o’clock news held nothing to relieve his depression. Even Chamberlain’s promise of ‘Peace in our time’ seemed now to be a worthless piece of rhetoric because in the winter of 1939 it was the year when the storm clouds were gathering over Europe and there was little time left before the Austrian corporal engaged in his quest for Lebensraum.
    The moth finally succumbed to the deadly attraction of the light bulb and fluttered down with burnt wings. Fanshaw turned off the radio and light switches and sought oblivion in the feather pillows.
    He wasn't to know that two dark suited men the very next day would enter into a conversation with Sir Dennis that would change his life forever and pitchfork him headlong into the maelstrom of events that would lead to World War Two.

  • #2
    Well, this is neither Poetry nor Lyrics; however, it is certainly well written and thought provoking. As a new Moderator - I struggle with what should be posted here in the spirit of what I feel was the original intend of this platform. As you would like comments regarding your piece - I would, also, like comments pertaining to my reply.


    • #3
      But most writing forums do have a place for Short Stories for potential writers and many famous author's started that way i.e if you can't keep your readers attention for a few pages how are you going to accomplish that for 300 plus? I take your pont and if you think that this is against the rules then remove it.


      • #4
        I have looked at my previous post and found quite a few also Short Stories by other members, so it seems that they are acceptable..


        • #5
          Thank you for responding - I certainly will not delete your fine work.


          • #6
            Thank you.
            Regards John/